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Milton J. Madison - An American Refugee Now Living in China, Where Liberty is Ascending

Federalism, Free Markets and the Liberty To Let One's Mind Wander. I Am Very Worried About the Fate of Liberty in the USA, Where Government is Taking people's Lives ____________________________________________________________________________________________ "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Tolerance in the face of tyranny is no virtue." -Barry Goldwater-

Sunday, July 31, 2005


A couple of years ago, I saw an interview on TV with a young Israeli woman grieving over the loss of a relative to a suicide bombing. The imagery continues to stick in my mind. She was sitting under a tree wearing a flower summer dress, as she grieved and cried and warned the world that suicide bombings of civilians wasn't just an Israeli problem but one the rest of us would face.

Despite this being after 9/11, I pooed pooed her sentiments since I thought that the Israel-Palestine conflict was over land and would remain contained and eventually settled somehow. I had faith that people are reasonable and rational.... but I was wrong.

There is death cult within our midst and this cult wraps itself in Muslim religious fervor. When a patient has cancer, the disease has to be removed. Ariel Sharon was right to fight this disease with stiff medicine. George Bush is right to fight this with stiff medicine, and we too have to learn that we must fight this war with stiff medicine. We cannot win by caving into this barbaric bloodthirsty spawn of Satan but to meet it head-on with determination. I am now completely there.

Kofi Annan....

Saw Kofi Annan, his wife and several bodyguards walking through Central Park, yesterday, when walking with the kids and my friends to the boat pond. Should have taken a picture but the bodyguards looked really serious and intimidating. Kofi had his left arm in a sling... he must have injured it.

I think that Kofi's time with the UN is finished and he should turn over the reigns to someone that can inspire greater confidence and start to rebuild the organization into something that is relevant.

Friday, July 29, 2005

What CAFTA Really Means...

There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth over the CAFTA [Central American Free Trade Agreement] from both Democrats and Republicans in the United States. This fight is more about a test of wills than one of economics, in my humble opinion. Its about politics, party power and not really about our neighbors in Central America.

Despite the politics, this type of legislation also fits in nicely with the recent popular Live8 demands not to just only forgive indebtedness of poor countries, but also to unencumbered their exports to the developed world, called trade justice by Bob Geldof. Live8 was about Africa, but it can also apply to other poor and developing counties, including our neighbors in Central America who also need trade justice.

The agreement with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic largely provides for tariff reductions. However, you rarely hear the following information found in the often quoted non-partisan Congressional Budget Office [CBO]report found here in the mainstream press......
According to the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), the United States collected $518 million in customs duties in 2004 on $17.7 billion of imports from those six countries. Those imports consist mostly of various types of apparel articles and produce. Nearly 80 percent of all imports from the region entered the United States duty-free because the United States has normal trading relations with those six countries or because the goods are imported under one of several U.S. trade programs. However those programs are scheduled to expire in the next three years. The Generalized System of Preferences will expire on September 30, 2006, and the Caribbean Basin Initiative will expire on September 30, 2008.
Of course what you hear in the popular press is that these tariff reductions will cost the US taxpayer $4.4 billion dollars for the period 2006-2015 as reported by the CBO in reduced tax collections. The statement saying that this will cost taxpayers, is largely rubbish as I will explain.

As I highlighted in bold in the earlier quote, most goods, 80%, are already imported to the US duty free. However, as I understand, the legislation has sunset provisions scheduled to expire over the next several years that would effectively reintroduce tariffs on some goods that currently do not have them. In fact, as the OMB abstract illustrates, most of the lost Treasury revenues are in 2009 and beyond. Given that much of the revenue given up by the Treasury comes after the scheduled sunset of the current tariff reduction, it may be that much of the supposed "costs" bandied about in the popular press these days are simply the extensions of these current tariff reductions. If not much then some of this is, but it is difficult to tell with he information available to me.

It is important to point out that if there was a reintroduction of these tariffs that the costs are ultimately borne by the consumer through higher prices and/or less competition and less consumer choice, anyway. So, despite the aforementioned $4.4 billion in Treasury revenue forgone through the tariff reductions, these taxes are ultimately paid by US consumers. So, the "subsidy" of tariff reductions is really a benefit to American consumers who see their costs of goods get cheaper. And reintroducing tariffs on imports from these countries benefits the businesses, albeit inefficient and uncompetitive, that produce these goods stateside while increasing costs to consumers above what they can be under the lower tariff regime.

So, therefore, I argue that reductions of tariffs are a tax cut for consumers, many of them poor and middle class while benefiting our neighbors by increasing demand for their goods. Furthermore, US businesses are forced to become more competitive and deploy assets into areas in the which the US has competitive advantages.

As far as the Democrat's argument and the theory of raising tariffs saves US jobs centers around the following thought; increase tariffs to a level to where US producers can compete with foreigners on price. Therefore, theorectically, employment can be maintained in the US. This obviously can be very expensive to consumers who have to bear the brunt of the price increases. Also, how does the state determine which industries are worthy of support? Rarely do these actions work very well, since tariffs would have to be raised not only against, for example, the CAFTA producers but against many producers in a complicated and difficult to maintain regime of ever changing tariffs creating winners and losers due to government fiat and not due to market forces. It will just be a gigantic mess and hardly worth the effort. Let US businesses compete on price and deploy assets where they make the most sense. This will create the best long=term benefit for US workers and consumers.

What hasn't been talked about much in the agenda laden press, are the bizarre and Byzantine import restrictions and subsidies affecting domestic sugar producers and exporters. Prices of sugar have been kept above world market prices in order to subsidize domestic US sugar producers. I really don't see why this is necessary since sugar isn't really an important commodity such as those that garner attention for national security reasons, such as oil. Largely, import restrictions on sugar imports are being lifted, but US producers will still be shielded to some extent from lower prices from outside. One day, these subsidies will have to end but they won't for now.

Now, if you understand what I am talking about, I congratulate you!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I Am Not On This List....

I always wondered about this just for academic reasons. The [new proposed and to be voted on] order of those in line to assume the presidency if President Bush is unable to serve would be:
Vice President: Dick Cheney
House Speaker: Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
Senate President Pro Tem: Ted Stevens, R-Alaska
Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice
Treasury Secretary: John Snow
Defense Secretary: Donald H. Rumsfeld
Attorney General: Alberto Gonzales*
Homeland Security Secretary: Michael Chertoff
Interior Secretary: Gale A. Norton
Agriculture Secretary: Mike Johanns
Commerce Secretary: Carlos Gutierrez
Labor Secretary: Elaine Chao*
Health and Human Services Secretary: Mike Leavitt
Housing and Urban Development Secretary: Alphonso Jackson
Transportation Secretary: Norman Y. Mineta
Energy Secretary: Samuel Bodman
Education Secretary: Margaret Spellings
Veterans Affairs Secretary: Jim Nicholson
*The Constitution, however, requires that the president be a natural-born citizen, so Gutierrez, born in Cuba, and Chao, born in Taiwan, would be ineligible.

Ivory Coast Comes Up Number 1 Failed State....

12 political, economic, military, and social indicators of instability conspire to put Ivory Coast as world's most failed state.

I used to live there.

Yes, I would Rather Have The Goats.....

.....for Chelsea?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Americans With Passports.....

When I have arguments with my friends and they are in the disparaging Americans mode, claiming how insular and out of the touch Americans are with the rest of the world, they usually come around to cite a statistic on our low levels of passport ownership as a percent of the total population. This is apparently somewhere maybe a little short of 20% of the population.

