About time

No American, outside of the defense/foreign policy establishment, gives a quantum of a damn about the situation in Syria. So why are we still there? Because of the Kurds? With all due respect to the brave Kurdish fighters, it’s hard to imagine anything more unconnected from vital American interests than their plight. It’s time to go home. As I wrote last December:

It’s really very hard to understand what the US strategy was in Syria. Was there even a specific strategic goal? What was the desired end-state of this campaign?

Personally I suspect most Americans’ reaction to this news has been: Wait, we had troops in Syria? Yeah, the public was never consulted about this, at all. I am not the only person who finds it bizarre that an ostensibly democratic nation can be engaged in a major foreign military campaign for years on end without a scintilla of public approval, or even knowledge, let alone a formal declaration of war. Did you know the US has at least a dozen military bases in Syria? What is going to happen to those?

Of course, that post was in response to a previous promise to withdraw the 2,000 US troops then in Syria. Fast forward to today, and roughly 1,000 troops are still there. The withdrawal must continue.

Here’s the official White House statement released on Sunday:

Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey by telephone. Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial “Caliphate,” will no longer be in the immediate area.

The United States Government has pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused. The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer. Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial “Caliphate” by the United States.

Hurting their feelings

Imagine my shock that Joe Tsai, the Taiwanese-Canadian co-founder of Alibaba and owner of the Brooklyn Nets, is gravely displeased by a tweet posted (and quickly deleted) by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey:

Open letter to all NBA fans:

When I bought controlling interest in the Brooklyn Nets in September, I didn’t expect my first public communication with our fans would be to comment on something as politically charged and grossly misunderstood as the way hundreds of millions of Chinese NBA fans feel about what just happened.

By now you have heard that Chinese fans have reacted extremely negatively to a tweet put out by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey in support of protests in Hong Kong.

The Rockets, who by far had been the favorite team in China, are now effectively shut out of the Chinese market as fans abandon their love for the team, broadcasters refuse to air their games and Chinese corporates pull sponsorships in droves.

Fans in China are calling for an explanation – if they are not getting it from the Houston Rockets, then it is natural that they ask others associated with the NBA to express a view.

The NBA is a fan-first league. When hundreds of millions of fans are furious over an issue, the league, and anyone associated with the NBA, will have to pay attention. As a Governor of one of the 30 NBA teams, and a Chinese having spent a good part of my professional life in China, I need to speak up.

What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion? This freedom is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues.

The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities.

Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China.

The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable.

A bit of historical perspective is important. In the mid-19thcentury, China fought two Opium Wars with the British, aided by the French, who forced through illegal trade of opium to China. A very weak Qing Dynasty government lost the wars and the result was the ceding of Hong Kong to the British as a colony.

The invasion of Chinese territories by foreign forces continued against a weak and defenseless Qing government, which precipitated in the Boxer Rebellion by Chinese peasants at the turn of the 20th century. In response, the Eight Nations Alliance – comprised of Japan, Russia, Britain, France, United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary – dispatched their forces to occupy Chinese territories in the name of humanitarian intervention. The foreign forces marched into the Chinese capital Peking (now called Beijing), defeated the peasant rebels and proceeded to loot and pillage the capital city.

In 1937, Japan invaded China by capturing Beijing, Shanghai and the then-Chinese capital Nanjing. Imperial Japanese troops committed mass murder and rape against the residents of Nanjing, resulting in several hundred thousand civilian deaths. The war of resistance by the Chinese against Japan ended after tens of millions of Chinese casualties, and only after America joined the war against Japan post-Pearl Harbor.

I am going into all of this because a student of history will understand that the Chinese psyche has heavy baggage when it comes to any threat, foreign or domestic, to carve up Chinese territories.

When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation.

By now I hope you can begin to understand why the Daryl Morey tweet is so damaging to the relationship with our fans in China. I don’t know Daryl personally. I am sure he’s a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.

I hope to help the League to move on from this incident. I will continue to be an outspoken NBA Governor on issues that are important to China. I ask that our Chinese fans keep the faith in what the NBA and basketball can do to unite people from all over the world.

Sincerely,
Joe Tsai

Those of us who are familiar with China have received this history lesson before. Many times. And in a sense, the reaction of the fans is understandable. For other examples of this type of thing, see here, here, here and here.

Quote from the second link:

The Marriott International hotel chain has apologised and condemned “separatists” in China after the Beijing government shut down its website over an online questionnaire that suggested some Chinese regions were separate countries.

