Tag Archives: china

Scott Pruitt is making nice with EPA employees, but big changes are to come.

In December, when Musk got stuck in traffic, instead of leaning on the horn or flipping off the other drivers, he decided to build a new transportation system. An hour later, Max Chafkin writes in Bloomberg Businessweek, “the project had a name and a marketing platform. ‘It shall be called The Boring Company,’” Musk wrote.

Musk told employees to grab some heavy machinery and they began digging a hole in the SpaceX parking lot. He bought one of those machines that bores out tunnels and lays down concrete walls as it goes. It’s named Nannie.

Musk is the grown-up version of the kid who decides to dig to China: He doesn’t pause to plan or ask what’s possible, he just grabs a stick and starts shoveling. Maybe that’s the approach we need. As Chafkin points out, “Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago.” And Bent Flyvbjerg, an academic who studies why big projects cost so much, says that the tunneling industry is ripe for someone with new ideas to shake things up.

Musk is a technical genius. But the things that make tunnels expensive tend to be political — they have to do with endless hearings before local government councils and concessions to satisfy concerned neighbors and politicians. For that stultifying process, at least, Musk’s new company is aptly named. If Musk figures out how disrupt local land-use politics, it would mean he’s smarter than anyone thinks.

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Scott Pruitt is making nice with EPA employees, but big changes are to come.

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Social Media Is Best Used for Distraction, Not Argument

Mother Jones

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The Chinese government is the acknowledged expert at authoritarian use of social media to promote party goals. So how do they do it? Alex Tabarrok points today to a new paper that engaged in a ton of ground-level research to come to a conclusion that shouldn’t surprise anyone. They don’t waste their time trying to change minds:

We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime’s strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. We infer that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime.

As the chart at the top of this post shows, the government’s social media army leaps into action at all the appropriate times, but instead of defending the party or the government, they just spend their time distracting attention onto other subjects.

I hardly need to mention that this strategy should remind you of someone.

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Social Media Is Best Used for Distraction, Not Argument

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Julian Assange Didn’t Say WikiLeaks Gives Russia a Pass Because It’s Already Open and Transparent

Mother Jones

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Readers who are extremely long in the tooth will remember a blogger named Steven Den Beste from back in the day. He was a gung-ho warblogger who wrote very long, very nerdy pieces about the urgent need to invade Iraq (with occasional forays into cell phone standards), so one day Daniel Davies decided that what we all needed was Shorter Steven Den Beste. Davies’ version was usually a withering sentence or two.

Today, things have changed. I can think of all too many folks who could stand to cut their word count in half, but for now I’d settle for Shorter Glenn Greenwald. Yesterday he wrote this:

The Guardian’s Summary of Julian Assange’s Interview Went Viral and Was Completely False

According to Microsoft Word, the article clocks in at 2,645 words, so here’s the nickel version. A few days ago Julian Assange gave an interview to Italian reporter Stefania Maurizi. (It is illustrated with the photo on the right, which I hope they don’t mind me re-using since it makes me like Assange a little better than I usually do.) Here are the relevant sections:

Most of WikiLeaks’ biggest revelations concern the US military-industrial complex….Why aren’t human rights abuses producing the same effects in regimes like China or Russia, and what can be done to democratise information in those countries?

In Russia, there are many vibrant publications, online blogs, and Kremlin critics such as Alexey Navalny are part of that spectrum…..In Russia there are competitors to WikiLeaks, and no WikiLeaks staff speak Russian….WikiLeaks is a predominantly English-speaking organisation with a website predominantly in English. We have published more than 800,000 documents about or referencing Russia and president Putin, so we do have quite a bit of coverage, but the majority of our publications come from Western sources….The real determinant is how distant that culture is from English.

….What about Donald Trump?…What do you think he means?

Hillary Clinton’s election would have been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States. Donald Trump is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better.

The Guardian’s piece, written by Ben Jacobs, made several claims: (1) Assange “long had a close relationship with the Putin regime,” (2) Assange said there was no need for WikiLeaks to undertake a whistleblowing role in Russia “because of the open and competitive debate he claimed exists there,” and (3) Assange gave “guarded praise” of Trump.

