The John Batchelor Show

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Air Date: 
May 22, 2013

Photo, above: Karakorum highway; see: Hour 2, Block B, Nitin Gokhale, anchor at New Delhi Television, on Chinese and Pakistani friendship – "higher than the Himalaya and deeper than the ocean" – that is, linkages to rail and road networks in Pakistan so China can connect to energy supplies in Central Asia.


Hour One

Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 1, Block A:  . Sarah Cook, senior research analyst for Freedom on the Net and East Asia at Freedom House, in re: XI Jinping, new Chinese leader: over the next decade, he'll supposedly take us toward  _____.  In fact, he censors, abuses, harasses Internet users in PRC. Microblogs suddenly shut down over the last week 0f liberal intellectuals but not at all hardcore activists. Have several million followers show that they’re moderates, mild.  The Seven Don't-Mentions:  from top echelons of PRC, profs not allowed to discuss press freedom, civil rights, civil society, the Party's historical violence, and the like.  Can he leadership pull this off?  Corruption, envtl pollution, lots of issues cause protests, and hard to resolve without press freedom and an independent judiciary. One blogger: 1,900Weibo mentions, 25  mil followers, all just cut off. Although PRC bullies intend to intimidate people, it doesn’t work – this guy says he'll "reincarnate" and bring a lot of people with him.

 Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 1, Block B:  . Charles Ortel, managing director of Newport Value Partners, in re: Caterpillar took a billion-dollar loss because of a multiyear, coordinated, massive theft committed by Chinese fraudsters. Cat sells to dealers, deoesn't know its end-use buyers; has a finance co there that's grown too much too fast. For a short play this is optimal.  Cat makes earth-moving bz that depends on a construction-boom bubble that's even now showing signs of ending.  At home base, Cat has vexing union problems, contingent liabilities, a thin capital base, customers willing to price at lower levels  . . .  if you assume the economy is in retrenchment, time to short. Mgt got $135mil reduction off purchase prices – still short $445 mil.  Letting a half-bil go out the window. Think of GE in 12005-2007.  Cat has been in the Dow since 1991. This is how the US govt treats China: We know they're dishonest, but pretend all is well.   Before 1989, it'd have meant prosecution and jail time; now, bz is a lot of backscratching. If the PRC can sting Caterpillar – who are you?

 Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 1, Block C:  . Hotel Mars, episode n. Dr. David M. Livingston, The Space Show, and William J Borucki, space scientist at NASA research center, in re: transit exoplanet survey satellite ("TESS"), Cygnis constellation.  Latest Kepler problem and reports that Kepler may not function much longer as a result of the wheel problem. Looking for habitable zone, Earth-size planets.  Years of data, still reading.  Stopped taking new data: telescope points at a group of stars, doesn't move, needs wheels on the spacecraft; two have failed, it went into safe mode, pointed toward Sun for [energy]. Ball bearings inside thought to have broken, not sure.  It’s 40 mil miles away so we have to fix it remotely.  If we can restart the wheels we may get more data. The light from the Sun hitting the spacecraft causes it to turn – photons over 20 min can turn it a few degrees.  When the spacecraft does . . . we expect to have five or six years of fuel. What's the most valuable way to spend the taxpayers's money – need to collect maximum amt of optimal science.   Mankind trying to find life in the galaxy.  Next, are there planets close to the sun that look likely?  Coming: Darwin (European), terrestrial planet-finder (US) – does it have CO2, water, oxygen?  We've found 350 Earth-sized; 800, double-Earth-size. Kepler is the frontier, the explorer: looking for "Edens" – our friends and brothers and sisters in the near cosmos.

 Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 1, Block D:  Isaac Stone Fish, in re: the captured fishermen. North Korea and the leak investigation at State. North Korea news. Sixteen Chinese fishermen kidnapped, PRC avoids talking about it. This sort of thing happens about once a year, this time a different Chinese reaction. A year ago, a similar quiet reaction, PRC thinks it’s already doing a lot to rein in DPRK; trying to pul it in slowly. In a parallel case, Taiwan banned Filipino workers and withdrew its diplomats. Lack of proportionality by PRC. Ma Ying-jeou has got a lot of criticism for being soft on PRC [he used to fly back and forth to Beijing a lot]. Positions on Diaoyutai.  Beijing and North Korean tyrannies (where North Korea is vastly worse): HSBC gauge of PRC mfrg diminution (index fell below 50). Communist Party falling back on nationalism. Chinese economy underperforming, Party can see it clearly and is very much worried about its continuing power.  Why did PRC grab 16 Chinese fishermen – mil going rogue? Eun trying to assert power? a bunch of hungry fishermen just trying to extort money?  Could be some group freelancing, and have great consequences.

Does North Korea have a pirate problem?  At  7 a.m. on May 6, Yu Xuejun received a phone call from the captain of a fishing boat he owns. "I asked him what the problem was," Yu told state broadcaster China Central Television in an interview broadcast Monday, "and he said one of the ships was missing" from off the coast of Liaoning, a Chinese province that borders North Korea.  Thus began the bizarre, opaque, and as-yet unresolved saga of the North Korean kidnapping of 16 Chinese fishermen.  The next day, May 7, Yu received a call on a satellite phone from someone he identified only as "the North Koreans' translator." The mysterious caller asked for $200,000. "Then," Yu told CCTV, "they said we don't want that much, just $130,000." Yu asked, "Why did you take my boat?" He couldn't understand the caller's answer.  "If you pay, we'll release the boat," the translator told Yu. The calls kept coming, from the same number. On the fourth call, Yu says, the captors dropped the number to $100,000 and allowed the captured captain to speak to him. "His voice was trembling. I could feel he was very afraid," Yu wrote on his microblog, where he broke the news of the kidnapping. "I suspected that my crew had been mistreated. I can't imagine what the North Korean side could do." China remains North Korea's closest ally, yet often gets repaid for its friendship with inexplicable acts of aggression. The kidnapping was probably coordinated by Pyongyang -- as the Chinese newspaper the Global Times wrote on Monday, the kidnappers are "highly likely from the North Korean army." The paper also quoted Jin Qiangyi, director of the Asian Studies Center at northeast China's Yanbian University, speculating that North Korea is "taking revenge on China" for approving the U.N. sanctions that followed its nuclear test in February. [more]

Hour Two

Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 2, Block A: Bruce Bechtol, Angelo State, author of the just-released The Last Days of Kim Jong-il: The North Korean Threat in a Changing Era, in re: shooting short-range missiles into the sea, pretty routine, several times a year; ongoing dvpt of nonballistic systems been tested for years. KN1 – vs ship – and KM2 (DPRK's indigenously-made SS1), range of 160 km.  Recall that they raised & lowered & raised & lowered ballistic missiles to get everyone all het up.  Mil is 1.2 million men, biggest inst in the country. Kim Jong-Eun's govt is now less stable than was Kim Jong-Il's in 1995 – the whole DPRK – the failed rogue state - is more unstable than since 1948. Eun not able to consolidate power. DIA classifies things, qqfois overclassifies to be safe, but we’ve had a huge amt of info available, so the investgation of Stat Dept employee – data gathered by James Rosen of Fox – looks highly questionable, spurious.

 Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 2, Block B:  Nitin Gokhale, anchor at New Delhi Television, in re: Chinese and Pakistani friendship – "higher than the Himalaya and deeper than the ocean" – linkages to rail and road networks in Pakistan so China can link up to energy supplies in Central Asia.  When Li goes to India, they issue nice comments, but when he goes to Pakistan, they do real deals. Dvpg & upgrading the Karakorum highway. India seems helpless to do anything abt it. China has identified India as a weakest link, and so feels free to push it aoround, esp in regard to the border. No visible sign of India's civilan leadership coming out of the shadow of the old border war with China.  The military needs to be on gueard. China invaded India on purpose to provoke and intimidate - and it worked.

Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 2, Block C: Gabriel Wildau, Reuters, in re: yuan-denominated outbound investment fund (yuan-trading outside of China). The first mfrg contraction in seven months (see: HSBC report) is meaningful . People thought the ren min bu was a one-way bet upward. Speculators cd get whipsawed; money cd leave China as fast as it came in.  Punters bring hot money into China to bet on strong ec. growth –  appreciation of currency – can’t continue forever.  Electricity production over the last four mos has been weak; deflation. The Chinese economy is sick. In the long term.this cd be good nes – slower growrth – as the leadership has been restrained; new data will test their commitment to long-term structural adjustment.IMF may downgrade its global growth forecast – esp commodity-led economies of Australia, Canada, SE Asia, for infrtastructure-bldg in China. ORC elite policymakers see thathe growth of hrthe last three decades no olonger sustainable; econsumtin is acelterating, but not as fast as investment is decelerating. Rebalancing over a lo-ong term gradually. Pain for industry, employees, investors. The geopolitical theory of the yuan challenging the dollar now looks less and less likely.

Chinese firm breaks ground with privately managed offshore yuan fund A private Chinese fund management company plans to break new ground by establishing a privately managed offshore yuan fund as a vehicle for investment in Southeast Asia, taking advantage of Beijing's moves to promote use of its currency overseas. Yunnan-based Highland Capital Management aims to raise 5 billion yuan ($813.96 million) in the first round for a fund focused on investing in companies in Southeast Asia that serve Chinese consumption of overseas tourism services, energy and natural resources. "This is an extension of China demand and an attempt to connect that demand with funding," Highland's managing partner Daniel Zhou, former director of the investment banking division at UBS, told Reuters. Sailing Capital Management, run by a unit of the Shanghai Municipal Government, launched a similar fund in February 2012.  [more]

 Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 2, Block D:  Joseph Sternberg, WSJ Asia editorial board, in re: Singing the Abe Electric  Abenomics isn't about whether change will come to Japan, but about how. [Note: 7.7% growth and declining mfrg cannot be reconciled.]  Third tranche for Abenomics: how this plan (structural reform – get the govt out of bz, maybe tax reform, etc.) can – will, must – revive the long-dormant, zombie-like economy.   More Keynesian infrastructure spending, weak yuan, and now the third effort will be more controversial.   Neighbors will likely do the same, generating a race to the bottom "Gordon - you're such a pessimist!"   The actual ec impact is not as significant as the psychology. What’s fuelling the Japanese ec. improvement is the perception that Japan finally has a leader who can pull them out of the slump.  Japanese bld factories in China to assemble goods that get shipped to other mkts.   US and Europe continue to be weak for them.  Hong Kongnese interpreting the HSBC flash mfrs index: have to conclude that the old methods Beijing used are paying off less and less. Bridges to nowhere.  ROI in that is diminishing while debts are growing.

Hour Three

 Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 3, Block A:  Blair Glencorse,  founder of the Accountability Lab, in re: Nepal and Tibet. romanticised notion of this Himalayan country, but the Royal family was murdered in 2001 and it has never quite recovered. This is a critical time for Nepal: i) It's passing through a very difficult political transition, and things are fraying at the edges - no new constitution has been written; and elections are long overdue (now scheduled for November). The Maoist rebels are now part of the political process they fought to overthrow and have become totally unaccountable. Their youth group staged a giant rally the other day which shut down half the city. Strikes that shut down cities are common.   ii) A deeply corrupt former government official has just been made had of the anti-corruption commission. Everywhere, people are fed up. Power cuts are currently averaging about 8 or 9 hours a day (and this is the best time of year); ii) It's a strategic bridge between India and China and they are competing for influence- the Tibetan issue is key here for the Chinese, who are worried about Nepal harboring Tibetan separatists. Meanwhile, in the south, people- and gun-trafficking is rampant over the Indian border. 

