A substantive critique

September 27th, 2016

HMD in City Journal. Telling lies about cops is disgusting and dangerous. Here’s another piece making a number of similar points before the debate.

First reaction: you saw what you wanted to see

September 27th, 2016

Sadly, we had a dinner guest who wanted to watch the debate. Sigh. From one point of view the debate was embarrassing for DJT. 17 out of 20 agree! Maybe so. We didn’t see it that way, but we’re not in the HRC camp. We were reminded of the Roches song Nurds when watching the critiques by the wonks on TV. The Commentariat saw what they wanted to see. So did we. So if you want the next 4 years to be a continuation of the last 8, you’re happy. Final point: consider the 59 point advantage of DJT among regular guys; it’s quite impressive, and points to a helluva war over the next 4 years no matter which way this goes. Update: BOTW has a good take on the event, and the Commentariat is sure out of step with the polls.

News versus Narrative Nonsense

September 26th, 2016

This video is news, as is this one. We hear crickets chirping. On the other side there’s narrative: climate change is the great threat and Islam is a religion of peace. Yikes! Finally, these days the only thing worse than a college degree is a graduate degree (eg, here and here). Bonus: just in case you thought it was possible that the West might survive.

Yellen and screamin

September 25th, 2016

The excitable lad goes off on the Fed. We agree that the Fed’s balance sheet is out of control and that this can’t end well. Beyond that, we don’t know what to say, except that we’re keeping the TV off tomorrow.

Absurd miscellany

September 24th, 2016

Nuttiness at LAPD. Take a look at this video — the left eye is completely out of control. More of that and worse. For fun on Monday, some people in the audience should have little flashing red lights. Watch what happens. Finally, a little humor here. Have a nice day!

We know the answer

September 23rd, 2016

Yesterday we wondered what the ratio of professional agitators to idiots was in Charlotte. Now we have a proxy for the answer: over 2 to 1.

A mooving report

September 22nd, 2016

WSJ:

State-owned firms have boosted investment by over 20% so far this year, government data show, while fiscal spending on roads and waterways reached 1.15 trillion yuan ($228.4 billion) from January through August, up 7.5% year over year, according to the Ministry of Transport. Most of the new lending in August, which doubled from July, went to finance mortgages rather than to company investments. Private investment from January to August rose a paltry 2.1% as companies see limited expansion opportunities and banks balk at lending to private firms. Huafeng Agricultural Food Processing Factory Co., a 50-employee company that produces seed oil, milk and eggs in the northeast city of Yushu, said it recently sold several of its cows to stay in business

In other news, sunset is at 7:19 EDT in Charlotte so TV should become interesting shortly. It would be interesting to know the ratio of paid agitators to idiots there, not counting the DOJ people. Finally, this is just painful to watch.

Hmmm

September 21st, 2016

TCW compares 9/30/07 to today in a very interesting chart and graph. Hmmm. That was around the time of the Bear Stearns conference call. What started happening after that?

Back to numbers

September 20th, 2016

WSJ:

Having recently finished the sixth ring road around Beijing, construction crews are now working on a seventh—100 miles out in some places—part of plans to merge the capital with surrounding municipalities to create a “supercity” of 130 million people, slightly larger than the population of Japan. The national high-speed rail network, nonexistent a decade ago, is now more extensive than the European Union’s

McKinsey calculates that between 2000 and 2014 China added $26.1 trillion to its debt, a figure greater than the GDP of the U.S., Japan and Germany combined. And debt is concentrated in state-owned enterprises, which build much of the infrastructure. China Railway Corp., the national railway operator, is groaning under almost twice as much debt as Greece. Still, China has budgeted $120 billion for more railway construction this year.

Local governments have run out of worthwhile projects and are getting downright frivolous in their spending habits, while companies are getting gimmicky. Hunan province strung a glass bridge between soaring cliffs to attract thrill-seeking tourists at a cost of $3.4 million. A Changsha firm threw up a 57-storey building in 19 days.

Hey, gotta do something with all that cement and steel.