The first is unfounded, and the Guardian has now retracted it. The second is false as well. Whether you choose to believe him or not, what Assange said is that WikiLeaks isn’t a local player in Russia and mostly appeals to English-speaking leakers. The third is hazier. Personally, I’d say Assange is wildly naive about Trump not representing an “existing power structure,” and disingenuous in calling part of Trump’s inner circle “idiosyncratic personalities.” That said, “not a DC insider” plus “destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC” plus “change for the worse and change for the better” could reasonably be described as “guarded praise.” Those are all things that Assange pretty clearly views favorably.

This is a lot more than two sentences, but I’m not as witty as Dan Davies. In any case, I agree with Greenwald about two out of three of these things, and hopefully corrections will go as viral as the initial article. That’s how things usually work in social media, right?


Julian Assange Didn’t Say WikiLeaks Gives Russia a Pass Because It’s Already Open and Transparent

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Fake news is old news to climate scientists

Think fake news is a recent plague, borne of the presidential election? It’s not.

“The notion of ‘fake news’ is hardly new to climate scientists like myself,” Penn State climatologist Michael Mann told Grist. “We’ve known about it (and written about it) for years.”

Thanks to researchers like Mann — the originator of the famed “hockey stick” chart and a frequent target of fake news himself — the science behind climate change is settled. And yet there remains a vocal contingent of ideologues who refuse to accept the connection between carbon emissions and a warming planet. For example, Donald Trump and a good portion of his proposed cabinet. For years, right-wing news organizations like Breitbart, Infowars, the Daily Caller, and Climate Depot have fed their denial, publishing stories that misinterpret, misrepresent, or distort scientific findings — or just outright lie.

This kind of fake news has set progress back years, if not decades, Mann said. It’s a “crime against the planet,” he told Grist, and a “crime against humanity.”

All the news that’s unfit to print

There are many flavors of fake news. Some of these stories push the idea that, yes, the climate is changing, but it’s just a natural effect of changes in the sun’s activity and humans have nothing to do with it. This theory has been a favorite of deniers for three decades, and even though it’s been widely discredited, Breitbart reported it in again in 2014, under the headline, “Solar Activity Could Cause Global Warming, New Paper Says.” Of course, this runs contrary to actual science, but Breitbart never lets that stop them.

Other fake stories claim that carbon dioxide is good because it increases plant growth, as the ever-optimistic Breitbart declared again last year. But while it’s true that CO2 can be beneficial for plants, it doesn’t outweigh the fact that increasing concentrations in the atmosphere are toasting our home planet. Good for plants does not equal good for people.

Bogus climate stories also allege that a so-called “pause” in global warming undermines established climate science. Although climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that temperatures are rising and climate change is real, there has been debate over whether the rate of temperature increase slowed in the early 2000s — which climate deniers refer to as the “pause” or “hiatus.” Fake media outlets have seized on this debate and tried to spin it as proof that climate change isn’t real: Breitbart even claimed that Mann jumped on the pause bandwagon, deserted his scientific colleagues, and decided that there’s been no global warming since 1998. This was likely news to Mann himself.

There’s also the classic seasonal variety of stories alleging that cold, snowy weather disproves climate change. This reached a fever pitch in 2015, when Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe threw a snowball on the Senate floor. What Inhofe and his fellow deniers don’t get is that weather is not climate. Climate change is about long-term warming trends, not individual weather events, and so snow and climate change just aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, a warming climate could actually lead to an increase in snowfall in some places as melting sea ice in the Arctic alters jet streams.

And, of course, some deniers claim that this whole thing is a vast conspiracy perpetrated by scientists hungry for government research money. (They have never, apparently, seen what climate scientists drive.) Others — like our president-elect — say it’s a hoax created by China to crush U.S. manufacturing. Still other deniers insist that it’s a scheme cooked up by Al Gore to make himself rich — but, not to worry, they also tell us that Al Gore was sued by 30,000 scientists for his global warming fraud.

Unfortunately, conspiracy theories are hard to combat. Research shows that when presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs, instead of reconsidering those beliefs, we humans tend to double-down on our preconceived notions. So if you already believe climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American public or that the Earth hasn’t warmed in 17 years or that this is all a big Communist plot, it’s unlikely that evidence to the contrary will dissuade you.

Some deniers — perhaps those who really believe Al Gore was sued by 30,000 scientists — think climate science is a lie because of the misinformation they absorb every day on TV and through social media. But other deniers have a more base motivation: money. The most high-profile deniers — people like Inhofe and Climate Depot’s Marc Morano — are backed by the fossil fuel industry. Exxon alone spent over $30 million to fund climate-denying organizations between 1998 and 2014, and an investigation by Carbon Brief found that nine of the 10 most prolific authors of papers skeptical of climate change have ties to Exxon. The industrialist Koch brothers, too, have spent a fortune on climate denial, donating nearly $50 million between 1997 and 2008 to groups that work to undermine climate science.