But there are some key qualifiers when comparing passport ownership. The first one is that Americans don't need passports to visit Canada and I believe to go to Mexico, but I may be wrong about that. Also, some of the Caribbean islands, if I recall correctly, do not require passports. This is in process of changing due to changes in security post-9/11 and I think that in most circumstances, returning to the USA, one will need to show a passport as an identity document.

The other issue to keep in mind, while trying to disparage Americans, is that the USA is a mighty big and diverse country by itself. One could travel all over the USA and spend years seeing and doing all the fun things that there are to do here. In many cities across the USA, one can go to various neighborhoods to delight in the cuisine of foreign lands, buy imported goods from those places and participate in festivals celebrating some ethnic heritage this-or-that. One can go to Chinatown for nearly authentic Chinese food and its not necessary to travel all the way to China to do so.

Another factor is that Americans typically get a lot fewer vacation days than their European counterparts. So traveling long distances eats into the limited holiday time.

So, really, an American only needed a passport to go to Europe, Asia, Africa or some of the more exotic South American locations and only a certain percent of travelers, due to factors such as cost, have chosen to do so. And your typical American would have to travel at least 3-5 hours by jet plane just to reach a country that requires a passport, while a traveler in Europe could fly across the whole continent in around 3 hours, spanning dozens of countries.

I, for one, despite traveling quite extensively, also catch myself watching travel oriented programming on the Discovery channel in substitute for doing the real thing. Maybe that is a function of age as I live vicariously through those young people on the Lonely Planet show backpacking through exotic locales. And watching it on TV is also a whole lot cheaper.

I suppose that a comparison with the percent of Australians that are current passport holders would be more appropriate due to the distances to a sovereign passport demanding country, but I cannot find the data. In any case, I am sure that the percent of Australian passport holders is likely to be higher than Americans anyway. You find Australians all over the place! I once took the Teleferico [cablecar] from Merida, Venezuela up to the peak of some freezing cold, oxygen deprived, headache creating Andean mountains and ran into a group of Australians that morning on a multi-month holiday in South America. I was quite impressed by the adventurousness of the people.

Despite all the hoopla on Americans holding less passports than others, outbound travel by Americans totaled 56 million in 2003. This is a fairly large number. International travel excluding Canada and Mexico was still a fairly decent 24+ million travelers.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Minor Leagues....

Last night, I attended my first minor league baseball game, between the Hudson Valley Renegades and the Batavia Muckdogs. I just love the name of the team, the Muckdogs.
The name Muckdogs identifies the area with its strong agricultural background especially the importance of the rich Elba muck land. The Muckdogs name and logo took off with the public and became known nationwide.
It was quite an event, not expensive, general admission was $4.75 [HK$35] and the kids just loved it.

There are lots of things for the kids to do, we ate pizza, hot dogs and diet sodas and my 2 year-old daughter just loved the big mascot animals wandering around the park. My son has not been exposed to baseball in Hong Kong and now he has become very interested in the sport.

There Is So Much That I Want To Write About....

But Unfortunately, while on visit here in New York I have limited time. For example, tomorrow morning I will be waking up before 6 am to take my son fishing with my old high school friend. This leaves me limited time to do the blogging that I have come to enjoy.


Hong Kong is facing the cold hard reality of today's world with overstaying guests from poor Asian and African nations.
An increasingly annoyed SAR government is stripping visa-free privileges from several Asian and African countries whose nationals are overstaying to work illegally and then claiming political asylum when caught.

So far this year, they have cracked down on arrivals from Ivory Coast, Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia. Also among the rising numbers of overstayers are Sri Lankans and Nepalese who say they are fleeing violence. According to a government source, there are at least 1,000 Sri Lankan overstayers who have not been apprehended.
It is obvious why some of these people overstay and work since the opportunities are so limited in their home countries and some are currently engaged in civil war, like the Ivory Coast.

These overstayers cost the Hong Kong immigration department money, time and lots of effort to track down, process and in some cases incarcerate and return these overstayers to their home countries.

Of course, this reminds me of one of my pet peeves with China... The United States charges high fees to Chinese applicants of visas and rejects many of the requests since there are multitudes of Chinese visitors that overstay their US visas inorder to work there.
The challenge of tracking visa violators is immense. Each year, nearly 30 million foreigners come into the country on business, for travel or to study.
Imagine the costs involved in tracking down the millions of illegal visa overstayers; salaries for the immigration officials, processing the illegal immigrants, holding them while their cases are being heard by the immigration courts and ultimately returning them home. It is also interesting to note, that the USA does not conduct immigration checks upon exit. But I understand that this may soon change.

Due to diplomatic reciprocity, China has decided to conduct a low level fight against American's by charging them higher visa prices than other westerners and restricting American's ability to get visas at the borders. I am sure, that the situation for American's overstaying their visas in China is a much smaller problem than Chinese overstaying their visas in the USA. I would venture to guess that very few Americans overstay their visas to work in China and that enforcement costs for American visitors for China are nowhere near what it costs the United States Government.

This is the reason that I have not returned to visit China for nearly a year-and-a-half. And honestly, I don't think that I am missing much.

But Europe has recently experienced similar issues with overstaying Chinese travelers and have rejected visas .
The high rejection rate for visa applications is the result of overstays, which have occurred "continuously and in large numbers," involving some Chinese tourist groups in Europe during the May Day holiday week, says Li Yan, an executive responsible for overseas business with Jiangsu Province's branch of China Youth Travel Service.
The Chinese may yet be forced to alter the visa regime for European visitors too.


Poke the penguin, here. People actually spend time making these things.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

It Just Wouldn't Be The Same.....

Appalachia just wouldn't be Appalachia without toothlessness.

Peking Duck Has An Excellent Post On China's Pollution Problem....

China, despite having world class laws dealing with pollution, has little hope of abating the problem due to rampant corruption. Have a look here. But unfortunately, Richard and his friends really can't blame Bush for those problems.....probably.

A Wonderful Quote....

Thanks to James Burnham and his link to this piece on Neo-conservatives.
Bismarck once said that God looks after fools, drunkards, children and the United States of America.
Things haven't changed much in Germany over the past 150 years.

Metro-North In New York......

I took the train to-and-from New York City a couple of days this past week. There were State Police [we also call them smokies] patrolling the trains. I hope that if they git one them thar terrurists they be doin' theez to thum.

Holy War On Terror.......

There is nothing holy about war, but at least Musharraf is taking positive steps. This war on terror is not so much a war as it is a low grade infection that sometimes kills and weakens all.
President Pervez Musharraf called on Pakistanis yesterday to join a jihad, or holy war, against preachers of hatred and violence and announced steps to rein in militant Islamic schools and organizations.

Really, What Are Neo-cons?

The political leanings of some Republicans known as Neo-conservatives , or neo-cons in popular parlance, is terribly misunderstood by the mainstream. The mis-characterization, in my opinion, is perpetuated by the popular press and is not discussed in an intellectual but emotional manner as barbs are thrown out in political discourse. Many people that I know that speak of neo-cons in a negative light, particularly those that are socially liberal, have absolutely no clue what they really stand for and advocate.

Historically, the neo-cons of old were anti-communist [more accurately, anti-Soviet Union] Democrats that were rallying against the pacifist McGovernites and hard-left socialists of the 1960's.
This political group supported a militant anticommunism; more social welfare spending than was sometimes acceptable to libertarians and mainstream conservatives; civil equality for blacks and other minorities; and sympathy with a non-traditionalist agenda, being more inclined than other conservatives toward an interventionist foreign policy and a unilateralism that is sometimes at odds with traditional conceptions of diplomacy and international law. They feuded with traditional right-wing Republicans, and the nativist, protectionist, isolationists once represented by ex-Republican "paleoconservative" Pat Buchanan.
Interestingly, this movement has morphed from a centrist Democrat movement, into the Reagan Democrat movement, into the Mid-Western United States intellectual movement of today.

