Arizona, my state, the nation’s shame

Obviously I haven’t been in a blogging mood lately. I just got back from China last weekend, and wondered for the next two days why the jet lag coming back from Asia is so much worse than going there. And I came home to my bigoted, small-minded, ignorant state of Arizona and reading the newspaper I simply felt too numb to blog.

I am forcing myself now to write so this site doesn’t atrophy. But that doesn’t mean I’m not passionate about this subject. I am.

In case you haven’t heard, the state I moved to 20 years ago has, in a single week, voted to institutionalize racism, to legitimize the literally deranged “birther” movement, and to permit citizens to carry concealed guns without a permit.

As I was packing to move here way back when I was still a news reporter, I remember the controversy raging over our then-governor Evan Mecham, who refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day, resulting in a massive boycott and companies around the country canceling their conventions in Arizona. Money talks, of course, and Mecham was soon impeached and tossed out of office.

And here we are all over again.

No matter what they tell you, this law discriminates against Latinos, and the argument that if you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t worry simply won’t wash. If you are Latino, the odds are now far, far higher that you, and not your white counterpart, will be stopped and asked for your papers, Gestapo-style.

The law is not only racist, it is irrational. No one understands it, and yet 70 percent of the cretins citizens of my state are embracing the bill as necessary.

After signing the new law requiring police to check out people who may be illegal immigrants, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was asked how the cops are supposed to know when someone should be screened. “I don’t know,” she replied. “I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like.”

No kidding. But she has a lot of company in her ignorance. When I called University of Arizona law professor Marc Miller and told him I wasn’t sure what some of the law’s provisions mean, he replied, “Neither is anyone else on the planet.” We will find out what it means after it takes effect, not before.

The law says cops must inquire anytime “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” Since most of the state’s illegal immigrants are Latinos, the natural impulse of police may be to interrogate every Latino with whom they cross paths.

All over the Interwebs and local talk radio we’re hearing how 70 percent of Arizonans are in favor of the bill, as are 51 percent of Americans overall. But since when do numbers like that mean a bill is right or constitutional? Ask the people who will have to enforce it what they think.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik knows his protests could get him taken to court, but he says he won’t enforce Arizona’s new law criminalizing illegal immigration anyway.

This week, Dupnik, the top law enforcement official in one of the state’s largest counties, called the state’s tough new law “racist,” “disgusting” and “unnecessary.” He said it would force police officers to use racial profiling, which is illegal in Arizona.

This is going to become a nightmare for our police, who can be sued if, in the eye of the citizens, they fail to enforce the law. And because it’s so hopelessly murky, the cops will, understandably, err on the side of caution by demanding proof of citizenship with anyone who might be suspicious, i.e., anyone with darker skin or a Hispanic name. And it will waste vast amounts of time, diverting the police from handling actual crimes.

I know – we need to do something about immigration. I know – an Arizona rancher was murdered last year, possibly by an illegal immigrant. I know – the drug war in Mexico is spilling over into Arizona’s borders and leading to crime over here. But none of those things makes this bill redeemable. If we want to really address the problem at its roots, we should first legalize the drugs and liquidate the incentive to commit drug-related crimes. That would be a helpful start, and then we can move on to how best to secure the border.

So no, I don’t have the perfect answer. But this bill means nothing but trouble, and everyone here in Arizona knows our governor signed it because her party has become so radicalized she would stand no chance of winning the next election without sucking up to the base. (Ironically, she has no chance of winning anyway, but that’s another story.)

Arizona, you brought this on yourself. Now every baseball and football team and conventioneer and tourist will have to stop and consider whether it’s worth it to come here. Let Arizona feel for itself what it hath wrought. Maybe, just maybe that pressure will force it to look in the mirror and do the right thing: scrap this bill for one that makes sense and will actually provide a solution without licensing racism.

Update: I should have put in a word or two about the freak who is behind this bill, one Russell Pearce. Just a bit of background:

In October 2006, Russell Pearce forwarded an email from National Alliance, a white separatist group, to a group of supporters. The email titled “Who Rules America” [6] criticized black and white intermixing and Jews in the media for promoting multiculturalism and racial equality, for depicting “any racially conscious White Person” as a bigot, and for presenting the Holocaust as fact. He quickly apologized. The article reports, “He does not agree with the sentiments in the article, but that the title and the first paragraphs about media bias appealed to him. He said the article had been forwarded to him by someone else and he would not have sent it if he had read it in its entirety.”[7] He stated in one of his apologies, “Ugly the words contained in it really are. They are not mine and I disavow them completely. Worse still, the website links to a group whose politics are the ugliest imaginable.”

