APRIL 20, 2020
This is the northern part of the Las Vegas strip between 9:00 am and 11:00 am in the morning. If you have been here, this is what it looks like without you.
APRIL 20, 2020
This is the northern part of the Las Vegas strip between 9:00 am and 11:00 am in the morning. If you have been here, this is what it looks like without you.
Argentina, Antarctica, and Brazil 2020
Written by Chet Yarbrough
Landing in Argentina’ sunshine with 70 to 80-degree weather is not unusual in February, but in that same month Antarctica’s temperature reaches its record high. On February 6, 2020 , where we were, Antarctica reaches 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit; the highest in recorded history. (In 2015, Antarctica reached 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Some would argue Antarctica’s rise in temperature is a harbinger; others deny the science–like President Trump who suggests science is wrong.
Sailing to Antarctica is not for the feint of heart. You begin from “The World’s End” in an Argentine town called Ushuaia (pronounced U-swy-ahhh).
Ushuaia is beautiful in February.
To its residents, Ushuaia is beautiful all year round. Residents have grown from 5,000, forty years ago, to an estimated 150,000 today.
However, you must enjoy the cold, its remoteness; winter snow, spectacular scenery, and ski slopes to die for (or from).
If seasickness plagues you, taking the Drake Passage will test your resolve. If you begin in Ushuaia, there is no other sea passage to Antarctica.
In your crossing of the Drake Passage, the grandeur of ice caps, ice bergs, landscapes, and sea creatures are a welcome consolation to wobbly walks on the deck.
Our group reaches the Arctic Circle and is rewarded with an excursion to the top of a lower peak with a spectacular view of an ocean inlet. A research vessel is anchored in the harbor. Several crew members set up the first (to our knowledge) soccer game to be played within the Arctic Circle.
Because our vessel carries less than 500 people, landing is permitted. We landed on this frigid land several times on our journey.
February temperatures in the high 60 s is typical for Los Angeles or Las Vegas, but not at the bottom of the world.
Not that the world will end in a foreseeable future, but catastrophic change is here. Kolbert’s “…Sixth Extinction” seems eminently possible.
A 24-day excursion to Antarctica should convince most people that global warming is real and present.
Seabirds, shorebirds, whales, seals, sea-lions, penguins, and landscapes will entertain and astound you. Stories of others’ tortuous journeys to the south pole make you realize how easy a tourist’s passage to this vast wilderness is today.
At every excursion from your boat, you are confronted with the hardship earlier travelers must have endured. At times of the year, Antarctica’s temperature can fall to -70.6 degrees F with an average temperature of 14.0 degrees F. As predicate of the future, our trip averaged 30 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit.
No humans permanently live on Antarctica. There are no polar bears. Only penguins, seals, nematodes, tardigrades, and mites can handle the extreme cold. However, 1,000 to 5,000 people live on science stations from various nations around the globe.
Antarctica is not a nation-state and is not officially owned by any country. However, over twelve countries claim rights to a portion of the land.
A 1961 Antarctic Treaty between governments recognizes there is no indigenous population. The Treaty formed a pact that allows intellectual and scientific exchange, while banning military activity or mineral prospecting.
Russia, according to recent newspaper reports, is significantly increasing their exploration of natural resources in Antarctica. Its days of exclusive scientific exploration may be limited. Though America and Russia are thousands of miles from the Antarctic continent, distance and harsh winter conditions are no longer an impediment to economic exploitation.
Interestingly, 11 children were born on Antarctica between 1978 and 1983. Their parents were from either Argentina or Chili. The idea was for parents of respective countries to perfect their nation’s right to portions of Antarctica.
The Antarctic Treaty holds such claims in abeyance. Medical facilities are virtually non-existent in the remote camps of the Arctic Circle. With added recognition of environmental danger to an unborn child, no further births occurred after 1983.
Upon returning to South America, we tour the Iguazu Falls. It is the highest average water flow fall in the world. It is taller than Niagara Falls and is twice as wide. To us, it rivals the beauty and grandeur of Victoria Falls in Africa (between Zambia and Zimbabwe; on the Zambezi River).
The fun at Iguazu Falls is taking a river boat on Iguazu River that takes you under the falls. It is thrilling and moisturizing (actually, drenching). You are given a dry bag for your camera and anything you do not want to get wet.
And finally, there is a trip through the rain forest in Argentina’s Iguazu jungle. Birds, caiman, catfish, trees, and spiders, oh my.
A little mosquito spray is a must at certain times of the year, but February is not a bad month because of cooler weather. Our guide explains the importance of the rain forest and its protection of the environment.
The Argentina rain forest not only absorbs carbon dioxide from the air we breathe, but it is a river of water above the ground. It nourishes the earth and replenishes underground aquifers.
As the rain forest disappears, the lungs and water filtration system of the world diminishes. At the end of our trip, we wonder if the “…Sixth Extinction” is not only possible but probable.
Seven continents — what a thrill it is to see how different and interconnected nature is and how fragile and insignificant we human beings are in the world.
New Zealand in 2019
Written by: Chet Yarbrough
Having the wonderful experience of visiting New Zealand as an America tourist was like visiting a biblical Eden. However, no country is without political controversy.
On the one hand, New Zealand has the ambition of being an ecological Eden with no natural predators and a perfectly balanced environment.
Is that realistic? How can nature be nature without predation? From times untold, wild animals have eaten each other.
And then, there are humans. Humans are by nature predators. Environmental degradation is accelerated by economic prosperity.
American media gives positive marks to the current Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. In part because of her immediate response to the Christ Church mass shooting but also because of her environmental effort to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution.
Ardern is also lauded for her response to the Covid19 crises.
Looking back to a 2019 trip, first impressions are renewed by today’s headlines about New Zealand’s democracy. Elections in New Zealand reinforce egalitarian ideals Americans covet. The NYTs’ headline notes “…Ardern’s 2nd Term…Seats Most Diverse Parliament Ever.” Election of women and indigenous Kiwis is a message to all democracies.
Nanaia Mahuta (New Zealand elected official, indigenous Maori politician, Minister of Foreign Affairs,).
New Zealand is blessed with renewable energy sources from geothermal-power, hydro-power, and a burgeoning wind and solar power industry. Not that this is something only the Prime Minister has done in her short term, but it illustrates the environmental sensitivity of the country.
Prime Minister Ardern is not universally applauded by fellow New Zealanders. Contrary to Ardern’s press coverage in the U.S., some New Zealand farmers seem quite upset with Ardern. We had the happy opportunity to spend a day and night with a farming family in New Zealand.
