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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Julie Makinen and Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — In June 2012, China reveled in a major scientific achievement: The nation’s first manned deep-sea submersible, the Jiaolong, had dived more than 4.3 miles into the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The feat, state-run media said, put China among the elite ranks of such deep-sea-faring countries as the U.S., France and Japan.

Equipped with sonar equipment and two mechanical arms that can lift as much as 220 pounds, the submersible is just the kind of vehicle that might prove useful in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which investigators now believe is resting 2.8 miles beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean. Of the jet’s 239 passengers and crew members, 153 were Chinese.

But while China has launched itself into the search effort with gusto — it focused its satellites to search for debris, scrambled ships and dispatched airplanes — the effort has thrown an awkward light on the gap between the country’s high-tech aspirations and its limitations.

China hasn’t offered the Jiaolong and the Australia-based search team hasn’t asked, leaving the lead role to a U.S.-built robot sub, the Bluefin-21.

“We are frustrated that we have this great vehicle and it’s not being deployed on this important mission,” said Cui Weicheng, who helped design the Jiaolong and was aboard the vessel on several missions.

Then again, Cui acknowledged, Chinese officials might be worried about getting the submersible to the search area. Its mother ship, the Facing the Red Sun No. 9, built in 1978, has had engine problems and is unreliable.

“On its last mission, from June to September 2013, the mother ship broke down many times,” Cui said. “It needed many repairs…I think that’s why the Chinese government may be hesitating to send it.”

Forty days into the quest to locate the Boeing 777, it’s been American, Australian and British equipment and vessels that have turned up what investigators have called the most promising leads. Meanwhile, officials in other countries have chafed about China getting out over its skis, rushing to release technical findings that proved to be false leads.

“We cannot deny that the United States has much more advanced technology in this regard,” said Xu Guangyu, a retired military officer who is a consultant with the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association. “The U.S. satellite system is much better, as is their ability to analyze very complicated data. These are things that we have to learn from the United States.”

Last week, the state-run China Daily newspaper ran a rather frank front-page article headlined “Tech Gap Exposed in Search Mission; Experts Say More Development Needed in Nation’s Advanced Maritime Equipment.”

A few days earlier, China had grabbed headlines — and caught Australian search coordinators off guard — when state-run CCTV announced that China’s Haixun 01 search vessel might have picked up acoustic transmissions from the jet’s data recorders. It was the first report of any such “pings.”

But questions quickly arose when photos showed searchers using a commercially available $16,000 hand-held device, made in the United States, dangled over the side of the boat. An Australian navy ship, meanwhile, towed a deep-water pinger locater lent by the U.S. military.

Little more was said about the purported pings until this week, when Angus Houston, the retired Australian air chief marshal who has been coordinating the search efforts from Perth, said the Chinese data had been “analyzed and discounted as a credible transmission.” He said investigators were relying on four other detections made by the American pinger locater.

Though Houston tried to minimize the awkwardness of the Chinese disclosure, other governments have bluntly admonished Beijing.

Malaysia’s acting transportation minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, rebuked it for wasting time by posting satellite imagery purporting to show debris over the South China Sea, along the aircraft’s intended flight path. The photos, he said, had been released by “mistake.”

China ought to be familiar with such “nontraditional security” missions. In the last decade, its military has practiced similar operations during exercises with foreign militaries and governments, said Dennis Blasko, a former U.S. Army attache to China and author of “The Chinese Army Today.”

“This gives them a chance to implement that type of training in a real-world situation,” Blasko said.

But the search has exposed a lack of trust not only in China’s information, but in its intentions.

India, for instance, refused a request last month for China to send four warships to join the search around the Andaman Islands.

“China has been sniffing around Indian waters for a long time. Delhi was naturally suspicious of that request,” said C. Raja Mohan, an Indian academic who has written widely about Sino-Indian maritime rivalry.

In China, where the search has received wall-to-wall media attention, the public is eager to see the country make a breakthrough contribution. Asked about it Monday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China was “going full steam ahead with the search operation.”

As speculation ran high last week that China might dispatch the Jiaolong, named for a fabled sea dragon, authorities posted a statement on the submersible’s long-dormant Sina Weibo microblog account, apologizing for not keeping the account up to date. It explained that the team lacked the staffing to share fresh information.

Internet users met the message with disappointment and derision.

“To be honest, we don’t really care if you actually write posts on Weibo,” one commenter said. “We care about whether you can appear in the ocean southwest of Australia.”

Said another, “We need a dragon that can dive into the ocean, not a worm that can only bluff.”

AFP Photo/Malaysian Maritime Enforcement

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]