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Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Head exploded

After watching Michele Bachmann’s “Tea Party” response to Obama’s state of the union address, my head exploded and I became even more stupid than before.  Besides her graph that didn’t really show cause and effect…well, other than time versus unemployment, if she believes cutting taxes and showing “greatest generation” imagery will fix the economy, we’re in for a ride.  And when can we move past the “God bless …” business? (sigh)  At least they didn’t pick Jim DeMint, I just could not tolerate that Columbia twang tonight…

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I have to stop reading the news…

Some days when I read the news I want to move to a cabin in the mountains and just live off of the land.

The first news item is the Virginia federal judge ruling against the health care reform bill.  When the Democrats caved into Republican will and threw out the public option, I had a feeling deep down that this was going to happen somewhere down the road.  I did not expect it within a year, however.  We pay social security and medicare in the USA at the federal level, and to mandate health insurance I have always believed it would need to be at the federal level.  This capitulation to the free-market demagogues could end up being costly, especially with the demagogues riding into Washington next year.  I suppose we’ll just have to see how this plays out, it is too early to tell or know if it will amount to much.

The second item that just made my day was to see that Ozawa avoided a “censure” like motion, and has taken it as a confidence booster and is going after PM Kan yet again.  Ozawa is the like the black knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you can cut his arms and legs off and he keeps coming back.  How dirty the money is that you just cannot get rid of this thug!

The final note is somewhat positive, but still depressing.  The article is about US manufactures trying to export their goods and services abroad.  The two businesses in this article are just what everyone in government is preaching about–exporting US products and services.  As the article explains, while foreign governments actually work in company with exporters, the US government serves as an obstacle. Wake up girls and boys, in this day and age of global trade networks, time is everything.  With government-backed mercantilism taking the stage, western governments better be careful about all of their non-action and free-market rhetoric before they are left behind.

Perhaps I should give up my newspapers and news sites for poetry?

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On the wikileaks documents

I’m not in the foreign relations profession so I don’t have much to say about the leaks.  I just thought, however, I’d point out this statement from an article in the Washington Post,

To prevent further breaches, the Pentagon announced Sunday it had ordered the disabling of a feature on its classified computer systems that allows material to be copied onto thumb drives or other removable devices.

What a brilliant idea!  Security auditors are always on top of everything…  Perhaps one day business and governmental leaders will get it in their head that it might be worth a little extra to pay for security rather than taking on the risk of security breaches and dealing with the blowout.  I happen to know for a fact that Mitsubishi-UFJ Bank in Japan has “dumb terminals”  in many of their offices.  “Dumb” terminals have no local storage and no removable storage like disk drives, and locked down USB drives–everything is done over the network, which can be audited and monitored in a central location.  If a relatively small bank on the scale of  world stage can do security right, why cannot the Dept. of Defense?  Mr. Gates, it is time to get your money back from all of the defense contractors who sold you these systems and provided the private-sector security auditors.

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Midterms in South Carolina

I stopped by the local elementary school to cast my vote today.  In South Carolina, the public schools are closed today so that the cafeterias and gymnasiums can be used as polling centers.  When I was in Virginia and North Carolina churches were always used, and I found it amusing that the kids get a day off.  Perhaps it encourages them to have an interest in government–it gets them out of class!

I wasn’t going to vote this year because South Carolina is a hopelessly Republican state with oddjob characters  like the late Strom Thurmond and Joe “You Lie!” Wilson.  Actually, Mr. Wilson is up for election down in Beaufort, but since I’m not in his congressional district I cannot vote against him.  He’s down there ranting about how he will fight for small government and fiscal responsibility, yet you aren’t going to take the jets away from his military base!  Let’s just cut everything but Medicare, Social Security, and Defense (the three largest expenses), and make sure we get some more tax cuts in there too.  That will balance the budget…right.  And forget about the Democrats too, with a majority in the Senate and House and control of the White House, they could still barely get anything done what with their blue dog mutts.  They deserve it if they are going to get the boot in January.

After Note: That Tom Clements was not seen as the opponent to Jim DeMint is a sorry sign of the state of South Carolina…I’ve got to get out of this place…this….

