Wuhan: The city has plagued China’s leaders for a century

By Christopher Harper

For those who have studied the history of China, it is rather ironic to us that Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus, should once again stand at center stage.

Before the virus outbreak, Wuhan, a place unknown to most Westerners, has played a significant role in the demise of the Chinese monarchy in 1911 and later as a symbol of the flawed vision of Mao Zedong.

Often called the Chicago of China, Wuhan is the leading city of the central part of the country because of its railroads and riverway near the Yangtze River.

But Wuhan’s place in history began in 1911 when revolutionaries launched the opening of the attack against the Qing Dynasty, which had ruled China for 400 years.

Back then, many Western powers saw railway investments as part of the consolidation in their spheres of influence over China. Provincial governments, with permission from the Qing court, began to construct their own railways, obtaining huge loans from foreign countries that maintained financial control of the routes. This policy was met with stiff resistance, including massive strikes and protests. At one point, the military opened fire on protesters, leading to widespread dissatisfaction among the population.

On October 10, 1911, revolutionary forces within the military staged a mutiny in the Wuhan area and forced the Qing leaders out of government buildings and residences. Within two months, the country elected Sun Yat-sen as its leader and forced the young Qing emperor to abdicate the throne.

Fast forward to Mao and his dream for a huge hydroelectric dam. Wuhan, which sits near a critical part of the Yangtze River, became the site of the dam near an area known as the Three Gorges.

Mao started to promote the dam’s construction almost immediately after taking power in 1949. Although his ill-conceived economic plans stalled the building, the project was finally finished in 2008.

Although the dam provides 2 percent of China’s electricity, the project devastated the local economy, displaced 1.3 million people, and created numerous ecological problems from fish migration to landslides. Corrupt politicians lined their pockets with money intended to build the dam and help the local population.

During a trip along the Yangtze two years ago, I got to see the engineering feat and the consequences to the local population. The local economy is dependent on tourists—most of them Chinese–who travel along the river to see the dam and ignore its impact.

The coronavirus has put Wuhan on the international stage yet again. Not surprisingly, the government failed the recognize the impact of the disease on the population and limited public knowledge to help prevent the spread of the illness.

Although the ineptitude of President Xi is unlikely to result in the fall of the country’s current emperor, the coronavirus underlines the government’s failure to recognize the implications of its wrongheaded policies—much like the long-term impact of the Three Gorges Dam.

Kobe and the media mess

By Christopher Harper

The coverage of Kobe Bryant’s death underlines just how bad the media have become when covering relatively simple stories.

Here are some of the problems that happened:

–Bryant’s widow Vanessa got the news from TMZ.

–ABC News national correspondent Matt Gutman reported that all of the Bryants’ children were killed.

–The BBC aired footage of LeBron James, identifying him as Bryant.

–Vox and others got the number of people killed wrong.

–Many outlets identified the deceased daughter incorrectly.

–Esquire got the number of championships he won wrong—as well as the number of points he scored in his final game.

–DaTimes misidentified the team James was playing for in March 2018. He was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers rather than the LA Lakers.

As my boss at The Associated Press told me many years ago: Get it first, but it damned well better be right.

But then there’s the worst of all. DaPost’s emphasis on Bryant being charged with rape in 2003, which never went to trial but was settled out of court in a civil case.

Felicia Sonmez, a political reporter at DaPost, tweeted a link to a story from the Daily Beast about the Bryant rape case. After a tremendous negative response, Sonmez tweeted a second time. “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality,” she wrote. “That folks are responding with rage & threats toward me… speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.” 

Sonmez once accused a colleague from The Los Angeles Times of sexual harassment, and he lost his job.

DaPost’s Editor Marty Baron told her to take the tweets down, which she did, and the reporter was suspended for a minute and a half until her colleagues at DaPost and elsewhere backed her up.

The paper’s union wrote an open letter to Baron and Managing Editor Tracy Grant, accusing them of failing to protect Sonmez and noting that this isn’t the first time management “has sought to control how Felicia speaks on matters of sexual violence.” More than 300 staffers signed the letter.  

DaPost retreated and reinstated Sonmez. In a statement, it said that following a “review,” it had concluded that Sonmez’s tweets were “ill-timed,” but “not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy.” Sonmez was reinstated. In a statement of her own, Sonmez said she and her colleagues deserve to hear directly from Baron.

