Tuesday, January 24, 2023

24: China

Jacinda Ardern, the Star That Didn’t Quite Deliver For a brief time, Jacinda Ardern put us on the map....... Here was a young prime minister, elected in 2017 at just 37, with an Obama-grade 1,000-watt smile, who symbolized optimism and Kiwi values of fairness and hope. To progressive admirers around the world, she became a symbolic alternative to Donald Trump, proving that progressives could win elections and even have a baby in office. ....... over time, many Kiwis came to feel that, despite her international image, Jacinda’s rhetoric was never quite matched by substance. ........ Lockdown was possible only with the consent of the governed. No one liked it, but most of us agreed with it. We were relieved that thousands were not dying, and her government was re-elected with a colossal mandate in 2020. But those tough Covid policies led to growing division, spurred conspiracy theorists and strained the economy. ........ But New Zealand today feels as unequal as when Ms. Ardern was elected. ........ Her government kept wages paid and businesses going during the pandemic with stimulus checks and low interest rates. But that has caused a massive transfer of wealth to asset owners. .......... Mario Cuomo said that we campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Ms. Ardern gave us the poetry, showing that elections can be won with progressive values and a promise to leave no child behind. But you’ve got to deliver. Rising crime, inflation and stubborn inequality matter more to New Zealand voters than global star power. ......... Ms. Ardern’s star still shines brightly overseas, and her time on the global stage may just be beginning. Since borders reopened to travel as the pandemic eased, her international miles have increased in inverse proportion to her government’s popularity. .

‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ Leads With 11 Oscar Nominations Most of its revenue comes from the sale of broadcasting rights to the show. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. .

‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ leads nominees. .

There’s Been a Revolution in How China Is Governed Yuen Yuen Ang argues that understanding China as an “autocracy with democratic characteristics” is key to making sense of its rise and trajectory. ......... You can’t understand this era in American politics without recognizing that it’s playing out in the context of China. Sometimes it’s direct, as in the way much of American manufacturing moved offshore to China, altering the politics of a lot of the Midwest. Sometimes it’s indirect, as in the way the sense that China still builds things and we don’t, has become a driving political argument, and has largely inspired, I think, the new focus on production and industrial policy in Washington. Things like the CHIPS and Science Act are explicitly framed as keeping our technology lead or increasing our technology lead, vis-à-vis China. ....... China’s size and centrality make it a kind of political hyper-object. It’s near and far and different and familiar and here and there, all at the same time. To cover China is to cover, in a way, America. ........ Yuen Yuen Ang, a China scholar at Johns Hopkins University ....... we are so focused on how China chooses its leaders on the symmetry, or lack thereof, between our political institutions and China’s, that we really miss its governing institutions. We really miss a much more consequential revolution in how China is actually administrated. ....... marked the end of the reform era and the beginning of a personalist dictatorship under Xi Jinping. ........

“the clash of two gilded ages.”