The money, it seems, was well-spent. Right-wing media outlets spread those groups’ misleading messages far and wide. So while the rest of the world has long since accepted the reality of climate change and humanity’s role in causing it, in the U.S., not only are we still debating its existence, but a climate change denier is about to occupy the White House.

Reality strikes back

Soon, however, there may be a cost to spreading misinformation about climate scientists, if not about climate change itself. The D.C. Court of Appeals recently ruled that Mann can proceed with a defamation suit against two bloggers who called his work fraudulent — and worse.

“Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science,” wrote Rand Simberg in a 2012 post on the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s blog, “except for instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in service of politicized science that could have dire consequences for the nation and planet.” The National Review’s Mark Steyn then quoted these comments in a post of his own, writing that Simberg “has a point” and calling Mann’s work “fraudulent.”

For this, the court has ruled that Mann can sue both bloggers as well as their institutions — but you wouldn’t know that from the headlines in the climate-denying press. Climate Depot reported, “Court dismisses Michael Mann defamation lawsuit against National Review.” This is a clear manipulation of the truth: While the court did dismiss Mann’s claims against one National Review editor, its ruling clearly says that Mann can proceed with his suit against Steyn and National Review itself. But if we learned anything from the election of 2016, it’s that truth no longer carries much weight.

In the court’s ruling, Judge Vanessa Ruiz wrote, “Tarnishing the personal integrity and reputation of a scientist important to one side may be a tactic to gain advantage in a no-holds-barred debate over global warming.” It’s not a new tactic, but tarnishing reputations and publishing lies has proved to be an effective one. As for how destructive, we’re soon to find out.

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Fake news is old news to climate scientists

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Peter Navarro: Genius or Idiot? Or Neither?

Mother Jones

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Tyler Cowen says that UCI professor Peter Navarro is “one of the most versatile and productive American economists of the last few decades.” Matt Yglesias says Navarro is an idiot. Who’s right?

I think there’s a category error here. Back in September, Navarro co-authored a paper about Donald Trump’s trade policy. Roughly speaking, Navarro relied on the following accounting identity:

GDP = Consumption + Investment + Government Spending + Trade Balance

So if our trade balance goes up from -$500 billion to $0, Navarro said, GDP will go up $500 billion and the government will collect a lot of extra taxes. Hooray! But as Yglesias points out, this is comic-book-level nonsense.1 Let me offer an analogy:

Corporate profits = Revenue + Investment Income – Labor Costs – Other Costs

So if I cut labor costs in half, corporate profits will go up. Right? I think you can see that this is unlikely. If you fired half your workers, you probably could no longer produce anything and your company would go bust. If you cut everyone’s wages in half, you’d suffer a steady exodus of your best people and probably end up far less profitable. If you replaced half your workers with machines, profits might indeed go up, but not by the amount of payroll you save. You’d have to account for the capital cost of the machines—which would probably reduce investment income—and the cost of maintenance—which would increase other costs. Bottom line: depending on how you do this, lots of different things could happen.

In the case of GDP, it’s true that everything in the formula has to add up, since this formula defines what GDP is. But if the trade balance goes up, there are several obvious possibilities. Consumption might go down. Investment might go down. Government spending might go down. In fact, once all the dust has settled, overall GDP might ultimately go down, stay the same, or go up. The real answer is that you’d need to model out an actual plan and figure out where it reaches equilibrium. Navarro knows this perfectly well.

So what is Navarro? Brilliant economist or idiot? Neither one. He’s someone who used to be a versatile and productive economist and is now a China-obsessed fanatic2 willing to say anything for the chance of a job in the Trump administration. He hasn’t lost 50 IQ points, he’s merely become so fixated on the dangers of Chinese trade that he no longer cares about economics. He cares only about saying things that might build support for his preferred policies, regardless of whether they’re true.

In other words, he’s now just another dime-a-dozen political hack. Trump will keep him around as long as his PhD is useful and then toss him aside.

1No offense meant to comic books.

2Three of his five most recent books are: The Coming China Wars, Death by China: Confronting the Dragon, and Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World.

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Peter Navarro: Genius or Idiot? Or Neither?

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