Friday, July 31, 2009

off topic post

Not something I usually write about, but this kind of struck a nerve with me today:

We can either spend a trillion dollars and get a two-tier health system or not spend a trillion dollars and get a two-tier health system. To get a one-tier health system, you have to outlaw money.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Rasmussen: Obama, Boxer both below 50%

Rasmussen has Obama below 50% approval for the first time in his presidency. His strong favorable/strong unfavorable differential has now reached 8 points. This is on the heels of polling that showed Obama tied with Romney in possible 2012 matchup polling, and only beating Sarah Palin by 6 points (!). Think about the past six months of media coverage each of them has had as you ponder that...

They are also reporting that Barbara "Don't Call me Ma'am" Boxer is "clinging to a 4 point lead" in a theoretical race with Carly Fiorino. At 45%, Boxer is well below the half-way point. Considering she is a well-funded Democratic incumbent in one of the most heavily Democratic states in the country, this is what the President would call an "unhelpful" poll. There was also a story in Politico yesterday about how her Dem colleagues in the Senate are concerned that her shrill personality and abrasive style - leading causes of recent bad press - are going to tank the cap & tax bill.

Glimmers of hope for the GOP, but it needs to have something to offer voters as Dems keep the machine gun aimed at their big toe.
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

NORKS go postal on Hilary while she flops around on Burma

This is just too hilarious. Apparently the North Koreans have issued a charming statement in response to HRC calling them unruly children, and it is in classic Nork-speak:

“We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community,” the North Korean statement said. “Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”

Love it.

This comes on the same day when HRC is all over the map on Burma, coming in with a policy today that is nearly the polar opposite of the one she was espousing yesterday, to whit from today's Wash Post:

The release of Suu Kyi is "critical" to easing the strained relations between Burma and the United States, Clinton said. "If she were released, that would open up opportunities at least for my country to expand our relationship with Burma, including investments in Burma," she told reporters while attending a regional security forum.
Really, all she had to do was get of the plane and not say something incredibly stupid to one-up the fact that Condi could not be bothered to go to an ASEAN ministerial. Oh well.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

In the name of Allah

This has to be one of the sickest things I have ever heard. The Jerusalem Post interviews an Iranian Basiji, who talks about his time as a prison guard. One of his rewards for being so good at his job (i.e. being a thug for hire) was the honor to temporarily "marry" young girls who were being executed. WARNING: this is horrific and not for the squeamish.

In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin, he explained. Therefore a "wedding" ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard - essentially raped by her "husband."

And he said this in response to a question about why he regretted these rapes even though they were "legal":

"Because," he went on, "I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their 'wedding' night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning. And they would always fight back, so we would have to put sleeping pills in their food. By morning the girls would have an empty expression; it seemed like they were ready or wanted to die.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!? How does this regime consider itself ordained by God? As one commentator said, it must be nice to be able to craft laws to accommodate your depravity. This is the true face of the Iranian regime and this is why the Obama policy of trying to make a deal with these amoral freaks is wrong.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams!

When Obama was in Russia last week, there were stories in the press about how he blew off dinner with Putin to go out with his family on one of the two nights he was there, and that this was some kind of "signal."  Well, as the details of his "working brunch" with old Pootie have emerged, there are some different signals being sent.  The Jamestown Foundation cites Interfax, the Russian news agency, as reporting that Obama and Putin dined on "beluga and black caviar." So what?  Well, both are apparently illegal in Russia as part of an effort to protect the endangered species that produce them.  More from Jamestown: 
Obama had a "Russian style" working brunch with Putin with smoked beluga and black caviar. At present, the commercial production, sale and consumption of beluga or black caviar is illegal in Russia to protect endangered species. It was speculated that Putin served Obama Iranian-made caviar, which is legal (Interfax, July 8). Of course, in Russia, laws do not apply to the top nomenklatura, so the delicacy Obama consumed was most likely Russian-made and contraband. It is not clear what is politically more damaging for a U.S. president: to publicly eat Iranian caviar or Russian contraband. Putin indeed has a peculiar sense of humor.
Peculiar indeed.  But what may be most peculiar is the total lack of any US media coverage of this.  As Michael Goldfarb, writing in the Weekly Standard blog notes: 
I recall this president making national news with his decision to go out for a cheeseburger at lunch. Then there was the time that the White House press corps covered Obama's trip to the ice cream parlor in excruciating detail ("Obama had vanilla frozen custard in a cup with hot fudge and toasted almonds."). But Obama goes to Moscow and starts shoveling down gourmet endangered species and contraband fish eggs and you'd have to read the Russian wires to get the story.
Where are the environmentalists, Friends of Animals, PETA, the Slow Food people?  Honest to God, if GWB was caught eating some endangered fish roe, they would be calling for his head on a blini.  Bush was ruthlessly (and deservedly) mocked for looking into Pootie's soul, but at least he never got caught making googly eyes with him over $3000 a pound fish eggs.

