Yesterday, I expressed the hope that with the demise of Osama bin Laden, America could return to being the constitutional democracy with the rule of law that it was before 9/11.
Luckily (and of course), I’m not the only one who sees this as possibly the most important aspect of yesterday’s operation. Here’s probably the best commentary that I’ve read so far in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, by Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast. Beinart argues that now the figurehead of the 9/11 attacks is gone, it’s time to call an end to the so-called ‘war’ on terror. This doesn’t mean that counterterrorism policies should come to a halt! On the contrary, in the coming time period they should probably be increased to prevent retaliation. But it does mean that the ‘war’ on terrorism should cease to be the primary paradigm through which US (and Western) foreign policy operates.
Because let’s face it: the threat of radical islamist terrorism is not the biggest policy problem the West faces. It isn’t now, and it wasn’t after 9/11. If I’d to point at anything, I’d had to choose between the rise of China or the long-term budgetary and financial problems the US and the West are facing. But certainly not the threat of a bunch of medieval rag tag terrorists who, admittedly, can do short-term symbolic (and personal) damage, but do not pose any fundamental threat to the existence of our society in this form.
The terrorist incidents of 9/11 and those after that can, however, present long-term problems when executive powers choose to overreact, and thereby aim to fundamentally transform the structures of constitutional democracy and the rule of law. This is what happened in America under Bush-Cheney, where an emergency became the pretext for a global, unending, infinite ‘war’ on terror in which anything was allowed. That’s when you got ‘enemy combatants’, indefinite detention, torture and a Gulag archipel of ’black sites’ and Guantánamo Bay. By and large, this ‘legal architecture’ for combating terrorism – with the exception of torture – has been retained by Obama, who added drone attacks and the targeting of American citizens abroad of his own.
When a state of emergency ceases to be the exception and starts to be the norm, then you have a problem. Either it expands (and turns on citizens), or it becomes the baseline on which to build yet other ‘emergency’ measures. So let’s say the state of emergency started on 9/11 (I don’t agree, but let’s say it did); can we then now say that with the demise of Osama bin Laden, who apparently was so important that streets are filled with chanting people, the state of emergency has ended? Can we please do away with renditions, indefinite detention, Guantánamo Bay, illegal wiretapping, and so forth?
[We] have more to be grateful for than this one villain’s demise. We must give thanks for something broader: The war on terror is over. I don’t mean that there is no threat of further jihadist attack. In the short term, the threat may even rise. I don’t mean that we should abandon all efforts at tracking terrorist cells. Of course not. But the war on terror was a way of seeing the world, explicitly modeled on World War II and the Cold War. It suggested that the struggle against “radical Islam” or “Islamofascism” or “Islamic terrorism” should be the overarching goal of American foreign policy, the prism through which we see the world.
I remember how seductive that vision was in the aftermath of 9/11. It imposed order on the world and gave purpose to American power. But it was a mistake from the start. Even the Cold War was a dangerously overblown vision, which blinded American policymakers to the fact that much of what happened in, say, Vietnam or Angola, had little to do with Moscow or communism. But the war on terror was worse. It made East Asia an afterthought during a critical period in China’s rise; it allowed all manner of dictators to sell their repression in Washington, just as they had during the Cold War; it facilitated America’s descent into torture; it wildly exaggerated the ideological appeal of a jihadist-Salafist movement whose vision of society most Muslims find revolting.
Even before the U.S. killed bin Laden, the Arab Spring had already rendered him irrelevant. President Obama now has his best chance since taking office to acknowledge some simple, long-overdue truths. Terrorism does not represent the greatest threat to American security; debt does, and our anti-terror efforts are exacerbating the problem. We do not face, as we did in the 1930s, a totalitarian foe with global ideological appeal. We face competitors who, in varying ways, have imported aspects of our democratic capitalist ideology, and are beating us at our own game.
So now what? Legally speaking, there are two broad lessons to derive from the Obama administration’s latest salvo in the war on terror. One is that it shows the need to continue operating outside legal norms indefinitely. The other is that it allows us to declare a symbolic victory over terrorism and return once more to the pre-9/11 regime in which the rule of law is inviolate.
About all we can say with certainty is this: We tortured. We live in a world in which we must contend with information obtained by torture. We now need to decide whether we want to continue to live that way. Writers from ideological backgrounds as diverse as Matt Yglesias and Ross Douthat argue that it is time to return to the paradigm abandoned after 9/11. Let’s put the 9/11 attacks and the existential threat it created behind us. With Bin Laden’s death, let’s simply agree that the objectives of the Bush administration’s massive anti-terror campaign have finally been achieved, and that the time for extra-legal, extra-judicial government programs—from torture, to illegal surveillance, to indefinite detention, to secret trials, to nontrials, to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay—has now passed. There will be no better marker for the end of this era. There will be no better time to inform the world that our flirtation with a system of shadow-laws was merely situational and that the situation now is over.