...... the 10-year Cultural Revolution, which was a de facto civil war within China. ........ the dominant political emotion is envy. ...... we envy their manufacturing prowess, that they still make things, that they act. ......... how slow and sclerotic we are ....... from the Chinese point of view, the prevalent perception is the Americans are not only envious of China’s rise, envious of its state capacity, but that America is now on a project to contain China’s rise. So from the Chinese point of view, it’s more than envy. .......... There’s this idea that as they got richer, they would become a liberal democracy. And that didn’t happen. ......... America sometimes forgets what its real strengths are. ........... after 35 years, China did not become a liberal democracy. And it actually became more authoritarian under Xi Jinping’s rule. And so the West freaked out .......... actually, political reforms were a fundamental prerequisite of China’s economic reforms. ....... what happened within the Chinese Communist Party under Deng Xiaoping is that he introduced partial democratic qualities. ........ He also introduced a tremendous amount of competition into the political system. ......... “In the United States, politics are exciting and bureaucracy is boring. In China, the opposite is true.” ............ you have the same Chinese Communist Party in office since 1949. But if you look at the bureaucracy and the governance, it has dramatically transformed up and down over time. ......... In China, you take the existence of the Chinese Communist Party for granted. You know that it’s the only party and it’s not going away. ......... Bureaucracy is a dirty word. It’s an epithet, I think, in America. If I say you’re a bureaucrat, I’m not typically saying something good about you. .......... Historically, bureaucrats, or government officials, have always occupied the highest position in the social hierarchy. And this is true until modern day China ........ until this day, when you look at the annual civil service examinations in China, millions and millions of people line up. It is very attractive to be a civil servant, not only because of the job stability but because of the status it brings. ........ they opened up, they made more flexible, they made more experimental, they made more results oriented their public administration. ......... The autocracies that we are familiar with are autocracies with bad governance — for example, North Korea, Maoist China. But there’s another kind of autocracy, which is autocracy with partial liberalization and effective governance. And that was reform China under Deng Xiaoping. ......... The same economic success brought corruption, inequality, debt risks, environmental pollution — all of the defining problems facing China when Xi Jinping took over. ....... “Public employees took a cut of revenue produced by their organizations. And these changes fueled a results-oriented culture in the bureaucracy. All the results in the Chinese context are measured purely in economic terms.” ......... in China, you have low salaries and a fair amount of profit-sharing, which you could look at as corruption, or you could look at as incentive alignment .......... It occurs at all levels of power. At the highest level, it’s not about salaries. But it is about the very top elites essentially privately splitting up the spoils of capitalism. ........ we get to know, ah, so-and-so, he was in Politburo and goodness, he amassed billions of dollars through his family networks when he was in power ............. everyone gets to share. Whether you are the very top elite in the Politburo, right down to being a rank-and-file bureaucrat in a particular Chinese city, you get to share, in terms of the revenue being made by your agency. ......... in the past, in pre-modern societies, whether it’s in the West or in China, actually most officials and bureaucrats function on like a tax farming commission salesmen basis. .............. They were not actually paid a salary by the state. They took a cut of taxes they collected. ......... we can see all of the consequences play out today in the combination of crazy growth and, at the same time, crazy corruption. ......... And that was actually true in America in its period of really torrid development, too.......... the growth-damaging forms of corruption are like petty bribery, embezzlement, extortion of businesses ......... access money corruption and capitalism has actually gone hand-in-hand ......... “Inflexible procedural rules are a hallmark of the American state. The ubiquity of court challenges, the artificial rigors of notice and comment rule-making, zealous environmental review, pre-enforcement review of agency rules, picayune legal rules, governing hiring and procurement, nationwide court injunctions — the list goes on and on. Collectively, these procedures frustrate the very government action that progressives demand to address the urgent problems that now confront us.” ........... the administrative state is so rule bound in America, it’s become highly nonresponsive and highly nonexperimental. ........... the focus of American and democratic politics is, we’re going to limit the government, but we are going to give society as much freedom as possible. And so oftentimes, what my Chinese colleagues would say is, America is a society where the government is small but society is large. ............. China is a mirror image. In China, the focus of limits and restrictions is not placed on the government, but on society. .............. In America, you see that from society — from civil society, universities, the private sector. Whereas, when you look at China, very often the source of policy adaptability comes from the bureaucracy. It comes from the government itself. That’s not to say that Chinese private sector does not have innovations. It also has many, many innovations. But it’s always taking the lead of the government. ............ “The goal of economic growth was always paired with an indispensable requisite, maintaining political stability. Failing this requirement, for instance, allowing a mass protest to break out, could cause leaders to flunk their entire test in a given year.” ...............

the number one goal of the party is to keep itself in power.