What’s clear is DaPost and others did a dreadful job of covering a rather simple story of a helicopter crash and ramped it up into an ill-timed examination of woke values. It used to be that a reporter wasn’t supposed to be part of the story. Unfortunately, that long-held ethical value has died, too. 

A Comrade Bernie crib sheet

By Christopher Harper

As Comrade Bernie lurches to the top of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, I think it’s essential to keep a primer handy about his stands on the issues so we can pass it along to those who think he would be a good president.

–College should be free.
–All college debt should be canceled.
–Felons should be allowed to vote after they serve their time and even while in prison.
–Fracking should be banned.
–Abortion should be legal.
–Medical care should be free.
–End existing immigration policies for the most part.
–Institute higher taxes.

City Journal has dubbed Comrade Bernie “The Unaffordable Candidate.” Here is an estimate of what the news organization determined his plans would cost:

“All told, Sanders’s current plans would cost as much as $97.5 trillion over the next decade, and total government spending at all levels would surge to as high as 70 percent of gross domestic product. Approximately half of the American workforce would be employed by the government….

“The $97.5 trillion price tag is made up mostly of the costs of Sanders’s three most ambitious proposals. Sanders concedes that his Medicare For All plan would increase federal spending by ‘somewhere between $30 and $40 trillion over a 10-year period.’ He pledges to spend $16.3 trillion on his climate plan. And his proposal to guarantee all Americans a full-time government job paying $15 an hour, with full benefits, is estimated to cost $30.1 trillion. The final $11.1 trillion includes $3 trillion to forgive all student loans and guarantee free public-college tuition—plus $1.8 trillion to expand Social Security, $2.5 trillion on housing, $1.6 trillion on paid family leave, $1 trillion on infrastructure, $800 billion on general K-12 education spending, and an additional $400 billion on higher public school teacher salaries.”

I don’t underestimate Comrade Bernie because his followers—many of whom are my students—are as nutty as he is, which means they are committed to the cause. 

It’s somewhat ironic that Comrade Bernie is the Democrat leading the polls, particularly after Hillary Clinton launched a broadside attack against him, and Obama is apparently ready to do the same. 

China’s economic troubles

By Christopher Harper

As business and political leaders descend on Davos, Switzerland, for the four-day World Economic Summit, Chinese President Xi faces a variety of problems.

Although the press has questioned the gains made by the United States in the first round of a trade deal with China, it’s clear that President Trump made significant inroads.

Under the deal, China agreed to buy an additional $200 billion in American goods over the next two years. The agreement protects U.S. intellectual property, addresses technology transfers, and ends currency manipulation by the Chinese.

It would be premature to applaud the deal UNTIL the Chinese meet these goals, but these steps are the most significant in the history of trade between the two countries.

Noted Chinese expert and author Michael Pillsbury dismissed the attacks on the deal, calling it a “historic agreement.”

He criticized the Democrats. “They said all the things that President Trump said today, but they couldn’t get it done. They didn’t have a strategy on how to bring the Chinese leadership around. Now I’m afraid they’re a little bitter and even embarrassed. Their own ideas have been implemented by Donald Trump, and they can’t stand it.”

Although the deal may help Xi and the economy, the Chinese president faces other financial issues. 

As The Wall Street Journal notes, Xi’s domestic economic policies have stumbled. “He has appeared to choose political reliability over profits and efficiency as he throws his support behind government-owned businesses in the form of subsidies, financing, licenses, and pressure on competitors. Bankruptcies are running higher than ever in China among private companies, which suddenly have less scope to expand,” James T. Areddy writes from Shanghai.

During my travels throughout China during the past five years, I have noticed a growing disparity between the growing middle and upper classes in the cities and the crushing poverty of the countryside, particularly in minority areas. It’s true that the countryside has made gains in the past 20 years, but these are far less dramatic than among the urban elites. 

Furthermore, the much-touted Belt and Road Initiative has hit some significant resistance aboard. One of the features of the initiative was to provide jobs to the Chinese building sector, which faced fewer projects inside the country. Now the international building program faces growing concerns that the developing countries where projects are centered will see mounting debt to finance the programs. That means fewer jobs for Chinese workers outside the country. 

