Different times

May 22nd, 2017

Sun:

The budget for the White House staff was 13 million dollars in 1963. It is 709 million in 2017. The number of secret service agents has expanded exponentially and there are more jets available for officials than small countries have in total. When Vice President Lyndon Johnson went to Dallas for that fateful weekend in the tranquil fall of 1963, he flew commercial. His home telephone number was listed in the D.C. public phone book.

Bonus: this guy sounds like he has a show on CNN.

Aha!

May 21st, 2017

NRO

In 2016, each of the top 13 films at the box office was either a superhero fantasy or a cartoon

Hmmm, that fits the times we’re in. Wonder if any of them will make the top ten list. As we write this Breakfast at Tiffany’s is on. We didn’t know it was written by Truman Capote, who we almost ran over in a cab a few blocks away at Bloomingdale’s.

Chew on this

May 20th, 2017

CSIS:

With regard to meat products, China has witnessed an astronomical increase in consumption from a mere 7 million tons in 1975 to 75 million tons last year. China now consumes roughly 50 kilograms (kg) of meat per capita. This, combined with its massive population of 1.4 billion people, has made China the largest consumer of meat in the world. In terms of per capita meat consumption, China still falls behind countries like Australia and the United States (93 and 97 kg per capita, respectively), but well ahead of Japan’s 35.6 kg per capita. While domestic production has increased, meat imports have become an increasingly important component of China’s food security. China’s 3.6 million tons of meat imports in 2016 represents a several thousand percent increase from the mid-1970s.

China’s exploding demand for meat can be attributed to the changing nature of Chinese demographics. China’s ongoing economic development has sparked the largest urban migration in the history of the world, with an estimated 83 million – or 60 percent of China’s total population – expected to permanently reside in cities by 2020. By comparison, the World Bank estimates that India’s urban population will increase by 44 million in the coming years, accounting for just 1.7 percent of its total population. The rising income level of China’s growing urban middle class has corresponded with a shift away from a traditionally grain-oriented diet to an increasingly meat-heavy intake.

While fish has always been a staple of the Chinese diet, it is becoming an increasingly important source of protein. China’s per capita fish consumption grew at an average annual rate of five percent between 1990 and 2013. At 37.9 kg of per capita consumption, residents of China eat more fish than any other people, and significantly more than the world average of 19.7 kg. To meet this demand, China’s global fishing activities have exploded. China is the largest producer of fish products, with 76.1 million tons of production in 2014. China is the world leader in terms of both aquatic capture (harvesting wild sea creatures) at 14 million tons and aquaculture (rearing and farming sea creatures in controlled environments) production, at 58.8 million tons. By comparison, Indonesia ranked second in total production with a harvest of 20 million tons.

Impressive progress. Under Mao, GDP per capita was almost nothing, and now it’s around a quarter of that of the US. US GDP per capita is almost 100x that of North Korea. We’ll check in on Venezuela in a couple of years.

Hey, we could have linked to Pacifica conspiracy theories, or genies from great Saturday morning TV shows who are now threatening doggies, but we like to maintain a high tone. Higher than this, at a minimum.

Technology bailout?

May 19th, 2017

Some are skeptical of the New Silk Road strategy of Xi Jinping, and of course it may not work as planned. A 40 year loan at 2-3% interest is not really much of a loan; it’s more like equity. And the infrastructure spending itself may not improve productivity much. But consider what China might be able to do if it can extend its stretch of growth by a decade or two, even if it uses every debt trick in the book (and then some — $9 trillion) to do so. Some parts of the future are so unlike the past in China: a country with no aviation industry not that long ago will see passenger aircraft fleets going from 2800 to 6000 in ten years, and will see its version of FedEx fleets growing 5-10x during the same period. Wow! A dozen years ago we mused about the remarkable changes that technology wrought in a very short period of time — and that was before the iPhone. Absent a WWIII (a big if) the pace of technological change will continue to accelerate. It’s certainly possible that China’s imprudent financing of vast infrastructure spending will get a bailout as machine intelligence continues to improve productivity in ways hard to imagine now.