But back to the important stuff of the trip, because Obama was probably just being polite about the caviar so he could get something really big and important out of the Russians, right?  Well, no.  For that, he sold Georgia down the river.  Back to Jamestown: 

Before the brunch Obama announced he had "excellent discussions" with Medvedev and praised Putin for doing "extraordinary work on behalf of the Russian people" as the former president, and now prime minister (The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, July 7). Under Putin's rule since 2000, elections have been regularly rigged, and political and press freedoms crushed. Last August, Putin and Medvedev ordered Russian troops to invade neighboring Georgia and occupy its territory, but for Obama these issues seem to be secondary.

The government-controlled media has observed with approval Obama's "hands off" approach to human rights issues in Russia. 
The act of acute political appeasement of Putin and Medvedev performed by the Obama team in Moscow has produced something, but what will be the final price? Obama discussed Georgia with Putin and agreed to disagree (Interfax, July 7). President Mikheil Saakashvili interpreted Obama's statement, reiterating Georgia's independence and territorial integrity, as a demonstration of "unconditional support" (Civil Georgia, July 6), but is that indeed true?
It just keeps getting better & better.
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What's good for Africa is good for...Africa

Obama goes to Ghana and gives a "tough love" speech, preaching - seriously, he was practically hectoring these poor people -- to Africans that they need to get their house in order, embrace good governance, democracy, human rights and free trade, and stop blaming the West and colonialism for all their problems.  Where was this guy in Cairo?  Why isn't this kind of talk considered patronizing meddling or hypocritical (because of Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, etc.) when Obama does it in Africa, but would be if he were to say it to -- for example -- Iran or any other Middle Eastern country, Honduras, Russia or China, just to name a few who recently could have used a dose of "tough love" from Dr. O?  

I continue to be amused by the lack of critical response to this bipolar (multi-polar?) policy approach on the part of the liberal media.  Republicans are not being effective in taking advantage of his so-flexible-as-to-appear-unprincipled approach to foreign policy.  The WSJ has a good piece on this speech that should serve as a roadmap for not only pointing out his wildly divergent regional foreign policies, but linking them up to some of his worst domestic policy ideas.  
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Monday, July 13, 2009

China's Cat & Mouse Game with Burma?

So... there is this odd piece in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine about how China is allegedly fed up with the wackadoodle Burmese junta and has been quietly reaching out to the Burmese opposition, led by Aung San Suu Kyi.  After portraying China as the victim of crafty erstwhile allies who often take it for a ride, the author breathlessly claims that: 

Indeed, recent weeks have shown China to be stealthily exploring the possibility that jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi might govern Burma as a more reliable, and perhaps more pliable, neighbor than Burma's junta does.

Ok - let's examine this claim.  First, she says China is reaching out to ASSK because they think she will be more "reliable" and "pliable" an ally than the junta.  This belief of theirs seems to be predicated on an assumption that a competent democrat will be a better ally that incompetent autocrats.  Pretty speculative stuff.  While I certainly think competent democrats would do a better job of running Burma (hell, a monkey with a dartboard would do a better job that these lunatics), it would be quite shocking if the Chinese government now thinks that a Burmese democracy would be more stable than the status quo.  This would fly in the face of everything they have ever said and done, both with regard to Burma and in China.   Seems unlikely.  Moreover, anyone who has ever met ASSK, or even knows anything about her would never use the word "pliable" to describe her.  This is one tough chick who has made unimaginable sacrifices for the sake of democratic ideals, but hey - the Chinese think she will be willing throw all that aside to preside over a more accommodating client state for their benefit?  Again, unlikely.  