President Xi isn’t likely to face any serious challenges from inside the Communist Party. Still, the international community will note how his once-gleaming economic acumen has lost much of its luster. 

Trump and the Nile

By Christopher Harper

Against the backdrop of continuing tension in the Middle East, the United States is playing a peacekeeping role in a dispute among Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia.

You won’t read about the Trump administration’s mediation in the mainstream press because it doesn’t fit the meme of a war-mongering president.

So here goes. The three countries agreed to meet this week in Washington to tackle problems over a dam project on the Nile River that may greatly affect water resources in Egypt and Sudan.

The differences among the three countries date back to May 2011 when Ethiopia started building a dam, which is known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The $5 billion hydroelectric dam would exist on the Blue Nile near the Ethiopia-Sudan border. The reservoir would hold up to 67 billion cubic meters of water and take at least seven years to fill, which would decrease the river’s flow for at least that period by 25 percent. For Ethiopia, the dam would aid water needs and economic development, as it is set to supply the country with more than 6,000 megawatts of electricity. But it could be devastating for Egypt, which relies on the river for irrigation, fishing, and transport.

The river is so vital that Egyptian officials have made it clear that military action may occur if Ethiopia doesn’t come to an agreement.

In 2015, the three countries signed the Declaration of Principles, which agreed that the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, would not be negatively affected by the construction of the dam. In October 2019, however, Egypt blamed Ethiopia for hindering a final agreement. Under the earlier declaration, the three countries would seek mediation if they could not reach an accord.

Enter the United States as the mediator. Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia agreed to a series of four meetings in Addis Ababa, Cairo, Khartoum. This week’s meeting in Washington is the fourth in this round of negotiations.

It’s unclear whether the United States will be able to help settle this longstanding dispute. But it’s readily apparent that Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia think the Trump administration may be able to help.

Unfortunately, the American media are unlikely to mention this peaceful role the U.S. is playing.

Update (DTG): Delayed Instalanche, thanks Glenn, welcome folks take a look around. If you liked this piece by Christopher Harper a former member of the MSM and current professor of journalism writes here every Tuesday and often covers things nobody else bothers to, particularly on his oversees trips. Check out his previous pieces like Egyptians for Trump a Greek Getaway and Trump, on his Majesty’s service, and Fake News and me. Oh just check out the lot, both here and on the old host.

And if you think he and the rest of my Magnificent Seven are worth your time considering kicking in to DaTipJar and help keep them paid.

Egyptians for Trump

By Christopher Harper

It came as a pleasant surprise when I heard about the widespread support for Donald Trump in Egypt.

“No one wanted Hillary,” said one Egyptian acquaintance. “She and Obama were a disaster.”

I heard this sentiment several times during a two-week stay in Egypt.

Back in 2009, President Obama called for a “new beginning” between the Islamic world and the U.S. during a speech at Cairo University. He promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, to pursue Palestinian-Israeli peace, and to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.

His promises went nowhere. It’s also worth noting that the president insisted on having a delegation from the Muslim Brotherhood attend the speech, a group that eventually came to power and ushered in two deadly years at the head of Egypt’s government. 

By the end of his presidency, Obama faced a great deal of bitterness from Arabs. That view came across in a variety of Arab countries in a Pew Research Center survey in June 2015. Support for Obama was incredibly low: about a third of the Lebanese, 15 percent of Palestinians, and 14 percent of Jordanians. See https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2015/06/23/1-americas-global-image/

Although Egypt was not included in the Pew survey, the country got little support from Obama after the 2009 speech.

The Hoover Institution provided an analysis of what Obama did wrong in his relationship with Egypt:

–Obama ignored Egypt’s traditional role as a bridge between Arabs and Israel.

–The president ignored Egypt when taking on Libya and removing its leader.

–The administration failed to lean on the most significant military power in the Arab world during a variety of problems in the region. 

When the Egyptians finally got rid of the Muslim Brotherhood, Obama suspended military aid. 

Ultimately, Obama and Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi only met on the sidelines at the United Nations. That rebuff to a traditional Arab ally left a bad taste in the mouths of many Egyptians.

“For its part, Washington should expect to provide Egypt’s military leaders the political embrace that Obama was always reluctant to offer, but also requests from Egyptians that it would compensate them in the currency that matters most – U.S. regional leadership that would lead to a resumption of Saudi and other Gulf assistance to help Cairo weather crushing economic problems,” a Hoover Institution analysis argued at the beginning of the Trump era. 

