The John Batchelor Show

Friday 12 April 2013

Air Date: 
April 12, 2013

Photo, above:  China's railways ministry has apologised for the high-speed train accident on 23 July near Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. Photograph: Str/AFP/Getty Images [Note: Trains crashed, trestle failed, train cars fell, hundreds died – and the PRC top leadership was so alarmed that it had some of the train's cars buried, apparently leaving inside corpses and injured, dying people.]  See: Hour 2, Block B:  Jeff Bliss, Bliss Index, in re: Gov. Jerry Brown's trade mission to China this week is intersecting with one of the most controversial issues of his governorship: California's $68-billion bullet train.

Chinese authorities face growing public fury over the high-speed train crash that killed at least 38 people and injured 192, with the disposal of wreckage and attempts to control coverage of the incident prompting allegations of a cover-up.  The railways ministry has apologised for the collision in eastern Zhejiang province and announced an inquiry. Spokesman Wang Yongping added: "China's high-speed rail technology is up to date and up to standard, and we still have faith in it."  Internet users attacked the government's response to the disaster after authorities muzzled media coverage and urged reporters to focus on rescue efforts. "We have the right to know the truth!" wrote one microblogger called kangfu xiaodingdang. "That's our basic right!"

Leaked propaganda directives ordered journalists not to investigate the causes and footage emerged of bulldozers shovelling dirt over carriages.  Wang, the railways spokesman, said no one could or would bury the story. He said a colleague told him the wreckage was needed to fill in a muddy ditch to make rescue efforts easier.  But Hong Kong University's China Media Project said propaganda authorities have ordered media not to send reporters to the scene, not to report too frequently and not to link the story to high-speed rail development. "There must be no seeking after the causes [of the accident], rather, statements from authoritative departments must be followed," said one directive. Another ordered: "No calling into doubt, no development [of further issues], no speculation, and no dissemination [of such things] on personal microblogs!"

Officials also ordered more coverage of "extremely moving" stories, such as blood donations, and said the overall theme should be "great love in the face of great disaster".  Beijing sees high-speed rail as a matter of national prestige, highlighting China's development, but critics appear to see the disaster as symptomatic of the country's problems. Internet users repeatedly described the crash as a man-made, not a natural disaster, and blamed officials.  "When a country is so corrupt that one lightning strike can cause a train crash … none of us is exempt. China today is a train rushing through a lightning storm … we are all passengers," ran one of the most frequently forwarded comments on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo service.

The breakneck pace of the massive project had already caused safety concerns. In just a few years Beijing has constructed the world's largest high-speed network, with 10,500 miles completed or under construction. "Overly rapid development has caused safety issues. This is the result of the irrational behaviour of the former leadership of the ministry of railways," said Professor Zhao Jian, a prominent critic of high-speed rail at Beijing Jiaotong University. The former railways minister Liu Zhijun, one of the project's keenest champions, was sacked in February for "serious disciplinary violations" – a phrase usually indicating corruption allegations.

Six carriages were derailed and four of those plunged 20 to 30 metres from a viaduct in Saturday's crash, when a train stalled after being struck by lightning and was rammed by another one behind it. State media said the power failure knocked out an electronic safety system that should have alerted the second train to the problem. Zhao said the trains should have been equipped with an automatic braking system and that dispatchers should also have been able to halt the second vehicle. Chinese media had already highlighted the problem of lightning strikes after they halted several other trains earlier this month – including on the recently opened Beijing-Shanghai link.   [more]


Hour One

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 1, Block A: Susan Berfield, Bloomberg Businessweek, in re: Can Penney Get off the Down Escalator?    Myron Ullman, J. C. Penney's recently reinstated CEO, has options—but they're limited.  He could try to implement parts of his predecessor Ron Johnson’s plan, prepare the company to go private so executives could experiment away from the harsh spotlight of shareholder scrutiny, or he could be forced to lead JCP into bankruptcy. But Ullman’s biggest problems may be time and low employee morale.

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 1, Block B:  Lee Smith, author, Bargaining with the Devil, in re:   Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, the husband and wife team of former U.S. officials (he was with the CIA and she was with the State Department) who’ve made a second career out of advocacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, have just published a book. Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms With the Islamic Republic of Iran has been roundly panned by critics, most perplexingly for the Leveretts, even by reviewers in placeslike the New York Times that used to welcome them with open arms. Read it at Al Jazeera English

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 1, Block C: . Noam Cohen, NYT, in re:Bubble or No, This Virtual Currency Is a Lot of Coin in Any Realm  The bitcoin, a virtual currency created in 2009, has achieved a billion-dollar milestone that has turned the relatively obscure online means of exchange into a media sensation.

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 1, Block D:  Cora Currier, Propublica, in re: Hearts, Minds and Dollars: Condolence Payments in the Drone Strike AgeCurrier traces the history and reasons for such payments, how they were used in Iraq and Afghanistan, the amounts that are paid (from $1,000 to $7,500, but generally around $5,000 for a death or injury and $5,000 for property damage) and why they became part of a strategic shift to wins 'hearts and minds.'"  "To date, the U.S. has yet to acknowledge any particular instance where a civilian was killed as a consequence of a drone strike outside Afghanistan - let alone if that person's family was compensated," writes Currier.  "Pentagon spokesman Bill Speaks said that 'the Department of Defense has not made...payments' in Yemen or Somalia, where the U.S. has acknowledged military action...There are occasional reports of condolence payments in Yemen and Pakistan, but the U.S. role in those payments - if there was one - remains unclear."