But for those who would argue for a continuation of the lawlessness of the post-9/11 legal era, the question is now this: When does it end? If the death of Bin Laden doesn’t signal the end of the 9/11 legal regime, what does? Do we continue to avail ourselves of these illegal methods until every last enemy of America is dead? If torture produced information about the men hiding Bin Laden, does that give America license to torture anyone, anywhere? If the prison camp at Guantanamo is the only reason we were able to obtain intelligence about Bin Laden’s protectors, shouldn’t Guantanamo be expanded and kept open forever? Shouldn’t we start shipping Americans there?
The “war on terror” language was always metaphorical, I realize, but it unloosed a very real Pandora’s box of injustice on a nation that prides itself on its notions of fairness. That makes the highly symbolic death of Bin Laden an apt time—perhaps the last apt time—to ask whether this state of affairs is to be temporary or permanent. If President Obama truly believes, as he said last night, that justice has finally been done, he should use this opportunity to restore the central role of the rule of law in achieving justice in the future.
I have always been amazed by the enormous number of million+ cities in China. Well, since China has a billion+ inhabitants, it’s actually not that amazing at all. Still, the dazzling numbers are no less impressive to me. Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen come into mind when you think of a Chinese metropolis. I am also (vaguely) familiar with cities like Guangzhou (12 million), Tianjin (8.2 million), Shenyang (5 million), Harbin (4.75 million) and Zhengzhou (4.4 million). But have you ever heard of Hefei? No? Me neither. Still it is a city larger than Madrid or Paris, with 4.6 million inhabitants. Or what about Wuhan? Doesn’t ring a bell? It’s about the size of London, with 6.6 million inhabitants and 10 million when you count the “suburbs”. Dongguan? Anyone? 7 million people, almost the size of New York City. And the list goes on and on.
Maybe it’s my ignorance, but I’m guessing that most of you are also not familiar with these cities. And even if you ever picked up their names, I’m pretty sure you can’t name me one characteristic, historical fact or architectural highlight from any of them. With any European, American or even Asian capital of comparable size that would probably be a lot easier.
Now, what is the point to this ridiculously long intro? I came across a very interesting documentary about the housing market in China. It turns out that in many of the 160 Chinese cities that house over a million people there are a huge number of empty houses and appartments. There are approximately 64 million empty homes in China! There is a city called Ordos, which was built in 5 years and can hold up to a million people. It stands virtually empty today. In the documentary they even visit a city which was built for 12 million (!) people, of which 70% remains empty. Because the Chinese government wants to keep the GDP above 8 percent they have to keep building and building new cities, without anybody every occupying them. We’re talking about a property bubble the size of the Hindenburg. Makes you wonder if China is really the investment opportunity it is generally considered to be these days. Investing in China, especially in real estate, could backfire on you big time. Check out “China’s Ghost Cities And Malls”:
Here are some satellite images of China’s ghost towns.
And here‘s another interesting report by Al Jazeera on the topic.
Ai Weiwei, China’s best-known artist, is rapidly becoming the symbol of the victims of the increasing level of repression the Chinese government is enacting on its own citizens. Afraid of a Jasmin Revolution at home in the wake of the Arab uprisings, Chinese dissidents, activists and human rights advocates are being intimated, ‘disappearing’ or rounded up in increasing numbers.
The fact that Ai Weiwei, who is well-known, has a prominent poet father and co-designed the Olympic stadium is missing now too is a sign that, as far as the government is concerned, the gloves are off.
Ai Weiwei, China‘s best-known artist, remains missing more than a day after he was detained. Police have confiscated dozens of items from his studio.
Officers released his wife and several assistants late last night, following questioning, but Ai and a friend remain uncontactable. Assistants said that police removed more than 30 computers and hard drives from his studio and home in north Beijing on Sunday, as well as notebooks and documents. They also searched at least two more properties connected to the artist.
The scope of the police operation, and the fact that Ai was detained at Beijing airport on Sunday morning – not turned away from his flight, as had happened before – has increased the concern of friends. Officials had also visited his studio three times in the week before his detention.
“There is no news of him so far,” his wife, Lu Qing, told the Associated Press.
