James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
  • If You're Looking For a Nice, Bracing Industrial Policy Debate...

    Gentlemen, I want to see a good clean fight.

    ... and you're in Washington DC on April 8, come to a morning session formally debating the proposition, "Resolved: that the United States can and should 'pick winners' " at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. More info, plus online registration forms, here.

    I will be moderating, and the teams will be:
       For the proposition, Robert Atkinson, of the ITIF; and Clyde Prestowitz, of the Economic Strategy Institute.

       Against the proposition: Robert Lawrence, of the Kennedy School; and Claude Barfield, of the American Enterprise Institute.

    We'll run this as a full-on structured debate, of the type many of us recall from high school and college. (And not as the side show / pop-knowledge quiz / personality contest / talking-points derby that is the typical Presidential "debate.") At the end we'll have some moderator questions and general audience discussion. Probably even a before-and-after audience poll on the proposition, to see if any minds were changed. See you there.

  • If You Were Going to Read Only One Thing About Cyber-Security...

    Well, you should be reading more! But here's a place to start.

    ... well, as the joke goes, you really should be reading more! Or in a variant on the joke, the one thing you read should probably be this, from our own magazine. Ho ho.


    But if you were going to read one other thing today, you could do very well to choose this new essay by Jeffrey Carr, of IntelFusion. It is about the rich, ripe, sitting-duck target of myths and fallacies about security, and it begins:

    Regardless of your position on the over-hyped and under-estimated realm of cyber conflict, crime, and espionage, you probably have a few pet fallacies. I thought it might be fun, and possibly instructive, to start a conversation about them. Here are my top five. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.

    The TSA fallacy

    The TSA approach to airline security has been completely reactive because they focus on the method of attack (e.g., liquids, shoes, underwear) instead of the person. Likewise, Internet security companies focus on the technical characteristics of an attack (e.g., code, malware, exploits) instead of the actors (State and Non-state).  As a side note, Harding was going to move TSA towards a more intelligence-driven model. That's precisely what the Internet security industry needs to do as well.


    Hey, I can't resist one more, which is in keeping with my own view:

    The China fallacy

    This fallacy paints China as the number one adversary in anything having to do with cyber conflict in spite of the fact that there isn't a shred of historical evidence to prove it. The Peoples Republic of China has never engaged in military operations utilizing its IW capabilities against another nation state. The same cannot be said for the U.S., the Russian Federation, Georgia, Israel, and the Palestinian National Authority/Hamas. The PRC leadership are not religious extremists (e.g., Iran) or militaristic wildcards (e.g., DPRK, Myanmar). When you paint the PRC as the world's greatest cyber threat, you miss what China is actually excelling at (cyber espionage) and you overlook and/or underestimate the authentic threats from other nation states that are busy eating your lunch without you knowing it.


    And if you were going to read only one more thing on the "Going to Hell" problem, you could do well to choose this big story by Ezra Klein, in Newsweek, which goes systematically into how dysfunctional the Congress, especially the Senate, has become, and what might be done about it. I know from experience how unusual it is to get articles this thorough and relatively subtle into weekly news magazines. Worth reading. (More to come shortly on the "going to hell" problem; links to past items when our "categories" function is restored.)

  • Unusual Name Update: Yarrow Paisley and Laura Lippman Speak

    Mr. Yarrow Paisley says, "let me tell you about unusual names...."

    Recently I mentioned the odd feeling of seeing my family name in print -- in a way not connected to any member of my immediate family. (In her recent novel Life Sentences, Laura Lippman has a protagonist named Cassandra Fallows.) For the record, several updates and augmentations on the general phenomenon of non-standard names:

    1) To see where your family ranks in frequency among American names, check out this U.S. Census site: http://www.census.gov/genealogy/www/data/2000surnames/index.html. It tells me that my family name is tied for 67,317th in popularity (the top three are Smith, Johnson, Williams; we're tied with Breakiron, Kammerdiener, and Leitgeb, among others), and that as of the last Census there were 274 of us in the country -- not counting Cassandra. This link was sent by David Strip, who says that his name does not even show up on the list. Only names borne by at least 100 people qualify, and apparently there are fewer Strips than that. More in the same vein here and here.

