Monday, January 13, 2014

Why are Americans such Assholes: Part IV

I don't know what it is about southerners, guns, and their inability to conduct themselves in a civil manner in public spaces, but once again I am forced to ask a simple, yet seemingly inexplicable, question: why are Americans such assholes?

Let's turn our attention to the rock star of dipshits; Florida.  Today, a retired police officer, not some greasy convict that just fell out of a state prison, but a former officer of the peace, decided he didn't like his fellow citizens texting activities in a movie theater, so he killed them.

Local News stated
Curtis Reeves Jr., 71, was charged with second-degree homicide in the death of Chad Oulson, 43, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said late Monday afternoon. The theater was evacuated and remained closed after the shooting, which occurred about 1:20 p.m. ET.

Oulson was shot in the chest after a verbal and physical confrontation with Reeves, and his wife, Nichole Oulson, was shot in the hand. Chad Oulson was pronounced dead at a hospital, and his wife was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

I cede the point that the activity of others talking/ texting/ flashing her tits (although given that this is America there is an equal probability that man-boobs could have been involved) during the commercials prior to an actual movie is an affront to civilized cinema watching behavior.  I also know Florida has the death penalty and more so, that if you are a person of color, a member of a distinct ethnic or social minority, your death is just a routine statistic in America's infatuation with homicide.  However, the attempted murder of two innocent person over such issues is beyond comprehension.

Why are you bringing a loaded gun to a movie Deputy Dog?  Do you think someone is going to steal your popcorn?

Why are you arguing with people at a movie during a matinee?  Could you have used the lesser lethal action of simply moving to another set of seats?

The United States of Honey Boo Boo is a wasteland of semi-literate, small dicked retards, too juvenile to control their emotions and too stupid to realize what detestable human beings they and their nation have become.

Other fine installments to this worthy anthropological collection are:

Part 1 - Murdering a bicyclist and then leaving the scene of the murder to go to a party
Part 2 - Advertising hate after the attempted murder of a congresswoman and civilians
Part 3 - Florida Man attacks random tourists, because they look like potential terrorists

Friday, June 28, 2013

Charlie Rose interviews Guardian editors Alan Rusbridger & Janine Gibson

The methodology pursued by the mainstream American press on the matter of the NSA's global data mining operations has been to question the nature, psychology, and patriotism of  Edward Snowden, the leaker. Understandably, rather than discussing an abstract, unconstitutional and criminal operation that has Orwellian dynamics, those who manufacture consent would much rather the public consider irrelevant personal trivia. Similarly, reports in the American press about Julian Assange/WikiLeaks and Pvt. Bradley Manning typically have misidentified the actual topic at hand; that being deliberate government lies and state criminality conducted against their own citizens and foreigners.  So instead of zeroing in on the copious deceptions of the state, we are left with banal inquiries into the legitimacy of the data breaches.

The interview above with the Guardian's Alan Rusbridger and Janine Gibson is an example of this infuriating process.  While I think Charlie Rose has produced some wonderful and thoughtful interviews on many subjects, his line of inquiry into the motivation of Mr. Snowden belies deference to state propaganda.  The Guardian editors clearly articulate that there has been no evidence by either the US government or any other sources that these leaks have been harmful to anyone or the US government.

Is it really too much to have television journalists ask questions like:
  • Why has this program been running, when the public clearly said it was unacceptable back in the middle of the decade of the zeroes?
  • Why are members of the US Congress so woefully ignorant of the scope of these programs?
  • What penalties shall be administered upon those members of the military and government, who have been lying to the public about these programs?
  • Under what authority does the US government have in stealing all the private and personnel data of non-citizens not located within the United States? 
  • Why does the US government continually prevent these programs from being adjudicated and subject to constitutional review, if they deem them truly legal?
  • Why doesn't the press call those in government who lie to the public and engage in illegal behavior traitors?
  • Why are private corporations used to such an extent in gathering and processing clandestine information?
  • Why does the current US government engage in prosecuting and penalizing whistleblowers to the extent that they do?
As others have said on this matter, the only reason a universal monitoring program is in place is that the state believes its true enemy is its own citizens.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A rebuttal to China crashing soon

Minxei Pei writes an interesting article in The Diplomat titled "China's Economy: Seizure or Cancer".

