Saturday, May 17, 2003

This is such an fascinating incident I just couldn't let it go. The enormous Korean distiller, Jinro, was ordered into receivership (bankruptcy) by a Korean court after 5 years of fights with the major bondholder, US led Goldman Sachs, trying to recover some of the $450 million in debt outlay. The ruling caused huge crying street protest from employees of Jinro. Why is this so interesting?

Well, a little history. Jinro is the largest distiller of the Korean national drink, soju, and therefore a major symbol of nationalistic business pride in Korea. Unfortunately, Jinro used it's distilling profits to branch out into many unprofitable ventures in the 90's, ran up its debts and ran the business into the ground. While Goldman represents only a part of Jinro's total debt liability, this marks the first time that a Korean company was forced into receivership on the basis of foreign investor complaints.

In the rest of the world, the US economic model is excoriated as ruthless, allowing huge layoffs, enormous businesses to routinely go bust because of poor management decisions and it burdens corporations to pass huge litmus tests in anti-trust and environmental issues. In Asia, the model assumes universal and lifetime employment and an unspoken but understood bond between corporate leadership, financial institutions and the national government.

It's a microcosm, this story of a small slice of Asian business practice. Japan and Korea remain mired in recession, the Europeans seem on the precipice of their own, and yet I believe that our US economy will, if it falls, land on a much taller pile of mattresses.............it's just made of tougher stuff.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Nation building a chore.....

Although maybe overblown, articles are appearing which announce almost total anarchy in Iraq and possible civil war. Here's a quote from one Iraqi:

"Saddam was brutal and cruel. He suffocated us but at least he restored electricity and normality after the 1991 war. What are the Americans waiting for?" she told Reuters.

Shades of Mussolini? Well, (it was said), he may be a butcher, but he made the trains run on time.

This, combined with similar difficulties in Afghanistan, where warlordism is bankrupting the central government of Karzai as well as relapsing Afghanistan into a nation of fiefdoms, makes me think how much easier it is to overthrow a government than it is to replace it with another viable one, much less a newly minted democratic one.




HELP

I'm tired of this template and useless at HTML. Does anyone want to help create a nice, clean template for me? Perhaps a small fee is involved, but certainly a blogger's undying gratitude. Inquire at: reasonofvoice@att.net

Thursday, May 15, 2003

It is wrong for Democrats in the Texas Legislature to hole-up in Oklahoma instead of reporting to work and face the inevitable vote on redistricting there. It is a political ploy designed to grab attention, hoping that a groundswell of support against mid-cycle redistricting will rise from the people of Texas. Such a ploy would undoubtedly fail in this endless cat-and-mouse game if not for the unfathomably stupid actions of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who, not coincidentally, initiated the redistricting legislation to begin with.

It is clear from reports that DeLay has requested that federal agents, including officers from the Department of Homeland Security, be utilized to track down and arrest those Democrats failing to show up for quorum counts.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Monday he wants federal authorities to pursue Texas Democrats dodging a vote on a plan he authored to increase Republican seats in Congress.

The Sugar Land Republican told reporters that bringing in either U.S. marshals or FBI agents is justified because redistricting is a federal issue, involving congressional seats.


link

If the Democrats wanted a better way to nationally publicize their point of view and question the legitimacy of mid-cycle redistricting, they could have no better ally than the loony, drooling response of the over-the top, maniac (as Andrew Sullivan puts it), meathead DeLay..............

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

the morality of tax cuts

Donald Sensing, at his fabulous blog one hand clapping, has used a small reference to one of my posts to help him flesh out a most compelling argument about the federal govenment and their manipulation of the budget. Please read the entire post ( and bookmark his site while you're at it), but his contentions give me a chance to also flesh out my theories of Taxes and budget manipulations.

I'll admit, my reflections on how we as a nation collect and spend money are quite less articulate and interesting than Mr. Sensing's take; his analogy of hotel occupancy goes almost entirely over my head. I like to reference everything (probably foolishly) to my own personal experience and, having found myself more than once in (fairly dire) debt, tend to wish my own government better fortune. Debt is an interesting phenomenon, in that it tends to be very difficult to recover from. The chart that I referred on my blog showed a history of governmental debt, only recently recovered from (through an historic period of phenomenal growth), and almost immediately returned to the ether. It can't be denied that tax cuts greatly increase these deficits, at least in the short term. There are a range of rationales for doing this that mostly conservative economists will trot out, and all will claim (as does Mr. Sensing) that in the long term, tax rebates actually increase revenue. Again, I'm no economist, but I do know the first rule of money: There is no free lunch.

To me, the introduction of sweeping tax cuts does not represent an economic plan. It represents a dogmatic approach by a Republican administration to follow a policy plank promised during a campaign. It is the type of proposal undertaken without regard to the specific circumstance, and would be just as forcefully driven in a surplus economy as it is in our less robust one. Economists on the right will spin the 'correctness' of it as those on the left will argue it's insanity. It is just as irresponsible, I believe, in our fleeting surplus economy to lack restraint in budget spending, as the Democratic administration previous certainly did. To expect 22% growth out of an economy, as some in the OMB for the White House for Clinton did, is equally as disgraceful as the Bush administration's claims about tax cuts being all about 'jobs'. It's NOT about jobs. It might create a few..........might.........but is not the overriding reasoning.

