Tuesday, August 30, 2005

President Nero

President Nero
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

The Day After Tomorrow

I, and I expect many others, was taken by surprise by the scope of Hurricane Katrina's destruction. This morning, here in Los Angeles, it seemed as if the damage was less than had been feared. By this afternoon, the extent of the devastation was becoming clear. Small towns along the Gulf Coast are literally gone, swept away down to cement slabs. No one knows how many have died in places like Biloxi and Gulfport. As for New Orleans, the situation there grows more dire by the hour, as levees fail and the waters of Lake Pontchartrain flood the bowl-shaped city.

Some of the footage coming out of the region looks as bad as anything one saw from last December's horrific tsunami. We can assume that the loss of life won't be remotely on that scale, but undoubtedly hundreds are dead at least, and hundreds of thousands have lost everything.

This was an act of nature made worse by the hand of man - read this report for the details. Let's hope that we learn from this and come to understand that "Homeland Security" also means a country where we invest in our infrastructure, where we protect the environment, and where we devote whatever resources are necessary to assist people and communities struck by such unimaginable disasters.

In the meantime, a lot of folks are going to need a lot of help. Here is a great post at the Booman Tribune, listing Hurricane Katrina disaster relief organizations and links. Booman is a progressive blog, but you'll find charities of every kind on this round-up. I urge anyone who is able to pitch in. Every dollar/yuan/euro helps...

UPDATE - Gordon of the Horse's Mouth has sent along an Editor & Publisher piece. The title is "Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen? 'Times-Picayune' Had Repeatedly Raised Federal Spending Issues." I don't have time to blog about it now, but here's a relevant excerpt:
New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

Newhouse News Service, in an article posted late Tuesday night at The Times-Picayune Web site, reported: "No one can say they didn't see it coming. ... Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation."

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The 8th Rebellion

Interesting editorial in today's UK Guardian about the Chinese textile industry, rural poverty and the potential consequences of a trade war with the West over cheap Chinese exports. The part that interested me was not so much about the textile controversy as the following commentary about the nature of Chinese peasantry and what has and has not changed since 1949:
Eight hundred million peasant farmers occupy a country almost exactly the same size as the USA. Most farm tiny plots of land leased to them by the village co-operatives, often the same plots their families have farmed for 2,000 years or more.

One of China's best-kept secrets is that the communists never succeeded in breaking patterns of land ownership that were first legally registered in 350BC. A property-owning, one-party state has been transmuted into a lease-holding, one-party state .

China's peasantry, unlike any other in the world, has a tradition of empowerment as well as a long experience of living on subsistence incomes. Today's villages are testimony to the harshness of life. Houses are rarely more than a storey high and most have dirt floors with no more than rudimentary facilities; human waste is another useful source of fertiliser. Outside at this time of the year, vegetables are being dried ready for storage over the long winter. A family gets by on a weekly income of no more than £10.

China's rulers, imperial and communist dynasties alike, are profoundly wary of these peasant millions. Regime-change in China has always been rooted in a mass peasant revolt sparked by deep resentment of inequality and poverty; the last six imperial dynasties fell this way.

There are still a few people left who think there was a communist revolution in 1949. Today, it is pretty obvious, given the increasingly tenuous link between communism and contemporary China, that it was a seventh regime-changing peasant revolt. And the communist leadership is terrified that if it doesn't deliver more prosperity and equality, it will fall prey to an eighth.

How About, "We've Decided To Go In A Different Direction"?

From Saturday's unlinkable SCMP, more on the upcoming Chinese version of "The Apprentice":
The winner of the Chinese version of The Apprentice
will be hired on a lucrative 1 million yuan annual
salary in the business empire of maverick Beijing
property tycoon Pan Shiyi.

Speaking for the first time on being chosen by Donald
Trump to front the programme, Mr Pan said he would not
adopt the aggressive TV persona of the New York
property mogul with losing contestants.

"I definitely won't say, `You're fired!' It's just not
in my character," said the 41-year-old, though he has
routinely sacked his worst-performing employees over
the past decade.

"Chinese people give others face. To tell somebody
he's fired in such a tone, especially when this person
has literally not been hired, is not the Chinese way.
"I probably will say something like, `You will have a
better opportunity somewhere else', in a way he will
get it and find the manner acceptable," added the man
nicknamed Naughty Boy for his company's innovative

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Control & Resistance

The Christian Science Monitor follows up on the Li Datong/China New Youth Daily story, seeing it as illustrative of both the increased control of media by Party authorities, and the "sometimes sophisticated resistance to it by Chinese journalists."
The larger backdrop (to the Li Datong story) is a nearly two year push by the powerful central propaganda department to more firmly control and limit expression.

News services are under orders not to quote Chinese intellectuals not approved by the party. Newspapers may not report events or issues in other parts of the country unless a regional party paper has first reported the news. Popular Internet discussion groups have been blocked. Cellphone text messages are filtered.

China Youth Daily itself has steadily been reshaped to be more of a party organ than a newspaper. In the past year senior editors at the paper have resigned, free exchanges between internal news departments have been banned, and Chinese political leaders have started being praised in language reminiscent of the brutal Cultural Revolution period. One story this summer described Chinese president Hu Jintao's words as being, "like a light house beacon, pointing out and illuminating the direction of China's students."

While many protesting journalists, including Li, praise President Hu for his genial persona and for understanding how modern media works, they are opposed to what appears to be a move in the central propaganda department to allow deification and worship of Chinese leaders. They point out that Chinese youth find such language old and silly, and that it actually decreases respect for the venerable paper.

"This is not only happening at our paper," says one China Youth Daily staffer speaking on condition of anonymity, "it is a problem at papers everywhere in China."

The Chinese government has argued that a strong, unchallenged hand is needed during a time of uncertainty and instability, as China undergoes a rapid economic expansion.

As I Was Saying...

From today's New York Times:
Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister and a secular Sunni leader, said he agreed with much of what was in the new constitution but was troubled by its more overtly Islamic provisions, like the ones giving clerics a role in adjudicating family law.

Mr. Pachachi, one of the Americans' closest friends in Iraq, said he was growing increasingly worried about the overweening power of the cleric-dominated Shiite political leadership, which maintains extensive ties to the Iranian Islamic government next door.

"They want to inject religion into everything, which is not right," Mr. Pachachi said of the Iraqi Shiite leaders. "I cannot imagine that we might have a theocratic regime in Iraq like the one in Iran. That would be a disaster."

Indeed, under the constitution now completed, Islam will reign as the official state religion and as a main source of Iraqi law. Clerics will in all likelihood have seats on the Supreme Court, where they will be empowered to examine legislation to make sure it does not conflict with Islam. They will be given an opportunity to apply Islamic law in family disputes over matters like divorce and inheritance.

