Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mountains and valleys

I've been trying to find this quote from Mao about leveling the mountains and filling in the valleys, but Google keeps giving me articles like "What is the clinical significance of an elevated platelet MAO level?" Anyway, it wasn't a very appropriate analogy, or at least not one that would bring a lot of converts to what I'm writing about... which is that I'm excited about Obama's proposed budget, or at least the way the NY Times describes it:
The Obama budget — a bold, even radical departure from recent history, wrapped in bureaucratic formality and statistical tables — would sharply raise taxes on the rich, beyond where Bill Clinton had raised them. It would reduce taxes for everyone else, to a lower point than they were under either Mr. Clinton or George W. Bush. And it would lay the groundwork for sweeping changes in health care and education, among other areas.

More than anything else, the proposals seek to reverse the rapid increase in economic inequality over the last 30 years.

About time! That's what I've really been wanting all these years. Foreign policy and all that is important, but I really want someone to stick it to the rich people... and get things back to the WPA days.


That's a bit rash, but my main thing is that Clinton never cared about inequality. He cared about the little guy, sure, but not inequality. If Obama does, then I'm more or less satisfied.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Clinton bungles it

I've gotta say... Clinton did fine in terms of setting up the right relationships in China, with the government and with ordinary people, but I don't get why she had to talk about human rights the way she did.

If she wanted to focus on global warming and treasury bonds, she should have done just that and not even mentioned rights. Instead, Clinton went out of her way to frame rights as a sort of dead-end and distraction, so that the next time they have to come up---such as in the event of more brutality in Tibet---they will be dismissed as the sort of chatter that only occurs when there's nothing else more important to talk about or as a formality demanded by narrow-sighted interest groups at home.

Instead, Clinton could have pushed rights out of the on-again, off-again US-China "human rights dialogue" (scrap the dialogue if need be) and made them a normal part of other discussions. Environmental discussions, for example, could include the rights of the poor to safe water or of environmental campaigners to freedom from intimidation. Economic discussions could include the plight of workers.

Of course, such an expanded conversation would inevitably touch on America's misdeeds. Which would be perfect. We need someone to say that closing Guantanmo is good but closing the Bagram air base would be better. One of the best things about the human rights reports that the U.S. produces about China is that they often draw a Chinese response criticizing the U.S. It's a healthy exchange. Now it needs to be expanded, not shunted off to the corner.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bring in Barghouti

If they could get Barghouti back in there... from the Huffington Post:

Marwan Barghouti is the most popular Palestinian leader since Yasser Arafat. He has spent the last seven years in an Israeli prison after being convicted of playing a role in attacks that killed four Israelis and a Greek monk.

A lifetime member of President Mahmoud Abbas' venerable and corruption-riddled Fatah movement, Barghouti is seen as perhaps the group's best chance to restore its eroded credibility. Many Palestinians _ and some Israelis _ see him as the only figure capable of bridging the myriad rifts among Palestinians and leading them toward their long elusive dream of statehood.

Barghouti is a secularist who works with Islamists. He supports negotiations with Israel, speaks fluent Hebrew and has Israeli friends, but he built his reputation through anti-Israel diatribes during the second Palestinian uprising.

I don't profess to being an expert on any of these things, but this man has always impressed me. It seems that Israel has kept him under lock and key precisely because he WOULD make a good negotiating partner. Israel will probably never come to an internal consensus that it is ready for a serious peace effort, but maybe having Barghouti on the scene will force things forward.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Charter 08

My main problem with Charter 08, beyond the stuff about privatizing SOEs (which won't win over many northeastern rustbelt workers) , is its fixation with settling on a single account of the past.

The Chinese constitution begins, "China is one of the countries with the longest histories in the world." It then dashes through imperial glory, humiliation at the hands of foreign powers and the partial triumphs of the Republican era before concluding:
After waging hard, protracted and tortuous struggles, armed and otherwise, the Chinese people of all nationalities led by the Communist Party of China with Chairman Mao Zedong as its leader ultimately, in 1949, overthrew the rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism, won the great victory of the new-democratic revolution and founded the People's Republic of China. Thereupon the Chinese people took state power into their own hands and became masters of the country.... The living standards of the people have improved considerably.

In an almost perfect reverse, Charter 08 lists the same historical episodes but concludes:
The Communist Party of China seized control of all organs of the state and all political, economic, and social resources, and, using these, has produced a long trail of human rights disasters, including, among many others, the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957), the Great Leap Forward (1958–1960), the Cultural Revolution (1966–1969), the June Fourth Massacre (1989), and the current repression of all unauthorized religions and the suppression of the weiquan rights movement. During all this, the Chinese people have paid a gargantuan price. Tens of millions have lost their lives, and several generations have seen their freedom, their happiness, and their human dignity cruelly trampled.

But in truth Chinese peoples' experiences run a wide gamut between the two narratives above. Why set the record straight and risk only setting it straight for a few people?

Of course, Charter 08 is important not because of its specifics, but because so many people felt comfortable signing it at all. Their courage speaks to a rising current of dissatisfaction among elite intellectuals (who have been bribed and coddled by the CCP since 1989), to the limits of technocratic authorities to inspire citizens, and to a changed balance of power between the Chinese government and its people.

The government's high-profile attacks on the document--Jia Qinglin's article in Qiushi, Hu's confusing statements about not "wavering" (bu zheteng), and Peking University's call for students to boycott Charter 08--have been combined with a curious reticence to hit the actual signatories, aside from a handful of people like Lu Xiaobo. The state simply can't do as much as it once could.

So, even if the broad masses of Chinese have not yet heard of Charter 08 and even if young nationalists are incensed by the document's mild references to a "federated republic," the document stands as a testimony to a changed environment.

For better takes on the document than mine, see Rebecca MacKinnon's post and Ronald Soong's response.