China’s Cyberspace Administration, the internet watchdog, said the hotelier had “seriously violated national laws and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” after a customer survey listed Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries. The regulator ordered Marriott’s website and booking applications to close for a week.

Note that phrase, “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”—another formulation that China watchers will be very familiar with—and compare to Tsai’s version:

When the topic of any separatist movement comes up, Chinese people feel a strong sense of shame and anger because of this history of foreign occupation. […] the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.

Shame. Anger. Hurt feelings. Separatism. Opium Wars. This is what American companies must now deal with because, well, 1.4 billion customers. (China is the NBA’s largest international market.)

Here we see the clash between two different, utterly incompatible value systems, each with its own virtues and flaws, which are now mutually entangled in a way that never before would have been possible due to globalization. The increasing preposterousness of the situation suggests that a great Untangling is coming, and soon.

A failure of optics

I have no issue with China celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC with a huge military parade. From what I can observe, the patriotic feelings generated by this event seem to be totally sincere. What I do have an issue with, is New York City joining in celebrating the founding of a Communist state by lighting up one of its iconic towers in the colors of the Chinese flag. Seriously, New York?

In the meantime, China’s flag was raised at Boston City Hall, much to the irritation of John Robb. (More details here.)

The Canadians and Australians are beginning to push back against official or quasi-official displays of the Chinese flag. In Toronto:

Dozens came out to support the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China at a flag raising at Toronto city hall, but it was a ceremony that the mayor opted to skip.

Don Peat, a spokesperson for John Tory, told Global News a number of issues between Canada and China were a great enough concern that Tory decided not to attend.

Peat did not elaborate on what Tory’s issues were specifically, but he said Tory “believes in democracy and the rule of law.”

In Melbourne:

Residents in Melbourne are outraged after a police station held a flag raising ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Communist rule in China.

A large crowd gathered at Box Hill station on Tuesday to remember how revolutionary leader Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

Anger has been stirred at the celebration marking China’s annual National Day public holiday, in light of Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

The station in Melbourne’s east is also in rookie Liberal MP Gladys Liu’s federal electorate of Chisholm, which has a higher-than-average Chinese population.

The Hong Kong-born backbencher’s ties to groups linked to the Chinese Communist Party have already sparked an Australian Security Intelligence Organisation investigation.

This sort of thing will be banned across the West before long.

Our robot future

What you thought you were getting:

What you’re actually getting:

Staffing a Japanese hotel with hundreds of robots didn’t work out quite as well as expected:

It turns out that even robots are having a tough time holding down a job. Japan’s Henn-na “Strange” Hotel has laid off half its 243 robots after they created more problems than they could solve, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

One of the layoffs included a doll-shaped assistant in each hotel room called Churi. Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa can answer questions about local businesses’ opening and closing times, but Churi couldn’t. When hotel guests asked Churi “What time does the theme park open?” it didn’t have a good answer. That was a problem because Churi was supposed to help ameliorate the Strange Hotel’s staff shortage by substituting in for human workers.

Others on the chopping block:

• Two velociraptor robots positioned at check-in were also decommissioned because human workers essentially had to do their jobs for them and photocopy guests’ passports manually.

• Two robot luggage carriers could only reach about 24 of the over 100 rooms in the hotel and failed in rain or snow. They would also often get stuck trying to pass by each other.

Remember this is Japan we’re talking about. If they haven’t figured this out yet, nobody can.

Still, there’s something gratifying about knowing that even robots can get laid off.

Meet the new boss

Did you know that Britain even had a “Supreme Court”? I didn’t:

Britain’s all-consuming debate over Brexit has dragged another of its respected institutions into uncharted territory, as the Supreme Court struck down Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament, an extraordinary intervention by the judiciary into a political dispute.

The unanimous decision, handed down on Tuesday, is an unalloyed defeat for Mr. Johnson and will propel Britain into a fresh round of political turmoil. But it is even more significant for what it says about the role of the country’s highest court, which has historically steered clear of politics. […]

At issue was whether Mr. Johnson, in suspending Parliament for five weeks in the middle of a dispute over Britain’s departure from the European Union, had stymied the ability of lawmakers to have a say in that process. The court, in upholding a previous ruling by a Scottish high court, judged that he had.