Those provisions have raised concerns here, especially among Iraqi women and secular leaders, who fear that they are laying the groundwork for a full-blown Islamic state.
If I were an Iraqi woman with no means of leaving the country, I'd be thinking about getting to "Kurdistan," stat.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Uighurs At Gitmo

"Ironic" doesn't really begin to cover it. Read this Washington Post article about the plight of some Chinese detainees in detention at Guantanamo:
In late 2003, the Pentagon quietly decided that 15 Chinese Muslims detained at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could be released. Five were people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, some of them picked up by Pakistani bounty hunters for U.S. payoffs. The other 10 were deemed low-risk detainees whose enemy was China's communist government -- not the United States, according to senior U.S. officials.

More than 20 months later, the 15 still languish at Guantanamo Bay, imprisoned and sometimes shackled, with most of their families unaware whether they are even alive.

They are men without a country. The Bush administration has chosen not to send them home for fear China will imprison, persecute or torture them, as the United States charges has happened to other members of China's Muslim minority. But the State Department has also been unable to find another country to take them in, according to U.S. officials and recently filed court documents.
This is a horrific story. These men are from all accounts innocent of any terrorist or illegal activity, and yet they are locked up indefinitely in Guantanamo, kept as prisoners, at times chained to the floor. They were not even informed by US officials that they'd been cleared of any wrongdoing against the US for several months after the fact.

And, in spite of all this, the Bush Administration refuses to grant these men asylum in the United States:
This month, lawyers and human rights groups appealed to the United States to take in the stranded Uighurs. "It's not like these people were once considered to be a threat and now are not," said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. "These people need to be released, either in another country or the U.S. They're America's responsibility."

But the Bush administration has balked at allowing them to enter the United States, even under restricted supervision, or to appear in a court that is hearing two of the men's cases, according to U.S. officials and court documents.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"Don't Build Dams Everywhere"

Three Gorges Probe began as an organization dedicated to covering that controversial dam project and all its ramifications. They've expanded to cover other projects and the implications of power generation in China. Here is an English translation of an article by Chen Guojie, a senior researcher at the Chengdu Institute for Mountain Hazards and Environment, who warns of the hazards of overdeveloping hydropower in China's river-rich Southwest. In the rush to build, it's impossible to even get an accurate count of how many dams are being planned for the region, and regulatory oversight has been sorely lacking:
A recent survey by the Sichuan Electric Power Bureau found 128 small-scale hydro stations with the "four no's": no feasibility study, no official approval, no environmental assessment and no acceptance certificate. In a few extreme cases, small dams have been built on river sections that are just a kilometre long. The situation is reminiscent of the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s, when crude steel smelters cropped up in every backyard.

What is particularly worrying is that in most cases, no comprehensive planning for the development and environmental protection of the valleys involved has been undertaken. Each dam builder administers its own affairs, with no regard for the collective interest.

Who should be responsible for these unchecked activities and how can this chaotic situation be brought under control? I'd like to characterize the situation as "anarchism under government rule."
The environmental consequences of this free-for-all are potentially devastating, particularly given the "terracing" of dams planned for the region:
Building cascades of dams has become the pattern of future development not only on the upper Yangtze and the Pearl but also in the Lancang and Nu river basins. If the current trend is allowed to continue, the Yangtze, Pearl, Lancang, Nu and Hongshui will no longer be natural rivers; they will be like staircases -- a series of sections interrupted by hydro stations. So the water of the Yangtze will no longer come from heaven1 but from these "steps," and our free-flowing rivers will disappear forever....

...The upper reaches of the Yangtze and the Pearl rivers, and both the Lancang and Nu rivers, are important habitats for aquatic life that thrives in fast-flowing water. There are 153 fish species -- including 44 species unique to the Yangtze -- in the main channel of the river alone, where their breeding habitats are also concentrated. The widespread construction of hydropower stations, especially in the form of terraced dams, has left these species little room for survival. Construction of the Xiluodu and Xiangjiaba dams on the Jinsha River [upper Yangtze], for example, is making the "Yangtze Hejiang-Leibo rare fish species protection zone" much smaller, with the breeding habitats almost totally destroyed.
China's environmentalists have repeatedly warned about the consquences of such irresponsible, unplanned and unchecked development. The problem, Chen reports, is that the decision-makers simply do not listen:
It is interesting to note that almost all the experts who have expressed views about the Three Gorges project that diverge from the official position have never been invited to take part in any other feasibility studies or subsequent environmental assessments. Local governments and the authorities in charge of proposed hydro projects only want to invite the participation of "yes men," to help push the schemes forward, while those who view the projects with a more critical eye are excluded. This is a long-standing and peculiar situation, which by now is just taken for granted in China.
Chen questions whether the proliferation of dams will lead to profits for anyone, beyond local officials who benefit from kickbacks and skimming from resettlement funds:
Local governments like the idea of building hydro stations, especially small dams, in the hope of accelerating the development of the local economy. However, whether local owners will actually be able to sell to the grid the electricity generated from small dams is uncertain given that the grids are controlled either by the national or regional grid companies.

Unchecked development of hydropower resources could lead to a glut on the market, with many regions unable to sell their hydroelectricity as a result. Local hydro project owners would then face a dilemma: In the wet summer season, they could produce abundant power but have difficulty selling it. And in the dry season, there would be demand for their electricity but they wouldn't have enough water to run the turbines and produce the power.

Many hydro stations in the southwest are built with bank loans, and the revenue generated from the projects cannot even cover the interest on the loans. How can owners make a profit from hydro stations in such circumstances?...

...While it is true that local governments can benefit from the project-related resettlement schemes and from the construction of new towns, it is also the case that local officials associated with resettlement operations tend to grab the opportunity to pocket some of the public funds earmarked for the schemes. Dam construction projects have become breeding grounds for corruption and degenerate behaviour.
Certainly the majority of these projects have not benefited the common people, many of whom have lost not only their homes but the farmland which once generated their income. Chen notes that the vast majority of those displaced by such projects are still living in poverty, years later.

It's past time for this chaotic situation to be brought under strict control, Chen states. The question is, does anyone in the Chinese government have the power to do so?

Monday, August 22, 2005

"9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11"

From the AP:
President Bush compared the fight against terrorism to both world wars and other great conflicts of the 20th century as he tried to reassure an increasingly skeptical public on Monday to support U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

With the anti-war movement finding new momentum behind grieving mother Cindy Sheehan, Bush acknowledged the fighting in Iraq is difficult and dangerous. But he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention the fight is necessary to keep terrorists out of the United States.