Three years later, Trump has accomplished much of what the Hoover Institution suggested. That’s why Egyptians were happy that Trump beat Hillary and remain so today.

The stigma of Camp David

By Christopher Harper

The Camp David Accords—once heralded by the United States, Israel, and Egypt as a solution to the Middle East crisis—continue to stymie any significant efforts to address the problems in the region.

More than 40 years ago, I arrived in the Middle East just after the peace agreement was signed. At the time, Americans saw the agreement as a major step forward. Instead, the accords resulted in the isolation of Egypt—once the leader of the Arab world.

Until now, Egypt has been relegated to a secondary role in the region. Moreover, the agreement led directly to the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the rise of Saddam Hussein, and myriad troubles in the Middle East from Syria to Libya and even Iran.

For Egypt and Israel, the agreement has resulted in what many call a “cold peace” during which the two countries don’t face the possibility of war but with little interaction beyond cursory talks about security and economic issues.

For example, my wife and I have been traveling throughout Egypt over the past two weeks. We wanted to stop in Israel for a short visit. But we found it virtually impossible to find a way to travel directly between the two countries.

The huge volume of U.S. aid has had almost no impact on improving the lot of the average Egyptian, most of whom see little benefit from the Camp David agreement.

Cultural exchanges—once seen as a way to improve relations between Egyptians and Israelis–have faltered badly. For example, Farouk Hosnoy, the former minister for culture for more than two decades, refused to visit Israel and threatened to burn any Israeli book he found in the Alexandria library. Every year, organizers of Cairo Film Festival refuse to allow Israel to participate in the event. When the Israeli Center for Research and Information translated Alaa al-Aswany’s popular novel, The Yacoubian Building, he threatened to sue the center because he opposed to cultural normalization with Israel.

At one point, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld a ruling that ordered the revocation of citizenship from 30,000 Egyptian men married to Israeli women.

The long-term tension between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip that borders Egypt, has created problems for the Cairo government. The Egyptians, who brokered a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, has grown increasingly tired of the actions of both sides.

Despite the long list of diplomatic ills, however, a recent gas deal between Egypt and Israel provides some hope for the future.

Partners in Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar offshore gas fields agreed last year to sell $15 billion worth of gas to a customer in Egypt in what Israeli officials called the most significant deal to emerge since the neighbors made peace in 1979.

With this significant step in economic ties, perhaps the “cold peace” will at least result in some future cooperation between the two sides. But the Camp David accords—once hailed as the pathway to peace in the region—will remain a sore point for Egypt, Israel, and the rest of the Middle East.

Egypt Today

By Christopher Harper

Ahmed, a middle-aged tour guide, didn’t work for almost six years as Egypt’s economy fell into a downward spiral as a result of government instability, terrorism, and crime.

His health suffered, leading to two heart operations. His children’s plans to attend college had to be put on hold until recently.

Today, however, he’s optimistic about the future because the government of strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has brought stability to the largest country in the Arab world.

I first visited Egypt more than 40 years ago, and it’s been eight years since I last traveled there—a time of great hope after the 2011 revolution.

That hope became despair in only a few months after the Muslim Brotherhood took control of the government for two years until the military seized power in 2013.

My wife and I just started a two-week stay that will allow us to travel throughout Egypt.

The people I’ve spoken with share Ahmed’s optimism. For example, Mina, who is Coptic Christian, said the greater attention to terrorism and street crime has made Egypt far better than under the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the hope of the Arab revolution of 2001 failed to be achieved, Mina is content that times are better than in recent years.

The Coptic Christians, who make up about 20 percent of Egypt’s population of 100 million, came under intense harassment at the hands of Muslim extremists for several years. Copts were killed because of their religion. Their churches were burned. Most lived in fear of what would happen next.

Although security remains relatively tight around Coptic churches, my wife and I visited the center of the Christian population. The streets bustled with local residents and tourists, with little concern about possible attacks during the Christmas holidays.

After a visit to a Coptic monastery in the western desert, however, military police accompanied our tour bus until we made it to more populated areas.

Tourism seems to have picked up after the problems of the past decade, although my wife and I didn’t see too many Americans. Many of our friends thought we were crazy to make such a trip, so Egypt will have to convince people from the United States to return there.