This and that

May 18th, 2017

This

The application for the inaugural students asks aspiring Social Justice Advocates to explain their interest in social justice, list their preferred gender pronouns (such as “zi” and “hir”), and describe any experience they have in facilitating workshops on “social justice” issues. Be a part of the BEST (Bruin Excellence & Student Transformation) inaugural Social Justice Advocates initiative supported by VC Kang’s office and Residential Life. We are seeking 8-10 Social Justice Advocates! The Social Justice Advocates initiative aims to empower students by developing them as conscious and critical leaders and equipping them with cultural and political capital as they navigate a world that operates on whiteness, patriarchy, and heteronormativity as the primary ideologies. Social Justice Advocates will learn about systems oppression and how they intersect and build upon one another maintain the status quo. Most importantly individuals and the collective will be empowered through liberatory scholarship and practices and strengthening their emotional intelligence to create change within their spheres of influence. students will be paid a quarterly stipend.

That

If you look at any thread about Trump, Islam or immigration on a Chinese social media platform these days, it’s impossible to avoid encountering the term baizuo, or literally, the ‘white left’. It first emerged about two years ago, and yet has quickly become one of the most popular derogatory descriptions for Chinese netizens to discredit their opponents in online debates. So what does ‘white left’ mean in the Chinese context, and what’s behind the rise of its (negative) popularity? It might not be an easy task to define the term, for as a social media buzzword and very often an instrument for ad hominem attack, it could mean different things for different people. A thread on “why well-educated elites in the west are seen as naïve “white left” in China” on Zhihu, a question-and-answer website said to have a high percentage of active users who are professionals and intellectuals, might serve as a starting point. The question has received more than 400 answers from Zhihu users, which include some of the most representative perceptions of the ‘white left’. Although the emphasis varies, baizuo is used generally to describe those who “only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment” and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”.

And a little flashback.

The breathtaking sweep of the New Silk Road initiatives

May 17th, 2017

First, look at this graphic to view the vast geographic sweep of the New Silk Road. Now let’s consider that hundreds of billions of dollars are being loaned to poor countries that can’t repay them, and where 40 year loans with no amortization for 10 years get interest rates of 2-3%. Reuters:

Behind China’s trillion-dollar effort to build a modern Silk Road is a lending program of unprecedented breadth, one that will help build ports, roads and rail links, but could also leave some banks and many countries with quite a hangover. At the heart of that splurge are China’s two policy lenders, China Development Bank (CDB) and Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM), which have between them already provided $200 billion in loans throughout Asia, the Middle East and even Africa. They are due to extend at least $55 billion more, according to announcements made during a lavish two-day Belt and Road summit in Beijing

In Indonesia, CDB has offered a 40-year concessionary loan, without asking for government debt guarantees, to finance 75% of the $5.29 billion Jakarta-Bandung Railway, Indonesia’s first high-speed railway and a model infrastructure project for China’s Belt and Road effort. The loans carry a 10-year grace period. A 60% portion is denominated in U.S. dollars carrying a 2% interest rate, and the remaining 40% calculated in Chinese yuan, carrying a 3.4% rate, according to a note by Bank of China International.

Forty-seven of China’s 102 central-government-owned conglomerates participated in 1,676 Belt and Road projects, according to government statistics. China Communications Construction Group alone has notched up $40 billion of contracts and built 10,320 kilometres of road, 95 deepwater ports, 10 airports, 152 bridges and 2,080 railways in Belt and Road countries.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China participated in 212 Belt and Road projects,
providing $67.4 billion in credit in total, Chairman Yi Huiman said on Monday. Bank of China plans to offer $100 billion in credit to such projects by year-end.

For Laos, one of Asia’s poorest countries, the $7 billion cost for the China-Laos railway was more than half its 2015 gross domestic product. Its concessionary loan from EXIM was set below 3% interest.

The Reuters piece notes that China is owed $65 billion by Venezuela, but this situation is different because of the connectivity of the parties via the New Silk Road itself. National Interest:

Chinese ambitions now go far beyond just clearing a trade route. Beijing is building a naval base in Djibouti to help overwatch its expanding global network. The Chinese are also shifting resources into their “gator navy”—a mix of maritime forces that could potentially be deployed to protect their sea lines of communications. Meanwhile, China continues to expand its military influence into the Indian Ocean.

Put it all together, and it’s clear that China is shifting from a remote presence to (A) a neighbor whose sidewalk extends to Europe’s front door and (B) a significant player in the global commons that Europeans previously plied without much likelihood of ever crossing paths with a Chinese frigate.