In short, Neo-cons are more politically centrist than either traditional conservatives or liberals except for their aggressive stance on foreign policy.
But domestic policy does not define neoconservatism; it is a movement founded on, and perpetuated by an aggressive approach to foreign policy, free trade, opposition to communism during the Cold War, support for beleaguered liberal democracies such as Israel and Taiwan and opposition to Middle Eastern and other states that are perceived to support terrorism. Thus, their foremost target was the conservative but pragmatic approach to foreign policy often associated with Richard Nixon, i.e., peace through negotiations, diplomacy, and arms control, détente and containment (rather than rollback) of the Soviet Union, and the beginning of the process that would lead to bilateral ties between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the U.S. Today, a rift still divides the neoconservatives from many members of the State Department, who favor established foreign policy conventions.
Anyone that takes their political positions seriously and likes to debate politics should read this in order to better understand what these mis-understood people stand for.

Wikipedia has a wonderful outline of Neo-conservatism found here.
More on this at another time.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Tattooed Pigs In Beijing......

"Tattooed pigs become art." Louis Vuitton pigs are fashionable these days. Go to viewer, sort by time. Click on tattooed pigs become art posted at 12:30 PM, July 20th.

Scotty Gets Beamed Up.....

Actor James Doohan, best know as Scotty in the TV series Star Trek, dies at age 85.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

North Koreans Learning English....

English entered North Korea's education system in the mid-1960s as a part of a "knowing the enemy" program: phrases such as "capitalist running dog," imported from fellow communists in the former Soviet Union, were part of the curriculum.
Learning English is believed by North Koreans as a way to get a better job. Hong Kong could take a few lessons from them.

The Only 24-hour Shop In Germany?

Don't lose spin-the-bottle there.

Eye Popping Video.....


I Didn't Expect This At Scrappleface....

Political satire is entertaining to read, but this just makes one heart soar.

China's Economic Growth Continues To Accelerate Rapidly......

The Chinese economy's performance has been astounding.
Gross domestic product rose 9.5 percent from a year earlier after climbing 9.4 percent in the first quarter, the National Bureau of Statistics said in Beijing. That beats the median 9.2 percent gain forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of 13 economists.
Its obviously difficult for me, a student of free market theories, to understand how the communist government, with their fingers in resource allocation decisions, has been able to meet the complex demands of a rapidly growing economy without experiencing widespread economic dislocations. [I am proud of the length of that last sentence!!!!]

However, I am very concerned with the ability of China to generate enough electrical power or mine enough coal to keep the economy on such a strong trajectory.

A Sorry And Sick Old Man....

With a parent like this, no wonder some people become evil.

Housing Bubbles......

Another housing bubble in Hong Kong? A study conducted at Wharton on the Hong Kong housing market in the late 90's may provide some clues.
Wong says the movements in the underlying market and macro-economic fundamentals in Hong Kong during the period studied do not fully justify the dramatic price upswing or the changes in the volume of trading in homes.
I have always been amazed at the price of Hong Kong real-estate and the people's willingness to believe in real-estate as a wealth creator. The study makes some interesting points.
"The interesting thing is, the bubble grows as speculative activities build up," Wong notes. "There is likely to be some speculative demand in the market at all times, but bubbles form only when there is substantial speculation. What we can do is to keep track of changes in turnover volume, separate increases in turnover due to speculation and those due to other factors, and therefore get a sense of how much speculation there is. When there is a frenzy of trading, a red flag should be raised and we should take a careful look at the fundamentals (which are difficult to measure) and housing prices."
From what I understand, housing turnover has grown dramatically and this may be an indicator that we are in a bubble in Hong Kong. The other important piece of data that is critical is the proportion of investment/speculation relative to final consumption, those that plan to live in their houses. I don't know what these numbers are. But in any case, the number of transactions has been falling for several months and this may be a precursor to an adjustment downward in housing prices.

Additionally, there are signs of a housing bubble in several markets in the United States where there has been rampant speculation and short-term trading of properties.

I am not very bullish on the price of Hong Kong real-estate. I think that these levels are unsustainable. Also, one gets so little for your money here relative to other markets in the world.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Strange Nonsense......

But at least more moderate voices are speaking up.

Shark Attack Quiz....

Your chances of getting attacked by a shark in the US is 1 in 10 million. If you don't go in the water the odds are obviously much less. If you go in the water there is a greater than 1 in 10 million chance since some never go into the water and the 1 in 10 million is an average number.
according to the International Shark Attack File, in 2004, for example, there were only 61 unprovoked shark attacks on humans, 30 of which occurred in the United States. With a U.S. population of about 300 million, this means the odds of being attacked by a shark in the United States are roughly 1 in 10 million.
Take the quiz here. I got a perfect score.

Nuke Everyone....

After stupid comments from a Chinese general suggesting that China's rational response to a conflict would be to nuke the US, an American Congressmen makes a similar comment. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) suggested that a nuclear attack on an American city by al-Queda could result in a mushroom cloud over Mecca.

So, stupidity begets stupidity. Its the stupid season. It would seem to me that it should be quite the act of desperation to fire a nuke in any circumstance.

Monday, July 18, 2005

This Day In History....

On this date in 1936, a nephew of Oscar Mayer invented the Weinermobile.

Space Mission....

If I had to decide what to take on a space mission, it wouldn't be this.

No Oil....No Aid???

Zimbabwe's dictator, Robert Mugabe is visiting China with hat in hand...
Sources said Mugabe wants to take advantage of his close ties with the Chinese, which date back to the liberation struggle during the 1970s when Beijing trained and armed Zanu PF's military wing, Zanla, to secure a financial package that would allow him to buy fuel and other critical imports.

The sources said Mugabe would want new lines of credit after traditional facilities were either closed or dried up as the country plunged into crisis.
It will be interesting to see how China responds. Mugabe is losing his grip on his nation and the economy is collapsing. Does China help this despot? There does not seem to be an advantage for doing so despite the history of helping the freedom fighters there.

I visited Zimbabwe a few years ago for a conference. It was impossible to catch a taxi since there was no gas for taxi's to buy. On my day off, a friend of my buddy, an assistant police chief in Harare, took me out to see the sights in the countryside. The police still have fuel but the rest of the population does not. Zimbabwe is also incapable of feeding itself now and is reliant on foreign humanitarian aid.

Threats To Nuke The US, "Personal Views".......

China's Foreign Ministry has come out and said that, Zhu Chenghu's statements made last week threatening the US with a nuclear retaliatory strike if military actions are taken to protect Taiwan, were his personal views. In a lucid state, the Foreign Ministry spokesman also said.....
China appreciates US government's repeated commitments to the one-China policy, adherence to the three Sino-US joint communiques and opposition to the "Taiwan Independence".

"We hope the Untied States will fulfill its commitments with concrete actions and join efforts with China to maintain the peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits," the spokesman said.
But my question is how personal are these views? This fellow is a top commander in the Chinese military and is this idea of a retaliatory nuclear strike just the rantings of a single madman or is it something more widespread among the top brass there?

Village Voice....

Friday afternoon, while waiting for my friends in my favorite New York bar, DBA [check out the bar webcam], I had the chance to take a look at the an old New York institution, the Village Voice.