El-Sisi and his team have rolled out a variety of economic programs, including a major building project at the Suez Canal to increase traffic. Also, the government has devalued the currency, making foreign investment far more appealing.

But Egyptian skeptics remain. One of my friends whom I visited during the 2011 uprising left the country for Central America. When I asked him if any of my acquaintances remained in Egypt, he responded, “They’re dead, in prison, or they left the country.”

El-Sisi and his supporters still have to convince some of their fellow countrymen that the economic and political situation will get even better.

One final note: A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you from Egypt!

Shut down the FISA court

By Christopher Harper

It’s time to get rid of the secret court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, better known as FISA.

The approval of warrants to investigate the Trump campaign is the latest abuse of the court, which was created in 1978 to limit spying.

A FISA warrant is one of the most aggressive searches, authorizing the FBI “to conduct, simultaneous telephone, microphone, cell phone, email, and computer surveillance of the U.S. person target’s home, workplace, and vehicles,” as well as “physical searches of the target’s residence, office, vehicles, computer, safe deposit box, and U.S. mails,” as a FISA court decision noted. 

Even more important, the FISA court is extremely deferential, allowing about 99 percent of all warrant requests.

But there’s more. The FISA court has a long history of abuse. 

James Bovard, the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, provided some of the details:

–In 2002, the FISA court revealed that FBI agents made false or misleading claims in 75 cases.

–In 2005, FISA Chief Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly proposed requiring FBI agents to swear to the accuracy of the information they presented. That never happened because it could have “slowed such investigations drastically,” the Washington Post reported. FBI agents continued to exploit FISA secrecy to lie to the judges.

–In 2017, a FISA court decision included a 10-page litany of FBI violations, which “ranged from illegally sharing raw intelligence with unauthorized third parties to accessing intercepted attorney-client privileged communications without proper oversight.”

–Earlier this year, a secret FISA court ruling was released documenting the FBI’s illegal searches of vast numbers of Americans’ emails.

Keep in mind, the FISA court is closed to the public and the press, unlike almost every other court in the country. Therefore, there is virtually no oversight of the FISA court. 

The critics of the FISA court come from both sides of the political spectrum. Maybe there’s hope that this egregious example of injustice can be shut down.

Although many conservatives think the FISA court is useful in fighting terrorism, I think its abuses far outweigh its benefits.

Do ‘experts’ have any value?

By Christopher Harper

If you turn back the clock six months to the end of May, the “experts” predicted gloom and doom for the U.S. economy.

The key piece of information was the yield gap between three-month and 10-year Treasury bonds reach a low of minus 13 basis points. According to the “experts,” the gap forecast a recession.

Almost every talking head chirped on every cable outlet: Recession, recession, recession.

Fast forward to the current economic mood: Unemployment to record low levels. Jobs up. Consumer confidence up. Productivity up.

The disconnect between the facts and the “experts” even had The Wall Street Journal wondering: What would we do without experts?

The report noted that the “experts” had failed to predict that employers added 266,000 jobs in November—the fastest pace since 312,000 in January—and the jobless rate dipped to 3.5%, matching September as the lowest level since 1969. Wages also advanced 3.1% from a year earlier.

The “experts” were nonplussed. Even DaTimes acknowledged that many of the “experts” got it wrong.

“The mainstream view of the economics profession — held by leaders of the Federal Reserve, the Congressional Budget Office, private forecasters, and many in academia — was that the United States economy was at, or close to, full employment.”

The “experts” got it wrong by a full one percent, arguing that 4.7 was as good as it could get. The workforce prediction was off by more than one million people.

Fortunately, consumers and small business owners haven’t followed the advice of the “experts.”

Americans’ view of the economic outlook improved significantly in December, according to a University of Michigan consumer-sentiment survey. The University of Michigan’s gauge of consumer sentiment rose to a December reading of 99.2 from a final November reading of 96.8. Economists had expected a December reading of 96.9.

I guess we can add economists to the list of experts who can’t be trusted. That list already includes political analysts, sports commentators, and climate-change advocates.

One final note: We lost a true expert when Paul Volcker died this week. As chairman of the Federal Reserve under Carter and Reagan, he was responsible for bringing the country out of a deep recession and for stopping rampant inflation.