Archive for November, 2012

China seen from the bottom up

November 11, 2012

As China picks its next leadership in a discussion among a tiny fraction of its elite, the vast majority of Chinese are still just trying to get by.

Sheng Keyi’s novel Northern Girls depicts the lives of migrants from the countryside to cities that have helped fuel the China’s meteoric economic growth. Sheng moved from Hubei province to Sheng to work as a young woman and published Northern Girls in Chinese in 2004; the English translation was released this year. Northern Girls can be seen as a fictional prelude to Factory Girls, based on interviews with migrants.

I talked to Sheng at the last month’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali last month. Our interview vividly portrays the inheritance of China’s new leadership: a society that’s increasingly unequal, where material wealth expands alongside moral bankruptcy. The interview, posted on Asia Times, is also a reminder that many Chinese novelists living in China do their best to stretch the limits of state tolerance. Like leaving behind family and the familiar for the unknown metropolis – as my own mother did, moving from Portland, Maine, to New York City – writing from the heart in China remains an act of extraordinary courage with no guarantees beyond plenty of hard work in a hard place.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

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Chutzpah runs for president

November 4, 2012

This US presidential election campaign features chutzpah as never before, most notably on the Republican side. Chutzpah is a Yiddish word for extreme nerve, classically defined as murdering your parents then pleading for mercy as an orphan.

In the past, I’ve urged Americans to vote for Tan Shwe, Burma’s former dictator. This time, it’s about overcoming a process that’s broken and increasingly remote from the public interest. We can do better, and voting is the key first step.

This campaign’s glaring recent example of chutzpah is Republicans’ cry that Obama has failed to build bipartisanship in Washington. During the first two years of his term, when Democrats enjoyed a filibuster-proof Senate majority, Obama infuriated supporters by continually reaching across the political aisle, only to be rebuffed.

Since Republicans won the House majority in 2010 and broke Democrats’ stranglehold on the Senate, they’ve done all they can to thwart Obama. Most egregiously, Republicans turned formerly routine bipartisan votes to raise the debt ceiling, to pay for the checks Congress writes, into pitched political battles that have wrought chaos on financial markets and self-inflicted wounds, including the downgrade of America’s credit rating.

Obama didn’t reject bipartisanship, Republicans did and still do. But Republicans blame Obama for it – that’s chutzpah.

Similarly, Republicans blame Obama for failing to fix the economy they wrecked and cut the deficit they caused. They act as if a balanced budget is some distant dream when in fact the US had a budget surplus when George W Bush took office in 2001.

Republicans say that things have gotten worse for the middle class under Obama, and they’re right. It’s part of a three decade decline brought on by Republican policies that began under Ronald Reagan to make the rich richer that have reduced opportunities for upward mobility. Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan is leading advocate of expanding trickle down strategies that will further concentrate wealth at the top while cutting programs that give the middle class and poor a fighting chance.

Romney points to the millions of people on Food Stamps under Obama, as if Obama put them there, rather than an economy torpedoed by ultra-rich bankers gaming the system and getting bailed out (talk about socialism) after years of jobless growth. The number of people on Food Stamps would in all likelihood fall dramatically under Romney, because Ryan’s budget proposes to gut the program. To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat less.”

The Food Stamps example and Romney’s 47 percent remarks are part of a Republican myth that the fortunate ones in America aren’t the super wealthy who are earning a bigger share of national income and paying less in taxes – and now financing electoral politics to an unprecedented degree – but people who earn too little to pay federal income tax. So it’s better to earn $15,000 than $15 million, the Republicans contend, though you don’t see any of them volunteering to trade places.

This degree of chutzpah is a logical progression from the Karl Rove tactic of blaming your opponent first for whatever they might (more justly) accuse your side of doing. For example, with draft dodger, warmonger George Bush facing war hero, antiwar activist John Kerry in 2004, Republicans attacked Kerry’s military record, presenting apparent eyewitness accounts from people who were no where near the incidents they described, adding the words Swift Boat to the political lexicon.

For the past two election cycles, Republicans have cried class warfare when Democrats propose raising taxes on the wealthy. They’re right about class warfare. But it’s a war that Republican policies have instigated and perpetuated, and one that the rich are winning decisively.

Then, there’s healthcare. Obama’s health insurance reforms are almost a carbon copy of what his Republican opponent Mitt Romney enacted as governor of Massachusetts, a policy that traces its roots to the conservative Heritage Foundation. But Republican interests spearheaded the faux populist Tea Party that found traction with a disinformation campaign against the reforms embodied by the sign, “Government hands off Medicare.”

So Romney has fiercely backtracked, denying his own record and attacking Obama for doing what he did. That’s another major theme of the Romney campaign: lying. For the past six years, Romney has been saying anything he thinks will get him elected president, contradicting his own longstanding and recent positions. Although the Bush name is never spoken, the same Republican establishment behind W are the folks supporting Romney, expecting him to be similarly empty vessel for them to fill.

We may not know what we’ll get from Romney, but you already know what you’ve gotten from Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, John Bolton and their ilk. And they have the chutzpah to want to give it to you again.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Macau casino revenue numbers hide real news

November 1, 2012

Over the past few months, Macau casino revenues have disappointed. October’s new revenue record of MOP27.7 billion (US$3.46 billion), while welcome, represented a modest 3.2 percent increase over revenue a year ago. But behind the numbers, key changes are taking place that will transform Macau.

After years of increasing domination by VIP players provided by junket operators, for about a year mass market gamblers have been driving revenue growth. As I wrote in the October issue of Macau Business, the trend will show its biggest impact beyond the casino floor.

A related trend is the swing toward Cotai, covered in the July issue of Macau Business. Three casino operators already have resorts in Cotai, the entertainment area built on landfill between Macau’s outer islands, and this year the government has approved development applications from the other three. By the end of 2017, there will be at least six new developments in Cotai, built for some US$15 billion.

Things will surely be different by then. But Macau’s shakeup has already begun, with its effect felt as far away as Beijing and Wall Street.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


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