June 29, 2009

A Yellow Card for a Coup d'Etat

YESTERDAY'S golpe del estado in Honduras was a rather strange coup d'etat -- if only because it was executed almost perfectly. Within the space of a day, the Hondurans managed to exile their proto-caudillo, Señor Manuel Zelaya; installed a new leader under the conventions of their Constitution; got the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress to agree the measures were perfectly fine; and agreed that a national unity Government would run things until elections could be held. These elections, mind you, would be the regularly scheduled elections due to be held in five months' time. Even more amazingly, the Hondurans managed to pull the thing off with almost no bloodshed.

It is thus no surprise the American Government, which for the past 50 years has almost universally screwed up handling Latin American affairs, would find this a bad thing. Once again, the foreign policy dunces in Washington are falling into the same trap in which their predecessors were ensnared; and once again, Washington will completely blow a fantastic opportunity to turn things in our direction.

Let us not forget that, back in 2002, we had a perfect opportunity to rid ourselves of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez when a revolt broke out there. What did we do? We did nothing, and said it was a bad thing Chavez -- that stupid, cruel strongman who has since ground his country into the dust -- was removed from power. Two days later, the coup collapsed and we've been stuck with him ever since. One would hope we wouldn't be dumb enough to not capitalize on a similar situation in Honduras. Yet instead of just issuing a polite statement of concern and leaving it at that, we have condemned the action and our ambassador to Honduras has declared the United States will only recognize Sr Zelaya as president.

Great. Wonderful.

It is worth noting just why Sr Zelaya was thrown out. It seems Sr Zelaya did not like the idea he would have to leave the Honduran presidency, and decided he wanted a referendum on whether he could run again for the office. The Honduran Supreme Court forbade him from doing so. The Congress was furious at the idea. The military, which has a large administrative role in Honduran elections, refused to help. Yet Sr Zelaya did not desist. He ordered the military to assist; when it did not, he fired its chief. He then tried to run roughshod over Honduras' institutions to bring the illegal plebiscite about. Honduras, for its part, got sick of it. And I'm sorry, but when the Supreme Court, the Congress and the military all combine to get rid of the President, the checks and balances equation works. For more on this, see Mary Anastasia O'Grady's essay in today's Wall Street Journal.

It is also worth noting how the usual suspects have reacted. The Cuban Government declared the coup "brutal" and "criminal." (That's the pot calling the kettle black). The Nicaraguan Government was similarly displeased, as were the useless and wretched Governments of Bolivia and Ecuador. Last -- but certainly not least -- Colonel Chavez himself has reacted furiously to the news. Apparently, Col Chavez is so upset that he has mobilized the Venezuelan military (yawn) and threatened to bring down the new Government.

It is true the Hondurans have given these Governments some reason to complain. Apparently, some of the Honduran soldiers who engaged in the coup d'etat chastised the Nicaraguan, Cuban and Venezuelan ambassadors in the process of removing Sr Zelaya. Although one could theoretically argue the envoys of those three nations perhaps deserved it on general principle grounds -- being the point men for their countries' machinations -- it is very much poor form to subject diplomats to such physical manhandling. It should not have been done, and was reprehensible. So that's definitely deserving of a yellow card.

But only a yellow card, in my mind. So far, we've not heard of the Honduran military machine-gunning protestors, nor have we heard of them liquidating its political opponents en masse. Even Sr Zelaya was allowed to keep his head. Thus far, at any rate, the military and other Honduran leaders have handled the coup about as well as could be expected. True, that may change, but until it does, one cannot fault them for going overboard. Particularly when the coup plotters do have a considerable measure of public support for their action.

Also, it's worth noting the Hondurans do not especially care what the rest of the world thinks, and have decided the best defense is a good offense. Already the Honduran Congress has been telling the U.S. to -- well, go jump in a lake -- and President Roberto Micheletti has been making the case that the transition was perfectly legal. One would hope the U.S. would eventually see the wisdom of this, and at least offer its private support to the new Government while explaining it must do other things for public consumption.