As he did in last year's election campaign and more recently as war opposition has risen, Bush reminded his listeners of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — reciting the date five times in a 30-minute speech.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

No, Please, No...

From the AP:
Communist mainland China will soon have its own version of "The Apprentice" — Donald Trump's reality TV tribute to capitalism.

Trump will be the executive producer of the Chinese show, which will be hosted by Beijing property mogul Pan Shiyi, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported Sunday.

The newspaper said China's version would closely follow the U.S. original, in which contestants compete for a job with Trump. Details of the deal are under negotiation.

Everybody Look What's Going Down...

With 60% of Americans now dissapproving of the Bush Administration's war in Iraq, prominent U.S. Republican senator Chuck Hagel has joined the chorus of criticism, saying that Iraq is looking more and more like Vietnam. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, also stated that far from making us safer, the conflict has helped further destablize the Middle East:
"We should start figuring out how we get out of there," Hagel said on "This Week" on ABC. "But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East. I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur."

Hagel said "stay the course" is not a policy. "By any standard, when you analyze 2 1/2 years in Iraq ... we're not winning," he said.
Hagel's statements come on the heels of an announcement by the Army's top general that the Army is making plans for a "worse-case scenario," in which US troop strength would be maintained at its present levels, over 160,000 soldiers, for the next four years. Hagel, once a partisan of greatly increasing troop strength in Iraq, now believes that we are past the point where more troops can bring any greater stability to Iraq:
"We're past that stage now because now we are locked into a bogged-down problem not unsimilar... to where we were in Vietnam," Hagel said. "The longer we stay, the more problems we're going to have."
Moreover, he described the Army contingency plan as "complete folly."
"I don't know where he's going to get these troops," Hagel said. "There won't be any National Guard left ... no Army Reserve left ... there is no way America is going to have 100,000 troops in Iraq, nor should it, in four years."

Hagel added: "It would bog us down, it would further destabilize the Middle East, it would give Iran more influence, it would hurt Israel, it would put our allies over there in Saudi Arabia and Jordan in a terrible position. It won't be four years. We need to be out."
To put a capper on this misbegotten, morally dishonest venture, word out of Iraq today on the new constitution is that the US is conceding to Iraqi Islamists:
Islam will be "the main source" of Iraq's law and parliament will observe religious principles, negotiators said on Saturday after what some called a major turn in talks on the constitution and a shift in the U.S. position.

If agreed by Monday's parliamentary deadline, it would appear to be a major concession to Islamist leaders from the Shi'ite Muslim majority and sit uneasily with U.S. insistence on the primacy of democracy and human rights in the new Iraq.
(IF the draft is approved - Sunni representatives have just appealed to the US to help stop this draft from being pushed through parliament by majority Shi'ites and Kurds, warning that it will worsen the crisis in Iraq).

So there you have it. Every justification this administration made for this war has now officially been swept into the dustbin of history. Wasn't one of the reasons we fought this war to prevent the expansion of radical Islamists? Can a government based on Islam possibly be "dem0cratic" in any real sense?

Of particular concerrn is the status of women, who, at the risk of stating the obvious, have not fared well under Islamic regimes. Sharia law has been used to justify women's lack of suffrage, unequal right of inheritance, of divorce, to control their freedom of movement, their access to education, as an excuse for physical abuse, even murder, at the hands of their husbands and fathers and brothers. I'm going to quote blogger Digby here, as he puts it better than I can:
Iraqi women have enjoyed secular, western-style equality for more than 40 years. Most females have no memory of living any other way. In order to meet an arbitrary deadline for domestic political reasons, we have capitulated to theocrats on the single most important constitutional issue facing the average Iraqi woman --- which means that we have now officially failed more than half of the Iraqis we supposedly came to help. We have "liberated" millions of people from rights they have had all their lives.

This is not to say that an Islamic theocracy is fine in every other way. It will, of course, curb religious freedom entirely. Too bad for the local Jews and Christians --- or secularists, of which there were many in Iraq. It will restrict personal freedom in an infinite number of ways. Theocracies require conformity in thought, word and deed.

And all of this must be viewed within the conditions that exist in this poor misbegotten place as we speak. The country is on the verge of civil war. Chaos reigns. Daily life is dangerous and uncomfortable.

It simply cannot be heroic for the richest, most powerful democratic country on earth to claim the mantle of liberator only to create a government that makes more than half the population second class citizens and forces the entire country live in conditions that are less free and more dangerous than before.

It is certainly not acceptable for that country to take any credit for spreading freedom. Creating an Islamic theocracy is anything but noble. It is a moral failure of epic proportions.
As an update, Digby passes us over to James Wolcott:
Reuel Marc Gerecht (American Enterprise Institute, neo-con war hawk), discussing the forthcoming Iraqi constitution on Meet the Press, August 21: "Women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy. We hope they're there, I think they will be there, but I think we need to keep this perspective."
Gosh. Thanks, guys. Good to know that this Administration's war architects don't think women's rights fundamentally contribute to democracy. Funny, I'm somehow not surprised...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Buicks and Haagen-Dazs

Here's a little break from geo-politics, democracy or lack thereof and killer flu. In China, Buick is a prestige brand:
Consider Buick, often considered a grandpa's car in the United States. In China, ''Buick is an expensive car, and has a very big name," said Yan Lili, 30, a corporate manager in Beijing. ''I'd love to own one."

The difference in perception is partly because of market conditions. Buicks were among the first foreign cars on Chinese roads, and both the cars and their promotional campaigns impressed Chinese consumers.

Partly, that's because the bottom end of the consumer market in China extends far lower than it does in the United States. ''Compared to local cars," Bell (Edward Bell, head of planning with the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather Beijing) said, Buicks ''are expensive; they're big; and they're foreign. And so they're as much of a status badge as an Audi."

That's allowed Buick's parent, General Motors Corp., to charge its Chinese consumers about $37,000 for a Buick Regal that retails for about $23,000 in the United States. Yet GM's Chinese buyers get only one-third of the three-year bumper-to-bumper warranty American consumers get.
But Buick is far from the only American brand that's caught the fancy of the Chinese consumer:
In Beijing, freezers selling Haagen-Dazs ice cream stand proudly in the lobbies of five-star hotels. The price for a pint of Swiss vanilla: $10, compared to around $3 in the United States.

''Part of the reason for such pricing is simply extra costs, such as transportation and duties," said Eddie Lu, marketing manager with Haagen-Dazs in Shanghai. But more significantly, in China Haagen-Dazs has sidestepped its US image of being a premium supermarket brand to position itself as the deliverer of a uniquely luxurious culinary ''experience", Lu added.