In the end I decided to go and cast my vote against Jim DeMint actually–that was the real purpose.  The Democrats are running Alvin Greene (no comment, just go read the Wikipedia page) and the Greens are running Tom Clements.  I’ve heard Clements on the radio before and I liked this stand on quite a few issues and his career experience really speaks for him, so I decided to cast my vote for him.  The only other interesting race here in South Carolina is for the governor’s post with Vincent A. Sheheen for the Democrats and Nikki Haley for the Republicans.  Actually, it was interesting up until the primaries and now it is quiet.  Ms. Haley has had a rough campaign with lots of stress, mostly from her own party of bigoted good ol’ boys here in South Carolina.  Between the racial slurs against her and the fabricated adultery accusations, you have to hope that she does win, almost.  She is, however, a protégé of Mark Sanford, the scandalous current governor of South Carolina.  He was a rising star in the national Republican party until he disappeared for a few days while having an affair with his Argentinean mistress.  Family values being a big deal for the largely Republican and Christian state of South Carolina, his career has been effectively rendered naught.

The rest of the ballot was uninteresting, most of the local government elections are uncontested seats for the Republicans.  There were however, four state constitutional amendments on the ballot.  I found the following most amusing:

Amendment 1

Must Article I of the Constitution of this State, relating to the declaration of rights under the state’s constitution, be amended by adding Section 25 so as to provide that hunting and fishing are valuable parts of the state’s heritage, important for conservation, and a protected means of managing nonthreatened wildlife; to provide that the citizens of South Carolina shall have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife traditionally pursued, subject to laws and regulations promoting sound wildlife conservation and management as prescribed by the General Assembly; and to specify that this section must not be construed to abrogate any private property rights, existing state laws or regulations, or the state’s sovereignty over its natural resources?

Explanation

A ‘Yes’ vote will make it a constitutional right for citizens to hunt and fish and will permit the State to legally provide for proper wildlife management and the protection of private property rights.

Only in South Carolina.  However, I must say that I am impressed with the number of different parties in South Carolina.  Besides the Democrats and Republicans, there is also the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, the Working Family Party, and a few more.  In Virginia I do not recall any parties except for the two big tribes of knuckleheads.  And I remember in North Carolina the ballots are designed so that you mainly have two parities–I remember because Ralph Nader could not get on the ballot back in 2004.  Perhaps my memory is not so good though.

So that is it for midterms 2010 in South Carolina.  I’m just looking forward it to all being over.  I watched the President on the Daily Show, and he didn’t really impress me.  I suppose we’re going to have to wait another generation before we get some decent health care reform.  In fact, regarding the appearance on the show, the only thing that stood out to me is that John Stewart addressed the President as “you” and “dude”.  What happened to “Mr. President”?  I suppose those days are long gone now…

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UK Election Map

The UK election earlier this month was quite interesting, it certainly kept me glued to the BBC news reports until Gordon Brown stepped down.  The Economist has a nice interactive map of the electoral results by seat.  I took a screen capture of it here just for reference:

map

Blue represents the Tories, red for New Labour, and tan/yellow for the Liberal Democrats.

I just find it fascinating that the majority of the votes for the Tories came from England.  There is a pocket of Labour support in Northern England and London, but look at all of that blue!  Wales seems to be split amongst three parties, and Scotland mostly goes to Labour and the Lib Dems.  Divisions like this along some sort of border like this remind me a lot of the coastal and Northern states in the US that tend to vote “blue” (Democrat) while the inner states and Southern states tend to go “red” (Republican).

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State of the Union Address

I just finished watching the State of Union Address to the Joint Sesssion of Congress.  I must say that it was nice to be able to pause the program while I put the little one in the bath and then get back to where I was–the extra money for the DVR is worth it.

So I watched the address on C-SPAN as there was no way I was going to watch it on CNN or some other news network with a bunch of talking-head pundits offering their opinions and pollution.  I never really paid attention to such these big political speeches in the past, but a lot happened this past year.  I never noticed how the congressmen and senators stand-up or remain seated due to how they feel about what the President says.

So some observations:

  • Obama came out strong and gave Congress the good public slap in the face it needed.
  • Obama is dreaming if he thinks this country can ever be a leading and export-driving nation in Green Energy.  Especially not when the Green Energy businesses currently in the US are looking to move to China to–wait for it–reduce manufacturing costs.
  • It was nice to see Obama address the budget issue, particularly, pointing out how much the budget deficit grew from 2000 (a surplus) to 2008 (huge hole).  He is unfairly blamed for much of the deficit by the Republican party, yet they didn’t vote it against the spending in 2000-2008.
  • I enjoyed watching the body language between Obama and Congressman John Boehner–I guess they both know they have a fight coming…
  • Three year spending freeze…yeah right!

