The John Batchelor Show

Friday 21 August 2015

Air Date: 
August 21, 2015

Photo, left:
Hour One
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 1, Block A: Aaron Task, in re:
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 1, Block B:  Simon Constable,;; Barron’s; & author, The WSJ Guide to the Fifty Economic Indicators That Really Matter; in re:  OZY: King Dollar Is Back, Which Means . . .  ;  TheStreet: Time to Buy Emerging Market Debt? ; Forbes: "Must-Follow" Twitter Feeds on Markets and Economics
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 1, Block C: Harry Siegel, New York Daily News, in re:
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 1, Block D:  Jean Moran, California State University, in re:  21 California groundwater basins in 'critical' condition, state panel says.   State officials on Wednesday released a list of California groundwater basins that have been the most severely depleted by pumping, with the San Joaquin Valley suffering the most but a few areas in Southern California also heavily affected.  The list of 21 basins and sub-basins suffer from what the state deems “critical overdraft,” a condition in which significantly more water has been taken out of a basin than has been put in. “This is one snapshot of some significant issues we’re facing and everybody’s got to come together …  move forward and fix them,” Lauren Bisnett, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Water Resources, said Wednesday.
In the state's fourth year of drought, Californians in need of water have increasingly turned to groundwater, digging deeper and deeper wells as other supplies run dry. But overdraft can cause the land to gradually sink. A NASA report also released Wednesday showed that pumping too much groundwater has caused land in some parts of the San Joaquin Valley to subside faster than ever. Wednesday’s updated list paints a comprehensive picture of the areas where the state’s groundwater crisis is most acute. The vast majority of the basins lie beneath the central part of the state, in cities and towns stretching from Bakersfield to Merced, according to the state’s report – the same places where the land is sinking.  
The report also pointed to several troubled basins in Southern California. Aquifers beneath parts of Oxnard and Pleasant Valley in Ventura County, the Cuyama Valley near Santa Barbara and the Borrego Valley in San Diego and Imperial counties were on the state’s list. “We’ve been experiencing impacts [of overdrafting] for some time. They’re not going away overnight,” Bisnett said. “But this list does help us focus. How we manage and recharge those basins really makes this important.” Wednesday’s announcement represents the first update to the state’s list of critically overdrafted basins since 1980, said Mary Scruggs, supervising engineering geologist with the water department. New data and comments by local agencies could cause the list to change in the coming weeks, officials said. [By MATT STEVENS contact the reporter]
Hour Two
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 2, Block A:  Michael E Vlahos, Johns Hopkins, and Jerry Hendix, CNAS, in re:  ;
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 2, Block B:  Michael E Vlahos, Johns Hopkins, and Jerry Hendix, CNAS, in re: ; The dispute over the strategic waterways of the South China Sea has intensified, pitting a rising China against its smaller and militarily weaker neighbors who all lay claim to a string of isles, coral reefs and lagoons mostly in the Spratly and the Paracel islands. Only about 45 of them are occupied. The area is one of the world's busiest shipping routes, rich in fish and potential gas and oil reserves, but it has now emerged as a possible flashpoint involving world powers and regional claimants. A look at some of the most recent key developments:
Divisions among Asean Members Water Down Anti-China Statement  At a meeting of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, divisions over how to deal with China again split the regional bloc. The Philippines and Vietnam demanded a more robust statement condemning China's island-building in disputed waters close to their shores, while Beijing's allies Cambodia and Laos worked to dilute the tone of the final wording, according to diplomats present. The ministers said in their joint statement that they "took note of the serious concerns expressed by some ministers" on land reclamations in the South China Sea, without mentioning China by name. They did say that the offshore constructions "have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability." They also called on all parties to "exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes" – a standard line which have been used repeatedly in the past. The wording is a compromise between two ASEAN factions. Above all, the group wanted to avoid a repetition of a 2012 fiasco, when delegates for the first time in ASEAN history failed to come up with a common position on the South China Sea.
China Says No to U.S. Push for Freeze of Island Activities  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, also attended the meetings in Kuala Lumpur, but remained far apart in their views on what to do with the South China Sea.  In a speech, Wang repeated China's position ("the South China Sea islands are China's territory"), and said that the U.S. proposal for Beijing to stop constructing artificial islands while their status remains disputed "is not feasible."
"For instance, what is to be stopped? As parties have different positions, what are the criteria for stopping? Who will set the specific criteria? There is no answer to these questions. That said, China still welcomes constructive suggestions from all countries on maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. But such suggestions must be feasible and, more importantly, should not impose double standards," he said. He also said that singling out China for changing the status quo was unfair because others have been doing the same for years. Other claimants have upgraded their island facilities, however, China's recent work appears to have outpaced any other construction and could fundamentally change the features, in some cases enlarging them three-fold.
