Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Quoted for Truth

Please excuse the long posts - none of the following is original content, just editorials and commentary on Obama's incredible, amazingly inspiring election victory. Like millions and millions of others, not just in the US, but around the world, I get the strong sense that a new chapter is beginning. A lot of it is wishful thinking, but given Obama's history, his strong campaign, his charismatic cool, and the current state of the world, there is reason to believe that we have turned a corner. What does the future hold for us? No one knows, but I wanted to note here the thoughts of some eminent writers.

The Obama Agenda

Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, is a date that will live in fame (the opposite of infamy) forever. If the election of our first African-American president didn’t stir you, if it didn’t leave you teary-eyed and proud of your country, there’s something wrong with you.

But will the election also mark a turning point in the actual substance of policy? Can Barack Obama really usher in a new era of progressive policies? Yes, he can.

Right now, many commentators are urging Mr. Obama to think small. Some make the case on political grounds: America, they say, is still a conservative country, and voters will punish Democrats if they move to the left. Others say that the financial and economic crisis leaves no room for action on, say, health care reform.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama has the good sense to ignore this advice.

About the political argument: Anyone who doubts that we’ve had a major political realignment should look at what’s happened to Congress. After the 2004 election, there were many declarations that we’d entered a long-term, perhaps permanent era of Republican dominance. Since then, Democrats have won back-to-back victories, picking up at least 12 Senate seats and more than 50 House seats. They now have bigger majorities in both houses than the G.O.P. ever achieved in its 12-year reign.

Bear in mind, also, that this year’s presidential election was a clear referendum on political philosophies — and the progressive philosophy won.

Maybe the best way to highlight the importance of that fact is to contrast this year’s campaign with what happened four years ago. In 2004, President Bush concealed his real agenda. He basically ran as the nation’s defender against gay married terrorists, leaving even his supporters nonplussed when he announced, soon after the election was over, that his first priority was Social Security privatization. That wasn’t what people thought they had been voting for, and the privatization campaign quickly devolved from juggernaut to farce.

This year, however, Mr. Obama ran on a platform of guaranteed health care and tax breaks for the middle class, paid for with higher taxes on the affluent. John McCain denounced his opponent as a socialist and a “redistributor,” but America voted for him anyway. That’s a real mandate.

What about the argument that the economic crisis will make a progressive agenda unaffordable?

Well, there’s no question that fighting the crisis will cost a lot of money. Rescuing the financial system will probably require large outlays beyond the funds already disbursed. And on top of that, we badly need a program of increased government spending to support output and employment. Could next year’s federal budget deficit reach $1 trillion? Yes.

But standard textbook economics says that it’s O.K., in fact appropriate, to run temporary deficits in the face of a depressed economy. Meanwhile, one or two years of red ink, while it would add modestly to future federal interest expenses, shouldn’t stand in the way of a health care plan that, even if quickly enacted into law, probably wouldn’t take effect until 2011.

Beyond that, the response to the economic crisis is, in itself, a chance to advance the progressive agenda.

Now, the Obama administration shouldn’t emulate the Bush administration’s habit of turning anything and everything into an argument for its preferred policies. (Recession? The economy needs help — let’s cut taxes on rich people! Recovery? Tax cuts for rich people work — let’s do some more!)

But it would be fair for the new administration to point out how conservative ideology, the belief that greed is always good, helped create this crisis. What F.D.R. said in his second inaugural address — “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics” — has never rung truer.

And right now happens to be one of those times when the converse is also true, and good morals are good economics. Helping the neediest in a time of crisis, through expanded health and unemployment benefits, is the morally right thing to do; it’s also a far more effective form of economic stimulus than cutting the capital gains tax. Providing aid to beleaguered state and local governments, so that they can sustain essential public services, is important for those who depend on those services; it’s also a way to avoid job losses and limit the depth of the economy’s slump.

So a serious progressive agenda — call it a new New Deal — isn’t just economically possible, it’s exactly what the economy needs.

The bottom line, then, is that Barack Obama shouldn’t listen to the people trying to scare him into being a do-nothing president. He has the political mandate; he has good economics on his side. You might say that the only thing he has to fear is fear itself.

November 5, 2008
NYT Editorial
The Next President

This is one of those moments in history when it is worth pausing to reflect on the basic facts:

An American with the name Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a white woman and a black man he barely knew, raised by his grandparents far outside the stream of American power and wealth, has been elected the 44th president of the United States.

Showing extraordinary focus and quiet certainty, Mr. Obama swept away one political presumption after another to defeat first Hillary Clinton, who wanted to be president so badly that she lost her bearings, and then John McCain, who forsook his principles for a campaign built on anger and fear.

His triumph was decisive and sweeping, because he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens. He offered a government that does not try to solve every problem but will do those things beyond the power of individual citizens: to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate children to compete in a globalized world.

Mr. Obama spoke candidly of the failure of Republican economic policies that promised to lift all Americans but left so many millions far behind. He committed himself to ending a bloody and pointless war. He promised to restore Americans’ civil liberties and their tattered reputation around the world.

With a message of hope and competence, he drew in legions of voters who had been disengaged and voiceless. The scenes Tuesday night of young men and women, black and white, weeping and cheering in Chicago and New York and in Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church were powerful and deeply moving.

Mr. Obama inherits a terrible legacy. The nation is embroiled in two wars — one of necessity in Afghanistan and one of folly in Iraq. Mr. Obama’s challenge will be to manage an orderly withdrawal from Iraq without igniting new conflicts so the Pentagon can focus its resources on the real front in the war on terror, Afghanistan.

The campaign began with the war as its central focus. By Election Day, Americans were deeply anguished about their futures and the government’s failure to prevent an economic collapse fed by greed and an orgy of deregulation. Mr. Obama will have to move quickly to impose control, coherence, transparency and fairness on the Bush administration’s jumbled bailout plan.

His administration will also have to identify all of the ways that Americans’ basic rights and fundamental values have been violated and rein that dark work back in. Climate change is a global threat, and after years of denial and inaction, this country must take the lead on addressing it. The nation must develop new, cleaner energy technologies, to reduce greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil.

Mr. Obama also will have to rally sensible people to come up with immigration reform consistent with the values of a nation built by immigrants and refugees.

There are many other urgent problems that must be addressed. Tens of millions of Americans lack health insurance, including some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens — children of the working poor. Other Americans can barely pay for their insurance or are in danger of losing it along with their jobs. They must be protected.

Mr. Obama will now need the support of all Americans. Mr. McCain made an elegant concession speech Tuesday night in which he called on his followers not just to honor the vote, but to stand behind Mr. Obama. After a nasty, dispiriting campaign, he seemed on that stage to be the senator we long respected for his service to this country and his willingness to compromise.

That is a start. The nation’s many challenges are beyond the reach of any one man, or any one political party.

Change I Can Believe In

I have dreams. I may seem like a boring pundit whose most exotic fantasies involve G.A.O. reports, but deep down, I have dreams. And right now I’m dreaming of the successful presidency this country needs. I’m dreaming of an administration led by Barack Obama, but which stretches beyond the normal Democratic base. It makes time for moderate voters, suburban voters, rural voters and even people who voted for the other guy.

The administration of my dreams understands where the country is today. Its members know that, as Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center put it on “The NewsHour,” “This was an election where the middle asserted itself.” There was “no sign” of a “movement to the left.”

Only 17 percent of Americans trust the government to do the right thing most or all of the time, according to an October New York Times/CBS News poll. So the members of my dream Obama administration understand that they cannot impose an ideological program the country does not accept. New presidents in 1932 and 1964 could presuppose a basic level of trust in government. But today, as Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution observes, the new president is going to have to build that trust deliberately and step by step.