Hysteria

September 19th, 2016

They’re getting the vapors over at the HuffPo. We won’t quote any of it, but we would like to know how many times the author fainted while writing it. BOTW has more of this. Whew: it’s a good thing that kids no longer have to learn anything about the Constitution or else a certain somebody would be in big trouble for doing something very bad.

Miscellany from 1969

September 19th, 2016

“Woke up it was a Chelsea morning and the first thing that I heard, Was a bomb outside my window and the shrapnel was absurd”. What poured out like butterscotch? Did it stick to both your lenses? Thankfully for those affected there still will be “present tenses.” Apologies to Joni Mitchell.

Unhinged

September 18th, 2016

Normally on our hour-long Sunday “run” we like to listen to Pacifica radio’s Background Briefing. The host is very much to the left, but has, for example, sensible discussions with Robert Baer. Today was different. All the guests sounded unhinged as they discussed the deplorables. They — authors, professors and the like — genuinely believe that those they were discussing are deplorable. They didn’t discuss Pepe the frog but you can read about him here. They didn’t discuss Jimmy Fallon but we’re sure they’re mad at him too. They didn’t discuss Milo, but, if they’ve heard of him, they’re just as much outraged as a fellow at Bloomberg. They did discuss the 1930’s of course and you-know-who. We suspect the unhingedness of all these folks comes from their fear that the deplorables might represent a majority of the people. Time will tell.

We’re in trouble

September 17th, 2016

DOS:

I want to say a special thank you to the partners in this effort tonight as we come to think about the Global Fishing Watch and what it means, and I want to say a special thank you to Andy Sharpless and Jacqueline Savitz at Oceana. I want to say a special thanks to John Amos at SkyTruth, the CEO, and Brian Sullivan, the senior program manager at Google. All of them have been really creative in thinking about how do we use this world of technology that we have today, this extraordinary capacity for tracking things, for opening windows on things, for being able to communicate instantaneously. And they’ve really been creative, incredibly proactive, and it is going to be a part of what we’re talking about here over the course of the next two days, which is the Safe Oceans Network. And the Safe Oceans Network is a grouping now of partners, extraordinary partners – 40 partners, some 25 different governments coming together in order to try to find a way to create accountability.

Now, I will tell you, I have been part of this effort for a long period of time. You can’t help in Massachusetts but to come from a tradition of the ocean. Our state was founded on it. And guys, kill the teleprompter because I’m not using it and – (laughter) – there you go. They were chasing around trying to figure out what the hell I was saying. (Laughter.) And I’m actually up here thinking for myself. (Applause.) It’s kind of shocking in Washington. (Laughter.)

So I had the privilege of serving on the Commerce Committee and I was chairman of the Fisheries Subcommittee for quite a number of years, and in that capacity I rewrote with Senator Ted Stevens and others on the committee – the late Senator Stevens – the fishery laws of country several times – the Magnuson Act. And I became very aware what’s happening with longliners and trawlers and draggers and so forth, and dealt a great deal with the different fishery management councils of the country and learned the distinctions between what happens in the salmon fishery in the Northwest, in the tuna fishery in the Atlantic, you name it – billfish, run the gamut. And what Ted and I always lamented was there was not enough science so that we could convince captains of fishing vessels and so that we could get communities to begin to galvanize their actions and actually do something. And so we wrote more science in and we tried to unite people.

But when I became Secretary of State, I brought that 28-plus years of experience to the table, and I was determined to try to use my tenure as Secretary to focus on the oceans and fishing. But not just fishing, because the oceans, vast as it is as an entity – three-quarters of our planet, oceans – as vast as it is and as powerful as we all know it is, it’s fragile. It is threatened. And I just spoke to some of the folks over at the Pew Charitable Trust dinner and I mentioned how back in the early medieval ages, in the 1200s and 1300s, people were doing things to try to protect fisheries, and King Louis XIV – IV actually talked about and lamented what was happening in their rivers and the fisheries because of the size of nets and the contrivances that fishermen came up with to capture as much as they can.