A lot of strategic rivalry between India and China. Maoist "rebels"in Nepal. Nepali monarchy: the corwn prince killed most of the royal family; king's brother took over & ejected. No chance of monarchy coming back but a shift to the right indicates  . . . realities.  Deep repression in Tibet by PRC; Chinese in Kathmandu intimidating Tibetan refugees? Historical ties, Tibet & Nepal. China investing a lot of money in Nepali infrastructure, education, good relations w Nepali govt – bribing, and making it too sweet to favor Tibetans. WEhat's India doing? Fretting; putting some money into Nepal – India is stil by far the biggest investor in Nepal, but that's rapidly shifting.  People want a constitution, but no agreement on what they want the shape of a future Nepal to be. Speak of federalism; but parliamentary or presidential, et al.  A lot of unresolved issues with security implications. Not likely to see another war. Democracy in Nepal: it’s more thsn elections., not a set of events but a process. A vibrant civil society, we’re working here to dvp new tools. Chance to do a lot outside the system  to strengthen it.

Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 3, Block B:  .Gordon Chang,, in re:  troubling news from the US – economic; security.

 Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 3, Block C:  .Boris Borisovich Volodarsky, LSE and observer of Russian intelligence activity, in re: Man killed in Fla. was said to be quick to fight  Ibragim Todashev was involved in altercations in Florida and Mass., public records show.     Russia Expels Former U.S. Embassy Official - m Also: The former official, Thomas Firestone, had been living and working in Moscow as a lawyer for an American law firm, and had extensive contacts ...  FSB + FBI; expulsions from Moscow.  Floridian who was a mixed-martial-arts fighter; Tsarnaev was a boxer and martial artist; how unusual for these people to have been so well trained.

 Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 3, Block D:   Boris Borisovich Volodarsky, LSE and observer of Russian intelligence activity, in re: Aleksandr Mikhailovich Orlov - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  Alexander Mikhailovich Orlov (Russian: Александр Михайлович Орлов), born .... The accusations, like so many other "revelations" from KGB files during and ...Early lifeCareer as a ChekistDefectionThe Secret History

Hour Four

Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 4, Block A:  Ian Austen, NYT 853

A Black Mound of Canadian Oil Waste Is Rising Over Detroit  Refining Canada’s petroleum-soaked oil sands produces petroleum coke, and the question of what to do with it has found at least one answer in Detroit, where a large coke pile covers an . . .

Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 4, Block B:  Peter LaFontaine, National Wildlife Federation Energy Policy Advocate in D.C., in re: What would building Keystone XL mean for our states - costs and benefits? Keystone XL and climate change; America’s carbon footprint.

Oil industry claims we need this pipeline to meet our energy needs. Granting Congress broad approval authority - implications beyond Keystone.

Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 4, Block C:  Andrew Revkin, , in re: DISASTERS   Kids (and Teachers) in Peril, from Oklahoma to Oregon

Wednesday  15 May 2013/ Hour 4, Block D:   Greg Giroux, Bloomberg, in re: Cook Defending Apple Puts Loophole-Closing Back on Agenda  A congressional hearing into Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s use of offshore tax shelters called attention to how U.S. companies lower their taxes, and underscored the difficulty Congress confronts when trying to end the practice. Companies with multinational operations have lobbied for years to lower corporate tax rates in exchange for bringing some of their offshore cash home. Their efforts have been given a fresh push with the formation of new coalitions, including one organized by the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies with more than $7.3 trillion in combined annual revenues. [more]

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Hour 1:  Dark Spore; Starship Troopers; I Am Legend

Hour 2:  I Am Legend; The Kingdom; Dark Knight Rises

Hour 3:  Shaolin;

Hour 4: