Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

New derivation of equations governing the greenhouse effect reveals “runaway warming” impossibleMiklós Zágoni isn’t just a physicist and environmental researcher. He is also a global warming activist and Hungary’s most outspoken supporter of the Kyoto Protocol. Or was.That was until he learned the details of a new theory of the greenhouse effect, one that not only gave far more accurate climate predictions here on Earth, but Mars too. The theory was developed by another Hungarian scientist, Ferenc Miskolczi, an atmospheric physicist with 30 years of experience and a former researcher with NASA’s Langley Research Center.

After studying it, Zágoni stopped calling global warming a crisis, and has instead focused on presenting the new theory to other climatologists. The data fit extremely well. “I fell in love,” he stated at the International Climate Change Conference this week.

“Runaway greenhouse theories contradict energy balance equations,” Miskolczi states. Just as the theory of relativity sets an upper limit on velocity, his theory sets an upper limit on the greenhouse effect, a limit which prevents it from warming the Earth more than a certain amount.

How did modern researchers make such a mistake? They relied upon equations derived over 80 years ago, equations which left off one term from the final solution.

Miskolczi’s story reads like a book. Looking at a series of differential equations for the greenhouse effect, he noticed the solution — originally done in 1922 by Arthur Milne, but still used by climate researchers today — ignored boundary conditions by assuming an “infinitely thick” atmosphere. Similar assumptions are common when solving differential equations; they simplify the calculations and often result in a result that still very closely matches reality. But not always.

So Miskolczi re-derived the solution, this time using the proper boundary conditions for an atmosphere that is not infinite. His result included a new term, which acts as a negative feedback to counter the positive forcing. At low levels, the new term means a small difference … but as greenhouse gases rise, the negative feedback predominates, forcing values back down.

NASA refused to release the results. Miskolczi believes their motivation is simple. “Money”, he tells DailyTech. Research that contradicts the view of an impending crisis jeopardizes funding, not only for his own atmosphere-monitoring project, but all climate-change research. Currently, funding for climate research tops $5 billion per year.

Miskolczi resigned in protest, stating in his resignation letter, “Unfortunately my working relationship with my NASA supervisors eroded to a level that I am not able to tolerate. My idea of the freedom of science cannot coexist with the recent NASA practice of handling new climate change related scientific results.”

His theory was eventually published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal in his home country of Hungary.

The conclusions are supported by research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research last year from Steven Schwartz of Brookhaven National Labs, who gave statistical evidence that the Earth’s response to carbon dioxide was grossly overstated. It also helps to explain why current global climate models continually predict more warming than actually measured.

The equations also answer thorny problems raised by current theory, which doesn’t explain why “runaway” greenhouse warming hasn’t happened in the Earth’s past. The new theory predicts that greenhouse gas increases should result in small, but very rapid temperature spikes, followed by much longer, slower periods of cooling — exactly what the paleoclimatic record demonstrate.

However, not everyone is convinced. Dr. Stephen Garner, with the NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), says such negative feedback effects are “not very plausible”. Reto Ruedy of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies says greenhouse theory is “200 year old science” and doubts the possibility of dramatic changes to the basic theory.

Miskowlczi has used his theory to model not only Earth, but the Martian atmosphere as well, showing what he claims is an extremely good fit with observational results. For now, the data for Venus is too limited for similar analysis, but Miskolczi hopes it will one day be possible.

Common sense 1, pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo 0.

Climatologists obviously never respected what they could not know. Anyone who tells you that they understand the moving parts of a dynamic system infinitely bigger and more complex than any one human being, well enough to forecast it 50 years into the future, is a liar, an idiot, or a lying idiot. It’s common sense. Climatologists are too overconfident, too hysterical, and too frequently wrong to be credible. Next.

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Any enviros want to refresh me on how well the 2007-8 temperature forecasts of Pope Al and the cardinals of climatology stacked up to reality?



Snow cover over North America and much of Siberia, Mongolia and China is greater than at any time since 1966.The U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reported that many American cities and towns suffered record cold temperatures in January and early February. According to the NCDC, the average temperature in January “was -0.3 F cooler than the 1901-2000 (20th century) average.”China is surviving its most brutal winter in a century. Temperatures in the normally balmy south were so low for so long that some middle-sized cities went days and even weeks without electricity because once power lines had toppled it was too cold or too icy to repair them.There have been so many snow and ice storms in Ontario and Quebec in the past two months that the real estate market has felt the pinch as home buyers have stayed home rather than venturing out looking for new houses.In just the first two weeks of February, Toronto received 70 cm of snow, smashing the record of 66.6 cm for the entire month set back in the pre-SUV, pre-Kyoto, pre-carbon footprint days of 1950.And remember the Arctic Sea ice? The ice we were told so hysterically last fall had melted to its “lowest levels on record? Never mind that those records only date back as far as 1972 and that there is anthropological and geological evidence of much greater melts in the past.