As a general rule, coups d'etat are not the ideal way to bring about positive change, but in this situation I can't fault the Hondurans for throwing Sr Zelaya out. In recent weeks it became clear he was plotting to usurp the powers held by the nation's institutions and seize them for his own benefit. Removing him from office and exiling him will thus maintain Honduras' democratic traditions, and God willing, save it from going the way of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Accordingly, The Rant hopes President Micheletti will steer Honduras through these rough waters with a calm hand and judicious restraint, and puts the country on a fast track back to normality.

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June 17, 2009

Just Another Day in Los Angeles

IF YOU THINK this is weird -- well, just go down to Venice Beach, that's all I'm saying.

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A Refreshing Call for Openness, But ...

SO TODAY I chanced across a column from Will Bunch, a senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, in which he chides the Washington media for their inept war coverage prior to our invasion of Iraq. Since even the most ardent booster of the operation would have to admit things in Iraq have been problematic, Mr Bunch asks why not enough work was done to examine the policy aspects of the war beforehand.

But he really hits home when he accused the Washington media of being self-serving -- downright venal, really -- in their coverage. Mr Bunch, who here is citing the work of journalist Michael Hastings, writes:

But Hastings focuses on the reason that I find the most chilling: That Beltway journalists felt that staying with "the pack" -- avoiding what would be a contrarian, and thus uncool (my word) position -- was the safest way to climb the well-paying and prestigious career ladder ...

... Hastings correctly notes that there is safety in the pack, that journaliists who got it wrong had the comfort of knowing that so did everyone else -- and that you could always change your position with everyone else as events on the ground changed. The real-world consequences of being wrong...well, those were 11,000 miles away.

This is a well-considered point. With any given issue, there are at least two sides to consider, and when the issues are important matters related to them deserve heavy scrutiny. When we're dealing with a war -- a matter of the gravest importance -- the scrutiny should, if at all possible, be ultimate. Personally, I would not criticize the Washington media as much as Mr Bunch does, if only because journalists must rely on their sources; and if all one's sources are saying X even when one tries desperately to find someone to say Y, there's only so much one can do. Resources are not infinite; time is not infinite; even if one does one's best to look at an issue, things can still go awry.

Still, as I said, it's a fair point Mr Bunch made. Which leads me to my next question: had things been exactly reversed, would Mr Bunch have written such a stirring column?

Let's say, just for kicks, that back in 2003 the press believed the war would be an absolute disaster and we were entering into a ruinous quagmire. Let's further say that, in this alternate universe, the war was a complete success. Not only were we welcomed as liberators, Iraq soon became stable and prosperous and free, and everyone there got along, and the birds flew and the angels sighed. Would Mr Bunch ask why the press screwed up so badly in its initial assessment?

I'm just wondering, because if you ask me, there's a bit of a herd mentality when it comes to how a lot of things are covered these days. Global warming, the housing market, the economy, you name it -- there's often not much difference out there.

Why, I would venture to guess 80 percent of journalists thought, in 2006, the housing market would never relinquish its gains; that on March 6 of this year, 90 percent believed we were headed for financial Armageddon; and that 95 percent now believe global warming is not only certain, but is such a crisis that it requires spending hundreds of billions of dollars to try and stop it.

Were I a cynic -- and I am most certainly not -- I might even suggest that Mr Bunch benefits now from this herd mentality, as certainly no one popular thinks our endeavor in Iraq is going well, and it's a lot easier to castigate others when one has the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Now, it may be Mr Bunch has been right all along, and railed against the effort prior to it being a gleam in Rumsfeld's eye; I am not familiar enough with his work to know. But if that's not the case, then I have to ask -- where was this column six years ago?

But I don't mean to take away from his main point. A journalist has to keep his eye on the truth, whether he likes it or not. I just hope this spirit of open-mindedness and intellectual rigor carries through to coverage of everything else.