“They asked me about Ai Weiwei’s work and the articles he posted online … I told them that everything that Ai did was very public, and if they wanted to know his opinions and work they could just look at the internet.”
She said police gave no indication of her husband’s whereabouts or why he was being held. She added that his mother, who is in her 80s, was very anxious about her son’s fate.
Beijing police told the Guardian they knew nothing of Ai or the other missing man, Wen Tao. An airport police spokesman said he had no obligation to give out information.
Although the 53-year-old artist has repeatedly clashed with authorities owing to his outspoken criticism of the government, he was thought to enjoy greater latitude than most thanks to his father’s status as a revered poet and his own high international profile. He also helped to design the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium.
Ai created last year’s Sunflower Seeds installation at the Tate Modern turbine hall in London. His exhibition at the Lisson Gallery, also in London, is due to open next month, shortly after his recreation of a Chinese zodiac sculpture is unveiled at the courtyard in Somerset House.
In an interview last year, asked about the possibility of retribution from the authorities, he told the Guardian: “I have to deal with it, but not to prepare for it, because it is a kind of stupidity. If you prepare for it too much, you become a part of it.”
His detention comes amid a widespread crackdown on activists and dissidents in China, which has seen more than 20 people criminally detained, three formally arrested for incitement to subversion and a dozen go missing.
“It is getting worse and worse. Ai Weiwei is a very influential figure … [if] even people like him are taken away, it gives a very bad sign to other human rights defenders and netizens [socially concerned internet users],” said Patrick Poon, executive secretary of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.
Five human rights lawyers are among those missing since February and Poon said it had now emerged that another one, Liu Zhengqing, was taken away on 24 March.
Liu had been travelling for several weeks and friends lost contact with him when he returned to his home in Guangzhou. Poon said it was unclear why Liu was held, but that it might be related to his agreement to represent one of the lawyers who had already gone missing.
It’s on: despite a cyberattack on their website just hours ago, WikiLeaks has published more than 250,000 classified diplomatic cables from American embassies around the globe. In major newspapers, there’s now talk about a worldwide diplomatic crisis.
What’s in it is, well, huge and encompassing, with lots and lots of information on countless international matters.
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.
At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables – many of which are designated “secret” – the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership.
These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches which were obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistlebowers’ website, also reveal Washington’s evaluation of many other highly sensitive international issues.
These include a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, Pakistan’s growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.
Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:
• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme
• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.
• Devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan.
• Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British royal family.
The US has particularly intimate dealings with Britain, and some of the dispatches from the London embassy in Grosvenor Square will make uncomfortable reading in Whitehall and Westminster. They range from serious political criticisms of David Cameron to requests for specific intelligence about individual MPs.
The cache of cables contains specific allegations of corruption and against foreign leaders, as well as harsh criticism by US embassy staff of their host governments, from tiny islands in the Caribbean to China and Russia.
The material includes a reference to Vladimir Putin as an “alpha-dog”, Hamid Karzai as being “driven by paranoia” and Angela Merkel allegedly “avoids risk and is rarely creative”. There is also a comparison between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
The cables name countries involved in financing terror groups, and describe a near “environmental disaster” last year over a rogue shipment of enriched uranium. They disclose technical details of secret US-Russian nuclear missile negotiations in Geneva, and include a profile of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who they say is accompanied everywhere by a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
The electronic archive of embassy dispatches from around the world was allegedly downloaded by a US soldier earlier this year and passed to WikiLeaks. Assange made them available to the Guardian and four other newspapers: the New York Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France and El País in Spain. All five plan to publish extracts from the most significant cables, but have decided neither to “dump” the entire dataset into the public domain, nor to publish names that would endanger innocent individuals. WikiLeaks says that, contrary to the state department’s fears, it also initially intends to post only limited cable extracts, and to redact identities.
The cables published today reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material.
Classified “human intelligence directives” issued in the name of Hillary Clinton or her predecessor, Condoleeza Rice, instruct officials to gather information on military installations, weapons markings, vehicle details of political leaders as well as iris scans, fingerprints and DNA.
The most controversial target was the leadership of the United Nations. That directive requested the specification of telecoms and IT systems used by top UN officials and their staff and details of “private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys”.
They are classified at various levels up to “SECRET NOFORN” [no foreigners]. More than 11,000 are marked secret, while around 9,000 of the cables are marked noforn. The embassies which sent most cables were Ankara, Baghdad, Amman, Kuwait and Tokyo.