In it he outlines a number of the obvious features that have been discussed on this blog about China's overall economy.  He dissects the current situation and asks whether there will be an immediate heart attack that hobbles the beast or a systemic cancer that eventually kills it.

He refers to a "heart attack" scenario where a cascade of events, precipitated by a slowdown and excess debt, cripples China.  In his perspective China's communists will force the banks to defer losses and provide a backstop to prevent further contagion.  He states:
But China is different. Because the banking system is effectively owned and controlled by the state, a banking crisis won’t materialize unless the state itself is insolvent and Chinese depositors have completely lost confidence in the state’s sovereign guarantee of its banks. This unique character of the China’s state-owned financial system is the cause of the country’s inability to allocate capital efficiently. However, in the short term, this structural flaw may turn out to be an asset in averting a seizure of the financial system.
As in the global meltdown of 2008 and earlier banking system upsets in China, this approach has worked.

On a second level, if the economy doesn't crash immediately over the course of the next several months, the author perceives a potential "cancer" in the nature of the communist-capitalist hybrid.
Despite the threat of a seizure in the near term, the greater danger to the Chinese economy is its structural inefficiency, which is deeply imbedded in a state-led development model...

The investments made by the Chinese state may have given the Communist Party a lot of prestige (think of the country’s modern infrastructure and ambitious high-tech plans), but delivers preciously few real benefits to its people. Chinese state-owned enterprises have thrived because of their access to practically free capital, but their efficiency remains abysmal compared with domestic private firms or their Western rivals.
No country can keep pouring unlimited amounts of capital into unproductive infrastructure projects. China doesn't have the ability to keep blowing this current bubble and then dismissing colossal financial losses when the bills come due.  With Europe sinking into recession, America limping along, and much of the emerging market turning negative, there is little reason to believe they can pull the same rabbit out of the hat again.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

America's strange obsession with criminalizing abortion

A rather strange event has occurred in Indiana.  A severely unstable and pregnant woman attempted to commit suicide.  She survived, but her child died because of her actions.  Neither suicide nor abortion is illegal in the state of Indiana or in the USA; however, shortly after the incident, a state prosecutor charged the woman with murdering her fetus and attempted feticide.

The Guardian UK newspaper elaborates:
On 23 December 2010 Shuai became so depressed after she had been abandoned by her boyfriend – a married Chinese man who broke his promise to set up a family with her – that she decided to end her life. She consumed rat poison, and after confessing to friends was rushed to the Methodist hospital.

Doctors took steps to save her, but on 31 December there were signs that the baby, then at 33 weeks gestation, was in distress and a Caesarian was performed. On the second day of Angel's life the baby was found to have a massive brain hemorrhage and on 2 January was taken off life support.
Many countries in the world criminalize abortion.  Most Latin American countries routinely prosecute and incarcerate women who undergo treatment and doctors who perform abortions.  The moral argument is that a fetus is a person and subject to the same rights as an actual person.  However, by that same logic there is always two people involved in the gestation process: the mother and the child.  In the above case, we have a mentally unstable women who attempts to commit suicide and a child who was born prematurely but dies soon afterwards, because of the mother's actions.  The fetus was 32-weeks old when Shuai attempted suicide.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the woman's lawyers unsuccessfully attempted to have the charges overturned on the following basis.
Defense attorneys argued in court documents filed March 9 that prosecuting a woman based on the outcome of her pregnancy violates constitutional rights to due process and equal treatment and is cruel and unusual punishment.
Women's rights and legal groups have intervened in the case:
Several medical and women's rights groups, including the National Organization for Women and the National Alliance for Mental Illness, have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Shuai, claiming that prosecuting Shuai could set a precedent under which pregnant women could be prosecuted for smoking or other behavior that might deemed a danger to their fetus. They said that could discourage women from seeking prenatal care.
The prosecution claims that they are only following the law and the three-judge appeals court stated that "Shuai had not proven that common-law immunity exists for pregnant women who harm their own fetuses".  So what does this really mean?

