Big Brother in Beijing

China is a land of contrasts.  It’s officially Marxist, yet, for all intents and purposes, has a capitalist economy.  The country stages elections, but the results are decided by the Politburo well in advance and in secret.  The government there has the power to regulate media content, but that still allows the rumor mill to run rampant when salacious goings-on transpire in the halls of power.

Case in point: the recent, and rapid, downfall of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai.  Chongqing is a city in southwest China that has about 30 million inhabitants.  Bo was known for his crackdown on corruption against the mafia there, and was seen as a rising power within the party.  In a stunning fall from grace, he was removed from his position, and with that his political career was over. The reason for the sacking was that one of his lieutenants had sought refuge in the US consulate in Chengdu after it became apparent that he too had run afoul of higher-ups in Beijing, and that he had collaborated with elements of organized crime during the ostensible public campaigns against those very groups.  The downfall was fast, unexpected and complete.

It also prompted rumors of something akin to a coup in Beijing.  A friend of my boyfriend’s, recently returned from the city (and whose father is actually the chairman of the government bureau in charge of personell, a very important position) told my boyfriend that there had been tanks all over Beijing for the past few days.  High-ranking members of the party are afraid that with the recent instability within their own ranks would invite a coup against the central party leadership in Beijing, a prospect the Communists find more nerve-wracking than usual, as the country prepares for a turnover in the national leadership this coming fall.

As a result, six people reporting on coup rumors have been arrested, and the Chinese equivalents of Twitter have been partially disabled through April 3rd to stanch the proliferation of ‘rumors.’  While I doubt that a coup was attempted or is taking place, I think that the leadership of China is more jittery than normal, given some recent disturbances in the provinces, and also due to the leadership turnover later this year.  But it’s always funny to see a government claim that something which is clearly happening, isn’t. No matter the regime, it’s always cause for chuckles.

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Tantrum in Lansing

Earlier, I wrote about the hearings that the Higher Education Subcommittee in the Michigan State House were conducting regarding stem cell research at the University of Michigan and mandatory health insurance coverage at Michigan State University.  Republicans on the subcommittee weren’t pleased.  It was, in the words of a friend, a bunch of west Michigan Republicans trying to advance their social agenda at the expense of higher education.  I had hoped that cooler heads would prevail in the Subcommittee, but that did not happen.  The Subcommittee voted to deny MSU and UM $40 million in funding by the state, simply because they don’t like what they’re doing.

I doubt that this will pass the state legislature, or that the governor will sign off on this as is.  There’s likely to be some ‘chats’ wherein more senior Republicans tell these boobs to come to their senses.  This sort of far right social engineering has no place in our flagship public universities, in fact, it has no place in the public domain whatsoever.  It makes for amusing politics, but the harm it brings is anything but.

Time’s Not On Detroit’s Side

‘Time, time, time, it’s on my side, yes it is!’  So go the lyrics to the old Rolling Stones song.  In some cases, time is your ally, if you can afford to just wait out your opponents, and let issues pass.  In other cases, it’s not, and it can be the exact opposite.  Those of you reading are probably acquainted with the financial woes that face the city of Detroit.  In short, the city’s broke, and radical reforms need to be undertaken in order to right the finances of the city.  The state of Michigan has been forced to intervene in order to get the city on a more stable financial footing.  The Mayor’s in the hospital at what’s probably the worst single time for him to be on sick leave.  The City Council has been acting like the bunch of idiotic boobs that they’ve traditionally acquitted themselves as.

Much has been made of Public Act 4 and how it’s antidemocratic.  I couldn’t care less about the critics of the Act.  Their accusations are utterly without merit.  If a city can’t pay its bills and demonstrates a persistent inability or refusal to do so, there’s no other recourse but for a higher governmental authority, in this case, the state, to step in and sort out the mess that local leaders have created.  The current impasse in Detroit is that local leaders are demanding more cash, $137 million, in fact, to come along with a financial reorganization.  The state, rightfully, is saying no.  Detroit has a city government that’s designed for a city twice the size, and the political culture that permeates the city is downright tawdry.