    2) For similar info about Great Britain, this link from the National Trust -- http://www.nationaltrustnames.org.uk/default.aspx, via Greg Morrison -- lets you look up the frequency and geographical distribution of family names in England, Scotland, and Wales from 1881 and 1998. This tells me that my mother's family all came from one part of Scotland, and my father's from one part of England. First, Mackenzies as of 1881:
    Mackenzie1.png

    Brrrr! Then, Fallowses of the same era, mainly in what turns out to be the ancestral soil of Stoke-on-Trent (ah, the romance!) and greater Staffordshire and environs. Overall, the name is still 20 times as common in England as the US:
    Fallows1.png

    3) I have received countless "you're breaking my heart!" messages from people with names considerably more unusual than mine. I'll quote just one, from Mr. Yarrow Paisley:

    I found your story about encountering your name in the wild very amusing. It reminded me of the time I did a Google search on my name -- "Yarrow Paisley" is absolutely unique, so I rather expect only to find my own footprints on the Internet. But strangely, I found the website of an Albany band who had done a concept album "told by a not very likable fellow named 'yarrow paisley,'" which certainly piqued my curiosity! It slipped from my mind, however, until a couple years later (last year, actually), when I noticed one of my Facebook friends had become a fan of that very band! So I became a fan, too, and asked them about it, and it turned out the songwriter was a classmate of mine in the fifth grade. His name was [XXX] Smith, and I didn't remember him at all! Obviously, my name stuck with him, although he assured me he was just casting about for a name during the creative process, and that I had been quite likable indeed!

    4) After the jump, a note from Laura Lippman herself about the origins of her character's name (and some others in her oeuvre).
    ___

    More »

  • Neustadt Principle in Action: Recess Appointments (updated)

    One week after a big legislative victory, the administration takes a confident-seeming step

    Just now, the White House press office has announced a list of 15 recess appointments, who will serve until the end of the Senate's next term (or longer, if formally confirmed in the meantime). The announcement made clear that too many appointments had been held up by Bunning-style abuse of the Senatorial "hold" and filibuster rules:

    "The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees.  But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis,"  said President Barack Obama. "Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today were approved by Senate committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate.  At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months. I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government."...
    • President Obama currently has a total of 217 nominees pending before the Senate.  These nominees have been pending for an average of 101 days, including 34 nominees pending for more than 6 months.
    • The 15 nominees President Obama intends to recess appoint have been pending for an average of 214 days or 7 months for a total of 3204 days or almost 9 years.
    • President Bush had made 15 recess appointments by this point in his presidency, but he was not facing the same level of obstruction.  At this time in 2002, President Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor.  By contrast, President Obama has 77 nominees currently pending on the floor, 58 of whom have been waiting for over two weeks and 44 of those have been waiting more than a month.

    On the merits, this is a welcome move IMHO, both because it is insane (whichever party is in power) to keep major positions in Treasury, Customs-Border Patrol, etc vacant; and because many of these nominees are really excellent choices. It is also significant as a process matter. I mentioned recently the principle of presidential power laid down by the late professor Richard Neustadt: success today greatly increases the chance of success tomorrow.  I don't know whether the White House would have issued these appointments if a handful of votes had gone the other way in the health-care showdown last weekend. But it's in stronger position to take this step with a big victory behind it than after what would have been a big defeat.

    More, please. There are a lot more nominees still held up in Senate limbo.
    ___
    UPDATE: Marc Ambinder mentioned several people on this recess-appointment list. Let me give another illustration from the list, showing the kind of appointment that was being held up for procedural tit-for-tat rules in the Senate:

       Six months ago, the Administration nominated Alan Bersin to head the Customs and Border Patrol operation (now part of DHS). Is he in any way qualified? Hmmm, let's see.

