Friday, February 01, 2008

The World's Largest Human Migration

These are a couple of pictures that were recently taken at the main rail station in Guǎngzhōu, one of China's largest cities. I've heard it said that the annual return of workers from China's cities to their home districts is one of the largest migrations in human history. For example, hundreds of millions of passengers (essentially a number the size of the entire US population) clog the rails during the Spring Festival travel season, which runs from about two weeks before the Lunar New Year and ends more than a month later.

Why do so many people travel around Chūnjié? Well, as China has industrialized over the past several decades, millions and millions of people (oftentimes, but not always, working age husbands and fathers) have left their villages in search of work in China's mega-cities. Their families stay behind, while they live in cramped, shared quarters near the factories where they make our iPods (and pretty much everything else we own). In many instances, they have one and only one chance each year to return home and spend time with their families.

This year, the trip home has been particularly taxing. For weeks, bad weather has plagued the central and southern regions of China. Shànghǎi has had its biggest snowfall in decades. Icy roads and power lines have caused widespread outages and slowed the movement of coal around the country. In terms of the human migration, millions (yes, millions) of people have been stranded at rail stations, with the government urging them to stay where they are rather than fight a balky transportation system and continued poor travel conditions.

So what are some of the stranded workers saying about all of this?

"The central government actually cares a lot about us migrant workers, but there is just nothing anyone can do about this worsening weather."

"We in the North eat dumplings during the holiday, but people in the South don't. Southern food really tastes terrible. It's really going to be different celebrating the New Year here."

Pride in country and pride in one's local cuisine...all of these weather problems have obviously not made much of a dent in two of the defining features of Chinese society today.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Next President of the United States

Until recently (yesterday morning, actually...), my unwavering prediction has been that Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president of the United States. I've been walking around for a year saying this to anyone who would listen (essentially Desi...).

But I'm now changing my tune and calling for a win by John McCain this fall. I've (perhaps too rashly) come to this conclusion for a couple of reasons.

The main reason is that the election should once again come down to a few key states, like Florida and Ohio, that resemble the United States as a whole in their composition. In other words, the reliably red states will once again be red and the reliably blue states will once again be blue. I don't see too many states shifting enough to change this underlying dynamic of contemporary American politics.

(An important exception could be our next door neighbor, Virginia. Virginia looks less and less like a Southern state and more and more like a "microcosm" state, with blue-leaning center cities and red-leaning country in between. What this does is put another state in play, which is good news for Democrats, both this year and beyond.)

But, you say, what if there is a transformational candidate running for president (read: Barack Obama)? My logic here is based on Clinton winning the Democratic nomination (which I still think is the most likely outcome, even though she appears to be swimming upstream at this very moment).

As I see it, in a year where history and current political realities suggest that events should break in the favor of the Democrats, a McCain-Clinton match up has a lot to offer Republicans:

A Clinton on the ballot will mobilize the Republican base. None of the Republican contenders have managed to do this, that's for sure.

A McCain candidacy may very well appeal to so-called "security moms." McCain has not had to appear "scary" conservative during the Republican primary and much of his record in the Senate plays well among independent-minded voters.

But won't conservatives just stay home, rather than hold their noses and pull the lever for McCain? Not likely (thanks Billary!). I think the real danger for McCain would be a right-wing insurgency campaign, which I just don't see materializing. Who is a credible standard bearer, after all? The reason the Republican candidates are tripping over themselves vying for the Reagan mantle is that none of them can easily claim it. Plain and simply, the conservative wing of the party appears to be leaderless at the moment.

Leaderless at perhaps just the "right" moment for the party as a whole...