Second, China has been "stealthily exploring" this possibility "in recent weeks."  And how have they been doing this, according to the author?  Through these extremely secret maneuvers: allowing UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to travel to Burma; their support in the fall of 2007 (!) for the ridiculous Gambari mission after the regime crackdown on the Saffron Revolution; and their signing of an EU-ASEAN statement calling for the release of political prisoners.  Color me underwhelmed.  During this same period, China has had numerous state visits with the junta, maintained its economic and military support for the regime, and blocked serious efforts within the UN to go after the junta.  I just don't see it, based on the thin evidence the author provides.  

So maybe she knows something more?  Could be.  There have been claims over the years by various exiled Burmese democracy activists that they have maintained relationships with Chinese contacts who have alluded to their willingness to work with a Suu Kyi-led government.  I find this more compelling than the flimsy material in the FP piece, but I have always believed that these contacts were more likely part of an intelligence gathering operation by the Chinese than a sincere expression of interest in, let alone support for, the political aspirations of Burma's democrats.  

China has undoubtedly, at times, sought to soften its image as the patron saint of the world's worst dictatorships, especially when there was something else it wanted in play.  And yes, the epic bad governance of Burma creates headaches for Beijing.  But to leap to the conclusion that China is seriously reaching out to Burma's opposition, based on such shallow activities as support for a UN mission that serves as a useful fig leaf for the Chinese, especially when compared to the deep and serious ties that China maintains to the Burmese regime, seems like a lot of wishful thinking.

My real gripe, though, is with Foreign Policy magazine for publishing such a weakly argued, sensationalistic piece.  I suppose they could be forgiven if it had been submitted by someone who was famous for passing off gibberish as important information - say, for example Tom Friedman.  But I could not understand their allowance for such a lame piece from someone I had never heard of - one Wen Liao of Longford Advisors.  So I Googled Ms. Wen.

Here is a charming quote from another of her pieces, this time on how China's involvement in the war in Sri Lanka is really a good thing for all of us:
China’s newfound assertiveness, rather than creating fear, should be seen as establishing the necessary conditions for comprehensive negotiations about the very basis of peaceful coexistence and stability in Asia: respect for all sides’ vital interests. In recent years, such an approach ran counter to America’s foreign-policy predisposition of favouring universalist doctrines over a careful balancing of national interests. With the Obama administration embracing realism as its diplomatic lodestar, China may have found a willing interlocutor.


And then there is this, from a piece Ms. Wen did last year on Tibet, which posits that China cracked down on monk-led protests because the US did not sufficiently reassure the ChiComs that Kosovo independence was a one-off event whose logic did not apply to them (especially since they were not engaged in ethnic cleansing - oh, nevermind...): 

The West has historically stressed two bright lines with respect to Taiwan: no independence and no use of force by China. But, in view of Kosovo’s independence against the will of Serbia and without UN sanction, these bright lines have become blurred in China’s eyes.

The world is risking much by injecting ambiguity into an issue that once seemed clear-cut. Thirty-five years ago, in a supreme act of modern statecraft, Zhou En-lai and Richard Nixon signed the Shanghai Communiqué, which set the following unambiguous standard: there is only one China, and Taiwan is part of it. An unequivocal reaffirmation of that understanding, particularly by the United States in the light of its role as primary backer of Kosovo’s independence, is now needed if China is to be reassured that its unity will not be called into question.


Both China and the West must now avoid letting exaggerated fears create self-inflicted prophecies. Events in Tibet can only be properly viewed with the shadows cast by Kosovo and Taiwan in mind.

What the what?  