Walking into the Obama White House of my dreams will be like walking into the Gates Foundation. The people there will be ostentatiously pragmatic and data-driven. They’ll hunt good ideas like venture capitalists. They’ll have no faith in all-powerful bureaucrats issuing edicts from the center. Instead, they’ll use that language of decentralized networks, bottom-up reform and scalable innovation.

They will actually believe in that stuff Obama says about postpartisan politics. That means there won’t just be a few token liberal Republicans in marginal jobs. There will be people like Robert Gates at Defense and Ray LaHood, Stuart Butler, Diane Ravitch, Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Jim Talent at other important jobs.

The Obama administration of my dreams will insist that Congressional Democrats reinstate bipartisan conference committees. They’ll invite G.O.P. leaders to the White House for real meetings and then re-invite them, even if they give hostile press conferences on the White House driveway.

They’ll do things conservatives disagree with, but they’ll also show that they’re not toadies of the liberal interest groups. They’ll insist on merit pay and preserving No Child Left Behind’s accountability standards, no matter what the teachers’ unions say. They’ll postpone contentious fights on things like card check legislation.

Most of all, they’ll take significant action on the problems facing the country without causing a mass freak-out among voters to the right of Nancy Pelosi.

They’ll do this by explaining to the American people that there are two stages to their domestic policy thinking, the short-term and the long-term.

The short-term strategy will have two goals: to mitigate the pain of the recession and the change the culture of Washington. The first step will be to complete the round of stimulus packages that are sure to come.

Then they’ll take up two ideas that already have bipartisan support: middle-class tax relief and an energy package. The current economic and energy crisis is an opportunity to do what was not done in similar circumstances in 1974 — transform this country’s energy supply. A comprehensive bill — encompassing everything from off-shore drilling to green technologies — would stimulate the economy and nurture new political coalitions.

When the recession shows signs of bottoming out, then my dream administration would begin phase two. The long-term strategy would be about restoring fiscal balances and reforming fundamental institutions.

By this time, the budget deficit could be zooming past $1.5 trillion a year. The U.S. will be borrowing oceans of money from abroad. My dream administration will show that it understands that the remedy for a culture of debt is not more long-term debt. It will side with those who worry that long-term deficits could lead to ruinous interest-rate hikes.

My dream administration will announce a Budget Rebalancing Initiative. Somebody like Representative Jim Cooper would go through the budget and take out the programs and tax expenditures that don’t work. “If we have no spending cuts, then we’re saying government is perfect. Nobody believes that,” Cooper says.

Having built bipartisan relationships, having shown some fiscal toughness, having seen the economy through the tough times, my dream administration will then be in a position to take up health care reform, tax reform, education reform and a long-range infrastructure initiative. These reforms may have to start slow and on the cheap. But real reform would be imaginable since politics as we know it would be transformed.

Is it all just a dream? I hope not. In any case, please be quiet and let me have my moment.

Bring on the Puppy and the Rookie


I walked over to the White House Tuesday night and leaned against the fence. How can such a lovely house make so many of its inhabitants nuts?

There was no U-Haul in the driveway. I don’t know if W. was inside talking to the portraits on the wall. Or if the portraits can vanish from their frames, as at Hogwarts Academy, to escape if W. is pestering them about his legacy.

The Obama girls, with their oodles of charm, will soon be moving in with their goldendoodle or some other fetching puppy, and they seem like the kind of kids who could have fun there, prowling around with their history-loving father.

I had been amazed during the campaign — not by the covert racism about Barack Obama and not by Hillary Clinton’s subtext when she insisted to superdelegates: “He can’t win.”

But I had been astonished by the overt willingness of some people who didn’t mind being quoted by name in The New York Times saying vile stuff, that a President Obama would turn the Rose Garden into a watermelon patch, that he’d have barbeques on the front lawn, that he’d make the White House the Black House.

Actually, the elegant and disciplined Obama, who is not descended from the central African-American experience but who has nonetheless embraced it and been embraced by it, has the chance to make the White House pristine again.

I grew up here, and I love all the monuments filled with the capital’s ghosts. I hate the thought that terrorists might target them again.

But the monuments have lost their luminescence in recent years.

How could the White House be classy when the Clintons were turning it into Motel 1600 for fund-raising, when Bill Clinton was using it for trysts with an intern and when he plunked a seven-seat hot tub with two Moto-Massager jets on the lawn?

How could the White House be inspiring when W. and Cheney were inside making torture and domestic spying legal, fooling Americans by cooking up warped evidence for war and scheming how to further enrich their buddies in the oil and gas industry?

How could the Lincoln Memorial — “With malice toward none; with charity for all” — be as moving if the black neighborhoods of a charming American city were left to drown while the president mountain-biked?

How can the National Archives, home of the Constitution, be as momentous if the president and vice president spend their days redacting the Constitution?

How can the black marble V of the Vietnam Memorial have power when those in power repeat the mistake of Vietnam?

How can the Capitol, where my dad proudly worked for so many years, hold its allure when the occupants have spent their days — and years — bickering and scoring petty political points instead of stopping White House chicanery and taking on risky big issues?

How can the F.D.R. Memorial along the Tidal Basin be an uplifting trip to the past when the bronze statue of five stooped men in a bread line and the words of F.D.R.’s second inaugural — “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished” — evokes the depressing present?

Obama may be in over his head. Or he may be heading for his own monument one day.

His somber speech in the dark Chicago night was stark and simple and showed that he sees what he’s up against. There was a heaviness in his demeanor, as if he already had taken on the isolation and “splendid misery,” as Jefferson called it, of the office he’d won only moments before. Americans all over the place were jumping for joy, including the block I had been on in front of the White House, where they were singing: “Na, na, na, na. Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye.”

In the midst of such a phenomenal, fizzy victory overcoming so many doubts and crazy attacks and even his own middle name, Obama stood alone.

He rejected the Democratic kumbaya moment of having your broad coalition on stage with you, as he talked about how everyone would have to pull together and “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

He professed “humility,” but we’d heard that before from W., and look what happened there.

Promising to also be president for those who opposed him, Obama quoted Lincoln, his political idol and the man who ended slavery: “We are not enemies, but friends — though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

There have been many awful mistakes made in this country. But now we have another chance.

As we start fresh with a constitutional law professor and senator from the Land of Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial might be getting its gleam back.

I may have to celebrate by going over there and climbing up into Abe’s lap.

It’s a $50 fine. But it’d be worth it.

Finishing Our Work

And so it came to pass that on Nov. 4, 2008, shortly after 11 p.m. Eastern time, the American Civil War ended, as a black man — Barack Hussein Obama — won enough electoral votes to become president of the United States.

A civil war that, in many ways, began at Bull Run, Virginia, on July 21, 1861, ended 147 years later via a ballot box in the very same state. For nothing more symbolically illustrated the final chapter of America’s Civil War than the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia — the state that once exalted slavery and whose secession from the Union in 1861 gave the Confederacy both strategic weight and its commanding general — voted Democratic, thus assuring that Barack Obama would become the 44th president of the United States.

This moment was necessary, for despite a century of civil rights legislation, judicial interventions and social activism — despite Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King’s I-have-a-dream crusade and the 1964 Civil Rights Act — the Civil War could never truly be said to have ended until America’s white majority actually elected an African-American as president.

That is what happened Tuesday night and that is why we awake this morning to a different country. The struggle for equal rights is far from over, but we start afresh now from a whole new baseline. Let every child and every citizen and every new immigrant know that from this day forward everything really is possible in America.

How did Obama pull it off? To be sure, it probably took a once-in-a-century economic crisis to get enough white people to vote for a black man. And to be sure, Obama’s better organization, calm manner, mellifluous speaking style and unthreatening message of “change” all served him well.