In April 2008, Pearce sponsored a measure, Senate Bill 1108, that would prohibit students of Arizona universities and community colleges from forming groups based in whole or part on the race of their membership. Pearce said he didn’t want students indoctrinated with seditious or anti-American teachings. The bill would ban groups that serve minority interests such as the Mexican American study program and the Black Business Students Association.

There are a lot of kooks here in Arizona. The Tea Party movement resonates with them, and they love our criminal sheriff Joe Arpaio because of his bulldog, tough-on-crime image, ignoring the fact that he is a corrupt extortionist who opens investigations into anyone who criticizes him. (How sweet to see the feds finally investigating Arpaio, who will hopefully end up in the cold cell in which he belongs). To the wingers, he’s a saint. They love the idea of raw masculine power without boundaries. They love the immigration bill, which dresses up their bigotry and rage and makes it seem respectable. What am I doing here?


It’s only two weeks away

It’s that time of year again. How will you be celebrating Serf Emancipation Day?

I find it kind of droll that on the big day I’ll be in the Long Beach Opera House watching this. An eerie coincidence. My heart, of course, will be with those who were liberated, whether they wanted to be or not.


China’s soft power and the rape of US history textbooks

Yes, I know – that’s a very disjointed, dichotomous title, and this post is quite disjointed as well. But bear with me a moment.

I read with fascination this morning an article on China’s attempts to increase its global soft power by constitutional scholar Zhang Boshu, a former member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. I strongly recommend you read it all. This stood out for me (and apologies for a very long snip):

From the perspective of liberal constitutionalism, the continuous sixty years of one party rule by the Chinese Communist Party is a type of autocracy—an unreasonable system of government. It is extremely predictable that such a country would be criticized by democratic nations’ mass media. In saying that the international media “unfairly sees China and the Chinese people,” Mr. Zhao Qizheng is obviously intentionally trying to confuse public opinion. That is because criticizing the ruling Party is not equivalent to criticizing China; it is also not equivalent to criticizing the Chinese people. It has absolutely nothing to do with “hegemony.” I have personally been interviewed many times by the international media and feel that the vast majority of foreign journalists are friendly towards China. They have a serious attitude towards reporting; even when reporting on weaknesses within our society, they hope that China will improve quickly. On the contrary, it is actually our rulers who are accustomed to using a mindset of enmity; they see all critics as enemies with hidden intentions.

In the final analysis, it is China’s current political system that is definitely outside the global tide of democratization. It is this environment that produces government-hired scholars who play up their [theories] which are at odds with logic.

So what is the substance of this “soft power with Chinese characteristics” that is being so strongly advocated by government officials and “scholars”? There are two clear main types [of soft power with Chinese characteristics]. One type is related to “persisting in the leadership of the Communist Party.” It aims at protecting the ideological “products” of the existing regime—whether it be the increasingly individualistic and commercialized literature, art, television, movie, and animation “products”, or whether it be the increasingly rigid media and education “products.” For example, beginning in 2004, the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party and the Ministry of Education jointly organized a massive program called “Researching and Building Upon Marxist Theories.” As part of this program, at universities and colleges the “public politics class” curriculum and the humanity majors’ core curriculum was required to be revamped so as to include the “the latest findings” [in the field of] “the sinification of Marxism” or “Marxism’s adaptation to China.” As far as propaganda directed outside [of China], this kind of thing was naturally at the very core, but it was packaged more carefully as being different from the “West” and as being a form of “democratic government” with “Chinese characteristics,” or as being “harmonious” or as being part of “a great nation’s rise”—the ultimate purpose was to establish “[China’s] own ideological voice.”

The other type [of soft power with Chinese characteristics] is “traditional culture” and its interpretations which are officially approved. Confucius is no longer criticized. This is obviously a good thing. However, reflecting on the rationality of traditional culture has at the same time been suppressed. That is because the current leaders are not especially concerned about the complicated historical relationship between modern China’s transformation and pre-modern China’s cultural heritage, and are more concerned with the role that can be played today by China’s ancient heritage and ancient historical figures acting as a sort of cultural symbol. [This cultural symbol] could be used to prove the legitimacy of a culture that is different from the “West” which it seems would then indirectly prove the legitimacy of a political structure that is different from the “West.” Along these lines, today in China one can see everywhere vigorous signs of “ancient worship”—not just in a cultural context but also in an ideological context. This same logic can explain why the government so strongly supports the construction of “Confucius Institutes” in many places overseas.

Nevertheless, the ultimate goal in all this effort is to whitewash the reality of existing one party rule; to provide a defense for a backward system. This is phony soft power; even though it appears in the name of a people’s nation and even though it appears in the form of the modern heir to a great culture.

The bottom line is that I tend to agree with Zhang’s conclusions. But the main reason I’m posting this is that it reminded me of a shocking news story in today’s NY Times that at first glance seems hopelessly unrelated, namely the rewriting of American textbooks to brainwash teach American children the glories of the US capitalist system, to minimize any reference to the Enlightenment, to lionize conservative freaks like Phyllis Schlafly and right-wing propaganda machines like the Heritage Foundation, and to generally turn our textbooks into vehicles for the distribution of GOP talking points.

