Friday, January 31, 2003

1968

Anniversary of Tet Offensive.
A few days later, I managed to get a seat on a U.S. Air Force Hercules C-130 to Phu Bai, an airport 10 miles from Hue, then reported to have been in Communist hands. I arrived just in time to join the 5th Marines regiment as it fought its way into the imperial capital.

The streets were strewn with corpses, all women, children and old men dressed in their best attire for Tet, their highest holiday; all had clearly been killed execution style.

I was perplexed: Why would the so-called "liberators" massacre the civilian population of this most anti-American city in the country?

Why would they behave like this in Hue, where Vietnam's nationalist and Communist rebels had learned the revolutionaries' craft at the anti-colonialist Lycee Quoc-Hoc, the list of whose graduates read like a "Who's Who" of both North and South Vietnam?

Ho Chi Minh had studied here as well as his prime minister, Pham Van Dong, son of the highest mandarin at the imperial court. So did South Vietnam's Presidents Ngo Dinh Diem and Nguyen Van Thieu.

Why did the North Vietnamese not tread sensitively in this kettle of nationalist ferment where even the outside walls even of the Dowager Empress' residence displayed graffiti like "Chat Dau My" -- "Cut the Americans' Throats"?

I have never received a satisfactory answer to these questions and can only surmise that regardless of their xenophobia, this noble city's 100,000 burghers, some 20,000 of who were related to the imperial family, were not exactly the kind of people Communists would like to have around in the people's republic they envisaged -- regardless of what they thought about the United States.

Nothing else would explain the mass grave, either, at whose rim I later stood. It was filled with some 3,000 corpses, again mainly of women and children. Many of these bodies showed clear evidence that they had still been alive when thrown into that ditch; one could see that several women had tried to claw their way out with their beautifully manicured fingernails.

Good riddance

The beginning of the end for the UN is here. So now NYC will need to establish the Midtown East River Economic Development Corporation (MEREDC). Rather than simply selling the land to its greedy, horrible, citizens that will build places to shop, live and work (I get a shudder just thinking about it), the city and state will likely keep the land for themselves and use the economic potential of the property to elicit political support.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Trust

Apparently equity and bond consumers (also known as investors, also known as human beings) have no confidence in government attempts to regulate "corporate malfeasance". The passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act created an accounting oversight board, known as PCAOB, and staffed by "experts" receiving salaries of $452,000 (about half of that government salary is than paid back to the government in taxes - ah... yeah... that makes sense). Apparently, there is so much trust for this new bureaucracy that Standard and Poors has started rating corporate governance.

The S&P rating is broader than the PCAOB's scope. PCAOB seeks to set some government standard on accountants. The S&P rating
scores reflect its assessment of a company's corporate governance practices and policies and the extent to which these serve the interests of the company's financial stakeholders, with an emphasis on shareholders' interests.
Shareholder interest is what it is all about. The rating will range from 1-10, and S&P has been rating corporate governance since 2000. Last year's Enron and Worldcom scandals, while manifesting themselves as accounting issues, were at their core, people that used corporate ownership networks to obscure investors and counterparties from assessing the corporation's liabilities. S&P is targeting just those sorts of issues. There are four key areas that affect the score
ownership structure and influence, financial stakeholder rights and relations, financial transparency and information disclosure, and board structure and process.
The ratings are applied globally. The US has the most transparent markets, so investors wanting to invest abroad have sometimes encountered unpleasant surprises. Now investors will have a better guide of what to expect. Countries can be compared. It may even lead to better property right protections across the world. Investors charge a premium for risks of gov't confiscation (nationalization) and countries with more transparent ownership structures will be charged a smaller risk premium.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Aiiyeee

Ali-G is coming to the US, via HBO. I first saw him a couple years back when I was in the UK for business and a friend showed me his videos. After I stopped crying (from laughing) I thought "why is this guy not in the US?" Here he comes, and I predict will be very successful; followed by all sorts of people condemning him. This show is for the PC-challenged.

Some of the shows are kind of UK specific. Like the one where he goes to Scotland to learn about the mole-people (coal-miners). So I hope they don't strip those episodes out. Looking forward to seeing the episode where he interviews the animal rights activists, he asks one if confronted with a choice between eating a chicken sandwich from McD's or having a chicken killed, what would he choose? Or the episode where he interviews a narcotics officer about the benefits of various illegal drugs. Anyway, can't wait, and I hope you catch the show, its starting Feb 21 at 12:30am.