So we live in a world today where, with billions of people and massive amounts of money, we have too much money chasing too few fish. And that is why one-third of all fisheries of the world are in extremis, overfished, and the other two-thirds are fished to capacity. And we see other threats combining to put a challenge to this fragile ecosystem such as we never imagined: massive amounts of chemicals, of nitrates, of overflow, of downstream point source pollution and non-point source pollution coming into the ocean. Every year now we’ve seen an increase in the number of dead zones around the planet. There are more than 500 of them now, places where nothing lives – nothing. One of them is right out at the mouth of the Mississippi River where all the detritus of nitrate work in the agriculture industry, whether it’s from the Ohio to the Missouri or the Missouri to the Mississippi, out the delta, and it just kills everything for a span of several hundred miles on either side. So we have to stop and connect to this.

We also have climate change changing things, because you have vast amounts of these greenhouse gases – CO2, et cetera – which come back, deposit a huge increase in acidity in the ocean. So we now have the highest level of acidity and the highest rate of increase of acidity in the ocean in 50 million years. And believe it or not, scientists have the ability to measure that.

And that acidity changes the capacity of particularly crustaceans to be able to grow. I’ve seen tests that show what happens with clams when they’re exposed to higher levels of pH, and you see the diminished size of the clams. So lobsters could conceivably lose the hard shell – I mean, you can run the list of these challenges – and none of them exaggerated, except perhaps to that small group of people in America who still block things from happening because they somehow believe that with global climate change and the melting of the ice and the rise of sea level, all that extra water is just going to spill over the sides of a flat Earth. (Laughter.)

Think about that for a minute, because we got some people at high levels of aspiration who are incapable of mentioning things like climate change. And that matters to us, I think.

This fool really believes the nonsense he’s spouting. Once again: ban argon!

Weirder and weirder every day, depressing too

September 16th, 2016

The Economist editorial board weighs in on Pepe the frog. The WaPo has an op-ed by a professor, so you know what that’s going to sound like. The Atlantic discusses the cultural divide. More of the same blah-blah at the Week. There’s a little sunshine by Scott Adams, but that’s about it.

8 years ago today, plus comments on the EB-5 immigrant investor program

September 15th, 2016

The bankers seem to have made the same mistake twice, and it nearly brought the system down again. The Fed Chairman who is a student of the Depression and the Treasury chief who was CEO of Wall Street’s perhaps most storied name, appear to have repeated one of the critical mistakes in judgment that brought about the Great Depression — and they have been scrambling to recover from this mistake for a month. In 1930 the Fed let the Bank of United States fail, the dominoes fell, and the Great Depression was born. On September 15, 2008 the Fed let Lehman Brothers fail, and once again the US is courting financial catastrophe.

One month ago, the Fed and the Treasury let Lehman Brothers go bankrupt, and all hell broke loose, not just because of mortgages, but because of Lehman’s systemically toxic CDS’s — unregulated insurance policies without reserves with other banks — that could bring down the entire industry. This is also the view of the French finance minister. Telegraph:

Mrs Lagarde — attributed with playing a key role in brokering a bailout deal among G7 finance ministers in Washington last weekend — dubbed Mr Paulson’s decision to let the bank go under “horrendous” as it triggered panic in markets and banks to the brink of a 1929-style financial meltdown.

The entire banking system seized up; the banks were set up like dominoes to sequentially fail. Short sellers had a no risk strategy to bet on bank failures and the Treasury had created a Doomsday Machine that would take them down, one after another. Credit and stock markets crashed, and good news had become irrelevant.

In effect, the US government had created one of the conditions that turned the recession of 1929 into the Great Depression. In that earlier time, the New York Clearing House banks allowed the small bank with the big name, Bank of the United States, to fail. After that failure, which would have been so easy to avoid, another 8000 banks failed. Of course, the government at that time had to wait until 1933 for the creation of the FDIC and other tools to stem the runs on the banks.

For a month the government has been improvising various solutions to the Lehman mistake, and often it has looked like making sausages. It hasn’t been pretty, and no one knows whether it will be ultimately effective. But the actions of the Euro-zone countries, after their initial stumble, are encouraging. Likewise, the reaction to the revised Paulson plan, which has morphed from buying $700 billion in mortgages to providing a much needed $250 billion in new bank capital, also appears positive. It is possible that we have seen a version of 1929-1933 play out in a very short time (as events are often accelerated these days). But there was still a long way to go for the US economy to recover after 1933.