I have to say that, although I am fully aware that the rag is a traditional 60's style left wing tabloid, it was disappointing. There were plenty of music advertisements of interesting bands that I would love to have the opportunity to hear. But the pages were full of unfunny and unentertaining whining about American President Bush. Just incase anyone is unaware, Bush won the election by a solid majority of voters. Too bad. If you want to elect a Democrat, then field a decent candidate.

Maybe the paper is just getting tired and the anger dripping out of these Democratic Underground graduates must be having an impact on non-traditional advertisers. I say this since there were pages and pages of ads in the back of the paper advertising prostitutes. There has always been some but now its just way too much. Has the advertising market gotten so bad for the Voice that they have to scrape the bottom of the advertising barrel? I surely hope not.

Rove/Wilson/Iraq Question......

I worked for several organizations where there were very strict nepotism policies on hiring relatives. If you had a relative working there, you could not be hired for a job or be considered for a consulting role. We had to all attest to the fact and sign sworn statements. There were examples of people that had lied and they were immediately fired. In these roles, the obvious reasons were that there could be real or imagined favoritism to family members or relatives and this could impact morale and cause behavior and resources to be suboptimally allocated.

Why doesn't the CIA have rules like this, particularly where covert agents are concerned? Isn't there risks to hire relatives of covert agents, particularly the husbands, wives or children to do work? It just doesn't seem to make sense that there isn't a policy in force surrounding these issues.

Furthermore, wouldn't it make sense to keep the information gathered inside the organization and restrict it from being released by individuals hired to do these investigations? It is the CIA and they do many things secretly so why wasn't the information gathered a secret? It just doesn't make sense that an organization hires someone to gather information and then he is free to release it in a manner however he feels fit.

Just a thought.

This should be a lesson to the CIA and hopefully they will adjust their practices to protect their employees cover.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

New York Dolls.....

The trailblazing punk band, the cross dressing New York Dolls, and who were inspiration for the Sex Pistols, are getting back together to produce their first album since 1974. However, only 2 of the original 5 member band are still alive. David Johansen, AKA Buster Poindexter, and Sylvain Sylvain are the only 2 surviving members.

Buster Poindexter and His Banshees of Blues played at a party I went to on Long Island a few years ago to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House. We did a conga line all over the yard and through the house for his famous hit song, Hot, Hot, Hot. I also saw The David Johansen Band play a couple of times in the late 70's and early 80's in Poughkeepsie, New York. They used to drive up from New York in an old station wagon with some of the band members dangling their feet out the back. I thought that that was so cool!

So, this leads one to thought, if 3 of the 5 are dead, what is the point of the other two getting together and calling themselves the New York Dolls? Strange, I think. Its all about mawketing.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Chinese General Threatens Nuclear War.....

A Chinese general stated that China is ready to use nuclear weapons against the US if it engages in the defense of Taiwan. All of this over Taiwan? What, are these people completely out of their minds?
"We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds ... of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese," he added.
Like Islamic terrorists, these people are willing to destroy countless lives to save face.
Noun 1. face saving - an act that avoids a loss of face (of dignity or prestige)
This guy's comments are stunning in its forthrightness. And it shows a complete lack of understanding on how to deal with the outside world. God save us all from these evil people.

China's Coal Mines Are Hell Holes Of Death....

China's demand for energy is growing so rapidly, that illegal unsafe mines are operating and killing miners at unprecedented rates. The Chinese officials could always deem that miner deaths are a state secret, though, one day.
Official figures show more than 6,000 miners died in mine accidents in China last year although independent estimates say the real figure could be up to 20,000.

Labor rights activists and state media reports have shown it is not uncommon for mine owners to cover up deaths to avoid punishment.
And if some miners die, just hide the bodies.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Ballpark Fare Is Now Good For You....

This is surprising....
Now it turns out that ingesting all sorts of overpriced concessions at the ballpark might be good for you. Have a beer or two. Scarf a couple of hot dogs. Load up on onions and sauerkraut, not to mention breath fresheners. And live a long life.

You probably thought such fare qualified as junk food. Heavens no, says the American Chemical Society (ACS) -- and who could argue with so learned a slew of scholars?According to a posting on the ACS Web site (www.chemistry.org) last week, some ballpark treats are actually good for you.

And, oh yes, the beer. Anybody who spends time at a ballpark has sat near a group of guzzlers. A study indicates that one cup of beer a day might ward off heart attacks. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your state of sobriety, it does not tell us how big that cup should be.
10 of those big beers probably isn't good for you, though. Nor is 10 of those hot dogs.


There has been a lot of yapping going on about the treatment of prisoners in the GITMO prison on Cuba. It appears as if things there are not as bad as first speculated. For example, the worst reported case details the treatment of a Saudi detainee captured in Afghanistan that was suspected to have been involved in 9/11.
Schmidt said that to get him to talk, interrogators told him his mother and sisters were whores, forced him to wear a bra, forced him to wear a thong on his head, told him he was homosexual and said that other prisoners knew it. They also forced him to dance with a male interrogator, Schmidt added, and subjected him to strip searches with no security value, threatened him with dogs, forced him to stand naked in front of women and forced him onto a leash, to act like a dog.
This is nothing new. When I worked on Wall Street, they used to do this to us all of the time. Particularly, right before bonus discussions. And we liked it. [We had to].

But this just doesn't sound like torture. Torture is bamboo shoots under the fingernails, cigarette burns and this...
Torture techniques reported include severe beatings, electric shocks, force-feeding torture, and injections of nerve-damaging drugs.
This is reportedly how Chinese authorities treat even the elderly Falun Gong detainees. I have not seen the Western press swarming to investigate these alleged tortures.

And they are not using the Chinese tickling torture.

New Homeland Security advisory system implemented today. The threat level will be posted on the right column of my blog everyday.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Severe Virus Warning.....

If you receive an email entitled "Bedtimes" delete it IMMEDIATELY!!!! Do not open it!!!!!

Apparently this one is pretty nasty. It will not only erase everything on your hard drive, but it will also delete anything on disks within 20 feet of your computer. It demagnetizes the stripes on ALL of your credit cards. It reprograms your ATM access code, screws up the tracking on your VCR, and uses subspace field harmonics to scratch any CD's you attempt to play. It will program your phone auto dial to call only 0898 numbers. This virus will mix antifreeze into your fish tank.

IT WILL CAUSE YOUR TOILET TO FLUSH WHILE YOU ARE SHOWERING. It will drink ALL your beer. FOR GOD'S SAKE, ARE YOU LISTENING?? It will leave dirty underwear on the coffee table when you are expecting company. It will replace your shampoo with Nair and your Nair with Rogaine. If the "Bedtimes" message opened in a Windows 95/98 environment, it will leave the toilet seat up and leave your hair dryer plugged in dangerously close to a full bathtub. It will not only remove the forbidden tags from your mattresses and pillows, it will also refill your skim milk with whole milk.

***WARN AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN. **********************

And if you don't send this to 5000 people in 20 seconds, you'll fart so hard that your right leg will spasm and shoot straight out in front of you, sending sparks that will ignite the person nearest you. Send this warning to everyone!!! THERE'S A LOT OF SADNESS IN THE WORLD! Right now, as you read this, 17 Million people are having SEX!!! And look at you - you're on the computer.

What's The Quid Pro Quo?

Look at who is buying access to Hong Kong's government.
Though Tsang put a HK$100,000 cap on individual donations, almost all big names in the property sector featured on his donation list.
How many sweetheart deal does Donald have to deliver to the uber-wealthy property tycoons?