The farming family we spent time with explains there is a conflict between New Zealand’ farmers and the current administration. Over 45 percent of New Zealand is farm land. It is distributed among farmers that have an average size farm of over 350 acres. An important distinction between our countries is that American corporations may use farms as a tax shelter while New Zealanders use farm land to produce more product. There are few if any corporate farms in New Zealand. New Zealand farms are owned by real farmers.
However, farming is a major polluter of land in America; as well as New Zealand.
Over 50% of methane and nitrous oxide in the world comes from farm animals. Adern puts the burden of correction on private farms. Over 50% of methane and nitrous oxide in the world comes from farm animals. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer, alpaca, llamas, goats, and chickens are common farm animals raised on New Zealand farms. Land, water, and air quality issues being raised by the current administration are a big concern of the farming community.
New Zealand farmland regulation is creating a furor among some farmers that are being told to change their practices to reduce pollution. The cost of these changes are to be borne solely by the farmer according to the farm family we visited.
Real farmers in both America and New Zealand have a reputation for being independent. That independence is distorted by corporate ownership in America but not in New Zealand. The New Zealand farming community is made of farmers who work the land. One gets the impression they will not re-elect Ms. Ardern unless she changes direction.
The irony of what we were hearing is that farmers like all people are concerned about the environment. The problem is in the cost of adjusting farming practices to accommodate environmental concern.
From an outsider’s perspective, the solution seems simple. Farmers in New Zealand are not constrained by corporate farming practices like America. New Zealanders do not farm to shelter income but to produce product. It would seem reasonable for the government to assist New Zealand’ farmers financially to adjust to less environmentally damaging practices. The perception we had from the family we spent the night with was that the current government wants all of that cost to be borne by the farmers.
When the word subsidization is mentioned, both husband and wife of the New Zealand farm family seem to wince. Without knowing the history of farming subsidization in New Zealand, one wonders what happened in its history.
As long as real farmers are producing groceries there seems every reason for tax dollars to be used to help farmers mitigate pollution. Farmers are as concerned about the environment as environmentalists. Where would the world be without food production and real farmers?
Visiting other countries is a guilty pleasure. It is an expensive undertaking that many cannot afford. We loved our time in New Zealand. One sees there is no perfect country. Every country has its discontents; America, not withstanding.
Australia and New Zealand in 2019
Written by: Chet Yarbrough
Traveling from America to Australia and New Zealand is exciting and exhausting. You arrive on the same day you leave but only because you have crossed the International Date Line.
Not to be missed but not to be envied, it takes over 19 hours to reach Australia/New Zealand by plane. What you experience when you explore these fabulous countries is worth every minute of your flight.
Australia is a vast country that equals the size of the continental United States. Though there are only 6 states and 2 territories, the diverse geography and beauty of Australia equals the geographic size and beauty of continental America.
Many surprises await uninformed Americans who choose to make the trip.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE AUSTRALIA AND AMERICA.
There are many common characteristics, both good and bad, in the history of America and these two nations. The bad is the displacement and discrimination of indigenous populations in Australia, and New Zealand. Just like the American treatment of the Indians, Australia and New Zealand disenfranchised and discriminated against their indigenous population.
The good is the economic progress of all three nations and the intent to redress the harm that has been done. Its a slow process of reconciliation that will never be resolved in a way that satisfies the conscience of every American, Australian, and New Zealander. One gets the feeling that Australia and New Zealand, like America, are struggling with how to equitably deal with generations of white discrimination.
From farmlands, to deserts, to lakes, to rain forests, to Pacific seascapes, to mountain water falls, to cityscapes, Australia and New Zealand shine as brightly as any place in America.
Warm reception of Americans by Australians and Kiwis make every day a new and enjoyable adventure. Having an opportunity to meet and learn about the culture of Aboriginal and Maori indigenous minorities holds the same fascination that Americans have in meeting indigenous American Indians.
The story of Australian Aborigines is as heart rending as early American treatment of Indians. A similar story is told by Maori tribe leaders in New Zealand. However, the Aboriginal and Maori interests and experience are as diverse as America’s Black and Indian interests and experience in America.
Life is entirely different between the Aboriginal and Maori cultures.
Aboriginal Rain Forest Guide
Aborigines look to accepting and nurturing their relationship with nature. Their wealth is in their love of land, nature, and their unique culture.
Mauri Elder whose son is an elected village leader.
Maori look to improvement in their standard of living through economic growth. They, like many Americans, focus on the creation of wealth to improve their standard of living.
Both have deep concern for the environment, but one culture primarily looks for reward from living with nature. The other looks for reward from human works and a relationship with nature. Each recognizes the importance of the environment but the first chooses to live with nature as it is; the second chooses to exercise some control over nature to improve their economic well-being.
Aboriginal culture is diverse but not hierarchically organized. Maori culture is democratically hierarchical. Another way of understanding this difference in cultures is that an Aboriginal leader is one among equals while a Maori leader is part of a democratically elected hierarchy. A common thread is both Aborigine and Maori people wish to retain their culture. There may always be a difference in cultures but each culture will be changed by the influence of nature. Intermarriage and environmental change are inevitable dilutions of people’s ethnicity and culture. That can be seen in facial feature changes and out-of-culture marriage stories told by Aboriginal and Maori people.
Both indigenous cultures are acknowledged as poorly treated in the history of Australia’s and New Zealand’s largely white governments. The Aborigines and Maori people were subject to physical mistreatment, land confiscation, and discrimination. Both governments are trying to amend their historic mistakes. Evidence of that effort is in returning control of public lands to Aborigines in Australia and allowing Maori culture to build their own economic successes.
What can compensate for hundreds of years of discrimination? What can compensate for a land that was once owned by indigenous peoples? Who is to say all self-interest is the same? These questions apply to all countries with displaced indigenous populations; none seem answerable.
Control of Ayres Rock in Australia is returned to the Aborigines. This is one of two sacred sites that were previously controlled by Australia’s white government.
November 17, 2019 is the last day any tourist could climb Ayres Rock. We had the privilege of being a part of Australia’s history by seeing the last rock climbers.
Pictures speak for themselves in showing how independent, and economically self-sufficient Australia and New Zealand have become. Aside from Australia’s and New Zealand’s effort to correct indigenous mistakes, both countries are self-sufficient economies; blessed with extraordinary beauty. From shore to shore, Australia’s and New Zealand’s beauty equals America.
No country of the many we have visited exceeds the splendor of these nations.
Our hearts go out to Australia. The fires were just beginning when we left Sydney. The smoke obstructed clear views of the Opera house but were far from the devastation that has occurred since we left.
By Chet Yarbrough
By: Barry Lopez
Narrated by James Naughton
Barry Holstun Lopez (American author, essayist, fiction writer. News this Friday, 12/25/20 Barry Lopez died at age 75.)
As a first exposure to Barry Lopez’s writing, “Horizon” is a disturbing review of the state of nature.
