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Daily Archives: February 24, 2022

Chart: U.S. New Home Sales MoM Down in January 2022

Source : Bloomberg

Chart: A Record Number of U.S. Workers Are Becoming Millionaires with Their 401(k)s and IRAs

Source : Washington Post

Music Video: Somethin’ Stupid

Frank Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra

Watch video at You Tube (2:40 minutes) . . . .

Why Is Russia Invading Ukraine and What Does Putin Want?

Paul Kirby wrote . . . . . . . . .

By air, land, and sea, Russia has launched a devastating attack on Ukraine, a European democracy of 44 million people. For months President Vladimir Putin had denied he would invade his neighbour, but then he tore up a peace deal, sending forces across borders in Ukraine’s north, east and south.

As the number of dead climbs, he is now accused of shattering peace in Europe and what happens next could jeopardise the continent’s entire security structure.

Where have Russian troops attacked and why?

Airports and military headquarters were hit first, near cities across Ukraine, including the main Boryspil international airport in Kyiv.

Then tanks and troops rolled into Ukraine in the north-east, near Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million people; in the east near Luhansk, from neighbouring Belarus in the north and Crimea in the south. Paratroops seized a key airbase just outside Kyiv and Russian troops landed in Ukraine’s big port cities of Odesa and Mariupol too.

Moments before the invasion began, President Putin went on TV declaring that Russia could not feel “safe, develop and exist” because of what he called a constant threat from modern Ukraine.

Many of his arguments were false or irrational. He claimed his goal was to protect people subjected to bullying and genocide and aim for the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of Ukraine. There has been no genocide in Ukraine – it is a vibrant democracy led by a president who is Jewish. “How could I be a Nazi?” said Volodymr Zelensky, who likened Russia’s onslaught to Nazi Germany’s invasion in World War Two.

President Putin has frequently accused Ukraine of being taken over by extremists, ever since its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in 2014 after months of protests against his rule. Russia then retaliated by seizing the southern region of Crimea and triggering a rebellion in the east, backing separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces in a war that has claimed 14,000 lives.

Late in 2021 he began deploying big numbers of Russian troops close to Ukraine’s borders. Then this week he scrapped a 2015 peace deal for the east and recognised areas under rebel control as independent.

Russia has long resisted Ukraine’s move towards the European Union and the West’s defensive military alliance Nato. Announcing Russia’s invasion, he accused Nato of threatening “our historic future as a nation”.

How far will Russia go?

Russia has refused to say if it seeks to overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected government, although it believes that ideally Ukraine should be “freed, cleansed of the Nazis”. Mr Putin spoke of bringing to court “those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians”.

It was a thinly veiled hint and by invading from Belarus and seizing Antonov airport close to the outskirts of Kyiv, there is little doubt that the capital is well within his sights.

In the days before the invasion, when up to 200,000 troops were within reach of Ukraine’s borders, he had focused his attention on the east.

By recognising the Russian proxy separatist areasof Luhansk and Donetsk as independent, he had already decided they were no longer part of Ukraine. Then he revealed that he supported their claims to far more Ukrainian territory. The self-styled people’s republics cover little more than a third of the whole of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions but the rebels covet the rest, too.

How dangerous is this invasion for Europe?

These are terrifying times for the people of Ukraine and horrifying for the rest of the continent, witnessing a major power invading a European neighbour for the first time since World War Two.

Dozens have died already in what Germany has dubbed “Putin’s war”, both civilians and soldiers. And for Europe’s leaders this invasion has brought some of the darkest hours since the 1940s. It was, said France’s Emmanuel Macron, a turning point in Europe’s history. Recalling the Cold War days of the Soviet Union, Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of Ukraine’s bid to avoid a new iron curtain closing Russia off from the civilised world.

For the families of both armed forces there will be anxious days ahead. Ukrainians have already suffered a gruelling eight-year war with Russian proxies. The military has called up all reservists aged 18 to 60 years old. Top US military official Mark Milley said the scale of Russian forces would mean a “horrific” scenario with conflict in dense urban areas.

The invasion has knock-on effects for many other countries bordering both Russia and Ukraine. Latvia, Poland and Moldova say they are preparing for a big influx of refugees. A state of emergency has been declared in Lithuania and Moldova, where thousands of women and children have already entered.