       Bersin was an all-Ivy star football player at Harvard. Then he went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. Then he went to Yale Law School. Then he was a U.S. Attorney in California. Then he was head of a Justice Department unit overseeing US-Mexico border affairs. Then the head of the San Diego school system. Then the Secretary of Education for California, under Arnold Schwarzenegger. Recently he has been an Assistant Secretary at DHS. Last month the past three commissioners of CBP, including two from the GW Bush administration, wrote to Republican Senators asking them, please, to get Bersin into the job rather than leaving this very important agency leaderless.

       Instead the Republicans placed various holds on Bersin and the others and would not bring him to a vote. Thus, good for Obama in saying, Enough.

  • 'Virtually Speaking' Discussion with Bruce Schneier

    Here's the ideal candidate to run the TSA.

    On Thursday night, Jay Ackroyd interviewed Bruce "Mr. Sanity about Security" Schneier and me in an hour-long discussion session on Second Life. Web cast available here. Gentle hint to other radio and TV producers: Ackroyd has really figured out a nice way to promo his guests' books and other writing! You'll see what I mean.

    In this discussion, Schneier from his expert standpoint and I from my journalistic perspective are both pretty down on the one-way ratchet* of modern "security theater." It is easy to throw on new measures that seem as if they will make us "safe." For instance, the [moronic and indefensible] "current security level is Orange" announcements we have all heard so many times that they no longer even register on our eardrums. But it is practically impossible for an elected official to discuss the balance between security and liberty in a mature way, because the political risk of being blamed for some future attack, large or small, vastly outweighs the political risk of accepting the mounting costs in efficiency, freedoms, and general public IQ of security theater. See Schneier for more, or the webcast. Or this. (Past items from this site will be linked when our "categories" function returns.)

    On the other hand, once again there's a high-level job opening at the TSA. I am in a General Sherman mode regarding my own future public service. But I'll testify for Schneier as the new head of TSA when he is nominated.
    ___
    * Pedant alert: yes, I do realize that "one-way ratchet" is redundant, the salient feature of a ratchet being that it moves in only one direction. There are times when an addition that might literally be redundant can be helpful in clarification, in an "of course everyone already knows this, but just to speed the discussion I'll supply this extra clue" sense. Just trying to forestall those "gotcha" notes before they arrive!

  • A Big Day: Changing My Mind on "God Bless America"

    A reader argues that a rote formula may actually have a larger wisdom

    Starting with one of George W. Bush's early State of the Union addresses six or seven years ago, I have been waging my lonely campaign against the use of "God Bless the United States of America" at the end of presidential addresses to mean little more than, "The speech is over now." I am all in favor of God blessing America! I just don't want all speeches to have to end this way. Thanks to a reader note, I've now also seen this Time magazine item from 2008, confirming my view that Richard Nixon was the first president to use this ending as a noticeable device, but that Ronald Reagan was the one who made it tic-like and obligatory.*

    After yesterday's photographic proof that Barack Obama deliberately writes out this ending to his speeches, rather than ad-libbing it on, a reader wrote to say that he was in fact glad to hear the president talking this way. His argument:

    I have read your posts decrying the empty habit of American politicians ending every speech with "God Bless the United States of America" or some such thing.  Regarding the decline of American political rhetoric, you have a point.  But President Obama's use of this ending, forcefully and prominently delivered, has a larger purpose I think, which is to inoculate him from the scurrilous charge Republicans have in recent decades leveled at Democrats, that they are somehow anti-God. 