The idea of contact between the Roman and Chinese empires, albeit indirectly via trade routes, has always fascinated me. Imagine Chinese silk suddenly popping up in a Phoenician marketplace. Those two, big empires that exist in separate parts of the world, vaguely knowing of each other’s existence…
So this finding kinda thrills me. Inhabitants of a Chinese village turn out to be 56 procent Caucasian genetically, and are possibly descendents of a lost Roman legion.
Genetic testing of villagers in a remote part of China has shown that nearly two thirds of their DNA is of Caucasian origin, lending support to the theory that they may be descended from a ‘lost legion’ of Roman soldiers.
Tests found that the DNA of some villagers in Liqian, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in north-western China, was 56 per cent Caucasian in origin.
Many of the villagers have blue or green eyes, long noses and even fair hair, prompting speculation that they have European blood.
A local man, Cai Junnian, is nicknamed by his friends and relatives Cai Luoma, or Cai the Roman, and is one of many villagers convinced that he is descended from the lost legion.
Archeologists plan to conduct digs in the region, along the ancient Silk Route, to search for remains of forts or other structures built by the fabled army.
“We hope to prove the legend by digging and discovering more evidence of China’s early contacts with the Roman Empire,” Yuan Honggeng, the head of a newly-established Italian Studies Centre at Lanzhou University in Gansu province, told the China Daily newspaper.
The genetic tests have leant weight to the theory that Roman legionaries settled in the area in the first century BC after fleeing a disastrous battle.
The clash took place in 53BC between an army led by Marcus Crassus, a Roman general, and a larger force of Parthians, from what is now Iran, bringing to an abrupt halt the Roman Empire’s eastwards expansion.
Thousands of Romans were slaughtered and Crassus himself was beheaded, but some legionaries were said to have escaped the fighting and marched east to elude the enemy.
They supposedly fought as mercenaries in a war between the Huns and the Chinese in 36BC – Chinese chroniclers refer to the capture of a “fish-scale formation” of troops, a possible reference to the “tortoise” phalanx formation perfected by legionnaries. The wandering Roman soldiers are thought to have been released and to have settled on the steppes of western China.
The theory was first put forward in the 1950s by Homer Dubs, a professor of Chinese history at Oxford University.
The Roman Empire reached its greatest territorial extent under the Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century AD, just as the Han empire was beginning to decline.
Most historians believe that the two empires had only indirect contact, as silk and spices were traded along the Silk Road through merchants in exchange for Roman goods such as glassware.
An interesting article in the NYT about the use of social media and cell phones by Chinese factory workers, who are currently on strike. Note: unlike the stereotype, these are not young, highly educated, middle class urbanites (like, with a bit of exaggeration, one could say about the Twitterers of the Green Revolution in Iran), but mostly poor migrants without middle school education.
Wonder what Marx would say about this.
The question is, of course, as is already noted in the article, to which extent such online organizing can withstand government interference. Although there still seems to be some simmering, the Green Revolution in Iran ultimately failed what it set out to do, despite (or maybe because) the indeed revolutionary employment of online social media.
It is labor revolt by text message and video upload, underwritten by the Chinese government.
The 1,700 workers who went on strike at the Honda Lock auto parts factory here are mostly poor migrants with middle-school educations.
But they are surprisingly tech-savvy.
Hours into a strike that began last week, they started posting detailed accounts of the walkout online, spreading word not only among themselves but also to restive and striking workers elsewhere in China.
They fired off cellphone text messages urging colleagues to resist pressure from factory bosses. They logged onto a state-controlled Web site — workercn.cn — that is emerging as a digital hub of the Chinese labor movement. And armed with desktop computers, they uploaded video of Honda Lock’s security guards roughing up employees.
“We videotaped the strike with our cellphones and decided to post the video online to let other people know how unfairly we were treated,” said a 20-year-old Honda employee who asked not to be named because of the threat of retaliation.
The disgruntled workers in this southern Chinese city took their cues from earlier groups of Web-literate strikers at other Honda factories, who in mid-May set up Internet forums and made online bulletin board postings about their own battle with the Japanese automaker over wages and working conditions.
But they have also tapped into a broader communications web enabling the working class throughout China to share grievances and strategies. Some strike leaders now say they spend much of their time perusing the Web for material on China’s labor laws.
Wielding cellphones and keyboards, members of China’s emerging labor movement so far seem to be outwitting official censors in an effort to build broad support for what they say is a war against greedy corporations and their local government allies.
The Web and digital devices, analysts say, have become vehicles of social change in much the way the typewriter and mimeograph machine were the preferred media during the pro-democracy protests in Beijing in 1989 — before the government put down that movement in the June 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown that left hundreds dead.