The strategy is working well because ''there's a 'reward yourself' lifestyle here," said Lu. ''People don't mind paying for prestige items, especially if they are foreign."
And here's something to consider the next time American politicians start going off on cheap Chinese goods undercutting American products - American companies are greatly overcharging their Chinese customers. Why? Well, because they can:
A recent survey of 1,800 US businesses in China by the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing found that the profit margins for 42 percent of them were higher than their average worldwide margins.

A little-discussed reason US companies enjoy pricing freedoms in China is that the country's newly created middle-class lacks product awareness....

...With the state having a vested interest in corporate profitability, local media, which is mostly state-controlled, does hardly any consumer reporting. Since most Chinese consumers can't read US publications, both because of China's controls on access to foreign media and natural language barriers, they have no independent perceptions of brands, their image or their history, making it easy for companies to create perceptions through marketing campaigns, Bell said.
Here's the bottom line, according to Bell: "Many American brands were drowning and looking for a lifeboat -- then China came along."

Friday, August 19, 2005

We're Doomed...

Mike Davis is an autodictat, a MacArthur Genius grant recipient, an unrepentant leftist, a great drinking buddy and an incredibly prolific author. His books range from social histories of Los Angeles to the global phenomenon of slums to children's adventure stories. Mike has always been fascinated by the relationship between human society and natural ecosystems - in particular, how this interaction translates into disasters. Who else would write about tornadoes in Los Angeles? Who else even knew we'd had tornadoes in Los Angeles? In the same book, Ecology of Fear, Mike not only makes the case for "letting Malibu burn," but devotes fifty pages or so to "the literary destruction of Los Angeles" - all those books and films in which LA is gleefully destroyed by some thing or another, and what this destruction signifies in the popular imagination.

So it was no great surprise to me that Mike has turned his attention to bird flu - and that what he has to say is not exactly optimistic. Tom Dispatch has posted a short excerpt from Mike's new book, one which underlines how human arrogance and stupidity has left us woefully unprepared for an entirely predictable disaster:
The avian flu outbreak at Lake Qinghai was first identified by Chinese wildlife officials at the end of April. Initially it was confined to a small islet in the huge salt lake, where geese suddenly began to act spasmodically, then to collapse and die. By mid-May it had spread through the lake's entire avian population, killing thousands of birds. An ornithologist called it "the biggest and most extensively mortal avian influenza event ever seen in wild birds."

Chinese scientists, meanwhile, were horrified by the virulence of the new strain: when mice were infected they died even quicker than when injected with "genotype Z," the fearsome H5N1 variant currently killing farmers and their children in Vietnam.

Yi Guan, leader of a famed team of avian flu researchers who have been fighting the pandemic menace since 1997, complained to the British Guardian in July about the lackadaisical response of Chinese authorities to the unprecedented biological conflagration at Lake Qinghai.

"They have taken almost no action to control this outbreak. They should have asked for international support. These birds will go to India and Bangladesh and there they will meet birds that come from Europe." Yi Guan called for the creation of an international task force to monitor the wild bird pandemic, as well as the relaxation of rules that prevent the free movement of foreign scientists to outbreak zones in China.

In a paper published in the British science magazine Nature, Yi Guan and his associates also revealed that the Lake Qinghai strain was related to officially unreported recent outbreaks of H5N1 among birds in southern China. This would not be the first time that Chinese authorities have been charged with covering up an outbreak. They also lied about the nature and extent of the 2003 SARS epidemic, which originated in Guangdong but quickly spread to 25 other countries. As in the case of SARS' whistleblowers, the Chinese bureaucracy is now trying to gag avian-flu scientists, shutting down one of Yi Guan's laboratories at Shantou University and arming the conservative Agriculture Ministry with new powers over research.
That's just the negligence on the Chinese side. There's plenty of blame to go around:
The new U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told the Associated Press in early August that an influenza pandemic was now an "absolute certainty," echoing repeated warnings from the World Health Organization that it was "inevitable." Likewise Science magazine observed that expert opinion held the odds of a global outbreak as "100 percent."

In the same grim spirit, the British press revealed that officials were scouring the country for suitable sites for mass mortuaries, based on official fears that avian flu could kill as many as 700,000 Britons. The Blair government is already conducting emergency simulations of a pandemic outbreak ("Operation Arctic Sea") and is reported to have readied "Cobra" -- a cabinet-level working group that coordinates government responses to national emergencies like the recent London bombings from a secret war room in Whitehall -- to deal with an avian flu crisis.

Little of this Churchillian resolve is apparent in Washington. Although a sense of extreme urgency is evident in the National Institutes of Health where the czar for pandemic planning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warns of "the mother of all emerging infections," the White House has seemed even less perturbed by migrating plagues than by wanton carnage in Iraq.

As the President was packing for his long holiday in Texas, the Trust for America's Health was warning that domestic preparations for a pandemic lagged far behind the energetic measures being undertaken in Britain and Canada, and that the administration had failed "to establish a cohesive, rapid and transparent U.S. pandemic strategy."

That increasingly independent operator, Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), had already criticized the administration in an extraordinary (and under-reported) speech at Harvard at the beginning of June. Referring to Washington's failure to stockpile an adequate supply of the crucial anti-viral oseltamivir (or Tamiflu), Frist sarcastically noted that "to acquire more anti-viral agent, we would need to get in line behind Britain and France and Canada and others who have tens of millions of doses on order."

The New York Times on its July 17 editorial page, a May 26 special issue of Nature and the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs have also hammered away at Washington's failure to stockpile enough scarce antivirals -- current inventories cover less than 1% of the U.S. population -- and to modernize vaccine production. Even a few prominent Senate Democrats have stirred into action, although none as boldly as Frist at Harvard.

The Department of Health and Human Services, in response, has sought to calm critics with recent hikes in spending on vaccine research and antiviral stockpiles. There has also been much official and media ballyhoo about the announcement of a series of successful tests in early August of an experimental avian flu vaccine.

But there is no guarantee that the vaccine prototype, based on a "reverse-genetically-engineered" strain of H5N1, will actually be effective against a pandemic strain with different genes and proteins. Moreover, trial success was based upon the administration of two doses plus a booster. Since the government has only ordered 2 million doses of the vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, this may provide protection for only 450,000 people. As one researcher told Science magazine, "it's a vaccine for the happy few."
Thanks to Susan Hu of the Booman Tribune and Dem from CT of The Next Hurrah for their invaluable assistance. For comprehensive and constantly updated information about all forms of flu and what is and isn't being done, check out the Flu Wiki ...and for an informed and refreshing take on world events, I highly recommend the Booman Tribune and its sister site, the European Tribune...