This is not a war that Russia’s population was prepared for either, as the invasion was rubber-stamped by a largely unrepresentative upper house of parliament.

What can the West do?

Nato has put warplanes on alert but the Western alliance has made clear there are no plans to send combat troops to Ukraine itself. Instead they have offered advisers, weapons and field hospitals. Meanwhile, 5,000 Nato troops have been deployed in the Baltic states and Poland. Another 4,000 could be sent to Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia.

Instead, the West is targeting Russia’s economy, industry and individuals.

  • The EU has promised to restrict Russian access to capital markets and cut off its industry from latest technology. It has already imposed sanctions on 351 MPs who backed Russia’s recognition of the rebel-held regions
  • Germany has halted approval on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a major investment by both Russia and European companies
  • The US says it will cut off Russia’s government from Western financial institutions and target high-ranking “elites”
  • The UK says all major Russian banks would have their assets frozen, with 100 individuals and entities targeted; and Russia’s national airline Aeroflot will also be banned from landing in the UK.

Ukraine has urged its allies to stop buying Russian oil and gas. The three Baltic states have called on the whole international community to disconnect Russia’s banking system from the international Swift payment system. That could badly impact the US and European economies.

The Russian city of St Petersburg will no longer be able to host this year’s Champions League final for security reasons. Europe’s football governing body Uefa is also planning further measures.

What does Putin want?

President Putin partly blamed his decision to attack on Nato’s eastward expansion. He earlier complained Russia had “nowhere further to retreat to – do they think we’ll just sit idly by?”

Ukraine is seeking a clear timeline to join Nato and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov explained: “For us it’s absolutely mandatory to ensure Ukraine never, ever becomes a member of Nato.”

Last year President Putin wrote a long piece describing Russians and Ukrainians as “one nation”, and he has described the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 as the “disintegration of historical Russia”. He has claimed modern Ukraine was entirely created by communist Russia and is now a puppet state, controlled by the West.

President Putin has also argued that if Ukraine joined Nato, the alliance might try to recapture Crimea.

But Russia is not just focused on Ukraine. It demands that Nato return to its pre-1997 borders.

Mr Putin wants Nato to remove its forces and military infrastructure from member states that joined the alliance from 1997 and not to deploy “strike weapons near Russia’s borders”. That means Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

In President Putin’s eyes, the West promised back in 1990 that Nato would expand “not an inch to the east” but did so anyway.

That was before the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, so the promise made to then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev only referred to East Germany in the context of a reunified Germany.

Mr Gorbachev said later “the topic of Nato expansion was never discussed” at the time.

What has Nato said?

Nato is a defensive alliance with an open-door policy to new members, and its 30 member states are adamant that will not change.

There is no prospect of Ukraine joining for a long time, as Germany’s chancellor has made clear.

But the idea that any current Nato country would give up its membership is a non-starter.

Is there a diplomatic way out?

Not for now, but any eventual deal would have to cover both the war in the east and arms control.

The US had offered to start talks on limiting short- and medium-range missiles as well as on a new treaty on intercontinental missiles. Russia wanted all US nuclear arms barred from beyond their national territories.

Russia had been positive towards a proposed “transparency mechanism” of mutual checks on missile bases – two in Russia, and two in Romania and Poland.

Source : BBC

Infographic: The Number of EV Models Will Double by 2024

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

Having a Poor Score on a Simple Memory Test May be Linked to Alzheimer’s Biomarkers

Among people with no memory or thinking problems, having a poor score on a simple memory test may be linked to biomarkers in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease as well as very early signs of memory impairment that precede dementia by several years, according to a study published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“These findings suggest that this test can be used to improve our ability to detect cognitive decline in the stage before people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” said study author Ellen Grober, PhD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York. “This could be helpful in determining who to enroll in clinical trials for prevention of cognitive decline. It could also help by narrowing down those who already have signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain with a simple test rather than expensive or invasive scans or lumbar punctures.”