So, again, who is the mysterious Madame Wen and why do people publish this nonsense from her?  Other than the fact that she is part of Project Syndicate, and that her "consulting firm" Longford Advisors is registered in the Isle of Mann, a notorious tax haven, I could find nothing about her.  Seriously - no professional, academic or other background.  Very strange.  
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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Uighurstan Power Plays

The NYT has an excellent piece today on how the hardline policies in Xinjiang relate to the bigger picture political jockeying within China's leadership.  The profile of the notorious Wang Lequan, which also notes his relationship to his protege and equal in nastiness Zhang Qingli - the hardline party secretary in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, is some quality reportage of the kind that is often sorely lacking when it comes to China.  I hope that everyone in the Obama Administration reads this article, as it exposes a number of important currents in Chinese political thought about how to manage the restive minority nationalities.  To whit: 

- Whereas in most other countries, the fact that Xinjiang exploded into violence in the first place would normally be held against Wang and Zhang, their harsh response and their reputation for toughness (which arguably is a leading factor in the initial violence!) will probably result in their continued promotion up the ladder.

- Wang and his ilk are among a minority who believe that inter-ethnic conflict, rather than economic slowdown, has the most potential to upset the Communist Party's apple cart.  This viewpoint may be self-serving, given his position, and is definitely shaped by the fact that he has spent the past 15 years cracking-heads in Uighurland.  Unfortunately, having recognized inter-ethnic conflict as a problem, he has come to the conclusion that the way to resolve the problem is to be as harsh as possible on one hand while maximizing assimilationist policies on the other.

- Hu Jintao, who comes across on the international stage as Mr. Smooth - a polished, modern leader, is thoroughly linked up with this mentality of repression and chauvinism.  He is probably one of its strongest proponents in the system.  

And so it goes.  US and European policymakers continue to pretend that they are dealing with a modern, normal nation, while China continues to act like a 19th century colonial power.  And we are surprised when the mask slips and the true ugliness peeks out from behind the 21st century veneer.
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Friday, July 10, 2009

Uncle Zhou in Uighurstan

Uh oh.  It looks like the regime is getting serious, now that Hu Jintao has apparently sent the thuggish Zhou Yongkang to Urumqi to "direct safety work" in the restive region.  (Original article in Chinese here.)  So what is Zhou up to?  Let's take a gander at a completely spontaneous moment, as dutifully chronicled those crack journalists over at Xinhua:
“Hai-er-ni-sha-han, a 66 year-old Uighur woman who had been struck in the head with a brick while riding on a public bus, is currently receiving medical treatment. Zhou Yong-kang visited her bedside, and leant over to carefully examine her wounds. He expressed his personal sympathies to her. Hai-er-ni-sha-han said that she has confident in the party and the government, believes that the malevolent goals of villains will not succeed, and that ‘our lives will be sure to improve.’ Zhou Yong-kang said to her: ‘You have indeed spoken well. What you said represents the common aspirations of the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang.’”
Awwwww.  How sweet.  And who exactly is Uncle Zhou and why has he been thrust into this role of healing the ethnic divide?  Well - he just happens to have recently been promoted after serving a five year term as minister of "public security."  Before that, he was the party secretary in Sichuan province, where he launched a major crackdown on Tibetan "splittists" that was marked by the first execution of a Tibetan for a political crime in recent memory.  That crackdown apparently was key to his promotion to the national stage, since beating up on troublesome ethnics has long been a proven path to the top echelons of the Peoples Republic (see e.g. Hu Jintao).  

And who is China's propaganda machine trying to fool with this outpouring of concern from on high?  The domestic audience, of course.  Much as I love the early socialist prose style of this article, it is interesting how the Chinese people can readily believe this garbage when they generally take for granted that Xinhua is only giving them half the truth.  I blame a combination of latent Han chauvinism and, perversely (or not, since I am generally a conservative who opposes such things), the government's showy affirmative action program for minorities, which provides them a number of "advantages" (as long as they are willing to subsume themselves into the Chinese system).  This affirmative action program has convinced many Han that most minorities are either idiots who can't get by without a boost from the state, degenerates who get away with murder because of an official policy of leniency in criminal matters (although this official lenience certainly doesn't carry over to "political" matters), or lazy ingrates who should be thankful for the beneficence of the Chinese (read: Han) state.  