Limits? What stinkin' limits? [said with a Mexican accent].
The largest donation - HK$1.2 million - came from Wharf Holdings, led by chairman Peter Woo.

Shun Tak Holdings, led by chairman Stanley Ho, contributed HK$900,000, while Henderson Land led by chairman Lee Shau-kee put up HK$800,000.

Cheung Kong (Holdings), the largest local land developer controlled by chairman Li Ka-shing, donated HK$610,000.

New World Development led by chairman Cheng Yu-tung gave HK$408,880 while the three Kwok brothers of Sun Hung Kai Group pledged HK$300,000.

Today's Cultural Revolution....

Is taking place on the internet.

Bad Food....

I wouldn't eat in this dump either.

Thank God For The Honest People.....

The clowns that run China are plain dangerous.
A world-renowned Hong Kong scientist denied Tuesday he stole mainland state secrets while researching the deadly bird flu virus.
Steal state secrets? HA. I bet no one even had a clue that these secretly became state secrets. The PRC official that decreed this abomination should just go back to drinking, feasting and whoring on the state dole. This is what he probably does well.

Health is a public concern and these guys just don't get it. Some of the officials in China are less than worthless. Why should the world trust anything they say at all?

Sort Of A Misleading Headline.....

"Fearful Japanese investors turning more to India"

The Standard article on Japanese firms focus on India due to....
Yuan concerns and anti-Japan sentiment have prompted Japan Inc to look more closely at India as an alternative.
In actuality, firms are looking to move facilities or open new ones in India due to all the positive attractions that India has due to India's comparative advantages.
In economics, the theory of comparative advantage explains why it can be beneficial for two countries to trade, even though one of them may be able to produce every kind of item more cheaply than the other. What matters is not the absolute cost of production, but rather the ratio between how easily the two countries can produce different kinds of things.
I suppose this also holds true for trade comparing two counties relative to a third party, in this case Japan.

But overall, importers of goods from China have to be concerned on several fronts with production in China. There are risks by relying too heavily on one country. China's threats to invade Taiwan risks major economic disruptions if these plans come to fruition. Trade could grind to a halt, or may be temporarily disrupted and other countries may get dragged into the conflict unwillingly if China threatens regional oil and natural gas supplies to the likes of Japan and Korea.

Also, as I have written about before, China may have trouble delivering the power necessary to run plants and factories uninterrupted. Energy uncertainty adds potential expenses and real risks.

The third major problem is that relative tax rates in China are amongst the highest in the world second to only France. At one point, adding marginal production to China may be curtained due to onerous tax burdens and blizzards of resulting paperwork and bribes.

Although the Japanese are scared doing business in a hostile China, the rest of world has some of the very same worries.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Why I Just Couldn't Live In The North-east Of The United States Anymore......

When I visit my parents we go to different churches on Sundays. Since my Dad is a retired preacher and serves as substitute preacher on Sundays when the regular minister is on holiday, attending some function or continuing education we have the opportunity to visit various Presbyterian churches in the Mid-Hudson region. This past week, however, my Dad had no commitments and we went to the church where he preached for many years while I was growing up.

It being summer, services start at around 9:30 to avoid the heat and so that parishioners have the opportunity to get out and enjoy the rest of their summer day. There weren't many people in attendance, which is to be expected in the summer and this being an inner-city white church, membership has been declining for years in favor of churches outside of town.

I was quite surprised that many of the people I recognized from 30 years ago and in some cases I was amazed that these people were still alive. 30 years is a long time and they weren't young back then. It was also nice to see my best buddy from my much younger days who is now the lay preacher at the church.

There was something that disturbed me listening to the preacher that morning, ergo the title to this post. Usually, the preacher is my Dad and if I disagree with him or if there is something that I don't understand, I have ample opportunity to ask questions later. The minister announced that at 3 PM in the afternoon that we were all invited to a meeting with the Muslim community in town in order to promote understanding between the two religions.

That is all fine and good and a little community gathering and talking is probably a positive thing to do in such times. I am not too familiar with the Muslims in my home town, but for years there was this black Muslim group called the 5% Nation, a militant arm of the Nation Of Islam famously led by the provocative Louis Farrahkan and his outspoken inflammatory statements about Jews. The 5%'ers...
fosters their self-respect by unveiling the divine nature of the Black man -God-, his preexistence in prehistorical Arabic civilization to the white man or "caveman" and the five percenters duty towards the "cattle" or eighty five percent of the population that submits to the dominance of ten percent of exploiters.
Seems like a likeable nice bunch of people! So, maybe the preacher was going to meet with these people, I don't know, but the 5% of my youth were hate filled awful people.

This, in isolation is not disturbing to me, but the minister that morning started talking about family values in his sermon. He talked and mocked those people that sometimes talk about family values [particularly Southern Christians] because they are rigid and obtusely disagree with you unless you follow their orthodox beliefs.

This is what disturbs me. He reaches out to the Muslim community, some of who preach hate against whites and Jews, right there in my home town. But mocks those Christians that are believers in the same communion that we are members of since we have some disagreements on orthodoxy. He wasn't offering that we should reach out to them too, but mocked them for their beliefs, something that he would never do to the Muslims. It amazes me that he even said these things. The mocking and portrayal of fellow Christians as he did that day was unnecessary and is particularly troublesome at a time when we should be mending fences and reaching out to our fellow Christian citizens, too.

I just can't stand these Northeastern attitudes and I left here years ago since I know that I just couldn't stand living here and listening to this drivel day-after-day. I just do not like the Northeastern brand of apologetic liberalism. The dogma rests centrally around the thought that we Americans are always the evil ones and that we need to atone for all of our awful sins. That is why I thank God daily for my opportunity to live elsewhere where I don't have to hear self-deprecating, self destructive crap from my fellow citizens and fellow Christians.

This Would Create Havoc In Hong Kong......

And lose the HK$10 MTR fee. How would Hong Kongers ever survive? But sadly it is the state of the world today.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

India Loves The US......

As reported in the anti-American Asia Times, at least someone still likes Americans.
Fully 71% in India express a positive opinion of the United States, compared with 54% three years ago," the survey says. Favorable opinion of the US in India was higher than any of the countries surveyed, including Canada (where it declined from 72% three years ago to 59%) and the United Kingdom, where it dipped considerably from 75% to 55%. Indians also had the most favorable opinion of the American people-71% compared to 70% in Britain, 66% in Canada, 65% in Germany, 64% in France, 61% in Russia and 43% in China.
Good for them!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

From The Nigerian Arm Of The Wang Family.....

Golly Gee, how did you get my name?

Glenn Philips [This is my typical response]

MR. Wang Qin.

I am Mr. Wang Qin, credit officer of Hang Seng Bank Ltd. I have an urgent and very confidential business proposition for you. Blah, blah, blah... confidential lity and prompt access reposed on this medium, sorry my English is not very good.

Blah, Blah, Blah.... On Dec. 6, 2000, an American Oil consultant/contractor with the Chinese Solid Minerals Corporation, Mr. Richard Nault made a numbered time (Fixed) Deposit for twelve calendar months, valued at US$24,000,000.00 (Twenty Four
Million Dollars only) in my branch.

Upon maturity, I sent a routine notification to his Blah, blah, blah... that Mr. Richard Nault died from an automobile accident.

Blah, blah, blah....

There is no risk at all as all the paperwork for this
transaction will be done by the attorney and with my
position as the credit officer guarantees the
successful execution of this transaction. You may reply to
my email box, wangq009@netscape.net Upon your
response. Please send me your confidential
telephone and fax numbers for easy communication [Right!] . You
should observe utmost confidentiality, and rest
assured that this transaction would be most profitable
for both of us because I shall require your assistance
to invest my share in your country.

Mr. Wang Qin.

Do you think this is legitimate? Lets see if I can have some fun with him.

I Never Know What To Say......

The father of my best buddy in junior high school died suddenly of a heart attack one day. We were very young and didn't know how to react to such things. I went to the wake and just didn't know what to say or do. Decades later, loss and the grief associated with tragedy is not one bit easier.

So, with the events in London, I will let others speak for me.

All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.
-Winston Churchill-

The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.
-Sun Tzu-

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last.
-Winston Churchill-

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.
-Winston Churchill-

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
-John Stuart Mill-

It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.
-Robert E. Lee-

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
-Sun Tzu-

China Hegemony....

Justification to lay claim to the whole South Pacific! Since Taiwan has always been part of China, then it is natural to assume....

Friday, July 08, 2005

15 Hour Flight To New York....

I was on the plane yesterday, with my 2 children as the sole parent. It went better than I thought with my 2 year-old. She behaved magnificently and did not exhibit the rambunctious and overwhelming behavior that I sometimes have to endure at home. But it is just soooooo exhausting.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Urban Legend?

A commenter over at Asiapundit offered that my post on the legality of wives killing their adulterous husbands with their bare hands may be an urban legend. I just don't know but there are lots of strange adultery laws.
While not as extreme as the ancient Israelite punishment for adultery (stoning), Greek men still had their fair share of discomfort when their pubic hair was removed and a large radish was shoved up their rectum [This is punishment for a Greek?].
Or how about these?
The penalty for masturbation in Indonesia is decapitation.

There are men in Guam whose full-time job is to travel the countryside and deflower young virgins, who pay them for the privilege of having sex for the first time... Reason: under Guam law, it is expressly forbidden for virgins to marry. [Let's just think for a minute; is there any job anywhere else in the world that even comes close to this? Here's a job, Spike, that may be worth pursuing].
All kinds of other interesting weird sex laws here, including....
In Lebanon, men are legally allowed to have sex with animals, but the animals must be female. Having sexual relations with a male animal is punishable by death.
More here. Urban legends, maybe, but definitely amusing.

Huge Impact For $25 Million.......

When Paul O'Neill visited Africa in 2002 with rock star Bono, he learned that for $25 million each, Ghana and Uganda could provide potable drinking water to a large swath of the rural poor, alleviating diarrhea that kills 1.5 million children annually in the developing world.

So with all the aid going to Africa, why isn't this being done? Because there's no money in digging simple wells for rural poor. At $1,000 a pop, its difficult for the African kleptocrats to steal their fair share and there is no way that our son's and daughters will be provided a rural African adventure. With such a simple program, there is also little room to hire expensive consultants from the West to provide high paid technical assistance. Read this devastating piece here. I just loved it!!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Form Over Substance......

Despite all the good intentions, I doubt if all the recent hoopla over poverty eradication in Africa will make one iota of difference. Its one thing to want to eradicate poverty but another thing to have an actual workable plan to achieve the goal. I just do not see it happening within the current structures that we have in place now. To me, the whole Live 8 and G8 increasing aid to Africa is just an exercise in form over substance and as I wrote about before, is just a self gratifying make me feel good approach. John O'Sullivan writes...
Indeed, the more one examines the MPH [Make Poverty History] manifesto, the more sinister it seems. It is a manifesto for government controls and against markets -- ignoring the fact that government in poor countries is very often inefficient, corrupt and clannish. It wants more aid instead of more trade -- ignoring the fact that aid goes to governments, not the poor, and strengthens their power even in the rare cases where they use it honestly, whereas trade benefits the enterprising and hardworking. It wants to stop privatization programs -- ignoring the fact that government monopolies in the Third World are overstaffed with relatives of influential people, treated as private bank accounts by ministers, and thus forced to charge high monopoly prices to the non-influential (i.e., the poor).
Doomed from the start.

A Level-headed Voice On CNOOC/Unocal....

Fu Chengyu chairman and CEO of CNOOC opines on CNOOC's bid for Unocal in a well balanced well written op-ed. For those that are interested, you can read it here.

If what he says is true, then hopefully US Congress will see the wisdom as Mr. Fu spells out. However, if Chinese authorities continue to rant, as I wrote about in an earlier post today, then it won't happen. The Chinese authorities are among CNOOC's worst enemies on this transaction. Hopefully they will shut up and let the process take its natural course.

Headline Problems In Africa....

But this continent is in crisis too.


I didn't realize but July 6th is International Kissing Day. Who did you kiss?

James Stockdale......

James Stockdale who was Ross Perot's running mate on his failed bid to win the Presidency in 1992, dies at the age of 81. Michele Malkin has a nice piece on this man who was just a wonderful American and a genuine hero. Powerline weighs in, too. I voted for the Perot/Stockdale ticket and the 19% of the electorate that did so too probably was the primary reason that Clinton defeated Bush Sr.

More Lunacy From The Clowns That Run China Surrounding The CNOOC Bid For Unocal....

I reported on this issue last week, but the bozos in Beijing continue to stun me with their stupidity and continue to blather the same tunes...
China criticized the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday for demanding a review of an attempted takeover of California-based oil producer Unocal Corp. by China's CNOOC Ltd.

"We demand that the U.S. Congress correct its mistaken ways of politicizing economic and trade issues and stop interfering in the normal commercial exchanges between enterprises of two countries," the Foreign Ministry said in a faxed statement.
Demand? We demand? These guys just don't get it. They are clueless that the US is a sovereign nation and can do whatever it wants. Who are they to demand anything from Congress? I suppose the mad mandarins are just used to getting their way and when things get tough they have a hissy fit.

But instead of approaching this in an adult manner, they resort to their typical juvenile stance and publically pursue a course that may inadvertently piss typical Americans off. They are actually doing more harm than good by weighing in with their rantings. Their arrogance in blasting the US Congress for doing what the American people elected them to do will turn the common people against the bid and doom it before Congress gets the chance to actually look at the merits of the transaction.
"When a foreign-owned company, particularly a government-owned company, seeks to acquire a U.S. company, there are a series of administrative and legal processes that get triggered," said White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley in response to reported Chinese complaints.
I, for one, would love to see Congress turn this down just to irritate Beijing. And what idiots are advising the Chinese to do these things?

Chances are, though, that Chevron will sweeten their offer and since they will be able to close months earlier than CNOOC can, have a much better shot at acquiring Unocal. Now, imagine all the whining and gnashing of teeth when that happens. All those capitalist running dogs taking advantage of poor mad mandarins of Beijing.

US Diplomat Dresses Down Kenya...

Kenya is frequently cited as one of the most corrupt nations on earth. And this just needs to be said....
William Bellamy, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, startled an audience at a garden party at his official residence with sharp criticism of President Mwai Kibaki's government for its record on corruption and suggested that pleas for increased foreign assistance for Kenya and other African nations were misguided.

"Turning on the fire hose of international compassion and asking Kenya and other African nations to drink from it is not a serious strategy for promoting growth or ending poverty," he said.

"The United States is committed to helping Kenya defeat this menace and will provide any and all assistance Kenya requires. We seek from Kenyan authorities a corresponding measure of vigor and commitment in confronting this challenge."
These African leaders ask for help, the western nations oblige and give with the intention of helping the poor and it all gets stolen by the leeches running these governments.

I, for one, think that we are creating a continent of hopeless aid recipients and the moral hazard is that they will essentially be the wards of the developed world for the foreseeable future.

When I was in school, I did some reading of works by economist Arthur Okun who is best known for developing the justifications for cutting taxes to raise employment utilized by John Kennedy when he cut taxes in the early 1960's. I was particularly intrigued by his support of utopian government wealth transfer programs and his warnings on the costs of these programs. A wonderful summary, below.
Okun believed that wealth transfers by taxation from the relatively rich to the relatively poor are an appropriate policy for government. But he recognized the loss of efficiency inherent in the redistribution process. In Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff Okun introduced the metaphor of the leaky bucket, which has become famous among economists. He wrote: "The money must be carried from the rich to the poor in a leaky bucket. Some of it will simply disappear in transit, so the poor will not receive all the money that is taken from the rich."

Okun attributed the losses to administrative costs of taxing and transferring, and to incentive effects. The poor who are receiving welfare or other transfer payments have less incentive to work because their transfer payments are reduced as they make more money. The rich have less incentive to work because high marginal tax rates take a large fraction of their additional income (top tax rates were between 50 and 70 percent at the time he was writing). The relatively rich also have more of an incentive to spend on tax-deductible items and on tax shelters as a way of avoiding taxes. "High tax rates," wrote Okun, "are followed by attempts of ingenious men to beat them as surely as snow is followed by little boys on sleds." For these insights, Okun can be considered one of the original supply-siders (see Supply-Side Economics).
In Africa, the bucket isn't just leaky, it has no bottom!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Street Justice.....

In Hong Kong, a betrayed wife is legally allowed to kill her adulterous husband, but may only do so with her bare hands. The husband's lover, on the other hand, may be killed in any manner desired.

And other interesting info, here.

Signed 229 Years Ago....

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Whole thing here.

Is This The Way To Armadillo?

A little levity by the boys in Basra.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Fun July 4th Facts...

The American national anthem, the "Star-Spangled Banner," is set to the tune of an English drinking song ("To Anacreon in Heaven").

A drinking song????

Happy Brithday, USA!!!!

Live 8 Concerts Bring Hope....

Live 8 performed and broadcast around the globe this past weekend illuminates the plight of desperate poverty in Africa.

An open letter from Live 8 sponsor Bob Geldof said....
The letter, widely published in British newspapers, listed the measures the anti-poverty campaign wanted the G-8 summit to adopt. It called for an extra $25 billions in aid, 100 per cent debt cancellation for "all'' African countries, and an end to "unjust trade rules'' to help poorer nations build their economies through free trade.
But were the crowds there just to see all the rock stars and participate in a big summer party or do something constructive to eradicate African poverty? As I wrote yesterday, I think its just a big party for our young people.

Unfortunately, I am cynic on alleviating poverty in Africa. Debt forgiveness is a noble goal, but this will only lead these nations to borrow more funds which will probably again be misspent or stolen. I was involved in a program on debt forgiveness several years ago. It was called High Indebted Poor Countries or HIPC for short. Essentially, countries could have their foreign debts forgiven if they took some internal measures to strengthen shortcomings.
The countries' debts would be cancelled once they have reached the "completion point" of the HIPC Initiative, a comprehensive framework that was created in 1996 and revised in 1999 for addressing unsustainable debt. To reach the "completion point," countries must have implemented key macroeconomic policy reforms, maintained economic stability and adopted and implemented a poverty reduction strategy for at least one year.

Currently, 38 countries potentially qualify for assistance under the HIPC initiative; 27 of them already receive some debt relief under the program, but what they have thus far received has not resolved the crisis or contributed in a substantial way to the achievement of the millennium development goal of halving poverty by the year 2015. Of these countries, 18 of them would receive immediate benefits from the new proposal: cancellation of more than $40 billion debt for a combined savings of about $1.5 billion a year. These include Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, Bolivia, Guyana, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Some of the macro-economic policy reforms included the privatization of state owned enterprises and this has caused some level of economic dislocation and job losses. But in order for these nations to compete long-term, this medicine has to be taken one day anyway. So really, the most recent debt forgiveness plan is really not for those countries that have reformed themselves while preparing for HIPC but for those that were unable to unwilling to adopt these kinds of reforms. For example this new program would support the odious regime of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and his murdering henchmen. We are creating a moral hazard where loans to those nations that are unable to pay them back will ultimately be paid for and forgiven by the taxpayers in the richest countries. So why bother to make sound lending decisions to these people?

An interesting viewpoint from Ghana here...
Now come the G-8 countries that decide to cancel $40 million debt of 18 African countries. Let's do the math here. When you divide 40 by 18 you get about 2.2. This figure is significant because it might look very small on the average, yet the gesture of the G-8 is encouraging. Many African political leaders have more than this amount stashed somewhere. They more than likely stole it from their nation's coffers and won't give it back, no matter what. These same leaders will blame the West for unjust world economic order, etc. To me, it seems that the G-8 cares more about the plight of Africans than most of our leaders. Every period has its time. The 1950s and 60s saw the civil rights and self-governance movements spreading across the world. The 70s saw the black power and back to Africa mentality. The 80s saw the devastation of Africa by her own leaders, and the 90s saw more irresponsible governance by some African leaders, butchering, maiming, and killing ourselves. The 90s also witnessed the realization that Africa better wake up and stop being a jerk.
And on the topic of additional aid? Has all the aid that has gone there over the past 40 years or so had any impact? There has been decades of aid to Africa and this has created some incredibly wealthy people but it has not trickled down to the common people. Why is that?

When talking with a few of the young people when I lived in West Africa, a few years ago, I got the distinct impression that we have created a continent of people that are dependent on aid. They expect to be given these handouts and they sometimes were angry if there were strings attached! Have we created an environment where these people are going to work hard for their own better future? I don't think so.

There is one area in which I think that the West can be very helpful and that is to end the unjust trade rules. Agriculture is an area in which Africa can excel and some of the export markets are closed to these poor people in name of protecting farmers in rich countries. Tariffs and subsidies hurt these poor nations in area in which they can build a future.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

An Epiphany.....

A few years a go when I was working in West Africa, a friend of mine, Luca, invited me out to lunch with a few of his friends that had just returned from Bangui, Central African Republic. If you know a little about Africa, you probably know almost nothing about this place. If you know a lot about Africa, you still probably know very little about this place. The Central African Republic is landlocked, has a population of pygmies and is largely a subsistence agricultural nation. As per the CIA World Factbook...
The former French colony of Ubangi-Shari became the Central African Republic upon independence in 1960. After three tumultuous decades of misrule - mostly by military governments - civilian rule was established in 1993 and lasted for one decade. President Ange-Felix PATASSE's civilian government was plagued by unrest, and in March 2003 he was deposed in a military coup led by General Francois BOZIZE, who has since established a transitional government. Though the government has the tacit support of civil society groups and the main parties, a wide field of affiliated and independent candidates will contest the municipal, legislative, and presidential elections scheduled for February 2005. The government still does not fully control the countryside, where pockets of lawlessness persist.
The problem with the country is that there are periodic flare-ups of civil unrest and as I understand it, at least at that time, several years ago, there was an ongoing civil war.

So my friend, Luca, these young and enthusiastic workers for the United Nations and I sat down to lunch. I was very much looking forward to hearing their experiences in the wilds of the Central African Republic [CAR]. So, my questions came fast and furious and they answered them with the enthusiasm and aplomb that I expected.