UPDATE
— Andy Kessler has a good summary in the WSJ of what US and European authorities are trying to do with their remedial measures.

We’ll update some links later. Finally, were you aware the US has an immigrant investor program? We didn’t but what a great idea. But if you’re coming from China to invest and create jobs, that door has been slammed shut for the moment.

Some history, and other things

September 14th, 2016

Timely look at FDR’s terrible health problems. (Personal observation: one of our first memories at the age of 3 was mom, a RN, warning us not to go out in the backyard because the boy in the adjoining house had polio, very scary at the time.) Pledge, anthem, that’s so yesterday. And here’s a little break from all that. Also: “New lending to households reached 675.5 billion yuan last month, a nearly 50% increase from July, according to the data. Of that sum, medium- and long-term household loans, predominantly mortgage lending, stood at 528.6 billion yuan, accounting for more than half of the new loans issued in August. In July, almost all of the new credit was mortgage lending.” Recently, we were in Tampa doing due diligence on a company for sale; the group’s driver said his biggest honor was taking Colin Powell across the tarmac at the airport for a speech he was to give. Powell? That’s enough for now.

It’s difficult keeping up

September 13th, 2016

It’s crazy out there, in case you haven’t noticed. In 2008, we said that the US had become a TV show. Apparently we were correct. Mr. Mehta wrote something we can come back to in a few weeks, as did Mr. Auslander in the WaPo. The island seizing drills continue in the South China Sea. This is a little wacky but amusing. We’ll conclude the festivities with a piece by Roger Simon that points to a very interesting video by a doctor. You may decide if you are a conspiracy theorist at this time. Imagine if you had tried to sell a novel with the plot lines of 2016.

Meanwhile, back in China

September 12th, 2016

WSJ:

Mr. Xi’s agenda is self-contradictory. It at once calls for deepening reforms and the rule of law while demanding strict conformity with party orthodoxy. This recipe, which can be called reform without opening up, has failed to produce results. True, China’s anticorruption campaign has taken down hundreds of thousands of officials within the Communist Party. But it has yet to be institutionalized, sending a powerful signal to elites that it remains politically motivated, a cudgel wielded against the president’s rivals. Many of those who might be affected, therefore, are simply waiting for the heat to die down or are actively working to thwart official investigations of their malfeasance. Meanwhile, the once-enthusiastic Chinese public has been shocked by the extent of official graft, and for good reason. In 2013, an estimated 180,000 officials were disciplined for corruption. In 2014, the estimate was 232,000. Last year, the figure topped 300,000.

Reforms have been stillborn because China’s “opening up,” initiated by Deng in 1978 and reaffirmed by Premier Zhu Rongji in the 1990s, is under threat. Restrictions on information flows on the internet and social media, known officially as “internet sovereignty” or “governance of cyberspace with Chinese socialist characteristics,” have become more pervasive, more difficult to surmount and more effective at silencing dissent. This trend will continue under the new cybersecurity law slated for approval later this year. Moreover, an already-approved nongovernmental-organization law, which will take effect in January, has put a chill on Chinese cooperation with foreign organizations

Hmmm. Also: “China and Russia have begun a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea. The eight-day marine exercises come amid rising tensions over Chinese island-building activity in the region as well as an increasing presence of the US military. The drills are bound to spark further fears over China’s expansionist claims in the region, given that the official brief for the drill includes ‘island seizing missions’.” Stay tuned.

Reflections by the NYT, PBS, etc

September 11th, 2016

NYT:

The reach of the Saudis has been stunning, touching nearly every country with a Muslim population, from the Gothenburg Mosque in Sweden to the King Faisal Mosque in Chad, from the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles to the Seoul Central Mosque in South Korea. Support has come from the Saudi government; the royal family; Saudi charities; and Saudi-sponsored organizations including the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the International Islamic Relief Organization, providing the hardware of impressive edifices and the software of preaching and teaching.

