When China Judges

China, which is not known for its love of free speech, has been called hypocritical for condemning the way Japan’s schoolbooks whitewash World War II. But the world would be better off if China displayed such hypocrisy more consistently.

During a period of a few weeks starting in December 1937, the Japanese army invaded the Chinese city of Nanking, raped and tortured its people and murdered perhaps more than 300,000 Chinese civilians. The tragedy is often cited as the most horrific example of atrocities committed by Japan in its World War II campaigns in China and throughout Asia.

Nearly 70 years later the memory of these events, understandably, still stings the Chinese people. It makes sense that China’s leaders, as well as thousands of protesters, were outraged that recently approved Japanese textbooks trivialize what has become known as the Rape of Nanking by describing it as an “incident.” Though Japan has apologized repeatedly for wartime atrocities in Asia (most recently last Friday), there is no excuse for approving textbooks that sweep such realities under the rug.

But as the Asian Wall Street Journal editorialized, while Japan’s textbooks gloss over the country’s war crimes, according to Chinese textbooks, “Tiananmen Square’s 1989 peaceful demonstrations were a violent uprising; Tibet had no claim to independence when China invaded in 1951; millions of Chinese did not die during the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward…”

Given its own record on human rights, it is, indeed, audacious of China’s leaders to offer human rights lectures to another country. But as long as its leaders are in the habit of making such lectures, why should they stop with Japan? China’s leaders do not need to go back nearly 70 years to find tales of rape, torture, and mass murder against innocent civilians. Instead, its leaders can start talking about the ongoing Rape of Darfur.

For the past two years, militias armed by the Sudanese government have swept through Darfur, raping women and burning villages to the ground. They have tortured people by cutting off their ears and ripping their eyes out. While exact figures are unknown, the Coalition for International Justice last week estimated that the combined number of deaths from starvation, disease, or outright murder has reached nearly 400,000 people. An additional 2 million have been displaced by the violence.

Not only has China avoided confronting Sudan over human rights violations in Darfur, but it has stood in the way of U.S.-led efforts to put an end to the ongoing massacre. Since last year, the United States has pushed for sanctions against the Sudanese government, but China has blocked every attempt because it has billions of dollars in oil investments in Sudan.

Of course, China does not have to look all the way to Africa for opportunities to speak out on human rights. Its neighbor, North Korea, has earned its own place in what Winston Churchill once called “the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.” It is bad enough that China has stymied U.S. efforts to put pressure on Kim Jong Il’s regime over nuclear weapons. But China continues to act as an accomplice in some of the regime’s most horrific atrocities.

It is Chinese government policy to arrest North Korean refugees who have fled to safety in China, and deport them back to North Korea. After being repatriated to North Korea, the refugees are sent to prison-labor camps akin to Soviet gulags, where they are forced to work 14-hour days. The prisoners are interrogated and brutalized, and routinely die of disease and starvation.

A report by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea compiled testimony from survivors of these camps. One woman, whose husband died in detention, described how police agents beat her with sticks and smashed her head against cement walls. She was in such pain that she begged her attackers to kill her to get it over with.

Pregnant women who are sent back from China are forced to have abortions out of concern that the father could be ethnically Chinese. If women are late into their pregnancies, they are given injections to induce labor and their newborn babies are suffocated in front of them with wet towels.

Especially horrifying was the experience of a North Korean grandmother who was sent to one of the camps after being repatriated by the Chinese government. Not being fit enough for hard labor, she was forced to work in a hospital where she helped deliver seven babies.

After a delivery, a guard would rip the child out of her hands and toss the newborn into a box with a pile of other babies who were left for dead. She described what happened when babies were found to be alive after two days of neglect. According to an account of her testimony:

Even though their skin had turned yellow and their mouths blue, they still blinked their eyes. The agent came by, and seeing that two of the babies in the box were not dead yet, stabbed them with forceps at a soft spot in their skulls.

China’s leaders should be outspoken about human rights violations. But they would be doing the world a service if they didn’t confine themselves to events that happened nearly 70 years ago.

Philip Klein writes from New York.

Too Great For Its Own Good

The only “crisis” facing Social Security, liberals argue, is that it’s too darn successful.

“The problem with Social Security is that it isn’t broken, which is precisely why the President is so eager to destroy it,” wrote Robert Scheer in the Nation. “It is the continued success, rather than failure, of the program that irks him.”