    I am not saying Obama doesn't believe what he's saying; I think he does invoke God's blessing on America.  I am suggesting he does it publicly and loudly to say:  I am patriotic, I love this country, this we share.  Perhaps if he owns this phrase, as it seems even the right-wing noise machine has allowed him to do without challenging his sincerity, it will someday lose its nasty undertone when used by right-wing demagogues:  I love this country, I love God, and my (liberal, Democrat) enemies do neither.  Then perhaps you will get your wish, and politicians will no longer feel compelled to end every speech with GBtUSA.  However, that may be a long time coming.  Thirty-five years after the end of the Vietnam War, the POW/MIA flag still flies everywhere, as if there were POWs in Southeast Asia still, with a visual political significance not unlike the GBtUSA ending:  I love our troops (and those liberal Democrats do not).

    OK. It's a fair point. I will now concede that most of President Obama's addresses (within the territorial U.S.) are likely to end with these words -- and that there's a larger logic to his approach. I'll put the campaign on hold until I can work on his successor.
    ____
    * For instance, from the Time piece: "Thirty-five years ago today [ie, April 30, 1973], something remarkable happened: A U.S. President concluded a major address with the words "God bless America." Today, that would not be a big deal. At the time, however, it was unprecedented. In fact, it was the first time in modern history that it had happened."

  • Well, Maybe Obama is not THAT Good a Speech Editor

    Nobody's perfect.

    I mentioned earlier this evening the extraordinary picture of a marked-up page of a presidential speech, showing ways in which Obama had improved the grace and cadence of various sentences.

    On the other hand:

    After looking more closely at the huge-scale version, I see that we now have photographic proof that the lamentable standard ending of his speeches is not some ad-libbed tic:

    GBABHO.png

    There's another line you could have crossed out there, Mr. President! Maybe the previous lines would have served as, you know, an "ending." They're not that bad!
    I still believe that we can act when it's hard.  I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress.  I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test. Because that's who we are.  That is our calling.  That is our character.
  • About That Extraordinary Photo of an Obama-edited Speech

    What we learn by looking over the president's shoulder.

    Many people have sent me notes about the official White House photo of Barack Obama working over the draft of a speech. The speech in question appears to have been his address about health-care reform to a Joint Session of Congress last September, which was the beginning of his campaign to recover from the long, hot "Summer of the Death Panels." Click on the shot below for a slightly larger version; go to the White House Flickr site here for a stupendously large original shot. (I heard about it through the following chain of leads: this linking to this linking to this.)

    SpeechDraftPhoto.png


    Having spent my time in the watching-speeches-get-edited business, here are the three things I thought as soon as I saw this picture:

         1) Has nobody ever heard of DOUBLE SPACE ?!?!?

         2) The volume of Obama's editing is unusual but not unheard of. The quality of his editing is exceptional for a public figure. Think of just one sentence in the shot above. The original says "This has always been our history." Obama changes it to, "This has always been the history of our progress." A different, more interesting, and more original-sounding thought. As people in my business say: You know, if things had turned out differently, he could've been a writer! (Yes, yes, I know that he was..)

        3) TelePrompter people? Ready to cry Uncle?
    ___
    Housekeeping note: having put up a week's worth, for me, of material in one day, I am planning to go dark for the next four or five days, as "real" writing finally impends. See you later.
  • Where Google and China Can Still Get Along

    At least in one area, Google is still working happily with a Chinese team.

    Yesterday I posted a note from a reader who wondered how broadly the ripples from the Google/China showdown might spread:

    Does this spell the end of Team Selene, the only China-based team now participating in Google Lunar X Prize? Good chance this might happen now.

    Through the magic of The Internets, I am happy to report that this specific fear, at least, is unfounded. Just now, a message from a person in position to know:

    As the Senior Director of Space Prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation, I can tell you that this is not the case. Team SELENE is still a fully enrolled competitor in the Google Lunar X PRIZE. Indeed, we would welcome any additional Chinese teams that care to register before the close of the registration window at the end of this year.  The Google Lunar X PRIZE is an incredibly international competition; our 20+ teams are headquartered in a dozen nations (including China), and team members are actively working in nearly 70 countries on every continent except Antarctica.  We're excited to have such a global community of talented and creative entrepreneurs all approaching the common goal of revolutionizing space exploration!...