One of my favorite bloggers offers a blunt description of this inexcusable revisionism.

The intent is two-fold:

1. To render a public school education all but worthless by teaching blatant lies and distortions, thereby advancing the long-desired rightwing meme is, in fact, worthless and should be eliminated.

2. As long as there must be a public education system, indoctrinate children to in the lie that rightwing/christianist authoritorianism is a core American value and not, in fact, the very antithesis of the Americanism the Founders intended.

Textbook procurement protocols must be changed to eliminate the influence of these ignorant, malicious lunatics from the national discourse. Otherwise, we deserve everything that’s coming to us.

Amen to that.

Over the years one of the most heated topics here has been US vs. Chinese education and which system is more guilty of “brainwashing” its students.

All education is going to have a propaganda element to it. I remember a high school textbook from the Cold War in which all the photos of Moscow and East Germany were taken on gray, rainy days, with people walking with their faces turned down against the wind. However, I also remember being taught to question the government, to understand the importance of checks and balances over a system that could easily be corrupted, and to remember the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow and, yes, the massacre of Native Americans.

And then I remember the descriptions in River Town of all the political slogans built into the Chinese curriculum, of the extolling of the one-party system, of the deification of Chairman Mao, etc. This is a radically different approach from the US system, and we see its manifestation in the writings of Hong XIng and Math and others who seem incapable of a nuanced discussion that doesn’t paint the US as inherently evil and China as inherently great. I’ve had no choice but to conclude that while the US educational system is deeply imperfect, it’s way lower on the brainwashing scale than China’s.

And then I read today about the aforementioned rape of US textbooks by the Texas Board of Education and I have to conclude that if they really pull this off my argument will be greatly weakened. This is nothing less than pure propaganda, complete with racism (see the part of the article on writing Latinos out of the textbooks) and an endorsement of Americans’ Manifest Destiny. And these changes were initiated by a hopelessly ignorant dentist with no background in history. Something is so wrong with America at the moment. The neanderthal beliefs of the right-wing fringe, dripping with prejudice and hate and ignorance, have become mainstream and are about to be taught to our children as Truth.

Can we criticize China when crimes like this are being committed in the US? Sure; but this certainly gives more power to those who retort with the “America does it too” meme. And maybe they have a fair point.


Anita Dunn names Mao Zedong her “favorite philosopher”

Anita Dunn is the White House Communications Director, who’s been quoted everywhere for her on-target assertions that Fox News is a Republican channel, not a news channel. When I heard her say it a few days ago I was stunned (in a good way) that she was making this the official White House position. Sure, we’ve all known it for years, but it’s never been said by the Democrats on the record, and this was long overdue.

And now, just seconds ago, I watched Glenn Beck take Anita Dunn’s scalp, playing again and again a video clip of her telling an assembly of high school students, “My two favorite philosophers are Mao Tse-Tung and Mother Teresa.” He kept playing it, holding up a picture of Mao and reciting the usual litany, including the claim that Mao had killed more people than Hitler (70 million is the number he used). It was devastating. Beck is evil, but you have to give him credit for cunning and for dramatic effect. This made for very good theater. And you have to wonder, could Dunn actually have said this? How could she not see the danger?

[Update: You can see the clip here. Apologies in advance for linking to a right-wing site.] Malkin’s Hot Air has it, too, along with the obligatory 70-million murdered meme.

I see Fox News as bad news (pun intended) and I see Glenn Beck as a bad man. But unless that clip was doctored and shown wildly out of context, Beck scored a coup today. I don’t think it was entirely fair, but when is politics fair? And you can’t really fault Beck, as much as I’d like to. If the Democrats had a similar clip of Rush, I think they’d trot it out, too.

Dunn clearly meant that she admired Mao’s determination to continue going after his goal – to overthrow the Nationalist government – despite being told it was an impossible dream. She was talking about persistence. And Beck, of course, twisted that to make it sound as if she were endorsing the cold-blooded murder of 70 million Chinese. However, there are many wonderful examples of people who persevered in the face of difficult odds. To single out Mao, of all the inspiring people throughout history to choose from, as her mentor in this regard is inexplicable, and she will pay a heavy price. Needless to say, it will give Beck and the wingnuttosphere more fuel for claiming it’s an administration of radical Marxists who are scheming to impose their own Cultural Revolution on America. It was painful to watch. She actually said Mao is one of the people she turns to most.

Yes, Mao was persistent, as most tyrants are. Unfortunately – and again, like most tyrants – he also left a stream of death and destruction in his wake that China is still reeling from. How could she not know this? My jaw dropped. Score one for Beck.