........... capitalism is allowed to thrive, to the extent that it allows China to become prosperous. .......... he came to power in 2012, in the midst of the greatest scandal facing the Communist Party in a whole generation. ........... he was relatively unknown before 2012 ......... he was seen as a safe choice, that he was a low-profile politician, unlike Bo Xilai, who was too flamboyant and made too much trouble. .......... some people give Xi credit for his ability to lie low and to bide his time. And by appearing to be this extremely low-profile, mild-mannered politician, he got his chance in 2012. And then year after year, he surprised everyone who put him in power. .......... he has correctly identified corruption as a systemic problem. He correctly identified that he could use anti-corruption to get party officials in line with his orders. Because the system was so systemically corrupt, there were likely so many individuals who were vulnerable to investigations and indictments. So he had something to use against all of them. And I think that really helped him to get the obedience and consolidation of power that he finally achieved to perfection in 2022. .......... he is genuinely concerned about systemic corruption across the entire bureaucracy .......... he empowered the disciplinary apparatus and launched them on a massive investigation drive. ......... he didn’t address the root causes of corruption, which is that the party and government has so much power in the economy. And that power was creating a demand for bribes and graft. ......... now to be successful within the political system, the number one thing to do is to demonstrate personal loyalty to Xi. And that may still involve some economic growth, but not always. ......... since 1949, there isn’t just one China, but there has been at least three different Chinas. So China under Mao, under Deng and under Xi are three completely different Chinas. .......... he has drastically changed the economic and political system in China. .......... What Xi Jinping has tried to do is he took this system that he inherited from Deng Xiaoping, which had created tremendous wealth for China, but it also created tremendous problems of capitalism, like corruption, inequality, debt risk, pollution. .............. with him having all of the say, now he doesn’t have to go through anyone. He gets to slam the table and make a decision, like “zero Covid.” .......... former President Hu Jintao. So he was the paramount leader of the Party who selected and brought Xi to power. .......... it was shocking, not only for the rest of the world, but for people in China, to see a former leader be escorted out in such a disrespectful manner. .......... Xi Jinping in 2012 and Xi Jinping in 2022 are actually quite two different men. .......... you can see him initially being very respectful toward his benefactor, Hu Jintao. And by the end of this 10 year process, when he finally emerges at the top with no challenges whatsoever to his power, he finally also shoves his benefactor out of the door, literally. ............ The key significance of these protests that we saw in November is that it is the first time Chinese citizens have come out into the streets in demonstration against a national policy, and have successfully made China’s top leader change his mind. That is something unusual........... they successfully got Xi to listen. And he changed course very suddenly. ......... “Legitimacy is not solely, not even primarily, a product of the procedures that agencies follow. Legitimacy arises more generally from the perception that government is capable, informed, prompt, responsive and fair.” .............. that sense that the Chinese people have had that their government is almost omniscient and keeps making these good decisions and continuing growth and moving the country forward ......... his anti-poverty and anti-corruption policies, you could describe them as populist. They appeal to the poor and the lower classes in China. They appeal to the public resentment against corruption. ........... the party’s desire to exert political control on tech companies that were growing too big and powerful from the party’s point of view. ............ within months, $1 trillion in market valuation was wiped off by the common prosperity campaign. ............ on eradicating poverty, we have plenty of experience. But in managing capitalism, we have much to learn. ........ It doesn’t know how to deal with corruption on this scale, inequality on this scale. ......... And in that speech, he told the local bureaucrats, why don’t you guys go and experiment and figure it out. And so what we now see in 2023 is an even more drastic course correction. ........... they would like to drastically relax regulations, because they want to bring back business confidence. ......... And then comes Joe Biden, and he is tougher on China — not rhetorically, but in substance, than Donald Trump. ..........

China and America are similar, in the sense that they are both extremely self-centered

............. he chose to project ambition as a global power, which alarmed the United States. He also chose to take the country on a more authoritarian path, which alarmed the United States even more. .......... the two countries have extremely different strengths and weaknesses. .......... which of these two countries are going to make use of their political system to solve problems of capitalism. ............ a fascinating story about a mathematical genius who is not accepted for many, many years by society because his genius was so wide that it could not fit in any given disciplinary box.