There is a broad consensus that the Saudi ideological juggernaut has disrupted local Islamic traditions in dozens of countries — the result of lavish spending on religious outreach for half a century, estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. The result has been amplified by guest workers, many from South Asia, who spend years in Saudi Arabia and bring Saudi ways home with them. In many countries, Wahhabist preaching has encouraged a harshly judgmental religion, contributing to majority support in some polls in Egypt, Pakistan and other countries for stoning for adultery and execution for anyone trying to leave Islam.

Exhibit A may be Saudi Arabia itself, which produced not only Osama bin Laden, but also 15 of the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001; sent more suicide bombers than any other country to Iraq after the 2003 invasion; and has supplied more foreign fighters to the Islamic State, 2,500, than any country other than Tunisia.

the Islamic State adopted official Saudi textbooks for its schools until the extremist group could publish its own books in 2015. Out of 12 works by Muslim scholars republished by the Islamic State, seven are by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th-century founder of the Saudi school of Islam, said Jacob Olidort, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Adil al-Kalbani declared with regret in a television interview in January that the Islamic State leaders “draw their ideas from what is written in our own books, our own principles.”

Small details of Saudi practice can cause outsize trouble. For at least two decades, the kingdom has distributed an English translation of the Quran that in the first surah, or chapter, adds parenthetical references to Jews and Christians in addressing Allah: “those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).”

In 1744, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a reformist cleric, sought the protection of Muhammad bin Saud, a powerful tribal leader in the harsh desert of the Arabian Peninsula. The alliance was mutually beneficial: Wahhab received military protection for his movement, which sought to return Muslims to what he believed were the values of the early years of Islam in the seventh century, when the Prophet Muhammad was alive. In return, the Saud family earned the endorsement of an Islamic cleric — a puritanical enforcer known for insisting on the death by stoning.

NYT:

“Saudi Arabia is destroying Islam,” Zuhdi Hajzeri, an imam at a 430-year-old mosque here in the city of Peja, told me sadly. Hajzeri is a moderate in the traditional, tolerant style of Kosovo — he is the latest in a long line of imams in his family — and said that as a result he had received more death threats from extremists than he can count.

Hajzeri and other moderates have responded with a website, Foltash.com, that criticizes the harsh Saudi Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. But they say they are outgunned by money pouring in from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to support harsh variants of Islam through a blizzard of publications, videos and other materials.

“The Saudis completely changed Islam here with their money,” said Visar Duriqi, a former imam in Kosovo who became a journalist who writes about extremist influences. Duriqi cites himself as an example: He says he was brainwashed and underwent an extremist phase in which he called for imposing Shariah law and excusing violence.

I first encountered pernicious Saudi influence in Pakistan, where the public school system is a disgrace and Saudis filled the gap by financing hard-line madrasas that lure students with free tuition, free meals and full scholarships for overseas study for the best students. Likewise, in traditionally moderate, peaceful countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in West Africa, I’ve seen these foreign-financed madrasas introduce radical interpretations of Islam.

HuffPo:

It would be troublesome but perhaps acceptable for the House of Saud to promote the intolerant and extremist Wahhabi creed just domestically. But, unfortunately, for decades the Saudis have also lavishly financed its propagation abroad. Exact numbers are not known, but it is thought that more than $100 billion have been spent on exporting fanatical Wahhabism to various much poorer Muslim nations worldwide over the past three decades. It might well be twice that number. By comparison, the Soviets spent about $7 billion spreading communism worldwide in the 70 years from 1921 and 1991. This appears to be a monumental campaign to bulldoze the more moderate strains of Islam, and replace them with the theo-fascist Saudi variety. Despite being well aware of the issue, Western powers continue to coddle the Saudis

PBS:

Can you show me an example of what the [religious teaching is in the schools? Well, here, this is a book, hadif, for ninth grade. Hadif is a statement of Prophet Mohammed. This is a book that start for ninth graders. This is talking about the victory of Muslims over Jews. This is a hadif that I truly believe it’s not true, as a Muslim: “The day of judgment will not arrive until Muslims fight Jews, and Muslim will kill Jews until the Jew hides behind a tree or a stone. Then the tree and the stone will say, ‘Oh Muslim, oh, servant of God, this is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.’ Except one type of a tree, which is a Jew tree. That will not say that.” This is taught for 14-year-old boys in Saudi Arabia…Bin Laden learned this in Saudi Arabia. He didn’t learn it in the moon. That message that Bin Laden received, it still is taught in Saudi Arabia.