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June 11, 2009

Report: Consultants to Blame for Venezuela-Coke Fiasco

Financial Rant

Venezuela Bans Coke Zero,
Citing Health Concerns

Calls for Invasion Grow
A "Rare Win" for Embattled
Brand Managers

CARACAS -- The Venezuelan Government yesterday banned the sale and distribution of Coke Zero, citing health concerns about the popular zero-calorie drink, in a move expected to cause "considerable distress" to the drink's bottler, Coca-Cola FEMSA SA de CV, and the Venezuelan people.

Health Minister Jesus Mantilla announced the move through the government's news agency.

It's unclear what led the Venezuelan Government to ban Coke Zero. Oddly, however, some observers in the South American nation are casting blame towards Coke brand managers Irwin Cholmondeley and Edward "Ned" Callahan. Those in the capital say Messrs Cholmondeley and Callahan appeared on President Hugo Chavez's popular television show, "Alo Presidente!" and encouraged the Venezuelan leader to take swift action against Coke Zero.

"Yes, I remember it," said Caracas bricklayer Hernan Martinez, as he was headed to work yesterday morning. "It was during the 27th hour of Chavez's marathon session last week. These two guys came on and started going on about infraccion del gusto and capitalismo imprudente. Then, when I went into the corner shop this morning, these men from the distributor were taking the Coke Zero away."

"Also, they took away the beer," Martinez said. "Something about -- how do you say it? -- 'taking back the High Life.' "

ALO PRESIDENTE! A video still from state-owned Corp. Venezolana de Televisión shows Messrs Cholmondeley (left) and Callahan elaborating on the "fundamental, capitalist evil known as Coke Zero" during President Hugo Chavez's weekly television program. President Chavez was reportedly quite alarmed to hear about how Coke Zero had created poor health among those exposed to it. Symptoms, according to Messrs Chomondeley and Callahan, included "anxiety, disturbed sleep, minor instances of paranoia, and concern over how certain people would pay their mortgages."

A clip of the show also shows Mr Callahan complaining of sore ribs and neck pain, which reportedly resulted from being tackled by a Coke Zero-crazed Troy Polamalu.

Reaction to the Government's move has been swift and strong in some quarters. Edison Paez, a Maracaibo storekeeper, complained the Government was robbing him of considerable profit.

"What the hell?" Paez said. "First they nationalize the staple good producers, and now they're forbidding honest Venezuelans from drinking Coke Zero -- a beverage, I might add, that was one of the few profitable things I could sell after the Government imposed price controls. Now what am I supposed to sell? Frescolita? The stuff tastes like bubble gum, for God's sake."

"If this keeps up, my store's going to have less stock than a Russian department store in 1985," Paez said.

However, not everyone was opposed to the move. Irina Tucupita, a hospital nurse, said she understood why the Government acted as it did.

"Those poor men. I saw them on the broadcast, and clearly this Coke Zero drove them entirely insane," Tucupita said. "So I can see why the Government decided to ban it."

WARNINGS: The Government has posted signs like these in major cities to spread word of the ban.

In the United States, observers said they thought the Venezuelan Government's move would have "minimal impact" on Coke Zero as a brand, but agreed it was "a rare win" for Messrs Cholmondeley and Callahan.

"These guys have been getting their asses kicked from Anchorage to Kuala Lumpur," said soda industry analyst Mark Piotrowski, of High Water Mark Brokerage LLC in New York. "Although this victory is a small one for them, it is a victory nonetheless, and as such it must be appealing."

When asked if rival PepsiCo Inc. could gain market share from the dispute, Piotrowski said, "I don't understand."

But opposition to the move is growing in Washington. A mid-level State Department official warned that, although Venezuela "really wasn't on our radar screen," other elements could take swift action to deal with the situation.

"We've got enough problems on our plate without worrying about how Chavez is going to further destroy his country's economy," the official said. "But it's not us he has to worry about. For one thing, taking any carbonated beverage product away from regular citizens will cause considerable societal discontent. For another, he doesn't seem to realize who he's dealing with. I mean, he's going to have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company."