So much for harmonious society...
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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Burma and North Korea: the New Axis of Evil (and Crazy)

My friend Aung Zaw has a new piece talking about the increasingly warm relationship between the nutty military dictatorship in Rangoon and their equally deranged counterparts in Pyongyang.  I suppose it was only a matter of time before these two buried the hatchet and become BFFs.  Back in the day (1983, to be precise), when the North Korean government tried to assasinate some South Korean leaders in Rangoon, the Burmese regime of the day was pretty cheesed about it and broke off relations with the Hermit Kingdom.  However, now that both are decrepit Chinese client states run by a mafia of lunatics, it is only right that they link arms and dance off together in pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Thanks again ChiComs!  Couldn't have done it without your help. 

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Neo-colonialism with Chinese characteristics

The NYT has an essay by an anthropologist who discusses the colonialist mindset of China's rulers (and, sadly, many Han Chinese) toward the Tibetans and Uighurs.  In describing how they see these minority groups, he says: 

For them, all minorities are fully — and only — Chinese citizens, and therefore must be loyal to the government and grateful for its largesse. There will never be much gratitude unless China’s leaders grant these groups real regional autonomy, guarantee freedom of religion, curb Han Chinese migration and stop their insulting rhetoric about underdeveloped minorities in need of help. But they won’t. So the unrest and discontent — at times exploding into the violence of the past few days — are bound to continue.
He also does a good job of explaining the difference between ethnic "nationalities" such as Tibetans and Uighurs, vice the 50+ other minority groups in China - i.e. Hui, Zhang, etc. - a distinction that is frequently obscured by both Chinese leaders and others in making comparisons to ethnic politics in other countries, as well as comparisons among ethnic groups within China.  

I am looking at a copy of Ross Terrill's "The New Chinese Empire", which has been waiting for me to read it for some time.  I think I'll start today...

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I love the smell of democracy in the morning

Just read a great piece in the WSJ about the "dumbing down of democracy."  The author cites the example of Russian authorities (or should I say authoritarians) referring to their system as a "different kind of democracy" than what we have here in the good old US of A.  Well.  He could have just as easily used the Chinese example, where a government that is clearly authoritarian continues to play word games in asserting that they have a kind of democracy with Chinese characteristics (as if denial of basic civil and political rights were "characteristics" of a democratic system).  Surreal, yes.  Also dangerous, as the author points out: 

Letting genuine democratic aspirants in places like Iran and Honduras lose in front of a watching world will exact a price. The United States and the other John Locke democracies are in an active, long-term competition with fake democrats over whose politics governs the next century. And they will presume to choose which parties should run other counties.

There is the clear sense that anything the Bush administration did, the Obama sophisticates will not do. Does the fact that the Bushies pushed democracy mean it would be bad form to support even our own political system?

Over at The Corner, Jonah Goldberg makes many of the same points about Obama's antipathy toward democracy promotion: 

Again and again, the administration has made it clear that spreading freedom is so much ideological foolishness. Before the inauguration, he told the Washington Post that he was concerned with “actually delivering a better life for people on the ground and less obsessed with form, more concerned with substance.” There’s merit to this view in principle, though Obama seems to be thinking about “economic justice” more than a free society. But in practice, when American presidents say they don’t care about democracy, tyrants rejoice.

Which makes a nice segue to my Xinjiang piece in the Asia WSJ, and the comical-if-they-weren't-so-scary comments that the angry Chinese netizens have made.  I have always maintained that most Chinese seem to be missing the gene for irony.  I realize this is a horrible stereotype, but damn if they don't prove it true at every opportunity.  Hence, I am slammed by a bunch of nasty-grams from defenders of the Beijing regime, who are able to vent their spleen at me by virtue of the fact that they can take advantage of -- wait for it -- freedom of expression.

Maybe someday these poor unironic ninnies will figure it out.  Until then, I am going to double up on virus protection and enjoy the fireworks.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My new favorite thing!

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.  The best military inspired non-obscene obscenity since FUBAR.

Thanks to Jamie Fly for bringing it to my attention in his brilliant blog item for the Weekly Standard.

I think the left, having caught the car it was chasing for 8 years, really has no idea what the heck to do with it.  

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Where, exactly, is the outrage?

