November 11, 2009

Why would he do this?

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 18:05

My best guess is for two reasons: 1) He can. 2) It drives the opposition batshit insane:

The president who campaigned for a more “open government” and “full disclosure” will not unseal his medical records, his school records, his birth records or his passport records. He will not release his Harvard records, his Columbia College records, or his Occidental College records — he will not even release his Columbia College thesis. All his legislative records from the Illinois State Senate are missing and he claims his scheduling records during those State Senate years are lost as well. In addition, no one can find his school records for the elite K-12 college prep school, Punahou School, he attended in Hawaii.

The whacky public image of the “Birthers” continues to do much damage to more rational criticism of Barack Obama’s administration. Whether there is “fire” to go along with all the breathlessly described “smoke”, it’s taking lots of attention away from the actual policies and actions of the current president, and tarring-by-association those who do criticize. That’s enough of a political win that Obama would be very foolish to do anything to calm them down by releasing these documents.

Contrarian investment strategy: short Chinese stocks

Filed under: Bureaucracy, China, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 17:29

I’ve been skeptical of the official Chinese government economic statistics for quite some time, so I find articles like this one to be quite believable:

Chanos and the other bears point to several key pieces of evidence that China is heading for a crash.

First, they point to the enormous Chinese economic stimulus effort — with the government spending $900 billion to prop up a $4.3 trillion economy. “Yet China’s economy, for all the stimulus it has received in 11 months, is underperforming,” Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” wrote in Forbes at the end of October. “More important, it is unlikely that [third-quarter] expansion was anywhere near the claimed 8.9 percent.”

Chang argues that inconsistencies in Chinese official statistics — like the surging numbers for car sales but flat statistics for gasoline consumption — indicate that the Chinese are simply cooking their books. He speculates that Chinese state-run companies are buying fleets of cars and simply storing them in giant parking lots in order to generate apparent growth.

Back in 2004, I wrote:

While there is no doubt that China is a fast-growing economy, the most common mistake among both investors and pundits is to assume that China is really just like South Carolina or Ireland . . . a formerly depressed area now achieving good results from modernization. The problem is that China is not just the next Atlanta, Georgia or Slovenia. China is still, more or less, a command economy with a capitalist face. One of the biggest players in the Chinese economy is the army, and not just in the sense of being a big purchaser of capital goods (like the United States Army, for example).

The Chinese army owns or controls huge sectors of the economy, and runs them in the same way it would run a division or an army corps. The very term “command economy” would seem to have been minted to describe this situation. The numbers reported by these “companies” bear about the same resemblance to reality as thos posted by Enron or Worldcom. With so much of their economy not subject to profit and loss, every figure from China must be viewed as nothing more than a guess (at best) or active disinformation.

Probably the only figures that can be depended upon for any remote accuracy would be the imports from other countries — as reported by the exporting firms, not by their importing counterparts — and the exports to other countries. All internal numbers are political, not economic. When a factory manager can be fired, he has his own financial future at stake. When he can be sentenced to 20 years of internal exile, he has his life at stake. There are few rewards for honesty in that sort of environment: and many inducements to go along with what you are told to do.

Under those circumstances, any growth figures are going to be aggregated from all sectors, most of which are under strong pressure to report the right numbers, not necessarily corresponding with any real measurement of economic activity. So, if the economic office wants to see a drop in the economy, that’s what they’ll get.

Basing your own personal financial plans on numbers like this would quickly have you living in a cardboard box under a highway overpass. Companies in the soi-disant free world have shareholders or owners to answer to. Companies in China exist in a totally different environment.

Five years on, there’s not much (except a few outdated details) that I’d bother changing.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

Murdoch’s brilliant, evil master plan

Filed under: Economics, Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:32

Lore Sjoberg has cracked the secret plan that Rupert Murdoch appears to be following:

The audiences for traditional newspapers are getting older, more crotchety and increasingly dead. Most people don’t want their news to come with such hassles as a cover price, ads or dissenting opinions. How to bring in a younger, hipper audience that’s willing to spend money just to prove that they have money?

Murdoch, that crazy mad genius, realizes that the only way to attract this lucrative demographic is to establish street cred. He’s going underground, reinventing news as an exclusive club that you can’t find just by entering a search term.

Presumably, Murdoch’s New York Post, for example, will be renamed to something hip and enigmatic, like Velocity or Unk. The new URL won’t be publicized. To get it, you’ll have to know somebody, or know somebody who knows somebody, or know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody, or show a lot of cleavage. There will be a long line outside the website, just like an exclusive club or World of Warcraft right after an expansion release. A moderator will check out your online presence and won’t let you in unless you’re a mover, a shaker, a player, a spender or showing a lot of cleavage.