In America's southern and conservative states there has been an outbreak of prosecutions against mothers.  Rennie Gibbs of Mississippi was accused of murdering her unborn child.
Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby's death – they charged her with the "depraved-heart murder" of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.
In Alabama, Amanda Kimbrough a mother of three was was arrested at her home and charged with "chemical endangerment" of her unborn child.  Just prior she gave birth to a child that lived for nineteen minutes.  The basis of the prosecution was that she had taken drugs during the pregnancy; a claim she has denied.
"That shocked me, it really did," Kimbrough said. "I had lost a child, that was enough."
She now awaits an appeal ruling from the higher courts in Alabama, which if she loses will see her begin a 10-year sentence behind bars.
This bizarre infatuation of the religious and conservative right with women's reproductive organs and their individual liberties is appalling.  In Latin America, despite abortion's illegality, the abortion rate is higher than in either Western Europe or the United States.
In a region where there is little sex education and social taboos keep unmarried women from seeking contraception, criminalizing abortion has not made it rare, only dangerous. Rich women can go to private doctors. The rest rely on quacks or amateurs or do it themselves. Up to 5,000 women die each year from abortions in Latin America, and hundreds of thousands more are hospitalized.
If the objective of these prosecutoral zealots is to increase the welfare of newborns or reduce abortions, their mission will fail.  In the first case, anyone who thinks they may be subject to prosecution  just will simply get a legal abortion.  In the second case, as the evidence above shows, by creating legal barriers to abortion all you end up doing is forcing women into back alley clinics where their lives are jeopardized and where ultimately more deaths will occur due to a lack of proper medical supervision.

Harper's contempt for Science and Canadian values

One of the fundamental differences between the previous Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney and the current Harper Conservatives (Reform-Alliance Party; i.e. CRAP) has been the complete abandonment of progressive environmental policies and investment in the basic sciences.

First, let us consider what Mulroney did in his two-terms that has lead some environmentalists to call him the "greenest Prime Minister" in Canadian history.
  • In 1987, the Tories helped establish "The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer".  The global treaty placed a ban on the destructive CFCs that were destroying the ozone layer and jeopardizing life on this planet.  
  • Acid rain pollution was dramatically curtailed through cooperative legislation with the Americans.  
  • A moratorium on fishing Cod, which twenty years later has yet to recover
  • At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the United Nations Environment Programme was championed by Canada, and Canadians served as their leaders.

Whereas, Mulroney could be considered the high-water mark in environmental protection, the Harper government without any doubt is about as low and dirty as a clogged drainage pipe.

Plenty of people have talked of the Conservative's fealty to market based approaches, which is vaguely strange given that the current Prime Minster has never held a real job or career outside politics; his Finance Minister Jim Flahery was a motor vehicle accident and personal injury litigation lawyer (aka Ambulance chaser); and key Minsters Peter MacKay, Tony Clement, John Baird, and Jason Kenney have spent much of their adult lives as professional politicians.  So having established that none of these men has any experience in actually running anything but their mouths off, on the tax payers dime, it is less than obvious why anyone would believe that they understand what they are doing when it comes to making decisions about science funding in the public's interest.

Stephen Harper's desire to constantly control the message and limit the information that reaches the public has become legendary.  Like the Republican Party under George W. Bush, Harper has fought to manipulate the press and machinations within the government to serve his exclusive political goals.  The influence and taint of lobbyists peddling preferred laws, as it is done in Washington DC, is now the norm in his majority government.  Legislation is proudly rammed through parliament without adequate review or discussion from opposition parties or committee members input.  Through this unsightly metamorphosis into a corporate state, impediments such as empirical data, scientific facts, and international treaties to protect the environment have been removed.

