Friday, 31 January 2020

‘Virus death toll climbs’ | SCMP

Today’s front page. Click to enlarge
[UPDATES: Below]. Also: Virusmeter. (h/t JL).

Look at the headline at the top of the page above. Then look at the headline at the bottom of the page above. And guess who inspired the “Panicked Hongkongers”? Why, the type of headlines at the top of the page above!
And now there’s talk of cutting all flights and even shipping with China.
I guess the thing is rather over-react than under-react. At least if you’re the government. I call it “strategic over-reaction”.  It’s what we did in 2003, with SARS, when we were running our Wall Street Institutes. We got right in front of it, for the sake of our staff and customers.
Here in our little Discovery Bay bubble we’ve had our share of panic buying, at our local supermarkets. Masks are sold out even though there’s precious little evidence the ones they sell are of any use. The N95 respirator mask is the only one of proven use, but virtually no one is wearing them, because they’re hard to get and hard to wear.
Guess I better get back to my panicking …
Related: my original take.  My watchword: “vigilance, not panic”. [ADDED: and “strategic over-reaction”).

UPDATE 
(4/2/20):
Source: Worldometer

Meantime (4/2): Hospital workers here in Hong King have gone on strike to try to force Carrie Lam, the C-E, to close the borders. As of now she is “considering” doing this. Again, failure to see the need for “strategic over-reaction”.

(2/2): Carrie Lam, our C-E has ruled out closing the borders with China even as Singapore has done so and the reaction of medical staff is to threaten strikes beginning next week, if the government doesn’t close borders. Yet another case of her failure to get in front of the issue. In other words, even if panic is not warranted, on the figures above, a certain amount of “strategic over reaction” is needed.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Of dogs and meat


'Hong Kong’s refusal to let in Human Rights Watch chief must be put into perspective’ | SCMP Letters

An interesting take on the Human Rights Watch, from someone who used to work in the UNHCR.
I mean, interesting in the light of the fact that government critics are sure to cast the refusal to allow a Human Rights Watch official's entry to Hong Kong as a nefarious deed by an “authoritarian” government...
The refusal of the Hong Kong authorities to permit entry to Mr Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, must be put into perspective.
Hong Kong is currently undergoing a difficult time with civil unrest, and it behoves all people of goodwill to assist the Hong Kong and central governments to achieve an honourable solution to the crisis affecting the people of Hong Kong.
Whether Human Rights Watch has made any constructive contribution to such a process is doubtful. Conversely, the record of Human Rights Watch in Asia is, to say the least, unimpressive.
At the time of the Vietnamese boatpeople crisis, after the adoption in 1989 of the Comprehensive Plan of Action, I was responsible within the United Nations Human Rights Commission for ensuring the repatriation of those boatpeople who did not qualify for refugee status and whose only option was repatriation, either voluntary or mandatory.
To facilitate the repatriation, Vietnam had proclaimed an amnesty by which none of the boatpeople would be prosecuted for illegal departure. To this effect, UNHCR had a team inside Vietnam that monitored the repatriation process and ensured that Vietnam’s guarantee on non-prosecution was scrupulously implemented.I recall, at the time, being visited by a representative of Human Rights Watch who demanded in no uncertain terms that UNHCR suspend its repatriation programme to Vietnam, under the argument that the returnees were persecuted upon repatriation. It was a total fabrication.
Ultimately, close to 100,000 former boatpeople returned safely to Vietnam, thus bringing to a close one of the most painful chapters in the history of humanitarian crisis.
To say that Human Rights Watch was unhelpful is an understatement.
That Hong Kong has no use for Mr Roth is a given.
Alexander Casella, former director for Asia and Oceania, UNHCR, Geneva

‘Hong Kong reels under virus assault’ | SCMP

Today’s front page
Six months ago and it was “Hong Kong reels under protesters’ assault” [for example]. Not sure which is worse, TBF. 

Full autonomy never promised

Online here and scroll down
All the way from New York a writer knows the simple truth — that full autonomy was never “promised”. I’ve shown how our constitution, the Basic Law, does not “promise” universal suffrage. And yet this simple truth eludes many of the anti government protesters who complain that Beijing and the Hong Kong government are “breaking a promise” to deliver universal suffrage. Not so. But if you believe it, sure enough it roils you.
We were speaking at the weekend with some fellow residents including Hong Kong U students who fully believe the “promise” exists and were not inclined to believe that the Basic Law does not contain such a promise. “I’m not an expert in the Basic Law” was the response. In a powerful vortex. Deep in confirmation bias.
[The Gerald Heng letter, referenced above, is here and scroll down]

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Trump may finally be in real trouble « Why Evolution Is True (WEIT)

Responding to this post with its over one hundred comments which strike me as being caught in a powerful left-spinning vortex. Nearly all of them. So I commented on the WEIT site...
Me: Australian resident Hong Kong; would have voted for Hillary [if American]
(a) I lean to the "So What?" defence.** Quid pro quos are a normal part of daily politics and foreign affairs. Joe Biden boasted of his Ukrainian QPQ. Trump sought QPQ from Zelensky. So what? Because…
(b) Trump can plausibly claim the QPQ was for info on corruption related to the 2016 election, even if he almost certainly also had its usefulness for 2020 in mind. There was prima facie case for investigation into the Bidens. Because …
(c) Democrats' claim that Hunter/Joe Ukraine corruption is "debunked"is itself a bit rich. Even the NYT says "A subsequent prosecutor cleared Mr.Zlochevsky."* The “subsequent prosecutor” was appointed only after the previous one was fired, under the threat from Joe to hold up $1 Billion in aid (ie. a quid pro quo).  Zlochevsky was the boss of Burisma. He was widely considered deeply corrupt. Yet he was cleared by the prosecutor appointed on Biden's initiative. Biden's son, Hunter, was on the board of Burisma. And to all of this we are supposed to believe "nothing to see here folks"?
(d) A removal of Trump would be hugely damaging to America. [as some commenters have acknowledged]*
(e) The bar to impeachment has been lowered and will be used every time the party in the House is different from the party in the WH. This cannot be a good thing.
And I almost forgot: the above is why Bolton's leaked book "revelations" are irrelevant.
All in all, as a not-Trump-loving outside observer, I reckon that his removal would be both wrong and dangerous.
Lucky it won't happen.
*By this I mean the hijacking of the election process, by a highly partisan impeachment process (‘Democrats have impeached impeachment’ or view in PDF). Remember that even Pelosi didn’t really want to impeach because she thought it futile, but was forced into it by the left wing in her party.
**ADDED (30/1): A more sophisticated version of the “So What?” defence.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Bubbles and vortexes