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June 09, 2009

The Most Dangerous Game

TWENTY THREE PERCENT. That's how much the workers affiliated with the Boston Newspaper Guild will have their pay cut, now that they've rejected a proposal from The New York Times Co. to cut their wages, implement furloughs, cut their benefits and make other changes to their contract. If there's one word that sums up the reaction from my colleagues in the newspaper business, it is: "Wow" -- and for a variety of reasons!

But after looking into it, I can't say the result surprises me all that much.

For one thing, Guild members were essentially asked to pick their poison during the most recent round of negotiations. A 23 pc wage cut, although stunning on its face, may for many members be preferable to the entire package presented them, which involved an 8.3 pc cut in wages, five days of unpaid time off, and changes to health and pension benefits. Add everything together in that proposal, and it doesn't take much to see the cuts inherent in that would also be dire.

As it happens, you can run the numbers and see for yourself, thanks to the Boston Newspaper Guild's handy calculator. In my case, I used the Guild's top-scale for a reporter at the Globe, which is $1,387.15 a week, or roughly $72,133 per annum. Losing 23 pc of that works out to an annual cash loss of $16,590. But when you add in all the benefit changes the New York Times had proposed, the annual cash loss was still $15,639 for a worker with a family!

Among those changes was a proposed pension freeze -- and it's no wonder many members said no, given the math. A pension freeze is a killer, as anyone who benefits from such a plan knows. The reason, of course, has to do with the eventual payout. As the Guild's calculator showed, a freeze would over time cost each worker well into the six figures. Using my example above, a worker with ten years in the plan would have his benefit frozen at about $1,100 a month. With a maximum payout of about $3,300 if the worker made it to 30 years, that works out to leaving $2,200 a month on the table. Over 20 years, that's roughly $529,000.

Yes, that's right. $529,000.

Also, for those wags wondering how much said worker could get if he got a 100 pc cut in his wages, think about how long it might take to get to that point. If the worker survives just one more year, he increases his monthly pension benefit by about $110 a month. Over 20 years, that's $26,400. So if you figure the ship's going to sink anyway, and you're going to sink along with it (or get thrown overboard prior to hitting the iceberg), voting to accept the Globe's plan makes even less sense. If I was in the Globe's unit, I'd take the pay cut and find a way to make it work.

So after looking at it, I can't say I would blame anyone in the Boston Guild for voting one way or the other on the contract proposal. I only hope the Boston local can convince its members of that -- because the margin of the vote was so close: 277-265. (Wow).

I mean, I've been involved in similar situations, in which everyone argues passionately about how to vote on a contract proposal. But in the arguments I've been involved in, the argument has usually been a way for everyone to let off steam. Then, when the vote comes in, it's usually something like 123-3 one way or the other. This vote was so close, and the stakes were so high, that it has the potential to make for a lot of angry members. I do hope, however, that's not the case in Boston.

So, to sum up for all of you wondering why the Guild voted the way it did, think of it this way. Basically, the Guild's members had a choice. They could get their crap sandwich on a sub roll or a trendy flatbread.

Of course, the real question remains unanswered -- just what will come down the pike.

Supposedly, the Globe lost $50 million last year and was on track to lose $85 million this year prior to the cuts, according to the Times. But I'd love a bit more elaboration from the company about this. Certainly, in looking through the Times' financial reports, there's no real breakout just for the Globe itself -- most of its results are reported on a consolidated basis among all of its newspaper operations. Go look for yourself if you don't believe me.

That said, there's no denying the Times' overall financial picture has worsened -- and to my mind, is actually pretty dire. Consider the following comparison of key statistics from the Times' '08 annual report:

Goodwill: $661.2m
Stockholders' equity: $504.0m

Now consider the reasonable reaction to this news:

BUTTHEAD: "He said goodwill." Uh huh huh huh huh huh!
BEAVIS: Yeah! Heh heh hrmmm heh heh! Goodwill sucks!