There is a “Let It Be” determinism about the environment in Lopez’s memoir of travels around the world.
Barry Lopez fractures both Biden’s and Trump’s approach to global warming. Biden cares; Trump doesn’t. To Lopez, Biden and Trump end in the same place.
Of course, Lopez is in his 70 s. To many, Biden’s age offers hope. Trump’s advanced age offers nothing
Thunberg is 16. Her generation is more likely to feel the consequence of world’ ecological change. One doubts pessimism is the intent of Lopez’s recollections. But pessimism is a sense some may get from a 23-hour narration of “Horizon”.
There seems little rage in “Horizon” about the decline of earth’s environment. Particularly in comparison to Greta Thunberg’s accusations against spoilers of the world.
From Lopez’s varied experience as a writer, historian, amateur archaeologist, and world traveler, he concludes humankind may be destined for a sixth extinction.
Lopez lives a peripatetic life that exposes him to the remains of animal species lost; the evolutionary fragments of human remains, and the disparate changes of weather around the world.
Lopez visits parts of the world discovered by explorers. Particularly men like John Cabot, Christopher Columbus, James Cook, and others. Lopez writes many vignettes about James Cook and his obsession–to map the world.
Man’s inhumanity to man has been recorded many times by many writers. Lopez regrets the passing of native populations, and suggests their passing is because early explorers paved the way for new civilizations. In recalling various expeditions, Lopez makes one aware of the nature of human beings.
The American Indian’s “Trail of Tears” are repeated in many civilizations.
Lopez notes the lows of human beings with a story of two older men who want him to ghost write an essay about their experience with underage girls in Thailand. In a bigger historical picture, Lopez explains the nature of explorers who destroy as well as initiate new civilizations.
Lopez infers human civilization is trapped in a cycle of self-destruction. Every society desires stability and longevity. Lopez infers human nature gets in the way of those desires.
Lopez writes about Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the arbitrariness of genetic selection that sustains human life. Lopez holds the view that Darwin’s theory may be key to human’s future survival.
Lopez infers a chance genetic modification will seed human survival as the world ecological system changes. Lopez notes many civilizations are gone; others are headed for extinction. Today, human advancement is a product of greed and self-interest. Tomorrow, human advancement may be dependent on love and care for others.
Just as greed and self-interest are genetic markers for today’s world cultures, a new genetic marker might offer love and care for others for tomorrow’s world cultures.
Lopez illustrates slavery still plagues the conscience of 21st century civilization. Discrimination because of race, color, or creed are evident in every nation of the world.
Jews, Palestinians, Houthi, Saudi Arabians, Taliban, Afghani, Iranians, Pakistanis, Indians, Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Inuit, Canadians, Americans, Chinese, Asians, Russians and others feed into humanities self-destruction. There is blame to go around with a mentality of “my way is the only way”.
Though Lopez’s book is published prior to the Covid19 pandemic, there seems application for his pessimism about what is happening today.
Is the world economy opening too soon? Greed and self-interest unduly influence American public policy.
From Oregon to Antarctica; from Africa to California, to New York to Australia, to the Galapagos Islands, and back to Oregon, Lopez reflects on the state of the world.
Cortes Conquest of the Aztec Empire.
What can break humanity’s cycle of self-destruction?
Lopez suggests the world will go on, but humans may be the sixth extinction. The question is—is it up to us, fate, nature, or a Supreme Being?
Lopez leaves a slender hope that the evolution of human beings will rescue humanity. He is neither optimistic nor pessimistic.
A Home of One’s
By Chet Yarbrough
There are a variety of ways citizens of Turkey choose to live. Some choose to live in homes that are monuments to Turkey’s past. A few live in rock homes dating as far back as 1800 BC.
This home in Capadocia is a few feet from town. A husband, wife, and son live here. It is rented from the government of Turkey for what constitutes an annual property tax. The family can live in the home as long as related generations live there, and pay the taxes. The home is preserved by the State as a monument to Turkey’s past. It cannot be structurally modified without prior approval of the State. The few homes in this program are inspected annually for any forbidden structural changes.
This is a highly coveted style of living. The current occupants note their son is considered quite privileged by his school mates. This particular home is a social gathering place for local friends of the family. The wife is the descendant-connection that keeps this home in the family. Her marriage assures inheritance by future generations that have any blood relationship.
The temperature inside the home is perfectly comfortable when outside temperatures reach above 80 degrees. In the severest winter months, heat comes from a vented stove that is temporarily set in the middle of the living room. The home has electric wiring for lighting and appliances. The floors are covered with beautiful hand-made carpets made by past and present generations.
While sipping tea in the living room, the warmth, and cleanliness of the home floods your senses.
In another part of the city, in an older part of Capadocia, there is an underground communal enclave of passageways and rooms. They are carved into ancient rock formations. It served as a refuge for Christians. It was used in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE. It reaches a depth of as much as 200 feet in the Derinkuyu district of Capadocia. Its purpose was to protect Greek orthodox Christians from many wars occurring in that era. As many as 20,000 people sought refuge in this underground city.
Massive rock door wheels secured passage ways and rooms in the underground city. The wheels were leveraged by spears or staffs to open and close the passage way.
Another style of living in Turkey is in national parks–occupied by nomads whose lifestyles reach back to the 3rd century BC. In winter months, nomads move to the city, but return every spring to tend their farms and goat herds. They, like the previously mentioned families retain their place on the State’s land as long as their descendants continue to use it during habitable months.
Each nomadic family builds their own house, out-buildings, and fencing. When they leave, those structures become expendable. Many live an “off the grid” existence, supplemented by periodic visits to the city to sell their goats. The couple noted below have a daughter that stays with her grandparents in the city during the school year. The father acknowledges he may be the last of his family to live this life because his daughter has other ambitions.
The remainder live in houses reminiscent of modern America.
The state controls a high proportion of land through the authority of the Under Secretariat of Treasury. Through inheritance rules set by the General Directorate for Foundations, the government indirectly controls Turkey’s historic sites.
One presumes the reason for much of Turkey’s control of land is because of its historic character. For nomads, the tradition of a nomadic population (though now quite small) is preserved for cultural reasons. This reminds one of a Hong Kong guides’ disappointment in the loss of traditional market places in semi-autonomous regions of China.
In addition to Turkey’s effort to preserve history and tradition, its cities are intent on being or becoming modern metropolises. It strives like all countries of the world to join the technological age to better serve its national interests and public needs. Turkey struggles with the same economic concerns evident in other countries of the world. The difference is that so much more ancient history is evident in Turkey than in many other parts of the world.
Istanbul and Ankara are modern metropolises.
Interestingly, it seems relatively easy to become a Turkish citizen. You can be born in a family with one parent who is a Turkish citizen, and you have citizenship. You can marry a Turkish citizen and receive citizenship after 3 years of marriage. Or, you can simply live in Turkey for 5 years (without any absence over a total of 6 months in the 5 year period) and become a citizen. The 5-year rule involves a residence permit which requires a foreigner to have a passport/travel document that is valid for at least 60 days after the expiration of a requested residence permit.
Today, it is possible for foreigners to own property in Turkey. There are limits to the size of the property (about 7.4 acres per foreigner), and some special rules depending on which city or area one wishes to live. In 2007 an estimated 75,000 foreign nationals owned property in Turkey.
By Chet Yarbrough
Turkey in 2019
Written by: Chet Yarbrough
Turkish school visit 2019
Spending three weeks is not enough time to learn much about a country. However, with the help of local guides, and O.A.T.’s policy of travel, there is a glimmer of what life is like in whatever country you visit.
O.A.T. provides educated local guides, a school visit, shopping opportunities, artisan worker experiences, historic site hikes, controversial subject presentations, and dinners at numerous local eateries in their programmed trips abroad. Emphasis is placed on cultural immersion. There is an opportunity to have dinner with a local family and to meet local business people.
O.A.T.’s professional guides explain the history of ancient sites and answer questions about current events while traveling between cities and towns. Travelers gain first-hand views of a country’s culture and history.
Prior to leaving, our guide to Turkey suggests reading “Birds Without Wings” (reviewed earlier in this blog) as an introduction to Turkish society. This historical novel offers a record of Turkey’s ascendance as an independent nation; just before, and after WWI. Turkey is a complex state; re-defined by its Turkish heritage after the war.
In every Turkish city and town, there is an image or statue of the founder of the Turkish Republic. His name is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Ataturk is Turkey’s George Washington. He is revered in the same manner as America’s first President. The formation of an independent secular state is what the founder of the Republic demanded. Leaders of Turkey, since Ataturk, have insisted on Turkey’s independence and a government unrestricted by religious belief.
There is an historical continuity in Turkey that seems poorly understood in America. That continuity is the secular nature of its government.
In 1923, Ataturk founded the republic as an independent and secular state. Even before modern times, when Turkey is part of the Ottoman Empire, emphasis is on government’s independence from religion. The Ottoman Empire’s history of diversity in religion is clearly shown by remains of Christian relics, churches, and seminaries in a tour of Turkey’s older cities, and towns.
Turkey is often perceived as a singular Islamic state. Yes, over 98% of its population identifies itself as Muslim. However, America’s population classifies itself as over 70% Christian. Just as American government is not a theocracy, Turkish government is not defined by its religion. Turkey is not a theocracy like Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, or Saudi Arabia.
Neither America nor Turkey could deny religion’s influence on culture, but day to day life is primarily an economic; not religious struggle.
Though one cannot deny Muslim cultural influence, Turkey tightly controls religious radicalization of its citizens. Like America, the Turkish government has never been dominated by a religious faction.
At worst, religion becomes a crutch used by both Turks and Americans to gather followers who desire power; not religious enlightenment. At best, religion in both Turkey and America is a refuge from the hardship of life.
Ironically, the creation and evolution of a singular Christian faith is shown in many ancient Turkish sites. At the time of the Greco/Roman era, when Christianity began its conversion of pagan and Jewish followers, many churches and monasteries dotted the Mediterranean coast of what became Turkey. Religious Saints like Saint George, Nicholas, Stephen, Peter, Paul, and John were born or preached in Turkey. St. John spent the last 23 to 30 years of his life in Turkey. St. Paul visited Turkey in all three of his missionary journeys.
The history of Turkey, though not known by that name before the early twentieth century, goes back to the pre-Christian era. Artifacts and relics of the past are everywhere in Turkey. Some reflect on an age before Christianity. Most reflect on the world’s conversion from pagan belief of many gods to belief in one God.
Aside from the extraordinary history of Turkey, our guide explains his view of current affairs. We pepper our guide with many inane, and a few (hopefully) interesting questions. The following paragraphs are personal opinions rather than objective truths of what modern Turkey looks like.
Ruling Turkey, as is true of all nations, is complicated. The current leader of Turkey is President Recep Tayip Erdogan. He is not the first popularly elected head of state (there was Menderes in the 50 s, Demirel in the 70 s, and Ozal twice in the 20th century), but Erdogan is the first popularly elected President in Turkey’s 21st century.
Like a lion tamer, Erdogan manages his country with one lion on the right; one on the left, and his country’s lion in the middle. Russia, China, India, Great Britain, the European Union, and the United States (among others) are important trading partners for Turkey. Each country takes its position on the left and right in the lion’s cage, while the leader of Turkey focuses on the middle lion (Turkey’s citizens).
American news media suggest Erdogan is maneuvering to be the modern world’s Muslim leader. Two flaws in that ambition is Erdogan’s troubled economy and his reluctance to condemn China’s treatment of the Uighurs.
An estimated 80% of Turkey’s energy comes from fossil fuels. Gas and oil comprise most of that energy. Significantly, more than 70% of that gas and oil is imported from Russia and Iraq, with Iran playing a major role.
The spat between the U.S. and Turkey over military equipment ignores the reality of Turkey’s energy and defense needs. Russia and Iraq supply much of the energy Turkey needs for economic growth. Erdogan must walk a tight rope that offers a satisficing solution to two opposing world powers; Russia and the U.S., which are important players in Turkey’s future.
One doubts President Trump cares about the realpolitik situation of Turkey’s leadership.
Nationalism is the order of the day for many world economic powers. “America First” is Trump’s rallying cry. President Erdogan joins that nationalist movement with a revised Turkish constitution.
Erdogan changes the constitution to enhance Presidential control of government. Like Trump, Erdogan attacks internal dissension by weakening checks and balances offered by other branches of government.
Because of Turkish Constitution changes, Erdogan acquires a more powerful and longer-term leadership role in government. Though Erdogan is the first democratically elected President, his first elections show an anemic 36% and 47% winning vote for office, and less than 52% vote in his most recent election as President.
In the case of Ataturk, his recommendation for democracy in Turkey was a moment of “do what I say; not what I do” because Ataturk came to, and retained, power without democratic election. Multi-party democracy arrives in 1950 when the first truly democratic election is held., 12 years after Ataturk’s death.
Since its founding by Ataturk in 1923, Turkey has had a unitary form of government; i.e. a political organization with a central supreme form of government. However, the 2017 Constitution, adopted in a 2018 vote (some say, a controversial vote), weakens the judicial branch of the Turkish government.