Besides Glenn Greenwald's blog, I mean.  

I want to just get this straight in my head: Obama trashes the Bush Administration for its horrible policies on detention of terrorists, then proceeds to not only retain them when he becomes president but actually finds a way to make them worse by incorporating blatant show trials.  And where is the loony left?  Cue the crickets.

Greenwald and Jonathan Turley are at least calling him on it, but we'll see what the MSM has to say, as well as all those in Congress and the "international community" who spent the past seven years railing against the Bush Administration for their open-ended detention of terrorists.  As Greenwald says: 
 In its own twisted way, the Bush approach was actually more honest and transparent:  they made no secret of their belief that the President could imprison anyone he wanted without any process at all.  That's clearly the Obama view as well, but he's creating an elaborate, multi-layered, and purely discretionary "justice system" that accomplishes exactly the same thing while creating the false appearance that there is due process being accorded.   And for those who -- to justify what Obama is doing -- make the not unreasonable point that Bush left Obama with a difficult quandary at Guantanamo, how will that excuse apply when these new detention powers are applied not only to existing Guantanamo detainees but to future (i.e., not-yet-abducted) detainees as well.
And from Turley: 
Liberals continue to be largely silent in the face of policies that they once denounced and protested. It is rare to hear any coverage or questions of the Administration’s refusal to investigate war crimes of torture, for example. Liberals seem to be quickly developing a cult of personality that has supplanted the most basic principles of human rights and international law. 
Hmpf.  Res ipsa loquitor, indeed.
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Uighur Protests continue

Just finished final edits on a piece for the Asia Wall Street Journal on the unrest in Uighur-land and the link to China's censorship policies.  It should be up on line around mid-day here, and in the dead-tree version published in Hong Kong tomorrow.  

The stateside version of the WSJ has an op-ed from Rebiya Kadeer that touches on some of the same themes as my piece, particularly the race-baiting aspect of China's response to this crisis and the Tibetan uprising last year.  To whit: 

The recent Uighur repression has taken on a racial tone. The Chinese government is known for encouraging a nationalistic streak among Han Chinese as it seeks to replace the bankrupt communist ideology it used to promote. This nationalism was in evidence as the Han Chinese mob attacked Uighur workers in Shaoguan.  This official encouragement of reactionary nationalism among Han Chinese makes the path forward very difficult. 

As the violence escalates, so does the pain I feel for the loss of all innocent lives. I fear the Chinese government will not experience this pain as it reports on its version of events in Urumqi. It is this lack of self-examination that further divides Han Chinese and Uighurs.

It is also fascinating to me that Hu Jintao has bailed on the G8 meeting in order to be in China to deal with the situation in Uighur-land.  The protests are spreading to other areas, much as protests spread across the Tibetan plateau after the brutal crackdown in Lhasa last year.  When will the Chinese learn to handle these situations better?  I have to believe that they will at some point because they show a pretty strong capacity to learn on the media management front and apply lessons to improve their approaches over time.  Yet the heavy security response to non-violent protests by ethnic minorities seems immutable, always with the same tragic results for the victims of violence and the negative fall-out for the Chinese.

Silver lining here is Rebiya getting a forum for her moderate and reasonable sounding ideas, and the fact that most media stories are highlighting the Chinese government's race-baiting and censorship, as well as the underlying causes of tensions in the region (China's bad policies on migration, education, language, religion, etc.). 

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seriously?!? Are these people crazy or just evil?

More on the violence in Uighur-land from an AP story:

Meanwhile, for much of the afternoon, a mob of 1,000 mostly young Han Chinese holding cleavers and clubs and chanting "Defend the Country" tore through streets trying to get to a Uighur neighborhood until they were repulsed by police firing tear gas.

Panic and anger bubbled up amid the suspicion in Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee). In some neighborhoods, Han Chinese — China's majority ethnic group — armed themselves with pieces of lumber and shovels to defend themselves. People bought up bottled water out of fear, as one resident said, that "the Uighurs might poison the water."

The outbursts happened despite swarms of paramilitary and riot police enforcing a dragnet that state media said led to the arrest more than 1,400 participants in Sunday's riot, the worst ethnic violence in the often tense region in decades.