Hour Two

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 2, Block A:  . Jeremy Carl, Hoover, in re: Sacramento Spotlight: A Cornucopia of Fracking Legislation

Permitting and disclosure: SB 4 (introduced and amended by Democratic Senator Fran Pavley), AB 7 (Democratic Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski), v-gel cheap price, AB 288 (Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine),  AB 982 (Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams) would all allow the continued practice of fracking with a robust public disclosure and permitting process (with some variation).

Moratoriums: AB 649 (Democratic Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian), AB 1301 (Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom), V-gel online review, and AB 1323 (Democratic Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell) would all institute an immediate moratorium on the procedure pending commissioned scientific studies.  While not an overt moratorium, the intent of Democratic Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson’s SB 395, which would broadly define “produced water” and classify it as a hazardous waste material, is to effectively ban the fracking process

Taxation: Democratic Senator Noreen Evans’ SB 241 would impose a 9.9% oil severance tax on all oil extraction in California with the funds allocated to the UC, CSU, fda approved v-gel, and Community Colleges systems as well as the Department of Parks and Recreation. [more]

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 2, Block B:  . Jeff Bliss, Bliss Index, in re: Gov. Jerry Brown's trade mission to China this week is intersecting with one of the most controversial issues of his governorship: California's $68-billion bullet train.  The governor has staked part of his legacy on the rail network, a centerpiece of his vision for California. He is hoping that China, which is enjoying an economic boom and spent $77.6 billion on overseas investments last year, according to official figures, will pump some of its cash into the troubled project. On Thursday evening, Brown, Richard and representatives of California-based railroad companies rode China's sleek bullet train to the bustling port city from Beijing, a five-hour trip that covered about 750 miles, roughly the distance from San Diego to the Oregon border.  Strolling the aisles, shaking hands with Chinese passengers, Brown extolled the nation's 5,000-mile complex of high-speed rail, built in the last seven years. [more]

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 2, Block C:  . Richard Epstein, Hoover (Defining Ideas, a journal of the Hoover Institution), in re: Redistribution and stimulus will not create jobs. So what will? We need a massive liberalization of labor markets. The logic here is simple enough. Every form of labor regulation distorts the operation of competitive markets. For example, the minimum wage law cuts off opportunities for people to enter the labor market at the lowest rungs, including our young adults. The unemployment rate for people between 16 and 25 now officially stands at about 16.2 percent, a figure that rises to over 22 percent when accounting for young people who have given up or postponed the search for jobs. These losses are disastrous for the long-term health of a nation. The minimum wage is the obvious, but by no means the only, culprit…  [more]

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 2, Block D:  Richard Epstein, Hoover, in re: Margaret Thatcher: Trafalgar Square has room for another great warrior

A little outrage would do us good, reminding us that our enemy – socialism – is worth fighting against.

Margaret Thatcher: a woman who was first among equals.  

Margaret Thatcher: 2000 Invited to Funeral

Hour Three

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 3, Block A:  Imani Altemus-Williams, Waging Nonviolence , editor and correspondent; author of forthcoming A Dream Foreclosed, in re:  Hawai'i.  Young residents of Molokai, Hawaii, protest GMOs as part of a month-long series of actions against biotech chemical companies.  At 9 AM on an overcast morning in paradise, hundreds of protesters gathered in traditional Hawaiian chant and prayer. Upon hearing the sound of the conch shell, known here as Pū, the protesters followed a group of women toward Monsanto’s grounds.  “A’ole GMO,” cried the mothers as they marched alongside Monsanto’s cornfields, located only feet from their homes on Molokai, one of the smallest of Hawaii’s main islands. In a tiny, tropical corner of the Pacific that has warded off tourism and development, Monsanto’s fields are one of only a few corporate entities that separates the bare terrain of the mountains and oceans.

This spirited march was the last of a series of protests on the five Hawaiian islands that Monsanto and other biotech companies have turned into the world’s ground zero for chemical testing and food engineering. Hawaii is currently at the epicenter of the debate over genetically modified organisms, generally shortened to GMOs. Because Hawaii is geographically isolated from the broader public, it is an ideal location for conducting chemical experiments. The island chain’s climate and abundant natural resources have lured five of the world’s largest biotech chemical corporations: Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer and BASF.  In the past 20 years, these chemical companies have performed over 5,000 open-field-test experiments of pesticide-resistant crops on an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 acres of Hawaiian land without any disclosure, making the place and its people a guinea pig for biotech engineering.  The presence of these corporations has propelled one of the largest movement mobilizations in Hawaii in decades. Similar to the environmental and land sovereignty protests in Canada and the continental United States, the movement is influenced by indigenous culture….