Erdogan became a political power as mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998. In 2003, he became Prime Minister of Turkey. With changes in the Constitution, which is approved in 2018, Erdogan became Turkey’s first popularly elected President. The parliamentary form of government in the pre-2018 Constitution changes the “head of state” from Prime Minister (a less powerful leadership position) to President of the Republic. The significance of the change is that Erdogan can now serve up to two five-year terms.
Erdogan’s recent imprisonment of alleged revolutionary conspirators is evidence of the judiciary’s weakened position.
Without trial, and often because of association rather than volitional act, citizens are accused and jailed for a surmised conspiracy to overthrow the government. The judiciary has been able to get some “guilt by association” prisoners released but it is a procedural, long term struggle; reminiscent of repressive government. It can take months if not years for the falsely imprisoned to get a hearing before the court.
Erdogan voided Istanbul’s recent election for mayor. The voided election showed an 83.86% turn out with Ekrem Imamoglu getting 48.77% of the vote while the Erdogan party’ candidate received 48.16%
Erdogan’s seeming loss of support in Istanbul implies rising discontent with his leadership.
A possible successor to Erdogan might be the Istanbul opposition-party’ candidate, Imamoglu, who seems to have been popularly elected in the voided election.
As Lord Acton, the historian, said “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There is the risk that Erdogan is travelling down that road. Some may argue the same for President Trump. Erdogan’s position may be threatened at the next election if he persists in unjust incarcerations. Add that to a weakening economy, and 2017’s change to popular elections, Erdogan may lose his second Presidential bid for office.
AMERICAN WALL STREET JOURNAL ARTICLE PUBLISHED 6/14/2019:
To be fair, leadership of any popularly elected national government is difficult and complicated. One must experience the complexity of democratic leadership to truly understand its difficulty. America’s experience is that “check and balance” are an essential ingredient of good democratic government.
Autocratic judgement by one leader may result in Stalinist purges with false arrests, torture, bogus confessions, and executions without a check and balance on Presidential fiat. One wonders if Erdogan is as far-sighted as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in recognizing the importance of democratic governance.
An interesting side note is Turkey’s interest in becoming a part of the European Union. Based on the nationalist movement evidenced by Brexit and present/past expenditures of Turkey to secure their borders, it seems unlikely it will become part of the E.U. any time soon.
Joining the E.U. may have economic value but nationalism gets in the way of practical economics, and open borders.
Our guide invited a Syrian refugee to tell us of his journey to Turkey across the Syrian border. His story is harrowing in that he came with little, did not know the language, and had to rely on the kindness of Turkish citizens to survive. He is a Kurd. His family remains in Syria.
One final aside is the temporary housing afforded by Turkey to Syria refugees.
Some may presume Syrian refugees are as likely to be Isis revolutionaries as citizens escaping the terror of war. The billions of dollars spent by Turkey to house these refugees, and close monitoring of citizen’s status as residents or refugees, offers hope that fleeing Syrians are being properly cared for and fairly treated. All arms are taken from those crossing the border, but beliefs cannot be controlled. No publicly revealed records are kept of any past actions of Syrian refugees. Even without weapons, the power of ideas can resurrect Isis ambitions.
E.U. membership would offer some help in covering the cost of refugee camps, but current costs far exceed the amount offered by E.U. membership. Some suggest E.U. membership is being denied to Turkey because of the size of its Muslim population. This is an interesting but weak reason for denial because Turkey has always been a secular state. The irony of that concern is that open borders (required by E.U. membership) could mean Christians would return to Turkey after their WWI ejection. How would the Turkish population feel about repatriation of the long absent Christians?
All of this E.U.’ conjecture seems moot because it seems likely that Turkey’s nationalists would reject any offer to join the E.U. Maybe, when nationalism becomes less important, and people realize we are all part of the human race, there will be no borders between nations. Ha.
Our trip to Turkey is in our memories and hearts. Thank you Mustafa Kemal Topcu. You represent your country with love, and show unwarranted respect for tourists’ foolish and impertinent questions. Turkey is a beautiful country; with a remarkable history and welcoming people.
By Chet Yarbrough
When China Rules the World
By Martin Jacques
Narrated by Scott Peterson
MARTIN JACQUES (AUTHOR, BRITISH JOURNALIST)
Martin Jacques has written an interesting book about China’s rise as a world economic power. His overview of the geo-political and Realpolitik relationships of the east and west are interesting; particularly in light of the Trump administration.
“When China Rules the World” has interesting details that inform but do not convince one that China will rule the world. The provocative title drives the bus but it does not reach its destination.
World control is a myth that causes wars and destroys the best and brightest, as well as the mean and maniacal.
What is happening in China is remarkable. China’s transition from Maoist communism to capitalist communism is a caterpillar turning into a butterfly; i.e. China has grown wings but it still lives in a world constrained by its environment.
Though President Xi is re-instituting some Maoist mistakes, China’s world wide investment in infrastructure is based on capitalist beliefs. Xi has an internationalist focus, just like that which made America great; at least, until Trump’s Presidency.
Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution and belief in enlarging collectivist ideology nearly destroys China’s path to prosperity
Xi is attempting to open new markets by financing infrastructure improvements in African, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries. He is creating customers for Chinese product.
Undoubtedly, Xi is also trying to seduce other nations into belief in Xi’s form of Communism. This is not unlike America’s intent to democratize the world.
Jacques argues that a 90% Han Chinese cultural domination of 1/5th of the world’s population will change the nature of the 21st century. In a limited sense, that is undoubtedly true. However, regardless of the type of government rule, human nature is the same.
Money, power, and prestige, are the primary motivations of humankind. Whether one is Han Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur, Indian, Hispanic, Black, or any singular ethnic group, all humans seek control of money, power, and prestige. These innate drives are the speedometer, brakes, and steering wheels of nation-state’ leaders and followers.
There are dominant factions in every culture that are not necessarily the majority of a culture’s population. Jacques’ early comments suggest China’s 5000 year history reflects a cultural conformity greater than any other country in history while later he acknowledges that the predominant Han population is highly diverse in its beliefs.
Cultural conformity is not the relevant issue; i.e., dominant cultures, whether a majority or minority of an indigenous population, are the game changers of a nation’s history.
Jacques argues that China’s cultural history of familial respect and veneration will have profound affects on the future of world economies. Jacques has a valid point. However, the history of modernization suggests that the fabric of extended filial obligation will be ripped apart in China just as it has in every industrializing nation.
China, just as all modernizing nation-states, will see deterioration of familial bonds.
Human nature is immutable. As an agrarian culture moves to the city and parents are compelled to work for wages, family structure and filial commitment deteriorates.
Of course, capitalism is not the same in China as it is in the western hemisphere. As Jacques reports, major capitalist businesses are state owned in China. They compete in the world market but government support mitigates much of the free enterprise ideal of capitalist economies. However, no nation-state operates as a free enterprise capitalist country; i.e. government has always played a role in capitalist nations. Government subsidy of industrialization is a matter of degree.