The ice is back.

Gilles Langis, a senior forecaster with the Canadian Ice Service in Ottawa, says the Arctic winter has been so severe the ice has not only recovered, it is actually 10 to 20 cm thicker in many places than at this time last year. …

According to Robert Toggweiler of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University and Joellen Russell, assistant professor of biogeochemical dynamics at the University of Arizona — two prominent climate modellers — the computer models that show polar ice-melt cooling the oceans, stopping the circulation of warm equatorial water to northern latitudes and triggering another Ice Age (a la the movie The Day After Tomorrow) are all wrong.

“We missed what was right in front of our eyes,” says Prof. Russell. It’s not ice melt but rather wind circulation that drives ocean currents northward from the tropics. Climate models until now have not properly accounted for the wind’s effects on ocean circulation, so researchers have compensated by over-emphasizing the role of manmade warming on polar ice melt.

But when Profs. Toggweiler and Russell rejigged their model to include the 40-year cycle of winds away from the equator (then back towards it again), the role of ocean currents bringing warm southern waters to the north was obvious in the current Arctic warming.

Last month, Oleg Sorokhtin, a fellow of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, shrugged off manmade climate change as “a drop in the bucket.” Showing that solar activity has entered an inactive phase, Prof. Sorokhtin advised people to “stock up on fur coats.”

He is not alone. Kenneth Tapping of our own National Research Council, who oversees a giant radio telescope focused on the sun, is convinced we are in for a long period of severely cold weather if sunspot activity does not pick up soon. …

Talk about being “anti-science” — I don’t care how sophisticated the climatologists’ quantitative models are. Calling climatology “science” insults science. A Roman priest forecasting weather with pig entrails would be a more reliable forecaster than climatological models.

Of course, both Beltway candidates, and the entire infrastructure of 2008’s favored party, have invested man-eons evangelizing this religion. The Beltway’s capacity as wealth-destroying contrary indicator stands unrivalled.

I still want to know the gas mileage of a Prius going 100 mph.

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Today I ran across an educational rant on political manipulation of catastrophe insurance, and how Charlie “Mr. Popular” “Mark Foley’s homeboy” Crist is realizing a political windfall by swinging a massive wrecking-ball at Florida’s catastrophe insurance market.

The short story is that Crist has “nationalized” Florida’s market for hurricane insurance. By legislative fiat, Florida taxpayers now bear responsibility for hurricane damage up and down the state which boasts more than 50 percent of United States hurricane risk. Of course, taxes won’t go up until long after Playboy Charlie is out of office, and in the meantime, stupid property owners credit Crist for reducing their hurricane premia.

Smart investors have already crunched the implications for a future depression in free-lunch Florida’s consumption, once a tens-of-billions hurricane price tag lands in the laps of state taxpayers.

… Let’s talk about FHCF’s premiums, yes?  That seems a safe topic.  I suppose we should avoid in our discussions those premiums rates that fail to cover even the historical losses.  I suppose we might also be better off leaving aside for a moment the fact that the FHCF tends to compute risks for the purposes of pegging premiums against the last calendar year of hurricane losses.  Bit of a limited sample size, no?  Luckily, 2006 and 2007 were boring years so reinsurers will enjoy minimal premiums for the next year to come.  Says one commentator I corresponded with: “The FHCF isn’t even matching their losses one for one, much less factoring in a risk premium, operating costs, or the like. If a reinsurer charged such rates, their investors would have them murdered.”

In essence, Florida is short Hurricanes, short the industry risk models, short the historical loss records, and long their credit worthiness.

These risk models bear some scrutiny as a general matter, perhaps.  Many reinsurers use their own models, or at least claim to, but three industry models tend to predominate, or at least represent the “baseline” risk model the industry seems to hinge on.  RiskLink, Clasic/2 and WorldCat.

The basic division in modeling philosophies seems to fall into one of two buckets.

1.  Frequency and intensity of hurricanes are increasing, making reliance on a long-term historical record problematic.  (Cause is sort of beyond this discussion, but it bears mentioning that global warming is not the only potential culprit.  An Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) warm cycle could create the same effect.

2.  Stick with the historical record.

These two differences make for very dramatic differences in loss predictions, as you might imagine.  You might also imagine that a model that results in lower loss predictions than either is either the product of some giant step forward in model accuracy by a quasi-governmental entity, or folly.  I suspect Going Private readers will have their own guesses on this question.