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine about Social Security, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said, “It’s been highly successful, and it’s extremely popular. It’s one of the things that makes people feel somewhat good about government — and so, therefore, it must go.”

While liberals assert that President Bush has put Social Security in his cross hairs because he wants to destroy evidence that government works, the far more likely scenario is that liberals are frightened to death that personal accounts will thrive.

Liberals dismiss President Bush’s drive for personal accounts as a kind of libertarian fantasy that doesn’t have much support among Americans. “His Social Security plan is going down and down and down with less (polling) numbers,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said. “The American people are on our side, and this is bipartisan.”

But if liberals believe that most Americans don’t want the voluntary personal accounts, their savviest move would be to endorse President Bush’s proposal. They should let all of us wacky free marketers invest part of our payroll taxes in the stock market. Since there are so few of us, the transition costs ought to be pretty low.

Decades from now, having gambled our retirement away, we will subsist on macaroni and cheese, envious of our government-loving brethren who indulge in pan-seared filet mignon. The shame will be too much to bear. Sheepishly, we will crawl back to politicians on our hands and knees, begging government to take care of us. It will be the ultimate triumph of liberalism.

But liberals would never accept this wager. While they may be skeptical of personal accounts, they also fear that maybe, just maybe, the accounts will be a smashing success.

Take the case of Chile, where in 1981 the country moved to a system of investment accounts similar to the one proposed by President Bush. Since its inception, the personal accounts have averaged returns of 10 percent a year above inflation.

“When the system was inaugurated, one-fourth of the eligible work force signed up in the first month,” wrote Jose Pinera, the architect of Chile’s privatization who works on Cato’s Project on Social Security Choice. “Today 95 percent of covered workers participate.”

Critics cite the U.S. stock market’s performance in the early part of this decade as evidence of the risks associated with personal accounts. It is true that if you invested in the broader market five years ago, before the Internet bubble burst and corporate scandals shook Wall Street, you would have lost money. That is why it would be less advisable for a 60-year-old to be heavily concentrated in stocks.

But over, say, a 40-year time frame, short-term market fluctuations are rendered irrelevant. Since 1965, the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index has enjoyed average annual returns, including dividends, of nearly 12 percent. And this is a 40-year period that included Vietnam, Watergate, two oil crises, two wars in Iraq, the Sept. 11 attacks, five recessions and seven bear markets.

This is not meant as an absolute prediction of what returns would look like if today’s 25 year-olds were able to take advantage of personal accounts, but it merely demonstrates the potential to improve upon the pathetic 1.4 percent rate of return that can be expected under the nation’s current “successful” retirement system.

Critics may counter that there’s no guarantee that the U.S. stock market will do as well in the next 40 years as it has in the past. This is true. However, were the market to do significantly worse, it would suggest that the nation’s economic problems are severe. It would be impossible for the current Social Security system to survive anyway.

People support personal accounts not because the Security System works too well, but because free markets work better.

Liberals who say otherwise are engaging in projection. It is they who stand in the way of reform out of fear that the accounts will succeed, that their favorite New Deal program will be exposed as a sham and that younger Americans will grow up less dependent on government.

Abbas Must Get Tough

The positive vibes coming from Tuesday’s Palestinian reform conference in London will soon become distant memories unless Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stops trying to make nice with terrorists and starts confronting them with force.

Abbas has said all the right things following last Friday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. His unequivocal condemnation of the attack is a welcome change from the typical Palestinian response under the reign of Yassir Arafat.

In his public statements, Abbas insisted that terrorist attacks “will not be tolerated” and said that Palestinians are “exerting 100% efforts” to end violence against Israel. But as long as Abbas rules out the use of force against terrorist organizations, there is no reason for these groups to heed his words.

In the West Bank town of Jenin on Tuesday, there was a taste of how Abbas’s government coddles terrorist groups. Nasser Yousef, Abbas’ newly appointed security chief, was in the town when members of the terrorist organization Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades started shooting in the air and demanding that he leave, according to an Associated Press account. After first asking the police to arrest the extremists, Yousef instead rewarded their leader with a meeting and did not make one arrest.

Abbas is clearly in a bind. Newly elected, he is trying to put together a legitimate Palestinian government after years of corruption under the rule of Arafat. Abbas does not want to be seen as a puppet of the United States and Israel and there are concerns that using force against terrorist groups would trigger a civil war. But Abbas should take a lesson from his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Even though Sharon is leading a fragile coalition government and has received harsh criticism from within his own Likud Party, he has forged ahead with plans to remove 9,000 Israeli settlers from their homes in Gaza and part of the West Bank later this year. The decision threatens to tear Israel apart, with some religious members of the Israeli Defense Forces potentially disobeying orders to evacuate settlers. Because of his decision to pullout from Gaza (using force if necessary), Sharon has received 70 death threats in the past three months alone.