Harper has pursued a global embargo on the speech of research scientists affiliated with the Government of Canada for the past few years.  For example, prominent scientists have been barred from granting interviews, providing opinions to the public on their subject of expertise, or discussing  their publications at conferences.  Environment Canada prevented  Dr. David Tarasick from "published findings about one of the largest ozone holes ever discovered above the Arctic."  Similarly, Kristi Miller was prevented from discussing her research into  a virus that might be killing British Columbia's wild sockeye salmon, despite her research being published in the journal Science.  An article in the scientific journal Nature further illustrates the problem:
Carefully researched reports intended for the public — Climate Change and Health, from Health Canada, and Climate Change Impacts, from Natural Resources Canada — were released without publicity, late on Friday afternoons, and appeared on government websites only after long delays.
The government demands that any information provided to the public must be vetted and cleared with a local propaganda officer from the Conservative party.

Science that offends the sensibilities of religious fundamentalists, the same group that makes up Harper's western base, is also edited from public disclosure.
When Scott Dallimore, a geoscientist for Natural Resources Canada in Sidney, British Columbia, reported evidence of the colossal flood that occurred in northern Canada at the end of the last ice age (Nature 464, 740–743; 2010), he was put through the message-moulding machine. As a result, Canada's taxpayers, who funded the research, were left in the dark. While the news broke elsewhere, journalists in Canada who had previously had open access to Dallimore, a gifted communicator, were left spinning their wheels while deadlines passed. The flood happened 13,000 years ago, so how can this work be construed as politically sensitive?
Recently, the Harper government changed the laws so that not-for-profit groups that engage in political criticism are penalized to prevent them for so-called abusing their registered charitable status.

The nearly paranoid and conspiratorial nature of these acts, stems from the Conservative's desire to prevent any information that may run counter to their pro-corporate or religious minded policies from reaching the public and interfering with their program.

It is not just the message that Conservatives loath; it is the scientists that accumulate all these facts that make Conservative-backers so angry with the fact-based world.  Over the past year, the Harper government has engaged in a systematic withdrawal of funding for Environment Canada projects and the scientists involved in those research projects.  A student researcher at the University of  Toronto discusses his perspective:
Over the past several months we have seen major cuts to Environment Canada that are leaving it without any real scientific or research power. We have seen many prominent scientific jobs cut, research funding slashed, and our ability to effectively do environmental assessment and management largely neutralized.
Given that public funding is the main source of revenue for environmental sciences at Canadian universities, which has now evaporated, researchers are packing up and leaving Canada en mass.

In 2011-12 Environment Canada had its budget cut by 20% to 854 million dollars.   Eleven percent of the department personnel was cut last year, with a total of 776 employees told that their jobs may be terminated.  Those affected include engineers, meteorologists, scientists, chemists, and biologists. Given the extent of previous cuts imposed by previous budgets, the department is said to be barely functioning.  Treasury Board Minister, Tony Clement (aka Mr. hundred thousand dollar Gazebo),  facetiously told reporters that “Environment Canada is open for business, they’re doing their job, and they want to do it more efficiently.”

Canada was a pioneer in ozone monitoring technologies, which "led to the discovery that the world's ozone layer was dangerously thinning in the 1970s, which in turn led to the successful Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances."  The internationally renowned ozone monitoring network, has about one-third of the ozone monitoring stations in the Arctic region. The data produced by this network is heavily relied on by scientists around the world.  A single person was running the entire archives, until the conservatives closed down the The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, Nunavut.

Not convinced at stopping the flow of information, eliminating the funding of  researchers, and closing down research stations, the conservatives have decided to destroy Arctic ice core bores that provide evidence of the atmospheric gaseous concentrations for thousands of years.  Mark Twickler, director of the U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver, Colo said, “These ice cores are so valuable that the international community, including the U.S., will do whatever we have to to preserve these remarkable archives of past climate.”