Not only did the court declare the prime minister’s action unlawful, it also declared the order itself, which Queen Elizabeth II issued at Mr. Johnson’s request, “unlawful, void, and of no effect.” The request, said the court’s president, Baroness Brenda Hale, might as well have been a “blank sheet of paper.”

Stephen Tierney, a professor of constitutional theory at Edinburgh University, said it was “astonishing” that the court had ruled decisively that it “can review something as fundamental as that, done by Her Majesty, as unlawful.”

Amusingly, it looks like the British court is mimicking its nominal counterpart in the US:

The Supreme Court routinely exercises judicial review by actively interpreting the American Constitution.

Britain, however, relies on a partly unwritten set of traditions and conventions that have treated a sovereign Parliament as the supreme power in the land. Once the courts venture into the political sphere and begin to pass judgment on Parliament’s actions, some legal analysts say, there is no going back.

This will end well.

“The largest evacuation since Dunkirk”

It’s hard to think of a more fittingly bizarre metaphor for the state of the world today than this:

Nearly 15,000 Thomas Cook customers have been repatriated so far following the travel company’s collapse, with about 135,000 more still stranded abroad.

It will take about two weeks to bring all the Britons home as part of Operation Matterhorn, the UK’s biggest peacetime repatriation and the largest evacuation since Dunkirk.

Rival travel firm TUI is helping to get people booked on Thomas Cook flights home.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) completed 64 rescue flights on Monday, the first day of the operation, bringing 14,700 people back to the UK.

It is expected to bring back 16,800 people on 74 flights on Tuesday in a flight programme costing at least £100million.

Did I not prophecy the end of tourism? Could Operation Matterhorn be the inflection point marking the start of a new era – the unwinding of global travel?

And most importantly, are you not entertained?

A failure to understand

A disturbing article by David Goldman highlights the American establishment’s failure to correctly ascertain the contours of China’s grand strategy, and the unfolding and soon-to-be highly unpleasant (for the US) consequences of said failure:

Not only the Chinese, but South Korean, Japanese, British and other teams are building the capability to embed quantum communications in the new 5G networks. Not only will China go dark to U.S. signals intelligence; the rest of the world will, too, and in short order. Huawei’s 5G systems will wipe out America’s longstanding advantage in electronic eavesdropping. The U.S. intelligence community spends $80 billion a year, mostly on SIGINT, and the whole investment is at risk. […]

Huawei owns 40 percent of the patents related to fifth-generation broadband, largely because it spent twice as much on research and development as its two largest rivals (Ericsson and Nokia) combined. The strategic challenge to the United States comes not from Chinese technology theft, obnoxious as that is, but from Chinese innovation backed by state resources. The American intelligence community realized too late that China had gained the upper hand, and convinced the Trump administration to try to postpone the 5G rollout until it could work out what to do next. The failure is of such catastrophic proportions that no one in a position of responsibility dare acknowledge it for fear of taking the blame.

Domination of E-Commerce and E-Finance

Huawei’s vision of a global broadband market under its domination is hardly a secret. This is a case where China has advertised its intentions while the United States ignored the issue. Since 2011, the company’s website has promulgated an “eco-system” enabled by broadband networks that in turn would bring in Chinese e-commerce, e-finance, logistics, and marketing—in short, the whole array of business and financial services that will integrate the labor of billions of people into the greater Chinese model.

The world will become a Chinese company store: Chinese banks will lend the money, Huawei will build the broadband network and sell the handsets, Alibaba and JD.Com will market the products, Ant Financial will make micro-loans, and Chinese companies will build airports and railroads and ports. […] Among other things, Huawei is building most of Mexico’s new national broadband network, including 5G capability, in a consortium with Nokia financed by a group led by Morgan Stanley and the International Finance Corporation. Huawei also dominates telecommunications infrastructure in Brazil and other Latin American countries. China’s tech dominance in America’s neighborhood, remarkably, has occasioned no official comment from Washington.

In my view, this is far more alarming than what Gertz envisions. He writes, “China will control all deals and win any business arrangements it seeks by dominating the information domain and thus learning the positions of bidders and buyers. All Chinese companies will be given advantages in the marketplace.”

That simply isn’t the way things work. China will lock whole countries into Chinese hardware through state-financed national broadband networks, including Brazil and Mexico, where construction is underway. It understands the network effect that made Amazon and Facebook dominant players in the U.S. market, and will use its financial and technological head start to establish the same sort of virtual monopoly for Chinese companies throughout the Global South.

China envisions a virtual empire, with military deployments to protect key trade routes, starting with oil from the Persian Gulf. China’s navy established its first overseas base in Djibouti last year. Meanwhile China has invested heavily in high-tech weaponry, including satellite killers. During the first minutes of war, the United States and China would destroy each other’s communications and reconnaissance satellites. But China has a network of thousands of high-altitude balloons around its coasts, too many for U.S. forces to destroy.

And the money quote:

As we examine the details, the picture of a Soviet-style communist regime bent on world domination falls apart. China’s concept of world domination is so different from what we imagine that it has halfway come to fruition before we noticed it.

Quite.

Countries need manufacturing

Integrated circuit manufacturing

Alan Tonelson explains why, briefly:

Not that economists have been killing it in recent decades in properly evaluating the importance of manufacturing. But if Woodward had bothered to consult one, the odds would have been higher that he’d have encountered the idea that industry is kind of important for any country seeking to build or maintain a world-class military. Or” that it’s historically been the U.S. economy’s leader in productivity growth (although as RealityChek regulars know, it’s recently been losing its mojo on that score). Or that it boasts one of the nation’s biggest employment multipliers – meaning that the creation of each American manufacturing job generates an outsized number of jobs elsewhere in the economy compared with employment increases in most other sectors. Or that manufacturing accounts for the lion’s share of American business research and development spending.

Another one bites the dust

Societies tend to get what they deserve. A society that burns its geniuses at the stake because they uttered controversial opinions is a society that will eventually cease to have geniuses, or at least, will cease to be harnessing its geniuses in a productive way.

The eccentric and possibly mentally ill genius who pioneered GNU software, without which Android phones, cloud computing and Amazon.com would not exist, has just lost his job because he expressed an opinion, in an email, that some people disagree with. As far as I can tell, that was his only crime.

I won’t link to the story because it’s too depressing. All I can say is that if America is so desperate to remove productive people from society, because the originality or eccentricity of their ideas is perceived as a threat, then we absolutely deserve to become a colony, economic or otherwise, of saner and more competently managed foreign powers. And that is exactly what will happen.

Important article on 5G

An article [PDF] by British philosopher Jeremy Naydler examines the global push to roll out 5G, and its staggering scope and implications:

In November this year (2018), the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized the rocket company SpaceX, owned by the entrepreneur Elon Musk, to launch a fleet of 7,518 satellites to complete SpaceX’s ambitious scheme to provide global satellite broadband services to every corner of the Earth. […]

Other companies, including Boeing, One Web and Spire Global are each launching their own smaller fleets, bringing the total number of projected new broadband satellites to around 20,000 – every one of them dedicated to irradiating the Earth at similar frequencies.

Why this sudden flurry of activity? The new satellite fleets are contributing to a concerted global effort to ‘upgrade’ the electromagnetic environment of the Earth. The upgrade is commonly referred to as 5G, or fifth generation wireless network. […] It amounts to geo-engineering on a scale never before attempted. While this is being sold to the public as an enhancement of the quality of video streaming for media and entertainment, what is really driving it is the creation of the conditions within which electronic or “artificial” intelligence will be able to assume an ever-greater presence in our lives.

[…] the introduction of 5G will also require hundreds of thousands of new mini mobile phone masts (also referred to as “micro-cells” or “base stations”) in urban centres throughout the UK, and literally millions of new masts in cities throughout the rest of the world, all emitting radiation at frequencies and at power levels far higher than those to which we are presently subjected. […] Not one inch of the globe will be free of radiation.

Given the scale of the project, it is surprising how few people are aware of the enormity of what is now just beginning to unfold all around us. […]

The question we should ask is whether we also want increasingly intense exposure of the natural environment and all living creatures, including ourselves, to more and more electromagnetic radiation. Is it likely that this does not entail any adverse health consequences, as both government and industry claim? […]

Is the general public even remotely aware of the scale of this effort? Has anyone outside the industry been sold on the benefits, nay the necessity, of blanketing the planet with 5G?

Does anyone seriously think that we need faster mobile internet, that this will somehow improve our lives? Are any politicians or public officials even trying to make this argument?

Have we conclusively established that constant, ubiquitous exposure to extremely high frequency electromagnetic radiation will not have adverse effects on human health?

Is the public (of any country) ever going to be asked what it thinks about this, or will the rollout be a fait accompli before anyone is even aware of what has happened?

Questions that urgently need asking, given the speed and apparent desperation with which our 5G future is being prepared.