Beijing Imposes Limits on Navigation
In a sign that tensions with the U.S. could escalate, China's ambassador in the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua, took issue with Washington's position that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea must never be questioned.  While China said previously it has never threatened international navigation, Zhao said there are limits when it comes to military ships and planes, and referred to a recent overflight of a U.S. Navy P-8A. "Freedom of navigation does not mean to allow other countries to intrude into the airspace or the sea which is sovereign. No country will allow that," Zhao said. "We say freedom of navigation must be observed in accordance with international law. No freedom of navigation for warships and airplanes."
Last Word  "In fact, China is a victim on the South China Sea issue. Yet, with a view to upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea, we have exercised utmost restraint." – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Associated Press writers Hrvoje Hranjski in Bangkok and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 2, Block C:  Gene Marks, Washington Post, in re: The best state and city for small business are … ;
Social Media Yelp Wants You to Review the Government ; Promoter claims Tinder is killing live music venues ; 'PayPal of pot' CEO considers electronic payments for Oregon cannabis buyers ; This chart shows the hottest technologies of 2015 ; Cheese posties, flat-packed shoes, personalised potatoes: These are the world’s weirdest businesses 
Franchises  Walmart and other US companies are starting to feel the full effect of minimum wage increases ; National Relations Labor Board denies McDonald’s appeal
Summertime 2115  Lobster population is shifting north; ocean warming blamed
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 2, Block D:   Josh Rogin, Bloomberg View, in re:
Hour Three
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 3, Block A:  Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II. by Stephen Harding ( of 4)
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 3, Block B:  Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II. by Stephen Harding ( of 4)
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 3, Block C:  Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II. by Stephen Harding ( of 4)
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 3, Block D:   Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II. by Stephen Harding ( of 4)
Hour Four
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 4, Block A:  Timothy Snyder, New York Review of Books; Housum Professor of History at Yale. His new book, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, will be published in September; in re: Edge of Europe, End of Europe  The crisis of the European Union has two sides. One is political, about the lack of democracy within European institutions; the other is philosophical, about the erosion of Europe as a source of and home for universal values. The political crisis is on view in Germany and Greece. As we observe today, it never made sense to create a currency union (the Euro zone) without a fiscal union (a substantial common budget). A fiscal union would require more European democracy to legitimate the taxing and spending. When the Euro was established, the hope was that the common currency would create political solidarity that could foster European democracy; this simply has not happened. The Greek crisis has become a clash of multiple European democracies, in which the weak must bend to the strong. Greeks are not getting the policies they voted for; but then again Germans and other Europeans would not have voted, given the chance, to bail out Greece. Without a European budget, crises of this nature are inevitable; without European democracy all solutions will lack political legitimacy. 
The philosophical crisis is on display in Russia and the eastern borderlands of Ukraine. Ukrainians in 2013 demonstrated, in their revolution, a strong commitment to the idea of European integration. From the perspective of those who risked their lives on the Maidan, the central square in Kiev that was the center of the uprising, cooperation with Europe was essential for Ukrainian civil society to be able to mend the corrupt Ukrainian state. The essence and explicit purpose of Russia’s war in Ukraine, on the other hand, is the destruction of the European Union as a universalist project that Ukraine could join. In its place, Moscow wants to establish a rival to the EU, known as the Eurasian Union. Rather than universal recognition of the legality of states and rights of citizens, the Eurasian project proposes a Russian hegemony of territories that Russian leaders regard as historically theirs, such as Ukraine. Its moral premise is that members of the European Union have abandoned traditional European culture (by which is meant religious, sexual, and political exclusivism) for “decadence” and that only Russia represents civilization.
Yet the Russian effort to break the Ukrainian state by military occupation and Eurasian propaganda has not, at least thus far, succeeded. Very few people in Europe would actually prefer the Russian model on display in Crimea and the Donbas—millions of refugees, a defunct economy, everyday violence, thousands of deaths, general lawlessness. On the other hand, since a large number of Ukrainians have been willing to take risks, suffer, and die in the name of Europe—even as the EU itself suffers a grave identity crisis—it makes sense to ask what they think they are working toward.
In the long reach of intellectual history, the encounter between Russian disintegration and European integration is something quite familiar to Ukrainians. The Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, less than twenty miles from the Russian border, was home to one of the thinkers who tried to set this long process in perspective. For George Shevelov (1908-2002), one of the great philologists of the twentieth century and a professor at Columbia and Harvard, the whole history of relations between Ukraine and Russia was one of risky (Ukrainian) universalism encountering powerful (Russian) provincialism. His essays, published in Ukrainian in 2013, provide a learned guide to this durable perspective.