It may be that China will change the way industrialized countries compete but global economic domination is no longer possible in a tech savvy world that recognizes knowledge is power and natural resources are limited.
All the world knows how each culture in the world lives. With that knowledge, countries will gravitate to systems of government that serve its dominant culture best. Best is defined as what is most important to the dominant culture in the context of either money, power, or prestige.
Long term, China is facing a tougher road to modernize because of population, environmental degradation, and dwindling natural resources, but their short term prospects look better than most other nations.
As Jacques points out, China’s savings rate is over 20%, with a GDP growth rate 3 times that of America. The cost of dwindling natural resources is more affordable to China than most other modernizing countries. However, all economies are closely tied to each other and a major failure in America or Europe will have great consequence for the world economy which will significantly affect China’s short term advantage.
With a failure of a western countries economy, China’s drive toward modernization will be in danger. That danger is demonstrated today by America’s creation of a trade war with China.
Some argue this burgeoning trade war is hurting the Chinese economy more than the American economy. That may be true in the short term, but the efficacy of trade wars are questionable in the long term; particularly in our internet connected world.
Jacques’ book is worth its purchase price and a consumer’s time because he exposes some of the cultural biases of China that are not widely known. His suggestion that discrimination is as prevalent in China as it is in the United States is reprehensible, and disgustingly familiar. Globalization is real. Human nature is immutable. All mankind travels on the same space ship; i.e. our blue ball. At the very least, China is proving that our environment is fragile and natural resources are finite.
Travel Review By Chet Yarbrough (Blog:awalkingdelight) Website: chetyarbrough.blog Egypt in 2019 Written by: Chet Yarbrough CLOSEUP OF THE SPHINX AT GIZA, NEAR CAIRO The pyramids, ancient artifacts, lush farming communities, and Nile river reveal Egypt’s past and present. Egypt’s current capitol, Cairo, is the seventh most densely populated city in the world. No coal is … Continue reading “EGYPT IN 2019”
By Chet Yarbrough
Egypt in 2019
Written by: Chet Yarbrough
Egypt is a crossroad between Africa and Asia which makes it a prime target for colonization and control by invaders.
CLOSEUP OF THE SPHINX AT GIZA, NEAR CAIRO
The pyramids, ancient artifacts, lush farming communities, and Nile river reveal Egypt’s past and present. Egypt’s current capitol, Cairo, is the seventh most densely populated city in the world. No coal is burned to pollute the air. The Nile puts China’s Yangtze river to shame in showing less river trash and pollution.
FISHING ON THE NILE
Egyptian farms are irrigated with river water distributed by concrete and mud channels from the Nile.
Lusciously feted Nile river farmers are encouraged to use organic fertilizer, but one wonders how many chemicals are returned to the Nile unseen.
Egyptian infrastructure is burdened by lack of investment. The infrastructure for Egyptian farming is primitive by modern standards with ditch irrigation systems, antiquated farm equipment, and intense use of manual labor.
Infrastructure investment in China suggests prosperity while Egypt is foundering. Many Egyptian city and village roads are unpaved. Housing is dilapidated and poorly maintained for most of Egypt’s population.
In Egypt, food is plentiful, security paramount, and camel rides a tourist delight. The trick in riding a camel is getting on and getting off.
As a tourist in Egypt, ancient sites surpass China’s remarkable historical monuments (viewed in a previous blog). The Egyptian army seems everywhere in part because of a state-enforced draft but also because of the military’s role in governing a nation fractured by Islamic extremism. Religion’s influence in Egypt is obscured from tourist’s eyes because of the warm reception from residents but the military’s ubiquitous presence implies a different story.
The sheer size of the many Pyramids, tombs, and temples surpass the Great Wall and equal China’s remarkable Terracotta soldiers.
Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769-1849)
What comes as a surprise from our guide (who is an Egyptologist) is how many times Egypt has been ruled by outsiders. Modern Egypt is founded by Muhammad Ali in 1805. Muhammad Ali Pasha is Albanian; not Egyptian. His dynasty is supported by the Ottoman Empire. It lasts until 1952 when a coup led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser takes control of Egypt.
Prior Muhammad Ali, exclusive Egyptian leadership is in the distant past. (The ten most famous Pharaohs ruled from 2686 BC to 1213 BC.) Of course, there were many more Egyptian dynasties (31 to be precise) but only ten marked history with Egypt’s indelible imprint. Cleopatra (principally famous for her role in the Greco/Roman incursion) is the last Pharaoh to have power. Her reign lasts 21 years; to end in 51 BC.
Egypt is a crossroad between Africa and Asia which makes it a prime target for colonization and control by invaders. The Romans, Turks, French, and English take turns at controlling Egypt. Fortresses abound along the Mediterranean and Nile built by conquerors and the conquered.
The Rosetta Stone is found in one such fort held by the French and overcome by the English. It is found in the ancient town of Rashid which was a primary port in Egypt’s earlier history. Today, Rashid shows a level of prosperity that is belied by its dirt streets. There are mud brick manufacturing plants, burgeoning boat building businesses, and fish farming pens in Rashid–the town where the Nile enters the Mediterranean. Only a replica of the Rosetta Stone remains at the fort. The actual stone is in the British Museum in London.
BOAT BUILDING INDUSTRY IN RASHID
Penned fish farms on the Nile in Rashid
The once imagined great city of Alexandria seems a shadow of tourist’ dreams. It is burdened by lack of investment and a tax structure that works against finishing buildings. Billions of potential worth are hidden by poorly maintained buildings along the Mediterranean water front.
Still, there are great sites to see in Alexandria. There is the modern library meant to resurrect the great library of Alexandria that was destroyed twice in Egypt’s history. It is a spectacular monument to Egypt’s potential. Its modern design rivals the best libraries of the world.
Bids for modernization can be seen in some areas. There is a burgeoning Silicon Valley, with nearby gas power plants to energize new industries.
This modernization contrasts with early Christian and Muslim places of worship, the Valley of the Kings (a giant cemetery for royalty), and the restored Winter Palace in Luxor that is now a Sofitel hotel. There is the Temple de Karnak, Grande Cour with its ram’s head entry leading to an inner sanctum temple.
Many royal residences have been returned to their original beauty and become state owned and maintained public museums.
One is reminded of the monumental gap between the rich and poor in visiting island farms that are owned by singular families. They employ hundreds, and feed thousands, while prospering from the rich Nile soil. Farming is primitive by modern standards, but the production from these farms is a sight to behold.
Island farms along the Nile show why the Greco-Roman era coveted the agricultural fecundity of Egypt.