Summary: People on the Left follow mostly left-leaning
news. People on the Right follow both right and left-leaning news
I’m not sure that “bubble” is a good metaphor for people caught up in their own world, unaware of things outside their circle. Why not? Because when a bubble is pricked, it pops. So, taking the metaphor along a bit, if your bubble is pricked you should feel a sudden enlightenment: “Oooh, riiight! So that’s what the world is like!”  But it doesn’t work like that, does it? People who are in a bubble, if they ever do become enlightened, do so slowly, painfully sometimes. It’s rarely a “pop!”.
So I think a better metaphor is a “vortex”, definition: “a whirling mass of liquid or air, like a whirlpool or whirlwind”. The key thing is: a vortex can be more or less powerful. It can strengthen or abate. Views can strengthen or moderate.
So imma going ahead and call yesterday’s Don Lemon show on CNN, an “opinion vortex“, a powerful left-circulating one.
The scene is: Don hosting a panel discussing the results of that day’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
The four panelists:
  • John Dean: CNN Political Analyst
  • Frank Bruni: CNN News Analyst. 
  • Laura Coates: CNN Legal Analyst
  • Catherine Rampell:  CNN Opinion Analyst
So: each of these people is a “CNN Contributor”.  Each takes a salary from CNN. So when Don Lemon asked their thoughts on Adam Schiff’s presentation to the Senate, they all thought it was “marvellous”, “persuasive”, a “master class” -- quelle surprise! Then the Don switched to two outside talking heads both Democrats; one Sen. Chris Coons, the other I don’t recall. And each, again, spoke about how wonderful Schiff’s presentations was.
By the way, make up your own mind.....
I switched to Fox. They had also covered the speech in full, and as commenters had conservative leaning folks, including “Fox Contributors”.  But... this is the critical difference, they did have, over the course of the next hour, several commenters who were either of the left or straight out Democrats.
I’m not wanting to carry water for Fox. They have their own clear biases. But, they do have other voices, whereas CNN does not. And yet, the public perception, I’m guessing, would be that the one in a “bubble” is Fox. Indeed, Don Lemon said exactly that, when I switched back to CNN. (Lemon also claimed that Fox had not brodcast the Schiff presentation to the Senate. That’s wrong. They did).
Don Lemon so far in the bubble, he doesn’t know he’s in a bubble. The vortex is swirling so strongly he doesn’t know he’s in it.
The chart at the top makes the point.  People on the Left read almost exclusively left of centre news. People on the Right read both left and right of centre news.
On the Political compass I come out as Left Libertarian. I read and watch around a subject. I’ve got my own confirmation bias; everyone does. I try to stay aware that there’s a vortex out there, waiting to catch you in its rip tides.
People like Don Lemon, and most of his cronies, don’t even know. Maybe they don’t even suspect.
ADDED (30/1): Don Lemon disgraces himself in company....issues non-apology apology....which is then fact-checked

Saturday, 25 January 2020

kit

From here
Inspired by Jerry Coyne’s Faith versus Fact, which I have a signed copy of — saw him at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club when he gave a talk here in Hong Kong a few years back. Jerry’s website is Why Evolution is True, and his post on the cartoon above is here.
And remember it’s perfectly safe to like this cartoon! It’s not bigoted.…

Friday, 24 January 2020

Watching a global panic in the making — the Wuhan virus

We lived through the SARS epidemic here in Hong Kong in 2003.
The government published daily figures of infections and deaths. I set up an Excel sheet and predicted that the epidemic would end in June that year. It ended in June that year.
How it ended was by public hygiene. The virus spread by touch not by air. So wiping down elevator buttons and door knobs became a thing in all buildings. People got used to carrying antiseptic wet-wipes and using them regularly. This became a habit and is widespread to this day.
The final SARS death rate was 11%  9.6%. Most were elderly. (If you’d asked me what I thought the death rate was, without looking it up, I would have said something like 50%. And that’s me, having followed it closely. I’ll bet people remember a far higher rate than 9.6%.  Which may be part of what’s causing panic today).
The Wuhan virus is a SARS-like coronavirus, though less deadly. Mortality so far is virtually all among the elderly.
Virus experts tell us:
  • This Wuhan virus is transmitted by touch. To halt it: clean public surfaces with disinfectant. [Later (31/1): turns out they’re not sure if that’s still the case. See here.  [Later, 27/3/20: it is transmitted by air. Later still (2/4/20): WHO: we’re still not sure).
  • Masks: there is no evidence they help if you haven’t got a virus, and limited evidence that they help if you do. If you want to wear one, it should be the N95 type, not the type you get at the local chemists.... See here.  [Later, 27/3/20: masks now are pretty much mandatory. They have some benefit.  Later, 2/4/20: WHO today says “masks useful”. There’s new evidence from Boston Uni re aerosol transmission] 
  • Temperature checking at arrival airports has proven of no use. Temperature checking at source country airports might have some benefit though it’s rare. [China has locked down the three eight eleven thirteen [keeps updating] cities [62 million people]  that have had the Wuhan virus. Complete lock down. And Beijing has abandoned all public celebrations for Chinese New Year. And still that’s not enough for some people. Australia has called for “more”. Like what, exactly?]
  • The Wuhan virus is less deadly than SARS. [currently at 2.3%, and appears to be dropping]. Most at risk are the very elderly. 
  • The way to defeat the virus is public hygiene. As we did with SARS, seventeen years ago. 
  • The virus experts I’ve seen and read to date are saying “no need to panic”. Vigilance, good hygiene, no panic.
And yet, we see the world going into complete panic mode. Even the WHO is in panic mode. Maybe they feel they have to, to show they’re treating it seriously.
The panic is unnecessary and may even be dangerous.