In the early eighteenth century, at a time when religion was seen as the essence of culture, Ukrainian churchmen believed that they were bringing universal Christianity to the Russian Empire. From the perspective of Kiev, Christianity was a faith that had been tried by multiple crises, and Orthodox Christianity the proper historical refinement. In Kiev, Orthodoxy was universal in that its thinkers were men of broad culture, and universal in that they expected that their understanding of religion could be extended, for example, to Moscow. The Orthodox Church in Ukraine had a tradition of baroque education in Latin and Polish; its churchmen were aware of all of religious controversies that had riven Europe during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The Russia of that era had no such institutions, traditions, or contacts. Moscow accepted the churchmen’s services but reversed their message: the Orthodox Church would be seen as authentic, not because it represented a transcendental alternative to secular states, but only insofar as it enforced Russian political power. It is no accident that the Russian Orthodox Church today is a strong supporter of Russian militarism.
The next great encounter between universal and provincial values in Ukraine and Russia and their borderlands came with the rise of communism in the early twentieth century. In Kharkiv, Shevelov lived through, and was formed by, an attempt to turn communism into a kind of global project of the enlightenment of nations. When the Soviet Union was established, Ukraine was its second-most important republic (after Russia), and Kharkiv was the first capital of Soviet Ukraine. Inspired by the creation of the Soviet Union as a federation of national republics and supported by early Soviet policies of affirmative action for non-Russian nations, many Ukrainian communists took the international character of the revolution seriously, believing that all nations would now undergo transformations of society and culture as they advanced towards socialism. As they saw matters, Ukraine was one of countless nations that would bring about this revolution by fashioning a modernist art and literature appropriate for the new socialist age.
In the 1920s, under the leadership of the Ukrainian proletarian writer and poet Mykola Khvylovy, Ukrainian communists established an exemplary set of cultural institutions promoting experimental culture. Khvylovy’s main idea as a critic and sponsor of new literature was that Ukraine could leap forward to what he called a “psychological Europe” by way of a new Ukrainian high culture that offered fearless meditations on the predicaments of modern life. By “Europe” he meant the embrace of Europe but also the attempt to transcend its genres. He saw this as the appropriate task of Ukrainian and Russian literature, separately, and rejected the idea that Russian culture had forms beyond the European and that these should guide Ukrainian writers. Some of the best novels of the period, such as Valerian Pidmohylny’s The City, are about the experience of socialism in Ukraine’s great cities. Khvylovy himself described living in Kharkiv in a way that is hard to experience as romantic: “In a faraway church a fire is burning and forms a poem. I am silent. Maria is silent.”
But then, as Shevelov saw it, came Joseph Stalin and a new ideology of Russian provincialism. Soviet socialism was no longer a universal project that could begin from nations building a new European culture, but rather a highly centralized economic transformation, directed from Moscow, whose failures could be blamed on the satellite nations, above all Ukraine. The collectivization of agriculture, begun in earnest in 1930, was supposed to transform the agrarian population of places like Ukraine into modern proletarian societies. Deprived of their land and of its fruits by collectivization and requisitions, peasants in Soviet Ukraine starved and sent their children to the cities to beg. The Kharkiv police were expected to remove two thousand hungry children from the streets each day in early 1933. Khvylovy and the other Ukrainian writers saw this with their own eyes.
Stalin blamed the failures of collectivization on Ukrainian nationalism and punished the leaders of the new Ukrainian avant garde. In March 1933 Khvylovy killed himself. In 1934 the capital of Soviet Ukraine was moved to Kiev. In 1937 and 1938 Kharkiv became one of the centers of Stalin’s Great Terror. An entire generation of artists and writers (including the novelist Pidmohylnyi) were murdered by the NKVD. After the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939, Polish prisoners were transported to Kharkiv to be shot. The idea of communism as international liberation everywhere was replaced by the Stalinist conceit that communism was a specific system of political control directed from Moscow.
From this perspective it is easier to see how many Ukrainians today understand their own most recent revolution in 2013 and 2014. For Ukrainians, the promise of Europe is not only as a common market for Ukrainian goods and a spur to political reform; it also figures as an idea of reciprocal recognition of European states and civil societies that could bring Ukraine out of the shadows of Russian provincialism. But the revolution—though its activists came from throughout the country—was concentrated on the Maidan in Kiev. In the postwar decades, Kiev was the Soviet capital; in the post-Soviet decades, Kiev has become a proudly European metropolis. In the eastern city of Kharkiv, where Sovietization after 1930 meant provincialization, the atmosphere is much more post-colonial. During the revolution, opinions in Kharkiv were very much divided, with a large number of people joining an “Anti-Maidan” against the pro-European movement. This was an encounter between violent and non-violent methods of protest, as the Anti-Maidan specialized in beating and humiliating their political opponents. Serhiy Zhadan, Kharkiv’s best-known poet and novelist, had his skull broken by the anti-Europeans in early 2014.
After the victory of the Maidan and the Russian invasion of spring 2014, the tone in Kharkiv changed somewhat. The city’s Lenin statue was finally brought down in September 2014. A sign hangs proclaiming that the plinth on which it stood is “under construction,” though no actual construction is underway. (The kind of construction that is meant is perhaps of the cultural or political variety.) Kharkiv’s leaders generally opposed the Maidan but also, when the time came, opposed separatism and the Russian invasion. On the streets, right-wing paramilitaries recruit for the defense of Ukraine from Russia, even as much popular opinion is uncertain how to think about the war. In February, residents of Kharkiv marched to celebrate the anniversary of the Maidan; someone laid a bomb on their route, killing four people. The city buses are painted blue and yellow, the national colors, with the hopeful message “one country” written in both Ukrainian and Russian. Recent efforts to commemorate Shevelov himself have revealed the divisions. A plaque mounted in Kharkiv to recall his life and work was promptly destroyed by people who claimed that they were defending Kharkiv from “fascism.”
One of the people who have tried to return the memory of Shevelov to Kharkiv was Zhadan, the poet who was attacked last year. The subject for which he is best known is the experience of post-Soviet life in big cities. In a major prose collection, Hymns of Democratic Youth, published a few years before the Maidan, he portrays the beginnings of the latest Kharkiv, the post-Soviet one. The first story in the collection, “The Owner of the Best Gay Club,” is probably not best read as resistance to the official homophobia of the Russian Federation or the anti-gay sentiments that are still dominant in Ukraine. Its message in the end is less about the particularities of the gay experience in Kharkiv or of the tragicomedy of those who seek to make money from it, but rather on the nature of love. In the end we learn that the titular figure, the manager of the best gay club, a former street enforcer, secretly believes that gays must be the ones who understand sex. In the end, even that turns out not to be so simple. The story sublimates the particularities of provincial post-Soviet Kharkiv into a universal question, whether love between two people can be a response to the overwhelming alienation of a society in profound transformation. This is a serious move executed quickly and skillfully against a comic backdrop, leaving the reader wanting more.
Back in 1920s Kharkiv, the communist leader Khvylovy was also writing about the difficulties of passion in the modern city among many other themes that were thought of as part of the new universalist future. It might seem at first, though the conclusion would be too easy, that Zhadan, who was born in 1974, is simply chronicling the long decline of Khvylovy’s city and its mission. What Zhadan actually seems to aspire to—and here his willingness to risk his life for Europe is a clue—is what Khvylovy called “psychological Europe”: the acceptance of conventions, the work to transcend them, and the absolute indispensability of freedom and dignity for the effort. The thugs broke his skull because he refused to bow down. Zhadan’s most recent work, a collection of poetry published earlier this year entitled Lives of Maria, is a book of Ukraine’s war and of Zhadan’s own survival: “you see, I lived through it, I have two hearts/do something with both of them.” Yet as the book proceeds the meditations are increasingly religious, the poems often taking the form of conversations with Maria herself. No one, in eastern Slavic culture or anywhere else, combines the writerly personas of tough guy and holy fool as does Zhadan. He raps hymns. 
At points in Lives of Maria, Zhadan sounds like Czesław Miłosz, the twentieth-century Polish poet, who also strove toward Europe through both the local and the universal: “I wanted to give everything a name.” Miłosz was the preeminent poet of a borderland, one to the north of Kharkiv, Lithuanian-Belarusian-Polish (and Jewish) rather than Ukrainian-Russian (and Jewish). His position, not so different from Zhadan’s perhaps, was that Europe can best be recognized on the margins, that uncertainty and risk are more substantial than commonplaces and certainty. And indeed, the last section of Lives of Maria is devoted to Zhadan’s translations of Miłosz. Zhadan begins with two of Miłosz’s poems, “A Song on the End of the World” and a “A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto,” that ask the most direct questions about what Europeans did during the twentieth century and what they might and should do instead. The second poem communicates the pain and difficulty of actually seeing and trying to learn from the Holocaust, which was, or at least once was, a central idea of the European project. The first transmits, almost breezily, certainly eerily, what a European catastrophe might feel like. It concludes: “No one believes that it has already begun/Only a wizened old man who might have been a prophet/But is not a prophet, because he has other things to do/Looks up as he binds his tomatoes and says/There will be no other end of the world. There will be no other end of the world.”
