Rich Chinese “Moved Hundreds of Billions of Dollars Out of” China in 2023

(p. B1) Affluent Chinese have moved hundreds of billions of dollars out of the country this year [2023], seizing on the end of Covid precautions that had almost completely sealed China’s borders for nearly three years.

They are using their savings to buy overseas apartments, stocks and insurance policies. Able to fly again to Tokyo, London and New York, Chinese travelers have bought apartments in Japan and poured money into accounts in the United States or Europe that pay higher interest than in China, where rates are low and falling.

The outbound shift of money in part indicates unease inside China about the sputtering recovery after the pandemic as well as deeper problems, like an alarming slowdown in real estate, the main storehouse of wealth for families. For some people, it is also a reaction to fears about the direction of the economy under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, who has cracked down on business and strengthened the government’s hand in many aspects of society.

In some cases, Chinese are improvising to get around China’s strict government controls on transferring money overseas. They have bought gold bars small enough to be scattered unobtrusively through carry-on luggage, as well as large stacks of foreign currency.

Real estate is an option, too. Chinese have emerged as the main buyers of Tokyo apartments costing $3 million or more, and they often pay with suitcases of cash, said Zhao Jie, the chief executive of Shenjumiaosuan, an online real estate listing service in Tokyo. “It’s really hard work to count this kind of cash.”

Before the pandemic, he said, (p. B5) Chinese buyers typically bought Tokyo studio apartments for $330,000 or less to rent out. Now they are buying much larger units and obtaining investment visas to relocate their families.

All told, an estimated $50 billion a month has been taken out of China this year, mainly by Chinese households and private-sector companies.

For the full story, see:

Keith Bradsher and Joy Dong. “Suitcases of Cash: How China’s Money Flows Out.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023): B1 & B5.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Gold Bars and Tokyo Apartments: How Money Is Flowing Out of China.”)

Independent Bookstores Shun Wuhan Book by Independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

I am generally not as skeptical of the safety and efficacy of vaccines as is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. But I strongly believe in the right to free speech. And I believe that truth in general, and truth in science in particular, advance fastest when we defend free speech and open discussion.

(p. B3) Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a member of the most famous political family in the U.S. and a bestselling author. But it may be hard to find his newest book at the local bookstore when it comes out next week [on Dec. 5, 2023].

Some booksellers have decided not to stock Kennedy’s latest, “The Wuhan Cover-Up and the Terrifying Bioweapons Arms Race,” citing concerns about the author’s past positions.

. . .

Kennedy expressed disappointment that independent bookstores may not be stocking his new book. “Independent bookstores are the traditional bulwarks against corporate propaganda and government censorship,” he said.

Kennedy, the nephew of the late president John F. Kennedy and son of the late attorney general and senator Robert F. Kennedy, has become a vocal critic of U.S. government agencies, in particular their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

. . .

In an interview, Kennedy, 69 years old, said he thinks “The Wuhan Cover-Up” will appeal to anybody interested in learning more about the origins of Covid-19 as well as foreign-policy issues.

. . .

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Energy Department have said that a “laboratory-related incident” was most likely responsible for the pandemic, while other agencies believe natural infection was the cause.

For the full story, see:

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Eliza Collins. “Small Bookstores Shun RFK Jr.’s Coming Book.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023): B3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 28, 2023, and has the title “Small Bookstores Shun Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Upcoming Book.”)

The book shunned by many independent bookstores is:

Kennedy, Robert F. , Jr. The Wuhan Cover-Up: And the Terrifying Bioweapons Arms Race. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2023.

Highly-Taxpayer-Subsidized Lincoln Airline Collapses After Three Months

The “American Rescue Plan Act” was also called the “Covid-19 Stimulus Package” or the “American Rescue Plan.” (To paraphrase Shakespeare on a rose: a “boondoggle” by any other name smells just as foul.)

(p. B2) LINCOLN — Red Way, the startup airline that had been providing service from Lincoln to destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando, is ceasing operations at the end of the month.

. . .

The Lancaster County Board issued a written statement Wednesday [Aug. 23, 2023], saying it “is deeply disappointed and troubled at this unexpected and sudden turn of events.”

The board said there are “many unanswered questions regarding the Red Way project, (and it) looks forward to receiving a full accounting of this situation as the Lincoln Airport Authority charts a new path forward to serve our community.”

Board member Matt Schulte lamented the $3 million in lost American Rescue Plan Act funds — $1.5 million each from Lancaster County and the City of Lincoln — but called the air travel experiment a chance worth taking.

“I personally voted for this project believing that the air service would develop long term service,” he said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work. I hope this failed experiment does not have a negative impact on the ability to expand service to the city of Lincoln.”

. . .