This basically explains, to my mind, why the New York Times won't close the Globe anytime soon. After all, how much of that goodwill -- an accounting term to describe the premium inherent in overpaying for an asset in order to acquire it -- is wrapped up in the Boston Globe, for which the Times paid $1.1 billion back in the day? I'm guessing it's still rather a lot, despite recent impairments. Plus, if the Times suddenly had to close the Globe, how much would the Times have to writedown or expense as a result -- not just in terms of goodwill, but in PP&E, severance costs, and so on? It's not like they can just close the place and have done with it.

Also, what's interesting in the Times' reports is that stockholder equity is a key metric for evaluating the various loans extended to it. That's not an issue now because of how those metrics are calculated -- for one of its big loans, the Times had about $568m in breathing room at the end of the first quarter. But again, if the Times suddenly decided the Globe had to go, just how much breathing room would the Times have after all was said and done?

Oh, and what happens if things get worse? In 2011, the Times will have one of its revolving credit lines -- which now has $287 million outstanding in borrowings and letters of credit -- expire. Unless everybody gets well really soon, I can't believe their lenders would keep the terms as generous as they are now. Already, the Times' debt is below investment-grade. Oh, and remember that big $250 million loan from Carlos Slim Helu? It's got an effective interest rate of 17 percent -- and a whole bunch of covenants that restrict the company's capacity to take on additional debt. (They also prove Mr Slim is a financial genius, but that's neither here nor there).

So if you ask me, what the Times really could use right now is cash.

There are three ways to get cash. First, you can borrow it, but the Times probably would like to avoid that. Second, you can earn more and stop spending as much of it, which the Times is naturally trying to do. Lastly, you can sell assets to raise it. If you ask me, Door Number Three is probably becoming more palatable all the time to the suits in New York. As with all companies, they know full well their lenders will have no compunction about slamming them to the wall if the lenders think it will serve their interests.

And the Times has plenty of things it can sell. Like a roughly one-sixth stake in the Boston Red Sox, for instance. It could sell some of its papers elsewhere in the country, of which it has 15 or so. It could even sell the Globe itself -- and I'd be stunned if the Times wasn't actively considering just how to do that. Besides, think of the savings on aspirin alone. Could be in the millions.

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June 03, 2009

NHL Announces Rule Changes

FOR THE RECORD ... I think these could work.

NHL Tries To Woo Fans By Increasing Scoring With Bigger Nets, 3-Point Line

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When Job Interviews Get ... Interesting

AS A JOBSEEKER, I was rather stunned at reading this great story in the Wall Street Journal about the lengths to which certain companies will go when it comes to interviewing prospective employees. The more novel tactics reportedly include:

-- requiring a prospective employee to provide 12 references
-- requiring applicants to bring their own lunch -- and three years' worth of W-2 statements
-- having prospective employees pitch other applicants as best for the job
-- performing a play with other applicants ... on the side of a highway.
-- asking inappropriate questions, such as how an applicant would react to the boss's gay son making a pass at them during an office Christmas party.

What, exactly, are these companies thinking? If you don't treat people with respect when you're in the process of hiring them, how do you expect them to treat your business? Let's say a company, XYZ Widget Corp., hired five people after subjecting them to a particularly cruel interview process, and interviewed a total of 50 applicants during that time frame. What would happen?

Well, at the very least, you can be sure the 45 people who didn't get the jobs would complain in most unflattering terms about XYZ Widget -- and to pretty much everyone with whom they came into contact. There's an old theory that says the number of people who know any given secret is the square of the number who have been told about it. So if that held in this case, you'd have 2,025 people who weren't all that fond of XYZ Widget Corp. Arguably, that could be broken down into the following subgroups:

* The 45 rejected applicants, who now hate the company and have secretly vowed revenge on its operation.
* The friends and family members who know the applicants well -- we'll call this number one-quarter of the remainder, or 495 people -- who now find the company appalling and make a point of studiously avoiding its products and services.
* The remaining three-quarters of the pool, totaling 1,485 people, who will remember the applicants' stories and make a point of discreetly avoiding doing business with XYZ Widget, much less apply for a job there.