“Beijing is pledging tens of billions of dollars of investment and aid and signing major cooperation agreements with everyone from the Republic of Georgia to Romania to Belarus, and in the process is gaining political influence and beginning to reshape the geopolitics of the region,” scholar Paul Coyer wrote in 2015, “This influence will come at the expense both of Russia and of the West.”

In 2012, Beijing initiated the “16+1 initiative,” a dialogue between China and central and eastern European countries. The “sixteen” comprise eleven member states of the European Union (Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) and five Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina Montenegro Serbia and Macedonia). The initiative’s extensive portfolio encompasses “the fields of investments, transport, finance, science, education, and culture.”

Xi Jinping is taking advantage of historically low interest rates, China’s massive finance industry, and its breathtaking industrial overcapacity to create one of the major strategic initiatives of all time. How well it works in the long run remains to be seen, since, among other issues, the loans being made carry greater risk to China’s financial system, since they are outside the closed loop of China’s internal lending system. But for today, this looks like a brilliant stroke. Meanwhile, as Wretchard notes, “the West was busy guarding against the perils of climate change and politically incorrect attitudes.” Ugh.

We need a new word

May 16th, 2017

TRUMPOCALYPSE is at once too large and too small and too person-centered to describe what is going on with the SJW’s, colleges, and media hysteria we’re seeing. Suggestions welcome.

New Silk Road update

May 15th, 2017

WSJ:

Opening a two-day meeting with leaders from 29 countries and officials from dozens more on hand, President Xi Jinping said Sunday his plan to knit Asia, Europe and Africa more closely through infrastructure will require going beyond economic and financial arrangements. To ensure success, he said, countries should give up old alliances and create a new international security framework. Mr. Xi portrayed China as a committed free trader and pledged more than $100 billion in new financing and assistance for projects and countries involved in an updated revival of ancient Silk Road trading routes.

This Silk Road reboot, known as “One Belt, One Road,” — which envisions constructing networks of ports, railways, pipelines and industrial parks — is Mr. Xi’s grandest foreign-policy initiative. Mr. Xi said over the last three years China has invested more than $50 billion in Silk Road countries, and Chinese officials have branded the venture as a new form of globalization, one that is more inclusive and fairer than previous tides of world commerce. Its two-year-old Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank inducted seven new members this weekend, including Bahrain, Greece and Bolivia, bringing the total to 77.

This is called turning a problem into an opportunity. China has vast overcapacity in infrastructure industries like cement and steel. Putting that overcapacity to use in helping build and finance major infrastructure projects for its neighbors is smart both politically and economically.

Bonus fun update: Mr. Putin will attend the meeting, but the NYT didn’t detail which election they will try to rig.

What do these things have in common?

May 14th, 2017

Q: Strange Brew, Sundown, Bourrée, My Sunday Feeling, BS&T medley with and without Al Kooper, Perry Mason theme, old and new ad jingles, Super Session’s Season of the Witch, Sunny, various things by the Association, etc. A: the first of these are what someone who wakes up at 5am hears for a half hour, in that order. You think that’s weird? The Newport Jazz Festival in 1969, which we attended, featured Jethro Tull, Jeff Beck, the Mothers of Invention, Sly and the Family Stone, and Ten Years After, among others. We may have an unusual playlist in our mind feeding us toons, but what’s George Wein’s excuse?

Duh, we figured it out. For a while we have pondered, with some concern, the fact that we have melodies, soundtracks, and lyrics appearing, as if out of nowhere, in our mind, often as we were waking from deep sleep. Unusual, we thought, possibly very odd.

But how did Mozart do Eine Kleine Nachtmusik? How did Bach do Toccata in d minor and all the rest that we know so well, like the cello suites? It seems that the answer is that, in part, the melodies appeared to them. We’re just a lowly creature in that universe, though we must say we’ve enjoyed the new little tunes that came to us. However, when your song begins “Tiny Poolbug you sure look cute, when you’re wearing your birthday suit,” you ought to seek another line of work, or perhaps professional counseling. Ha Ha.

White Tower, sandwiches that look like meat, that’s the kind we like to eat. Hamburgers, coffee there is extra large, that’s the way they hide the frogs. (Georgetown, anti-war DC demonstration 1971. Grrr.)

Today’s chuckle

May 14th, 2017

Pretty good.