Elon Musk’s Appetite for Destruction A wave of lawsuits argue that Tesla’s self-driving software is dangerously overhyped. What can its blind spots teach us about the company’s erratic C.E.O.? ........ Tesla was at one point worth more than Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, Ford and General Motors combined ........ He’s the sort of man who walks around with a battery of fully formed opinions on life’s most important subjects — computers, software, exercise, money — and a willingness to share them. ....... He was particularly concerned that I understand that Autopilot and F.S.D. were saving lives: “The data shows that their accident rate while on Beta is far less than other cars” ........ “Slowing down the F.S.D. Beta will result in more accidents and loss of life based on hard statistical data.” ........ Key drew an analogy to the coronavirus vaccines, which prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths but also caused rare deaths and injuries from adverse reactions. ........ Key didn’t want to talk about Musk, but the executive’s reputational collapse had become impossible to ignore. He was in the middle of his bizarre, on-again-off-again campaign to take over Twitter, to the dismay of Tesla loyalists. And though he hadn’t yet attacked Anthony Fauci or spread conspiracy theories about Nancy Pelosi’s husband or gone on a journalist-banning spree on the platform, the question was already suggesting itself: How do you explain Elon Musk? .......... Autopilot, he said, was like fancy cruise control: speed, steering, crash avoidance. ...... He was looking at a favorite trail and ignoring the road. “I looked up to the left, and the car went off to the right,” he said. “I was in this false sense of security.” ........ First, he reached out directly to someone who was harmed by one of his products — something it’s hard to imagine the head of G.M. or Ford contemplating, if only for legal reasons. (Indeed, this email was entered into evidence after Riley sued Tesla.) And then Musk rebuffed Riley. No vague “I’ll look into it” or “We’ll see what we can do.” Riley receives a hard no. ........ Tesla is a big car company with thousands of employees. It existed before Elon Musk. It might exist after Elon Musk. ...... the lawsuits, a crashing stock price and an A.I. that still seems all too capable of catastrophic failure — you should look to its mercurial, brilliant, sophomoric chief executive. ....... during a recent deposition, when a lawyer asked him, “Do you have some kind of unique ability to identify narcissistic sociopaths?” and he replied, “You mean by looking in the mirror?” ....... his breakneck pursuit of A.I., which in the long term, he believes, will save countless lives. ........ Day in, day out, we scare and maim and kill ourselves in cars. In the United States last year, there were around 11 million road accidents, nearly five million injuries and more than 40,000 deaths. ........ there is at least one Autopilot-related crash in the United States every day ........ The cars didn’t have sufficient driver monitoring because Musk didn’t want drivers to think that the car needed human supervision. ...... The company would admit to the technology’s limitations in the user manual but publish viral videos of a Tesla driving a complicated route with no human intervention. ......... On days when it was sunny out and there was a lot of glare, the car could be “moody.” And when it was foggy, and it was often foggy in Fresno, “it freaks out.” .......... Once we had come to a complete stop, the Tesla accelerated quickly, cutting off one car turning across us and veering around another. It was not so much inhuman as the behavior of a human who was determined to be a jerk. .......... There was a situation that kept stumping the A.I. until, after enough data had been collected by dedicated drivers like Alford, the neural net figured it out. Repeat this risk-reward conversion X number of times, and maybe Tesla will solve self-driving. Maybe even next year. .......... (He was even more enthusiastic about the version of F.S.D. released in December, which he described as nearly flawless.) .......... Peter Thiel, Musk’s former business partner at PayPal, once said that if he wrote a book, the chapter about Musk would be called “The Man Who Knew Nothing About Risk.” ......... a man who simply embraces astonishing amounts of present-day risk in the rational assumption of future gains. .......... give him credit for creating the now-robust market in electric vehicles in the United States and around the world. ........ Neuralink had the potential to cure paralysis, he believed, which would improve the lives of millions of future humans. ......... He called Twitter a “digital town square” that was responsible for nothing less than preventing a new American civil war. ......... In 2019, in a testy exchange of email with the activist investor and steadfast Tesla critic Aaron Greenspan, Musk bristled at the suggestion that Autopilot was anything other than lifesaving technology. “The data is unequivocal that Autopilot is safer than human driving by a significant margin,” he wrote. “It is unethical and false of you to claim otherwise. In doing so, you are endangering the public.” ................ Musk rarely talks about Autopilot or F.S.D. without mentioning how superior it is to a human driver. At a shareholders’ meeting in August, he said that Tesla was “solving a very important part of A.I., and one that can ultimately save millions of lives and prevent tens of millions of serious injuries by driving just an order of magnitude safer than people.” ........ Teslas with Autopilot engaged were one-tenth as likely to crash as a regular car. ........ even if Autopilot and human drivers were equally deadly, we should prefer the A.I., provided that the next software update, based on data from crash reports and near misses, would make the system even safer. “That’s a little bit like surgeons doing experimental surgery,” he said. “Probably the first few times they do the surgery, they’re going to lose patients, but the argument for that is they will save more patients in the long run.” ............ In the third quarter of 2022, Tesla claimed that there was one crash for every 6.26 million miles driven using Autopilot — indeed, almost 10 times better than the U.S. baseline of one crash for every 652,000 miles. .......... crashes were five times as common on local roads as on turnpikes. When comparing Autopilot numbers to highway numbers, Tesla’s advantage drops significantly. ......... Teslas crashed just as often when Autopilot was on as when it was off. ......... Right now in San Francisco and Austin, Texas, and coming soon to cities all over the world, you can hail a robotaxi operated by Cruise or Waymo. ...... at this point, Tesla’s competitors are closer to achieving full self-driving than any vehicle equipped with F.S.D. ........ “I thought the self-driving problem would be hard,” he said, “but it was harder than I thought. It’s not like I thought it’d be easy. I thought it would be very hard. But it was actually way harder than even that.” ............. The car did a good job of staying in its lane, better than any other traffic-aware cruise control I’ve used. .