ADDED (29 Jan 20): China and Hong Kong are taking dramatic measures: halting all transport links (flights, trains, buses, ferries), building isolation hospitals, developing a virus, washing down all public places. So I stick with my guess that it’s under control by end February. Vigilance not panic. UPDATE (14 Apr 20): I got it right for China re “under control" (end Feb), but clearly not for the rest of the world, which is suffering high cases and death rates.
ADDED (27 Jan 20)David Dodwell makes same points. Including: annual deaths from the common, annual flu average half a million. And death rates over 10%. Yet we don’t panic. [ADDED 27 Mar 20]: That’s wrong by a factor of 100. I don’t know where he got that figure. The actual death rate for the seasonal flu is around 0.1%]
ADDED (26 Jan 20): About the common flu:  “We know the worldwide death toll exceeds a few hundred thousand people a year.”
That is from the WHO. “A few hundred thousand”!! Killed by flu. Every year. And we don’t panic. 

Thursday, 23 January 2020

The South China Morning Post: is it reliable?

Explanation of the legend see below

ADDED: I did a second survey in July, here.
I’ve been reading the South China Morning Post for forty-odd years.  When, in 2015, it was bought by China-based Alibaba, I was worried -- as were many folks -- that it would become a mouthpiece of Beijing. I’ve kept an eagle eye on it, and I don’t think it has. It remains, in my view, the best English language paper in Asia. So, yes, it’s reliable.

I did an analysis this morning: looking at Op-ed articles and Letters to the editor over the last fortnight. I looked just at those that were about Hong Kong issues, or China, or the protests.  I divided them into three categories:

Critical: as in critical of China, or of our HK government, or of the HK police.  In short “yellow ribbon”.
Pro: as in pro-China, pro-Beijing, pro-Hong Kong government, pro-police. In short “blue ribbon”.
Neutral: for example, suggesting solutions, or looking at both sides of our current troubles. Sometimes called “green”, as in the mix of blue and yellow. (Pretty much where I am... or like to think I am).

The numbers are below and chart above. Bear in mind I might have got some wrong, and there’s an amount of judgement required here, so you’re counting on my ethics to have tried my best to be a fair arbiter.
  • Critical: 27 articles or letters
  • Pro: 13 articles or letters
  • Neutral: 23 articles or letters
The results show that, at the very least, the Post is not a mouthpiece of Beijing. Not one of the “Critical” items nor most of the “Neutral” ones would have been allowed on the Mainland. The SCMP tends to left-of-centre and is often bitingly critical of Beijing policies.

ADDED: 
This quote [ref] by the Alibaba vice chairman stands up pretty well, I reckon (my emphasis):
Joseph Tsai, executive vice-chairman of Alibaba Group, said that the fear that Alibaba's ownership [of SCMP] would compromise editorial independence "reflects a bias of its own, as if to say newspaper owners must espouse certain views, while those that hold opposing views are 'unfit'. In fact, that is exactly why we think the world needs a plurality of views when it comes to China coverage. China's rise as an economic power and its importance to world stability is too important for there to be a singular thesis."[56] 
He also said, "Today when I see mainstream western news organisations cover China, they cover it through a very particular lens. It is through the lens that China is a communist state and everything kind of follows from that. A lot of journalists working with these western media organisations may not agree with the system of governance in China and that taints their view of coverage."[23] .  

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Replying to Gordon Chang’s tweet about Hong Kong independence

Gordon Chang’s tweet, 20 January
I’m addressing a recent tweet (above) by Gordon G. Chang because it’s been Liked and Retweeted a lot, but it’s wrong in important ways. 
Here is his tweet, on 20th January:
#China has lost a whole generation in #HongKong, and due to Beijing's intransigence this generation will eventually demand separation from the mainland. The Chinese created an independence movement and will continue to fuel it. #antiELA.  
1.   Support for independence is a minority.  Even democracy uber-activist Joshua Wong admits this. The latest poll on independence has public support at 11%. Most Hongkongers understand that demanding independence is suicidal. 

And in any case....

2.   China will never allow independence to Hong Kong.  No matter how much, as Chang claims,  “this generation will eventually demand separation....”, Beijing simply won’t allow it.
But should an independence movement ever gain steam, Beijing has powerful levers to stop it:
  • Food: we get 93% from China
  • Water: we get 70% from China
  • Electricity: we get 23% from China (all nuclear!). 
  • Not to mention... 
  • The PLA. The largest army in the world. Garrisons here in HK and just over the border.
Q: Which of these has Beijing deployed so far? A: None.
What it has deployed, to widespread consternation, is: Patience.
It has opted to let us stew in our own juice. But that patience won't last forever.
And it’s clear that that mainland China has a stranglehold on Hong Kong, should Hong Kong ever try to declare unilateral independence. How about: let’s not.
This fact, this truth, that China will never allow Hong Kong independence, is uncomfortable to many people. So they rail against it. But it’s futile, sad though it may be. Best, in my view -- and in the view of nearly 90% of Hongkongers -- to accept that truth and get on with life and get on with trying to secure the freedoms we already have. Or we will find what Beijing losing patience looks like....