Venezuela gets noticed

May 13th, 2017

NYT

Cheers erupted as the protesters toppled the statue of former President Hugo Chávez, the metal cracking against concrete. The scenes, distributed around Venezuela on social media, showed a crowd smashing the sculpture on a curbside as others came to set a fire inside its shattered belly. But when the authorities rounded up suspects for the vandalism, they were not taken to an ordinary court. Instead, they were hauled off to a military base, where they faced the judges of a military tribunal this past week.

President Nicolás Maduro, beleaguered by a second month of protests against his rule, has prosecuted political rivals under terrorism laws and expanded his powers by emergency decrees. His backers on the Supreme Court have even tried to dissolve the national legislature, which is led by the political opposition. Now, the president is turning to military courts to tighten his grip further, prosecuting demonstrators and other civilians in tribunals that the government closely controls.

At least 120 people have been jailed by military courts since early April, when demonstrators began taking to the streets to call for new elections, according to Penal Forum, a legal group assisting those arrested. Another group monitoring cases, Provea, counted at least 90 people jailed by the military. Both groups contend that the country has never used the military courts against so many civilians this way outside of wartime.

“Military justice sows the greatest terror in our population,” said Juan Miguel Matheus, an opposition congressman in the state of Carabobo. He said at least 69 people there had been jailed by the military since early April. Those held include students, store owners, mechanics and farmers, rights groups say. An entire family was arraigned before a military tribunal in Caracas this past week and charged with inciting rebellion. In one case in the city of Valencia, two people were brought before military courts on suspicion of stealing legs of ham during a round of looting — then charged with rebellion as well, according to Penal Forum. “They are being treated like they are combatants,” said Alfredo Romero, the director of the legal group. “It’s taking civil jurisdiction and putting it in the hands of the military, like we are in a war.”

Many see another reason for the military crackdown against the protesters: The president’s power is declining within his own leftist party, especially among its law enforcers. Venezuela has witnessed large street mobilizations in the past, most notably in 2014, when hundreds were detained. But while protesters were jailed, tortured and killed that year, they were largely tried by civilian courts controlled by leftist judges and prosecutors. This year has been different. Luisa Ortega, the attorney general who oversaw the prosecutions in 2014, publicly broke with Mr. Maduro in March after the Supreme Court tried to dissolve the opposition-led legislature. The president backtracked soon afterward.

“They’re using military courts because the president is assured of the outcome there,” said Tamara Taraciuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. “It’s not a coincidence that the moment the government feels they don’t control the attorney general, they look elsewhere to see that they can lock up dissidents.”

The use of military courts to try civilian cases has long been shunned internationally. Nearly all countries, including Venezuela, are part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a United Nations treaty that discourages the practice as unfair. The unrest, however, is the biggest challenge to the leftist government since protesters marched to the presidential palace in 2002, setting off a coup that briefly deposed Mr. Chávez, the leader of the political movement that Mr. Maduro inherited after Mr. Chávez died in 2013. This time, with hundreds of thousands of people pouring into the streets to demand new elections to replace Mr. Maduro, clashes between demonstrators and security forces have left at least 40 dead, hundreds injured and scores of businesses looted. Fueling the anger is the worst economic crisis in recent memory in Venezuela, where more than two years of low oil prices have led to shortages of food and medicine and skyrocketing street crime

Mr. Maduro said he had expanded the role of the armed forces in a “strategic civil-military plan to guarantee the country functions.” He warned that the opposition had “called for a coup d’état” and that the punishments would be tripled for such offenses. The president has since described the protests as acts of terrorism that would be treated legally as such. A call to the Venezuelan Information Ministry for comment was not returned. This month, Nestor Reverol, the interior minister, said on Twitter that the tribunals would be used. “Military courts will be in charge of all investigations that are necessary of these TERRORISTS hired by the right,” he wrote

If a coup d’etat is in the offing, better have a couple of pieces in advance of it. We note that the NYT has not returned the Duranty Pulitzer, which perhaps indicates which side the paper is on.

Compare and contrast

May 12th, 2017

Apocalypse or meh, you decide. We must say, we enjoy the hysteria. The thing that the media have controlled is the narrative, silencing the disagreers by their power to demonize them. It worked great. Now it does not, and it has maken them insane. Hence the Apocalypse, when very little is in fact going on.

Huh?