     

    Best,

    Will

    William Pomerantz

    Senior Director, Space Prizes  |  X PRIZE Foundation

    As always, we take our good news wherever we can find it.

  • On Unusual Names

    The unexpected link between "James M. Fallows" and "Ta-Nehisi Coates."

    I am not 100% sure how I feel about this:


    LippmanFallows.png

    That's on the back cover of Laura Lippman's new-in-paperback book, Life Sentences, which I had to buy both because I've enjoyed her previous books, like What the Dead Know, and because, well, Cassandra Fallows?

    IMG_8443A.jpg

    My colleague Jeffrey Goldberg has written frequently about how you could run a medium-sized city all with people who bear his same name. I have a very common first name; and my middle name, which was my mother's family name, is so common in Scotland and its diaspora that every week I run into Mackenzie "cousins" who are not relations at all.

    That's never happened with my family name. I know that other Fallows families exist, mainly in England, but over the decades I have never run into someone with this name who wasn't immediate kin. Therefore it just feels strange to see it show up "in public" this way. My colleague TNC might know the feeling -- not when he meets someone else with the last name Coates but if he meets another Ta-Nehisi. 

    I hope the book is good. Actually, my more specific and limited hope is that "Cassandra Fallows" does not turn out to be so memorably malign a character that her last name lives on, like Scrooge or Gatsby or Ahab, as shorthand for a certain kind of character defect. As for her first name, I guess it's too late. No doubt I'm being too pessimistic. Cassandra-like, even. Perhaps I should be more like Candide and hope that the name could have the resonance of Don Quixote -- of Huckleberry Finn!
  • Two Ways of Looking at Google/China

    A picture is worth a thousand search-results. An editorial cartoon is worth even more.

    A suggestion for a new Google homepage look, as part of the series of seasonal images the company runs. This is from the Little Green River site; thanks to reader HZL.
     
    google-logo-t.png



    From my favorite newspaper, the China Daily, a less-heroic view of Google's motives and conduct through this whole affair:

    GoogChinaDaily.png

    Full reasoning here. Plus this somewhat different visual rendering of Google's situation:

    0022191099e00d14188009.jpg

    More from China Daily here and here. Quote from the second story: "Netizens said Tuesday Google's withdrawal from the Chinese mainland was only a 'publicity stunt' while experts believed the online search giant had abandoned its cheese when no others moved it." Can anyone wonder why I love this newspaper?

    Let a thousand opinions and editorial cartoons bloom.

  • Three Google / China Follow-Ups

    Several more ripple effects of Google's decision -- obvious, and otherwise.

    Reader responses:

    From a reader in America, about some space-and-satellite related implications:

    1) China cannot be pleased about trend it confronts with "Google Earth" even archive stuff.  See for example this [missile-defense emplacements for the Beijing Olympics]:

    20100310SHAHEZHENOLYMPICSAM.jpg

    2) Does this spell the end of Team Selene, the only China-based team now participating in Google Lunar X Prize? Good chance this might happen now .

    From a Chinese reader in Shanghai:

    Saw on twitter that people were sending condolence flowers to Google's office in Beijing yesterday.... Besides the flowers, there were also cups there. Cup is now a euphemism for "tragedy", because the two words, "Bei Ju", sounds the same in Chinese.http://img.ly/HVy

    But they were cleared away quickly by the police. Pic later yesterday night: http://img.ly/I1l

    From a Western reader who has been living in China:

    Google positions its departure as a principaled stand.  Nationalist idiots like [names deleted - JF] suggest that Google is pulling out because it lost the China market and is using "human rights" as face-saving cover while it slinks away, tail tucked between its legs.  Equally nationalist US media like the NYT just cannot stop their gasping, breathless praise of the principled sacrifice that Our Lord and Savior Google is making.