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is undergoing a similar budget slashing process. Budget cuts have lead to the closing of the Experimental Lakes Area. The program used a region of 58 freshwater lakes near Kenora, in western Ontario, where scientists conducted experiments on the effects of pollution.
The Environmental Lakes Area program was launched in 1968 and led to important discoveries about the effects of pollutants such as phosphates in household detergents and mercury on bodies of fresh water, prompting tighter regulation in Canada and the U.S.
Researchers from across the world are claiming disbelief at the action.  Harvard University aquatic sciences professor Elsie Sunderland said:
[she] was pretty shocked... This is one of the foremost research projects and places to do research in the world. To have it shut down is just appalling. It's just embarrassing. 
Cynthia Gilmour, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland, said  she "was stunned".  Jim Elser an aquatic ecologist at Arizona State University said in an article in the journal Nature,  titled "Canada's renowned freshwater research site to close," that it was "completely shocking".  Elser said it was equivallent to the "U.S. government shutting down Los Alamos — its most important nuclear-physics site — or taking the world's best telescope and turning it off."

In a separate incident, 625 prominent scientists have written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and warned him not to "gut fish-habitat protections they say would put species at risk and damage Canada’s international standing."  The legislation being implemented as part of the Fisheries Act in Bill C-38, the omnibus budget bill, would eliminate components of federal law that bans activity that results in "harmful" alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.  The new law consists of a  prohibition against activity that results in "serious" harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery, or any fish that supports one of those three fisheries.

David Schindler, ecology professor at the University of Alberta said the “pro-development” Conservative government was determined to abrogate long standing environmental protections.  Others are equally pessimistic of Harper's infringement on established environmental protections and resource management:
Nick Dulvy, a Simon Fraser University professor who worked formerly as a fisheries scientist in the British government, said the two moves add to his growing alarm about the Harper government's "misuse" of science.
Hannah McKinnon of the Climate Action Network Canada (CAN Canada), an environmental NGO, made the comparison between funding essential scientific research that monitors the health of the nation versus providing 2-billion dollars to build ships for the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard and another 29 billion dollars allocated in a non-competitive and rigged bid for 65 F-35 fighter jets that don't even meet the Department of Defense's own minimal specifications.  The government can find billions of dollars to spend on pet projects, fighting Middle Eastern wars, and providing billions in subsidies to petrochemical companies -some of which are the most profitable in the world- yet it can't find the funds to monitor the environment or maintain reasonable scientific competency.

John Bennett, the executive director of Sierra Club Canada, puts it more bluntly, “It will give the polluters what they want, a toothless Environment Canada with no scientific or enforcement capability."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Quote of the Day: Wall St. Bankers & Fraud

A huge portion of Wall Street’s earnings were built around the model of ‘I’m going to bet against my clients. I’m going to regard my clients not as clients — and you can hear it in their language, but as counterparties.
- Edmund Clark, Chief Executive Officer Toronto-Dominion Bank, "No Trading for Dimon Principle With CEO Clark: Corporate Canada"

The pains of wealth

Richard Branson is a billionaire UK entrepreneur and businessman, who is known for his numerous business ventures and his high energy style.

Last week he was in Vancouver, British Columbia touting Virgin Airlines service from the city, along with BC Premier Christy Clark.   Based on news reports, Branson apparently invited the "delightful" Premier (his words) to come Kite-surfing on his back with him.  However, it appears that he had initially failed to mention the dress code and placed the picture below as an example of the requirements on his blog!

What every businessman yearns to be!

Clark's liberal government has nearly zero chance of being re-elected next year and she personally has extraordinary low polling numbers amongst the electorate.  In response to Branson's bravado she gave the following response:
I think when you meet with the CEO of a billion dollar company who wants to do business with your province, you can get a little bit more respectful treatment than that.
Frankly she missed the boat (or kite-surf) on this one.  She should of ran with it and told the public that as a divorced woman she'd enjoy frolicking in the waves like that, but her duty is to country first and helping local businesses be more cocky like Branson in the global marketplace, unlike the wealth destroying socialists of the NDP or the anti-tax crackpots of the BC Conservative party.