Anniversaries and Tea Parties

Today is not only “tea party” day and income tax day, it’s also an anniversary of a most important occasion, one that, although unnoticed in the West at the time, would soon lead to a series of jaw-dropping events that drove us to sit around our TV sets transfixed and incredulous for many weeks. It’s a good reminder that the bigger anniversary, the one for the non-event that can still scarcely be acknowledged looms but a few weeks away. Please rush to that site now, and follow the links. And fasten your seatbelts for what’s to follow in a few weeks.

Back in the motherland, I’ve been watching in amusement and amazement as the “tea party” nonsense titillates the right into paroxysms of ecstasy. All I’ll say is this: The tea parties are code. They have nothing to do with taxes. They are all about anti-Obama rage, racism, fundamentalism and the Limbaugh-Rove-Malkin axis-of-sleazels’ wet dream of imitating the Nuremberg rallies in America. The astroturfed, Fox-news-sponsored orgies of faux outrage are simply a continuation of the 2008 campaign’s insistence that Obama was a socialist Muslim terrorist born in Kenya and out to plunder the US treasury and turn the US of A into a Caliphate.

Not sure that Fox News was a sponsor? Go here; ignore Olberman but watch the Fox compliation. Priceless. And here’s my quote of the day on this topic:

[T]he teabaggers are full-throated about their goals: they want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing, and lick government spending — spending they did not oppose when they were under Presidents Bush and Reagan. They oppose Mr. Obama’s tax rates, which will be lower for most of them, and they oppose the tax increases Mr. Obama is imposing on the rich, whose taxes will skyrocket to a rate about ten percent less than it was under Reagan. That’s teabagging in a nutshell…

I have lots to say about lots of things but can’t muster the energy after work at the new job. I’ll aim for the weekend. Sorry to under-perform here this month, but transitioning to a whole new life is a challenge.

Update: Excellent update and great perspective on these pseudo events by a smart China blogger.


Hussein Obama bowed too low – surely code for Jihad!

The American right has truly and totally lost its marbles. With the world in shambles and people worrying about how to feed their families, the most pressing and terrible thing in their eyes is Obama’s bowing to Saudi King Abdullah.

These comments from the blog with the deliciously ironic title American Thinker may take the cake:

Posted by: FulghumInk
Apr 02, 07:44 PM
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Well good people, Hussein Obama could be politically neutered in 2010. It is up to the American voter. This Marxist socialist miscreant needs to be politically neutered big time. I’m with Alan Keyes-Hussein Obama is not my President.

This citizen loves his country. This citizen hates this government, and the rogue racketeers that occupy it. They are pure unadulterated evil.


Posted by: Cincinnatius
Apr 02, 04:47 PM
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When I think of all the servicemen, some of them personal friends, have died before bowing to ANYONE because they were AMERICANS! To see the POTUS, the very symbol of America bowing to a fat piece of excrement. However, I think we have all witnessed the man to whom Obama pays fidelity.

Posted by: ujay
Apr 02, 04:46 PM
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Whether it’s ignorance or his true colors, it shows that America matters little to him…from Indonesia to the Oval Office, always has, always will

Posted by: Nitram
Apr 02, 04:43 PM
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Aye, treason – and in time of war as well. That’s not just impeachable, that’s executable. As the commander in Chief of US Forces…. utterly reprehensible.

No American, regardless of station, should bow to any foreign leader. We are a sovereign people, which is to say that the poorest Citizen of America stands on an equal footing with every leader of every country in the world. That our supposed president would do so is utterly disgusting.

Posted by: Johnny Appleseed
Apr 02, 04:28 PM
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No impeachment = end of the American Republic. I don’t care to suffer or die for my country, land where my fathers died; but what about our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren? If we don’t rid ourselves of this Marxist-Islamist usurper, our posterity will either curse us; or worse yet, they will not know what it means to speak freely and live under freedom. Our fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers and founding fathers were willing to struggle, suffer and if necessary to die for their own freedom and so that all later generations could live free. Where are the leaders of the opposing political party? Why aren’t we hearing damning words and calls for impeachment from Republican and third party leaders? Without intense vocal opposition leadership, or massive protests by tens of millions, American freedom appears ready to die; and government of the people, by the people, for the people will perish from the earth.

Posted by: Kathy
Apr 02, 04:23 PM
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Does this really surprise anyone? He is and has always been a Muslim, just because it was not PC to say it out loud does not change the fact that he is and that is where his loyalties lie. The only question is what are we going to do about it?