But there also may have been something of a “Buffett effect” that countered the supposed “Bradley effect” — white voters telling pollsters they’d vote for Obama but then voting for the white guy. The Buffett effect was just the opposite. It was white conservatives telling the guys in the men’s grill at the country club that they were voting for John McCain, but then quietly going into the booth and voting for Obama, even though they knew it would mean higher taxes.

Why? Some did it because they sensed how inspired and hopeful their kids were about an Obama presidency, and they not only didn’t want to dash those hopes, they secretly wanted to share them. Others intuitively embraced Warren Buffett’s view that if you are rich and successful today, it is first and foremost because you were lucky enough to be born in America at this time — and never forget that. So, we need to get back to fixing our country — we need a president who can unify us for nation-building at home.

And somewhere they also knew that after the abysmal performance of the Bush team, there had to be consequences for the Republican Party. Electing McCain now would have, in some way, meant rewarding incompetence. It would have made a mockery of accountability in government and unleashed a wave of cynicism in America that would have been deeply corrosive.

Obama will always be our first black president. But can he be one of our few great presidents? He is going to have his chance because our greatest presidents are those who assumed the office at some of our darkest hours and at the bottom of some of our deepest holes.

“Taking office at a time of crisis doesn’t guarantee greatness, but it can be an occasion for it,” argued the Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel. “That was certainly the case with Lincoln, F.D.R. and Truman.” Part of F.D.R.’s greatness, though, “was that he gradually wove a new governing political philosophy — the New Deal — out of the rubble and political disarray of the economic depression he inherited.” Obama will need to do the same, but these things take time.

“F.D.R. did not run on the New Deal in 1932,” said Sandel. “He ran on balancing the budget. Like Obama, he did not take office with a clearly articulated governing philosophy. He arrived with a confident, activist spirit and experimented. Not until 1936 did we have a presidential campaign about the New Deal. What Obama’s equivalent will be, even he doesn’t know. It will emerge as he grapples with the economy, energy and America’s role in the world. These challenges are so great that he will only succeed if he is able to articulate a new politics of the common good.”

Bush & Co. did not believe that government could be an instrument of the common good. They neutered their cabinet secretaries and appointed hacks to big jobs. For them, pursuit of the common good was all about pursuit of individual self-interest. Voters rebelled against that. But there was also a rebellion against a traditional Democratic version of the common good — that it is simply the sum of all interest groups clamoring for their share.

“In this election, the American public rejected these narrow notions of the common good,” argued Sandel. “Most people now accept that unfettered markets don’t serve the public good. Markets generate abundance, but they can also breed excessive insecurity and risk. Even before the financial meltdown, we’ve seen a massive shift of risk from corporations to the individual. Obama will have to reinvent government as an instrument of the common good — to regulate markets, to protect citizens against the risks of unemployment and ill health, to invest in energy independence.”

But a new politics of the common good can’t be only about government and markets. “It must also be about a new patriotism — about what it means to be a citizen,” said Sandel. “This is the deepest chord Obama’s campaign evoked. The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service — in the military, in the Peace Corps or in the community. Obama’s campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again.”

None of this will be easy. But my gut tells me that of all the changes that will be ushered in by an Obama presidency, breaking with our racial past may turn out to be the least of them. There is just so much work to be done. The Civil War is over. Let reconstruction begin.

Perfecting the Union

Beyond Iraq, beyond the economy, beyond health care, there was something even more fundamental at stake in this U.S. election won by Barack Obama: the self-respect of the American people.

For almost eight years, Americans have seen words stripped of meaning, lives sacrificed to confront nonexistent Iraqi weapons and other existences ravaged by serial incompetence on an epic scale.

Against all this, Obama made a simple bet and stuck to it. If you trusted in the fundamental decency, civility and good sense of the American people, even at the end of a season of fear and loss, you could forge a new politics and win the day.

Four years ago, at the Democratic convention, in the speech that lifted him from obscurity, Obama said: “For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected as one people.”

He never wavered from that theme. “In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people,” he declared Tuesday night in his victory speech to a joyous crowd in Chicago.

In that four-year span, Obama never got angry. Without breaking a sweat, he took down two of the most ruthless political machines on the planet: first the Clintons and then the Republican Party.

An idea has power. John McCain had many things in this campaign, but an idea was not one of them. At a time of economic crisis, he could not order his thoughts about it. Hard-hit Ohio drew its decisive conclusions. It was not alone.

McCain flailed, opting on a whim for a sidekick, Sarah Palin, who personified the very “country-first” intolerance and Bush-like small-mindedness of which many Americans had grown as weary as the world has.

Gracious in defeat, McCain seemed almost relieved, free to return to himself and escape the rabid fringes of Republicanism.

Obama’s idea, put simply, was that America can be better than it has been. It can reach beyond post-9/11 anger and fear to embody once more what the world still craves from the American idea: hope.

America can mean what it says. It can respect its friends and probe its enemies before it tries to shock and awe them. It can listen. It can rediscover the commonwealth beyond the frenzied individualism that took down Wall Street.

I know, these are mere words. They will not right the deficit or disarm an enemy. But words count. That has been a lesson of the Bush years.

You can’t proclaim freedom as you torture. You can’t promote democracy as you disappear people. You can’t stand for the rule of law and strip prisoners of basic rights. You can’t dispense with the transparency and regulation essential to modern capital markets and hope still to be the beacon of free enterprise.

Or rather, you can do all these things, but then you find yourself alone.

Obama will reinvest words with meaning. That is the basis of everything. And an American leader able to improvise a grammatical, even a moving, English sentence is no bad thing. Americans, in the inevitable recession ahead, will have a leader who can summon their better natures rather than speak, as Bush has, to their spite.

I voted in Brooklyn. There was a two-hour line. I got to talking to the woman behind me. I told her that as a naturalized American I was voting for the first time. When I emerged from the voting booth the woman said: “Congratulations.:

That single word said a lot about citizenship as an idea and a responsibility, rather than a thing of blood or ethnicity or race.

And it occurred to me that Obama’s core conviction about the American saga — his belief in the connectedness of all Americans — stemmed from his own unlikely experience of American transformation.

A Kenyan father passing briefly through these shores; a chance encounter with a young Kansan woman; a biracial boy handed off here and there but fortunate at least in the accident of Hawaiian birth.

Obama has spoken without cease about his conviction of American possibility born from this experience. He intuited that, after years of the debasement of so many core American ideas, a case for what the preamble to the U.S. Constitution calls “a more perfect union” would resonate.

He was rarely explicit about race, although he spoke of slavery as America’s “original sin.” He did not need to be. At a time of national soul-searching, what could better symbolize a “more perfect union” and the overcoming of the wounds of that original sin than the election to the White House of an African-American?

And what stronger emblem could be offered to the world of an American renewal startling enough to challenge the assumptions of every state on earth?

The other day I got an e-mail message saying simply this: Rosa Parks sat in 1955. Martin Luther King walked in 1963. Barack Obama ran in 2008. That our children might fly.

Tough days lie ahead. But it’s a moment to dream. Americans have earned that right, along with the renewed respect of the world.

November 4, 2008

I don't know what kind of president Barack Obama will be, but I know this: He has made me proud of America again. And also of Americans.

Today, they are turning out in record numbers to repudiate the leaders who disgraced and failed them. Today, they're doing what no one would have dared imagine a few years ago: electing a biracial president with a foreign-sounding name who self-identifies as black. They are taking a courageous leap of faith, because they're disgusted with what's happened to their country.