Now, let's take the five people XYZ Widget actually did hire. It could be they end up loving their jobs, and become valued, productive employees. But it's a fair bet to say that XYZ Widget might not be the best place to work, based on its interview practices. Accordingly, two or three of the employees might jump ship once the economy improved. The fourth might end up performing at marginal capacity -- good enough to keep on, but not good enough to really sparkle or shine, which is ideally what you want from an employee. As for the fifth employee, well, he's probably a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Besides, what happens when the economy turns around? XYZ Widget's reputation -- which will stay with it -- will undoubtedly hinder its attempts to find qualified applicants when the available labor pool is small. That will accordingly mean lost opportunities in future for the company -- especially if applicants XYZ would have wanted for its team join the competition.

Now, this is not to say there aren't places for being tough during the interviewing process. Speaking personally, I don't mind a good challenge and would take a tough line of questioning as a chance to give as good as I got. But if faced with some of these questions, I would be inclined to ask some of my own. Like, "Are you well?"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Untold Story of the U.S.-China Financial Summit

Financial Rant

BEIJING -- U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and their respective subordinates engaged Tuesday in a financial summit between the world’s two economic superpowers, engaged in a “testy but ultimately useful discussion” during the talks, according to sources.

Despite the unusually frank nature of the back-and-forth, both sides agreed they had reached a consensus on the situation facing the two countries – namely, that the U.S. and China are completely and utterly stuck on their current course of action, whether they like it or not. A transcript of the exchange, which the Financial Rant obtained at great risk to its sources, makes this clear. The transcript follows:


SECRETARY GEITHNER: That was a fun question and answer session with the kids at Peking University, Mr Vice Premier. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed being laughed at by a bunch of coddled Commie punks.
VICE PREMIER WANG: We are striving to achieve the openness you have in your own universities, Mr Secretary. We appreciate your patience with the students and trust they enjoyed the experience.
SEC GEITHNER: They certainly did enjoy it! That’s the problem. I’d be fine if a few of them enjoyed the experience of a re-education camp, that’s all I’m saying. I get enough of this crap back home.
VP WANG: You are right, of course, in that backbreaking agricultural labor often re-energizes the mind after strenuous months of studying. But we have many things to discuss.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SMITH: Which reminds me -- you got any of those barbecued pork bun thingies? Those rule.

(General agreement among American delegation).

ASSISTANT VICE PREMIER YU: Yeah, we just ordered some.

(A break for char siu bau ensues).

SEC GEITHNER: Now, where were we? Oh, right. Yeah. Now, look. You know our credit’s good, right? AAA rating from Standard and Poors? The world’s largest economy and all that? A GDP of $13 trillion?
VP WANG: Uh, you owe us $768 billion.
SEC GEITHNER: Right! So a few more billion here and there won’t really make much difference.
VP WANG: Well, no, but look, this is kind of getting out of hand. Besides, it’s not like we can just foreclose on California if you decide some day that you won’t pay us.
SEC GEITHNER: Which reminds me – how would you like Guam?
SEC GEITHNER: Sure, why not? I mean, what are we doing with it? None of us here has ever been to Guam, and none of us ever will. You could use it as, I don’t know, a base for shipping lanes or something. It’d be a steal at $75 billion.
VP WANG: For that kind of money, we could buy Hawaii!
SEC GEITHNER: Oh. Well, yeah, but think of the prestige value of buying Guam. It’d be kind of like when we bought the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico.
VP WANG: No it wouldn’t! It’s Guam!
SEC GEITHNER: How about the Aleutians?
SEC GEITHNER: Well, just keep it in mind. Anyway, as I said today at the University, we’re committed to keeping a strong dollar, and –
VP WANG: (snaps at Geithner in Chinese)
SEC GEITHNER: (pauses; looks at translator)
TRANSLATOR: Uh … the vice-premier said he is certainly glad to hear of your commitment to your wise and well-considered strong dollar policy.
SEC GEITHNER: That’s not what he said.
SEC GEITHNER: Come on, what did he say?
VP WANG: “Bitch, please.” That’s what I said! You owe us $768 billion! And we all know you’re going to stealthily inflate its value away to nothing! Then where are we going to be? We’re going to have $768 billion worth of fancy covered toilet paper!
ASST. VP YU: And what the hell are we doing meeting here, anyway? I mean, here we have 768 billion of your dollars, and we can’t even go down to McDonald’s and get a hamburger. We should be meeting some place cool, like San Diego!