Pile On Gerhard

Germany is having a second regional election this Sunday and the Social Democrats (the party of Gerhard Schroeder) are projected to loose Lower Saxony for the first time in twelve years. Lower Saxony is Schroeder's home state, province, what-ever they call it. Criticizing Schroeder has become a tertiary hobby for folks in the Anglo world, especially when the German's have an opinion contradicting US interests. And while Schroeder deserves all the sniggering and condescension he gets thrown at him, I would like to point out that the German voters elected the chump. Schroeder's contribution to the German economy's anemic growth rate is generally overstated. After all Schroeder is just one man and despite the considerable mental handicap of being a socialist he alone does not have the control over German institutions to inflict 0.2% GDP growth stagnation. The German work-ethic is no longer a national characteristic. They have decided that less work and more free-time is what they want. Its one thing when I decide to goof off and another when I decide that everybody must goof off. But the simple fact is, if the Germans are happy with the standard of living they have achieved they are welcome to kick back and relax. But there are more than 3 billion other people that are not happy with their standard of living and will continue striving. Technology is converting Germany's current advantage to a disadvantage in a relatively short time. At some point in the future what will the German's offer their fellow human beings? And while they may maintain their current standard of living, their standard of living relative to the rest of the world is dropping. As a practical matter, what will the German's produce in the future that will pay for all the sitting about?

People define socialism in different ways. American Heritage Dictionary says socialism is "a system of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy." Who am I to argue with American Heritage. To me Socialism is institutionalized mediocrity. And where ever in the world you cast your eye and see "socialism" you will also see mediocrity. Socialized medicine is mediocre, socialized labor is mediocre, socialized food production is mediocre (and sometimes starvation), etc.. The German people have cast their votes for mediocrity and unfortunately Gerhard is the poor sap that has to resolve the German voter's craving for economic security without risk. The concept of achieving economic security without risk is as far from the world as the virgins jihadists look forward to, but it does not prevent people from falling for that siren song. The lure of gain without risk is potent, but the consequences of abdicating responsibility for your own well being and the well being of others to a bureaucracy are well known. The voters deserve what they get.

Am I picking on the German's unfairly? No, nothing I have said is innuendo. But this willingness to grasp mediocrity can be seen in varying degrees in all industrialized nations, Japan, US, Canada, Australia, etc.. To the extent that the gibberish of socialism/mediocrity overwhelms the desire to enrich yourself (and family) and your fellow man, our human society's woes become greater. To be free to produce, to work, is to be constantly engaged in the question of "how to better the human race".

More Snow

Stephen Moore (president of the Club for Growth) gives a strong endorsement of the soon-to-be Treasury Secretary, John Snow, in the National Review.

Moore points to Snow's success as CEO of CSX. Outgoing secretary O'Neill was also a successful CEO at Alcoa, but did not fare as well in public service. Also as CEO of CSX he advocated for making "our railroad infrastructure a national priority" (paraphrasing), which another way of saying lets spend tax-money on railroad construction so that my company does not have to.

Moore warns that the opposition (Democrats) are planning a smear campaign against Snow. This news has been popping up in the last few weeks. These low-life tactics contribute to the Democratic electoral losses. Without a doubt. The funny thing is why they do not see it? It is so obvious, that it is becoming a stereotypical characteristic for the party.

Snow and Moore, both, worked on the Kemp Commission on Tax Reform.
What became clear during those months is that Snow wants what the vast majority of Americans want: a radically simplified, single-rate tax system that clears away the barriers to growth in the IRS tax code, eliminates unfair subsidies, flattens tax rates, and doesn’t require hoards of accountants, lawyers, and valium pills to figure out tax liabilities.
Amen, to that. But flatter taxes are not on the agenda, yet. Moore closes with some advice, that I wish I could deliver to the pols myself.
If the Democrats attack the tax-cut plan for being “fiscally irresponsible,” Snow should ask his accusers why they vote to continually pad spending bills with billions of dollars of pork and multi-billion dollar program expansions with more debt spending (as they did last week with a $390 billion appropriations bill). If they attack Snow’s business acumen, then he should point out that almost none of his prosecutors have ever run a business, or met a payroll, that wasn’t paid for with taxpayer dollars.
Being a supporter of the Club For Growth, I am sympathetic with Moore's opinions. But Snow has already made the spineless decision to resign his membership at Augusta. So far Snow's tolerance for the mud-slinging and innuendo that will soon confront him does not bode well.