If there was a better advertisement for capitalism and the benefits of the free market system over the sclerotic and dismal prospects of socialism, I'd like to see it.   Mothers, make sure your sons grow up to be businessmen!

G-20 Police excoriated in report

About two years ago, the city of Toronto was host of a G-20 summit meeting of international leaders.  Police were tasked with protecting the glitterati of the global elite from protesters, malcontents, and violent anarchists bent on confrontation.  As far as most Canadians were concerned the entire event was a fiasco.  More than a billion dollars was spent on law enforcement, the entire city was shutdown at the beginning of the tourist season, hundreds of ordinary citizens, protesters, and journalists were harassed, brutally attacked by law enforcement, and subsequently jailed.

Numerous stories of police malfeasance and unconstitutional actions by the state against lawful citizens were reported in the media.

Over the past month a series of reports on police conduct during the G-20 meeting have been released.  The first report issued by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC) found that it saw no indication that the RCMP acted "inappropriately" or as "agents provocateurs."  This report however, was only concerned with actions associated directly with the RCMP, Canada's national police force, and not with the nebulous complaints and behavior of the entire security apparatus on display that week.  The report did fault the RCMP in participating in the inappropriate "kettling" of protesters and ordinary citizens.  The process of "kettling" is a means in which police eliminate all egress routes for persons, as is portrayed in the picture above, and then extract detainees on a singular basis.  The sophistication of the mass arrests was also subject to ridicule in a specific instance where the RCMP arrested five persons, "two of whom turned out to be undercover Toronto police officers".

The second report that came out shortly after, by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), was scathing in its denunciation of police misconduct. The report found that the planning for the event was poorly conceptualized and concluded that:
many of the arrests of peaceful demonstrators were illegal — without proper warrants or reasonable grounds — and that the conditions and treatment of prisoners inside a makeshift detention centre were "improper and unnecessary"
The report expounds the fact the some officers deliberately ignored the Charter rights of citizens, used excessive force, and took “unreasonable, unnecessary and unlawful” actions against the same people they took an oath to protect and serve.

During the period of June 25 and June 27, police stop-and-search exercises in downtown Toronto increased exponentially.  The report determined that the police had overstepped their authority.  In an example of the latter, a metro Toronto transit worker was assaulted as he was on his way to work, arrested, and detained for 29 hours.  Mr. Elroy Yau is currently seeking "over $3 million, claiming his charter rights were violated during the G20 summit."

In another incident, which I discussed in my original blog on this topic, two Toronto police sergeants face disciplinary hearings after they were found to have illegally arrested journalists during the G-20 summit and engaged in a homophobic tirade.
In the case of [Ryan] Mitchell, the review found that the officers used excessive force in his arrest. But it couldn't substantiate Mitchell's allegation that during his arrest, an officer said: "I'm going to love shoving this baton up your ass."
The Toronto Star newspaper elaborates on the incident.
It also found [Sgt. Douglas] Rose and another officer, Sgt. Michael Ferry, unlawfully arrested [Lisa] Walter and her colleague, Ryan Mitchell, on the afternoon of the final day of the G20 summit. And that both officers used “unnecessary force” when arresting Mitchell, who said he was tackled to the ground and put into a headlock, his right arm twisted behind his back.
Video footage shot by bystanders contradicts the police officer's statements, where they claim that they arrested Mitchell for breach of the peace and that Mitchell was "struggling quite violently".