For the test, people are shown pictures of items and given cues about the item’s category, such as a picture of grapes with the cue of “fruit.” Then participants are asked to remember the items, first on their own, then with the category cues for any items they did not remember. This type of controlled learning helps with the mild memory retrieval problems that occur in many healthy elderly people but does not have much impact on memory for people with dementia, Grober said.

The study involved 4,484 people with no cognitive problems and an average age of 71. The participants were divided into five groups based on their scores on the test, or stages zero through four. Stages zero through two reflect increasing difficulty with retrieving memories or items learned and precede dementia by five to eight years. In these stages, people have increasing trouble remembering the items on their own, but they continue to be able to remember items when given cues. In the third and fourth stages, people cannot remember all of the items even after they are given cues. These stages precede dementia by one to three years.

The study participants also had brain scans to look for the beta-amyloid plaques in the brain that are markers of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as to measure the volume of areas of the brain associated with Alzheimer’s pathology.

Half of the participants had no memory issues. Half had retrieval issues, issues for storage of memories or both.

The researchers found that people who tested in the third and fourth stages were likely to have higher amounts of beta-amyloid in their brains than people in the lower stages. They were also more likely to have a lower volume in the hippocampus and other areas of the brain associated with Alzheimer’s pathology.

At stage zero, 30% of people had beta-amyloid plaques, compared to 31% at stage one, 35% at stage two, 40% at stage three and 44% at stage four.

Grober said, “This system allows us to distinguish between the following: the difficulty people have retrieving memories when they are still able to create and store memories in their brains, which occurs in the very early stages before dementia can be diagnosed; and the memory storage problems that occur later in this predementia phase when people can no longer store the memories in their brains.”

A limitation of the study was that the participants had a high level of education, so the results may not be applicable to the general population.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Does China Think Long-term While America Thinks Short-term?

Noah Smith wrote . . . . . . . . .

As part of my China reading series, I’m now reading Graham Allison’s Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?, which is about the possibility of the U.S. and China stumbling into war. Though the warning is timely and useful, Destined for War has a section about cultural differences that’s both atrocious and entirely out of place in the rest of the book. It relies on many of the same tics and stereotypes as Michael Pillsbury’s The Hundred-Year Marathon — for example, alleging that Chinese people still think in terms of metaphors from the Warring States period 2300 years ago.

One particularly silly example Allison repeats is the idea that Chinese people think about strategy in terms of the game Go (weiqi in Chinese), while Americans think in terms of chess. The metaphor, apparently, is that China thinks in terms of strategic encirclement while Americans try to checkmate the opponent. This analogy actually comes from Henry Kissinger, who helped establish a de facto alliance between the two countries during the Cold War, and wrote a whole book about China that people still quote lovingly to this day. Kissinger reiterated the metaphor in a 2011 interview on CNN.

But as some of you may have noticed, the game pictured is not Go. It’s xiangqi, also known as “Chinese chess”. Xiangqi is similar to chess (the goal is to checkmate your opponent), but it’s faster-paced and more tactical, with more open space on the board. Games tend to be faster than chess games. And in China, xiangqi is much more popular than Go. So even if the idea of analyzing country’s strategic cultures based on popular board games made any sense whatsoever (which it does not), if we looked at xiangqi we might conclude that Chinese strategic culture is like America’s, but faster-paced and more aggressive.

In other words, assuming Kissinger was not just a complete doofus, he chose this metaphor based not on how accurately it describes Chinese thinking, but on how he wanted Americans to think about responding to China. And in fact, U.S. policy to balance China has been based on encirclement, much to Chinese leaders’ annoyance. Kissinger successfully got the U.S. to “play Go”.

Anyway, of all of these cliches that books like Allison’s Destined for War rely on, the one that people seem to come back to the most — and the one that most annoys me — is the idea that Chinese leaders are more careful planners and long-term thinkers than American leaders.

Part of this stereotype is just the perennial rosy view of autocracies — the idea that because they don’t have to worry about the next election, autocrats are free to craft longer-term policies. In fact this is probably wrong and may even be the reverse, since as the great political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita would tell you, autocratic leaders also have to think about the folks who have the ability to give them the boot (and, often, the bullet).