The intricacies of Egyptian hieroglyphics are explained by our guide. The volume of information is overwhelming.
The rituals of mummification and fealty are displayed in faded colors of high and low relief pictographs on ancient walls and columns. The source and provenance of limestone quarries where great blocks of rock are harvested and hauled to temple sites are a side trip on a luxurious Nile barge cruise. There are many forms of domestic travel, but none surpasses four days of a cruise on the Aida.
One of many values in a well-designed trip to a foreign country is the opportunity to meet with residents. Our trip is organized by Overseas Adventure Travel which specializes in having their tour groups offered lectures by residents of the countries that are visited.
The opportunity to hear from Christians, Muslims, Nubians, and local farmers broaden a tourist’s understanding of Egypt.
Every country of the world is complex and no brief trip will explain that complexity but these personal notes and pictures are meant to offer a peek into a mystery to all who do not, or cannot travel.
By Chet Yarbrough
21 Days in China
Written by: Chet Yarbrough
Three thousand years of history are compressed into a twenty-one day tour of China. Aside from dramatic images of China’s economic growth, one of the most interesting political observations made by our tour guide is the 70% rule of leadership.
In a self-limited group of 15 American tourists, Overseas Adventure Travel produces a personalized tour of Zhonggou; a.k.a. the “Middle Kingdom”–so named because China grew from a number of small provinces into a singular nation; i.e. a nation the size of the continental United States. Like all maps drawn by a nationalist country, China became the center of the world (a self-identified “Middle Kingdom”).
Our professional guide introduced himself as “Jason” (on the left). “Jason” is born and raised in China. He is educated and trained as a natural-medicine pharmacist like his mother. However, he chooses to abandon that career to see the world. He applies for a position with O.A.T., and after extensive interviews, training, and testing he becomes an independent, licensed tour guide.
Being a guide is no easy task. When guiding 15 people, and seeing sites only read about in literature and the news, things get complicated.
In many ways, tourists are like ostriches. Ostriches are known to bury their heads in the sand when scared. As tourists, we often do the same, not out of fear, but in astonishment.
China’s great wall, giant cities, panda parks, public monuments, landscaped byways, and city parks overwhelm the senses. O.A.T. guides are charged with gathering, and managing 15 tourists while directing and telling a cultural history of the country in which they live.
This is a panda reserve in Chengdu, China. As with many indigenous species around the world, the panda is endangered and restricted to sanctuaries where they can reproduce without fear of poachers who covet their fur.
The immense surroundings of an awakening political, and economic giant arrives in a rush of cityscapes, bullet trains, and water ways.
China is a country of 1.3 billion in a land the size of America with 327 million. The difference is in population density. (In China there are 134 people per square kilometer vs. 30 in the U.S.) Instead of big cities of 8,000,000 citizens in the U.S., China’s big cities have 20,000,000.
While explaining China’s complicated history, “Jason” juggles arrangements for traveling cross-country. He assigns rooms at hotels, arranges meals, schedules meetings, and offers lectures prepared by local historians and residents. At the same time, “Jason” prepares 15 people to board trains, boats, and planes for the next city.
A constant refrain from our guide is “don’t forget your passport”. Sometimes, a passport is forgotten at the hotel; other times personal luggage exceeds air-travel weight limits. “Jason” smiles, calms fears, and explains how problems can be overcome. He says he has a “cousin”. He doesn’t, but somehow problems are solved and the group moves on.
China is a closely watched country. The government requires surrender of your passport at hotels, and often insists on presentation of passports at particular sites like Tienanmen Square. Two areas we visited (Tibet and Hong Kong) are called autonomous (actually they are, at best, semi-independent) provinces in China. These “autonomous” regions have a different set of rules but the influence of main-land China is obvious in conversations with local residents.
A famous Tibetan monastery (Depung Monastery), originally designed to house Dali Llamas in life and death–is converted to a government building during the cultural revolution. It falls into disrepair but is renovated by President Xi as a museum. The current Dali Llama (forbidden to return to China) is unlikely to be entombed, like former Dali Llamas, in this monastery.
Tibet requires a passport, a special visa, and security checks. All interior China flights have security stations to x-ray baggage and inspect passports when you board. Wi-fi is generally available at hotels but an unsettling feeling comes with use of wi-fi because of a feeling everything you do is monitored.
Some hotels have only Chinese stations and those that have CNN or BBC seem to limit coverage of any news that is critical of China
Additionally, it seems certain information is not available on the internet. These anomalies do not change one’s interest in China but “Big Brother” seems ever present.
Of course, the same is true in America but “Big Brother” is more likely a private company like Facebook, or Google. Government surveillance is restricted by “rule of law” in America. America retains “checks and balances” that mitigate autocratic decisions by singular leaders.
“Jason” notes–in his experience, people all over the world are the same. People love; people hate; people believe and disbelieve, but cares and feelings of individuals are the same.
However, there seems a distinct philosophical difference in views of freedom. Freedom seems more feared in China than America. National coverage of Tibetan, Uighur, and Hong Kong independence suggests great concern over ideological differences between ethnic groups, provinces, and the government; particularly differences that encourage public demonstration against government policy.
As “Jason” unfolds Chinese history, one thinks about how important powerful, and singular leaders have been in governing China. Three cultural constants in Chinese history seem to be:
MAO ZEDONG (1893-1976, FOUNDING FATHER OF PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA)
DENG XIAOPING (CHINA’S CHAIRMAN OF THE CENTRAL ADVISORY COMMISSION 1982-1987)
Through generations, China relies on strong leaders who are able to unite disparate interests of provinces, religions, and ethnic groups.
From the great dynasties of ancient history to the eras of Mao, Deng, and now Xi, our guide suggests many Chinese believe “…great leaders must achieve 70% of what is right for the Chinese people” to advance the country. Those leaders that do not achieve that level of public good, are failures.
In other words, Mao and Deng may have made mistakes, but they were at least 70% right. President Xi seems in the process of proving himself. Ancient China’s lead in the world of science and economic growth suggest some truth in a 70% rule–after all, no one is always right.
CHIANG KAI-SHEK (CHAIRMAN OF THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT OF CHINA 1943-1948) Leader of China during WWII was labeled as corrupt by communist forces in China.
China, like all surviving nations in history, have fallen and risen. In the 1940’s and into the 50’s, Mao overcame, what is considered by some, a corrupt government with a revolution that advanced the economic and political strength of China. Mao eliminated feudal farming that enriched the few at the expense of the many.
In the 1950’s China rapidly improved farming production of the country. On assuming power, Mao’s goal is to eliminate landed gentry who fail to make their farms produce what they were capable of producing. Redistribution of land became a primary goal of the communist revolution.