But Sharon’s willingness to move aggressively against bitter-enders is nothing new for Israelis. Time and again, Israel’s leaders have demonstrated that they would not hesitate to use force against extremist groups in the interests of peace and security.

In a situation with close parallels to the Gaza pullout, Israel sent its army to remove thousands of Israeli settlers from Sinai in 1982 to abide by the peace treaty Israel had negotiated with Egypt at Camp David. At the time, Sharon was minister of defense.

When Israel was founded in 1948, it was a fledgling country surrounded by neighbors that wanted to wipe it off the map. But David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, forcibly disbanded several paramilitary organizations and he even sunk a ship filled with weapons that were purchased by one of these groups. The controversial move claimed 82 lives.

Last Friday’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed five people and wounded at least 50 others, gives credence to right-wing critics of Sharon who view the Feb. 8 negotiated truce with Palestinians with skepticism. Following the attack, Sharon froze plans to transfer control of five West Bank towns to Palestinians and release additional Palestinian prisoners, but he has shown restraint by not taking aggressive military action.

Facing pressure to protect his citizens from violence, Sharon will not be able to hold back forever. If this bombing in Tel Aviv was the first of more to come, eventually Sharon will have to step up military actions against Palestinians, even at the risk of scrapping the peace process.

So far, Abbas has dealt with terrorist organizations through closed door politicking, but it is unlikely that this will yield results over the long term with groups that are committed to Israel’s destruction. Indeed, the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has already stated that the period of calm it agreed to was temporary.

Extremists will always have the power to derail the peace process if Abbas does not move aggressively against them. If Abbas cannot deliver security to Israel, it will be difficult for Sharon to convince the Israeli public that negotiating will be productive.

Abbas may never be able to prevent every single attack against Israelis, but to be considered a viable partner for peace, he must at least demonstrate that he is willing to do everything in his power to stop terrorism. This must include the use of force.

Wal-Mart Strikes Back

Last week, Wal-Mart’s Canadian division said it would close its first unionized store in North America, making Quebec the latest battleground in the retailer’s struggle against unions.

Wal-Mart’s decision triggered vicious rebukes from leftist Canadian politicians. David Christopherson, a Canadian Member of Parliament, even called Wal-Mart’s decision to close the store “economic terrorism.”

It is difficult to understand how workers are exercising their free choice by banding together to negotiate with their employer, but Wal-Mart is the corporate equivalent of Bin Laden because it is choosing not to stay in business under the union’s terms.

Putting that aside, there is a greater irony here. The United Food and Commercial Workers union has spent years blasting Wal-Mart for violating human rights, putting local stores out of business, exploiting workers and being an all around evil corporate citizen. The union has a large presence in Canada, but it is based in Washington, D.C. and has campaigned to unionize Wal-Mart in both countries.

“Quite simply the benefits of having a Wal-Mart in your neighborhood are outweighed by the cost in store closures, lost jobs and other adverse effects Wal-Mart has on a community,” the union’s Website reads.

Based on these statements, one would expect the union to be celebrating the closing of a Wal-Mart in the parking lot like a conquering army. The union has liberated one town from the clutches of the Wal-Mart empire. It should be declared VWM day!

But the union is singing a different tune.

“Fair-minded people who respect the rights of workers call on Wal-Mart to abandon plans to close its Jonqueiere, Quebec, store,” the union urges Wal-Mart’s chief executive, Lee Scott, in an electronic petition. It says the store’s closing would “displace an entire community.”

The union has gone further than the petition, also filing a complaint with the Quebec Labor Relations Commission in an attempt to force Wal-Mart to return to the bargaining table and remain open. The store plans to close in May.

While the union’s efforts are likely to fail even in the labor-friendly Canada, the mere fact that they are protesting the closing exposes myths about Wal-Mart’s corporate hegemony that have become all too familiar in the United States. If all of the scare stories circulated about Wal-Mart were true, the store’s closing would mean a renaissance for the community. It would trigger a surge of new mom-and-pop shops, which would create more jobs that pay better wages. But this is not the case.