I am a Canadian who was born and grew up in the United States. For most people like me, the past few years have been dreadful. We lost our native country to men without honour. We lost it to people who authorized torture, secret prisons and indefinite detention. We lost it to people who made America hated and feared around the world and then, for good measure, presided over a global financial collapse. We gave up trying to defend America to all those critics who love to wallow in its wickedness - because, for once, they were right, and we were ashamed.

I don't know how Mr. Obama will do as president, but I know this: He will give Americans their country back. He will work to make it the kind of country that people can respect again.

I come from a long line of corn-fed Midwesterners, Republicans, mostly. They were an optimistic lot, and they were immensely proud of their country. From the time I was little, I, too, knew that my country stood for freedom, justice and doing the right thing.

That idealized nation never did exist, of course. When Mr. Obama's parents got married in Hawaii, it was still illegal for them to do so in Virginia. Eventually, I learned that America wasn't always just, and that quite a few Americans lived in a country quite different from the one I knew. By the time I settled in Canada, I was relieved to leave behind the race wars, the wounds of Vietnam and the operatic hysteria of Watergate.

I've been a citizen of Canada for 30 years, and I never think of going back. But it's been painful to see my native land turn into a place that would dismay my grandparents. The moderate Rockefeller Republicans of my youth were banished long ago, replaced by a gang of moral absolutists who derive their certainty on both abortion and foreign wars from divine revelation. They weren't conservatives at all. They were radicals, who practised a sort of ideological slash and burn. They created tribal divisions so bitter that, today, Republicans and Democrats can scarcely talk to one another.

The optimism of my grandparents disappeared, too. Seven years after 9/11, America is still behaving like a nation under imminent threat - defensive, inward-looking and overly afraid. There are smarter ways to fight the terror wars, with less apocalyptic rhetoric, more confidence and less pointless harassment of the public in airports. Maybe Mr. Obama will find them.

I'm proud, too, proud and profoundly moved, that black Americans who haven't bothered to vote in years are voting today. I see them and I cry. The racial conversation will never end, but it will be different. The bitter narrative of oppression and grievance is over. The narrative of possibility - of Martin Luther King - can begin again.

I'm under no illusion that Americans will start holding hands tomorrow and sing Kumbaya. I have no idea whether Barack Obama will be able to succeed, or even muddle through, with the nasty hand he's been dealt. But I do know that what's happening today is a fresh start, and a relief, and even redemptive.

"The cradle of the best and the worst." That's what Leonard Cohen sings about America and, as usual, he's absolutely right. So, tonight, please join me in raising a glass to democracy in the United States. Americans are about to get their country back, and so am I.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Momentous Day

Today I watched the election results come in - a stunning victory for Barack Obama! I had been teaching the novel Pride & Prejudice at the high school where I work in the mornings, and I had the computer set up in a corner. I had prepped the students, so they knew the background of the candidates, the issues, and what was at stake. They also knew that the magic number of electoral votes was 270. During class, the results were coming in, and I updated the stats in a corner of the blackboard every couple of minutes as soon as I saw them posted on CNN. When California kicked in with its magic 55, the class cheered. At 12:15, I was finished, dashed out of the school and made my way to the Brass Monkey, where Democrats Abroad (Taiwan Chapter) were celebrating. I saw a lot of friends there, and was caught up in the excitement with everyone else. After about half an hour, Obama spoke to the crowds in Chicago - his hometown.

I have to say, I was profoundly moved by what he said, and by the intense emotion of the crowd there.
This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

To have a young president-elect of mixed-race, with a multi-cultural, international upbringing speak with such eloquence gives me a lot of hope. Obama's election doesn't reflect the past, it portends the future, a future of possibility, a future that my own mixed-race, multi-cultural, international daughter can thrive and be happy in. That's a future I can look forward to!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The West Wing's creator, Aaron Sorkin, imagines a meeting between President Bartlet and Obama

This is from Maureen Dowd's Column in the New York Times:

Now that he’s finally fired up on the soup-line economy, Barack Obama knows he can’t fade out again. He was eager to talk privately to a Democratic ex-president who could offer more fatherly wisdom — not to mention a surreptitious smoke — and less fraternal rivalry. I called the “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin (yes, truly) to get a read-out of the meeting. This is what he wrote:

BARACK OBAMA knocks on the front door of a 300-year-old New Hampshire farmhouse while his Secret Service detail waits in the driveway. The door opens and OBAMA is standing face to face with former President JED BARTLET.

BARTLET Senator.

OBAMA Mr. President.

BARTLET You seem startled.

OBAMA I didn’t expect you to answer the door yourself.

BARTLET I didn’t expect you to be getting beat by John McCain and a Lancôme rep who thinks “The Flintstones” was based on a true story, so let’s call it even.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET Come on in.

BARTLET leads OBAMA into his study.

BARTLET That was a hell of a convention.

OBAMA Thank you, I was proud of it.

BARTLET I meant the Republicans. The Us versus Them-a-thon. As a Democrat I was surprised to learn that I don’t like small towns, God, people with jobs or America. I’ve been a little out of touch but is there a mandate that the vice president be skilled at field dressing a moose —

OBAMA Look —

BARTLET — and selling Air Force Two on eBay?

OBAMA Joke all you want, Mr. President, but it worked.

BARTLET Imagine my surprise. What can I do for you, kid?

OBAMA I’m interested in your advice.

BARTLET I can’t give it to you.

OBAMA Why not?

BARTLET I’m supporting McCain.


BARTLET He’s promised to eradicate evil and that was always on my “to do” list.


BARTLET And he’s surrounded himself, I think, with the best possible team to get us out of an economic crisis. Why, Sarah Palin just said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had “gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers.” Can you spot the error in that statement?

OBAMA Yes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac aren’t funded by taxpayers.

BARTLET Well, at least they are now. Kind of reminds you of the time Bush said that Social Security wasn’t a government program. He was only off by a little — Social Security is the largest government program.

OBAMA I appreciate your sense of humor, sir, but I really could use your advice.

BARTLET Well, it seems to me your problem is a lot like the problem I had twice.

OBAMA Which was?

BARTLET A huge number of Americans thought I thought I was superior to them.



OBAMA I mean, how did you overcome that?

BARTLET I won’t lie to you, being fictional was a big advantage.

OBAMA What do you mean?

BARTLET I’m a fictional president. You’re dreaming right now, Senator.

OBAMA I’m asleep?

BARTLET Yes, and you’re losing a ton of white women.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET I mean tons.

OBAMA I understand.

BARTLET I didn’t even think there were that many white women.

OBAMA I see the numbers, sir. What do they want from me?

BARTLET I’ve been married to a white woman for 40 years and I still don’t know what she wants from me.

OBAMA How did you do it?

BARTLET Well, I say I’m sorry a lot.

OBAMA I don’t mean your marriage, sir. I mean how did you get America on your side?

BARTLET There again, I didn’t have to be president of America, I just had to be president of the people who watched “The West Wing.”

OBAMA That would make it easier.

BARTLET You’d do very well on NBC. Thursday nights in the old “ER” time slot with “30 Rock” as your lead-in, you’d get seven, seven-five in the demo with a 20, 22 share — you’d be selling $450,000 minutes.

OBAMA What the hell does that mean?

BARTLET TV talk. I thought you’d be interested.

OBAMA I’m not. They pivoted off the argument that I was inexperienced to the criticism that I’m — wait for it — the Messiah, who, by the way, was a community organizer. When I speak I try to lead with inspiration and aptitude. How is that a liability?

BARTLET Because the idea of American exceptionalism doesn’t extend to Americans being exceptional. If you excelled academically and are able to casually use 690 SAT words then you might as well have the press shoot video of you giving the finger to the Statue of Liberty while the Dixie Chicks sing the University of the Taliban fight song. The people who want English to be the official language of the United States are uncomfortable with their leaders being fluent in it.

