Losing face with China Obama style

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In Asia, “face” is everything. Standards of conduct and ritual are strictly defined, as they are in the diplomatic world. Image is managed to a precise degree.

Yesterday, Michelle Obama’s office announced that she would not be attending the Presidential Summit in Rancho Mirage this weekend in order to spend time with her children as the school year closes. This is a very bad mistake for our country’s face.

Xi Jinping is the recently installed General Secretary of the CCP and President of China. His wife, Peng Liyuan, is a superstar singer in China with what has become a massive global impact. Her stardom was earned, and she is herself a major celebrity. They have been on their first trip to the Western Hemisphere visiting Mexico, Costa Rica, Trinidad, and now the United States.madame pengmadame Peng Trinidad

There are serious issues under discussion; North Korea, the trade imbalance, the fate of nations.And there is serious kabuki necessary to the greasing of the political and cultural wheels. Face time is a big part of this.

Xi is under pressure from China’s military to support an expansionist agenda aimed at securing the nations raw materials and to a large order, the respect of the world, especially the United States. China is our country’s largest business partner and our debtor as well as the largest country by population in the world. Their culture is over 3,000 years old and highly defined even now.

And Michelle Obama has just caused Mr. and Mrs. Peng to lose face. By not attending the summit she has denied Ms. Peng an opportunity to shine on the global stage with one of her most important counterparts. She has denied her the dinners and shopping and photo ops and the bonding that comes with these meetings.

Especially in Asia, the medium is the message. And the message that can be crafted in the media not only in China but throughout Asia is that Mrs. Obama either doesn’t care or has deliberately offended Mrs. Peng. During World War II Eleanor Roosevelt met times with Madame Chiang at the White House and at Hyde Park to show the friendship between China and America.Eleanor Roosevelt - Madame Chiang

Since then, the first ladies of China have been in the background with the exception of Jiang Qing, of Gang of Four fame, and now Madame Peng.

Having spent much of my time in Asia and with my somewhat inadequate understanding of the culture and politics thereof, even I know how Americans can be completely insensitive to deeply held customs and protocols. With a massive State Department protocol section and her own Protocol Officer, Mrs. Obama must surely have known the importance of simply showing up and being nice. Smile for the cameras and go home.

This is a message almost all of our First Ladies have understood and most wives and many husbands do as well. make an appearance and make nice to help your spouse do their job, whether it is with the boss and his wife or ones colleagues at work or at a school function. It is common courtesy.

You can bet this will be reported not only in China but throughout Asia. While the Chinese President is winning friends and influencing people our President and his wife have committed a very serious faux pas.

And at a time when we are so dependent upon cooperation with China and other countries as our president has chosen that the United States is just one among many countries, we are especially dependent upon the good will and friendship of countries like China.

“Would you like a E 85 Super frappe, sir?” “Or perhaps you would prefer the pumpkin spice regular?” – explaining California’s insane energy system

Driving by the local gas station this morning I saw that regular was at $4.65/gallon. Anyone who has been reading the dead tree media or watching television now has California’s gas crisis on the radar.

Refinery fires and the winter gas switchover and Jerry Brown’s haircut have combined to send prices skyrocketing. California finds itself once again leading the nation in foolishness.

Here in California, where we still actually have a substantial oil industry, we have had higher prices than anyone in the country with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska for the past 40 years. California was the first state in the union to manage air quality. I remember as a boy having recess and sports cancelled because the smog in the San Gabriel Valley was so bad.

The state created agencies and a set of regulations 3′ thick on gasoline formulations and exhaust scrubbers for factories and solvent usage, and today 30% of our air pollution comes in courtesy of coal-burning power plants in China. Even with this the air is still much cleaner, but our regulatory system has gone insane.

You cannot build a refinery in California anymore. You would have to be certifiable to go through the regulatory process. Just the mention of such a project would have the Sierra Club and Earth First and the Environmental Defense Fund lawyered up and descending upon Sacramento like a Mongol Horde taking no prisoners. There is no compromise in their vocabulary.

Then comes the Methyl Tert Butyl Ether (MTBE) scam. MTBE was used in gasoline as an oxygenator to raise fuel octane and help it burn more efficiently, but it was outlawed in the early ’00’s because it was a groundwater pollutant. The problem with that logic is that gasoline itself is highly dispersant and one gallon can pollute up to 750,000 gallons of water. A minimal additive can do little to affect the basic science. But California and New York and then the EPA decided that we needed our own special blends.

Then came ethanol. It too is an oxygenator. Most of the ethanol in this country comes from corn. We could buy sugar ethanol from Brazil, which is cheaper and has a much higher energy potential, but the American sugar lobby and the corn ethanol lobby will have none of that.

The price of corn has been at record levels for the past year not only because of the drought, but because the law mandates up to 10% ethanol in conventional fuels, with E 85 (15% ethanol) growing rapidly. It doesn’t matter that corn ethanol has 66% of the energy efficiency of gasoline, or that processing corn ethanol is highly inefficient and costly. The subsidies are massive. When villagers in Egypt are rioting over the rising cost of flour, Pharoah in Washington has said “so let it be written. So let it be done” on corn prices. The United States could do more good in the Middle East today by re-purposing our corn crop than our fumbling diplomatic efforts to date.

Then came our Starbucks Winter and Summer blends courtesy of the EPA. So we have our own special California blends on top of it the EPA mandated blends. Mocha frappucino E-85? Half & half latte Super? It’s no wonder the refineries have had fires recently. They’re so damned confused they probably threw the wrong switch.

California’s gasoline industry is a mess. Our power generation industry is a mess. We now experience regular power outages. All because of the regulatory environment. Electronics manufacturers in the Los Angeles area are no longer allowed to use simple rubbing alcohol to clean circuit assembles any more, no matter if it’s one or 1,000. So there goes that industry.  And all kinds of manufacturing has been exiting the state at an accelerating rate.

California is one of the wealthiest political entities in the world, but an insane regulatory environment has the state in free fall economically. It might even be mitigated by have a cleaner environment, but regular sewage dumps along the coast because of overstretched water treatment plants have one checking the water quality every time you go to the beach. We’d rather build high-speed rail lines to nowhere.