Monday, July 30, 2007


China is the next big kahuna.  Putin has the missiles and nukes, but China has going for it the same thing as Barack Obama: freshness.

Before I turn seriously - or semi-seriously - to China, I want to make two points that seem to have escaped the pundits this week as they wallowed in the breath of fresh air/blast from the past controversy:  the question on the YouTube debate was phrased thus:  “Would you be willing, in the first year of your term, to meet with” leaders we don’t like?  Now, “would you be willing” would seem to imply that the questioner thinks this would be a good idea, yet most of the comments I heard emphasized the American public’s preference for caution.  The second thing that no one mentioned was that Hillary is not “experienced” in change, while anyone familiar with Obama’s career as a community activist understands that he has been all about change.  To be about change you have to think outside the box, not think better than other people inside the box.
Now to China: for months we’ve been hearing about China’s sloppy food industry.  No one mentions that at a similar point in our development, at the turn of the 20th century, we committed the same crimes: China hasn’t yet had its Teddy Roosevelt and its Upton Sinclair to legislate and enforce food standards and safety.    This is not our fault but our ethnocentricity could reserve some surprises.

The other day I was in a Social Security office.  Anticipating a wait, I grabbed a free newspaper from a display shelf.  Guess what?  Although its title was “”The Epoch Times,” it was a Chinese publication.  In the place of the New York Times' motto “All the news that’s fit to print” was the phrase:  “A fresh look at our changing world”.  The front section was devoted to international news, the second second was entitled “The City”, and focused on New York.  In total, sixteen full-size pages in all, with color photographs and very little advertising.  But if you think this is a Red Army fifth column, think again: it’s Taiwan.  The front page carries an article entitled :”Chinese Regime infiltrates U.S. campuses”, a special report on the victims of Katrina, Egypt’s condemnation of the Gaza ‘coup’ and a world Wildlife Report on desalinization of sea water, judged environmentally unsound.  Following several pages of varied international news, there is a sports page and a page devoted to various critiques of communism.

A product the USIA could admire.

Not surprisingly, the August issue of “In These Times” reviews a book by Joshua Kurlantzick entitled “Charm Offensive”,  which chronicles China’s increasingly sophisticated use of soft power.  A former student of Joseph Nye, Kurlantzick spent four years in China and writes that the country has been “traversing the developing world, offering to grow trade ties, build road, schools and hospitals, mostly in a bid to gain access to much-needed raw materials an win friends at the U.N.”  He adds that the key desire of the Communist Party leadership “is to articulate China’s growing power in a non-threatening way and to dampen the growing concern over what the Middle Kingdom’s resurgence will mean for the world economically, militarily, environmentally and culturally.”

The reviewer points out that the U.S. did the same after World War II, and that “China’s Peaceful Rise” as the official slogan goes, has resonated in many nations in direct proportion to the deterioration of perceptions about the U.S.   The reviewer also recognizes that this “dazzle them” approach obscures more painful truths, such as China’s continued arms sales to the Sudanese government.  But the most significant thing the article points out is that China’s economic success is fraying he notion that democracy is necessary for economic growth.

A piece in the July 14th Economist titled: “ One household, one vote, a novel approach to conflict-resolution”, reports on a novel vote by Beijing slum residents to offers of proper housing by developers eager to cash in on their locations. The media referred to the vote as a veritable referendum, incurring the wrath of officials who cling to the notion that referendums are not necessary in a state where the party represents the will of the people.  That’s par for the course; but get this:  one commentator argued that property rights were a core human right that could not be taken away for democracy! How’s that for the student outdoing the master? (For the record, twice as many people voted to accept the offer as refused it.)
Last but not least - and my apologies for the length of this entry -  the June 23rd Economist reviewed a book about Pakistan’s military business, entitled Military Inc., Like the Chinese army,  the Pakistani military runs important big businesses, having a virtual monopoly on road-building and cement production and heading one third of the country’s heavy manufacturing companies.   One of the justifications is that soldiers make better managers than civilians.

If you’re wondering why this sounds familiar, think Halliburton, Bechtel, Kellog-Brown and Root.   That brings us neatly back to the YouTube debate and the question about getting our troops out of Iraq: Joe Biden warned that we’d also have to evacuate the civilians on the roof.  Hillary Clinton may know how to do that, but maybe Barack Obama wouldn’t have them there in the first place.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


On February 19th I wrote a blog entitled “Obama’s breath of fresh air, Hillary’s draft from the past and Putin’s credo”.  A medical emergency had forced me away from my computer for a week, but I suggested the content would have long legs.
The people’s debate last night, (following on another leave for back surgery, about which I shall write in another blog), illustrates my February choice of words.

When asked whether they would meet with hostile foreign leaders during their first year in office (one of the more imaginative questions!), Hillary responded with dependable grandmotherly caution: she would meet with them if and when others had worked out what the consequences might be.  She wouldn’t want to be used.  You can just see the “responsible” following in the footsteps of Nixon when he went to China.