A liberal will argue that Mr. Sensing is right, a government is nothing more than money-distribution organization. He will argue in the natural sin of man, and conclude that a govenment is necessary to redistribute wealth to those in need, as human nature cannot be trusted for men to take care of the needy on their own. A conservative will argue that government is wholly inadequate for this task, will of necessity mess it all up, helping no one and only making working people's wallets lighter merely for the sake of assuaging guilts. I would like to take one side of each argument.

On the tax side, I would simply say that cuts are intuitively silly when running a deficit, and also argue on the budget side that waste and useless spending are rife, and that a very great deal of the time, governmental benefits end up in the hands of those very much NOT in need. This is why I listed the most expensive pieces of the budget in order and asked that readers start forming their 'perfect' budget with cuts in those areas (most of which are politically terra non firma ---- which Mr. Sensing also alluded to). They are:
1) Social Security
2) HHS - aka Medicare/Medicaid
3) Treasury - (debt service)
4) Military

You help #3 by avoiding deficit spending, and you cannot reasonably talk about cuts in any of the other 3 without starting a political firestorm. But make no mistake, without wishful (and impossible) growth, Social Security is DEAD. It will have to be restructured, as will supplementary health insurance. After that, sure, let's look at controlling an overblown military budget too..........

My complaints remain the same; who will have the courage to attack these issues in the only possible way, by neither entirely adhering either to the 'Liberal' or 'Conservative' political viewpoint? This is precisely why I continually refer to mayor Mike Bloomberg of NYC, he's done everything as if he was running a business in the face of a decreasing revenue stream and impending bankruptcy, increasing taxes, cutting services and recording the lowest polls in polling history. Now, that's a leader who couldn't get elected to dogcatcher right now.


I've avoided this because it's just too disturbing, but now it seems possible that the jury trying the civil case of Lemrick Nelson could be hung, allowing Nelson to escape conviction again. The judge of the case, Fredric Block, after receiving notes from the jury room asking for direction described the jury as 'muddled, confused and a little bit out of touch'. Of course, a hung jury is as good as an acquittal to the defense.

To quickly recap, Lemrick Nelson is the defendent from the racial Crown Heights riots of 1991, and, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, was exonerated in his criminal murder trial of killing Yankel Rosenbaum, an orthodox Jew. After Nelson was acquitted he was subsequently seen celebrating with jury members. In this civil case brought against Nelson, it was charged that Rosenbaum's civil rights were violated, because he was singled out for attack only on account of his religion. Defense lawyers changed tactics, admitting that Nelson did, in fact, stab and kill Rosenbaum, but argued that it was not because Rosenbaum was Jewish, but because Nelson was a young kid excited by the crowd and by the beer he had consumed that day.

Forgetting the disgust anyone would feel for a legal system that would turn a blind eye to outright lying for the sake of legal strategy, we're still left with a defense that most people wouldn't even bother to consider; Nelson has admitted to hearing "he's a Jew, get him!" on the streets of Crown Heights immediately before setting on to the bearded, yarmulke-wearing Rosenbaum with his knife. How far should a defense which argues that the attack wasn't religiously motivated get?? Apparently, (and sadly) pretty far. We won't bother to make analogy to OJ Simpson, this is a more important case, dealing with race relations in NYC which almost tore it apart 12 years ago. Wouldn't we all like to think there's some justice remaining in this world? So damn sad......................



Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Oh those funny Frenchmen

This almost unnoticed story about a major national strike effort in France gives a nice look into the European economic conundrum, as over a million French workers refrained from going to work yesterday. This caused shutdowns of train service and newspapers, mostly, making commutes more difficult for those who actually went to work.

The issue? Well, pension reform, silly. Of course the French stare at a problem even more dire than US Social Security, with bankruptcy only a few years away. The conservative government's response has been reform, looking to lengthen working years and increase payments into the state pension funds. Frenchmen aren't happy about this, as they average 35-hour weeks and retire with full government pensions at an average age of 58. Sacre Bleu! Non, monsieur ---- I cannot work any more than this! It is injustice! This should make a wonderful test case for a universally shared western issue of underfunded government retirement programs, and all on the backs of the French, who are short everywhere of sympathy right now. A chance to learn something, and watch some national French suffering. I can hear the right in the US and Britain chortling away.

Unfortunately, Chirac's back may be against the wall ------ the last effort at reform in 1995 resulted in similar demonstrations which eventually cowed the government to abandon their reform efforts. But the remaining sands in the hourglass are few, and the Economic minister says he will not be ruled by the bleating of the street (this time). This oughta be interesting.............