Oh, I forgot one:

3.  Adopt an average yearly loss model and use sample size n=1 after the two mildest Atlantic hurricane seasons in recent memory.
It is also worth noting that recently, “real” catastrophe models have “missed low” on loss prediction (Wilma, Katrina) with predictable consequences.  So what does it mean when the FHCF isn’t even matching loses before the risk premium?

Never fear, dear readers, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation has for many years been the “state run insurer of ‘last resort.'”  Well, until 2006.  True, Citizens enjoys significant tax breaks and doesn’t bear the burdens of normal, private insurers, but, as of 2007 they have been tapped to be a “competitive player” in the “overpriced markets.”  How surprising will it be for the astute Going Private reader to discover that the “wind premium” Citizens charges often doesn’t even cover the historical average loss from hurricanes, tornado and hail?  Closer to the coast, Citizen’s premiums start to look absurdly low.  One might imagine the impact on any insurer in the Florida market with a reasonable risk model.  (Or at least one that’s not insane).  Clearly, they cannot compete with absurdly low premiums driven by major state subsidies and a rather… well… unique approach to risk modeling.

Now consider that Citizens is effectively obligated to offer policies to potential insured that the major private insurers in the market will drop as too risky, and it becomes fairly easy to see that Citizens portfolio is probably highly acidic.  Says one commentator: “Even a severely conservative 100 year storm model would tag Citizens with $10 billion in losses.”

The most naive of Going Private readers will be able to construct the basic principles of insurance premium generation.  Premiums should cover all expected losses from all insured risks.  Premiums must at least match payouts over the long term.  Add in operating expenses, risk of ruin margin and you have the beginnings of a premium model.

Coming full circle, it seems clear that Florida either is not possessed of sufficient sophistication to grasp these concepts, or, perhaps more insidiously, someone is (someones are) making a huge bet, realizing short-term political gains by keeping premiums artificially low and hoping to be off and away before the poli-economic disaster bond matures.  This is never more apparent than when watching officials deal with insurers.  Rate increases are denied routinely, rate decreases are often forced, even as they dip below the levels any sane actuary would tolerate.  “Look at all those profits your company is making in Illinois, we aren’t going to let you steal from our homeowners here in Florida, I tell you boy-o.”

The result is that many insurers in Florida are structuring losses in the property markets and trying to make up the difference with e.g., auto premiums.  It is amusing that the state which “composes over half of the hurricane risk in the United States, somehow believes that its share of premium (which is already far below that), is way too high and unfair.”

As one might expect, the major insurers (coincidentally the ones best able to provide stability and reduce volatility) are pulling out of the market.  “Mitigating Florida exposure,” has become a required corporate strategy.  As I explored this issue a little bird whispered to me that at least one of the big three is considering removing any Florida exposure whatsoever from their portfolio.  (Similar things have happened in OB/GYN malpractice insurance in some states).

So what if (when) a catastrophe loss is around the corner?  Well, don’t worry dear citizens, Florida has a plan composed of several layered defenses to such an unlikely eventuality:

1.  Issue bonds.  (Read: Charge the taxpayers).
2.  Raise taxes and real estate assessments.  (Read: Charge the taxpayers).
3.  Insurance company assessments with consummate cost passthroughs.  (Read: Charge the insurance companies and taxpayers).

… One might think that Florida had waged [asymmetric warfare] against insurers.

1.  They are unable to use risk pricing models or enjoy the efficiencies of the market because of the stranglehold on rate changes.
2.  They are increasingly priced out of the market both by the rate restrictions and the presence of a subsidized non-market constrained actor having the effect of denying the market to any insurer who wants to actually be profitable.
3.  Relations with major insurers have been so damaged as to make their cooperation in times of difficulty nearly impossible.  (Calling senior insurance executives “vipers,” for instance).

The longer an asset’s time horizon extends, the more susceptible it is to political volatility. America’s insurance markets suffer from a massive array of problems, but one of the most obvious is politicians’ ever-expanding incentives to destroy insurance markets for incredibly short-term gain. Florida’s coastal property market is now savoring a state-sponsored free lunch at insurers’ expense. The insurers are retaliating by either leaving the Florida market entirely, or in the case of diversified insurers, rolling those costs into every other class of insurance to make up for the state’s de facto confiscation of their market.

Crist endorsed McCain, who as history has proven lands closest to Crist’s optimum of betraying his base voters in favor of extremely short-term political gains. Birds of a feather …

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I am shocked — shocked! — that Beijing was caught goosing its environmental data!