Interesting article in NYT on how young Chinese people use the internet:
The daily Web habits of a typical 18-year-old college student named Li Yufei show why American Internet companies, one after another, have had trouble penetrating what is now the world’s most wired nation.
Gary Wang, founder of Tudou, a video-sharing site.
He writes a blog, downloads Korean television shows, manages two Web sites devoted to music and plays an online game called Rongguang Hospital, at Baidu.com.
“I started doing a lot of this when I was about 11 years old,” says Mr. Li, a freshman at the Shanghai Maritime University. “Now, I spend most of my leisure time on the Internet,” he says. “There’s nowhere else to go.”
Google’s decision last month to remove some of its operations from China has overshadowed a startling dynamic at work in this country, a place where young people complain that there is not a lot to do: the Internet, already a potent social force here, has become the country’s prime entertainment service.
The surprising power of online communities in China has Communist Party leaders worried about the ability of online social networks to spread viral messages that could ignite social movements, and pose a challenge to the party and its leaders. They saw what happened to Han Feng, a midlevel party official in southern China, when his private diary was recently posted online.
In the diary, Mr. Han catalogued not just the hefty bribes he was taking, but detailed his sexual escapades with co-workers and mistresses. The ensuing online uproar led to his sacking and a criminal investigation.
“For the government, the scary part of the Internet is the unpredictable power of its organization,” said Yang Guobin, an associate professor at Barnard College and author of “The Power of the Internet in China” (Columbia University Press, 2009).
“Although people are there socializing, it can provide a platform for lots of other activities, and even turn political,” he said.
But young people in China say they are excited about the Web not because it offers a means to rebellion, but because it gives them a wide variety of social and entertainment options.
“The Web is really a reflection of real life,” says Gary Wang, founder and chief executive of Tudou, one of China’s biggest video-sharing sites. “What people do in real life is they go to karaoke rooms, they go to bars, they get together with friends and they shop. And that’s what they do online.”
In the middle of a terrifying desert north of Tibet, Chinese archaeologists have excavated an extraordinary cemetery. Its inhabitants died almost 4,000 years ago, yet their bodies have been well preserved by the dry air.
The cemetery lies in what is now China’s northwest autonomous region of Xinjiang, yet the people have European features, with brown hair and long noses. Their remains, though lying in one of the world’s largest deserts, are buried in upside-down boats. And where tombstones might stand, declaring pious hope for some god’s mercy in the afterlife, their cemetery sports instead a vigorous forest of phallic symbols, signaling an intense interest in the pleasures or utility of procreation.
Their graveyard, known as Small River Cemetery No. 5, lies near a dried-up riverbed in the Tarim Basin, a region encircled by forbidding mountain ranges. Most of the basin is occupied by the Taklimakan Desert, a wilderness so inhospitable that later travelers along the Silk Road would edge along its northern or southern borders.
As the Chinese archaeologists dug through the five layers of burials, Dr. Mair recounted, they came across almost 200 poles, each 13 feet tall. Many had flat blades, painted black and red, like the oars from some great galley that had foundered beneath the waves of sand.
At the foot of each pole there were indeed boats, laid upside down and covered with cowhide. The bodies inside the boats were still wearing the clothes they had been buried in. They had felt caps with feathers tucked in the brim, uncannily resembling Tyrolean mountain hats. They wore large woolen capes with tassels and leather boots. A Bronze Age salesclerk from Victoria’s Secret seems to have supplied the clothes beneath — barely adequate woolen loin cloths for the men, and skirts made of string strands for the women.
Within each boat coffin were grave goods, including beautifully woven grass baskets, skillfully carved masks and bundles of ephedra, an herb that may have been used in rituals or as a medicine.
In the women’s coffins, the Chinese archaeologists encountered one or more life-size wooden phalluses laid on the body or by its side. Looking again at the shaping of the 13-foot poles that rise from the prow of each woman’s boat, the archaeologists concluded that the poles were in fact gigantic phallic symbols.
The men’s boats, on the other hand, all lay beneath the poles with bladelike tops. These were not the oars they had seemed at first sight, the Chinese archaeologists concluded, but rather symbolic vulvas that matched the opposite sex symbols above the women’s boats. “The whole of the cemetery was blanketed with blatant sexual symbolism,” Dr. Mair wrote. In his view, the “obsession with procreation” reflected the importance the community attached to fertility.
Several items in the Small River Cemetery burials resemble artifacts or customs familiar in Europe, Dr. Mair noted. Boat burials were common among the Vikings. String skirts and phallic symbols have been found in Bronze Age burials of Northern Europe.