Saturday, 23 June 2012

What’s up with Pot Politics?

I thought this discussion was pretty interesting. The place of marijuana in the United States is a strange one. You hear so much about the arrest-rate, California’s legalisation of medicinal marijuana (and an unsurprising rise in conditions that “require” pot to alleviate pain, etc.), and the draconian laws that have been implemented to crack down on the proliferation of pot in America.

And yet. I’ve spent a lot of time in the US over the past nine months (don’t worry – I never broke visa, and always obeyed the law, because I would very much like to return many times over the course of my life). During my time there, one thing that really stood out for me was the blasé attitude towards smoking pot. It was so open – oftentimes, if we left open out window, the apartment would be filled with the smell of (I can only assume high-grade) pot. On the streets, all over Manhattan (though less so in the business districts, of course), one could frequently catch a whiff of pot-smoke.

The United States does seem to have a plethora of laws that control (or at least try to control) the availability and legality of marijuana, and yet enforcement is either ineffective, or police and people have come to an agreement that pot is not, actually, as serious a problem as many other crimes. Then again, just look at the statistics of people in jail on drug charges based on marijuana possession or use. I’m not sure if the “fact” is true, but after the Three Strikes law was brought in, there are supposedly people in jail (invariably African-American) on marijuana sentences who will remain in prison for longer than rapists and violent offenders.

My own opinions on the drug are probably predictably liberal – I have smoked pot (in the UK, and also during a post-A-levels trip some friends and I took to Amsterdam. For “the museums”, of course…).* I find it hard to believe that marijuana should be legislated to a harsher level when alcohol remains legal. The panel in the video above mention the alcohol culture in the US (something the UK knows plenty about), but they don’t really go into too much detail. Alcohol can, and does, have the affect of making some people extremely violent. This doesn’t happen to someone on pot. In terms of public safety, surely if pot is illegal, so too should alcohol be made illegal?

Anyway, I just wanted to jot down some thoughts on the clip from UP with Chris Hayes. It’s an interesting discussion, and one I can’t imagine will reach a solution anytime soon.

* That being said, we did actually go to all the museums bar two (we ran out of time to go to the Pot Museum and Anne Frank museum – the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum were incredible). None of our parents believe we went to them.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Clay Bennett on GOP Economics Plan

This editorial cartoon from the ever-excellent Clay Bennett (Chattanooga Times Free Press) speaks volumes, and perfectly captures the Republican approach to handling/dealing with the US economy:

wpcbe120612

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Canada Party (Humour)

While at BookExpo America last week, I picked up these rather amusing samples:

AmericaButBetter

As it turns out, the people behind this have also produced a “political campaign ad”, which I thought was rather amusing as well:

Friday, 8 June 2012

“Is it fair game…?”

There seems to be a running meme among news media outlets about whether or not Candidate Mitt Romney’s business record is “fair game” in the election. I do not understand why this is a point of discussion or even in question. Mitt Romney is running on his business record (distancing himself as much as possible from his executive record as Governor of Massachusetts). Therefore, it is absolutely fair game. If a candidate for any electoral office is putting a specific skill or experience at the centre of their argument for being the best candidate, then how could it not be fair game and relevant? Also, while we’re on the subject, his record as Governor of Massachusetts is also absolutely “fair game”.

This seems to be yet another example of mindless press coverage, and the mainstream media picking up on and running with a Republican/Fox News whinge (that it’s unfair for Obama to actually examine Romney’s record and point out where he failed or has weaknesses – especially when they, you know, use facts ‘n’ stuff).

So, yes. It is absolutely fair game. Just as it’s absolutely fair game to examine and analyse President Obama’s record on both foreign and domestic policy.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Tiananmen at 23

I realised something rather surprising during the Chen Guangcheng episode in the news, and that was the absence of Tiananmen from the discussion. An entire chapter of my PhD thesis was dedicated to the importance of the Tiananmen Square Massacre/Incident/Crackdown, illustrating how central it had become in the US-China debate. It was everywhere – extremely few articles didn’t take a chance to mention it. True, with time and distance, the frequency of mentions has reduced, but it certainly remained a factor in any article that had a human rights angle. So, I was surprised when it was absent from all Guangcheng articles I read. I can’t figure out why, either. It deserves some investigation, I think, because it marks a distinct shift in US-China dialogue.