Airport officials had seemed optimistic about the airline’s prospects, noting that it had sold 10,000 tickets in just its first two weeks of operation.

In fact, Red Way flew just over 13,000 total passengers in June and July.

But cracks had started to show recently.

Red Way announced in July that it was dropping seasonal flights to Atlanta, Austin and Minneapolis in early August, months earlier than planned, because of poor ticket sales. That news came just two days after the airline had announced new flights to Tampa and Phoenix over the winter months.

Nick Cusick, who resigned from the Airport Authority Board in July after serving more than 10 years, confirmed to the Lincoln Journal Star on Wednesday that Red Way had already burned through most of a $3 million incentive fund provided through ARPA dollars.

It used more than $900,000 in the first month and it withdrew even more in the second month, Cusick said.

For the full story, see:

MATT OLBERDING, Lincoln Journal Star. “Red Way Airline Ceasing Operations.” Omaha World-Herald (Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023): B2.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 30, 2023, and has the title “Lincoln’s Red Way ceasing operations less than 3 months after inaugural flight.”)

Communists Renege on “Implicit Bargain” to Give Chinese “Stability and Comfort” in Exchange for Lost Freedom

(p. 1) After violently crushing pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Beijing struck an implicit bargain: In exchange for limitations on political freedoms, the (p. 9) people would get stability and comfort.

But now the stability and comfort have dwindled, even as the limitations have grown.

. . .

Atop a hill in Shenzhen’s Lianhuashan Park stands a 20-foot bronze statue of Deng Xiaoping. Mr. Deng, the leader who pioneered China’s embrace of market forces after Mao’s death, watches over the city that is a living reminder of the country’s ability to change direction. Mr. Deng is shown in midstride, to honor his credo that opening should only accelerate.

Chen Chengzhi, 80, a retired government cadre who hikes to that statue every day for exercise, credits Mr. Deng with changing his life. Mr. Chen moved to Shenzhen in the 1980s, soon after Mr. Deng allowed economic experimentation here. The city then had just a few hundred thousand people, but Mr. Chen, who had endured famine and the Cultural Revolution, believed in Mr. Deng’s vision.

“At the end of the day, all good things in China are related to Shenzhen,” Mr. Chen said on one of his daily walks, adding that he cheered when China’s premier, Li Keqiang, visited the statue in August and pledged that China would continue opening to the world.

If it doesn’t do so, Mr. Chen said, “China will hit a dead end.”

But Mr. Li is retiring, even as the Xi Jinping era of rising state control stretches on.

For now, Mr. Chen continues climbing the hill — looking over the city that he helped build, that he believes in still.

For the full story, see:

Vivian Wang. “Covid Crackdowns Shake Chinese People’s Faith in Progress.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 4, 2022): 1 & 9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story also has the date December 4, 2022, and has the title “The Chinese Dream, Denied.” The online version says that the title of the print version was “Beijing’s Bargain With Its People Is Shaken” but my National Edition of the print version had the title “Covid Crackdowns Shake Chinese People’s Faith in Progress.”)

“Cochrane Reviews Are Often Referred to as Gold Standard Evidence in Medicine”

The credibility of Cochrane reviews matters. One of their most important reviews, that I cite in my in-progress work on clinical trials, suggests that results of randomized double-blind clinical trials, usually agree with results of observational studies on the same topic. This matters a lot, because observational studies can give us more and quicker actionable results, saving lives.

(p. A23) Cochrane reviews are often referred to as gold standard evidence in medicine because they aggregate results from many randomized trials to reach an overall conclusion — a great method for evaluating drugs, for example, which often are subjected to rigorous but small trials. Combining their results can lead to more confident conclusions.

. . .

. . . what we learn from the Cochrane review is that, especially before the pandemic, distributing masks didn’t lead people to wear them, which is why their effect on transmission couldn’t be confidently evaluated.

For the full commentary, see:

Zeynep Tufekci. “In Fact, the Science Is Clear That Masks Work.” The New York Times (Saturday, March 11, 2023): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2023, and has the title “Here’s Why the Science Is Clear That Masks Work.”)

Betting on Elections Is a Form of Free Speech

(p. A17) The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has moved to shut down PredictIt, an online marketplace for futures contracts on the outcomes of political events, effective Feb. 15, 2023. This is a blow to investors in these contracts, such as those on the presidential election of 2024, who are left uncertain as to how their positions will be unwound. And it’s a blow to the public at large, because political futures have proven to have better predictive power than polls.

. . .

. . . in early 2020, . . . PredictIt listed a contract on whether the World Health Organization would declare Covid-19 a pandemic. According to John Phillips, chief executive of Aristotle, the firm that operates PredictIt, the CFTC telephoned to complain about that contract, saying it was in poor taste. The contract had already expired.