Who Needs a Nanny?

The invaluable China Digital Times has pulled together several articles that illustrate both the great lengths to which the Chinese government has gone in its attempts to control cyberspace and the surprisingly vigorous public debate that these efforts have provoked.

First comes a report from the pioneering Nanfang Daily (which those of you fluent in Chinese can read in its entirety) detailing the width, height and breadth of the Great Firewall:
"Since 1996, 14 bureaus and departments including the Central Propaganda Bureau, State Council Information Office, Public Security Bureau, Ministry of Culture, and the Administration of Press and Publications have all participated in managing the Internet. All together, they have issued close to 50 laws and regulations, creating the world's most abundant and comprehensive system of rules to manage the Internet?An expert who studies Internet law told a reporter from this paper that the effectiveness of our government's emphasis on Internet security and management, 'is very rare in the world.'"
Which I guess you could interpret as a criticism or further validation of China's unique historical circumstances...

According to Radio Free Asia, the Chinese government continues to strengthen and broaden its control of China's cyberspace. On top of recent requirements for Chinese bloggers to register their sites with the government, many universities are requiring that BBS users provide their real names in order to post, and residents of Shenzhen wishing to use instant messaging technology have also been ordered to have their real identities verified by the IM company providing the technology. The goal of all this?
"The sole purpose of the real-name registration system is to impose severe controls over public opinion in cyberspace and to further a surveillance society in China," U.S.-based dissident-turned-blogger Xiao Qiang said in a recent commentary broadcast by RFA.

Xiao said national security and propaganda departments had also trained a network of on-line "commentators" to manipulate public opinion as expressed in Internet forums, BBSs and message groups.

"On one hand, the Chinese government forces netizens to expose their real identities to facilitate government supervision, while on the other, it pays to train Party publicity personnel to hide their identities to fabricate false public opinion," he said...

...Zhou said the Web site registration requirement--now apparently being taken up by Tencent in Shenzhen--gave the government instant control over the relatively small number of its citizens who organized instant message groups, or QQs, or other on-line discussion media.

Self-censorship was the ultimate goal, he said.

"It means organizers have to scrutinize the speech themselves for fear of getting into trouble, because postings that are offensive to the authorities often appear on the QQ sites," he said.
But the Net Nanny's stifling hegemony is starting to chafe, and not just among fringe cyber-dissidents:
Liu Ze, an official at the Beijing Cultural Center who follows developments on Internet controls by the government, said he thought that compulsory real-name registration was going too far.

"I support or advocate certain appropriate restrictions. I advocate Internet real-name system but it should not be mandatory," Liu said.

Government attempts to censor the Web have drawn the strongest reaction from China's otherwise docile university students, many of whom were angered by the closure of high-profile BBS discussion boards like Beijing University's Yitahutu last year.

"There are many things to be exchanged, whether it is technology or other things," a university student in the northern coastal province of Shandong told RFA reporter Yan Ming.

"The Internet is an educational platform. Even though it does not affect us, we still feel uncomfortable [about real-name registration] because people have their privacy," the student said.
I don't really know if market liberalization leads to dem0cracy or not, or if it's true that Chinese people really don't value dem0cracy nearly as much as they do stability. But I have the sense that as China joins the world, as her people develop expectations of privacy and self-expression, that they will not be so willing to passively submit to the Net Nanny's smothering form of baby-sitting.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"Information Wants to Be Free"

I once worked with a guy who had a PhD in Library and Information Science. One of his favorite nuggets of wisdom was "information wants to be free." To which I once replied with a couple of lines about the role of entropy in communication. But I digress.

I think there's a great deal of truth to that line - the one about information trying to wiggle its way out of whatever traps have been set to confine it. A recent uproar in the Chinese blogosphere is a case in point. In spite of a government policy to increasingly limit public debate and political discourse, information will often find its way around official limits.

The South China Morning Post published this account of a bitter struggle at China Youth Daily over press censorship and the intrusion of party propaganda into reporting:
A veteran editor of the outspoken China Youth Daily has taken the newspaper's editor-in-chief to task for allegedly restraining editorial freedom and succumbing to party dogma.

In a high-profile move, Li Datong, who edits the Bingdian Weekly, an influential section of the paper that runs investigative stories every Wednesday, wrote an open letter to the paper's staff questioning a new appraisal system which pegs journalists' bonuses to praise by party and government leaders....

Most mainland reporters receive payments for their articles on top of their basic salaries. Some newspapers weigh the price of articles by their quality, while others go by their length.

According to Li Datong's letter, reports would gain 50 credit points for being among the top three most-read articles, while 80 credit points would be given to those praised by the secretariat of the Communist Youth League.

Stories praised by state government bodies and provincial leaders would gain 100 points, while acclaim from the Communist Party Publicity Department would be worth 120 points.
ESNW provides a complete translation of Li Datong's letter. It really is something that should be read in its entirety. Here are some highlights:
The core of these regulations is that the standards for appraising the performance of the newspapers will not be on the basis of the media role according to Marxism. It is not based upon the basic principles of the Chinese Communist Party. It is not based upon the spirit of President Hu Jintao about how power, rights and sentiments should be tied to the people. It is not based upon whether the masses of readers will be satisfied. Instead, the appraisal standard will depend upon whether a small number of senior organizations or officials like it or not...

As I read these regulations, I could not believe my eyes. When a report or a page received the highest accolade from the readers, only 50 points is awarded. But if a certain official likes it, there is at least 80 extra points up to a maximum of 300 point! Even worse, in the section on 'subtracting points,' points will be deducted when officials criticize it. What does that mean?

This means that no matter how much effort was put into your report, no matter how difficult your investigation was, no matter how well written your report was, and even if your life had been threatened during the process (and enough reporters have been beaten up for trying to report the truth), and no matter how much the readers praised the report, as long as some official is unhappy and makes a few "critical" comments, then all your work is worth zero, you have added zero to the reputation of the newspaper and your readers' opinions is worth less than a fart -- in fact, you will be penalized as much as this month's wages!
The China Youth Daily is known for its aggressive reporting and its willingess to expose official corruption. What makes this controversy particularly intriguing is that China Youth Daily is the house organ of the Communist Party Youth League, one of President Hu Jintao's bastions of support and power - and Hu Jintao is generally considered to have ordered the crackdown on media.

I don't know that I'm able to make sense of that conundrum, other than to once again note that the opacity of Chinese politics often makes it very tough to determine with certainty the real goals of any particular actor.