Just a quick reminder:


Why don’t they get that the days when you could get millions of citizens hysterical over a flag pin or the feeding tube of a brain-dead woman or an an utterly insignificant breach of protocol (if that’s what this “bow” even constituted) are over. Faux outrage used to distract a nervous public from what really matters, like food and healthcare and keeping their homes, are doomed to irrelevancy. They may look like rock stars within their echo chambers, but those chambers are getting smaller and smaller as they go out of their way to marginalize themselves.

If this is the very best tactic they have to slime a president with a high approval (deserved or not) and a mission ahead of him that most Americans see as life or death, then Greater Wingnuttopia is in serious trouble. Which is wonderful news.


Chas Freeman on Tiananmen Square, China’s human rights, etc.

I have to give this blog credit for their argument in favor of Obama’s pick to head the National Intelligence Council. Go look at their excerpted text of a leaked memo he wrote. I’ll just repeat a portion here, from a response he wrote in an exchange on China Security Listserv.

(2) The attack on “unarmed students” at Tian’anmen (actually at Muxudi and Fuxingmen and other locations outside Tian’anmen) came after many weeks, even months, in which the Chinese leadership had lost control of security in their own capital. (The troops were, in fact, fired upon at Muxudi, though it is not clear by whom.) The only surprise to me (and other realists, including, I gather, you) was that the Chinese leadership did not act earlier to restore order. We would have done so, judging by the precedents set by MacArthur and our National Guard over the decades from 1920 – 1950. The main lesson those leaders who survived the affair have drawn from it, in fact, is that one should strike hard and strike fast rather than tolerate escalating self-expression by exuberantly rebellious kids. If June 4 tells us anything about the Chinese leadership it is that they are reluctant, often to the point of rashness, to resort to the use of force against their fellow citizens.

(3) I am frankly stunned that you would argue that China has not “become more tolerant of dissent” in recent years. No one can have spent any time at all talking to ordinary people in China over the past two decades and have this view. Of course, outright opposition to rule by the Chinese Communist Party continues to draw a sharp response from the authorities. No government, including our own, is or should be asked to be prepared to tolerate efforts to overthrow it and the constitutional order it administers. (Ironically, despite our ideological predilections to believe the contrary, I am aware of no evidence that Chinese currently consider their government less “legitimate” or worthy of support than Americans do ours — but I defer to [name redacted by TWS] and other experts on this.) Certainly, China continues to fall far short of our minimal expectations for human and civil rights in many respects but it has made very significant progress on many levels. To deny this is primarily to raise questions about the extent to which one has been able to observe readily observable reality.

(4) You did not repeat the Rumsfeld / Rice canard that China has yet to make a decision whether to integrate itself into the existing order or to stand outside it. So you cannot be accused of embracing that quaint but hystrionic absurdity about a country that has joined just about every international organization and regulatory regime that exists, while emerging as a strong defender of the status quo in each against attacks on them, primarily from the US.

Like you, I worry that we will get China fundamentally wrong. It is certiain that we will do so if we allow our idées fixes and ideological preconceptions to guide our reasoning about China rather than deriving our conclusions from first-hand and empirically validatable data.

There’s a lot of stuff there. I can take issue with this or that, but I like the way he challenges the dominant paradigm and his willingness to question sacred cows. I also like that he strives to see the good along with the bad, in extreme contrast to the Bush people who would see Hamas and Hezbollah, for example, only as terrorist groups without understanding how they are perceived by the people who elected them and the role they play in those people’s lives. (Note that I am not saying they aren’t supporters of terrorism, only that it’s a bit more complex than that.)

I know the Tiananmen Square item will create a lot of hysteria. But it’s important you look at what Freeman actually said. I can hear the emotional outcry already: “Freeman is in favor of shooting unarmed students in the back!” But look at his words and put your emotions to the side for a moment. He was surprised the government “didn’t act earlier” – which is not to say he wondered why they didn’t start killing students earlier. The way the CCP handled it was clumsy and ultimately catastrophic, allowing the chaos to drag on for months and suddenly crushing it in a way that haunts them to this day. Of course they should have acted earlier and struck hard –to keep the country functional and to avoid a bloodbath.

To “strike hard and strike fast” does not mean to murder. I think its pretty clear Freeman means it in the sense of nipping the escalating crisis at its earliest stages, maybe with more meaningful negotiations and stronger insistence that bringing the capital city to its knees was not the most productive way to effect change. Personally, my pragmatic side wishes they’d used tear gas at an earlier stage to clear the square, while my idealistic side wishes they’d struck hard and fast by thanking the students for raising serious issues, and inviting them to work with them to change things. But the worst strategy was the dithering for months, which led to breakdowns that made the massacre all but inevitable.

Unfortunately the way Freeman worded it, with the words “strike hard and fast,” will no doubt leave him open to unfair criticism. Kennedy struck hard and fast during the Cuban Missile Crisis. If Freeman had said “respond quickly and emphatically” he’d be a lot better off. We Americans can get quite bent out of shape from out-of-context and misinterpreted remarks, which can damn a politician forever. We have to remember this was a note on China Listserv, not a formal policy statement.