OBAMA You’re saying race doesn’t have anything to do with it?

BARTLET I wouldn’t go that far. Brains made me look arrogant but they make you look uppity. Plus, if you had a black daughter —

OBAMA I have two.

BARTLET — who was 17 and pregnant and unmarried and the father was a teenager hoping to launch a rap career with “Thug Life” inked across his chest, you’d come in fifth behind Bob Barr, Ralph Nader and a ficus.

OBAMA You’re not cheering me up.

BARTLET Is that what you came here for?

OBAMA No, but it wouldn’t kill you.

BARTLET Have you tried doing a two-hour special or a really good Christmas show?


BARTLET Hang on. Home run. Right here. Is there any chance you could get Michelle pregnant before the fall sweeps?

OBAMA The problem is we can’t appear angry. Bush called us the angry left. Did you see anyone in Denver who was angry?

BARTLET Well ... let me think. ...We went to war against the wrong country, Osama bin Laden just celebrated his seventh anniversary of not being caught either dead or alive, my family’s less safe than it was eight years ago, we’ve lost trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, thousands of lives and we lost an entire city due to bad weather. So, you know ... I’m a little angry.

OBAMA What would you do?

BARTLET GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say “thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said “Thanks.” You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word “patriot” back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!

OBAMA Good to get that off your chest?

BARTLET Am I keeping you from something?

OBAMA Well, it’s not as if I didn’t know all of that and it took you like 20 minutes to say.

BARTLET I know, I have a problem, but admitting it is the first step.

OBAMA What’s the second step?

BARTLET I don’t care.

OBAMA So what about hope? Chuck it for outrage and put-downs?

BARTLET No. You’re elite, you can do both. Four weeks ago you had the best week of your campaign, followed — granted, inexplicably — by the worst week of your campaign. And you’re still in a statistical dead heat. You’re a 47-year-old black man with a foreign-sounding name who went to Harvard and thinks devotion to your country and lapel pins aren’t the same thing and you’re in a statistical tie with a war hero and a Cinemax heroine. To these aged eyes, Senator, that’s what progress looks like. You guys got four debates. Get out of my house and go back to work.

OBAMA Wait, what is it you always used to say? When you hit a bump on the show and your people were down and frustrated? You’d give them a pep talk and then you’d always end it with something. What was it ...?

BARTLET “Break’s over.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wehrlos und Verlassen

My grandmother passed away at the age of 89 a couple of weeks ago, and Vanessa, Trudi and I flew to Winkler, Manitoba for the funeral.

The whole family was there - all the relatives, and lots of friends and neighbours. The funeral service was good, but one moment stands out in my memory: We had arranged a small chorus of family and friends to sing a couple of hymns, conducted by my father, and while we were singing Grandma's favourite, the German hymn, Wehrlos und Verlassen, Trudi walked up to the front of the church, stood next to her grandfather and started swaying to the music. It was very touching to see the youngest life bidding goodbye to the oldest.

Wehrlos und verlassen sehnt sich
oft mein Herz nach stiller Ruh
doch Du dekkest mit dem Fittich
Deiner Liebe sanft mich zu
Unter Deinem sanften Fittich
Find’ich Frieden, Trost und Ruh
denn Du schirmest mich so freundlich
schützest mich und deckst mich zu
Selig sind die’ welche trauen dem Gott

When I’m lonely and defenseless
my heart longs for rest and peace
Then you spread Your wings of caring
with Your love You cover me
Under Your gentle wing
I find peace, solace and rest
For You shield me so kindly
Protect me and console me
Blessed are they who trust in God

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Beijing Embraces Classical Fascism

This is an excellent article - I found myself agreeing with pretty much everything the author says. Thanks to Josh Smith for bringing it to my attention.
In 2002, I speculated that China may be something we have never seen before: a mature fascist state. Recent events there, especially the mass rage in response to Western criticism, seem to confirm that theory. More significantly, over the intervening six years China’s leaders have consolidated their hold on the organs of control—political, economic and cultural. Instead of gradually embracing pluralism as many expected, China’s corporatist elite has become even more entrenched.

Even though they still call themselves communists, and the Communist Party rules the country, classical fascism should be the starting point for our efforts to understand the People’s Republic. Imagine Italy 50 years after the fascist revolution. Mussolini would be dead and buried, the corporate state would be largely intact, the party would be firmly in control, and Italy would be governed by professional politicians, part of a corrupt elite, rather than the true believers who had marched on Rome. It would no longer be a system based on charisma, but would instead rest almost entirely on political repression, the leaders would be businesslike and cynical, not idealistic, and they would constantly invoke formulaic appeals to the grandeur of the “great Italian people,” “endlessly summoned to emulate the greatness of its ancestors.”

Substitute in the “great Chinese people” and it all sounds familiar. We are certainly not dealing with a Communist regime, either politically or economically, nor do Chinese leaders, even those who followed the radical reformer Deng Xiaoping, seem to be at all interested in treading the dangerous and uneven path from Stalinism to democracy. They know that Mikhail Gorbachev fell when he tried to control the economy while giving political freedom. They are attempting the opposite, keeping a firm grip on political power while permitting relatively free areas of economic enterprise. Their political methods are quite like those used by the European fascists 80 years ago.

Unlike traditional communist dictators—Mao, for example—who extirpated traditional culture and replaced it with a sterile Marxism-Leninism, the Chinese now enthusiastically, even compulsively, embrace the glories of China’s long history. Their passionate reassertion of the greatness of past dynasties has both entranced and baffled Western observers, because it does not fit the model of an “evolving communist system.”

Yet the fascist leaders of the 1920s and 1930s used exactly the same device. Mussolini rebuilt Rome to provide a dramatic visual reminder of ancient glories, and he used ancient history to justify the conquest of Libya and Ethiopia. Hitler’s favorite architect built neoclassical buildings throughout the Third Reich, and his favorite operatic composer organized festivals to celebrate the country’s mythic past.

Like their European predecessors, the Chinese claim a major role in the world because of their history and culture, not just on the basis of their current power, or scientific or cultural accomplishments. China even toys with some of the more bizarre notions of the earlier fascisms, such as the program to make the country self-sufficient in wheat production—the same quest for autarky that obsessed both Hitler and Mussolini.

To be sure, the world is much changed since the first half of the last century. It’s much harder (and sometimes impossible) to go it alone. Passions for total independence from the outside world are tempered by the realities of today’s global economy, and China’s appetite for oil and other raw materials is properly legendary. But the Chinese, like the European fascists, are intensely xenophobic, and obviously worry that their people may turn against them if they learn too much about the rest of the world. They consequently work very hard to dominate the flow of information. Just ask Google, forced to cooperate with the censors in order to work in China.

Some scholars of contemporary China see the Beijing regime as very nervous, and perhaps even unstable, and they are encouraged in this belief when they see recent events such as the eruption of popular sentiment against the Tibetan monks’ modest protests. That view is further reinforced by similar outcries against most any criticism of Chinese performance, from human rights to air pollution, and from preparations for the Olympic Games to the failure of Chinese quality control in food production and children’s toys. The recent treatment of French retailer Carrefour at the hands of Chinese nationalists is a case in point. It has been publicly excoriated and shunned because France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy dared to consider the possibility of boycotting the Olympics.

In all these cases, it is tempting to conclude that the regime is worried about its own survival, and, in order to rally nationalist passions, feels compelled to portray the country as a global victim. Perhaps they are right. The strongest evidence to support the theory of insecurity at the highest levels of Chinese society is the practice of the “princelings” (wealthy children of the ruling elites) to buy homes in places such as the United States, Canada and Australia. These are not luxury homes of the sort favored by wealthy businessman and officials from the oil-rich countries of the Middle East. Rather they are typically “normal” homes of the sort a potential émigré might want to have in reserve in case things went bad back home.