Mao’s means were to split the land among the peasants and allow them to own their own land. Individual small land owners formed collectives to improve farming productivity. In the 50’s that plan worked magnificently. China advanced rapidly in the early years of Mao’s reign.
However, with the initial success of small farm-collectives, Mao made the mistake of increasing the size of the collective with communist overseers. Mao’s intent is to advance productivity more quickly. The overseers undermine productivity with an economic program titled the “Great Leap Forward”.
Communist bureaucrats begin saying production is steadily increasing when it is not. Individual farmers no longer control productivity.
Farmers lose their passion to improve productivity as they become smaller cogs in a bigger machine. The bigger machine is layered with bureaucrats that want to look good on paper, but as overseers they overstate the productivity of the collective.
The communist party overestimates its ability. The “Great Leap Forward” replaces farmer’s with Communist bureaucrats. In the late stages of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”, millions of Chinese die because of bureaucratic lies about farm production. Presumably, this falls into the 30% failure of Mao’s leadership.
Nearing the end of Mao’s life, he may have recognized his error but a cabal, called the Gang of Four (which included his wife), seized control of the government and continued the failed policy of communist control of agriculture. Mao, or this Gang of Four, started the cultural revolution (1966-1976); causing the death of millions. With the question of Mao’s intent, and the usurpation of power by the Gang of Four, the mistakes of the cultural revolution seem less attributed to Mao than the “Gang of Four”.
After removal of the “Gang of Four”, Deng Xiaoping, a pragmatic leader during Mao’s reign, opened the door to a form of capitalism. The door is nearly shut with the Tienanmen Square slaughter. At Deng’s order, a massive protest in Tienanmen Square, is to be ended by “any means necessary”. An unknown number of Chinese men, women, and children are murdered by the military.
Some suggest that Tienanmen Square is a turning point in the history of China. Deng did not apologize for the Tienanmen decision, but he overcame his mistake by arguing that “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. …. “ Deng seems to have listened to some of what the Tienanmen protesters were saying. Undoubtedly, many protesters were attempting to make communism better; not to destroy what works for the masses. but to focus on what enriches their lives.
The principle of the collective in China remains. Land is largely owned by the State. However, a version of a free market is created which allows private sale of vertical construction (particularly space within buildings) in China’s cities. (This is somewhat misleading because the sales price in a private transaction requires approval by the government, but the government does allow profit to the individual on the sale.)
Small farms are still owned by some Chinese, but the trend is for continued collectivization. Additionally, the growth of cities changes the desirability of farming. Older Chinese may stay on the farm but their children migrate to the city. When aged farmers die, the land is retained by the family but often as tenant farms; unless the government makes an offer they cannot refuse. The tenant farms still operate as a part of a collective. Produce is determined by individual farmers but brokers sell farm product to retail stores for purchase by the public.
A construction boom began with Deng’s pragmatic solution that seemingly combines communist oversight with capitalist ambition. Chinese entrepreneurs work hard, become wealthy, and live a better life. Small farms are steadily re-acquired in China through a process of payment to farmers in the following way:
In using this method of acquisition, the government is able to build new condominiums, shopping centers, and infrastructure projects–like the “Three Gorges Dam” that controls flooding. Infrastructure work is ubiquitous in China.
Roads, bridges, and rails are being built to influence and connect Chinese provinces. The most recent monumental evidence of this practice is a high-speed train connection over a bridge between the mainland and the “autonomous” province of Hong Kong.
The process of government acquisition of privately owned farmland is complicated. A team of Chinese bureaucrats measures the house in which a farmer lives, the size of the land the family owns, the product they produce, and the livestock they have. The government determines the price that will be paid. The land owner must accept the decision. In return the farmer may be offered an equally sized piece of land in a collective that is farmed by others; personal incentives like a pension or medical insurance, and a condominium or home in which to live.
State acquisition of land allows massive infrastructure projects to be built. These projects offer jobs to Chinese farmers and their children who are migrating to the city. In some cases, the small farm is retained while the farmer’s children go to the city for a job. With payment from a city job, some call on their farmer parents to help them with a down payment on a condominium in the city. The price of condominiums rises. They rent the condo they have, and make a down payment on a second condo. With each transaction, they become wealthier; i.e. at least, wealthier on paper.
Construction activity is endemic in every city visited. A striking observation is that many of the condominiums seem unoccupied. The question becomes whether construction is too far ahead of real economic growth.
However, retail businesses appear to be booming in China’s cities. Shopping centers are full of residents, and travelers. Restaurants of every kind compete with each other in high-rise shopping malls. Our local guide in Hong Kong notes that the original street markets are disappearing because of conventional retail construction.
Another striking difference between big American and Chinese cities is that you see few homeless citizens in China. In China, government subsidizes housing for the poor. It is not luxurious. It is small and crowded. But, it appears to keep the poor from being homeless.
There seems an underlying fear of the effect of the tariff war (started by President Trump) on the local economy. An example of the consequence of the tariff war is a new 90% tax on purchase of a new Tesla in Hong Kong. There was no tax when Tesla first entered the market. Before the tax, Musk’s cars were widely purchased in Hong Kong. One doubts that continues with a 90% tariff.
Another great surprise is that air pollution in Beijing, when we were there, seems no worse than it is in America. However, we were there during the African conference which may explain why the air seemed relatively clear. China successfully cleared the air by limiting polluters during the Beijing Olympics.
Environmental degradation is a concern in China. Over 60% of their energy comes from coal. The largest Hydroelectric dam in the world, the Three Gorges Dam, only produces 2% of China’s energy needs. Three Gorges is considered a dam for flood control more than energy. Interestingly, the Yangtze river shows a lot more debris and garbage below the dam than above it. Generally, water ways seem polluted with debris like plastic and other human debris. In an effort to abate pollution around Hong Kong, sampan life is discouraged. Much fewer sampan are licensed in modern Hong Kong.
Tap water is considered undrinkable throughout China; which means nearly all water for daily consumption is bottled. Hong Kong is vitally dependent on the mainland for water. There are 21 treatment works in Hong Kong but treatment changes the taste of the water so much that Hong Kong residents drink bottled water.
As noted in a previous blog, President Xi, the current leader of China, is determined to reassert the dominance of the Communist Party in China. Strong centralized rule has been a hallmark of rapid economic and political advance in China’s history.
PRESIDENT XI’S CENTRALIZED RULE CONTINUES TO BE CHALLENGED BY HONG KONG DEMONSTRATORS–NEW YORK TIME’S ARTICLE 6.14.19.
Time will tell if President Xi is a 70% or 30% leader. Xi’s decision to initiate a China’s “Road and Belt” program for the world may be a harbinger of great success or abject failure. The worry may be whether Xi is like an early Mao, and pragmatic Deng, or a singular version of “The Gang of Four”.