In the case of the second journalist, Lisa Walter, the review said there was insufficient evidence to substantiate that excessive force was used against her.  However, it did conclude that arresting officer Sgt. Rose was involved in "discreditable conduct" for using "profane, abusive or insulting language" regarding her sexuality.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair was initially chastised in the editorial pages of Canadian newspapers for failing to accept the results of the OIPRD report.  The Globe and Mail stated that:
Police Chief Bill Blair has not apologized for his own failings and those of the officers under his command... Mr. Blair’s response, a grudging concession that things could have been handled better, is a surprising miscalculation. He needed to show he is in command. His attempt to soft-pedal the findings will not succeed in dampening criticism of police actions, or the calls for heads to roll. On the contrary, it will raise pressure on Mr. Blair and the Toronto Police Service, because it suggests they have learned little over the past two years.
In response to public outrage to the report's findings, Chief Blair took the "unusual step of appointing retired judges and former Crown attorneys to run the hearings, which are usually adjudicated by a fellow officer, to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest."

In the end, none of this had to happen if Prime Minster Harper hadn't prematurely decided to force upon Toronto this unnecessary, ill planned, and useless publicity stunt.  We the public are equally left bewildered towards Minster Tony Clement, who was found in an auditor general's report to be in clear breach of federal policies on accountability in the G-8/G-20 boondoggle.  Why is it that millions -and in this case over a billion dollars- can be found to be used for Ministerial photo-ops, but actual infrastructure spending on subways, new transit lines, highway repairs, and sewer upgrades, all of which the city needs, is disregarded and mocked by the Conservative "law and order" politicians we have today?

Monday, May 28, 2012

That hard landing in China is looking a lot more likely!

Data that has been coming out in the past several weeks has shown a distinct contraction in the economy of China.  Unlike previous monthly claims that showed that the country was achieving its predetermined growth numbers, both April and May's numbers look at best underwhelming.  Questions are now being asked if China is in a recession?

Publicly,  April's growth in imports rose a moribund 0.3%, compared to an 11% from the previous period in 2011.  The NY Times is reporting that businesses across the country have reduced consumption of  many products, including commodities such as iron ore and high-end electronics, such as computer chips.  Exports grew only 4.9% in April; half as much as economists had expected.

Preliminary data published by HSBC and the financial information provider Markit for the month of May indicates that the Purchasers Managers Index (PMI) fell to 48.7 in May from 49.3 in April.  Indexes below 50 are considered representative of a contraction.  Whereas the HSBC manufacturing index has been below 50 for seven months.  May exports similarly fell to 47.8 in May, from 50.2 in April. 

China's National Bureau of Statistics has stated that
inflation in consumer prices slowed to 3.4 percent in April from 3.6 percent in March, while producer prices, measured at the factory gate, actually fell 0.7 percent in April from a year earlier.
Chinese government indexes show real estate prices have fallen in a majority the country’s urban markets.  Housing developers have dropped prices and some have reduced activity at constructions sites to a single daytime shift, down from a continuous 24-hour work cycle.  Demand for construction workers has sharply declined.

In a different NY Times article, the plight of local business people in Xi'an, a city of eight million in northwestern China, is highlighted.  Sun Yufang, a wholesale dealer of ovens, ranges, and water heaters,  states that local  residents have nearly stopped redecorating or outfitting apartments.  She elaborates that, “We didn’t really feel the global financial crisis, but this year, we’ve really felt it — I don’t see a solution unless people start buying,”  Likewise, Yian Leilei, a wholesaler of tablecloths and car seat covers, said that "sales nose-dived after Chinese New Year on Jan. 23 and had not recovered."

Jim Walker, founder and managing director of the Hong Kong-based economic research company Asianomics, has said that the, “Property-led growth and infrastructure-led growth is just about finished".  He concludes that more stimulus funding will have limited value, since there is already an excess of infrastructure projects, including transportation projects such as airports. 