Monday, May 12, 2003

Fox News, and subsequently the Drudge Report have been making a stink about the stink the Dems continue to make about the Bush flightsuit entrance. Ralph Peters in the NYPost, chimes in as well (while comparing Howard Dean to Osama Bin Laden, what an ass!).

Drudge counters with a picture of Senator Patrick Leahy, also in flight garb, available on his website.



I'm not satisfied with the argument that all those aboard a Viking jet need to wear flight clothes. The President had a helicopter at his disposal and was well in range to use it if he wanted. It's clear that Bush was taken in by the jet 'cool factor', was having some fun and happily took the stick for a turn or two, crowing "I flew it!!" after touchdown. It's his timing I take issue with. Look, here's the point. The President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. It makes entirely the wrong statement for a civilian commander to appear to be one of the troops, particularily in wartime. It implies a coziness with the military which discomfits me, when our Constitution specifies a civilian-run government where the military is only an arm of power. We can recount history in saying that Eisenhower (a 5-star general) never wore military garb while President, nor did Nixon or Kennedy or any other President who had served in wartime. Senator Leahy does not command the US military, as far as I know, and is entitled to wear anything he likes, including pilot's clothes...........even if he looks fairly silly in them.

I don't want to make a big deal here...........the troops loved it, the President seemed to really love it and it made for some great campaign pictures. We also don't think the President is looking to change the US into a military state. But to deny the discomfort of so many not in uniform in seeing their President dressed up as 'one of the boys' is unfair.

You Don't Say......

Ok, it's a plagerism from Taranto and the best of the web, but on a slowish news day, here's a few silly headlines:

From Reuters:
Commerce Dept. - Dollar drop aids exports
and more sadly from Reuters as well:

Analysis: Arafat retains clout

Now, that IS brilliant analysis.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Sympathy for the devil

Pleased to meet you! Hope you guess my name!!

Well, his name is.........Ayatollah Al-hakim, recently returned from Iran to Iraq and with this quote to keep you warm:



"We don't want extremist Islam, but an Islam of independence, justice and freedom."

Yeah, right....................ha!

Here is the most chilling, must read article of the day, profiling the lunatic North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il. Read it and weep, but let me give you snapshot:

While more than a million of his people starved to death in the last decade, he spent billions on gigantic monuments and elaborate stadium spectacles to deify his father and himself............. He has collected more than 10,000 videos. He told an American diplomat that he possesses every Oscar-winning movie. He loves "The Godfather," James Bond flicks, the "Friday the 13th" series, Daffy Duck cartoons, anything with Elizabeth Taylor.

==============

He responded to a famine that killed a million North Koreans by executing his Agricultural Minister. He's fathered either 4 children by 4 mothers or 3 children by 3 mothers although :...North Korea lacks a People magazine to sort these details.

Orgies, gourmet pizza parties, it's all here. When traveling to the Soviet Union, Il was apparently afraid to fly, and outfitted a special train to carry him the 4000 miles over 7 days to Moscow. Of course there are the obligatory statues to the 'great leader' and the publicly organized, contrived 'outpourings of love' .........one assistant Secretary of State likened one to a Superbowl 'halftime show'. The similarities to Saddam and his sons, as well as Stalin, Hitler, Assad of Syria and Ceucescu of Romania are startling, what psychiatrists refer to as 'malignant narcissism'. Unfortunately, men like this do not easily respond to diplomacy as history has shown..............you have to shoot them..................

Well, we tol' ya.......

We'll try to be humble here, but it was only days after the fall of Baghdad when this blog speculated that no significant amounts of WMD's or even significant evidence of a WMD program would be found in Iraq. This article in today's WP is telling us that we've been right on the money. Read it through, but let me also quote some sections:

The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants..................The group's departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war..................They said they expected to find what Secretary of State Colin L. Powell described at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 -- hundreds of tons of biological and chemical agents, missiles and rockets to deliver the agents, and evidence of an ongoing program to build a nuclear bomb.

For those who have stayed close to this blog and read carefully, this is a well known tune.

Now, I will not rush to judgement by implying that our administration was lying about the dangers of an Iraqi WMD program. No, it is much clearer to me how inept our intelligence services are, providing poor to nonexistant information to the President and Secretary of State. Indeed, it is impossible for me to believe that our government would argue their case of WMD in the international arena knowing that their information was phony. However, it is also clear that the President and his administration had embarked on a foreign policy to depose the Iraqi leader and was willing to make any case as strongly as it could to achieve that aim. The UN resolutions and WMD program proved to be the MOST efficacious (particularily for coopting the British). Bush could have found other arguments and indeed, used them as well (liberation, Mid East instability, terror connections etc........), but this one was clearly their strongest.

Just because a very sparse weapons program existed in Iraq is not equivalent to being ashamed of the result. We believe the war in Iraq a monumentally successful foreign policy maneuver, for EVERYONE. But this administration is going to be embarrassed and will have to scramble for rationales, PLUS certainly address a foreign service and intelligence corps which presently allows the US to make MAJOR policy decisions on the basis of unbelievably FLIMSY product.

More Later.............

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