But illustrating the difficulty of completely controlling information in the age of the internet, Li Datong's letter was leaked to a Chinese BBS. Authorities yanked it, but by then the letter had spread throughout the Chinese blogosphere. And made its way to the English language, thanks to the sterling work of ESWN.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Hollow Man 2

Via Digby comes this devastating summation of our Imperial President, George W. Bush. I'm just going to post the whole thing...
Bush will `go on with life'
Defends refusal to meet protester
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Cox News Service

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush, noting that lots of people want to talk to the president and "it's also important for me to go on with my life," on Saturday defended his decision not to meet with the grieving mom of a soldier killed in Iraq.

Bush said he is aware of the anti-war sentiments of Cindy Sheehan and others who have joined her protest near the Bush ranch.

"But whether it be here or in Washington or anywhere else, there's somebody who has got something to say to the president, that's part of the job," Bush said on the ranch. "And I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say."

"But," he added, "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."

The comments came prior to a bike ride on the ranch with journalists and aides. It also came as the crowd of protesters grew in support of Sheehan, the California mother who came here Aug. 6 demanding to talk to Bush about the death of her son Casey. Sheehan arrived earlier in the week with about a half dozen supporters. As of yesterday (Saturday) there were about 300 anti-war protesters and approximately 100 people supporting the Bush Administration. In addition to the two-hour bike ride, Bush's Saturday schedule included an evening Little League Baseball playoff game, a lunch meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a nap, some fishing and some reading. "I think the people want the president to be in a position to make good, crisp decisions and to stay healthy," he said when asked about bike riding while a grieving mom wanted to speak with him. "And part of my being is to be outside exercising."

On Friday, Bush's motorcade drove by the protest site en route to a Republican fund-raising event at a nearby ranch.

As Bush rolled by, Sheehan held a sign that said, "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?"
So there you have it. Our "War President" has his priorities straight. He'd rather ride his bike and take a nap than face a consequence of his own decisions...

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sister Lotus, No...Teri Hatcher, Yes...

Richard at Peking Duck reports that Chinese blogging phenom, Sister Lotus, has had her wild fame ride come to an abrupt end:
This 28-year-old woman of average looks and with no obvious talents has somehow become a phenomenon: idolised, adored and ridiculed in equal measure for her bumptious weblog ("I am so beautiful, when men see my body they get a nosebleed," reads a typically boastful posting) that are required reading for millions.

Only a few days ago, Sister Lotus was planning a lucrative media career on the back of her internet postings, often illustrated with saucy pictures in over-the-top poses. Now the authorities have decided that the show has gone on long enough. The Sister Lotus phenomenon is history.

"Just like that, it was all over," she says, unusually deflated. "They blocked me. The Propaganda Department told the television stations and big newspapers to stop covering me. For some reason, they were uncomfortable."
Well, I suppose this isn't totally shocking - the CCP has often displayed a prudish streak and has had some trouble reconciling the selfless Model Hero with the relentless pursuit of Celebrity.

But sometimes the contradictions make my head spin. From yesterday's Hollywood Reporter comes this news:
"Desperate Housewives" is heading to major Chinese broadcaster China Central Television in a deal announced Thursday in Hong Kong...

...Although no firm date has been set for the Chinese launch, a spokeswoman for Zone Vision said the company is looking at a September debut on the entertainment block "Everyday Jiayi," a nightly branded block of programming that features international dramas and movies and airs on the national broadcaster in China...

..."We are delighted to be working with Zone Vision as a partner in China and to be bringing 'Desperate Housewives' to a Chinese audience," Macallister said. "The stellar performance of 'Desperate Housewives' worldwide demonstrates that a good story can transcend all cultures and languages." The series has been nominated for 15 Emmys.
Desperate Housewives, for those unfamiliar, is the steamy, satirical hit night-time soap, featuring adultery, S&M sex, sex with under-aged yard boys...

Maybe Sister Lotus can get a guest spot next season...

Friday, August 12, 2005

Baseball Has Been Bery, Bery Good to Me...

Petco Park - Towards Home
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Petco Park - Western Metal
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Petco Park - Outfield
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

I grew up on baseball. My mom and I would listen to the games on the radio. I still remember precisely how the ballpark announcer would enunciate certain of the players' names: “NumberelevenENZO…Hernandez!” And I loved going to the games. My mom, who did not really drive until she was an adult, would load me and my sister into the 1970 Mustang and brave the stadium traffic. We’d sit in the general admission seats, cheap entertainment for a household headed by a single parent, and watch our San Diego Padres play. And at that point in the team’s history, generally lose. But that wasn’t as important as you might think. Baseball is an atavistic loyalty. It’s connected to all these deep concepts – things like “Home.” You root for your home team. And like all primal imprinting, it’s difficult to alter.

For example, I've lived in LA for nearly twenty years, and they'll always be the stinking, effin' Dodgers to me. Though I am gaining some affection for the “Los Angeles in Close Proximity to San Diego Angels of Anaheim.” Except that I have to say, American League baseball is not proper baseball. The designated hitter is an abomination. Really. Using a DH removes an entire layer of strategy from the game. We got a man on second, two out. We need this run. But the pitcher’s under his pitch count, and his stuff is really great tonight. Do we pull him? Get into the bullpen?

Besides, is there a better example of the mysterious serendipities of life than when the pitcher gets up there and drives in the winning run in his own cause? I think not.

The love of baseball tends to be genetic. You usually inherit from your parents. But there are exceptions. My friend Christy, like me, another female football fan (also an inherited trait, we both got it from our mothers) had little use for baseball. I’d have it on TV when she’d come over, and she just didn’t get it.

But you have to go to a game, I'd tell her. Once you've gone, you'll understand. Going to the ballpark is like…well…it’s just soooo cool…

And she'd sort of shake her head, like it wasn't gonna happen.

About a month ago she calls me. Well, I'm a baseball fan now, she announces. My team is the Yankees.

How could that happen? I demand. Great that you now love baseball, but the Damn Yankees?! But how did it happen, regardless?

Well, it was easy. She was in New York, on vacation, and a friend took her to Yankee Stadium. One day at the ballpark. That's all it took...

In recent years, it hasn’t been so bad, being a Padres fan. They made it to the World Series, even if they didn’t win a game. We had Tony Gwynn, the best hitter of his era. And the Padres have consistently done better than the damn stinkin’ Dodgers.