Oliver Stone Goes Nuclear at Davos At the World Economic Forum, the provocative filmmaker received a warm reception for his film promoting nuclear power. ....... nuclear has been unfairly maligned by oil companies ........ “Despite our investments in renewables, it’s not improving our carbon emissions because we haven’t tackled the core issue — eliminating fossil fuels,” he told DealBook. “Climate change has forced us to take a new look at nuclear power.” .

The Sanctions on Russia Are Working Slowly but Surely, They Are Weakening Putin ........ Russia accumulated substantial financial reserves. Since 2014, Russia has increased trade to Asia, which has allowed it to weather a reduction of commerce with the West. Most important, Putin aggressively strengthened his repressive machine to deter mass protests against deteriorating living standards. ........ 10 percent of the Russian workforce is without work. This is comparable with the worst levels in the 1990s, during the second half of which 10 to 13 percent of Russians were unemployed. ....... The so-called strong ruble is propped up by draconian currency controls and a plunge in imports. This policy has badly hurt industries like the steelmaking sector: finished steel output contracted by over seven percent in 2022. ........ The output of the Russian automotive industry, which directly or indirectly provides jobs to 3.5 million people, plummeted by two-thirds in 2022. ........ Russians’ living standards are sharply deteriorating. ........ October 2022, 68 percent of Russians had noticed a reduction in the supply of goods offered in stores over the past three months. ........... 35 percent of Russians were forced to cut their spending on food in 2022 ......... only 23 percent of Russians considered their personal financial situation to be “good.” ........ Asian countries such as China and India are mostly interested in buying cheap Russian raw materials such as oil, gas, coal, and roundwood at a significant discount. Leaders in those countries are not interested in helping Russia develop its own competitive manufacturing sectors. ......... Capital flight from Russia in 2022 is projected to equal $251 billion .......... Putin destroyed the organized political opposition after he imprisoned the leading dissident, Alexei Navalny, and sent most of Russia’s other most prominent opposition figures to jail or into exile. He has successfully intimidated the Russian population by introducing tough prison terms for those protesting his leadership: Russians face up to 15 years in jail for “political extremism” or “discrediting Russia’s armed forces.” ............

But public opinion is trending against Putin. As the dissolution of the Soviet Union demonstrates, once long-suppressed public discontent breaks out into the open, change can happen fast.


'They Dug Their Own Graves': Elon Musk on Housing Bubble .

Is It Bad to Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach? Your gut is adaptable, experts say, but there are a few facts you should keep in mind.......... For many people, enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee first thing in the morning is a nonnegotiable way to start the day. ........ Fortunately, the stomach can withstand all kinds of irritants, including coffee. ....... Irritants like alcohol, cigarette smoke and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs — such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) — are well known to alter our stomach’s natural defense mechanisms and injure its lining .......... Outside of the gut, the caffeine from coffee is well known to increase heart rate and blood pressure. And if you drink it too close to bedtime, it can disrupt your sleep. .......... Drinking coffee on an empty stomach is unlikely to cause any damage to your stomach, but it could theoretically provoke heartburn ........ Adding a splash of milk or cream or a small bite of food with your morning cup can also help. ...... coffee drinking has many health benefits, including links to longevity, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and protection against many cancers, including liver, prostate, breast and colorectal cancer. ....... “There’s far more evidence for coffee’s benefits than harms” .

This Is How Red States Silence Blue Cities. And Democracy. a blue city that serves as the capital of a red state had better brace itself when the legislature arrives in town ....... Republicans in the Tennessee House and Senate introduced legislation that would cut our Metro Council in half. (The bills ostensibly apply to all city governments with a legislative body larger than 20 members, but that’s just Nashville.) ........ state lawmakers are once again interfering in the self-governance of the blue city that drives the economic engine of the entire red state. And they’re doing it for absolutely no reason but spite. .......... Joe Biden won Nashville with almost 65 percent of the vote. ........ Occurring as it does among so many other political injustices in a nation moving rapidly toward minority rule, even the utter disenfranchisement of an entire American city is hard to get very worked up about. ......... In dismembering Nashville to create three Republican voting districts, in other words, the Tennessee General Assembly managed only to nationalize its own brand of chaos. And maybe that was the whole point. ........ Last fall Mr. Green flew to Brazil to do the same thing in that much more fragile democracy. In a trip paid for by the American Conservative Union, he met with Brazilian lawmakers pushing to change election laws. The meeting’s agenda was to discuss “voting integrity policies.” We know what happened next: Thanks in part to one of Nashville’s representatives in Congress, antidemocracy riots are now an American export. ........ Meanwhile, here at home, Mr. Green has just been named chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. .

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