(General agreement among Chinese delegation).

ASST. VP YU: I mean, that would rule. Or Las Vegas. Can you imagine how cool it would be if we got to go to Las Vegas with like $100 billion? That would kick ass.
CHINESE DELEGATE: We always meet here! I wanted to visit Graceland!
SEC GEITHNER: You invited us!
VP WANG: Yes, because it was polite! But you were supposed to say you were busy and then invite us there for a rain check! Honestly, do you know nothing about how things work?
SEC GEITHNER: Oh, so now we’re supposed to read your minds. I see.
VP WANG: God, you’re worse than the French.
SEC GEITHNER: OK, so let’s talk for a bit. Let’s say we did go a bit crazy with the whole “creating money out of thin air” thing. So if we did that, wouldn’t that cause the yuan to eventually appreciate against the dollar?
VP WANG: Well, yeah, but not by much, because we’re not going to –
SEC GEITHNER: Work with me here. Now, I know that you know that I know that you’re manipulating your currency to keep it artificially cheap, and you do that by … oh, buying dollars. Isn’t that right? I mean, we’re cool with that, but doesn’t the stability of your economy depend on strong growth and job creation?
VP WANG: Well, we’re working on –
SEC GEITHNER: I mean, I forgot, how many of your citizens are living in impoverished rural areas? Oh, that’s right, 800 million or so?
VP WANG: That’s not relevant to our …
SEC GEITHNER: Aren’t most of those 800 million people really angry?
VP WANG: They’re not angry! They’re just ... well, slightly upset.
SEC GEITHNER: Well, guess how angry they would be if their friends and family members in the industrialized east all lost their jobs because Chinese goods would become super expensive to foreigners, and all the multinationals went elsewhere for their manufacturing needs? I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
VP WANG: Please. Where are the multinationals going to go? North Korea? Good luck with that. They’d get halfway through a production shift and everyone would have to go study the Wise and Glorious Revolutionary Principles of Great General Kim Jong-il, Steward of the Juche Idea.
SEC GEITHNER: They do that on their own time. There’s no overtime in North Korea!
VP WANG: Well, you’re still full of –
SEC GEITHNER: No, I’m not! You know full well what would happen if you stopped buying our Treasuries. Do you want 100 million angry people marching on the capital demanding work?


VP WANG: You know, we could use a few passenger jets.
SEC GEITHNER: How about Yellowstone?

In related news, the People’s Daily newspaper announced today that 43 students who attended Secretary Geithner’s lecture have been volunteered to pursue extended studies at Harmonious Agricultural Labor Camp No. 19 in Xinjiang province.

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June 01, 2009

Today's "Alex" Cartoon Nails It

TODAY'S VERSION of "Alex" -- the long-running cartoon in The Telegraph which looks at financial markets -- pretty much nails the reasons behind the sudden rash of pessimism we're seeing about the markets' future.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An Editor's Pick in This Week's Carnival of Personal Finance

I ABOUT FELL off my chair this morning when I logged on to this week's Carnival of Personal Finance and found I was not only an editor's pick, but the first-listed entry in the entire carnival -- which gets more than 100 submissions each week from a variety of talented writers. That's pretty damn cool, and I offer my sincere thanks to this week's host, "Funny About Money," which gave me a nice plug for my post below -- and which the host declared "too, too good!"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack