Redefining the concept of “lightweight”

Here it is. So light there’s almost nothing there. Shocking.

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Chinese food

You are what you eat, and whether you know it or not, you are eating a lot of food (and other stuff) that’s made in China, or so says John Pomfret.

If the [milk] scandal illustrates anything, it’s that China’s product safety system is woefully ill-equipped. And that’s pretty sobering news from a country which is the second biggest supplier of goods to the United States.

A big chunk of that is food. From 1996-2006, U.S. imports of Chinese food, agricultural, and seafood products increased 346 percent to 1.833 milion tons. China is the third leading supplier of food (after Mexico and Canada) to the U.S., and the second biggest supplier of fish. Drugs and vitamins, too.

That vitamin C you’re popping each morning? Chances are the ascorbic acid was Made in China. In the past several years, the number of FDA-registered drug manufacturers in China has nearly tripled. They went from 440 in 2004 to almost 1,300 in 2007….

The Bush administration made the obligatory noise about cracking down on Chinese goods. But the reality was that, according to a series of agreements signed between the Bush administration and the Chinese government in Beijing in December of last year, no significant new American resources are going to be devoted to dealing with the problem. The onus is on the Chinese to clean up their act.

Just as we we’re told we should trust Paulson to take care of a trillion-dollar loan, so too should we leave it to China, on blind faith, to make sure all that food they’re sending us is safe. And for a long time, that’s what we did. Now, I am sure my friends in California and Arizona are going to think twice before they buy those frozen tilapia filets at Trader Joe’s. Which is tragic for China. But that’s what happens when greedy businessmen decide to cut some corners and make some extra yuan, even if cutting those corners leads to the death of infants. Other businesses, even the law-abiding ones, will suffer. Once again, the carelessness and selfishness of a few will lead to hardship for many. (Hard to tell whether I’m talking about the sub-prime debacle or Chinese food exports.)

And now, I’m going to check where those vitamins in my cabinet are made. (Just out of curiosity. After all, I live here and just about everything I eat is made in China.)

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True reform

Please watch this clip. Make your friends watch it, too.

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Shocker

Kaiser Kuo posted this video link on another medium, and you simply have to go there. Absolutely electrifying.

Sorry for the missing link! It was midnight when I put that up. Corrected.

I hereby make a resolution never to post anything without previewing it and testing the links.

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The Ownership Society

Remember that Bush slogan? This was going be the time when people and businesses would be responsible for themselves, without the government clinging like a monkey on their backs. The free market would set things right and, unfettered by bureaucracy and unspoiled by handouts, America would prosper like never before.

Well, it didn’t exactly turn out that way, did it?

I’m not sure how many of you have heard of Danny Schechter, a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, former 20/20 producer and reporter, winner of several Emmys and one of the smartest critics of the American media on the planet. I used to link to him until about 2006, when he fell off my radar screen.

Now he’s back on my radar screen. I just read one of his articles that is so terrifying, I have to conclude Schechter is either clinically insane or a prophet. If you want to google around, you’ll see that he is highly respected and has a rather incredible track record when it comes to dissecting what’s actually going on in the world (as opposed to what we see in the media).

Anyway, all of that was just a way to lead up to to this link. This is about as over the top as one can possibly get – or so it seems. But it would also have been over the top six months ago to even think, let alone to say out loud, that Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, AIG and others (many more to come) would crumble one right after the other. Totally over the top.

Schechter says we may be on the verge of a civil war. Normally this type of alarmist talk would make me laugh my head off, but not in a week when I read that the domino effect of the subprime crisis could soon lead to similar meltdowns around the globe.

But back to Schecter’s post. Just a short snip:

Some are saying that because of this dire emergency, the election could be “postponed.” That may be too unlikely and unnecesary, especially if it is fixed or if both candidates sign on to the PLAN, what ever it is. We don’t even know the details yet but both McCain and Obama are aboard as you may have seen on 60 Minutes Sunday night.

This seems to follow the pattern layed out by Naomi Klein–create a shock and disorient the normal processes of government to impose emergency rules by fiat. It is shocking, but few in the media are even presenting the voices of critics who feel this way.

This measure is being sold as a way to help everyday Americans but the first time that members of Congress wanted the bailout to apply to distressed homeowners, Tresasury Secretary Paulson’s predictable response was a big fat NO WAY.

Thanks a lot.

This power grab has a name—“the troubled assets relief program” or TARP. Gretchen Morgenson of the NY Times compares this tarp to others, “the kind of thing they spread over muddy fields so you don’t spoil your Guccis.” This is also a tarp they seem to be pulled over the eyes of the American people and its Congress as the fear weapon is used again as it was after the last 9/11.

He goes on to say an actual armed insurrection in America is not out of the question in the weeks ahead. Yes, I know how nuts that is sounds. But this guy is not a fool and he’s not crazy. Of course, he may be totally wrong (I sure hope so), but he’s got credentials and he’s equal opportunity – he goes after Obama’s campaign manager without mercy. (Scroll down in that post to find the Schechter quote.)

So I am not saying I agree, only that I am listening and wondering, just how serious is the crisis we are in? Are we on the verge of a precipice as steep and equilibrium-eradicating as 911? It doesn’t feel quite that severe, but can anyone read the headlines and say there isn’t a surreal mood settling in around the nation, a state of angst and confusion, as if we were heading into an uncharted and possibly dangerous territory? I can only relate it to 911 because that was perhaps the only time in America, ever, that I had to ask myself, What the fuck is going on? Is this a dream or reality? What is happening to the world? Today, especially after reading Schechter’s piece but even by simply reading the headlines.

And do keep an eye on gold.

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Should Obama be rejected for ties to Fannie Mae?

If you think so, what would you say about this?

Senator John McCain’s campaign manager was paid more than $30,000 a month for five years as president of an advocacy group set up by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defend them against stricter regulations, current and former officials say.

Mr. McCain, the Republican candidate for president, has recently begun campaigning as a critic of the two companies and the lobbying army that helped them evade greater regulation as they began buying riskier mortgages with implicit federal backing. He and his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, have donors and advisers who are tied to the companies.

But last week the McCain campaign stepped up a running battle of guilt by association when it began broadcasting commercials trying to link Mr. Obama directly to the government bailout of the mortgage giants this month by charging that he takes advice from Fannie Mae’s former chief executive, Franklin Raines, an assertion both Mr. Raines and the Obama campaign dispute.

Incensed by the advertisements, several current and former executives of the companies came forward to discuss the role that Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager and longtime adviser, played in helping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac beat back regulatory challenges when he served as president of their advocacy group, the Homeownership Alliance, formed in the summer of 2000.

The story isn’t that McCain has a campaign manager who was dedicated to deregulating one of the lynchpins in this crisis. The story is McCain’s sanctimonious and unbelievably hypocritical finger-pointing at Obama for his ties to Fannie Mae, the “tie” being that the leader of Obama’s VP search was head of the quasi-governmental organization. If that’s reason to link Obama to the Fannie Mae disaster, which was years in the making, then what does today’s revelation do to McCain? McCain chose to play guilt by association, and based on his own rules he’s looking very guilty.

Just one more example of McCain’s descent from being (or appearing to be) the tell-it-like-it-is “maverick” to a nasty, hypocritical, quick-to-smear liar. He’s my senator; I’m ashamed of him. You should be, too.

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First time in years

MoDo has written a splendid column. As it starts, you groan because she seems to be using her usual cheeky tricks. And then it picks up speed and gravitas. I know, Maureen set the bar kind of low, but this is her magnum opus. First time in years I’ve read one her columns and ended up angry – and not at her.

Have to add the money quote – a long one.

OBAMA: What would you do?

BARTLET: GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say “thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said “Thanks.” You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word “patriot” back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!

“Heh. Read the whole thing.”

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Are you watching?

By now we all know about the bailout of the robber barons who brought death into this world and all our woe. They and the government – which are looking more and more like a single entity – are being rewarded beyond any of their wildest dreams for their staggering failure and incompetence while we are being asked to pay. I really don’t think the ramifications are clear to most people: we are giving the Treasury Department free reign to do anything it likes with as much money as they want, with no oversight or accountability.