NYT:

in February 2004, two American investigators interrogated a man they believed might hold answers to one of the lingering mysteries of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: What role, if any, did officials in Saudi Arabia’s government play in the plot?

The man under questioning, Fahad al-Thumairy, had been a Saudi consular official based in Los Angeles and the imam of a mosque visited by two of the hijackers. The investigators, staff members of the national 9/11 commission who had waited all day at the United States Embassy before being summoned to the late-night interview, believed that tying him to the plot could be a step toward proving Saudi government complicity in the attacks.

They were unsuccessful. In two interviews lasting four hours, Mr. Thumairy, a father of two then in his early 30s, denied any ties to the hijackers or their known associates. Presented with phone records that seemed to contradict his answers, he gave no ground, saying the records were wrong or people were trying to smear him.

When the two hijackers reappeared in early February, they were eating at a restaurant, Mediterranean Gourmet, near the mosque. There, they encountered Omar al-Bayoumi, a fellow Saudi who was on the Saudi government payroll through the country’s civil aviation authority, possibly with an assignment to keep an eye out for Saudi dissidents in California.

Mr. Bayoumi later told the F.B.I. that the meeting was happenstance — that he overheard Mr. Hazmi and Mr. Mihdhar, noticed their Gulf accents and struck up a conversation. But the bureau believed that Mr. Bayoumi had met with Mr. Thumairy at the mosque just before he met the hijackers in the restaurant, and investigators wondered whether Mr. Thumairy had arranged the meeting.

At the time, Mr. Thumairy was part of a network of representatives of the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which finances mosque-building, trains clerics and proselytizes the conservative and intolerant strain of Islam known as Wahhabism. During his interview in Riyadh in 2004, Mr. Thumairy spoke fondly of his six years in Los Angeles, praising the warm weather and friendly people. His job at the consulate and the nearby mosque, he said, was to answer religious questions. Mr. Thumairy denied knowing Mr. Bayoumi, despite telephone records that showed 21 calls between them over two years.

HuffPo:

You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia

Atlantic, from 2003:

The Saudis have repeatedly used their surplus production capacity to stabilize the international oil market. They used it to break the opec embargo (but not before they had enriched themselves by tens of billions of dollars), in 1974. They used it again during the protracted Iran-Iraq war, to keep oil flowing to the industrialized West. They used it during the Gulf War, in 1990?1991; with help from a couple of other Gulf states, they produced an extra five million barrels a day, making up for the loss of Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil.

And they used it again on September 12, 2001. Less than twenty-four hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Saudis decided to send nine million barrels of oil to the United States over the next two weeks. The result was that the United States experienced only a slight inflation spike in the wake of the most devastating terrorist attack in history. Had that same surplus capacity been taken out of play with twenty pounds of Semtex, all bets would have been off. The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve can support the domestic market for only about seventy days. And if Saudi Arabia’s contribution to the world’s oil supply were cut off, crude petroleum could quite realistically rise from around $40 a barrel today to as much as $150 a barrel.

Popular preachers all over Saudi Arabia call openly for a jihad against the West—a designation that clearly includes the royal family itself—in terms as vitriolic as anything heard in Iran at the height of the Islamic revolution there. The kingdom’s mosque schools have become a breeding ground for militant Islam. Recent attacks in Bali, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kenya, and the United States, not to mention those against U.S. military personnel within Saudi Arabia, all point back to these schools—and to the House of Saud itself, which, terrified at the prospect of a militant uprising against it, shovels protection money at the fundamentalists and tries to divert their attention abroad.

Seems like a pretty consistent picture. So are the supporters of these thugs (they chop your head off for apostasy) on the take, stupid, or both?

A break from the ordinary

September 10th, 2016

Flying to Micronesia? It’s generalistically not done, but at least it’s not deplorable. And something a little offbeat from the Economist. Hey, whatever the situation, it’s better than being in a basket (or at Vanderbilt, for that matter).