I just returned from a junket to Georgia (the country, not the state), a trip which, when you peel away the layers, was ultimately underwritten by the government in Tbilisi. Obviously, the PR companies that handle such trips—and they are, in this case, firms affiliated with both Republicans and Democrats—are paid to make their clients look good in America, though they go to great lengths to include opposition figures and voices critical of the government they represent, and the journalists brought along typically represent a wide range of views. Obviously, they do this knowing that Western writers are generally skeptical people, not likely to trust the word of some droopy-faced apparatchik droning on about the bountiful leek harvest or the Dear Leader's penchant for shooting multiple holes-in-one per round of gold. (Yes, yes. I used the qualifier generally.)
But True/Slant blogger Ethan Epstein notices that the ghosts of Lincoln Steffens and Beatrice Webb were spotted this week in China, inhabiting the bodies of expert-in-everything bloggers Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein. (Yglesias, who once took a junket to Sweden and is constantly telling us free-market types the "truth" about Scandinavia, as revealed to him by his Social Democratic minders, recently blogged about some guy named "Frank Reinfelt," who is said to be Sweden's prime minister.) Epstein notes that the two precocious lefty bloggers were brought to a Potemkin village for China's "displaced." Here is what they saw:
Klein and Yglesias' group was taken to tour a spanking-new village built on the outskirts of the northern city of Dalian. As Yglesias describes it, "back in 2006 the former "village" of rudimentary structures was razed and the government constructed a large and extremely nice park (it's in a very scenic area), reforested the hillsides, and constructed a series of apartment complexes. The former villagers now live in modest but up-to-date structures." But don't worry about the forcibly displaced, Yglesias admonishes us, because, "[w]e spoke to one retired couple who was given four apartments—they live in one and rent out the other three to families who've either moved out to Cha'an from the central city or else moved to the area from less prosperous regions of China. The town's current party boss said he was given five apartments." Klein's coverage on the website of the Washington Post was equally credulous. He informed his audience, "A conversation with some residents revealed that they didn't just get one free apartment in the new building. They got four free apartments, three of which they were now renting out. And medical coverage. And money for furnishings. And a food stipend. And — I'm not kidding, by the way — birthday cakes on their birthdays. Sweet deal."
Jesus. I doubt even John Reed would believe that every Stakhanovite comrade in Minsk got four free tractors and a bag of blinis on his birthday. And if Yglesias knew as much about Sweden as he claimed, he might have recognized this type of propaganda when Jan Myrdal filed his Report from a Chinese Village, celebrating Mao's disastrous Great Leap Forward.