Moreover, there are reasons to believe that eruptions of nationalist passion do indeed worry the regime, and Chinese leaders have certainly tamped down such episodes in the past. In recent days, the regime has even reached out to the Dalai Lama himself in an apparent effort to calm the situation, after previously enouncing the “Dalai clique” as a dangerous form of separatism and even treason.

On the other hand, the cult of victimhood was always part of fascist culture. Just like Germany and Italy in the interwar period, China feels betrayed and humiliated, and seeks to avenge her many historic wounds. This is not necessarily a true sign of anxiety; it’s an integral part of the sort of hypernationalism that has always been at the heart of all fascist movements and regimes. We cannot look into the souls of the Chinese tyrants, but I doubt that China is an intensely unstable system, riven by the democratic impulses of capitalism on the one hand, and the repressive practices of the regime on the other. This is a mature fascism, not a frenzied mass movement, and the current regime is not composed of revolutionary fanatics. Today’s Chinese leaders are the heirs of two very different revolutions, Mao’s and Deng’s. The first was a failed communist experiment; the second is a fascist transformation whose future is up for grabs.

If the fascist model is correct, we should not be at all surprised by the recent rhetoric or mass demonstrations. Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy were every bit as sensitive to any sign of foreign criticism as the Chinese today, both because victimhood is always part of the definition of such states, and because it’s an essential technique of mass control. The violent denunciations of Westerners who criticize Chinese repression may not be a sign of internal anxiety or weakness. They may instead be a sign of strength, a demonstration of the regime’s popularity. Remember that European fascism did not fall as the result of internal crisis—it took a bloody world war to bring it down. Fascism was so alarmingly popular neither Italians not Germans produced more than token resistance until the war began to be lost. It may well be that the mass condemnation of Western calls for greater political tolerance is in fact a sign of political success.

Since classical fascism had such a brief life span, it is hard to know whether or not a stable, durable fascist state is possible. Economically, the corporate state, of which the current Chinese system is a textbook example, may prove more flexible and adaptable than the rigid central planning that doomed communism in the Soviet Empire and elsewhere (although the travails of Japan, which also tried to combine capitalist enterprise with government guidance, show the kinds of problems China will likely face). Our brief experience with fascism makes it difficult to evaluate the possibilities of political evolution, and the People’s Republic is full of secrets. But prudent strategists would do well to assume that the regime will be around for a while longer—perhaps a lot longer.

If it is a popular, fascist regime, should the world prepare for some difficult and dangerous confrontations with the People’s Republic? Twentieth-century fascist states were very aggressive; Nazi Germany and fascist Italy were both expansionist nations. Is it not likely that China will similarly seek to enlarge its domain?

I believe the answer is “yes, but.” Many Chinese leaders might like to see their sway extend throughout the region, and beyond. China’s military is not so subtly preparing the capability to defeat U.S. forces in Asia in order to prevent intervention in any conflict on its periphery. No serious student of China doubts the enormous ambitions of both the leadership and the masses. But, unlike Hitler and Mussolini, the Chinese tyrants do not urgently need quick geographical expansion to demonstrate the glory of their country and the truth of their vision. For the moment, at least, success at home and global recognition of Chinese accomplishments seem to be enough. Since Chinese fascism is less ideological than its European predecessors, Chinese leaders are far more flexible than Hitler and Mussolini.
Nonetheless, the short history of classical fascism suggests that it is only a matter of time before China will pursue confrontation with the West. That is built into the dna of all such regimes. Sooner or later, Chinese leaders will feel compelled to demonstrate the superiority of their system, and even the most impressive per capita GDP will not do. Superiority means others have to bend their knees, and cater to the wishes of the dominant nation. Just as Mussolini saw the colonization of Africa and the invasion of Greece and the Balkans as necessary steps in the establishment of a new fascist empire, so the Chinese are likely to demand tribute from their neighbors—above all, the Chinese on the island nation of Taiwan, in order to add the recovery of lost territory to the regime’s list of accomplishments. Even today, at a time when the regime is seeking praise, not tribute, in the run-up to the Olympic Games, there are bellicose overtones to official rhetoric.

How, then, should the democracies deal with China? The first step is to disabuse ourselves of the notion that wealth is the surest guarantor of peace. The West traded with the Soviet Union, and gave them credits as well, but it did not prevent the Kremlin from expanding into the Horn of Africa, or sponsoring terrorist groups in Europe and the Middle East. A wealthy China will not automatically be less inclined to go to war over Taiwan, or, for that matter, to wage or threaten war with Japan.

Indeed, the opposite may be true—the richer and stronger China becomes, the more they build up their military might, the more likely such wars may be. It follows that the West must prepare for war with China, hoping thereby to deter it. A great Roman once said that if you want peace, prepare for war. This is sound advice with regard to a fascist Chinese state that wants to play a global role.

Meanwhile, we should do what we can to convince the people of China that their long-term interests are best served by greater political freedom, no matter how annoying and chaotic that may sometimes be. I think we can trust the Chinese leaders on this one. Any regime as palpably concerned about the free flow of information, knows well that ideas about freedom might be very popular. Let’s test that hypothesis, by talking directly to “the billion.” In today’s world, we can surely find ways to reach them.

If we do not take such steps, our risk will surely increase, and explosions of rage, manipulated or spontaneous, will recur. Eventually they will take the form of real actions.
Mr. Ledeen is an expert on U.S. foreign policy at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. He served as a commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission from 2001-03.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Beijing Olympic flame - Pshhhh!

The Beijing Olympic flame went out in Paris on April 7, 2008.

Fundamental Principles of Olympism:
The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

Monday, April 07, 2008

China is Getting Ready

China is Getting Ready
Originally uploaded by Maoman

In the name of ensuring stability and harmony in the country during the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese government continues to detain and harass political activists, journalists, lawyers and human rights workers.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ma Yingjiu (馬英九) - Taiwan's new Prez!

Elections in Taiwan usually leave me a little conflicted. I'm no fan of the KMT, or even of the Republic of China - I identify with Taiwan, not the R.O.C. However, I think the party that usually claims to represent Taiwan (as opposed to the R.O.C.) has been a huge disappointment over the last eight years, and throughout the campaign. And the opposition candidate, Ma Yingjiu (Yes, I know he spells it Ying-jeou, but I prefer the standardized romanization of the Hanyu Pinyin system, so sue me.)is a candidate that has a lot of potential to do good. He promotes internationalization, not localization. He wants to get flights going between China and Taiwan - daily! He should be able to get a much -needed arms bill passed in the legislature, and most importantly, he'll have the support of a very blue (blue means KMT) legislature to implement his agenda. If Frank Xie had won, he would have been a lame-duck president, and probably even recalled. That would not have been good for the country.

The KMT has enough bad apples inside to make me nervous, though. They still have strong ties to organized crime, and they are already showing an arrogance of power. And while most KMT supporters pay lip service to the notion of a single China, some deluded old geezers in the KMT actually want that day to come!

I have a lot of faith in the people of Taiwan to not put up with anything to outrageous. The KMT's decisive victory aside, I believe that "Taiwan consciousness" is as strong as ever. It's now time for the opposition DPP to lick its wounds, and come back stronger and smarter. To be honest, they deserved this defeat. Their administration had become an embarrassment - corruption, insider trading scandals, a totally incompetent Ministry of Education, and a Government Information Office that was so hopeless, it was almost funny.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why Do We Scream At Each Other?

