a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

A surprise admirer of the Tea Party: Lawrence Lessig

Posted on the November 12th, 2010

In his battle against financial corruption in the U.S. Congress  —  a fight that I support and track on this blog — Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig displays unwavering dedication, bi-partisanship, an open mind and a whole lot of patience.

Yesterday blogging for The Huffington Post, he brought all of these attributes into service in writing a surprising appreciation for the much publicized Tea Party movement in the USA. First pointing out his strong disagreement with some aspects of the movement, he then writes:

…I am a genuine admirer of the urge to reform that is at the heart of the grassroots part of this, perhaps the most important political movement in the current political context.

He goes to elaborate:

My admiration for this movement grew yesterday, as at least the Patriots flavor of the Tea Party movement announced its first fight with (at least some) Republicans. The Tea Party Patriots have called for a GOP moratorium on “earmarks.” Key Republican Leaders (including Senator Jim DeMint and Congressman John Boehner) intend to introduce a resolution to support such a moratorium in their caucus. But many Republicans in both the House and Senate have opposed a moratorium. Earmarks, they insist, are only a small part of the federal budget. Abolishing them would be symbolic at best.

This disagreement has thus set up the first major fight of principle for the Tea Party…

(Earmarks are, according to FactCheck.org, “government funds that are allocated by a legislator for a particular pet project, often without proper review.”)

Read the full post here:

Reader Comments (0) Comments Off on A surprise admirer of the Tea Party: Lawrence Lessig

What China has to say for itself: Premier Wen Jiabao

Posted on the October 8th, 2010

At the end of a short interview early this week on a CNN news show, the anchor Charles Hodson asked Jamil Anderlini, the Beijing correspondent for the Financial Times, what was the point, the purpose of this week’s “enormous offensive, this diplomatic offensive by the Chinese in Europe?”

Hodson was referring to the official visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to Europe this week. The premier won headlines with his favorable remarks about the Eurozone. They included a pledge to support the Euro, and an announcement during a visit to Greece that China will buy government bonds to try and aid the struggling country (see here and here).

Anderlini, after offering his analysis of the reasons for China’s proposed largesse to Europe, summed up with this:

“Well I think what you’re seeing is, China is obviously now the world’s second largest economy, it’s the biggest energy user, it’s the biggest emitter of carbon and greenhouse gases in the world, and it really is – China is really rising very rapidly on the world stage, both economically, militarily, politically.

And I think, you know there’s a re-evaluation going on of the traditional foreign policy in China which is — it was laid out a couple of decades ago by former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping — and that policy was that China should hide its brilliance, hide its light, and bide its time. But I think China has really reached the point where it’s re-evaluating that policy and that strategy.”

But Europe wasn’t the only target audience of what amounted to a media blitz this week of the European, Anglo-American world by the Chinese premier. Wen Jiabao also sat for an hour-long CNN interview for U.S. television with superstar journalist Fareed Zakaria.

Pointing out that the Chinese premier rarely gives interviews to Western journalists, Zakaria introduced the session by also listing some of China’s recent power moves in international relations.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

In his opening questions, Zakaria asked Wen Jiabao about the worldwide financial crisis, about China itself, and whether Chinese leadership has lost faith in the U.S.  The premier responded with a diplomatically amiable comment about President Obama and then spoke about his own country:

In the face of the financial crisis, any person who has a sense of responsibility towards the country and towards the entire human race, should learn lessons from the financial crisis. As far as I am concerned, the biggest lesson that I have drawn from the financial crisis is that in managing the affairs of a country, it is important to pay close attention to addressing the structural problems in the economy.

China has achieved enormous progress in its development, winning acclaim around the world. Yet I was one of the first ones to argue that our economic development still lacks balance, coordination and sustainability. This financial crisis has reinforced my view on this point. On the one hand we must tackle the financial crisis, on the other we must continue to address our own problems. And we must do these two tasks well at the same time and this is a very difficult one…

Later Zakaria asked Wen Jiabao about the much reported, and widely criticized censorship of the Internet by Chinese officials. Somewhat surprisingly, the premier praised the freedom of expression and freedom to criticize the government allowed on the Internet in China.  Zakaria challenged this appraisal, citing his own experience of the many restrictions he has encountered when he himself has visited China.

Wen Jiabao didn’t refute Zakaria’s assessment but responded:

“I believe I and all the Chinese people have such a conviction that China will make continuous progress and the people’s wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible. I hope that you will be able to gradually see the continuous progress of China.”

In the last segment of the interview Zakaria mentioned a series of speeches that Wen has given in the last few months. He mentioned one in particular in which the premier said that along with economic reform, China must keep doing political reform. Zakaria then said that a lot of people he knows in China have told him that there has been a lot of economic reform but not much political reform: “What do you say to people who listen to your speeches and they say we love everything Wen Jiabao says but we don’t see the actions of political reform?”