May 11th, 2017

WSJ:

DHL says it would cost about $5,000 and take three weeks to send a 20-ton container by rail to Hamburg from Chengdu in southwestern China. By air, it costs $30,000 and takes a week; by ocean, $2,000 and seven weeks.

4705 miles, 40,000 pounds, and it takes a week?

Blasts from the past, or future

May 10th, 2017

Jeff Jacoby has a very nice piece on Herman Wouk, who is still with us at 102. The Caine Mutiny (on TCM the other day) was, along with Fail-Safe, one of the first non-kids books we recall reading and enjoying. Speaking of the Fail-Safe theme, and in recognition of today’s genius, here’s a piece from a decade ago entitled “The logic of nuclear terrorism is that retaliation becomes the crime.” Enjoy!

Interesting business reading

May 9th, 2017

Last month Avolon bought the aircraft leasing business of CIT, making it the number three lessor globally. Here’s a discussion of the amazing past and projected growth of China’s aviation industry. Enjoy!

Non-partisan comment of the day

May 9th, 2017

This fellow Rosenstein seems solid and advances good arguments. However, Comey has seemed really weird to us from the get-go. To this day we don’t understand his backing and forthing, in public and on TV no less. In college his senior thesis was on Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell — huh???? We seem to recall comparing Origen and Augustine in a paper in college which actually makes some sense (we won’t go into it here). Anyhow, Comey always seemed to us in over his head so it’s good he’s gone.

But you see, it’s a Watergate cover-up because Putin did that bad thing and now we need to unearth Sam Ervin and Howard Baker, and, and, and. Sigh.

A lot of time on their hands

May 9th, 2017

Indeed. You know, we’d like to comment on current events and so forth (e.g., the horribleness of sharia in Europe and the incredible West of the last hundred years) but there’s no point today. There’s no overlap of our views versus the opposition. None. The Left views us as idiots for seeing that there’s no catastrophic or even meaningful climate change, though we’ve personally witnessed temperature changes in a single year of over 110 degrees! Yawn. We’ll probably continue to fund this little website but meaningful debate is over and done. Since the academy now has gone full Stalinist on its nonsense, there’s no hope until vicious reality intrudes on the dreamers (hitting us too). Unless something changes drastically for good reasons, it’s going to take another Pearl Harbor for a major course change back to reality. Pray it isn’t an EMP.

Needed: more trade schools, fewer college graduates

May 8th, 2017

Exhibit A. Exhibit B. Exhibit C. Any questions?

Disgusting

May 7th, 2017

WSJ:

Jean Pierre Planchart, a year old, has the drawn face of an old man and a cry that is little more than a whimper. His ribs show through his skin. He weighs just 11 pounds. His mother, Maria Planchart, tried to feed him what she could find combing through the trash—scraps of chicken or potato. She finally took him to a hospital in Caracas, where she prays a rice-milk concoction keeps her son alive. “I watched him sleep and sleep, getting weaker, all the time losing weight,” said Ms. Planchart, 34 years old. “I never thought I’d see Venezuela like this.” Her country was once Latin America’s richest, producing food for export. Venezuela now can’t grow enough to feed its own people in an economy hobbled by the nationalization of private farms, and price and currency controls.

Venezuela has the world’s highest inflation—estimated by the International Monetary Fund to reach 720% this year—making it nearly impossible for families to make ends meet. Since 2013, the economy has shrunk 27%, according to local investment bank Torino Capital; imports of food have plunged 70%. Hordes of people, many with children in tow, rummage through garbage, an uncommon sight a year ago. People in the countryside pick farms clean at night, stealing everything from fruits hanging on trees to pumpkins on the ground, adding to the misery of farmers hurt by shortages of seed and fertilizer. Looters target food stores. Families padlock their refrigerators. Three in four Venezuelans said they had lost weight last year, an average of 19 pounds

The kid should weigh 20 pounds. Genius country example: price controls do not control prices, they control and limit supply. Question: what do Sean Penn, Michael Moore and Oliver Stone have in common? HT: PL

That’s entertainment!

May 6th, 2017

Smile, you’re on Candid Camera, as is everyone today. Indeed, there should be a market for a new version of the series, and every week they could probably fill a half hour with just airline videos. Bonus fun: you’ll never guess what happened to Allen Funt when he was on an Eastern Airlines flight. HT: PJ