Beijing’s Sky Blues

January 9, 2008

BEIJING — Blue skies are here again in Beijing, just in time for the Olympics — or are they? Last week the Chinese government rolled out new statistics claiming that air quality has dramatically improved between 1998 and last year. But a closer look at the data and changes in collection methods casts doubt on the government’s sunny claims — and raises serious questions about Beijing’s commitment to a green Olympics.

The government reports daily pollution levels on the Internet, through the State Environmental Protection Agency and Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau Web sites. These agencies collect data from monitoring stations around the city and calculate an Air Pollution Index (API) indicating the potential harm to human health, with a range of 1-500. An API of 100 or less is a “blue sky” day. Annual targets for the number of “Blue Sky” days are set for Beijing and other major cities in China. On Jan. 1, the government announced “blue sky” days had improved to 246 last year, up from 100 in 1998. The news was widely reported inside and outside of China.

What wasn’t reported, though, was a change in collection methods. The Beijing API is an average of data from selected monitoring stations. From 1998 to 2005, the same seven stations — located in the city center — were used to measure air quality. These stations monitored areas with different characteristics, including high traffic areas, plus residential, commercial and industrial districts. In 2006, however, just as international scrutiny on China’s air quality was increasing, two stations monitoring traffic were dropped from the city API calculations, while three additional stations in less polluted areas were added.

Calculating the average daily Beijing API values for 2006 and 2007 using data from the original monitoring stations changes the outcome considerably; in fact, 38 of Beijing’s 241 so-called “blue sky” days in 2006 would not have qualified as “blue sky” under the old methodology. The number is even less for 2007: 55 fewer days would have attained the “blue sky” standard, out of 246 reported “blue sky” days. That translates into fewer “blue sky” days as a whole than in 2002 (which had 203 reported “blue sky” days), immediately after Beijing was awarded the Olympics, and casts grave doubt on China’s reported five straight years of continuous air quality improvement.

The government also substituted in less stringent measures of pollution. Beginning in June 2000, measurements of nitrogen dioxide were substituted into the air quality calculations in place of measurements of nitrogen oxides. The new standard for nitrogen dioxide was much less stringent than the old standard for nitrogen oxides, which were the worst pollutant (in terms of number of weeks exceeding air quality standards) before 2000. Since then, not a single day has exceeded the standard, thanks to the new, more easily attainable criteria. Although a lack of daily data during this time period prevents a reworking of “blue sky” days based on these measures, the reported annual average concentration of neither nitrogen dioxide nor particulates improved between 1998 and 2002. Annual average pollution levels are one of the most commonly used scientific measurements of air quality.

Even if one uses the provided pollution statistics, the numbers don’t stack up. The likelihood of an API just below (API 96-100) or just above (API 101-105) the “blue sky” boundary should be approximately equal. But China’s results don’t correspond to that statistical rule. In 2001, Beijing had 34 days where measures for fine particulate, airborne particles of 10 micrometers or less (PM10), were near the blue sky boundary, and approximately half were reported as “blue sky” days. In 2006, 49 days had fine particulate values equivalent to an API between 96 and 105, and 98% of those were reported as “blue sky” days. Reported data for 2007 indicates a similar bias near the “blue sky” boundary.

In China, everything is about appearances. So you find hotels with palatial facades and ratty interiors, industrial combines with enormous production and sales volume but toxic amounts of bad debt, and so on.

Fortunately, Beijing’s environmental statistics are readily falsifiable. A foreigner can walk around Beijing for all of 1 minute and know that Beijing is one of the most polluted places on the planet, regardless of what the official statistics say.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Chinese economy.

When you are an outsider looking into a complex system, you are a lot better off examining “primal,” “blink” indicators — how socially secure the leaders are, how trustworthy they are, what their motivations are, what their respective time horizons are — as opposed to taking their data seriously.

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Michael Pettis is the best China-centric theoretical-finance commentator I have come across in the no-fees blogosphere. He has posted another good article, which focuses on the PBOC’s latest interest-rate adjustment.

For the sixth time this year the People’s Bank of China raised interest rates, which was not a surprise. The PBoC raised its 1-year benchmark lending rates by 18 bps to 7.47%. Changes in deposit rates were a little more complex. The 1-year benchmark deposit rate went up by 27 bps to 4.14%, the 6-month deposit rate rose 36 bps to 3.78%, and the 3-month deposit rates rose 45 bps to 3.33%.