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"Isn't it strange how people try to preach about how GMOs will "save the world" and "feed the starving children"? First, there is no need, as non GMO crops produce equal yields, and starvation is a food distribution problem, not supply as globally there is a significant food surplus. In addition, thus far biotech companies in general have not used their products to help poor people, they have used them to monopolize, control seeds, shut down small farmers, make people dependent on them."

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Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 3, Block B:  Mark Mazzetti, NYT, author The Way of the Knife, in re: A Secret Deal on Drones, Sealed in Blood

Nek Muhammad knew he was being followed.

On a hot day in June 2004, the Pashtun tribesman was lounging inside a mud compound in South Waziristan, speaking by satellite phone to one of the many reporters who regularly interviewed him on how he had fought and humbled Pakistan’s army in the country’s western mountains. He asked one of his followers about the strange, metallic bird hovering above him.  . . . 

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 3, Block C:  . Nicholas Wapshott, author, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage, in re: "New details of the remarkable relationship between two leaders who teamed up to change history.It’s well known that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were close allies and kindred political spirits. During their eight overlapping years as U.S. president and UK prime minister, they stood united for free markets, low taxes, and a strong defense against communism. But just how close they really were will surprise you. Nicholas Wapshott finds that the Reagan-Thatcher relationship was much deeper than an alliance of mutual interests. Drawing on extensive interviews and hundreds of recently declassified private letters and telephone calls, he depicts a more complex, intimate, and occasionally combative relationship than has previously been revealed."

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 3, Block D:   Tanzina Vega, NYT, in re:   Sponsors Now Pay for Online Articles, Not Just Ads   The strategy of advertisers sponsoring or producing content that looks much like traditional editorial content has become increasingly common as publishers try to create more sources of revenue.


"Articles in a series on called 'What’s Inside' looked for all the world like the hundreds of other articles on the digital media site. But journalistically, they were something very different.   Pete Pachal of Mashable wrote about Google Glass for a sponsor.  The articles, about technology topics in a wide variety of products, including modems and the Hubble Space Telescope, were paid for by Snapdragon, a brand of processor chip made by Qualcomm, and the sponsor of the series. Most were even written by Mashable editorial employees.   An article on Google Glass technology was shared almost 2,000 times on social media, indicating that readers may not have cared, or known, if it was journalism or sponsored content, although the series was identified as such.  Advertisers and publishers have many names for this new form of marketing — including branded content, sponsored content and native advertising. Regardless of the name, the strategy of having advertisers sponsor or create content that looks like traditional editorial content has become increasingly common as publishers try to create more sources of revenue. . . ."  [more]

Hour Four

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 4, Block A:  Seb Gorka, FDD, in re: Human Rights Watch said Thursday that 4,300 civilians have been killed in “deliberately or indiscriminately targeted airstrikes” since July 2012, accusing Syria’s Army of war crimes. In the report, Human Rights Watch said that in “village after village, we found a civilian air force terrified by the country’s own air force.” Meanwhile, the group of eight said Syria and North Korea are high on their agenda as they gathered in London on Thursday.G8 ministers met with Syrian opposition figures Wednesday, but, unlike North Korea, Syria still has allies in the group (Russia), and it could be difficult to come to any type of agreement for a solution before the G8’s annual summit in Northern Ireland later this year.

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 4, Block B:  Joshua Greene, Bloomberg Businessweek, in re: FROM OBAMA TO RO KHANNA  Can Obama’s reelection team, known for their state-of-the-art campaign firepower, continue to influence American politics and produce the same impressive results for a political newbie? Their next candidate is Ro Khanna, a largely unknown 36-year-old Indian-American Democrat and technology lawyer who is campaigning to represent California’s 17th District, which includes much of Silicon Valley. The aim of Barack Obama's vaunted campaign apparatus is now to build at the congressional level the same type of campaign they ran for the presidency. It’s a bit as though Bill Belichick and the staff of the New England Patriots decided to coach a high school football team.  Read the full story…

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 4, Block C:  Joaquin Sapien, Propublica, in re: Now 35, Johnson has spent the last 12 years behind bars for Stuart's misconduct. His lawyers maintain he never received a fair trial. "It doesn't get easier," Johnson said in an interview at Sing Sing. "You see your Mom get old. You see your children getting older. Relationships fall apart. People die. It gets harder as you go along. My son was five years old when I got locked up. My son is 17 on Friday."

 Full story here  You can also read Sapien's earlier report, Who Polices Prosecutors Who Abuse Their Authority? Usually Nobody, on the ProPublica website.

Friday  12 April  2013 / Hour 4, Block D:   Lois Beckett, Propublica, in re:  As the Republican Party tries to achieve their goal of creating a new voter database that will make it easier for Republican candidates to share what they're learning about their constituents; they may team up with Teradata - the company that helps Wal-Mart, Apple and eBay maintain massive amounts of information about the behavior of their customers.  "Both Republicans and Democrats already have databases of basic information about every voter in the United States," writes Beckett.  "But Obama's campaign made big strides in connecting data from different sources, like campaign donation records, consumer data and volunteer lists, in order . . ."

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Hour 1:  All the King's Men

Hour 2: 1 408

Hour 3:  Avatar

Hour 4:  The Raid