You’ll find in the bailout plan this hair-raising gem:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

You have to read that a few times. This verges on the totalitarian. There will be a semi-annual review by a congressional committee with no power of enforcement, and that’s it. We are giving the Treasury Department everything, on faith, despite the economic maelstrom they themselves helped to create. It is wholly unprecedented and looks like it will go into effect with little or no debate, in the Patriot Act tradition. Krugman asks some simple questions: Does the public have no say in this matter? Are we not owed an explanation about how this will work? No answers yet.

Meanwhile, what about the rest of the nation’s needs? How do we fight a two-front war and provide services as usual and hand the thieves a trillion dollars or more? What about the effect of increasing the national debt and flooding the system with dollars? No one seems to be going there, at least not in the US media. Remember what happened in Germany in the 1920s?

From one of my favorite commentators:

Today’s reported potential infinite bailout of all and any portends, if adopted, is the largest increase in dollars outstanding since the Jurassic Age. It closely models actions undertaken regarding the production of currency liquidity seen in the Weimar Republic….

The only conclusion is that when the smoke clears and the advertised actions have been adopted, nothing more dollar negative than this has ever occurred due to the potential expansion of T bills and therefore dollar supply explosion.

The Times of London raised the question but no one seems to be particularly worried about it. Perhaps we should be.

THE US Treasury’s $700 billion (£380 billion) plan to bail out the banks could undermine the dollar, economists warn. The plan, details of which were unveiled yesterday, will seek congressional approval to raise the total amount the US government can borrow from $10.6 trillion to $11.3 trillion.

It also gives Hank Paulson, the US Treasury secretary, immunity from legal challenge under the plan. The US Treasury will buy mortgage-related securities “from any financial institution having its headquarters in the United States”, draft legislation said. Securities issued before September 17 will be eligible for inclusion.

Word of the proposals created a mood of euphoria in financial markets on Friday. But analysts warned of the risks.

Tim Bond of Barclays Capital, while conceding that the rescue was necessary to avoid the risk of depression, said: “The volume of fresh government borrowing and the fast expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet are both negatives for the dollar, carrying a potential risk of increased inflation.”

Other economists also think that the dollar could be undermined. Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and now a professor at Harvard, said: “It is hard to believe that the dollar will continue to stand its ground as the crisis continues to deepen.”

At this point, would McCain or Obama or Palin or Clinton make a difference? Hard to say. If it were up to me, Obama wouldn’t be my first choice. His ties to Wall Street may be as worrisome as McCain’s ties to the deregulation architects. However, the very distinct possibility of a Palin presidency tips the scales in Obama’s favor. Drastically. Maybe on election day it will all boil down to the lesser of two evils (which most elections usually are anyway). And I think it’s pretty easy to determine which is the greater and which is the lesser.

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Irony ’til the cows come home

It takes a great writer to enrage you and make you laugh out loud at the same time.

People should stop picking on vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin because she hired a high school classmate to oversee the state agriculture division, a woman who said she was qualified for the job because she liked cows when she was a kid. And they should lay off the governor for choosing another childhood friend to oversee a failing state-run dairy, allowing the Soviet-style business to ding taxpayers for $800,000 in additional losses.

What these critics don’t understand is that crony capitalism is how things are done in Alaska. They reward failure in the Last Frontier state. In that sense, it’s not unlike like Wall Street’s treatment of C.E.O.’s who run companies into the ground.

Look at Carly Fiorina, John McCain’s top economic surrogate — if you can find her this week, after the news and her narrative fused in a negative way. Dismissed as head of Hewlett-Packard after the company’s stock plunged and nearly 20,000 workers were let go, she was rewarded with $44 million in compensation. Sweet!

Thank God McCain wants to appoint a commission to study the practice that enriched his chief economic adviser. On the campaign trail this week, McCain and Palin pledged to “stop multimillion dollar payouts to C.E.O.’s” of failed companies. Good. Go talk to Fiorina at your next strategy session.

Much more, and it gets funnier. Comments are worth a read, too.

Will try to get back to China blogging soon. The US needs me more at the moment, I’m afraid.

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Baidu Ethics

An amazing post by the great David Wolf. I have nothing to add, but want to make sure no one misses it. A textbook example of the ethical landmines scattered across China’s business landscape. (Via Danwei.)

To my shock, I was able to access this site, the first time I’ve gotten onto a typepad site here in years.

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