The PBOC actually cut the deposit rates on current deposits by 9 bps to 0.72%, from 0.81%. The PBoC statement accompanying the hike claimed that the move “will guide more money into short-term time deposits to help consumers better handle rising prices while maintaining enough liquidity.” I think here the concern is that a lot of money has been held in current deposits in order to take advantage of IPOs, and as huge amounts of money flow from current deposits to brokerage accounts, they cause spikes in sort-term rates that really hurt the smaller banks. By encouraging depositors to tie up their money, the PBoC may hope that it reduces the amount of IPO oversubscriptions.

Overall it is pretty clear that the PBoC is trying to encourage savers from withdrawing deposits – with CPI inflation over the past four months averaging over 6%, depositors have to be very unhappy with the return they are getting on their savings. I am not sure about the exact mix of deposits, so I don’t know what the interest spread is, but the spread between one-year deposits and one-year loans has narrowed by 9 basis points (I think altogether it has narrowed by 27 basis points this year, but I have to check). Banks rely on the interest spread for 85-90% of their profits, so the continued squeezing of the spread, along with the ten minimum reserve hikes this year, should have two impacts: it will put serious pressure on bank profitability next year, and it will create strong incentives for bankers to lengthen loan maturities.

There may be problems with China’s strategy. On their website the PBoC argued that “This adjustment will be beneficial in preventing the rapidly growing economy from turning to overheating, and prevent the structural rise in prices from becoming clear inflation.” If raising the deposit rates is intended to fight inflation and prevent overheating, I imagine that it would do so by constraining consumption. However constraining consumption will also mean constraining import growth, which of course means adding further upward pressure on the trade surplus, and so further upward pressure on money creation as the PBoC monetizes these inflows.

In addition it is pretty clear that these increases in interest rates cannot help but make speculative inflows even more profitable – even if the dollar-RMB “arbitrage”, as some argue, is not the main reason for speculative inflows.

A lot rides on which model for explaining inflation and overheating is the correct one. If it is excessive lending and temporary food price increase that have caused the two, and if rising inflationary expectations are the main concern, then the current strategy may be the right one to combat the problem. Restraining spending and calming inflation expectations should do the trick.

If, however, the fundamental problem is the lack of monetary policy caused by the currency regime, then these solutions will only make things worse. Anything that encourages inflows through the current or capital account will simply make the PBoC’s job of managing the domestic money supply even more difficult and will exacerbate the overheating and inflation problems. We may find ourselves in a vicious cycle.

As goes China, so goes commodities. As gold and oil climb to dizzying new highs, never forget that. It’s a lot safer, imho, to bet on base or precious metals, than it is to bet on China.

I would even buy Japan before I’d buy China–although I believe the China bubble has some months to run yet. Japan is the inverse of commodities, so it would make a decent hedge for a major gold bet. However, Japan will continue to stagnate until it drastically increases market transparency and cracks down on rogue bureaucracies. In the fall, Japan’s building authority basically froze the real estate and construction market by imposing unbelievably onerous requirements upon builders. Japanese housing starts plunged to a 40-year low, and the directive probably cost Japan over half a percentage point of GDP this year. There is no reason to make your investment hostage to that kind of behavior.

Anyway, the toothlessness of these PBOC moves show how completely they have lost control of monetary policy, in my opinion. Nobody’s behavior is going to be influenced because they are getting .72% instead of .81% on a short term RMB deposit.

Pettis also notes that a severe drought is gripping China. The peasants are not going to have a very happy 2008 Olympics.

Droughts and inflation

By Michael Pettis

A few weeks ago I saw a report that China had suffered its worst drought in recent times. The dates and details were a little vague, so I tabled the article and decided at some point I wanted to find out a little more about it. Today both Bloomberg and the South China Morning Post have articles about the drought.


Bloomberg stares its piece by saying: “China’s most severe drought in a decade is expanding throughout the country, threatening the normally humid areas along the southern coast.” I searched for more news on China Daily and found a whole slew of articles. Parts of China are suffering their worst drought since the early 1950s, about 400,000 hectares of crops have already been damaged this year, and the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters reports that 37.4 million tons of grain will be lost. China Daily adds: “In recent times, drought has been striking more areas of the country with greater frequency. It had extended from the north and western regions to the south and eastern areas, worsening water supply conditions for both agriculture and industry.”


On the other hand, the country seems to be making good preparations for the spring festival. Zeng Liying, the deputy director of the State Grain Administration, said on the agency’s website that “China has stored enough grain to fully meet market demand.” She also said, somewhat surprisingly to me given the other news, that “The country’s grain harvest is expected to exceed 500 million tons this year, rising for the fourth consecutive year.”


Not surprisingly food and grain consumption shoots up during the annual spring festival, and I would guess that the government will do what it can to restrain price increases because it will want a happy festival. If that means using up grain stocks to depress prices temporarily, it will help in the short term, which is fine if Chinese inflation really is just a temporary food problem. In that case fighting inflationary expectations will be the government’s main task, and using up food stocks to depress prices will be a successful strategy.


If inflation is really a monetary problem, however, or if continued drought drives food prices up over a longer period, trying to restrain price increases in the short term may cause more trouble later in 2008 after the festival. With food prices around the world rising too, I continue to believe that inflation next year is going to shock on the up side. As an aside, the government this week promised to double its fertile-sow subsidy to farmers. It will also spend additional money to support large-scale pig production. I assume that this means that they are concerned that pig-rearing is growing as fast as they had hoped. I think the government and most other forecasts for CPI inflation in 2008 are in 3.8-4.5% range (I need to check, so please don’t accept these numbers uncritically). I think it will be much higher.

Coincidentally, I notice this article from the Financial Times:

Double challenge to Beijing orthodoxy

By Mure Dickie and Jamil Anderlini in Beijing

Published: December 26 2007 19:22 | Last updated: December 26 2007 19:22

In two highly unusual public challenges to core tenets of Communist rule in China, an academic has announced the launch of a democratic opposition party and farmers in four provinces have claimed ownership of land seized by local authorities.

Former Nanjing university professor Guo Quan on Wednesday claimed his “New Democracy party” enjoyed widespread backing for its goal of ending Communist “one-party dictatorship” and introducing multi-party elections. “We must join the global trend,” Mr Guo said. “China must move toward a democratic system.”

Separately, farmers in the provinces of Heilongjiang, Shaanxi, Jiangsu and the city of Tianjin have announced on the internet that they have reclaimed collective land from the government and redistributed it.

Collective land ownership is one of the foundations of the Communist state. But one of the main sources of unrest in China in recent years has been the seizure of land that is then sold to developers who often work with officials to make huge profits.

Authorities have already detained at least eight of the activists behind the internet statements, people familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

China routinely detains or jails people whom officials judge to pose a threat to Communist party rule and has dealt harshly with past attempts to set up opposition groups.

In 1998 authorities detained dozens of people involved in setting up the “China Democracy party”. Some of its main organisers were sentenced to more than 10 years in jail.

This month’s land claims break new ground by appearing to be co-ordinated across widely separated regions of the country and by being based on presumed individual property rights.

On December 16, police in the northern province of Shaanxi detained Zhang Sanmin, Cheng Sizhong and Xi Xinji on suspicion of incitement to overthrow the state. The detentions came four days after they posted an open letter on the internet claiming to have asserted rights over 10,000 hectares of land in the name of 70,000 farmers.

That action came less than a week after the detention of Yu Changwu, leader of a group in the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang that claimed to represent 40,000 peasants in the reclamation of 100,000 ha of land.

In the eastern province of Jiangsu, two young couples were under effective house arrest after joining a group that asserted ownership of land confiscated by local officials to build hotels, discos and restaurants.

A fourth group in the northern port of Tianjin staked a claim on behalf of more than 8,000 people for 60 ha taken by officials for development.

The announcement of the new party and the land claims follows the release last month by a provincial government adviser, Wang Zhaojun, of a sweeping open letter indicting the nation’s entire political system.

Is King Kong waking up?

(Supposedly King Kong was symbolic of the commie-sympathizing underclass… yes, I’m a tool)

As a final end note, a former professor of mine (who is very well connected with the Chinese elite) said that he believed Beijing was behind the 2005 Shandong “mass incident.” Beijing has shown a pattern of using the combination of rural riots and very attentive media to make a move on a “rebellious” province and centralize power at the expense of the provincial governments, which collectively hold much more de facto power than Beijing does.

With media reports, especially apparently coordinated roll-outs such as this, you can never apply too many grains of salt …

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Somewhat like Bill Clinton’s recent Reliving History lowlight, another institutional malefactor has now crawled out from his spider-hole, hopeful that entropy has dulled the American collective memory enough for him to tell us what to do, without being laughed out of the room.

Richard Armitage, if you recall, was the Foggy Bottom apparatchik who actually leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to Robert Novak. Novak, to protect his credibility, refused to identify the leaker for years, during which time Democrats rabidly looked for, and found, every imaginable piece of “evidence” that the Plame leak was a Rove-inspired smear, rather than the Armitage “oopsie” it was. Armitage, even though he was Joseph Wilson’s friend, apparently never told Wilson about it.