3. The world acknowledges China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. It is enshrined in our own constitution, the Basic Law, as negotiated between China and the UK, and registered with the United Nations.  
Our future here in Hong Kong is with China and as a bridge between China and the world, not as an isolated outpost.  We can be “One Country, Two Systems”, we can be “Hong Kong people running Hong Kong”, having an unprecedented level of self-rule. That is, unprecedented autonomy either in a China context, or as compared with cities like London, New York and Tokyo.  

4.  We can still be critical of the excesses of the Beijing government: as in Xinjiang (the Uygur issue), Tibet, human rights, censorship. Indeed, we in Hong Kong have been -- I have been -- and continue to be, loud critics of Beijing. We can do that because we have out Seven Freedoms, including freedom of the media.

These existing freedoms are imperilled by pointless charges at the independence gate. 

5.  Changs main China prediction is wrong (so far).  His “The Coming Collapse of China” was written in 2000, when China was the seventh largest economy in the world. Twenty years later and China is the second largest, on its way to being the largest. Some collapse. 

Still, I give Chang kudos for putting down a clear and provocative thesis. Putting his name on the line. Good on ‘yer, Gordie! And his key point, the danger of China's provincial debt, remains true.
And he may yet be proved correct in the end.  His thesis is unfalsifiable. He can always say “oh well, the collapse hasn’t happened... yet”. All dynasties end, all empires fall. (Bertrand Russel: “...all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, .... the whole temple of mans achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins...”.)
I often predicted trouble for the Chinese economy, back in my consulting days, in the eighties and nineties. It was safer to be a bit gloomy. But I’d always end up laying off the bet with a saver: “China Bears are the ones who’ve been bitten”. If you’d shorted China any time in the last forty years, pity you.

I’m also not quite sure about Chang's comment on“Beijing intransigence”. Where? How? When?  If he’s talking about the moves to universal suffrage back in 2014, I’ve addressed that here.  The failure then to make progress was the fault of the Pan-dems, not Beijing's.  
If he’s talking about lately, then what? Even the extradition bill fiasco was not down to Beijing, but to Carrie Lam; Beijing warned her it could be trouble.  
I’m no fan of Beijing, especially Xi Jinping’s Beijing. But not everything is Beijing’s fault. Just as Trump is not always wrong!

References:

‘Low information people?” The resurrection of the Deplorables

The Senate impeachment trial has started and …
…Chris Matthews, head of the MSNBC team, was on a panel just now claiming that those who don’t support the Trump impeachment are “low information people” who don’t follow the news, who prefer watching “Dancing with the Stars”.
It’s almost as if Hillary had never happened, had never called her opponents “deplorables”, had never been hammered for her sanctimonious arrogance.
This is breathtaking arrogance of a Left which has learnt nothing. Just as British Labour Party worthies have learnt nothing from their December drubbing: it’s the electorate that’s at fault, not their far-left policies or their socialist anti-semitic leader.
I don’t find the impeachment credible, but I’m not “low information” and not a Trumpisto.
Here goes, to prove it: each day I read at least four newspapers: the New York Times, the South China Morning Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Times; each week two magazines, the Economist and the Spectator, each month the Atlantic and Foreign Affairs. And each morning I watch at least four news channels, BBC, CNA, CNN and Fox. In addition I follow a number of current affairs blogs. I’ve read the Mueller Report. I’ve read Trump's transcript of his talk (the “perfect” one) with Ukrainian president Zelinski in July 2019. (Phew! thank god I’m retired…)
If I were American, in 2016 I would have voted for Hillary., though it would have been with nose firmly held, mainly because of Benghazi. I put that on record here at the time. Today, if it were Yang vs Trump I’d vote Yang. If it were Bernie vs Trump I’d vote Trump (Bernie is a tittle mad and manifestly incompetent). Any other match ups I’d need to consider.
So there.
And still I find the Democrats’ impeachment shenanigans shameful. They are clearly highly partisan. Their patronising posturings, claiming it’s a “grave and serious duty”, it’s all “very sad and very grave”, that it’s “not at all political“, all are deeply distasteful and disingenuous.
I consider myself a Dershowitz-ian. The Harvard Constitutional Law professor emeritus voted for Hillary. But is now on the Trump defence team. He was against the impeachment of Richard Nixon and against the impeachment of Bill Clinton. He was against the impeachment of  Donald Trump. He has written a book about it. He talks of the “shoe on the other foot” argument. Would you be doing whatever it is you’re doing if the shoe were on the other foot? If the president today were Hillary not Trump? Democrats? Chris Matthews? MSNBC?
Meantime, I settle down to a couple of weeks of good, live, reality theatre in the Senate. Well, live theatre, anyway.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Is this a “Crash Blossom”?

From today’s. SCMP
“Hongkonger held on mainland … hopes to settle in Britain” [“hope” as verb]
Or
“Hongkonger held … on mainland hopes to settle in Britain” [“hope” as noun]

‘Ageing city in need of more mainlanders’ | SCMP, Alex Lo

I’ve said many times in this blog that one of the main drivers of the protests is nativism — local Cantonese hatred of their mainland cousins. Not quite racism, because all Han, but racism-adjacent. Below the fold is Alex Lo, making this same point. [Link].
Our C-E Carrie Lam is quoted as saying that we “should not blame mainland migrants for social tensions and conflicts in the city.”  And that’s true, of course.  Yet they are a large part of what has riled rioters. What’s needed is the media, local and foreign, to understand and come clean on that, rather than peddling the notion that they are “brave freedom fighters”. Some are. Many, maybe most, are not. The slogan “Free Hong Kong”, apart from being nonsensical in its imperative as opposed to descriptive sense — because we have our Seven Freedoms — is a useful mantle, a jacket, a hood, covering populist bigotry in spun silk sentiments.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

‘Did Trump really make America safer by killing top Iranian general?’ | SCMP, LETTERS