Trying to control the message, the government has slowed mobile phone and Internet services, blocked Twitter — whose servers are overseas — and censored Chinese social networking and news sites and accused Uighurs living in exile of inciting Sunday's riot. State media coverage, however, carried graphic footage and pictures of the unrest _showing mainly Han Chinese victims and stoking the anger.

The Chinese also said that the riots were stirred up by Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur exile who is a leader of her people because the regime put her in jail for having the nerve to complain about the horrible situation of the Uighur people.  She had the nerve to do this precisely because, call her crazy, the Chinese had annointed her as a model Uighur due to her business success, and made her one of their ethnic show ponies.  When she actually thought that this gave her some grounds to present evidence of the grievances of her people to the Chinese leadership, they threw her in jail and nearly killed her.  To this day, her children are in jail because they are her children.  

So, is the Chinese regime out of their minds or are they really this cynical?  Is stoking ethnic hatred to maintain your own legitimacy the behavior of a responsible government?  Let's think about a few lessons from history...hmmm....

A few facts: 

- The initial incident that sparked all this was an attack on a group of Uighur men in a coastal Chinese town.  A mob of Han Chinese attacked and beat 6 Uighurs who were accused of raping a Chinese woman.  What does this remind you of? (here's a hint: Emmit Till; here's another: Adolf Hitler)

- Han Chinese outnumber ethnic Uighurs 2-to-1 in Urumqi, and control the political, security and economic infrastructure of the city, region and country.  

- The Chinese government strictly controls all telecommunications into and out of Uighur-land.  Rebiya Kadeer lives in Washington, DC and is a 60+ year old woman with a cellphone.  Yet, according to the Chinese regime, she orchestrated these protests.   

- Last year, the Chinese government claimed that the Dalai Lama's "clique" in India orchestrated protests in Tibet.

Conclusion a reasonable person would reach if given the facts: either the Chinese government is not as on top of things as they claim to be in Tibet and Uighur-land, or maybe they are not being truthful in blaming the Dalai Lama and Rebiya Kadeer when these miserable, put-upon people decide they have had enough and just can't take it anymore.

Conclusion that most Chinese people reach because they only hear what the government wants them to: Uighurs and Tibetans are ungrateful little snots who are trying to destroy China.  But please don't take it upon yourself to beat the crap out of them - that is our job.

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China: The revolution will be spun

Good piece in the NYT today about China's efforts to block & spin events in East Turkestan/Xinjiang, which is all the better because it quotes my dear friend Xiao over at China Digital Times.  He is so brilliant.  Key passages from the article: 
Hours after troops quelled the protests, in which 156 people were reported killed, the state invited foreign journalists on an official trip to Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital and the site of the unrest, “to know better about the riots.” Indeed, it set up a media center at a downtown hotel — with a hefty discount on rooms — to keep arriving reporters abreast of events.

It is a far cry from Beijing’s reaction 11 years ago to ethnic violence elsewhere in Xinjiang, when officials sealed off an entire city and refused to say what happened or how many people had died. And it reflects lessons learned from the military crackdown in Tibet 17 months ago. Foreign reporters were banned from Tibet, then and now. Chinese authorities rallied domestic support by blaming outside agitators but were widely condemned overseas.

State television has focused primarily, though not totally, on scenes of violence directed against China’s ethnic Han majority. Chinese news Web sites carry official accounts of the unrest, but readers are generally blocked from posting comments.

As in Tibet, blame for the violence has been aimed at outside agitators bent on splitting China — in this case, the World Uighur Congress, an exile group whose president, Rebiya Kadeer, is a Uighur businesswoman now living in Washington.

The most troubling aspects of this whole approach are the regime's attempts to play ethnic politics and their ability to manipulate foreign media.  On the first, it is extremely frightening to think that a nation of 1.3 billion people, 90+% of whom are of the Han (Chinese) ethnicity can be so easily manipulated by their authoritarian government into hating their "brothers and sisters" - be they Uighur or Tibetan.  Think about it: We're talking about a regime that is willing to pit more than 1 billion its own people against small ethnic minority groups that were already suffering from heavy discrimination and who lag behind the rest of China on virtually every social and economic indicator - hardly smacks of confidence in their own legitimacy.  

