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How to Occupy Hong Kong

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

The fight for freedom doesn’t stop at the border.

Hong Kongers, we are with you.

Your protest against continued tyranny by mainland China is a just cause. The Communist Party of China may no longer be in Marx’s pocket, but its members remain greedy and dictatorial and oppressive.

Leung, the governor of Hong Kong, refuses to step down. Tyrants do cling to power. (No term limits for them!) But the people have every right to demand his ouster under a principle established in our own revolution: Government must rest upon the consent of the governed.

I have no idea how this will all turn out. Ever since the Tiananmen protests, a generation ago, I’ve harbored hope: a freer future for the Chinese. But I know they are up against a juggernaut, an extremely entrenched exploiter class. The Tiananmen protests were violently put down, suppressed. Will Hong Kong’s be?

I think the people of Hong Kong know what they’re up against. All Chinese people know how corrupt and dangerous their government is. But the details, the exact history of the crimes? Not so much. Kept under wraps. Still, the people of Hong Kong developed a taste for freedom under the Brits. If not a taste for democratic elections. Now they are demanding both electoral democracy and democratic freedoms.

The protesters “occupying” Hong Kong have American analogues. But are they “Occupier” or “Tea Party”?

They aren’t demanding socialistic levels of more government. And they aren’t trespassing, or committing crimes. And they pick up after themselves.

That’s the way to “occupy” a city: For freedom, responsibly.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Copper Tubes in Alabama

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

You’ve gotta be somewhere, so you might as well choose where that somewhere is in a non-random fashion.

That seems to be the rule.

One consequences of this is that we now have local government officials and functionaries jet-setting the world promoting their towns, counties, cities . . . their hills and their dales.

A fascinating report from The Economist tells how the mayor of Thomasville, Alabama, came to sit in a north China pipe-factory canteen talking up his town. “Sheldon Day was there to drum up investment,” the report explains. “Two years ago he convinced another Chinese company, which makes copper tubes, to build its first American factory in the county next door. The plant will create around 300 jobs when it opens next year. Mr Day wants more.”

It’s a charming tale, even if “the battle for Chinese attention” be “fierce.” And risky:

The mayor of Farmer City, Illinois, cancelled his plans after residents expressed anger at the idea of using city money to woo foreign businesses. Chad Auer, a mayor in a right-wing bit of Colorado, had to take to YouTube to explain that when Richard Nixon went to China in 1972, it turned out to be worth his while.

Nixonian prudence aside, there’s an even darker aspect to this practice: Bending over backwards to entice businesses to an area . . . at the expense of existing businesses, residents, and any concept of equality before the law.

I refer, of course, to “tax incentives,” loopholes, tax credits, regulatory workarounds, and the like.

Fine, you pillars of society, going off promoting your town — so long as no special deals are made.

But make special enticements, and you morph from “seller” of community to “sell-out.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.


Too Much Truth

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Both what to report and when to report it can be legitimately debated in an editorial room. But not whether to accept demands to conceal “unflattering” truth for the sake of being allowed to report at all.

That’s the “dilemma” some news organizations face when they wish to report from within a country whose government will deny access unless they toe the line.

The reportage by longtime Reuters journalist Paul Mooney, who specializes in China, has apparently been too candid. The Chinese government has denied him a visa. His career there may be over. What should Reuters do?

Not what Bloomberg News did when its reporting incurred the displeasure of Chinese officials. Bloomberg spiked an investigative report about the financial ties between billionaire businessmen and Politiburo officials, for fear of being ejected from the country. Bloomberg insists that it has merely delayed the story. But the motive is clearly a desire to appease the Chinese government, which has already blocked the Bloomberg News website inside China and refused new visas to Bloomberg journalists.

Instead of killing or deferring disapproved journalism, any news outfit threatened with expulsion by an authoritarian government should publish its honest reports and let the chips fall where they may. If kicked out, it should seek other ways to report on the country. Covert communiqués from careful Chinese citizens. Secondary sources if necessary. That’s better than actively cooperating with wrongdoers to hide their sins.

It’s really not too different from crime reporting. Crime bosses don’t like a nosy press, either.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Wars on Dogs, Drugs, Etc.

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

China is waging a war on dogs taller than 13.7 inches. The basis is a long-dormant law prohibiting Beijing residents from owning dogs “too big” for — well, for the law prohibiting dogs that big.

In addition to losing their furry friends, flouters are subject to fines but not jail time. In other respects, though, the war resembles many silly but dangerous wars on wrongly banned things.

  • The rationale is contradictory on its own terms. Critics note that small breeds which are not banned (Jack Russell Terriers) can be more aggressive than large breeds which are banned (English Sheep Dogs).
  • Owning the illegal thing is illegal even if no one’s rights are violated thereby, and regardless of the owner’s actual rights.
  • Enforcers of the bad law have quotas to fulfill.
  • Enforcers receive tips from persons eager to cause trouble, even when they have no real complaint to make.
  • Enforcers conduct scary raids, sometimes mid-night raids, to hunt for the non-dangerous banned thing.