This year, it looks like the Pads are the good bet to win the National League West. Granted, the NL West is probably the suckiest division in baseball this year, but hey, we’ll take it. And there are a lot of cool Padres players to root for. There are consummate pros Mark Loretta and Brian Giles, sparkplug Dave Roberts, future Hall of Famer (he of the heavenly shoulders) Trevor Hoffman, tough, soulful catcher Ramon Hernandez, “gave his all for the team on opening day, separating his shoulder making a catch against the wall, no one thought he'd be back this season but he's playing and contributing cause he's 39 years old and they're in a pennant race, dammit,” Eric Young, mega-talented, long-haired, groovy Khalil Greene, the inspirational Woody Williams, and maybe one of the best pitchers in baseball, Jake Peavey, who defines intensity and calls everyone “the boys” even if they’re a decade older than he is. Xavier Nady, Robert Fick, Mark Sweeney, Scottie Linebrink…

But my current favorite might just be set-up man Akinori Otsuka. There’s no mistaking him on the mound; he stands up straight, legs spread like he’s doing a yoga “warrior” pose and hurls his pitches like he’s going to launch himself at home plate; he’s got a killer sinker that when he’s locating his pitches absolutely confounds batters, and moreover, he’s just so damn cute…


Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

The robotic, unemotional Akinori Otsuka obviously doesn't know how to enjoy himself after pitching a great inning...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Off The Grid

CNOOC's failed acquisition bid for Unocal has focused attention on China's growing energy needs and efforts to secure oil supplies to feed the increasing demands of a rapidly expanding economy. But it isn't just modernization that is driving demand. According to this article in the Washington Post, China has become one of the world's most inefficient users of power:
By the government's own reckoning, China's economic growth is absorbing energy at a higher rate than many large economies. To produce $1 million in gross domestic product, China needs 2 1/2 times as much energy as the United States, five times that of the European Union, and nearly nine times that of Japan, according to the state Energy Research Institute.

Making steel in China in 2003 consumed 10 percent more energy per unit than in the United States, according to state statistics. China's electrical generators consume one-fifth more energy per unit of output than American plants, said Long Weiding, an expert at Tongji University in Shanghai. Chinese air conditioners -- now the fastest-growing draw on power -- are roughly one-fifth less efficient than the world average, Long said.
The reason for this striking wastefulness is "the hybrid nature of its economy, which is caught between its communist roots and a free-market future, experts say. More and more of the demand for energy comes from companies that operate on market principles, but the majority of the supply is generated by state-owned monopolies forged in the time of central planning and with little incentive to increase efficiency."

As I've commented often in these pages, the Chinese government under Hu and Wen seems to have a genuine interest in dealing with China's massive environmental problems. But in spite of such laudable goals as having 10% of China's energy needs generated by renewable sources by 2020 and calling for automobile emission standards that are tighter than those mandated by the US Government, Hu and Wen have an uphill struggle trying to reform a system that is in many ways constructed to waste power:
The addition of power-conserving lights at office buildings could cut consumption needed for lighting by as much as 80 percent, said Shi Mingrong, a former official at the Shanghai Power Bureau who now serves as a consultant to the local government. Modern machinery at factories could cut energy demand by one-fifth, he said. But Chinese companies -- grappling with fierce competition and tiny profit margins -- tend to view new technology more as a cost today than savings tomorrow.

"Most companies are shortsighted," said Hu Zhaoguang, chief economist at the State Power Economic Research Center in Beijing, a government think tank. "They are reluctant to upgrade their equipment to improve energy efficiency."

Waste also continues to plague the generation and transmission of power, experts say. Power plants operated by municipal and provincial governments face pressures to buy coal from local mines -- even when costs are higher than other sources -- to support jobs and local taxes. Provinces and cities have sunk billions of dollars into new power plants to help alleviate shortages, leaving governments or even individual officials on the hook to pay off loans to state banks.

Guangdong province, a booming industrial territory near Hong Kong, now absorbs roughly one-sixth of China's overall electricity supply. State-owned factories and electricity distributors have been buying from local plants, paying triple the price of electricity that could be brought in from Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, where hydropower is plentiful.

The involvement of provincial governments has also deterred the creation of rational generation and transmission grids, experts say. State officials have erected one white elephant after another -- huge power plants that absorb great quantities of coal -- while neglecting to develop smaller, gas-fired plants that could adjust loads to meet demand more precisely. That has forced the big plants to stay on line even when their full capacity is not needed.
The more I look at contemporary Chinese politics and society, the more it seems to me that conflicts between the central government and provincial and local governments account for events that would otherwise seem contradictory or mysterious. Local control in many if not most areas is a very good thing, I believe. But sorting out China's energy and environmental problems would seem to require the strong hand of a national authority - and an enlightened one at that.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Hero's Reward

From the unlinkable South China Post (thanks to Martyn), comes this story of another "ordinary" hero. It's quite a story, and I'm reposting it in its entirety...

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Jilin fire hero rides fortune's roller coaster

Modern-day heroes are a scarce commodity, and Hu
Maodong says he now knows why.

The 40-year-old building labourer is a living legend
in the northeastern city of Jilin for rescuing 11
unconscious people from a shopping centre inferno 18
months ago. Soon afterwards he fell seriously ill
because of the noxious fumes he inhaled inside the
blazing building.

He had to stop working and with no way to support
himself and his daughter, Hu Yue, they were evicted
and spent months living on the streets, begging for
food. None of the 11 people he saved came to his aid.

It was February 15, 2004, when a smouldering cigarette
butt started the fire that ultimately ravaged the
Zhongbai shopping centre. As the flames engulfed the
building thousands of people watched firefighters'
vain attempts to control the fire. Mr Hu could not
just stand by and watch.

"We could hear screams from the building and through
the smoke you could see some signs of movement, so I
had to help," he recalls.

Lean and wiry, he scampered through the burning debris
and picked up a woman who had collapsed. When he
carried her outside several people urged him not to go
back in, calling him a "crazy fool". But back he went,
several times, despite the fact that each time black
smoke nearly choked him.

As the flames subsided Mr Hu collapsed on the ground
outside, having saved 11 people from certain death.

The death toll that day was 54, the worst fire tragedy
in the province since the founding of the People's

As the city mourned its dead, the tale of Mr Hu's
heroics lifted public spirits and local officials
applauded the "selfless role model".

But soon after the fire his health rapidly
deteriorated. He felt constantly dizzy, one leg went
totally numb and he had difficulties breathing.

Doctors told him that as a result of the prolonged
exposure to carbon dioxide and other poisonous gases
in the fire his brain was wasting away, and he had
developed serious respiratory problems.

Before the fire, Mr Hu worked as a freelance
construction worker, earning about 700 yuan a month.

Confined to his bed after the tragedy, he stopped
earning and his savings were quickly spent on medical

As a rural residence permit worker he had no social
welfare support.

In April this year, he could no longer keep his angry
landlord at bay, so he was forced onto the streets
with his 11-year-old daughter.

"It was such a depressing feeling. I was always able
to provide for my child and I never dreamt that this
would happen to me," said Mr Hu.