Taiwan's Politicians are Dorks!

Today's Taipei Times writes:
The DPP has asked its supporters to:
1. attend a campaign rally, dubbed "Million People High Five, Come-back Win"
2. to wear their baseball caps backward
3. flash the thumbs-up sign
4. exchange high fives
5. form a 1,000km line encircling much of Taiwan,
6. at 3:14 pm begin a 5km march in a counter-clockwise direction to symbolize "reversing the tide" against the KMT's dominance

The Million People High Five Come-back Win? Couldn't they think of a cheezier name? I'm surprised they're not also asking Taiwanese people to do the Macarena whilst taking out the garbage in green undies!

Of course, the KMT are no better - they don't even have original wackiness - they have to borrow the DPP's:
The KMT is holding simultaneous marches throughout the country, in which participants will wear their caps backward and exchange high fives at 3:14pm. The KMT yesterday brushed off the DPP's criticism, saying that wearing a hat backward symbolizes an athlete's determination to win by giving his or her last best shot.
"It is a gesture well known to sports lovers. It was not invented by the DPP," KMT communication and cultural committee head Huang Yucheng (黃玉振) said.

Edit: And I just noticed the DPP T-Shirts in the picture: "Yes, we can".

Frank Xie = Barack Obama?

Sure he does! Hahahahahahaha

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Vacation Showertime

Every day in Boracay, we'd have to give Trudi several showers to get the salt and sand off.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Boracay Videos!

You can see all the videos of our January trip to Boracay in one spot here, but there are a couple that are especially fabulous that I'll put up alone in this blog. In the meantime, enjoy!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Applauding the sunset

Trudi was very impressed with Boracay's sunsets - every day we'd walk down to the beach to watch them, and every day she would start talking excitedly to the sun.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Slumming it in Manila

Our first night in Manila we stayed in the Paco Park Oasis Hotel. At $30/night it was certainly affordable, and despite the cockroaches and rats, it wasn't THAT bad, but it's not going to make the cover of Condé Nast Traveler magazine any time soon...

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Back from Boracay!

Vanessa, Trudi, and I just came back from a much-needed holiday on the beautiful island of Boracay in the Philippines. We took a lot of pictures and videos, and I'll be posting them after I edit and upload them. The picture below was taken at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, while we were waiting to board:

And this is Trudi and me on the plane:

Saturday, January 26, 2008

In the U.S. south, is Canadian a new racial slur?

So Canadians are the other, eh? I guess that's better than being identified as a peer by the stupid crackers that came up with the term.

In the U.S. south, is Canadian a new racial slur?
Graeme Hamilton, National Post Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008

It was a routine e-mail from the boss sent to congratulate a junior prosecutor in Houston, Tex., who had won manslaughter convictions against an intoxicated driver.

"He convicted Mr. Sosa of a double intoxication manslaughter, got a weak jury to give him 12 years in each, and then convinced Judge Wallace to stack the sentences," Harris County assistant district attorney Mike Trent wrote in an office-wide memo. Then came the odd part: "He overcame a subversively good defence by Matt Hennessey that had some Canadians on the jury feeling sorry for the defendant and forced them to do the right thing."

The e-mail was sent in 2003 but came to light only this month as part of an unrelated controversy with his office, forcing Mr. Trent to defend himself against accusations of bigotry -- not because he offended the people of Canada, but because "Canadian" has apparently become a code word for blacks among American racists.

"There is a double meaning to that word and I didn't know it. I was horrified when I learned what it was, and I immediately addressed the issue with the people who brought it up," Mr. Trent told a local Fox News reporter in a recent interview.

"I'd never heard of Canadian being used as a term for a black person or for a racial slur," he said.

"If I had, I would never send that out in an office-wide e-mail that's going to go to people who are going to be offended if they recognize it as such. That would be crazy.... I'm not a racist. I'm not a bigot," Mr. Trent said.

Mark Vinson, who was a chief prosecutor in the Harris County office at the time, said he was puzzled by the reference to Canadians when he got the e-mail but was too busy to give it much thought. Then some colleagues informed him about the slang meaning of Canadian, and he felt crushed.

"So much has been accomplished in terms of equal opportunities, and the office had a super reputation," Mr. Vinson, who is black, told the National Post. "I just couldn't imagine someone in the office who would engage in that conduct."

He said he believes Mr. Trent's assurance that he had simply repeated a term used by the prosecutor on the case, Rob Freyer. Mr. Freyer did not return a message left yesterday.

"I know Mike. We laugh and talk about the [Dallas] Cowboys," Mr. Vinson said. "I truly don't believe that Mike knew what he was saying."

It is unusual that a seasoned attorney like Mr. Trent would not have wondered how a Harris County jury came to be stacked with Canadians. (There were no Canadians on the jury but there were some black members.) "The only way that there could have been Canadians on the jury, was if they were born in Canada and then became U.S. citizens, and then became citizens of the county in which the case was tried," Mr. Vinson noted.

Mr. Trent told Fox News that was not out of the question. "It would not be impossible or unusual for people from other countries to be on our juries," he said. "That's what I was told, and I took it as the literal meaning."

The bigger mystery is how "Canadian" came to be code for black. An online directory of racial slurs defines Canadian as a "masked replacement" for black.

Last August, a blogger in Cincinnati going by the name CincyBlurg reported that a black friend from the southeastern U.S. had recently discovered that she was being called a Canadian. "She told me a story of when she was working in a shop in the South and she overheard some of her customers complaining that they were always waited on by a Canadian at that place. She didn't understand what they were talking about and assumed they must be talking about someone else," the blogger wrote.

"After this happened several times with different patrons, she mentioned it to one of her co-workers. He told her that ‘Canadian' was the new derogatory term that racist Southerners were using to describe persons they would have previously referred to [with the N-word.]"

A similar case in Kansas City was reported last year on a Listserv, or electronic mailing list, used by linguistics experts. A University of Kansas linguist said that a waitress friend reported that "fellow workers used to use a name for inner-city families that were known to not leave a tip: Canadians. ‘Hey, we have a table of Canadians.... They're all yours.' "

Stefan Dollinger, a postdoctoral fellow in linguistics at University of British Columbia and director of the university's Canadian English lab, speculated that the slur reflects a sense of Canadians as the other.

"This ‘code' word, is the replacement of a no-longer tolerated label for one outsider group, with, from the U.S. view, another outsider group: Canadians. It could have been terms for Mexicans, Latinos etc. but this would have been too obvious," he said. "What's left? Right, the guys to the north."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

An Open Letter to Frank Xie and Ma Yingjiu

Thanks to Michael Turton for posting this first in his fine blog, The View from Taiwan.

This morning Apple Daily published an open letter from respected Taiwan scholar Bruce Jacobs, directed at the two presidential candidates.


An Open Letter to Frank Hsieh and Ma Ying-jeou

By Bruce Jacobs (家博)

Over eighty per cent of the residents of Taiwan (台灣住民) want this country (本國)to be a member of the United Nations. As both of you have recognized in the past, this country is a sovereign nation (有主權的國家). According to international law, the best definition of a sovereign nation appears in the “Convention On Rights And Duties Of States” signed in Montevideo on December 26, 1933. According to this Treaty, a sovereign state has four characteristics: “a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” This nation clearly has all four of these characteristics. In addition, the people of this nation freely and democratically elect the nation’s government.

This clear unity among the people of this nation in desiring to participate in the United Nations has been lost in partisan bickering. I urge you both to put aside partisan interests and to concentrate on national interests.