Once inside, the website will be dark, noisy and disorienting, just like an exclusive club or a MySpace page. There will be a two-drink minimum. I’m not sure how that will work, actually, but if anyone can force people to buy $10 beers while browsing the web, it’s my man Rupert. People will pretend to be reading stories about police standoffs and Knicks games, but they’ll actually be looking around to see who else made it in. And all that affectation and posing is like unto money in Murdoch’s pocket.

Reasons to avoid seeing Disney’s Christmas Carol

Filed under: Economics, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:11

Jim Carrey seems to be channelling his inner Friedrich Engels here:

Talking with the Chicago Tribune to promote A Christmas Carol a few days before the film’s release, Carrey released the following burst of political flatulence:

“I was thinking about it this morning, how this story ties into everything we’re going through,” says Carrey, who, thanks to the technology, plays Scrooge as well as the three ghosts haunting him. “Every construct we’ve built in American life is falling apart. Why? Because of personal greed and ambition. Capitalism without regulation can’t protect us against personal greed…”

Making certain that many people reading the interview will resolutely avoid seeing the film, Carrey describes the protagonist as follows:

“Scrooge is the ultimate example of self-loathing,” Carrey says, noting that, after playing the title character in Ron Howard’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” he was merely “going to the source” in fleshing out Scrooge. “Beware the unloved, I always say,” Carrey continues. “They’re the ones that end up being the mean guys. It comes from that deep, spiritual acid reflux within them. With Scrooge it infects his whole being.”

Whereas Dickens presented a reasonably nuanced view of the issues the story brings up, and did so with an appropriate narrative tone, Carrey makes the latest film version sound like a ham-fisted socialist diatribe, hardly a strategy for drawing middle American families in great numbers.

In memorium

Filed under: Britain, History, Military, WW1, WW2 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:00

A simple recognition of some of our family members who served in the First and Second World Wars:

The Great War

  • Private William Penman, Scots Guards, died 1915 at Le Touret, age 25
    (Elizabeth’s great uncle)
  • Private David Buller, Highland Light Infantry, died 1915 at Loos, age 35
    (Elizabeth’s great grandfather)
  • Private Walter Porteous, Northumberland Fusiliers, died 1917 at Passchendaele, age 18
    (my great uncle)
  • Corporal John Mulholland, Royal Tank Corps, died 1918 at Harbonnieres, age 24
    (Elizabeth’s great uncle)

The Second World War

  • Flying Officer Richard Porteous, RAF, survived the defeat in Malaya and lived through the war
    (my uncle)
  • Able Seaman John Penman, RN, served in the Defensively Equipped Merchant fleet on the Murmansk Run (and other convoy routes), lived through the war
    (Elizabeth’s father)
  • Private Archie Black (commissioned after the war and retired as a Major), Gordon Highlanders, captured at Singapore (aged 15) and survived a Japanese POW camp
    (Elizabeth’s uncle)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

The only surprise is that it’d only be 33%

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:22

Alison Martin summarizes a survey of Quebec workers which found (among other things) that 33% of men would show up for work even if they or a family member had H1N1:

According to a poll of Quebec workers, many employees in Quebec would still show up for work even if they had the H1N1 flu virus.

Close to one-quarter of respondents to the poll conducted in September 2009 on behalf of the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés said that they would still go to work even if they or a member of their household had the H1N1 flu virus. This attitude is even more prevalent among men, with one in three (33%) reporting that they still intended to go to work if they or a relative caught the virus.

Close to 60 per cent of respondents said that they show up for work even when they really aren’t feeling well.

“We’ve already noted that employees in Quebec tend to show up at work even when they’re ill. They don’t seem to be sufficiently aware of the risks of such behaviour, which in the end benefits neither the employee nor the employer, and definitely should be stopped,” explained Florent Francoeur, CHRP, Ordre president and CEO.

The question was clearly worded to elicit the most newsworthy headline: it’d be an odd family if everyone stayed home if even one person in the family was ill . . . and a family with limited long-term employment prospects. Private sector employers tend not to have the same kind of generous sick time provision that public sector employees get, so employees don’t tend to take as much sick time as civil servants.

For many workers, if they don’t show up for work, they don’t get paid. This is especially true at lower income levels, where missing a few days pay can be a severe economic dislocation.

Powered by WordPress