To repeat what I’ve said so many times here: I admire what the students, for all their faults and, in some instances self-interest, achieved in 1989. June 4 is a dark cloud over China that will not go away. The government’s approach was horrific, no matter who fired the first shots (and I know all sides of the story and have seen the photos of the soldiers’ bodies on fire). I still get emotional when I think about this image, and I still remember the hope and the thrill I felt watching what seemed like a miracle unfold in the early days of the demonstrations. But it’s not nearly so simple as good versus evil. It never is.

There is too much dynamite-laced content in the memo to go through it line by line; each item could ignite an endless thread of disagreement. And as I said, I don’t agree with all of it. But I like the way Freeman seeks to clear away the clutter of fixed notions, stereotypes and myths, and I admire his willingness to put his neck on the line to challenge conventional thinking and then to back it up with an intelligent argument.

But don’t just take my word for it. Please go and read what the smartest journalist in China has to say about Freeman.

…I don’t know Freeman personally. I don’t know whether the Saudi funding for his organization has been entirely seemly (like that for most Presidential libraries), which is now the subject of inspector-general investigation. If there’s a problem there, there’s a problem.

But I do know something about the role of contrarians in organizational life. I have hired such people, have worked alongside them, have often been annoyed at them, but ultimately have viewed them as indispensable. Sometimes the annoying people, who will occasionally say “irresponsible” things, are the only ones who will point out problems that everyone else is trying to ignore. A president needs as many such inconvenient boat-rockers as he can find — as long as they’re not in the main operational jobs. Seriously: anyone who has worked in an organization knows how hard it is, but how vital, to find intelligent people who genuinely are willing to say inconvenient things even when everyone around them is getting impatient or annoyed. The truth is, you don’t like them when they do that. You may not like them much at all. But without them, you’re cooked.

So to the extent this argument is shaping up as a banishment of Freeman for rash or unorthodox views, I instinctively take Freeman’s side — even when I disagree with him on specifics. This job calls for originality, and originality brings risks. Chas Freeman is not going to have his finger on any button. He is going to help raise all the questions that the person with his finger on the button should be aware of.

The Bush administration suffered from a dearth of boat-rockers. Those who disagreed were shunted and silenced, labeled as “disloyal.” I’m impressed that Obama chose Freeman for this position, irrespective of whether I disagree with him on all topics related to China. Or the Middle East. He seems to have the kind of mind we need more of, and I hope he survives the inevitable firestorm these seemingly provocative – but actually rather down-to-earth – remarks will generate.

Update: Please be sure to see the new post I wrote about Freeman following his exit from the nomination. So much hoopla over remarks that, when looked at carefully, were well intended, non-provocative and intelligent. Such a loss for America.


Charter 08 Lives?

This topic seems to have see-sawed in and out of the news. This piece in today’s WaPo indicates it may not be dead in the water after all.

When Tang Xiaozhao first saw a copy of the pro-democracy petition in her e-mail inbox, she silently acknowledged she agreed with everything in it but didn’t want to get involved. Tang, a pigtailed, 30-something cosmetology major, had never considered herself the activist type. Like many other Chinese citizens, she kept a blog where she wrote about current events and her life, but she wasn’t political.

A few days later, however, Tang surprised herself. She logged on to her computer and signed the document by sending her full name, location and occupation to a special e-mail address. “I was afraid, but I had already signed it hundreds of times in my heart,” Tang said in an interview.

Hers is the 3,943rd signature on the list that has swelled to more than 8,100 from across China. Although their numbers are still small, those signing the document, and the broad spectrum from which they come, have made the human rights manifesto, known as Charter 08, a significant marker in the demands for democracy in China, one of the few sustained campaigns since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Those who sign the charter risk arrest and punishment.

When the document first appeared online in mid-December, its impact was limited. Many of the original signers were lawyers, writers and other intellectuals who had long been known for their pro-democracy stance. The Chinese government moved quickly to censor the charter — putting those suspected of having written it under surveillance, interrogating those who had signed, and deleting any mention of it from the Internet behind its great firewall.

Then something unusual happened. Ordinary people such as Tang with no history of challenging the government began to circulate the document and declare themselves supporters. The list now includes scholars, journalists, computer technicians, businessmen, teachers and students whose names had not been associated with such movements before, as well as some on the lower rungs of China’s social hierarchy — factory and construction workers and farmers.

That bolded section is the money quote. Thus far, fenqing commenters like HongXing and Math have derided the petition using the same technique as American nutters — i.e., claiming it’s a product of “elitists,” of brainiacs who are far from the common people. This separation, they insist, will inevitably cause the issue to fade out. I admit, I thought they were at least partly right, that the initiative would fade away, if only because it quickly fell out of the news.