LETTER TO SCMP:
Is professor Ben-Meir privy to inside information proving that Trump is "without a strategy" after the killing of the terrorist Qaseem Soleimani? (US is not safer after Trump's missile strike, 19 January)
If so perhaps he could share it with us. 
If not, then he has access to the same public information as I do.
And on that basis I conclude — contra Ben-Meir — that the United States and the region are indeed safer by marking a clear red line, after incessant provocations instigated by Soleimani and his proxies. Ben-Meir notes some of these himself: "…killing of hundreds of American soldiers …acting against American allies."  One could add: attacks on merchant shipping, attacks on Saudi oil wells, funding Houthi rebels, funding Assad's murderous regime, killing contractors, attacking the US Embassy …the list goes on. 
In short, I buy the idea that the killing of the senior terrorist in the region establishes a deterrent. 
Oddly, even Ben-Meir accepts that Soleimani "…deserved to meet his bitter fate." What he objects to, it seems, is not that he met his fate, but that it was at the hands of Orange Man Bad.
Soleimani's day job was terrorism. It's what he did.  As sure as night follows day he would have organised more terrorist acts. ("Imminence" is a side issue).
As it is, the muted and carefully managed Iranian response attack on US bases in Iraq suggests deterrence is already working. 
Moreover, as a self described peace activist, Ben-Meir ought to tune in to voices inside Iran — not just the choreographed hate-America rallies. There is widespread support in Iran for the killing of Soleimani and support for America(*). More, indeed, than on the Trump-despising American Left, epitomised by the likes of Ben-Meir.

Pf, etc…

(*) See, for example, Iranian students carefully walking around the American and Israeli flags painted on the grounds of the University of Tehran, so as not to step on them.

Friday, 17 January 2020

The “So What?” defence to Trump impeachment

Ukrainian President Zelensky, Biden, Trump
I said some time ago, So What? Even if we accept that Trump did ask the Ukrainian President, in the July 2019 phone call, to investigate the dealings of Joe and Hunter Biden with the Burisma company in return for the quid pro quo of American military aid, …So What?
All presidents, all politicians dealing with foreign countries ask for something offered in return for something given. That’s the basis for “tied aid”, after all.
Ah, Trump accusers will say, but the quid pro quo can’t be for personal gain. In the case of the Ukraine call, the gain was for Trump’s re-election. Hence personal. Hence impeachable.
But! …that assumes in evidence facts that are not there. It assumes motive. For which there are two clear possibilities.
1.  Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Biden because he was still obsessed by the 2016 election and the alleged Russian involvement, and believed there might have been Ukrainian involvement instead. That could be. And that’s the Republican position (assumption).
2.  Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Biden because he wanted dirt for the 2020 election. That could be. And that’s the Democrats’ position (assumption).
It comes down to motive. That is to say: mind reading. And you can’t really read minds. You can only go in your prejudices. Which is what makes the present impeachment the only one in history to be purely partisan, happening because the opposition does not like the person in the White House.
Trump paranoia, his obsession with 2016 claims that he only won because of Russia, might lean you to the Republican position. But it’s not a fact. It’s not in evidence.
Trump behaviour, his lying and narcissism, might lean you to the Democratic position. But it’s not a fact. It’s not in evidence.
Therefore, So What?

ADDED: I’ve never bought the line that claims of Bidens’ corruption in Ukraine has been “debunked”. Every day, I read four papers (New York Times, South China Morning Post, Times, Wall Street Journal) and watch four news channels (BBC, CNN, CNA Fox), left, right and centre in other words. I also read a number of political blogs. And I’ve yet to see anything that would show me the Bidens’ dealings with Burisma are nothing to be concerned about. Joe’s son, Hunter Biden, a man with zero expertise in the gas industry, got between $US 50,000 and $US 83,000 per month from Ukrainian gas company Burisma.. His father, then Vice President Joe Biden, got Ukraine to drop investigations into Burisma in return for $1 billion in American aid, a fact that is fully in evidence because Joe boasted about it to the media.
And we are supposed to accept that “there’s nothing to see here, please move on”?  On the basis of Joe’s say-so? Joe gets angry when people raise it. So we’re supposed to drop it?
Joe and Hunter Biden must be brought to the Senate to testify in the impeachment trial. 

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Nuclear: Costs of German shut down of its industry way higher than expected


We know some of the costs of Merkel’s panicky decision to close Germany’s nuclear power stations in the wake of Fukushima: higher electricity prices and higher carbon dioxide emissions.  I did the calculations recently, here.
A recent study of the National Bureau of Economic Research, finds that the costs of closure are way more than that.  Mainly the costs are higher death rates, as a result of having to keep coal burning stations online for far longer than would be if nuclear plants had not been closed down: death by particulates.
Here is the money shot from the study:
The social cost of this shift from nuclear to coal is approximately 12 billion dollars per year. Over 70% of this cost comes from the increased mortality risk associated with exposure to the local air pollution emitted when burning fossil fuels. Even the largest estimates of the reduction in the costs associated with nuclear accident risk and waste disposal due to the phase-out are far smaller than 12 billion dollars.
The NBER is a reputable think tank, founded one hundred years ago and chock full of Nobel laureates.  It’s non-partisan and most certainly not a “climate denier”.
The whole reason for Mad Mutti Merkel deciding to shut down the nuclear plants -- clean, green, reliable and safe -- is down to Germany’s Green Party scaremongering. When Fukushima happened, all rational thought went out the window...welcome meltdown mania!
Nuclear is the only energy industry where the measure is: "there can be zero risk". Clearly that’s unachievable. The risk of meltdown -- slight and declining -- has to be set against the benefits, and the risks of deaths from other sources: coal (hundreds of thousands a year, from particulates and mining accidents), from hydro-power flooding (170,000 in one accident alone), and so on. No energy source is zero risk. And for nuclear, the balance risk vs benefits, is about the best there is for all the alternatives including renewables. But, to be clear, I’m not saying nuclear instead of renewables. I’m saying -- and increasing numbers are also saying -- it must be nuclear in addition to renewables.
A separate report on the issue, here.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