. . .

If investors can express their opinions on the future prices of corn and pork bellies, surely the First Amendment also protects their ability to do the same on elections and other political matters. It’s a matter of free speech that you can put your money where your mouth is.

For the full commentary, see:

Donald Luskin. “The Feds Don’t Want You Betting on Elections.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 1, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Tim Cook’s Apple Is Silent on Communist China’s Suppression of Human Rights

(p. A19) Apple CEO Tim Cook has been taking a beating over his company’s coziness with Beijing. It comes amid protests across China against the government’s strict Covid-19 lockdowns, including at a factory in Zhengzhou where most of the world’s iPhones are made. Hillary Vaughn of Fox News perfectly captured Mr. Cook’s embarrassment on Capitol Hill Thursday [Dec. 1, 2022] when she peppered him with questions:

“Do you support the Chinese people’s right to protest? Do you have any reaction to the factory workers that were beaten and detained for protesting Covid lockdowns? Do you regret restricting AirDrop access that protesters used to evade surveillance from the Chinese government? Do you think it’s problematic to do business with the Communist Chinese Party when they suppress human rights?”

A stone-faced Mr. Cook responded with silence.

. . .

CEOs can always justify their operations by pointing to the economic benefits their companies bring to the communities in which they operate. Or CEOs can go the progressive route, presenting their companies as moral paragons. But they can’t have it both ways: holding themselves up as courageous in places where the risk from speaking out is low while keeping quiet about real oppression in places where speaking out can really hurt the bottom line.

For the full commentary, see:

William McGurn. “MAIN STREET; Tim Cook’s Bad Day on China.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022): A19.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 5, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Open Is Good (Hearts, Minds, Societies, and Windows)

Windows are liberating. The person in the room can decide how much air and light to let in. So I have never liked when central planners who control buildings omitted windows that could be opened. Other things equal, let people choose. Florence Nightingale wanted open windows, partly based on the mistaken miasma theory of disease. John Snow famously and courageously showed that cholera was caused by bad water, not bad air, thereby jump-starting the process of experts rejecting the miasma theory. But although the miasma theory was not universally applicable (some bad things spread in ways other than the air) and was wrong in some details (what was bad about some of the air was not the air itself, but the pathogens in the air), some of the actions that had been taken on the basis of miasma theory had positive effects. Ventilation was good because the air did sometimes have something bad in it–bacteria and viruses. Closing up buildings kept the bad inside to spread and infect. So now, fortunately, we are back to recognizing that ventilation has important good effects. In the meantime less harm would have been done if our buildings and our other rules had allowed more individual liberty to choose (windows that could be opened), and less centrally planned mandates (windows sealed closed).

(p. D1) One of the paramount lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic is that fresh air matters. Although officials were initially reluctant to acknowledge that the coronavirus was airborne, it soon became clear that the virus spread easily through the air indoors. As the pandemic raged on, experts began urging building operators to crank up their ventilation systems and Americans to keep their windows open. The message: A well-ventilated building could be a bulwark (p. D5) against disease.

It was not a novel idea. More than a century ago, when infectious diseases ravaged cities in the United States and Europe, public health reformers preached the power of good ventilation, and open-air homes, hospitals and schools sprang up in New York, London and other locales on both sides of the Atlantic.

But over the last century, society lost hold of that idea. Scientific advances turned pathogens into problems that could be solved at the individual, biomedical level, with medicines and vaccines, rather than through infrastructure or societal change. Skylines became crowded with air-conditioned towers. An energy crisis encouraged engineers to seal structures tightly. And by the time the coronavirus arrived, Americans were spending their days in schools, offices and homes that could barely breathe.

. . .

Germ theory had not yet gained widespread acceptance; instead, the longstanding theory of miasma held that disease was the result of “bad air.” So sanitary reformers began calling for an overhaul of urban spaces, including improvements in ventilation. “An abundant supply of fresh air, at a proper temperature, is the first requisite of health in every place,” the Citizens’ Association of New York wrote in a report published in 1865.

. . .

Similar reforms were also underway in hospitals thanks, in part, to the crusading work of Florence Nightingale, the British nurse who was stationed at a filthy military hospital during the Crimean War in 1854. The nurse, who believed in the healing power of “air from without,” helped popularize pavilion-style hospitals, which featured long, narrow wards with a row of large, open windows running along each wall.

. . .

Ventilation rates fell and then plummeted further during the energy crisis of the 1970s, when buildings were sealed even more tightly. “In fact,” said James Lo, an architectural engineer at Drexel University, “a lot of effort pre-Covid is to try to reduce the amount of ventilation because people don’t want to spend the energy.”

. . .