Where Miłosz wrote in Polish that the old man had other things to do, Zhadan writes in Ukrainian that there were already so many prophets. Perhaps so. Pro-European Ukrainians are taking a chance, not demanding a future. They watch the Greek crisis too, and their position is often more scathing than anything western critics of the EU could muster. The point then is not certainty but possibility. Zhadan might well have died for an idea of Europe; other Ukrainians already have. Yet the risks he has taken, both physical and literary, are not in the service of any particular politics. Many of his essays and poems are about the attempt to understand people with whom he disagrees. He is an outspoken critic of his own government. Like Miłosz, who described Europe as “familial,” or like Khvylovy, who called Europe “psychological,” Zhadan is pursuing experimentation and enlightenment, a sense of “Europe” that demands engagement with the unmasterable past rather than the production and consumption of historical myth. “Freedom,” writes Zhadan in Lives of Maria, “consists in voluntarily returning to the concentration camp.”
No one can know where this vision of Europe might lead; that is, in some sense, the point. But we do know that for Europe to exist as such it must also exist in broader institutions. Many Ukrainians understand this, which is why they made their revolution about Europe itself. These institutions must be improved, which is why we are all talking about Greece. Europe can fail in both Greece and Ukraine, which is why the Russian media in these weeks abounds in prematurely celebratory visions of a collapsed European Union. The underlying message of Russian propaganda is that working for Europe, whether inside the European Union or beyond it, makes no sense, since democracy and freedom are nothing more than the hypocrisy of a doomed order, and history has no lessons other than those of power. Russian nihilism cheers on European narcissism. 
The European Union will no doubt survive both crises, at least for a time, but in neither has it provided much of a response to its existential and democratic problems. Ukraine deserves help but is largely ignored because it is not a member of the European Union; the Greek prompt for institutional reform is going unheeded. As European leaders struggle to define what Europe is, it is more useful, or at least more heartening, to read the grim universalists in Kharkiv than to watch the gleeful provincials in Moscow. (1 of 2)
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 4, Block B:   Timothy Snyder, New York Review of Books; Housum Professor of History at Yale. His new book, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, will be published in September (2 of 2)
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 4, Block C: Timothy J. Kane, economist and research Fellow at Hoover Institution; in re:
Friday 21 August 2015 / Hour 4, Block D:   Eli Lake, Bloomberg View, in re:  Snowden's Window for a Plea Deal Is Closing   The window for former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to reach a plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department is closing quickly. That's what senior U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials tell us about the man whose leaks they call the worst in U.S. history. These officials say any momentum for these negotiations is gone; his lawyers have not even had conversations about such a deal for nearly a year with the U.S. attorney prosecuting the case. The officials say the chance that Snowden will be offered a plea deal in exchange for cooperation is now close to non-existent.  There are three main reasons. The U.S. intelligence community today believes it knows more about what Snowden took than it did in 2014. Back then, the intelligence assessments assumed that every piece of data Snowden's Web crawler programs scanned was also copied and downloaded to files he later took. U.S. intelligence officials tell us that a more accurate picture has emerged of what Snowden actually took, as opposed to what he just scanned.
Another reason Snowden's value to the U.S. government has diminished is that most intelligence officials assume that whatever Snowden gave to journalists is also by now in the possession of the Chinese and Russian governments. "Many people in government believe that the journalists who received Snowden's material are not capable of protecting it from a competent and committed state level adversary service," Ben Wittes, a national security law specialist at the Brookings Institution and an editor of the national security law blog Lawfare, told us. "Even if Snowden did not give the material to others, they argue it would have been ripe for the picking." Finally, U.S. officials have asserted -- though without providing evidence to support the claim -- that state and terrorist adversaries have improved their methods of evading U.S. surveillance as a result of the Snowden leaks. In February, Mike Rogers, the NSA director, told a Washington think tank that the U.S. lost spying capabilities as a result of Snowden's disclosures. All told, the value of Snowden's help -- to gauge and counter damage from the leaks -- has diminished considerably. 
That's not to say there were not some holdouts. Just last month, the departing attorney general, Eric Holder, told Michael Isikoff that a "possibility exists" for a Snowden plea deal. Holder and President Obama in January 2014 publicly offered to at least discuss such the terms under which Snowden could return home. Back then, Snowden's defense lawyers retained the services of Plato Cacheris, a lawyer renowned for negotiating plea agreements with individuals charged under the Espionage Act.  But neither side is . . .
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