But part of the idea that “China thinks long-term” probably just comes from the fact that it’s so old. Allison argues this explicitly, contrasting America’s two and a half centuries with China’s millennia of existence. Maybe only if you can think of history on that time-scale can you think of the future on a similar time-scale.

Maybe? But isn’t it a little weird for an American author to make this argument in a book that’s explicitly based on the 2400-year-old history of ancient Greece? Americans don’t think the world was created by George Washington — like Graham Allison himself, they think quite often about stuff that happened in ancient times. In Americans’ minds, the U.S. is more analogous to a single Chinese dynasty, most of which lasted for a much shorter time than the U.S., and none of which has hit the 3-century mark for 1800 years.

In any case, though, it’s far from clear that Chinese leaders engage in more long-term thinking than American leaders do. There are plenty of examples to show this.

In the late 1700s, America’s founders were creating a constitutional system that endures to this day, and is broadly considered the longest-lived constitution in the world. Many of the legal and political concepts the framers pioneered are now the basis of almost all rich modern nation-states. Shortly after that, Alexander Hamilton was creating a long-term economic plan that involved big infrastructure projects, infant-industry policies, and a central bank, with an eye to dominating manufacturing industries. It’s important to realize how revolutionary this was, as this was the very early days of the industrial revolution and no one even know how important manufacturing would eventually be! Hamilton saw it before almost anyone else did, and the policies he pioneered are in some ways the basis of China’s current industrial policy.

What was China doing at that time? The Qing Dynasty was at its height of wealth and power in the 1700s. But although it built plenty of palaces and stuff, it didn’t really modernize the canal system, whose decline ended up hurting the Chinese economy. Its failure to collect taxes effectively weakened the government considerably. The empire turned inward, ignoring most opportunities for international trade and commerce. And most damningly, the Qing failed to see the potential of industrialization and modern technology. In a fateful encounter with a British embassy in 1793, when presented with clocks, telescopes, modern weaponry, and a number of other pieces of proto-industrial Western technology, the Qianlong emperor sniffed that he had no need of Britain’s manufactures. From that time until the 21st century, China was playing technological catch-up.

Fast forward to the 20th century, when Mao reunited and stabilized China under Communist Party rule. In the 1950s and 60s, when the U.S. was building the interstate highway system and the modern university system, China was engaging in the Great Leap Forward, a bizarre experiment in hyper-distributed industrial production that failed so catastrophically that tens of millions of people ended up starving to death. Shortly afterward, China switched directions and decided to engage instead in the Cultural Revolution, whose strategy was apparently something along the lines of:

  1. Get everyone in China to vilify and beat up on each other for a decade
  2. ???
  3. National greatness!

If the Cultural Revolution contributed to Chinese national greatness in any way, it was only by traumatizing Chinese people so much that they sought out stability at any cost in the decades that followed.

OK, but perhaps China’s lurch from ill-conceived disaster to ill-conceived disaster during the Mao years was the function of rule by a single mentally unstable individual. Since then, China has had a lot more policy continuity, and a lot more success — a period of sustained rapid growth such as the world has never seen. Does this represent a shift toward (or back toward) long-term thinking?

Perhaps. The economic modernizations under Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin were truly some of the most impressive in the world, especially the well-handled privatization of state-owned enterprises, the quasi-privatization of land ownership, and the farming out of industrial policy to local and regional governments who were free to experiment and imitate each other’s successes. I’m not sure whether this policy package required long-term thinking, but it was certainly brilliantly executed and wildly successful. For three decades, China enjoyed the rapid growth that this policy package produced. Hu Jintao’s efforts to boost economic activity in rural areas were also well-executed and probably quieted persistent rural unrest.

But during China’s spectacular rise, there were many long-term issues that the leadership simply didn’t deal with, even though it surely saw them coming a mile away.

For example, the one-child policy — which was probably unnecessary to bring fertility rates down to replacement level in the first place — went overboard and was kept for far too long. Now China’s fertility is below 1.3, lower than Japan’s. Its workforce is shrinking by millions a year, and even bigger decreases are now fully baked into the demographic cake. Seeing the fruits of its short-sightedness, the Chinese government is frantically trying to reverse course, switching to a three-child policy and clumsily trying to crack down on vasectomies and abortions.