In the United States today, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, or ASHRAE, sets widely used indoor air quality standards and specifies minimum ventilation rates. In practice, these rates typically govern how buildings are designed, rather than how they are operated day to day, and many structures deliver less fresh air than they were designed to provide, experts said.

The standards define acceptable indoor air quality as air that does not have “harmful” levels of “known contaminants,” and with which at least 80 percent of occupants are satisfied. But infectious disease is not a focus.

“It says nothing about, ‘Does this level of air quality protect you from risk of infection when the seasonal flu is going around, or when there’s a novel epidemic disease, like Covid?’” said William Bahnfleth, an architectural engineer at Penn State University and the chairman of the epidemic task force at ASHRAE.

For the full story, see:

Emily Anthes. “The New War on Bad Air.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 20 [sic], 2023): D1 & D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 23, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

Much of Pandemic Funding to Improve Ventilation in Schools “Is Sitting Untouched in Most States”

(p. 1) As the next presidential election gathers steam, extended school closures and remote learning have become a centerpiece of the Republican argument that the pandemic was mishandled, the subject of repeated hearings in the House of Representatives and a barrage of academic papers on learning loss and mental health disorders among children.

But scientists who study viral transmission see another lesson in the pandemic school closures: Had the indoor air been cleaner (p. 16) and safer, they may have been avoidable. The coronavirus is an airborne threat, and the incidence of Covid was about 40 percent lower in schools that improved air quality, one study found.

The average American school building is about 50 years old. According to a 2020 analysis by the Government Accountability Office, about 41 percent of school districts needed to update or replace the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in at least half of their schools, about 36,000 buildings in all.

There have never been more resources available for the task: nearly $200 billion, from an array of pandemic-related measures, including the American Rescue Plan Act. Another $350 billion was allotted to state and local governments, some of which could be used to improve ventilation in schools.

“It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix decades of neglect of our school building infrastructure,” said Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Schoolchildren are heading back to classrooms by the tens of millions now, yet much of the funding for such improvements is sitting untouched in most states.

Among the reasons: a lack of clear federal guidance on cleaning indoor air, no senior administration official designated to oversee such a campaign, few experts to help the schools spend the funds wisely, supply chain delays for new equipment, and insufficient staff to maintain improvements that are made.

Some school officials simply may not know that the funds are available. “I cannot believe the amount of money that is still unspent,” Dr. Allen said. “It’s really frustrating.”

For the full story, see:

Apoorva Mandavilli. “Bad Ventilation Remains Threat To U.S. Students.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023): 1 & 16.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 28, 2023, and has the title “Covid Closed the Nation’s Schools. Cleaner Air Can Keep Them Open.”)

Nursing Slots Filled Via Gig Apps Give More Control to Nurses and More Uncertainty to Hospitals

(p. A3) Hospitals are joining the gig economy.

Some of the nation’s largest hospital systems including Providence and Advocate Health are using apps similar to ride-hailing technology to attract scarce nurses. An app from ShiftKey lets workers bid for shifts. Another, CareRev, helps hospitals adjust pay to match supply, lowering rates for popular shifts and raising them to entice nurses to work overnight or holidays.

The embrace of gig work puts hospitals in more direct competition with the temporary-staffing agencies that siphoned away nurses during the pandemic. The apps help extend hospitals’ labor pool beyond their employees to other local nurses who value the highly flexible schedules of gig work.

. . .

Gig apps give nurses even more control than other common temporary-employment options that lock in workers for multiweek contracts, at least. It opens shifts to a broader labor pool, too, but also a more fluid one, hospital executives said.

That means less certainty for employers.

For the full story, see:

Melanie Evans. “Gig Work Helps Hospitals Fill Nursing Shifts.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 19, 2023): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 18, 2023, and has the title “Nurse Shortage Pushes Hospitals Into the Gig Economy.”)

Bankrupt Yellow Trucking Firm Got $700 Million Covid “Rescue Loan” from Taxpayers

(p. B2) Trucking company Yellow is preparing to file for bankruptcy, according to people familiar with the matter, heightening the threat that one of the nation’s largest freight carriers will shut down as customers abandon it amid a cash crunch and union negotiations.

. . .

A bankruptcy filing would again spotlight the $700 million Covid-19 rescue loan that Yellow received from U.S. taxpayers in 2020. A congressional probe later concluded that the Treasury Department erred in giving the loan on national-security grounds when Yellow didn’t meet the standards for that designation.

For the full story, see:

Soma Biswas, Paul Page and Alexander Gladstone. “Trucker Yellow Prepares To File for Bankruptcy.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, July 27, 2023): B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 26, 2023, and has the title “Trucker Yellow Prepares to File for Bankruptcy as Customers Flee.”)