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China's shoddy school construction could destabilize regime

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Over at China Rises, Tim Johnson reports that most Chinese "seem content" with their government's rescue efforts after the Sichuan quake on Monday. But Johnson also notes that, politically speaking, it's a "fluid situation" for China's ruling Communists.

Among the developments to watch in coming days is growing public anger over the shoddy construction of schools in rural China. Among the dead are a massive number of children. Many parents are already asking: Why did the schools collapse when other government buildings remained standing?

Answering that question could pose a potentially destabilizing challenge for the Beijing regime. The NYT's Jim Yardley has more in a must-read today:

[E]nraged parents interviewed at the morgue on Wednesday afternoon and early Thursday morning say local officials lied to the prime minister to hide the true toll at Xinjian, which they estimate at more than 400 dead children. Several parents blamed local officials for a slow initial rescue response and questioned the structural safety of the school building. They were also furious that officials forbade them to search for their children for two days and then allowed access to the bodies only after the parents formed an ad hoc committee to complain.... Several parents wanted an investigation into the construction quality of school buildings in Dujiangyan. They say six schoolhouses collapsed in the city, even as other government buildings remain standing. One man said officials built two additional stories on the Xinjian school even though it had failed a safety inspection two years ago — allegations that could not be verified.

Much of the questionable engineering and construction can probably be tied to local level corruption, and it will be interesting to see if anti-official sentiments continue to grow in this regard. At the Far Eastern Economic Review, Michael Zhao reports that they already are: "we are hearing increasing reports of discontent, even outrage, with officialdom’s response.... There is a powerful linkage in Chinese political culture, including at the populist level, between natural disasters and state failure...." Seems "Grandpa Wen" and his cohorts are hardly out of the woods just yet.

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McCain's dictator problem

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Yesterday, John McCain's campaign announced that the candidate's wife Cindy has sold off $2 million she held in mutual funds that include Sudanese businesses. The Wall Street Journal also reported that McCain shares a consulting firm with the Vladimir Putin-backed Party of the Regions in Ukraine.

This follows last weekend's firing of McCain's mid-Atlantic regional manager and convention CEO when it was revealed that they had lobbied for the Burmese government in Washington. McCain, who fancies himself the scourge of totalitarian regimes worldwide, has now vowed to do a more thorough job vetting his campaign hirings.

To be fair, there's no evidence that his wife's investments or his advisors' lobbying ties have in any way influenced McCain's stances on these countries. Indeed, McCain has always been an outspoken supporter of Ukraine's Orange Revolution and has called for international action against the "thugs" in the Burmese junta. But this has been an election where candidates have been judged by their associations (see: Wright, Jeremiah) as much or more than by their positions, statements, and political record. So McCain's new caution about who gets a seat on the straight-talk express is probably a smart move.