‘Why we still don’t have universal suffrage’ | Alex Lo

Click to read. Online here
Lo makes the points I’ve banged on about. Namely:
a.  We do have some grass roots democracy here in Hong Kong. Eg the District Council elections last November that I voted in.
b.  The reason we don’t have fully universal suffrage is down the the PanDem parties, not the government and not Beijing. It was in 2015 that the PanDems blocked the moves towards universal suffrage because they were not the whole way. That would be the very same PanDems who now support violent protests. Protests that people like Lo and I believe will only erode the democracy (and freedoms) we already have, rather than prompt Beijing and this government to grant more. I hope I’m proven wrong. But that’s unlikely. Which is why I say I’m pro-Democracy and therefore anti-protest.
In short: PanDems were wrong then; and they’re wrong now.
Lo could have added:
c. There is no “promise” in the Basic Law to give Hong Kong universal suffrage. See my article here.  It was always up to the “actual situation” and the actual situation has demonstrably deteriorated. 

Democracy in action in Taiwan

Thai Ying-wen’s Democratic Progressives win the Taiwan election against Han Kuo-yu’s pro-Beijing KMT (Nationalist Party). Tsai played up the Hong Kong protests to foment fear of Beijing. Fair enough, any smart politician would do the same. And if you have Hong Kong as an example, why would you go for “One Country Two Systems”, when there’s no need for you to do so?
Still this household, ours, was split. I support the Tsai and the DPP, others the KMT.
Beijing’s reaction? Tone deaf as usual. They made a strong aggressive statement demanding the world recognise there is only One China. We do… we do…
Beijing ought to be trying to get along with the reality in Taiwan. After all, Tsai and the DPP are not splittists. They don’t call for Taiwan independence. But if Beijing continues it’s tough line, an Independence Party might well gain power.
Alex Lo makes the same point in this article

Monday, 13 January 2020

Wages Soar Fastest among Those with the Least


This is terribly interesting. The biggest growth in real wages in America is for the working class (it’s that line at the top right in the chart above). This is the direct opposite of what is believed on the Left, who constantly claim the only benefits of Trump’s tax cuts is for the rich.  The opposite is the truth, as figures from the Fed show.
Growth of working class wages, at 4.5%, well outpaces inflation.  And is nearly double growth of wages for the richest percentile.
Here.

Media bias against anti-protesters’ violence

This has happened all the time, since the beginning of the protests.  Hong Kong and western media turning the camera away when the protesters are the ones who are violent.  Only showing any roughhouse treatment by the police.
In the video above, it’s very clear that Celine Ma was pepper sprayed, knocked over and then glassed in the face. She kicked back.  The only bit that Apple Daily -- a violently anti-government paper here in Hong Kong -- showed was Celine Ma’s kick. Hard to think of a more biased portrayal.  

Yellows to Blues: let them make cookies

A good article, reporting a sad outcome of our protest movement
A practical result of the protests: society split on colour lines. “Blues” are pro-government, pro-Beijing, pro-police. “Yellows” are anti-government, anti-Beijing, anti-police. Blues tend to be older, Yellows younger, so that often splits families. Splitting society like this is naive and harmful.
I reject the binaryEg, I’m not pro-protests, but neither am I pro-Beijing.
Another outcome: having trashed the economy, the Yellow supporters are now teaching them to make cookies. Well done. 

SCMP - How Beijing’s new man in Hong Kong can avoid Chris Patten’s fatal miscalculations

Good article. I was here during the Patten years and clearly recall the mess his "firm views" led to. And still he lectures us. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions".
David Dodwell in Business

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Happy Birthday to us!


My birthday present from Jing and John:
 Keshan rug, Persian,45 years old.
Note Basil, doing some deep time dreaming…
Born on this day in 1950: me, in Tokyo. And, elder daughter Jane, 1978 here in Hong Kong. And blogger Ann Althouse, in Wilmington Delaware, 1951. 
(So I’m now a lapsed sexagenarian).
Happy Birthday to us!
ADDED (4 May 2020): Another mate turning 70 soon, I realise I forgot to add a favourite bit from the Confucian Analects, that I’ve quoted often over the years:
三十而立
四十而不惑
五十而知天命
六十而耳顺
七十而从心所欲,不逾矩
When you’re thirty you can stand on your own two feet
When you’re forty you can’t be fooled any more
When you’re fifty you know the ways of the world
When you’re sixty nothing anyone says upsets you
When you’re seventy, you can go where your 
heart desires... but don’t overreach.

[Why does he have to add that last rider? And, sadly, there’s no “eighty”.  Any lack of felicity or accuracy in that translation is mine. ...]

ADDED (14 Jan 20):
Notables born on this day include:

Saturday, 11 January 2020

‘The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is a sledgehammer the US can use to crush Hong Kong’ | Regina Ip


The road to hell….
As I've said before the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act will lead to a less free Hong Kong, despite its well meaning intent. If it's ever implemented. Regina Ip nails it.
But if the US does make good on its threats, there can be only one consequence – the erosion of Hong Kong's international connections and access to the West, which would only result in pushing Hong Kong more in the direction of mainland China. This would be the opposite of what the act was intended to achieve.
I’m granting the well meaning intent of the Act. In fact it may, perhaps certainly does, have an agenda to constrain China. Which makes it all the more objectionable. I’m objecting to it even granting a good intent.

