July 2006
By Alan W. Dowd

China Syndrome: People’s Republic of Corruption
Beijing’s brand of authoritarian politics is spawning a dangerous mix of crony capitalism, rampant corruption and widening inequality,” warns MinxinPei, director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Pointing to “an incestuous relationship between the state and major industries,” Pei details an eye-opening swirl of scandal.

-“An average of 140,000 party officials and members were caught in corruption scandals each year of the 1990s.” But only 5.6 percent were criminally prosecuted.

-In 2004, 170,850 party apparatchiks were implicated, and just 2.9 percent were prosecuted.

-The party appoints 81 percent of the CEOs who run China’s state-owned industries.

-In this land of supposed socialist equality, income disparity has increased by 50 percent since the 1970s, “making China one of the most unequal societies in Asia.”

If government corruption and graft in China seem irrelevant, consider this: Court documents indicate that a corrupt Chinese general, in league with a corrupt state-run company and a corrupt customs official, made a deal with a California man named Chao Tung Wu to smuggle Chinese anti-aircraft missiles into the United States. Thankfully, the plan was foiled by an FBI sting operation. But as the Washington Times has reported, it could have triggered a terrifying chain of events.

Wu and another man, Yi Qing Chen, offered to be the conduits for 200 shoulder-fired missiles, complete with all the launching hardware, according to the Times. Their price was just over $18 million. According to the Times report, Wu told an undercover agent that “he had met with officials in China and that the daughter of the president of Cambodia would get a $2 million bribe for facilitating the arms deal. The two men sought to mask the missile deal by producing a forged letter saying the purchaser was the Defense Ministry of Paraguay.”

Six Flags over Baghdad?
Iraq’s postwar war rumbles on, but it isn’t stopping a handful of optimists and visionaries from thinking big about Iraq’s future. In the region surrounding the ancient city of Babylon, local leaders and international developers are planning to turn the ruins of war and of history into a tourist attraction, as the New York Times reported recently.

Emad Lafta al-Bayati, the mayor of nearby Hilla, told the Times he wants “restaurants, gift shops, long parking lots.” He even envisions a Holiday Inn in the area.

Development officials have noted that some sort of theme park could be developed in and around the region rich in history. The UN’s Philippe Delanghe told the Times that “cultural tourism could become Iraq’s second biggest industry, after oil.”

“One day millions of people will visit Babylon,” according to an Iraqi official specializing in antiquities. “I’m just not sure anybody knows when.”

The Marine Corps intends to deploy its MV-22 Osprey into combat zones by February 2007. A training squadron of the controversial heli-planes—which can fly as a helicopter or a propeller-powered plane—is now based at Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina, including 250 personnel and nine Ospreys.

The innovative tilt-rotor aircraft has drawn fire from critics because of its $19-billion price tag and safety concerns. Osprey development accidents have killed and injured dozens of personnel.

Still, the Marines need the Osprey: The AP reports that the USMC’s aging CH-46E helicopters “are so worn out they can’t carry a full payload.” The Osprey flies faster and up to five times further, while carrying more payload, than the CH-46E.

Environmentally Unconscious: Hypocrisy with a Capitol H
While covering a Capitol Hill rally on rising gas prices and oil consumption, The Washington Post caught some examples of what passes for conservation inside the Beltway.

-Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) railed against the spiraling cost of gas and then “hopped in a waiting Chrysler LHS (18 mpg)—even though her Senate office was only a block away.”

-Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) took a GMC Yukon (14 mpg) from the Senate to his office.

-Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) made the block-long journey in a Nissan Pathfinder (15 mpg).

-A Dodge Durango (14 mpg) picked up Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).

-Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the same senator who criticized the White House because it “remains opposed to higher fuel-efficiency standards,” took a Ford Explorer (14 mpg) from the Senate back to his office.

-All told, “The House driveway was jammed with cars, many idling, including eight Chevrolet Suburbans (14 mpg).”

But amid the haze and fumes of SUV exhaust, the Post saw at least one example of responsible leadership. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) traveled to and from the Senate in a hybrid Toyota Prius (60 mpg).  

As a contributing editor to The American Legion, Dowd writes columns and news briefs on national security, foreign affairs and U.S. politics each month for the magazine's "Rapid Fire" section.