Such features also characterize America’s War on Drugs, hardly limited to cracking down on crack houses full of shady characters. On the basis of real or imaginary information, police violently invade homes to search for drugs. People (and their dogs) are killed during such assaults.

What Radley Balko calls The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (officially published in July) has made America’s War on Drugs, a war on people, and dogs, all the more deadly.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Ding Jinhao Was There

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Boys will be boys. And tourists will be tourists.

Not long ago, a graffito was spotted on an ancient Egyptian wall — a stone relief, with pictographs and representations and the whole gamut of ancient Egyptian art — photographed and then posted to the Internet, where it got more than 100, 000 comments.

It was soon discovered to have been scratched into the wall by a 15-year-old lad from Nanjing: his mark read “Ding Jinhao was here.” And then came the firestorm. Though the BBC tells us that Egypt’s ministry of antiquities has dubbed the scratchmarks “superficial,” the “controversy comes days after Wang Yang, one of China’s four vice-premiers, said . . . that the ‘uncivilised behaviour’ of some Chinese tourists was harming the country’s image.”

Welcome, China!

Previously, the world had been blessed with the Ugly American, the Annoying European, and the Over-Photographing Japanese — tourists from wealthy or up-and-coming countries not uniformly presenting their respective nations in the best possible light as they tramped abroad.

In this case, though, it’s worth noting that most of the scandal is confined to China itself. The bloggers’ ire was primarily an in-group thing, and even the government (especially the government?) has gotten in on the shame game bandwagon, trying to needle tourists to behave themselves. (So much so that the desecrating teen’s father pleaded for the critics to let up — “too much pressure,” he said.)

As an I-try-not-to-be-ugly American, I appreciate the Chinese concern for manners and image — honor, really. And hope that all their graffiti remains easy to repair, and that the concern for national honor doesn’t go too far in over-reaction.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Apple Abjectly Apologizes for Arrogance

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Apple is a huge company, selling gadgets around the world. One of its biggest markets turns out to be China, which is also a supplier of many components. And working within a quasi-capitalist/quasi-post-communist dictatorship does have its problems.

Yesterday we learned that Apple’s head honcho, Tim Cook, has openly apologized to Chinese consumers.

He did it under pressure . . . from China’s state-run media.

The non-paranoid way of looking at this is that Apple has fallen down on the job of Chinese consumer support. The company’s 17,000 outlets, including eleven Apple-branded stores, just do not service consumer complaints well enough.

This may be true.

But the pile-on by the media looks a little different than, say, the piling-on by America’s media against successful companies here. It has the odor of concerted plan, “commandment from on high.”

And it is well known that China — which tries to plan its economy as much as humanly possible, with the iron fist of totalitarian law — when it gets really serious, gets serious indeed.

So, Tim Cook’s abject apology echoes not so much Apple’s rare apologies in America, but the apologies made by targets of China’s Cultural Revolution, a generation or two ago, at least if the BBC has it right:

State broadcaster CCTV and the state’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, had portrayed Apple as the latest Western company to exploit Chinese citizens.

Last week the paper ran an editorial headlined: “Strike down Apple’s incomparable arrogance.”

Even Apple’s (or Microsoft’s) critics in the West don’t sound that strident.

For the record, I have complaints with all gadgets, all systems, all suppliers. I can truly be nonpartisan on this.

And this is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

What Goes Up, China Edition

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Skyscrapers inspire.

Sometimes they inspire shudders.

I am an admirer of such neo-Babels, and you can’t find a better Schelling point for New York than the Empire State Building. Civilization’s highest erections symbolize something good about humanity.

And yet, I wonder about the latest Chinese engineering effort, Sky City, to be built in Changsha in record time, 90 days.

It’s supposed to house over 31,000 people, contain hotels and restaurants and schools and shops, too, and tower up 163 floors to a height of 2,749 feet.

How could such a thing be so quickly constructed, and still be safe?


Well, not really. It’s prefab. Much of the work has already been done. Building it will be a job of putting pre-fabricated pieces together. The company responsible for the effort has had some success on prefab buildings before, and . . .

The whole thing still sounds a tad hubristic. I wish the builders (and inhabitants) the best, but, even if it succeeds, there’s an ominous aspect to the whole project, if economist Mark Thornton’s theory about new-building skyscrapers has any truth to it. Tall buildings are built when people are optimistic. People are most optimistic during booms. Booms — at least inflationary booms — yield to busts, and many of the major economic depressions have been marked by unfinished or just-finished record-book skyscraper projects.

Does Sky City signal a Chinese bust coming soon?

It may. For the story of our time might be this: China is to America, now, what America was to Great Britain in the 1920s and ’30s. Similar monetary policies and bailouts.

And the loaning nation doesn’t get off free. At least, we didn’t in the decade in which the Empire State Building was finished.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.