But what the leaders of Detroit are missing is this: they’re going to be broke at some point in the middle of April.  At this point, they have power, because they’re still paying the bills.  But the fact of the matter is that they can’t afford to wait.  Every day that passes, their bargaining power declines, as they inch ever closer to the financial abyss over which they’ve presided for decades.  Yet, they fundamentally don’t get it.  The City Council is running Detroit as if it’s their own personal financial fief, to be run for themselves, friends and families, without regard to the citizens of the city of Detroit and the services that they deserve.  The longer that City Council keeps up with this heated rhetoric about ‘plantations’ and such, the more likely it is that they’ll find themselves without any authority whatsoever.

And the longer that this charade lasts, the more I’m thinking that may be the best outcome possible.

Canada Ditches the Penny

Oh Canada.  No more pennies?  Alas.  The Canadian government, in their latest budget, finally stopped the minting of the penny, joining the ranks of countries that have done so already, including Switzerland and Brazil.  The pennies cost more to mint than they’re worth, and the estimated savings to the government amounts to more than C$11 million.

Also of note in the Canadian budget, the retirement age was raised to 67 from 65, effective in 2023.  This was probably a lot more acrimonious, but, as the savings will amount to much more, that’s to be expected.  The US will eventually have to do something similar, though the longer we wait, the more we’re going to have to raise the retirement age, likely to somewhere in the early seventies.  However, that won’t happen for the foreseeable future, as it’s unlikely that if our Congress had to order lunch at this point,  they probably wouldn’t be able to agree.

As for the penny, for those of you that are reading in Michigan and are used to having fistfuls of the worthless Canadian currency in the drinks holder next to the driver’s seat in your car, be glad that there’s one less variety of Canadian coin to take up space in your life.

Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch

It’s official folks: Burgundy is back.  Last night, on Conan O’Brien, Will Ferrell made an appearance on the show, berating O’Brien for his appearance, calling him ‘a red scare wig on a skeleton’ before announcing that a sequel to Anchorman is in the works.  The 2004 film grossed $91 million, and I would anticipate that the sequel, which has become somewhat of a cult classic in the years since, would make far more.  I, for one, am delighted.  Let the idiocy ensue.

The Affordable Care Act Goes to Court

Many on the left are on the cusp of a full blown conniption.  As of now, if the questioning during the oral arguments that ended today before the Supreme Court regarding the health care legislation passed by the President and Congress in 2010 is any indication as to their findings, we’re screwed.  Four of the five conservative justices (Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Kennedy) have demonstrated the requisite ideological antipathy to the overall ideological focus of the legislation, subjecting counsel for the government to some pretty harsh questions (Clarence Thomas hasn’t asked questions, and never has in his time on the court.  He’s known for this).

My response to the media and liberals such as myself: calm the fuck down.  Ideological posturing is common in anything that’s media heavy, even in courts.  This ideological hostility should be expected.  It may well be that there’s going to be a favorable ruling for the government, and that this pre-finding performance is going to be the only sort of vindication that the justices will give to the right.

And, if it’s not, and they gut the law, so be it.  What the Republicans forget is that the provisions that rankle them most are those that compel individuals to buy private insurance.  The President compromised on this in order to help passage of the bill.  That being the case, we can always go back to the drawing board, and opt for a single payer system, which would make conservatives blanch by comparison.  And if that fails, we can always push through Medicare and Medicaid expansions through budget reconciliations until they cover the whole country.

The President took the high road on this one, and forged a path of compromise.  There was a far less private-sector friendly course we could have pursued, but, in the interest of amity, we didn’t.  If we fail on this, and it’s not yet clear that we have, there’s no way that Democrats are simply going to roll over on this one.  Even the political reasons aside, our health care system is broken, and it’s in need of deep, deep reform.  The Supreme Court may be able to gut healthcare reform by stripping out the individual mandate, but there’s less market-oriented paths that are on much less controversial ground, Constitutionally speaking.  The Justices would profit by keeping that in mind.

Dork Alert: Sim City is Back

I remember being enthralled with the Maxis game Sim City when I was an adolescent.  It was rather addictive, and it was an early indicator of my interest in cities.  The game has gone through four different iterations since then, and for fans out there, Maxis is now getting ready for a new, fifth version coming out in early 2013.  The new game is going to be able to accommodate multiple players, and will have such features as various ‘Occupy’ movements.  So, for those of you that already waste more time than you should in front of your computers, prepare for wasting yet even more.