Which leads to the kind of stories they are able to get out of "western" media from the calculated junket to Urumqi.  On the face of it, inviting a bunch of foreign journalists to Urumqi the day after massive riots flies in the face of the Chinese media control mind-set, and gives the an impression of increased openness that will earn them credit from the west.  However, I would bet my last grain of rice that in addition to the New York Times, there was a sizable contingent of "journalists" from countries such as Nepal, Russia, Pakistan, etc. - where the press is nominally free but journalistic standards are, shall we say, more creative.  Setting aside the ongoing decline of journalism in the western world, my experience with the reportage of the Nepali press corps leads me to believe that the Chinese will get exactly what they want out of this junket:  a suitable number of news stories in English and other languages, from a range of sources that are not the Chinese state, but exactly parrot the coverage one would find in Xinhua.  The online media market is increasingly a numbers game, and they have probably rightly calculated that they can achieve parity or maybe even supremacy in the post-protest spin zone by just increasing the amount of "positive" reportage by "independent" sources.

This is sophisticated stuff worthy of Madison Avenue or the Obama White House.  Coming as it does from a large, increasingly powerful authoritarian regime, it should be horrifying.  Policy-makers and the media themselves need to recognize that this media management strategy is a key factor in the ability of what should be very brittle regime to continue to survive and thrive. 

The question then becomes, what lesson should the free world take from all this and what policy response is appropriate.  First, we need to recognize China's censorship at home and spin control abroad as the strategic threat that it is.  Fighting back against it should be a strategic imperative, rather than the current ad hoc after-thought approach.  Together with other free societies, the U.S. needs to be pushing back on Chinese censorship with more information resources.  This means increased funding for surrogate radio such as Radio Free Asia, and efforts to improve access for services such as the Voice of America and the BBC.  We also need to invest in internet freedom initiatives that can challenge China's control of online space and discourse.  We need to both increase access to the "free" web for Chinese and expand the number and presence of alternate points of view in the Chinese vernacular.  These are all essential and, currently, all are very poorly funded.  

Western media and technology companies also need to recognize their responsibility as beneficiaries of the free press and free market at home in their conduct in China.  Fear of losing market share should not be allowed as an excuse for behavior that limits the freedoms of the Chinese people.  It is inexcusable that Microsoft, Google, Cisco and other technology companies are complicit in China's domestic censorship regime.  The U.S. Department of Justice and its European counterpart should be investigating Microsoft over the issue of whether its new Bing! search engine filters out results for Chinese language searches outside China, as has been reported.  The recent firestorm over the "Green Dam" filtering software, and the regime's about-face on that issue shows that it can be pressured effectively on censorship issues.  The key lesson from that episode is that unity and public outrage are effective tools in calling the Chinese government's bluff.  

The U.S. and other countries should also look at the possibility of challenging China's censorship of western media outlets through the WTO on the grounds of unequal treatment.  China's state-run CCTV television channel and other Chinese state-owned media outlets are given free and open access to western media markets while western media are blocked, censored and harassed in China.  The increasing privatization of Chinese media has created new opportunities to use market-based and legal tools to go after both the censorship regime and the disparate access.  

The Department of Defense should also be engaged, given the potential for China to apply the lessons learned from its cyber-war against its own citizens to cyber-warfare against the US and other countries whose war-fighting capabilities are heavily dependent on preserving an effective information-management system.  And, as John Dillinger said, people rob banks because that is where the money is.  DOD has the money and the rationale for working with other parts of the US government on this.  
I'm kind of on a roll here; I think I am going to take this and work it into a piece for MSM publication.  We'll see how that goes today!
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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Today I'm Liking...

Leon Weiselter's piece on - a liberal critique of Obama's Iran reticence

China backing off on the weirdly named Green Dam filtering software (who says pressure doesn't work with the Chinese!?!?)

Video of I'm-a-dinner-jacket fleeing from university students who heckle him, shouting "death to the dictator" - brilliant stuff

and yoga.
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