Monday, March 31, 2008

From Bush Recession to Bush Depression

The Independent of London reports:

Michigan has been in its own mini-recession for years as its collapsing industrial base, particularly in the car industry, has cast more and more out of work. Now, one in eight residents of the state is on food stamps, double the level in 2000.

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Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change is claiming victory in yesterday's national election. This is big.

This probably marks the end of current President Robert Mugabe's long career atop what was once one of Africa's star industrial economies and and hopeful democratic experiments. After leading the Zimbabwe African National Union to victory in a bitter guerrilla war against the Rhodesian--yes, named after diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes--white colonial oppressors in 1979, Robert Mugabe transitioned smoothly into Presidential leadership and extended an olive branch of sorts to racial reconciliation (while of course providing a vital staging ground to ongoing liberation struggles in South Africa and Mozambique). How big a deal was this? The man himself, Bob Marley, staged a freedom celebration concert in Harare.

Despite socialist origins, Zimbabwe was reined in by en vogue austere IMF structural adjustment type macroeconomic policies--so much so that then Vice President Bush on a state visit lauded Mugabe for his progress in "not shutting whitey out of the economy" (my words, not his) and looking forward to a future Zimbabwe built on racial harmony "where whitey could still control the economy" (again, I'm paraphrasing).

After the conclusion of years of war and strife, naturally the economy saw recovery and productivity gains--particularly in agriculture and commodity exports (tobacco and other horticulture, primarily, also coffee). And Zimbabwe rode along on this wave for some time. But when these gains ran their course, things started to change--particularly politically for Mugabe and his ZANU-PF (Political Front). Slowing pie growth led to more rampant corruption, which necessitated political repression, which necessitated vilification of a political scapegoat: neo-colonialism.

Mugabe charged the former imperialist power--the UK, and throw in a dash of the US for good measure--with meddling in Zimbabwe's domestic affairs and sabotaging their economy to re-establish repressive control. How? By pressuring Zimbabwe not to move ahead on land reform efforts to redistribute agricultural land--virtually entirely owned by whites. Naturally, whites in Zimbabwe and the British government felt that the distribution of land obtained under brutal white racist rule should be preserved (because it would be a crime against nature to meddle with "market outcomes"). Eventually, the British government was guilted into at least acknowledging perhaps the possibility of a modest compensation program in the name of justice for its decades (centuries) of colonial exploitation of Zimbabwe's land and people. But, they dragged their heels on and on and finally, political expedience for maintaining ZANU-PF's hold on power led to the government-promoted occupation of white farms and a host of desperate economic measures that sparked hyperinflation and plunged Zimbabwe's economy into near standstill.

Certainly, this made the political situation a lot worse for ZANU-PF, bringing increased international pressure as well as domestic pressure from people who didn't like to see their already meager life's savings and meager incomes wiped out, widespread food shortages, etc., etc. So, more crackdowns, and Robert Mugabe completed his transition from patriotic liberator to megalomanic dictator. Usually, the western press just likes to highlight this last part of the story--where Robert Mugabe morphs into the hated Hugo Chavez of Africa--to the neglect of the first part about exploitation and the impossible situation of liberation euphoria conflicting with the harsh geopolitical realities of neo-colonialism. So, yes, Mugabe became a bad dictator and drove Zimbabwe into the ground. But it is also just one more example of a failed transition from the social structure of imperialism. All are to blame.

Anyhow, enough background. After desperately hanging onto power in recent years through state violence against the opposition, savage media crack downs, rigging elections, and so on, it is difficult to see how--at long last--Mugabe and ZANU-PF can still hold on.

Unofficial exit poll numbers from local polling stations across the country point to MDC making a killing, even in strong ZANU-PF areas. According to the NYT report, everyone seems to know this, too. Meanwhile government election officials are sitting on the official results, twiddling their thumbs and contemplating a way out for ZANU-PF. The longer they dawdle, the more apparent it is that the vote count for ZANU-PF looks quite grim, the more incited MDC supporters will become, and the more difficult it will be to pass off a stolen election. The government, ultimately, will have little choice but to allow the election results to stand, or face widespread uprising that will present a viable challenge to Mugabe's police-state rule.

Let's all hope for a peaceful transition and for Robert Mugabe to put his vanity aside and stop squandering Zimbabwe's future.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

R.I.P. Dith Pran

From the NYT:

A dramatic moment, both in reality and cinematically, came when Mr. Dith saved Mr. Schanberg and other Western journalists from certain execution by talking fast and persuasively to the trigger-happy soldiers who had captured them.

But despite frantic effort, Mr. Schanberg could not keep Mr. Dith from being sent to the countryside to join millions working as virtual slaves.

...For years there was no news of Mr. Dith, except for a false rumor that he had been fed to alligators. His brother had been. After more than four years of beatings, backbreaking labor and a diet of a tablespoon of rice a day, Mr. Dith, on Oct. 3, 1979, escaped over the Thai border.

Thank you, war criminal Henry Kissinger, for US carpet-bombing of Cambodia (and Laos, and North Vietnam) and sparking the revolution.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I am a Rockstar least at 育英 middle school in Shanghai, where yesterday I taught about American society and holidays to an assembly of 300 or so middle school kids.