Barack Obama on he other hand responded with a Rooseveltian energetic “yes”!  The man in the wheel chair and the dashing black candidate share the same can-do, optimism.  What does it matter what political hay a foreign leader would make of a meeting if the result is an increase in understanding as to where the other guy is coming from?  Should our survival as a species rest on PR points?

And here is where the Putin’s credo part of my previous title comes in: unlike the thorough, methodical Clinton, who knows every detail  of every Senate bill, Obama understands the ESSENCE of our times.  I don’t think I can say it any better now than I did in February:      “Maybe you didn’t see Senator McCain and a republican colleague whose identity I have forgotten sitting in the front row of an international meeting on Iran as Vladimir Putin got up and declared the era of American supremacy over.  The camera shot couldn’t have been more eloquent.

Essentially Putin stated publicly what everyone knows: America is on a descending curve, and the rest of the world is collectively in the ascent.  It doesn’t mater whether they’re communists, ex-communists, moderate or less moderate Islamists, Latin Americans rallying round Chavez’ Bolivarian revolution (better late than never), doing business with the Chinese who are also doing business in Africa.

Ken Silverstein’s lead article in the new Harpers, plugs right into the world’s declaration of independence.  A dispassionate look at the Islamist bogeyman that the Los Angeles Times would have edited beyond recognition, we can hope its publication by Harpers will move the so-called liberal media a step closer to objectivity (a loaded word, I know, but our media is so far from it...).

With the complicity of that media, the Bush administration thinks it can still behave as if Iran were not, in classical geopolitical terms, the dominant power in the Middle East, asserting its position by sticking to its legal right to nuclear technology.  We were not privy to the rest of Putin’s speech, but Putin was implying that the U.S. can no longer come from across the seas to dictate relationships between Iran and its neighbors.  Any meddling by powers outside the Middle East is going to be done by those directly concerned, Russia and Europe, thank you very much.

The upward and downward trends in history are as inexorable for individuals as for nations. Whatever one may think of her, it’s painful to watch Senator Clinton’s forced cheer, as Obama continues what is likely to be a graceful yet powerful surge to the White House.  A surge made all the more imperative by Putin’s credo.”

If you think I was exaggerating, did you notice that every candidate who spoke about Darfur emphasized the need to “get China to put pressure on the Sudanese government”?

In my in-box this morning, the announcement that Cindy Sheehan has got back in the saddle and is leading an impeachment march from Georgia to DC and New York, stopping in Philly this pm.  I’ve been waiting for someone to revive the in your face language used by revolutionary Americans, and which died out somewhere between the Civil War and the McCarran Act.  To read that blog, go to thecampcaseypeaceinstitute,org.

While Im not usually in the business of making excuses for people, I can only assume that if Obama dismissed the idea of impeachment, it’s because he doesn’t think he should base his campaign on that. If you call for impeachment, everything else in your platform pales in comparison.  I doubt whether ANY of the Democratic candidates really believes Bush and Co should not be impeached, and that had the Democrats won the Congress in 2004, they would have done so.   That said, I do fault Pelosi for not putting it on the table, even with only two years left to the administration: she should have done that for two reasons: to show the outside world that the American people do not agree with their president, and to increase the chances for a withdrawal from Iraq.

Pelosi’s failure comes from the same ethos as Hillary’s suspicions: together they make Obama’s breath of fresh air all the more crucial for our asphyxiating democracy.

Monday, July 2, 2007


The first reaction on hearing that one of the would-be suicide bombers in Scotland was a doctor is: ‘What is this world coming to?” Then you remember the on-going polemic in the U.S. over the role being played by psychologists in the elaboration and carrying out of torture....on past or future suicide bombers.

Moving on, I can imagine the following conversation between Vladimir Putin and the two Bush presidents as they ostensibly fish off Kennebunkport:
Bush II (Kings also had Roman numerals after names, but they went by their first name...):  You gotta help me, Vlad.  I’m stuck in Iraq the way whats-is-name, your predecessor got stuck in Afghanistan.”
Putin: “These guys are tough.  Worse than a government.”
Bush I, interjecting: Those were the good ol’ days, when I dealt with Saddam.  Beat ‘im to a standstill.
Bush II: You shoulda beat’im to a pulp.
Bush I:  Coulnd’t do that, too much business involved.
Putin: Problem is, smash one of these guys, ten more appear.
Bush I:  Maybe we should talk to them. Find out how much they want.
Putin:  Problem is, they don’t want money, they want power.  Like our Bolsheviks in 1917.
Bush I:  Yeah, today power is cheap.  Everybody wants power: the Hispanics, the Blacks, the Sunnis, the Shias.  Even ordinary people want power!
Putin: Look!  I caught a fish!
Bush I:  Good catch, we’ll have it for supper.
Bush II (wistfully): Wish it were as easy to catch Bin Laden.
Putin:  Problem is, you can catch big fish in a big pond, or a small fish in a small pond, but before you catch’em, you know they’ve spawned dozens more.
Bush II: Yeah, and you can’t talk to fish.