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End of Suburbia?

The Economist and The Atlantic, my two favorite magazines–though one wishes to be called a newspaper–have published some very interesting articles on the housing crises in the US.  I thought I’d share them for anyone interested.

How the Crash Will Reshape America, by Richard Florida in the March 2009 issue of the Atlantic, describes how real estate and financials booms have created and leveled cities in North America since the Industrial Revolution.  The article argues for the reincarnation of New York, even though it is the home to American finance and the current recession.  The author argues that cities with one specialty are more likely to fail to make a come back after this recession, just like manufacturing towns in New England in the past.  It is a long article that covers the effects of globalization, labor movement, and regional industries.  It is an interesting read and I think it asks very important questions for all to think about, whether you live in the US or not.  Most likely these issues may also plague other countries too.  Japan is quite similar in this respect actually.

Labour Mobility: The Road Not Taken, from the Economist, analyzes the restrictions of home ownership from the mobility perspective.  The article argues that home ownership can often tie an employee to a certain region and employer, not allowing them to freely follow the labor markets as they move around a country or even the globe.  While owning a home can certainly tie one down, I had never really thought the health care aspect that the article raises:

The other threat to mobility is health insurance. A company can buy health insurance for its employees with pre-tax dollars; an individual can buy it only with after-tax dollars. So although soaring premiums are prompting many firms to drop or restrict coverage, most Americans still get their health insurance from their jobs.

Tying health care to a job can tie people to jobs they hate. Gerry Stover, who now runs a doctors’ group in West Virginia, recalls a time when his wife was pregnant and he couldn’t get health insurance at a private firm. He became a prison guard. As a public employee, his family was covered. But the job was neither pleasant nor a good use of his talents.

Imagine if you had a severe illness, or perhaps your child has a chronic illness.  If your current employer is the source of your health care plan, what happens if you voluntarily leave the employer for a better job with more pay or to improve your family’s future?  The health care provider at the next employer may not cover the existing condition, or they may require outrageous premiums to cover the condition.  I never really thought about this until now, having a baby opens your eyes to a lot of issues that you might not have thought about as a bachelor.

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Swine Flu!

Well, well, it appears the swine flu has spread to Hachioji. Tomorrow is my last day in Hachioji and I have plenty of time to get this little flu virus.  It’s slightly unnerving because I have an infant at home and I don’t want him to come down with a flu virus.  As for myself, it wouldn’t bother me that much as its quite treatable and I’d just be uncomfortable for a few days, but I’d probably be locked in a containment center and miss my flight home.  I don’t even want to think about that possibility, it would be my luck…

If you follow the Japanese media, you would think it is the end of the world, yet Canadian and US media rarely mention the swine flu any more–quite puzzling.  The other day I heard through he grapevine that the Ministry of Health warned that WHO level might reach level 6, which means no leaving or entering Japan.  I cannot believe they let some wanker get on TV and say that!  It would completely tank the Japanese economy even more than it already is, and I suspect that the WHO is not going to risk the fragile global economy for a flu virus that is not near as deadly as was once suspected.

I cannot really understand the fear, and I am getting suspicious it is being manufactured by the media.  The Ministry of health claims that because of the large population of seniors, they are concerned about any flu outbreak in dense urban areas.  However, as reported by the BBC, the swine flu seems to be affecting younger people and not the seniors.  I’ve been in Japan for five years now and I lived through both the SARS outbreak and the Avian flu virus.  During those outbreaks   no one really seemed to care about the viruses.  It was a “Chinese” problem apparently, and whenever avian flu was found they just culled the poultry farms.  For some reason though, this swine is to be feared at all costs!

The conspiracy theorist in me thought that the hype might be because a certain political body has to call elections by early Autumn, and that if they could keep the swine flu out of Japan then they would win some favor.  With the swine flu in Osaka and now Tokyo, I guess my fun idea is out the door. Guess its time to come up with a new idea…

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NYT: Nikkei Repatriation

The New York times is reporting on the Nikkei repatriation program finally.  I never thought I’d see the story in mainstream US media as the US is no shining star in the realm of immigration.

Largely removed from the PR-friendly city of Tokyo, in the prefectures surrounding Tokyo, such as Shizuoka and Gunma, there are large populations of citizens from Latin American countries with ancestry tied to Japan.  In better economic timers there were always puff pieces in the Japan Times regarding the multicultural spirit of the cities that these Nikkei immigrants share with their Japanese neighbors.  Of course in the Japanese language media the immigrants were never doing enough to fit in and causing too much crime.  Yet Japanese business owners and local government officials were happy to bring Nikkei immigrants to their city to work manual labor jobs in manufacturing and agriculture.  Some cities would have gone bankrupt without the influx of foreign laborers.

