Two of the big issues I've been hearing about from the Occupy movement are student loan debt and health care. I don't want to reduce the Occupy movements to these issues, but they're important ones and not just because the health care system in America is inadequate, or because students loans as they are now have the potential to be staggeringly burdensome. They're important because the legal and administrative structure of student loan repayment and social health care don't reflect the bureaucratic realities of these systems. In political discourse, the social benefits are discussed in their theoretical, structural implementation. A politician can say, in a sense truthfully, that in Massachusetts we already have socialized health care for the lowest income families and individuals, and that that health care is pretty good; a politician can claim, also in a sense truthfully, that student loans are structured in such a way that repayment should never be burdensome, and that there are repayment plans, forbearances and deferments that allow those with very low incomes to pay nothing on their student loans without going into default.
Theoretically, structurally, both these arguments are correct. Underemployed and unemployed residents of Massachusetts are eligible for MassHealth, and...More >>
When I was teaching in China, some of my students would become defensive at my criticisms of a regime that consistently silenced voices of dissent through the easy back-and-forth of scalpel to sledgehammer; a regime that appeased a vast majority of their populace even while exploiting them with the vague and omnipresent threat of looming, senseless violence; a regime that was justified by its own people on the reminder that not so long ago the terror and famine that blighted the Middle Kingdom was much, much worse.
These same students would often become smug when news of corruption, censorship, violence and lack of representation in America came, exaggerated through state-run television, to China.
“See?” they seemed to say, “America, the great country that it is, is just as bad as China.”
But neither point is true; we are not, now, such a great country and we are not just as bad as China.
Today, as I watched a video of a police officer pepper spraying non-violent peaceful protesters at UC Davis's campus, my three year old daughter came up to me and sat in my lap.
“What are you watching?” she asked me. And...More >>
China's recent embarrassments surrounding its domestic high speed trains have taken a turn for the macabre, as two of their ultra-modern bullet trains collided on the Beijing-Fuzhou line in Wenzhou. The current official death toll is 35, with more than 200 injured.
Despite the adage that lightning never strikes the same place twice, it has apparently been striking Chinese bullet trains so frequently in the past month that the only viable explanation is a condemnation from the heavens itself; either that, or the Railway Ministry's excuse of “lightning” is becoming code for, “it's none of your damn business why our supposedly state-of-the-art trains stop working for hours at a time.”
The New York Times also reports, disturbingly, that:
Photos on the popular Weibo microblogging service showed backhoes burying the wrecked train near the site. Critics said the wreckage needed to be carefully examined for causes of the malfunction, but the railway ministry said that the trains contain valuable national technology and could not be left in the open in case it fell into the wrong hands.
Given the allegations that the domestically developed trains were based largely on technology stolen from foreign...More >>
An article at the China Media Project discusses the history of the now-embattled Shanghai-Beijing railway and its context in the larger issues of the Railway Ministry. it includes the translation of an article by Chen Yanwei et al from nfpeople.com.
In the translation, the authors ask:
How was it that these doubts [about how things were being handled within the ministry] could not be revealed openly while Liu Zhijun [the mastermind behind China's push for extended railways] was in his post? As a major strategic national infrastructure project whose budget surpassed that of even the Three Gorges Dam project, how was it that there was no need to put it to a vote within the National People’s Congress? Even further, why was it that information about this project, with direct concern for the national welfare and the people’s livelihood, and expending massive resources drawn from taxpayer monies, could not be made public during the decision-making process and we subjected to public discussion?
To answer this question, the authors give us a particularly in-depth and detailed account of how the Shanghai-Beijing railway project developed, who opposed it, and the politics that were embroiled within and without of the Railway...More >>
Back in 2008, when the Great Sichuan Earthquake revealed the inadequacy and corruption of Chinese construction standards, commenters dubbed the shoddy quality of development “Tofu Construction.” Funny name, but not so funny when tofu schools bury thousands of children because developers cut corners to turn a profit. One would imagine that such a tragedy would galvanize a nation to step up standards and take a stand, but incidences resulting in death have continued over the years, some of the most famous recently being the Shanghai tower fire, the collapse of a Beijing metro escalator, and just today reports of an “incident” involving one of China's vaunted high-speed trains.
It's not surprising that Chinese people are cynical about the quality of their domestic development projects, but what is surprising is how long it's taking for many Western news sources to put two and two together when it comes to our image of a rising China. The speed of Chinese development is reported as vaguely threatening, but realistically those threats should be undercut by the overwhelming embezzlement and corruption that renders said development suspiciously fragile.