Historically, China's economic data has been of questionable value. Senior politicians and economists within the Chinese government have said that the data, especially that arising from local offices, are frequently massaged to confirm with politburo demands.  For example, Le Keqiang, a senior communist party official, was quoted in 2007 cable released by Wikileaks that China's GDP figures were "man-made."  He explained that he reviewed only three statistics to assess the strength of the Chinese economy:
  1. Bank lending
  2. Electricity consumption
  3. Rail cargo volume 
If one is to evaluate the economy based on these metrics only, the Chinese economy is in very poor shape.  For instance, bank lending has contracted as demand for new loans and projects has declined.  Electricity production is down m/o/m  for April, while freight cargo by rail has flat-lined.  An article on The Atlantic magazine's online site discusses these issues.

The collective declines in imports and exports, a worsening housing market, depressed labor conditions, reduced consumer confidence, and sinking inflation are representative of a serious situation that points towards a fundamental hard landing occurring in the months ahead.

Further stories on Chinese Students Cheating

Over the past several years there has been a recognition that academic fraud amongst Chinese students has reached critical levels.  In the past five years, Chinese students have increased their undergraduate representation in American colleges from a mere 10,000 students to over 57,000.  While there is no reason to believe that the most successful Oriental students currently enrolled in North American schools engage in any of the documented modalities of fraud, sufficient data continues to accumulate that the average applicant is less than accomplished than what he or she is portraying.  For example, an article in the IHT titled "Sneeking into Class from China" points out the following:
Zinch China, a consulting company that advises American colleges and universities about China, published a report last year that found cheating on college applications to be “pervasive in China, driven by hyper-competitive parents and aggressive agents.
The consulting company told American colleges,
Our research indicates that 90 percent of recommendation letters are fake, 70 percent of essays are not written by the applicant, and 50 percent of high school transcripts are falsified.
Colleges in response are finding the following:
American college recruiters in China feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of cheating, lying, and fraud: Study abroad big business in China, and young Ivy League graduates write essays for Chinese applicants while many a Chinese public school fakes transcripts and recommendation letters.
In 2010 a Centenrary College, located in NJ, decided to shutter each of its satellite campuses in China and Taiwan, subsequent to discovering "rampant cheating among local student".  The extent of the fraud was so ubiquitous that the college was forced to
[withhold] degrees from all 400 Chinese-speaking students in its master’s of business administration programs in Beijing, Shanghai and Taiwan, said Debra Albanese, Centenary’s vice president for strategic advancement.
In 2009 the GMAT testing agency discovered a wide-spread scandal in which Chinese companies were collecting and selling GMAT questions online.  In response to that and a growing demand from Chinese students for the test, the testing agency has introduced a fourth part containing integrated reasoning questions, in addition to the current verbal and mathematical skills and analytic writing ability sections.  A NY Times article stated that the, "rise in applications to U.S. schools from overseas students has been accompanied by a reported rise in fraudulent credentials"  The new analytic section is meant to handicap memorization and assess the ability of the student to
synthesize information from multiple sources in order to solve complex problems... They also wanted candidates to be able to indicate what information was relevant, and not relevant, and to be able to evaluate which among a set of possible outcomes were the most likely.
Despite all these harsh criticisms and unfavorable reviews, China's institutions appears to be still very much centered around polices and practices that maintain acceptable levels of fraud and corruption.  The Economist magazine stated,
Scholars, both Chinese and Western, say that fraud remains rampant and misconduct ranges from falsified data to fibs about degrees, cheating on tests and extensive plagiarism.
This pervasive and continuous levels of fraud not only diminish the value of honest Chinese students who participate in Western universities -many of whom I personally knew to be excellent students- but leads one to question the entire system of data collection, research, and scientific publication that is present within China.
The implications of widespread academic misconduct could be great. Denis Fred Simon of Penn State University argues that growing evidence of fraud “calls into question the overall credibility of the entire scientific enterprise in China-and unfortunately feeds negatively into the related concerns about the safety of Chinese products and the integrity of information coming out of China.”
Whereas this slavish affection for deception will allow a few to prosper, eventually the system will collapse from the weight of fraud, incompetence, and indifference to empirical fact.