Alas, in bad economic times it does not look good to the public if the workers that government brought to Japan to fill the demand for manual labor are now collecting unemployment benefits. To get rid of this problem as quickly at possible–before elections perhaps–the government came up with a repatriation program that will pay a “severnce package” to the Nikkei immigrants and send them back to their home countries.  There is a major string attached, however, and it  is that the Nikkei immigrants must not seek employment in Japan again. Never again.

Let’s tune into Mr. Kawasaki from the ruling LDP party:

“Naturally, we don’t want those same people back in Japan after a couple of months,” Mr. Kawasaki said. “Japanese taxpayers would ask, ‘What kind of ridiculous policy is this?’ ”

Ah, Mr. Kawasaki, I agree with you somewhat–it does seem like a silly way to spend money.  However, I think you mean Japanese voters, not taxpayers.  After all, these Nikkei immigrants were also having payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks to help support the government and social welfare programs.   We could stop and accept Mr. Kawasaki’s answer as I suspect his loyal supporters probably do.  But we can also read that statement a little more subtley.  It would seem to me that when the economy gets moving again, the Ministry of Justice will once again issue new visas.  Perhaps next time they’ll follow the UAE model to prepure for the next bust?

Obviously this is a hard situation to be in for the Nikkei immigrants.  Some probably have children born in Japan, learning in Japanese schools, and probably know very little of their parent’s homeland.  Perhaps when the next economic boom comes along and Japan goes searching for ethnically compatible laborers overseas, the Nikkei are going to turn their backs.  For the Brazilian Nikkei, perhaps they are better off going back too–Brazil’s future looks quite bright in the 21st century.

“They put up with us as long as they needed the labor,” said Wellington Shibuya, who came six years ago and lost his job at a stove factory in October. “But now that the economy is bad, they throw us a bit of cash and say goodbye.”

He recently applied for the government repatriation aid and is set to leave in June.

“We worked hard; we tried to fit in. Yet they’re so quick to kick us out,” he said. “I’m happy to leave a country like this.”

Ouch.

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Economic stimulus has arrived

It’s getting quite hot these days, it feels like mid-May and I wonder what happened to Spring.  In direct sunlight the heat is intense, though I do admit that in the shade the weather is just right.  Speaking of heat, the hotly debated economic stimulus package is being implemented all around Japan now.  It should be interesting to see how this turns out in a few months from now.

Rather than adopting a voucher system like in Taiwan and China where retailers and merchants accept the voucher as legal tender, Japan has decided to use regular currency via direct-deposit to savings accounts.  Each adult gets 12000 yen, roughly US $120 at current rates, and each child or senior citizen is eligible for 20000 yen, roughly US $200.  Critics of the plan quickly recognized that most people in Japan will keep the direct-deposited money in their bank accounts and not spend it.  Television interviews feature retirees expressing their concern over the rising cost of health care and uncertainty over the future of the economy.  They sit on hundreds of thousands of yen in savings and the uncertainly causes them to sit on their cash rather than spending it more freely in the economy.

I received the application form for my 12000 yen payment yesterday.  If I had received a voucher, I might be tempted to use it along with some of my savings to purchase a new suit or a new gadget.  However, when I withdraw it from my savings account via the ATM, it comes out as regular cash, and psychologically it is hard to view it as an economic stimulus.  It looks and feels like that hard-earned money I receive for working at my day job.  I do actually plan to use my stimulus money to buy a new suit, but if I didn’t need a new suit I wouldn’t be spending it on anything else.  I suspect this is the attitude is not uncommon.

Last year I received an “ecnomic stimulus” from the US government in the form of a tax rebate.  They mailed me a check for US $200, and I deposited in my bank account and it sits there today.  Even if I had been in the US, I would have probably saved it.  I cannot understand why governments like that of the US and Japan think that paying with currency is a good way to get consumers to spend money.  Vouchers force spending, whereas currency leaves the option for saving on the table.  I suppose one could argue that it costs money to print up and distribute vouchers rather than simply depositing curency into an account.  To that I would say that the government is directly stimulating industries:  printing, distribution, logistics and transport.  Perhaps even more.

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