Wilson was and is a rabid partisan, but he also had a documented history of national service and courage under coercion. Thanks to his decades of paranoid experience perceiving and predicting political shadowboxing where others saw nothing inordinary, Wilson perceived in Novak’s leak a thinly veiled warning to bureaucratic guerrillas who were fighting Bush policy since at least 2004 (if not earlier). His subsequent counterattack became a left-wing cause celebre. But even as one of Novak’s own sources (Armitage) had inadvertently triggered the most misplaced outburst of rage in Beltway history, Novak had to at least give a decent time lag between his source’s leak and his own admission, in order to protect his credibility as DC’s number one broker of “inside” information.

Finally, in 2005, Armitage confessed that he was the source of the leak. The fact that he took two years to go public meant that Armitage had allowed his friend Wilson to inadvertently trash his own credibility. The DC establishment gave one final theatrical ode to Plame/Wilson, but by then their offensive had lost credibility, mostly thanks to Armitage.

Now Armitage is back, fast on the heels of the intel establishment’s latest attempt at shadowboxing with the Bush Administration. In the time-honored tradition of recommending everything and taking responsibility for nothing, two consummate bureaucrats offer another pile of platitudinous pontifications which the Beltway elite is trying to use to frame the national policy discourse.

Just as “WMD” were a now-discredited tactical marketing vehicle substituting for complex explanations beyond the American attention span (viz. war w/ Iraq), and, in the guise of an “Iranian atomic bomb,” were on course to do the same in Iran, so was l’affaire Plame a tactic by which the bureaucracy counterattacked in the elite court of public opinion management. But the credentials backing the spurious WMD argument were all there; so the argument wasn’t questioned. Then the elitist ingenuity unraveled, and the American people were left puzzled and stupefied. A ridiculously high quotient of the subsequent recriminations focused on WMD, when WMD were never the issue in the first place.

As I have variously carped at “Serious” policy prescriptions, be they monetary, geopolitical, fiscal or whatever, I have noticed something they all share. American policy debates are a battle of credentials, not logic, in which truth, transparency and honesty are mere second-rate tactics. The self-evidently destructive “DC consensus” approach to the real estate/financial crisis, epitomized by Larry Summers, was rightly trashed by sentient expert opinion outside of the United States. Within the US itself, however, Summers’ credentials are apparently enough to sideline dissenting opinions, judging by the obsequiously optimistic American coverage of the Paulson SuperSiv and subprime “plans.”

Similarly, well-credentialed political hounds like Richard Armitage and Anthony Zinni are able to advocate idiotic policy prescriptions which have already failed; people without like institutional credentials are simply ignored, despite the fact that the Institutionally Credentialed Approaches are demonstrably illogical and moronic when they haven’t been falsified by recent events. For example: (apologies for formatting errors)

¿ We should reinvigorate the alliances, partnerships and institutions that allow us to address numerous hazards at once without having to build a consensus from scratch to respond to every new challenge.

My comment: classically utterly meaningless political-speak.

¿ We should create a Cabinet-level voice for global development to help Washington develop a more unified and integrated aid program that aligns U.S. interests with the aspirations of people worldwide, starting with global health.

My comment: Is this Dennis Kucinich’s Department of Peace? Seriously, this is “more spending on foreign aid” in Beltway language. Ironically, buried elsewhere in the article’s ####pile of platitudes, Armitage and Nye cited the American earthquake assistance in 2005-06 (which brought Pakistani approval of America to about 50 percent), and subsequent deflation of that bubble, as evidence that we should do more of that. Are you kidding me? Now Musharraf and Kayani are back in the same tribal badlands trying to kill the same people whom we saved in 05-06. Familiarity by charity breeds contempt.

To the hoi polloi, it sounds pleasantly vague and agreeable. Who, besides Eric Cartman of course, could possibly oppose “more unified and integrated” “alignment” of “aspirations of people worldwide” for anything?

¿ We should reinvest in public diplomacy within the government and establish a nonprofit institution outside of it to build people-to-people ties, including doubling the annual appropriation to the Fulbright program.

My comment: Tripe. The notion that this will have a macro impact is laughable. There is an entire constellation of such organizations already, not even counting financial aid to foreign students.

¿ We should sustain our engagement with the global economy by negotiating a “free trade core” of countries in the World Trade Organization willing to move directly to free trade on a global basis, and expand the benefits of free trade to include those left behind at home and abroad.

My comment: The WTO IS a (politically constrained) free trade zone. “Free trade core” sounds awfully like Beltway code for slicing and dicing free trade agreements between “core” rich countries and poorer manufacturing exporters–subliminally undermining the meaning of free trade. A typically Orwellian sabotage of meaning.

¿ We should take the lead in addressing climate change and energy insecurity by investing more in technology and innovation.