Department of State Deputy Spokesman Mark C. Toner released a statement today, on the twenty-third anniversary of Tiananmen Square:

On this the twenty-third anniversary of the violent suppression by Chinese authorities of the spring 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, the United States joins the international community in remembering the tragic loss of innocent lives.

We encourage the Chinese government to release all those still serving sentences for their participation in the demonstrations; to provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.

We renew our call for China to protect the universal human rights of all its citizens; release those who have been wrongfully detained, prosecuted, incarcerated, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest; and end the ongoing harassment of human rights activists and their families.

It’ll be interesting to see how things develop in the future.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Chen Guangcheng, “China’s Real Soft Power”?

According to Elizabeth C. Economy in a recent post for the Council on Foreign Relations, recently-arrived-in-America Chinese human rights activist, persecuted lawyer and asylum seeker Chen Guangcheng “has the potential to emerge as the most potent weapon in China’s otherwise fairly dismal arsenal of soft power.”

After reading this statement, I was rather confused. When it comes to Soft Power, one assumes that it is not just elites that will be swayed or influenced. The idea is that, in this case, Chen’s story and optimism about China will be able to influence American perceptions of China… How? Economy mentions Chen’s positive comments at a recent CFR event as evidence of this. Economy explains that

“Chen revealed himself as an optimist and a Chinese patriot: optimistic about his own future and ability to travel back and forth between China and the rest of the world; optimistic about the inherent goodness of the Chinese people, who want to do the right thing; and optimistic that democracy – in one form or another – will emerge sooner rather than later in China.”

This is all well and good, but when have China specialists and commentators ever suggested that the Chinese people were not inherently good or patriotic (often they are painted as easily-manipulated nationalists)? It’s the the Chinese Communist Party and ruling elite who are the problem, so Chen’s and Economy’s assertions that the Chinese people are decent people (which is true) doesn’t really make any difference, and is somewhat irrelevant to China’s Soft Power. I remain, therefore, entirely sceptical about the premise of this article.

Economy goes on to point out that

“Of course, part of Chen’s story underscores the dark side of contemporary Chinese political life: the extreme and pervasive levels of corruption and violence – who knew that a senior Shandong official blew up his mistress of thirteen years with a remote-control bomb? – the continued threats to the safety and well-being of Chen’s own family members who remain in China, and the utter system of lawlessness that pervades the local system of governance. Yet, Chen, in his remarks, never wavered in his belief that time was on the side of right.”

This is what most people are going to take away from the Chen incident. That he fled China, effectively, and did so in a high-profile way, a story that was surrounded by strange goings-on, daredevil escapes, and some early confusion and conflicting reports of events.

I fail to see how an activist like Chen, and his overall story, can ever be considered a good thing for China’s image in the world. He did, after all, seek asylum from persecution from his own government. He is concerned for his family in China’s safety. He has been re-located to New York City. This is not good press for China. It is good press for him – which is why he waited until the Secretaries’ visit to do anything. His happiness about his newfound freedom to travel between the United States and China is largely due to his celebrity (seriously think they’re going to arrest him the moment he steps off the plane? He’ll be monitored very closely, though). It is also good press for America, because it shows that when push-comes-to-shove, the government will step up and do the right thing when it comes to activists (limited though their options may be).

Of the event at the CFR, Economy finishes thus:

“In the end, Chen accomplished in an hour of free speech what the billions of dollars behind China’s go-out media strategy have never achieved: a balanced and nuanced portrayal of this complex country that left his audience with not only a better understanding of China but also a greater admiration for the Chinese people themselves. Now it is just up to Beijing to live up to Chen’s faith.”

An hour of free speech he could not have enjoyed in his own country…

I believe that China will eventually move towards political and social openness, but it won’t be soon, and it won’t be quick, and it certainly won’t be easy. Change in China has always come from the people (which is part of the reason officials in Beijing are so quick to squash dissent). But it has rarely (if ever) been a bloodless process.