Meanwhile, when the United States faced falling fertility in the 70s and 80s, it simply let in more immigrants. This was a highly successful strategy. Ronald Reagan, the biggest booster of immigration, even foresaw that the mostly-Democratic-voting Latinos he encouraged to enter the country might one day vote Republican.

Another example is the environment. China’s breakneck growth paid little heed to air quality, water quality, or global warming. Air quality in the capital had to reach apocalyptic levels before the government took action. Now the country is facing water shortages, and its schemes to redistribute water availability are just exacerbating the problem. Desertification from decades of land mismanagement continues to be a major challenge. Meanwhile, the U.S. has steadily improved its air and water quality since the Nixon Administration. Both countries are way too reluctant to cut carbon emissions, but at least in the U.S. emissions have been generally headed in the right direction — unlike China.

Or take science and technology. The U.S. natural gas boom, which allowed it to unlock shale gas deposits and rapidly decrease reliance on coal, was enabled by government research into hydraulic fracturing technology in the 1970s. MRNA vaccines, which are now saving hundreds of thousands of American lives even as China races to reinvent the technology, were also based on decades of patient, forward-looking government science funding. The U.S. government didn’t know these technologies would be as impactful as they were — it simply recognized the distinct possibility, and invested accordingly. China, in contrast, has pioneered some new kinds of weaponry, but in general has focused on either appropriating foreign technology or playing aggressive catch-up in known areas like semiconductors.

Industrial policy provides a fourth example. The U.S. was certainly short-sighted in allowing its industrial commons to be outsourced en masse to its main geopolitcal rival. But China allowed its economy to become dominated by real estate, reducing long-term productivity growth as it dealt with every economic shock by hurling more money at the property sector. Now Xi Jinping’s sudden course-reversal and attempts to deal with this problem by crushing real estate are causing chaos in the country’s economy. Local government finances are especially exposed; for many years China had talked about implementing a property tax to wean local governments off of land sales, but it somehow just never happened.

And though it’s hard to peer into China’s government’s opaque decision-making process (which probably helps to convince credulous Americans that wise long-term planning is going on behind the scenes), it sure looks like a place where the leadership doesn’t listen to people who don’t tell it what it wants to hear. Xi is rumored to be a micromanager who demands to be surrounded by fawning yes-men (some accounts are even more negative). And when academics or other independent voices warn about troubles brewing, the leadership seems to shut them down pretty quickly.

A Beijing think tank offered a frank review of China’s technological weaknesses. Then the report disappeared.

The study, removed from an institutional website, says scientific “decoupling” would harm China more than the U.S.

Thus perhaps it’s no surprise that quite often we see cases where China’s government takes aggressive, dramatic action, ignores the long-term consequences, and then rapidly reversing course once those consequences become clear. It looks less like 1000-year planning and more like 30-year oversteering. As for Xi, his industrial crackdowns and social crackdowns might ultimately come to be seen as far-sighted planning, but my guess is that instead they’ll be more of the same. Ultimately China may also come to regret the fruits of the Uyghur repression, the crushing of Hong Kong society and culture, and bellicose “wolf warrior” diplomacy.

All this doesn’t mean Chinese policymaking is bad; sometimes, as under Mao, it leads to catastrophe, and sometimes, as under Deng, Jiang, and Hu, it yields spectacular success. It simply means that this does not look like a country that is following a 1000-year plan, or even a hundred-year plan. It looks like a country that is lurching awkwardly into modernity, constrained by the political imperatives of an autocratic, unstable political system and by the haunting specters of past mistakes.

But maybe, when writers like Graham Allison and Michael Pillsbury tell us that China is this wise long-term planner, they’re not describing China so much as telling us what they want America to be more like. In recent years we’ve underinvested in infrastructure and housing and export industries, squandered much of our global leadership, prepared poorly for pandemics, stuck our heads in the sand on climate change, and in general have failed to act like the far-sighted country we were in the mid 20th century or the late 18th century. The stories we tell about other countries are often the stories we want to tell about ourselves. Just as Kissinger tricked us into playing Go, maybe Allison and Pillsbury can trick us into thinking a little more carefully about where we’d like to be in 100 years.

Source : Noahpinion