My comment: Along with Anthony Zinni’s “climate security imperative,” this represents another attempt at subliminally grafting the faith-based initiative of anthropocentric global warming onto the “national security” heuristic. Energy insecurity is a direct byproduct of the environmental movement, and if the United States actually freed its own coal, shale-oil and offshore oil reserves, we wouldn’t need a Mideast-centric war machine for anything.

Oh, well. It is already bipartisan Beltway policy, rich America’s moral superiority, and poor America’s doleful reality. It shouldn’t be taken seriously on its own merits, let alone Armitage’s track record.

But it is. I really should learn to whine less.

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Between the dead dollar, the collapse of various “banking” sectors (mortgage originators, ABCP-spewing SIVs, etc), Iraq, and global warming, faith-based initiatives prophesying apocalypse are clearly enjoying the bull market of a generation.

Global warming has been a particular hobbyhorse of mine. I don’t have the scientific grounding, time, or patience to be “well-informed” about climatology, so I’m in no position to falsify the latest scientific findings on their merits. But the global warming movement has all the suspect hallmarks of a faith-based initiative in secular drag. It has “clergy” who cannot predict what the whether will be 2 weeks from now, yet who are taken seriously as they predict the weather 2 generations from now. Their assumptions, theories and models are too complex for outsiders to realistically falsify them. And they have enormous, obvious conflicts of interest, whether it’s the fact that every graduate student and young professor needs to pay homage to the religion to have any hope of advancement, or the enormous power that comes with higher federal grants, subsidies, and climatology regulations.

Martin Wolf and Yves Smith offer little more than resignation over the (to them) terrifying inevitability of global warming.

Climate change is rapidly joining a host of media stories, like Darfur and the deterioration of living standards in Iraq, where the public half-heartedly follows the updates because they believe there’s no underlying news and even if they are bothered, there is nothing they can do. For example, the final, summary report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change got a fraction of the attention of the first report, even though it contained a great deal of additional information and drew conclusions. As serious as other ongoing horrors might be, climate change is in a completely different category, yet in too many quarters is generating no meaningful response. …

The point of the story of the boy who cried wolf is that, finally, a wolf did appear. I feel the same way about the intellectual heirs of Thomas Malthus. Malthusians have finally found a wolf called climate change. Many now agree. …

The one point in favour of George W. Bush’s US or John Howard’s Australia is that they were not hypocritical. For the signal feature of most of the commitments made so far has been the failure to meet them (see chart). The vaunted European emissions trading system has been more a way of transferring quota rent to a few big emitters than an effective means of emissions control. …

In short, if they are to tolerate radical change in energy use, people must first be frightened and then they must be offered a good way out. The truth, moreover, is that this will happen only if the US also takes the lead. No country will deliver radical cuts if the US does not do so, too. No leaps forward in science and technology will occur if the US is not prepared to commit its resources to those ends. The US can no longer wait for a lead from others. Either it takes the lead now or the cause, in all probability, will be lost. Our children and grandchildren will then find out whether it was a real wolf or not.

Statements such as “people must be frightened” illumine exactly why the climatology establishment should not be taken seriously. The Stern Report, for example, prophesied Day After Tomorrow-esque climate change in the next 10 years without draconian curbs in economic output. It was patently fraudulent science, and anybody outside the climatological clerics’ sanctum sanctorum understood that immediately.

However, global warming’s political salience never ran more than skin deep, and its cultlike appeal among information elites is not shared by most voters. The complete flop of Al Gore’s “Live Earth” concert expensively taught information elites what we political animals have known all our lives: if anything is presented as a problem, and voters are asked if they would support [thoroughly vague] prescriptions to solve it, huge majorities will tell the pollster that 1) the issue in question is an urgent problem, and 2) they would support the proposed vague measure.

That has no correlation, however, with how the voter would react later, if the issue rose to the political fore. How would an individual voter react to infinite disparate streams of information, to which he paid no attention before the bill came under serious consideration? What would the voter think about the proposed means of solving the problem–which, at this late juncture, would not be vague at all, thus removing his ability to fill in previously vague parts of the proposal with that individual’s preference? Would he trust the agents charged with enforcement of the remedy?

As with politicians, whose approval ratings always fall over time as they are further scrutinized, public approval for any complex piece of legislation plummets commensurate with the public’s acquaintance with the proposed legislation’s particulars . That’s why a lot more legislation “gets done” in the dead of night, or in conference committee, than on the open floor of Congress.

There’s one other reason, though, why global warming has lost what little salience it had, and why it’s doomed as an effective political issue. China is now the world’s number-one CO2 emitter. India and other rising powers are also belching enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. What’s the prospect that they will change their behavior? Zero.

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