I learned that they worked for a refugee agency at the UN [as I recall now]. I think that it is UNHCR and their role was too assist the refugees in the civil war there to live more comfortable and healthier lives. And this was way out in the boonies of the CAR. So I asked them about their day-to-day lives out in wilds of the jungle. They laughed. They explained to me that since there was a military curfew and since the site was more than 12 hours away from Bangui, CAR, that they never got to the site....in the whole 6 weeks that they were in CAR.

Hmmmm. I thought about this. So I asked, "What did you do for the 6 weeks that you were there?" They told me that thy spent the 6 weeks in the hotel, bored out of their skulls, watching TV, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, swimming, sunbathing and just generally doing what 25 year olds do when they are bored and cooped up in such a place. So, these dedicated enthusiastic bunch of people, spent 6 weeks in some hotel, partying on the UN's dime, without doing an iota to help the people in Africa that were in desperate need of assistance, probably starving to death and dying of all kinds of awful jungle diseases. And believe me all of this is not cheap. The half-dozen-or-so UN employees get their 1st class [actually not first class as we know it, 1st class there, but never-the-less, not cheap] hotel accommodation paid for and a daily stipend that could keep any of us fat, happy and liquored up for quite a period of time. And why did the UN sent these kids to do a job if it was obvious that they could never get to the site? Isn't someone that sits around at the UN and asks in these civil-war torn places like CAR, can the aid get to the people? I guess no-one did the calculus or no-one really cared.

Then I had an epiphany. It struck me like a ton of bricks. We don't really assist Africa since they need it, in this case they never received the assistance. We do all of this and hire our young sons and daughters to go on adventures to exotic places and party. We do this for ourselves so we can feel like we are doing something altruistic. We give money to the needy but it is spent on useless boondoggles for our children! So that they can come home one day, they can say that they did something for the oppressed and needy of the world and they can tell all kinds of exotic stories to their friends and family and we can fawn all over them and tell them that we were so worried while they faced the dangers of wild Africa.

I quit my job in West Africa later that year. I will never again work for a multilateral aid institution.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Today In History....

1964 President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Wikipedia has a readable description, here. This legislation really prompts one to think of what leadership, in this case Lyndon Johnson's, is all about. He was the architect of this legislation and knew that it would cause problems for his own party, the Democrats.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen pushed the bill through Congress. The bill divided both political parties and engendered a long-term change in the demographics of both. Johnson realized that supporting this bill would mean losing the South's overwhelming Democratic Party majority (which did happen, with some exceptions). Although they were a minority party in both houses of Congress, Republicans voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Act, enabling its passage.
For students of this era, it is important to note that despite discrimination being a very real and important problem, there were also concerns over the issue of states rights and the individual liberties that were being tested with this legislation. From the conservative think-tank Cato Institute...
Forty years ago, Congress responded to the moral urgency of ending Jim Crow and bringing blacks and other minorities into the American mainstream by enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since then, the primary justification for anti-discrimination laws has shifted from this relatively limited goal to an authoritarian agenda aimed at eliminating all forms of supposedly invidious discrimination. Such a goal cannot possibly be achieved - or even pursued - without grave consequences for civil liberties.
But the subsequent loss of liberties are the price that we have to pay for the original sin of discriminating against our friends and brothers. The pursuit of liberty is not a lost cause, and like our fore-fathers, we have to fight for it. And its worth fighting for. We can count every day our blessings.

Still Moving Towards The People's Right To Choose....

Today's Standard characterized yesterday's July 1st democracy march as "Democracy Push Falters." I just cannot agree with that assessment. 20,000 people came out not only to protest but to have their voices heard. 500,000 people did march July 1, 2003 and this hasn't changed. Poor management of the Hong Kong government is still a problem and the people here know it. People are also concerned with what is going on north of the border with clamping down on free speech and dissent.

Additionally, 20,000 showed up for the pro-China march in a celebration of their reuniting with China. Remember that it is still possible to love your country and choose your own leaders. Its not a mutually exclusive enterprise.

I Think That I Will Crack One Open Right Now.....

take the beer out of the fridge. But now put it on the counter and leave it there five or 10 minutes before drinking. Beer is fragile and needs to be refrigerated, but when it's ice cold, it has scarcely any aroma. It should be about halfway between refrigerator temperature and room temperature, about 10 degrees Celsius for lagers and up to 15 for ales.
Today's Standard has a piece on how to properly drink beer.

I usually only drink draft beer when I am out. And here is why I prefer it.
One reason that draft beer has such a good reputation is that casks and kegs are stored and shipped under refrigeration. Bottled beer, because it's likely to be handled carelessly, is usually pasteurized in the hope of protecting it from the worst of this sort of treatment, but pasteurizing takes out part of the flavor.
Enjoy your night out!

The US Numbers Continue To Look Good....

Despite the fact that the Fed has raised their target Fed Funds Rate from 1.00% to 3.25%, the economy appears to keep humming along.
The Institute for Supply Management said today that its factory index rose to 53.8 from 51.4 in May. Manufacturing remains in an uninterrupted expansion that began in June 2003, marked by readings higher than 50. The University of Michigan said today its sentiment index reached a six-month high in June.
Of course some will vilify Bush for creating a gigantic deficit and yes, he should be vilified for the troubles that he caused during his watch. If it weren't for September 11th, the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, those deficit numbers may look somewhat different.

However, through fiscal spending and the Federal Reserve monetary policy, the economy has not, as of this writing, collapsed. And who knows, maybe things will just work out fine for the resilient US economy.

So, strong economic growth is definitely a positive for Asia and there remains little risk as long as the US stays healthy. By the way, how are things going in Europe in the meantime?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Hemlock Wants To Know If His Holdings Of CNOOC Are Still A Good Investment....

In the interest of disclosure, I too have shares in CNOOC as-well-as other Chinese oil holdings Petrochina and China Oilfield Services. Hemlock asks...
Does it contribute to long-term national security or simply the leaders’ sense of autarkic, centrally planned well-being? Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest the funds in the domestic economy today, in order to create the wealth to buy raw materials at their global market prices in decades ahead? Like countries not run by paranoid cliques do.

So, I am stuck with this conundrum – will ultimate control by a paranoid clique make CNOOC a more or less profitable investment in the long run? Paranoid cliques make bad decisions. But bad decisions have unintended beneficiaries.
Well, I have always been worried about management in Chinese companies. Obviously, this is not a market based bid for Unocal. CNOOC would simply been unable to afford it unless they received the subsidized loans from the state owned parent. So was CNOOC instructed to attempt to buy Unocal or did CNOOC dream this up and then approach the parent with the idea and seek the subsidies? I bet that it was a policy decision at some high level in government. And this has to be incredibly worrying for anyone investing in Chinese equities. Are the decision makers in this transaction capable of or knowledgeable enough to make such a decision? Senior politicians are just that, politicians and not grizzled experienced business people that make hard-nosed choices based on fundamentals and facts. So, if the Chinese government is doing this for some policy reason such as national security, this opens a pandora's box of corporate actions to pursue national security.

So, what is to stop the Chinese government from doing similar actions if they deem it be in the best interests of China? Would they be tempted to do this at the expense of public shareholders? Why not? We don't really know if this makes sense for public shareholders except that the stock price did move nicely when the subsidies were announced.

Its very difficult to invest in China and get something that is clean and one where risks are disclosed and are comprehensible. I focused my China investments in oil since it is a globally priced commodity that is faced with large increases in demand domestically. Most of my other investments focus on management's capability to function profitably in the global market that have had a track record of success. Investments in Chinese companies do not offer that to a very large extent and I for one am thinking of cutting down my exposure in Chinese oil companies for those exact reasons.