After a preliminary comment on the importance of the ruling governing party being faithful to the constitution and its laws, Wen Jiabao ended with this:

I have summed up my political ideals into the following four sentences. To let everyone lead a happy life with dignity, to let everyone feel safe and secure, to let the society be one with equity and justice, and to let everyone have confidence in the future. In spite of the various discussions and views within society, and in spite of some resistance, I will act in accordance with these ideals unswervingly and advance within the realm of my capabilities political restructuring.

“I would like to tell you the following two sentences to reinforce my case on this or my view on this point. That is, I will not fall in spite of the strong wind and harsh rain, and I will not yield til the last day of my life.

To see the full interview, go here.

Reader Comments (0) Comments Off on What China has to say for itself: Premier Wen Jiabao

More about the Greeks (and some others)

Posted on the September 28th, 2010

In an earlier post today about a Vanity Fair article about Greece and its ongoing financial morass, I highlighted a question posed by the writer of the piece, Michael Lewis:

Even if it is technically possible for these people [Greeks]to repay their debts, live within their means, and return to good standing inside the European Union, do they have the inner resources to do it?

The last phrase of this question — do they have the inner resources to do it? — won’t stop echoing through my mind. Could it be my (blogger) conscience nudging me to recall something else Lewis said in the Q&A interview with him that accompanies his article? He was answering a question about a rather sizeable ongoing financial mess of another country, the United States.

Specifically, Lewis was asked if he could foresee a scenario in which the US Treasury goes bankrupt.

Excerpt of his reply (that begins with “Yes”):

…It’s not that hard to see us getting to a moment where we are essentially restructuring our debt. I think it is a long way off, but how can it not happen? We are so indulged by our creditors. Even though we have grotesquely mismanaged our financial affairs, people are willing to lend us money on terms that they would not lend on to anybody else in the world. It’s unbelievable to me that the U.S. Treasury can borrow 10-year money at around 2.5 percent.

The Chinese are willing to lend back to us all their surpluses basically for free, and we keep running these deficits. The benefits are just too great to our society for us to turn away…

So that question about having the inner resources to clean up your act is also being posed by Lewis here, more obliquely, about the US and its citizenry.

(Blogger) conscience clean now.

Reader Comments (1) - Post a Comment

Whose century (or something) is it anyway?

Posted on the September 21st, 2010

One last glance back at the World Economic Forum panel discussion last week that I wrote a couple of posts about. This time I want to highlight some interesting wordplay there.

The minor verbal tussle sprang from reaction to the title of the panel discussion — “America in the Asian Century.”

First comment came from panel host Steve Clemons who opined that, for various reasons, he prefers to think of it as “America, China, Europe in a really, really messy century.”

Soon after Professor Moon Chung-In from Korea argued, instead, that it will be an “American-Asian century.” And then later, another panel member predicted that it would be, rather, a global century.

This all came back to mind this morning while I was reading yesterday’s Huffington Post blog post by Michael Brenner. He rather acerbically quoted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declaring earlier this month that we are at another American moment. (Video below)

Reader Comments (0) Comments Off on Whose century (or something) is it anyway?

A Japanese politician candidly explains his country’s woes: Taro Kono

Posted on the September 17th, 2010

Continuing the conversation of my post yesterday about the World Economic Forum meeting underway that is exploring the idea of this being an Asian century, I want to pluck out and highight some comments by Taro Kono, a Japanese parliamentarian. They were especially notable.

In his opening remarks, Kono smiled wryly and acknowledged:

We are actually choosing the third prime minister in one year today in Japan.

When host Steve Clemons noted that this brings the number to about six prime ministers in five years, Tono nodded and responded:

We’ve got to stop that to remain a certain power in Asia.

Kono then went on to talk about the political divide that has developed between Japan and the US on some major policies. He said that the US needs to do three things. One is to take care of the deficit, he noted (again with that wry smile as he added that Japan needs to mind its own deficit as well). Two, Kono said, the US needs to show it has common values with Japan.

And, three…

“They have to keep the door open to immigrants…”

As soon as the Q&A session opened, the very first question came from a Russian expert. He opined that he found it a bit rich (paraphrasing) for  someone from Japan to lecture others on open immigration policy, considering that Japan “is one of the most closed countries in terms of immigration policies.” A fair amount of friendly laughter greeted this apt query.

Kono, ever with the wry smile, responded so:

“I don’t see any other alternative for Japan’s future but to open up the country to the immigration. As you say, Japan is the most closed country so far but we’re losing population fast. The society is aging. We cannot sustain our pension system or social security. So we have to open up.

What is the core value of Japan? Japan is a country where people speak the Japanese language, and Japan is a country which has the emperor, and those two are the core values for Japan, and anything else has to change in the 21st century. So we are going to be opening up. Not only to the immigrants but our economy as well.

I  can’t remember ever hearing a politician make such a sweeping admission about the state of his country — Japan is a country where people speak the Japanese language, and Japan is a country which has the emperor and those two are the core values for Japan, and anything else has to change in the 21st century.

Reader Comments (0) Comments Off on A Japanese politician candidly explains his country’s woes: Taro Kono