Friday, 10 January 2020

‘Protesters need to get real about US intervention’ | PF

SCMP Letters, January 10, 2020
My letter published in today’s South China Morning Post. (Link and scroll down)
As submitted here. Nearly a month ago. So they kept it as a filler.
They edited it to muck up a bit of grammar … and changed my quote of a June 1997 New York Times article to the Karl Meyer book reference, which I haven’t read. I first read about the American connection with the China Opium trade in The China Mirage by James Bradley here. It’s a fascinating read. Bradley is also author of the book that became a Clint Eastwood movie, Flags of our Fathers. 
Much as I love America, and I do, warts and all, I do find it disturbing that young people in Hong Kong wave American flags in protest at our government and Beijing. And has not Beijing, warts and all, shown remarkable forbearance in the face of such provocation?

ADDED: a reader notes that if we stuck to historical nastiness we wouldn’t deal with Germany or Japan. To which I answered: true enough, I was just wanting to make a (cheap) point. Later I also thought: Germany and Japan were punished. Germany apologised and Japan kind of apologised. By contrast the United States has never acknowledged, let alone apologised for, its part in the Opium wars. These wars and occupation of China led to what China still calls “the hundred years of humiliation” about which they feel aggrieved to this day. I know this from personal experience in China. Multiply America’s anger over Fentanyl deaths a hundred fold; that’s a fraction of it. 

Monday, 6 January 2020

Emily Molli: Independent Journalism and the Hong Kong Protests

And my comment (at YouTube):

‘In 2020, will Carrie Lam and the protesters see the cold, hard truth about what Hong Kong has become?’ Alice Wu

What I've been saying.…
Let's be clear on this: condoning violence is the opposite of fighting for freedom. The latest target, a judge, got her name graffitied on a wall at the High Court for handing down judgments that the vandals didn't agree with. How far we have departed from whatever it is we claim to be fighting for.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

‘Never mind Hong Kong’s revolution, the world is about to go to war’. Yonden Lhatoo

We won't "go to war".
Iran is not suicidal. America has missile-equipped drones that can take out any of their leaders. Any time they like.
Killing Suleimani was not so unpopular in Iran. Let alone Iraq, where they cheered in the streets.
Yonden Lhatoo: mourns every dead terrorist. Because: America-hater. Because: TDS. Because: Soy.
ADDED: Wang Yi, China’s Foreign Minister, says:
"The dangerous U.S. military operation violates the basic norms of international relations and will aggravate regional tensions and turbulence," Wang said, referring to the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq on Friday. 
I don’t recall Wang, or China, saying anything at all about the Iranian attacks on merchants shipping, about the Iranian strikes on Saudi oil fields, about Iranian killing of US contractors, about Iranian attacks on the American Embassy in Baghdad. I guess they didn't “violate the basic norms”. This can’t be dismissed as mere “whataboutery”. It’s plain hypocrisy. 

push

here
And remember it’s perfectly safe to like this cartoon! It’s not bigoted.…

It kind of reminds me of this: “kleptomaniacs don’t get puns because they take things literally”.

And Groucho: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana"

Friday, 3 January 2020

US killed Iran top general

The United States killed Soleimani, Iran's top general. And the BBC is going bananas.
Huge retaliation and world stagflation is predicted.
Here's my top-of-head prediction.
1. Iran won't retaliate. Other than in trivial ways. "Trivial" includes, sadly, in today's world, individuals kidnapped and killed.
2. The world economy will continue as if nothing had happened, at least as far as Soleimani being assassinated is concerned.

The BBC coverage so far is hysterical, unbalanced, anti-US, pro-Iranian. It's the killing of Soleimani that's a "dramatic escalation" of tension in the Middle East? Not the mining of ships or attacks on the US Embassy? Soleimani is talked of in hushed reverent terms. "Explain to us, Lyse [Douset], just how popular and charismatic Soleimani was".
Shameful.
If you're a woman, where would you rather live?
ADDED: CNN is acting as spokeschannel for Iran. Ambassador Dennis Ross, advisor to Obama, speaking to Wolf Blitzer tells us “Iran will be looking for revenge that will embarrass Trump”. Wolf nods… “ah yes, interesting…”. Projection, much? The rest of the interview is how much Trump has annoyed Iran. Cut it out, Donald!
Now (12:39 am Saturday 4 Jan) interviewing Andy Kim, another adviser to Obama who tells us that they, the Obama administration, had considered killing Soleimani, but had decided against it. So Trump, bad, because he decided different.
CNN; biased much?
CNN, right now (12:42a), asserting they’re neutral. See above. Interviewed: Obama functionaries: 2. Trump WH: 0. Neutral. Right.
ADDED (10:02 am): question being should America have assassinated Soleimani? Morally, no, of course. But geo-strategically? No civilian, certainly not me, knows. If you watch CNN the answer is no. If you watch Fox the answer is yes. So it would seem the answer to a big geo-strategic question depends on whether you are Republican or Democrat. Could BBC arbitrate? Sadly, to date, no it could not.
By the way BBC’s Lyse Doucet tells us Iran considers the killing an “act of war”. I’d have to double check, but I believe attacking the US embassy, as Iranian-backed militias did this week, is itself an act of war. 

Thursday, 2 January 2020

‘Don’t call me stupid’ (From “A Fish Called Wanda”)

Otto gets flustered …. “Don’t call me stupid” he tells Wendy Leach
Just like our “don’t-call-us-rioters” rioters. (One of the protesters’ Five Demands: “don’t call us rioters”)
To which our answer ought be the same as Mrs Leach to Otto:
Why on earth not?”

(Otto — played by the wonderful Kevin Kline).