A Hong Kong-based show broke the news recently that Jiang Zemin, former Paramount Leader of the People's Republic of China, has died. They have recently recanted this statement, but the internet is flowing with rumors about the possible death of one of the most influential men in the history of modern China.
The government in China has responded to these rumors with heavy-handed censorship, clearing all micro-blog posts referencing Jiang and blocking searches containing his name (the inconvenient and amusing consequence of which is that Chinese net-users are unable to search for “river,” the meaning of Jiang's surname).
Censorship in China is not unusual, but it may be surprising to Western readers that the Chinese government would be concerned about rumors surrounding the innocuous death of a former leader. What is it, exactly, that China has to fear from people talking about this?
As one leader passes, it becomes a time for Chinese people to more openly reflect on their merits and failings, and to speculate about the future of politics. @Edouroo on Twitter quoted Li Datong, the former editor of a Chinese democratic magazine, remarking that “the leaders of China have become weaker and weaker; Jiang Zemin was weaker...More >>
There's been a recent push by a number of Chinese to establish grass-roots campaigns for local government, the only form of government in which representation is elected, in theory, by popular vote. This isn't the first time we've seen independents trying to run for office in China, but it does come at a particularly tense moment in China's history.
On the first of July, the Chinese Communist Party will celebrate its 90th anniversary, and it isn't going to stand for any embarrassment during the festivities. Li Chanchung, the head of the Party's propaganda machine, has in no uncertain terms told Chinese media to be on their best behavior, “singing the main theme of the goodness of the CCP, the goodness of socialism, the goodness of economic reform and opening, the goodness of our Great Mother Country.” In spite of this decree, there have been particularly damning revelations about corruption in the last few months, including the revelation that over the past twenty years, close to 18,000 officials have fled China with around 125 billion dollars embezzled from the central government, mass protests in Lichuan caused by the murder of an official who was fighting corruption,...More >>
The recent UN resolution that there should be no discrimination or violence based on a person's gender or sexuality was hailed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as “historic.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Islamic Fundamentalist states voted against the measure and vocally condemned the text. While China did not vote against the resolution, as it has always done previously when presented with UN measures to protect the rights of homosexuals in the past, it did abstain.
China's abstinence from the vote may seem like progress, but it remains a stain on a country whose human rights record is getting less forgiveness from Western governments than it has in the past decade. China's position on the matter is not wholly surprising, however, given that homosexuality was only decriminalized in the late nineties, was viewed as a mental illness until 2001, and is still often viewed and described by common people as a rebellious, selfish, socially destructive way of life.
A number of Chinese citizens have put together open access anti-corruption websites after the reformist-minded Beijing News ran a story on India's “I Paid a Bribe” website. The Chinese websites (“I Took a Bribe,” “Yeah, I Took a Bribe,” and “I Bribed”) follow the example of the Indian website, allowing a platform for anonymous submission of user's anecdotes about corruption.
Reports from the China Media Project (CMP), where you can read translations of users' stories, indicate that the sites have become extremely successful over a short period of time, but also raise concerns about these sites being “harmonized” by the government. The Sina Microblogging platform for “I Took a Bribe” has already been disabled, and Baidu, China's number one search engine, no longer shows any results for searches of the website's name. The speed of the government's response seems to indicate a knee-jerk reaction. The original story from Beijing News was run only six days ago, one June 8, barely time at all to assess whether this kind of site could be a boon or a detriment to the often lukewarm efforts of the central government to fight corruption.
The central government is following a clear...More >>
Thousands of migrants workers rioted in Zengcheng, a suburb of Guangzhou, after a clash between a pregnant couple and the local police. Rioters are reported to have laid siege to government buildings, setting fires and overturning cars. Despite government assurances to the contrary, China Digital Times reports that the riot has not been quelled.
Whether the riots continue or not is perhaps less interesting than the government's rhetorical handling of the event which sparked them. The China Daily (one of the many puppet news organizations of the Chinese Communist Party) reports only vaguely on the inspiration for this riot. It mentions that Wang Lianmei, one of the migrant workers involved in the initial clash with police was pregnant and that she “fell to the ground during the clash.” While they are very careful to quote the Mayor, Ye Niuping, that “Wang and her fetus remained intact in the clash after a thorough examination in hospital, and no death or injuries have been reported in this case” they do not explain how she fell.
China Daily also reports that the initial gathering of onlookers “gathered at the scene to prevent...More >>