    I think they are both correct - the move is both pragmatic AND principled, but spinning the story as an either/or obscures a single major fact that eclipses all other considerations on the table when Google decided to leave China, namely: Google could never possibly be allowed to win in China, and they knew it.

    Here's why:

    More »

  • If You're in England and Looking for Something Good to Read...

    If you're thinking of learning Chinese, here's the place to start.

    ... let me humbly but enthusiastically suggest:


    101-cover.jpg

    Dreaming in Chinese, by Deborah Fallows*, officially on-sale in Britain next week, available for pre-order on the UK Amazon site here; publisher's page from the London-based publishing house Short Books here

    If you are resident in the New World, you may have to wait for the US edition, from Walker & Company, in September, complete with Americanized spelling and punctuation. In either case, you'll find out what you learn about modern China through learning Chinese. The author knows this based on being trained in linguistics and having learned a lot of other languages over the years, but she writes about love, life, and language in China in a jazzy style. I can attest first-hand to the time she invested in Chinese study over these past five or six years, including before we moved there in 2006. And to how many jams she got me out of, with what she was able to say!

    I could be biased, but I think it's great. Plus, sassy, funny, and linguistically informed. See for yourself.
    ____
    * My wife.
  • An Interview with David Drummond of Google

    "It was all part of the same repressive program, from our point of view."

    Just now I spoke on the phone with David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer and author of yesterday's Official Google Blog post about the company's new policies in China.

    Highlights from the discussion below. I was typing this down in real time, so it may be 98 rather than 100 percent faithful to what he actually said. The entire discussion was on the record.

    I began by asking what was non-obvious about the development -- an aspect of the story known on the inside that had not been captured in the public reports:

    It may not be quite obvious that this is not really a "shutdown" of either our operations in China or of our mainland China-focused web site. We have moved the physical location of it [to Hong Kong], and the virtual location. The experience we are trying to offer to Chinese users is like the one on Google.cn, but done without the censorship on our part.

    [Would this make any difference to users in mainland China, whose search results are still going to be "filtered" by the Great Firewall?] There is a difference in that we are censoring nothing. The Firewall can block access to certain kinds of search results regardless of how you get to them. They are treating Google.com.hk - treating it like Google.com [that is, as a foreign source that is screened by the Firewall]....

    People tended to see this as an all or nothing kind of battle between us and the Chinese government, and that based on what we said, we were either going to pull out of China entirely, or else say, Never Mind! From the beginning our view had been, we would like to stay in China and have an operation there and serve the market there, and serve it as locally as we can. We're just not willing to censor the search results any more.

    I think there has been some grumbling or people questioning whether this is some kind of "deal" with the Chinese government. That's not the case. We had conversations with the government. Would they be willing to lift the search- censorship  requirements, in terms of the substance and even more the lack of transparency? They made it clear that the self-censorship policy as it is now practiced was not going to change. 

    I then asked Drummond about something that has always puzzled me. If the original occasion for the shift of policy was (as generally reported) a hacking episode, why did it lead to a change in the censorship policy? What's the logical connection? He explained the reasoning in a way I hadn't seen before.
    The initial premise, that it all started from a hacking episode, is not quite right. We did have a hacking incident. Most hacking incidents that you see are freelancers -- maybe government sponsored, maybe not. They are out there trying to steal intellectual property, make some money. Or they might just be hackers who want to damage something for whatever reason. That's a fact of life that internet companies deal with all the time. 

    This attack, which was from China, was different. It was almost singularly focused on getting into Gmail accounts specifically of human rights activists, inside China or outside. They tried to do that through Google systems that thwarted them. On top of that, there were separate attacks, many of them, on individual Gmail users who were political activists inside and outside China. There were political aspects to these hacking attacks that were quite unusual.

    
That was distasteful to us. It seemed to us that this was all part of an overall system bent on suppressing expression, whether it was by controlling internet search results or trying to surveil activists. It is all part of the same repressive program, from our point of view. We felt that we were being part of that. 

    That was the direct connection with the hacking incident. It wasn't in isolation. Since the Beijing Olympics, our experience in China has gotten worse. Although we have gained market share, it has become more and more difficult for us to operate there. Particularly when it comes to censorship. We have had to censor more. More and more pressure has been put on us. It has gotten appreciably worse -- and not just for us, for other internet companies too. 

    So we increasingly came to feel that the original premise of our entry into China was being undermined. We thought when we went in that we could help to open the country  and things could get better by our being there. Things seemed to be getting worse.
    And what happens now?
    We don't know what to expect. We have done what we have done. We are fully complying with Chinese law. We're not operating our search engine within the Firewall any more.  We will continue to talk with them about how to operate our other services. 

    We originally went to them with a request [for a change in the filtering rules]. They made it clear that the self-censorship system was the law there and it wasn't going to change. We'll keep talking with them about everything else.
    Finally I asked why Google had not stopped censoring its results more quickly, at the time it announced its changed policy on January 12 or soon afterwards. Was it mainly concerned about legal jeopardy for its employees in China? Is it concerned about them now?
    We certainly hope they are not at risk. They had nothing to do with these decisions, and what we are doing is within Chinese law. So there should not be any reason for them to be at risk.

    We did not stop censoring immediately because we wanted to engage with the government about how and whether we could keep operating. And if self-censorship is the law, we weren't  interested in blatantly violating the Chinese law within the Firewall --much as we disagree with that law. As I said in the blog post, it was hard to sort this through. But we needed a way to continue that was consistent with our principles.
  • Going To Hell #999: Maybe We're Not

    The impact of a presidential win today on presidential power tomorrow.

    As soon as I find a video link to President Obama's comments just now on passage of the health-care reform bill, I will put it up and say a little more about his theme and performance. (Hint: I will welcome and thank anyone who can send such a link.) Listening to it in real time, I was struck by the forcefulness of the ending, which was less about the health-care issue itself than about the overall question of how the American political system can deal with largest-scale public challenges. It was as passionate as I have heard this always-"cool" character ever sound on any theme. Update: thanks to reader Jeffrey Schroeder, the link is here, and an embedded player is below. The whole thing is effective, but the part I'm referring to begins just before time 14:00 and runs for the next two minutes. Very last words of the speech are unfortunate, but otherwise...

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    The question is of interest to me because of the fundamental "Is America going to hell" issue I raised in this article -- and have discussed in a series of reader "going to hell" responses that I was posting last month. Until our "categories" feature is repaired, I can't do a link to the whole series; after the jump, and thanks to reader Joshua Cypess, a list of specific item links.

    I have many more responses in the queue, which I'll rev up again soon.  For the moment, one more reader response. This is part of a note sent by a political veteran, now in private business, to his Democratic Congressmen, who has decided not to run for re-election and was one of the "undecideds" until the very end. The note was written just a day before the vote; a day after the vote, it's worth reflecting on this passage. It alludes to the late professor Richard Neustadt, the great theorist of presidential power. From the letter urging the Representative to vote for the bill:

    What are the consequences for the country if the President and Congressional Democrats fail on tomorrow's vote? Professor Richard Neustadt did a good job teaching generations of students (including me) that the president's power to accomplish things in the future is always driven by his success or failure in getting things done today. It's terribly unfortunate that we find ourselves in the awful and presumably once-avoidable situation that we do today. It's terrible that the mess in Congress has driven out or otherwise cost us thoughtful Members such as you. But, having said all that, I can't see any good for the country coming from losing the vote tomorrow. I can see a whole lot of harm.  I'm sure you can, too.

    It may be galling for you to "reward" the Leadership, the White House, the bill's proponents with your vote. But I hope you'd find it abhorrent to reward the other side.

    This Representative finally voted "Aye."
    ________

    More »

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