Here is my presentation (.pdf). Most of you can't read it, but you can get the gist of it from the pictures. These kids, at least, were rolling in the aisles. I even got them to sing Chinese pop songs to me.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

China's own 'Coalition of the Willing'

Yes, China, too, is learning how to act on the world stage--namely, how to pull together a nice sounding coalition to support policies that most of the world abhors. Take this morning's headline from Xinhua state news service: International Community Supports China's Handling of Lhasa Riots.

Who is this international community? Mauritius, Madagascar, Burundi, Sudan, Cyprus, Montenegro, Albania, Dominica*, and Antigua and Barbuda. Yes, it is a veritable "Who's Who" of the world's third-tier human rights violating regimes. With this impressive community of international support, China has not yet quite replicated the United States' 'Coalition of the Willing' for invading Iraq, but they have come pretty close.

It's hard to know what these countries really think, as this message comes filtered through the official Chinese mouthpiece. So when they report that a Burundian External Relations Ministry official said, "the riots were a political scheme orchestrated by the Dalai clique with the aim of sabotaging the Beijing Olympics," which just happens to coincide precisely with the government's own language on the matter, one has to be a bit skeptical.

Some have asked me about the media coverage of the recent events in Tibet. No, there has not been a media blackout. Foreign journalists have been expelled from Tibet and some ethnic-Tibetan regions in neighboring provinces, but the Chinese media is beating a steady drum on the issue. The issue is actually a popular one for the government. To the extent that China's apathetic, consumerist population actually pays attention to or cares about such issues, those I've spoken with come down on the side of the government. Racial and ethnic divisions are not issues that China--as a society--deals well with, and there are tremendous animosities festering below the surface (and which sometimes boil over, as in this instance).

Rather than quashing the news from Tibet, the Chinese media has amplified it and cast it as unprovoked Tibetan-on-Chinese ethnic violence. What better way to rally the ethnic-majority Han population around the government's hard-line crack-down on Tibet--much in the same way people in the US are rallied to hate Muslims, immigrants, homosexuals, etc., etc., in order to rally people around permanent war, tax cuts for the rich, and civil liberties violations.

Gee, I guess China really is learning a lot about being a world superpower from its Big Brother United States. Including this equally sophomoric attempt to claim international legitimacy for its reprehensible behavior.

*Remarkably, Dominica is the only country listed for which neither Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, nor the US State Department has prepared an analysis of their human rights record.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

What a pleasant surprise

I was pleasantly surprised to discover this evening that I still have yet to be named on the US Treasury Department's "Specially Designated Nationals" list.

So while this dissertation certainly hasn't been writing itself, at least I have that much going for me still. Which is nice.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

And All Their Running Dogs


In their unwavering efforts to lead the world's fight against American Imperialism (yes, that's a capital "I"), the Chinese government today released its annual report on the US human rights record. Or you can read the summary straight from the horse's mouth here.

Among other things, the report documents high rates of abuse and violence complaints against police officers (and low rates of discipline and prosecution); soaring prison populations; violations of labor rights by public and private employers; severe gender and racial discrimination, including shocking rates of beating deaths of women.

The report also notes a number of instances where the federal government deployed propaganda mechanisms to deliberately distort the mass media for other than "national security" reasons; that the level of poverty in the US is staggering and deteriorating; and that up to 3 million youths are enslaved in forced sex work in the US (that's 1 percent of the total population!) by US government estimates.

In publishing this report, the Chinese government has definitely taken a shotgun approach (or kitchen-sink approach, call it what you will). Clearly many of their complaints are not the direct results of actions taken by abusive government officials (though plenty are). Rather, these indicators when compiled together in one place as such, comprise an almanac of the social decay wrought by the institutions implicitly and explicitly enforced by the US government: racism, sexism, and exploitive capitalism and imperialism.

*("People of the World Unite to Defeat the US Agressors and all their Running Dogs!")

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sweet, Free Food!

Well, not quite free, but Big Red announced today it will be subsidizing my lunches to the tune of US$25.6 million to help college students and faculty ease the burden of food price inflation--caused first by a pig disease epidemic, and then by freak snow storms.

I had noticed that my usual bowl of Yangzhou fried rice (扬州炒饭) had gone up in price since last semester: from CNY4 to CNY5. Or about US$.56 to US$.70 at today's exchange rate. I'm not one to complain, but that is a 25 percent increase in a very short time.

Of course, college students and faculty are already society's winners, so why do they need (even more) food subsidies? But why not spread the wealth? Better in our bellies than in some offshore foreign exchange reserve accounts.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Happy Birthday

Leading today's headlines in Big Red, it's Zhou Enlai's 110th (pictured here with Tricky Dick). The CPC commemorated it with a lot of "tut-tut"-ing at what I'm sure was a lavish meal in the elegantly ordained ball room of the Great Hall of the People. (I just happened to snap a picture of said room last September, but can't seem to get it over the Great Firewall at the moment, so ask me again later).

Zhou was the #2 (the Premier) to Mao, and according to Chang and Halliday's account, was ruthlessly abused by Mao. Mao went so far as to deny Zhou treatment for his prostate cancer in Mao's efforts to maintain his grip on control in the waning years of the Cultural Revolution and his own life.