The Jonqueiere Wal-Mart employs 190 people, none of whom were forced to work there. If they had better job opportunities somewhere else, they probably would be working elsewhere.

Wal-Mart said that the union’s position on scheduling would have required adding 30 workers to the store, which was financially infeasible. The union disputes that this store was under any financial pressure. Michael Fraser, president of the union’s Canadian division, demonstrated his ignorance of economics when he said he knows this because “the parking lot was full.”

A full-parking lot only means that plenty of people shop there, but it has nothing to do with whether the store was successful. Though Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, with annual sales of about $285 billion, the company operates on razor-thin margins to keep prices low. For every dollar of goods Wal-Mart sells, it only makes about three cents of profit, which means controlling costs is crucial to its business model.

Unions complaining about Wal-Mart’s stinginess might have a better case if Wal-Mart’s top brass were living lavishly. But the retailer’s commitment to controlling costs can be seen from the top down. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott has a tiny office in the company’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Along with other executives, Scott flies coach and shares budget hotel rooms when traveling.

The union is attempting to force Wal-Mart to work under their terms, even if it means maintaining an unsuccessful store that can’t deliver the lowest prices to its customers. Labor leaders should realize that Wal-Mart is giving the union a taste of its own medicine. It is going on strike.

Domestic Security Democrats

Nancy Pelosi may be on to something. During her portion of the State of the Union rebuttal (I am one of the unprivileged few who stayed awake through it), Pelosi touched on an issue that could be a winner for the Democratic Party.

After a few minutes of laying out the Democrats’ cut-and-run strategy for Iraq, Pelosi said, “Despite the Administration’s rhetoric, airline cargo still goes undisputed, shipping containers go unscreened, and our railroads and power plants are not secure.” This made me think something I can’t ever recall thinking when hearing Pelosi speak: She’s absolutely right.

You don’t need to be a counter-terrorism expert to realize that the United States’ domestic defense is woefully inadequate. Anyone who’s been to a U.S. airport in the last three years understands that the security has changed little since September 11. Sure, the banned item list is a bit longer and travelers get a whiff of each other’s foot odor when asked to take off their shoes. But no revolutionary changes have taken place.

Even though having an air marshal on every U.S flight would virtually assure that there would be no hijackings, only a small fraction of flights have air marshals onboard.

A major subway fire in New York City last month, which was initially blamed on a vagrant, exposed how ineffective security has been in keeping homeless people out of subway tunnels. If homeless people can freely wander through the city’s subway tunnels, how do we expect to control a well-orchestrated terrorist plot against a transportation system that serves millions of people each day?

Examples of holes in our domestic security can fill several volumes, but Democrats have yet to realize that this issue could be their most effective way of opposing President Bush. Democrats must prove to voters that they can be strong on national security, because the issue is going to remain the most important to Americans for the foreseeable future.

John Kerry’s failed candidacy demonstrates how difficult it is for Democrats to wage an effective attack on the president’s national security record from the foreign policy side.

The base of the party’s support came from people who were vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq and generally against the aggressive use of American military power. Moderates may have been skeptical about President Bush’s Iraq policy, but they still supported aggressively hunting terrorists. Senator Kerry was criticized for his inconsistency during the election, but it was the dynamics of his party and the need to appeal to both of these groups that spawned his flip-flopping.

With the elections in Iraq largely being viewed as a success, the Democrats’ predicament on foreign policy has gotten even worse. Now they must choose between engaging in me-tooism or sounding as if they were raining on Iraq’s parade.

That’s why seizing on domestic security issues is the only effective option for Democrats. By becoming domestic security hawks, Democrats would prove to swing voters that they are serious about fighting terrorism. Less-partisan conservatives who have been frustrated with President Bush’s don’t-rock-the-boat approach to the domestic side of national security may even throw their support behind the Democrats’ efforts.

Currently, when Democrats condemn President Bush’s Iraq policy, it leads to charges that they are being unpatriotic by attacking U.S. policy while troops are in harm’s way. This charge could not be made were they to focus on criticizing the president for his domestic polices.

At the same time, the Democratic Party’s left wing would not feel alienated by a hawkish approach to domestic security, because proposing increased airport safety or more thorough inspection of shipping containers does not raise the specter of American imperialism.

But for Democrats to succeed they have to move beyond merely attacking President Bush and instead present a comprehensive strategy for overhauling domestic security.

I wouldn’t count on it, though. We’re more likely to get what Harry Reid would call the Groundhog Day effect. The same ideology over and over again.