Protests hit the poorest and most vulnerable

A shopkeeper looks out from a partly shuttered store Tsim Sha Tsui, 24/12/19
I’ve commented early and often on this blog that the costs and impacts of the protests here in Hong Kong fall disproportionately in the poor and disadvantaged in our society. 
Protests take place mostly in the working class areas: Tsuen Wan, Yuen Long, Kwan Tong, Shatin… they’re thrashing working class streets, wrecking working class shops, closing working class MTR stations. And doxximg working class “blues”.
Small businesses have fine margins; they can’t survive months of falling revenues. Lives are being ruined. For the chimera of universal franchise. And for the demand they not be called horrid names, like “rioters”. They ought be mocked for their self-indulgence, not indulged.
We here in Discovery Bay are secluded and cut off from the demonstrations. We continue to live comfortably in our own protected bubble.
So why wouldn’t we oppose the demos, right?  We’re well-to-do, insulated, gweilos, of course we’d want nothing to disturb our complacent peace, right?
Well, having been in business — in the very same working class areas of Hong Kong —  I really feel for the folks trying to make a living. It’s not their fault, whosever fault it is, that their businesses, built up over decades, are now bankrupt or teetering. I feel for them. Especially when I see — and many people any see — that this is going nowhere. It’s only hurting our city, hurting our most vulnerable, hurting them all, with zero upside.
Below, a couple of articles today on the damage to the poorest of our residents. One thing they don’t cover: the impact in charities, most of which have sharply lower revenues as a result of the demos.
1.  ‘Hong Kong unrest makes poor poorer…’. Paul Yip
It is a challenging time for Hong Kong and the worst is yet to come. People leaving the city and capital outflows are becoming more serious. But those within the low-income group face the biggest difficulties; they have less choice and cannot just leave Hong Kong.
The unrest continues, with no gain whatsoever. 
2.  ‘Hong Kong … the collateral damage…’  Brian Wong
While the mainstream media portrays the unrest as a battle between two camps – the pro-democracy movement and the ostensibly pro-stability establishment – those who have had to endure the aftermath of the destruction and violence wrought by all parties have been largely effaced from the narrative

‘Carrie Lam should learn and ban US infiltration’

Here's a thought, from Alex Lo

It reminds me that Singapore under Lee Kwan-yu implemented a policy to ban any foreign funding of religions. That kept out the malign money from Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. I thought at the time that the rest of the west ought to copy Singapore. The policy helped keep multi-religious multi-cultural Singapore at peace. A price to pay is that you have to ban all foreign money for all religions. You have to do that to be, and be seen to be, non-discriminatory. 
We could do the same with Alex Lo's suggestion: ban all foreign moneys from funding Hong Kong protests, not just America's. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

New Year 2020, and… how anti-protests is not anti-anti-government

Happy New Year, one and all!

Listening to some reviews of 2019, the “Hong Kong protests” pop up repeatedly as one of the top stories of 2019. “Hong Kong protesters” are named Time magazine readers’ pick for “Person of the Year”.
The narrative is simple: they are brave freedom fighters, “pro democracy” and “anti tyranny” (aka “anti-government”).
So if I come out as anti the protests, a “blue”, not a “yellow”, does that mean I’m anti democracy and pro tyrant? Am I anti-anti-government?
No, it does not, because I’m also pro democracy and anti tyrant.
I’m pro democracy: the difference is I think the results of rioting demonstrators will be less democracy, not more. That’s why I’m against them.
Re the “tyranny” issue, I’ve written often enough in this blog about how much I hate Xi Jinping’s dictatorship. The protests encourage the tyrant, they do not keep it at bay. That’s why I’m against them. Much as we may despise Xi and his cronies, we have to live and deal with China. We can’t live in perpetual opposition, unscathed. “One Country, Two Systems“ is all we have to protect us from the full force of tyranny.
And often enough I’ve criticised the Hong Kong government. I think it’s backward and incompetent.
So I reject the binary. The binary that says, if you’re anti demonstrators you are anti democracy. You’re pro tyranny. Or if you’re anti protesters you’re anti-anti-government. I’m pro democracy. I’m anti tyrant. We can’t let the media hijack the terms and  bestow them only on the protesters.
The costs of rioting, of the vandalism, of demonstrations overall are in the billions. Worst affected are charities and small businesses, the mom and pops of Hong Kong.
And the benefits are: zero.
Yes, the government did withdraw the extradition bill. But that was in June.
Since then any extra benefits of the protests, to repeat: zero.
Unless you count being the darling of western Mainstream Media as big benefit. Being labelled “pro democracy and anti tyrant” as enough payoff. Waving their American flags, I guess many do value being media darlings.
You may burn, young millenarians. I won’t burn with you.

So what of 2020 for Hong Kong? I’ll go for the time-tested three options: The same, worse and better:

1. The Same: that’s Yonden’s take. This is the new normal. Weekly forays by rioters, travel disruptions, police fear gassing, business down, people getting on around the sporadic mayhem. Kind of like the opening scene of the movie Brazil: a lady pushes a prom along the street; a bomb goes off in a shop behind her; glass shatters; the woman keeps going, unaffected by the bomb, uncaring, not noticing. (Likelihood: 80%).
Last night, New Years Eve, the same new normal Hong Kong: Tear gas. Rioters smashing shop windows,… revellers celebrate fireworks…

2. Worse: riots escalate. Police crack down more brutally. Government continues to sit on its hands. Beijing intervenes. Carrie Lam is sacked. A Beijing stooge, a strongman, is installed. Martial law. Mainstream and social media is muzzled. Protests banned. Beijing really does take control, as opposed to the imagined control animating the protesters. (Likelihood: 15%)
Another version of “worse”: the “Revolution of our times” (時代革命) happens, the government is overthrown, radicals take over the government. Beijing sits idly by and lets it all happen. (Likelihood: zero).

3. Better: the government appoints an independent commission to look into alleged police brutality. It restarts talks on Universal suffrage. Beijing agrees and sits down to constructive talks. (Likelihood: zero).
Alternative “Better”: Carrie Lam does the above, Beijing sacks her and she leaves as a fallen hero.(Likelihood: 5%).

Meantime: another demonstration is approved for this afternoon. Masses expected. Organisers have appealed for them to be peaceful.
And also: a Reuter’s poll says most Hongkongers support the protesters. But most do not support independence. I guess gratefulness for small mercies.