He spent his days on a bridge in the city centre
sitting on the ground with a begging bowl.

His daughter held up a sign that read: "Please help my
father! He rescued 11 people in the Zhongbai fire but
now he is seriously ill and has no money for
treatment." The loose change they collected kept them
alive but covered only the most rudimentary health

On a few occasions while on the bridge, Mr Hu saw
people he had pulled from the fire, but his greetings
were always ignored as they strode by.

One day when a friend was taking him to a clinic they
saw a woman he had saved. His friend approached her
and pointed out Mr Hu sitting in the waiting room and
asked her if she could now help the man who had saved
her. "I don't know what you are talking about," she
replied, and walked away.

Mr Hu's luck finally changed on July 25 when a
journalist from a Jilin newspaper read the sign on the
bridge and wrote of how the city had abandoned a hero
in his time of need. The story apparently outraged a
provincial cadre, who ordered that something be done
to help Mr Hu.

Mr Hu was issued with an urban residence permit that
gives him access to basic health care and a small
pension, and his daughter was granted free schooling.

The report also touched a nerve with the community and
donations started flooding in.

A businessman provided a small flat rent-free and they
have received more than 70,000 yuan from the public
and local government to cover some of the medical
costs Mr Hu will incur.

Despite the toll the fire took on his health, he has
no regrets and says he would do the same again. But he
is saddened by the fact that of all those who have now
helped him, not one was among the 11 people he saved.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

One Million Reasons

Code Pink, the women's peace organization known for their creative approach to consciousness-raising and their ability to disrupt warmongers regardless of where they gather - and always with savoir faire, creativity and humor (their "pink slip" gimmick, handed out to those officials we'd all like to see fired, has been adopted by a number of other groups) - has a new action, and it's one that anyone interested can participate in and support. It's "One Million Reasons," your chance to voice the will of the majority of Americans - now more than six out of ten - who want to bring our troops home from Iraq now. Join with Americans like Lance Armstrong, who has recently stated that he'd like to see the money spent on the war in Iraq on cancer research - something that is far more likely to impact the average American than a terrorist attack.

I've been wrestling with this issue. I was against the Iraq war from the beginning. I felt that it was unjustified, based on lies, a diversion away from our real enemies. I was also convinced, from everything I'd read and came to understand about both Iraq and those in the Administration who were pushing for this war, that invading Iraq was likely to be handled badly, and if handled badly, it would be a disaster for both Iraq and America. I have to say now that I was right.

Still, at times I've subscribed to Colin Powell's so-called "Pottery Barn" principle - "You break it, you own it." Having smashed whatever tenuous bonds held Iraq together, don't we have the obligation to stay until we've fixed it?

At this point I feel that we owe the Iraqi people a karmic debt that we may never be able to repay. Yes, we should rebuild Iraq. We should keep our promises. But I've come to the conclusion that we will never be able to do so at gunpoint.

I think that the United States needs to come up with a clear timetable for withdrawal, and the sooner, the better. I fear the future. I think that Iraq is on the verge of civil war, if it is not engaged in one already, and that our country is responsible for it. But I don't think that the presence of American troops is sufficient bulwark to stop that whirlwind, and in fact, may only be increasing the severity of the conflict. I suggest we pull out our troops after a set period of time. Return to the policies of "no fly zones" that enabled the Kurds to set up a defacto democracy in the north and make it clear that genocidal massacres will meet with an armed response. But as for the daily violence that has engulfed Iraq, there is nothing we can do to stop it, except to leave and let the Iraqis sort out for themselves what kind of country they are to inhabit.

We will be living with the consequences of Bush's appalling policies for a very long time. There is no good outcome here. Only the possibility of less bad ones.

UPDATE: Crooks & Liars has an amazing Hardball interview (video and transcript) with the parents of one of the slain Ohio Marines. It's clear to me that they both have a much better grasp of the situation in Iraq than the decision-makers in the Bush Administration...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Atomic Memory Hole

I have never understood the justification for Nagasaki.

I could get why the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Given the numbers of American troops who were expected to die in an invasion of Japan, Japan's aggression, the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the desire to demonstrate the consequences of such actions, okay, I can see what the case for Hiroshima was. This case posits that it would not have been sufficient to simply demonstrate to Japan the power of atomic weapons on some sparsely populated island; no, Japan had to be utterly and completely defeated. You could factor racism into this case, I suppose, although the fire-bombing of Dresden is another example of total war on a civilian population, in this instance, a European one.

But then there's Nagasaki. Nagasaki is treated as almost an afterthought to Hiroshima. Oh yeah. Then on the second day, we dropped another one.

An afterthought that killed more than forty thousand people.

Reading about Nagasaki is one of those things that pushes me into cynicism. I don't want to be a cynic, actually. My high school boyfriend and his buddies always made a big show of their cynicism, which I figured was a cover-up for their gushy bleeding hearts. But when faced with overwhelming evidence that people and governments commit horrible crimes for completely cynical reasons, how can one otherwise react?

Nagasaki, it seemed pretty clear, was all about testing a different kind of bomb. Just to see what it would do.

And now, here is more evidence that only fools support their country, right or wrong. This lengthy article in Editor & Publisher examines how the US Government suppressed film footage of the aftermath in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for decades. Why? Because certain elements in the government feared that if Americans saw the devastating consequences of an atomic bomb attack, they would be unwilling to support further development of nuclear weapons, and that they would question what their government had done to a civilian population. Here is what Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern, who directed the U.S. military filmmakers in Japan and then protected the resulting footage, had to say:
"I always had the sense...that people in the Atomic Energy Commission were sorry we had dropped the bomb. The Air Force -- it was also sorry. I was told by people in the Pentagon that they didn't want those [film] images out because they showed effects on man, woman and child. ... They didn't want the general public to know what their weapons had done -- at a time they were planning on more bomb tests. We didn't want the material out because ... we were sorry for our sins."...

...More recently, McGovern declared that Americans should have seen the damage wrought by the bomb. "The main reason it was classified was ... because of the horror, the devastation," he said. Because the footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was hidden for so long, the atomic bombings quickly sank, unconfronted and unresolved, into the deeper recesses of American awareness, as a costly nuclear arms race, and nuclear proliferation, accelerated.

The atomic cover-up also reveals what can happen in any country that carries out deadly attacks on civilians in any war and then keeps images of what occurred from its own people.
This is a detailed and very powerful article that illustrates the importance of censorship to the maintenance of power. Read the whole thing.

Haloscan is Odd...

For some reason, comments aren't showing up beneath the entry. If you click on "Comments," however, the comments people have left are still there...

I was out of town over the weekend, thus the lack of posts. I'll put up something tonight.