In order to demonstrate to the world the desire of the people of this nation to belong to the United Nations, I would urge you both to reach a three-point agreement:

1. In discussing membership of the United Nations, you put aside the issue of “name” and do not refer to “Taiwan” or the “Republic of China.” In discussing membership of the United Nations, you can both refer to “this country” (本國).
2. In discussing membership of the United Nations, you put aside the issue of whether this country shall “join the United Nations” (入聯) or “return to the United Nations (返聯).” Rather, you can both refer to “participating in the United Nations” (參加聯合國).
3. You both urge all voters to support both UN referenda in the March 22 election.

With both of you supporting the two referenda, it is highly likely that both referenda will pass. This will send an important message to the world community that this nation is a sovereign nation that both wants and deserves to be a member of the United Nations. On the contrary, failing to pass the two referenda would send exactly the wrong message to the world community.

Such an agreement between the two of you would also go far towards diminishing political division in this nation and help to forge a new national unity.

Respectfully yours,

J. Bruce Jacobs (家博)



Of course nothing will happen. The KMT has no vision, and the DPP has no finesse (although I suspect Frank Xie might.) Whatever - Jacobs is right, regardless.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Trudi on the telephone

Like father, like daughter

Now Trudi and I have matching hair styles!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sleeping Beauty

KMT wins by a landslide

So Saturday we had legislative elections here in Taiwan, and the Chinese Nationalist Party, aka the Kuomintang (KMT), won by a landslide.

I have mixed feelings. I've grown increasingly disgusted with Chen Shuibian's administration over the last eight years. He has proved himself to be just as corrupt and ineffectual as any KMT president. The insider trading scandal involving his family members was also shameful, and he never properly acknowledged that betrayal, I feel. His cabinet was also a joke. He went through premiers faster than he went through clean socks, his Ministry of Education and the Government Information Office both became weekly, if not daily subjects of scorn and ridicule in the public eye thanks to the words and actions of their chiefs.

Still, I expect the media to interpret this election entirely incorrectly. Already I'm reading that this is a move towards China, i.e. unification, but I don't think that's correct. I don't believe that there are any significant numbers of people in Taiwan that want political unification with China, but I also don't believe most people are in favor of the cultural de-sinification that's become an important part of the DPP's bentuhua or localization policy.

I believe this election was a vote against localization, a vote against Chen Shuibian's administration, and a vote for change, although frankly, I think people are being a little naive in putting so much faith in Ma Yingjiu, the leader of the KMT and their candidate for the presidential election in two months. I haven't seen anything from him that suggests he has real leadership qualities. And I've heard nothing at all from him about his long-term vision for Taiwan. The KMT stresses that now is not the right time for unification, but of course the underlying message is that at some point it will be the right time for unification, which is something to which I'm deeply opposed. Taiwan's politics might be silly, but China's politics are dark, twisted, and evil. I wouldn't want my daughter growing up under such a horrible regime. The DPP, for all of its other mistakes has always gotten the long-term vision thing right: Taiwan is independent of China, and should remain so, and all countries that support freedom and democracy should recognize Taiwan's right to choose its own path, without threats of missile attacks, invasion

From the New York Times:

President Chen Shuibian resigned as chairman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party immediately after the extent of the defeat became clear.

''I should shoulder all responsibilities,'' Chen said. ''I feel really apologetic and shamed.''

Trudi loves Teddy!

Trudi loves the Teddy Bear that Vanessa and I gave her for Christmas.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

China's "peace" is sugar-coated poison (Chicago Tribune)

I saw the link to this article from Michael Turton's blog, The View from Taiwan. Thanks, Michael!

By Dennis V. Hickey
January 6, 2008

Taiwan and mainland China have been separated since Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT) government retreated to Taiwan in 1949. Taiwan is now a multiparty democracy led by President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a party that favors "self-determination" for the island.

On Oct. 15, Hu Jintao, China's president, opened the 17th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress by calling for a "peace agreement" with Taiwan. That move represents the latest in a series of "soft measures" intended to court key constituencies within Taiwanese society. Some suspect these changes are superficial, given that China has accelerated the campaign to isolate Taiwan in the global community and has deployed almost 1,000 ballistic missiles directly opposite the island. But others disagree.

In a recent interview, excerpted below, President Chen discussed China's policy toward Taiwan.

Q Some say China's policies toward Taiwan are changing. What is your interpretation?

A The nature of the CCP and its basic policy toward Taiwan never changes. It has one objective -- to annex Taiwan. The strategies have one goal -- to downgrade, localize, marginalize, undermine and delegitimize Taiwan's government and sovereignty.

Some say China's "soft policies" are getting "softer," while its "hard policies" are getting "harder." The real point is that "the hard is getting harder." We see the soft policies as sugar-coated poison. Many are deceived by this superficial change. China wants to annex Taiwan no matter which party is in power in Taipei. The only difference is that some Chinese leaders are more straightforward, while others know how to disguise their ambitions.

Q Why is China deploying missiles opposite Taiwan and squeezing Taiwan internationally while calling for a peace treaty?

A If you look at Hu Jintao, he is a formidable and sharp person. We need to be very careful and vigilant. Hu has called for a peace treaty with Taiwan, so people ... overlook the preconditions set for this treaty, which is "one China." They want to annex Taiwan and turn it into a province.

After China passed its ... "anti-secession law" in 2005 to lay a legal foundation for an invasion of Taiwan, the international community reacted negatively. So they came up with a strategy to invite Taiwan opposition party leaders to visit China. These politicians have accepted the "one-China principle." They are helping China.

Q Why wouldn't a return to the "one-China principle" lead to peace with China?

A Past presidents of Taiwan supported the idea of eventual unification with China. Did this lead to peace? In the 1950s, [Chinese leaders] threatened to "wash Taiwan with blood." In the 1990s, they fired missiles at Taiwan. China's threats and diplomatic oppression of Taiwan did not stop because the KMT accepted the one-China principle and the goal of ultimate unification.

Q Taiwan's opposition Chinese Nationalist Party, known as the KMT, is reaching out to the Chinese Communist Party, and leaders of the two parties have met. Any comment?

A This is just part of China's "united front" tactics and divide-and-conquer strategy. The KMT has not learned any lessons from the past. When they are of no use or value anymore, the CCP will throw them away like rubbish.

Q Were you surprised by President Hu's call for peace?

A No, it's just a strategy to deceive our people and foreign countries. Taiwan and China are two independent countries. Neither exercises jurisdiction over the other. Taiwan is Taiwan. China is China. There are two countries, one on each side of the Taiwan Strait. No matter how fierce China's united-front tactics may become, we will not accept the one-China principle or that unification is the only option for Taiwan. If Hu Jintao abandons the one-China principle, I will be surprised. If China gives up its one-party dictatorship, renounces the use of force against Taiwan and removes the 988 missiles deployed opposite Taiwan, then I will be truly surprised.

Q Are chances for peace between Taiwan and China increasing or decreasing?

A During my two terms as president, we've maintained peace in the Taiwan Strait, although my political opponents predicted war if I was elected. We have been vigilant, cautious and careful. We are proud of this. China's threats will increase in the future. Our next president must have great political wisdom and place our national interests first.

Q How should the U.S. promote peace and stability between China and Taiwan?

A Washington should support Taiwan's democratic development, promote official talks between the governments of China and Taiwan, review the outdated one-China policy and abide by the Taiwan Relations Act -- the law that governs relations between our countries. It should sell Taiwan defensive weapons and otherwise help this country defend itself.

When we hold our referendum on Taiwan's participation in the UN [in March], we hope the U.S. will have a positive attitude toward it. The reason Taiwan enjoys its democracy today is because of the encouragement and support of the U.S. government and American people. We want to make the voice of the Taiwanese people heard throughout the world and to become a formal member of international organizations.


Dennis Hickey is director of the graduate program in international affairs at Missouri State University.