Now it seems to be creeping back. I think we all know how social issues can take on steam in China once they strike the right chord. It’s way too soon to say if that can still happen with Charter 08, but a few stories like this in media that Chinese people read have the potential for a firestorm. (A few days ago Bei Da thought it was enough of an issue that they forbade students from signing the document, which could also backfire.)

Tang Xiaozhao became famous a few weeks ago when her blog posts on Charter 08 were deleted as fast as she could open new blogs. But not before the posts made a difference.

Before her blog was shut down entirely Jan. 13, the comments section was filled by online friends who said they had signed Charter 08. Tang counted 17 so far.

“I also signed,” one person wrote. “I cried when I knew Xiaozhao had cried. I wasn’t moved to tears by her tears, but I cried out of frustration and helplessness.” Another saw hope in the censorship: “They wouldn’t have been deleting posts in such a crazy manner,” he wrote, referring to Chinese authorities, ” if they were not scared.” A third person said he “prepared my clothes right after signing my name. I am ready. I don’t want to go to jail, but I am not afraid of going to jail.”

And two days ago Time magazine printed an interview with Bao Tong, “a top aide and speechwriter for the secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in the 1980s” who now “lives under virtual house arrest, his every move observed, every visitor screened by a handful of guards, every conversation presumably monitored.” He was a key architect of Charter 08 and is not going at all gentle into that good night.

Chinese officials have said that now, when the country is straining under the growing pressures of the global downturn and spending billions to help create jobs, is the worst time to call for democratization. Bao argues that economic challenges need to be met with political adaptations as well. “Because we have an economic crisis, we need to bring the people together,” he says. “We can’t take every difference and dissatisfaction and let it intensify. Human rights, democracy, republicanism — these help eliminate conflicts, not intensify conflicts.” For now the country’s leadership is content to let Bao and China’s other democracy advocates stew in anonymity, and hope that once again the Party can grow its way out of trouble.

So China has once again succeeded in creating a martyr, someone the international media can use as a hook for more stories on Charter 08. Not a great strategy.

Finally, ESWN has contributed to this week’s wave of Charter 08 buzz with a spirited new post, part of which I must take issue with. He makes comparisons of the spirit of demonstrators in 1989 with that of the Charter 08 movement today, and says a crucial difference is the Chinese people today have more knowledge of what democracy is and what it brings, thanks to the Internet.

When CNNIC started to count in 1997, there were 630,000 Internet users in all of China. By the end of 2008, the number was almost 300 million (or about 19% of the entire population of China). What might people learn from the Internet, especially about this thing known as democracy? They can easily find out what happened during the presidency of the democratically elected President George W. Bush of the United States of America from 2000 to 2008. These events are known, circulated and discussed in China. Here they are:

He then goes on to list the handling of Hurricane Katrina, Abu Ghraib, the deaths and maiming of Iraqi children and other Bush atrocities. But aren’t people smart enough to know they can’t point solely to what Bush did in his eight catastrophic years and then say, “Look – look at what democracy holds in store for you”? Bush was an aberration. Can we look at this period and say it’s representative of Western democracy? If so, democracy is an unbridled failure, a disaster, a blight.

Roland’s point may be that since it was during the Bush years that Internet usage in China soared, this was all that many of their citizens have seen of Western democracy, and thus may think twice before risking their necks to argue for its adoption in China. But if this were so — if Chinese people see democracy as a disaster because they watched Bush ruin the world on the Internet — then there’d be no Charter 08 and Tang Xiaozhao would be ignored.

I can’t say I see many Chinese people here itching for democracy. But most seem to understand that Bush was an anomaly, and that Americans had the power and the freedom to end the Republican regime and choose their own leaders. I like this quote from a New Yorker article (via ESWN, perhaps ironically):

Chinese young people are not naïve about America and they often make pointed criticisms. But we are fortunate that at least one stratum of Chinese youth seems hungry to restore the American image to what many Americans want it to be. As a Chinese student told the three researchers not long ago, “When I was little, I heard adults talking about the American dream – – money, power, freedom, and fairy-tale life…All this seemed to shape an unreachable fairy tale in my little heart.”

So yes, I would say Chinese people don’t only think of torture, attack dogs and incompetency when they think of America. (God knows, every single one of them I know, without exception, wants to go there, and most refer to America’s “open society” with some envy.) The image of democracy has not been permanently tarnished by Bush.

For the record: I am not a proponent of overnight democracy in China. Maybe Western-style democracy will never be right for China. Democracy is full of crippling flaws and at this point China may be better served with a different system. But I am in favor of reform, including no taxation without representation and a legal system that can bring corrupt exploiters to justice. That’s the least the Chinese people deserve, and you don’t need full-blown Western democracy to provide them.

So Charter 08 has gone from a nearly forgotten whisper to a more piercing if not deafening scream. Will it become a roar? I was skeptical before, but now I’d say it’s not impossible. I also understand that 8,000 signatures in China is less than a tiny drop in a huge bucket. But the story now has the potential to resonate. We’ll just have to wait and see.

This post was a bit stream-of-consciousness, as I was looking at a lot of material. Thanks for your patience as I sorted it out for myself.


Good riddance

Bush’s listless, grim and thoroughly unconvincing speech tonight  was the last he’ll give as president. The world just heaved a huge sigh of relief.  

It’s tempting to rant about the damage he’s done, the loss of prestige we’ve enjoyed under his watch, the wars he started and the opportunities he squandered, the tortured syntax, incongruities and unabashed stupidity of his press conferences, the placing of loyalty above competency and the bankruptcy of a nation that in 2000 stood so much taller than any other that its supremacy and infinite capacity for growth were simply taken for granted. But I think we all know this by now.

All I want to do now is see the stables cleaned and the patient’s body purged of the Bush poison – the war on science, the larding of public agencies with Heritage Foundation cronies, the no-bid contracts to companies owned by political friends and family, the willful ignorance of threats to the environment, not to mention torture, complete secrecy and unaccountability, and…. Well, let’s just say it’s a long list. Obama has his work cut out for him. The country was remade in BushCheney’s image, and now we have to reclaim it, reshape it.

I won’t fisk the speech; it’s not worth it. (For a good takedown of tonight’s last whimper I suggest you check over here. I especially enjoyed the list of topics Bush never mentioned.) He still believes all that we’ll remember was his brief moment in the sun when he picked up a bullhorn amid the rubble of the WTC. And he wasn’t all bad. His policies on Africa and AIDS were good, better than his predecessor’s. There were a few – precious few – moments when I respected him. But all in all, he leaves us with little more than a train wreck.

I read articles today about the possibility of a total collapse of Ireland, Mexico and Pakistan, and other countries may be faring little better. Obviously America can’t be blamed for everything. But we can be blamed as the hub of the financial crisis for jump-starting the mess. As America’s economy goes, so goes the world in this jolly age of Globalization, a term that will soon be ridiculed much as we now ridicule the fantasy of the “New Economy” during the dot-com era, when the wealth would just continue multiplying exponentially – which turned out to be just another version of Dutch tulips.

The Bush administration had all the evidence about the housing bubble and collateralized debt obligations right before its eyes and chose not to look at it. This was symptomatic of the Bush era, when regulation was the enemy, getting rich by any means no matter how questionable or corrupt was extolled, and gutting the government of the competence required to make things work was a celebrated policy. And here we are. Goodbye and good riddance to an incurious little man who no more belonged in the White House than Madoff belonged as the head of NASDAQ. A blight, a disaster and a tragedy, in every conceivable way. A tragedy.

On a more mundane note:

I’ve changed my email address (too much spam on yahoo), so if you write to me please use the new one linked in the sidebar (it’s capcha-equipped to stop the spam bots, so sorry for the extra step). Also, I’m going to be a lot nastier about comments following a spate of bad ones last night. So please be nice. Have a good weekend as we all go into Chinese New Year-mode.

Update: Nice to know that thanks to more interesting news, Bush’s swan song was largely ignored. Fitting.


2008’s Most Loathsome People

Let’s take a break from China for a minute and savor this list, which spans across ideologies and targets figures on all sides of the aisle, including our newly elected president. Of course, the Michelle Malkin blurb was especially enjoyable:

It’s a remarkable achievement in unconscious projection that the author of a book called Unhinged could lose her fucking marbles over a patterned scarf in a donut ad, but that’s what Michelle Malkin did when she sounded the nutbar clarion call and sicced her half-cocked league of masturbators on Rachel Ray and Dunkin Donuts for the flatly absurd notion that they were sending a message of solidarity with Palestinians. Right, Michelle—you just can’t sell donuts without joining the intifada these days. What did the nauseously spunky Ray do to incur the wrath of the Malkinoids? She wore a black and white scarf. A paisley scarf. A scarf that was clearly not a kaffiyeh, which, by the way, is just a hat that Arabs wear, not some universal symbol of jihad. In terms of completely false outrage, the only thing that rivaled this travesty of reason this year was the “lipstick on a pig” metaphor panic. But what puts this embarrassing sham over the top is that Dunkin Donuts actually apologized and pulled the ad, rather than try to explain to the fact-phobic horde that they were just blind, raging idiots with the collective brain-power of a lobotomized howler monkey.

49 other selections, each one devastating, even if I don’t think some of the choices deserve to be on the list. The Sarah Palin and Bernie Madoff selections are also wickedly funny. Their server has been off and on, but keep trying.