Thursday, April 19, 2007

Soak the rich

Conservative economists gag at the thought of political philosophies or policies which seek to temper raw grabs for economic power with notions of sharing the wealth. Any such exogenous interference that obstructs or taxes the capitalist spirit only diminishes the wealth of nations. It is a slippery slope from there to socialism.

Guambat reckons that socialism hasn't got much form. But more so for its political faults than its economic ones. Guambat reckons that any system that makes allowances for power and greed for their own sake is likely to be a poor place to raise the kids, be it Stalinist Russia, Fascist Italy or Forbe-ist Wall Street.

Thus it is that Guambat is somewhat shocked at the notion that the richest monopoly in the world (not necessarily the riches oligopoly; that's another issue) is prepared to blatantly soak the rich to give to the poor. Perhaps it ain't so; perhaps its just the drug dealer's loss-leading "come on kid, the first one's free". But that's how the spinmeisters are spinning the story:

Microsoft aims to reach next billion PC users By Ina Fried
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is using a speech in Beijing to unveil a new low-cost bundle of Office and Windows, one of several new initiatives aimed at getting PCs into the hands of more people in emerging markets.

The software maker will offer the $3 Student Innovation Suite to governments that agree to directly purchase PCs for students to use in their schoolwork and at home. Gates plans to announce the program at a company-sponsored forum for government leaders.

The collection of software, which will start shipping in the second half of this year, includes Windows XP Starter Edition, Office Home and Student 2007, Windows Live Mail Desktop and several educational products. The $3 price includes the software license, while backup discs and documentation will cost extra. In order to be eligible, governments must pick up at least half the tab for the PC, though the software can also be used on refurbished computers, which can cost as little as $50, Microsoft said.

Microsoft is hoping this program and others will help the company reach more of the 5 billion people who have yet to benefit from the PC revolution.

"We've set an internal goal that by 2015 we will help to reach the first billion of the next 5 billion that have been underserved," said Will Poole, the corporate vice president who heads Microsoft's market expansion group.

Poole said that in the developed world Microsoft has largely reached its goal of a PC on every desktop and in every home. "The PC is an expected appliance in the home for access to information, for schoolwork," Poole said. But, he said, that still leaves five out of every six people on the planet without a PC.

So just you remember that when you spend your next several hundred dollars to upgrade, voluntarily or othewise, your MS bundle. They could offer you the whole shebang for a few shekels. But, hey, they've got the taxing power to soak the rich.

And that's you, sucker.

Microsoft plans £1.50 XP & Office package
Microsoft's latest moves to spread technology to emerging markets should not be seen as purely altruistic.

"You'll find that Microsoft would be fairly open if pushed that they don't go into a market for philanthropic reasons," said Clive Longbottom, founder and analyst of technology research firm Quocirca. He said Microsoft has to find more creative ways to distribute its software in emerging markets where open-source software and Linux have a foothold. The company has wisely decided partnering with local governments and global organisations to get software in the hands of students and developers is a good way to do that, he said.


When Guambat was knee-high to a numbat, his parents took him South of the border from San Diego to Tijuana. Guambat's mom has the photo of Guambat sitting on a pony with chaps and sombrero to prove it, though Guambat was much too young to remember more than the photo.

Some things about Mexico seem never to change very much. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly pretty much sums up that simplification. The following from the Ugly.

Gunmen storm hospital in Tijuana

Masked gunmen opened fire on police Wednesday at a large hospital as they searched for an accomplice wounded in an earlier gun battle, Mexican police and witnesses said.

Two state police officers were killed in the attack, which forced the evacuation of hundreds of patients from the seven-story facility.

The shootouts shattered a period of relative calm in the crime-weary border city, where thousands of soldiers and federal agents began patrolling the streets this year in an effort to combat growing drug-related violence.

Officials said the chain of events began when gunmen with suspected links to organized crime fought federal agents who had stopped the suspects' car. One suspect was killed and another was injured, authorities said.

Shortly after the injured man arrived at Tijuana General Hospital, a group of about six gunmen tried to shoot their way into the emergency room, witnesses and police said. It was unclear whether the gunmen intended to rescue the man or kill him, police said.

Hospital workers said they were tending to patients when the barrage of gunfire shattered windows and gouged walls around the emergency room.

"We all hit the floor. It was terrifying," Dr. Paola Garcia said.

Sealed in

Crushing ice imprisons sealing ships
Heavy ice and strong winds on Newfoundland's northeast coast and in southern Labrador have wreaked havoc and stranded as many as 100 sealing vessels.

Canadian Coast Guard workers are using icebreakers in an attempt to free boats stuck between Cape Bauld at the tip of the Northern Peninsula and Cape Bonavista. There are also boats stranded in the Strait of Belle Isle.

The weather is so harsh that one of the Coast Guard's own vessels, the Sir Wilfred Grenfell, is in need of help from other icebreakers after venturing farther than normal into the pack ice.

he sealers were homebound after last week's hunt, an event that draws animal lovers from around the world to protest against the annual slaughter. No violent confrontation between sealers and activists materialized this year, as poor ice conditions and a lower harp-seal quota cooled tempers.

Local fishermen say that ice conditions are the worst they've seen in two decades.

About 60 longliners had trouble leaving port and making it to the hunt because they were sandwiched by thick, moving ice.

Animal groups have lobbied for the hunt to be banned, saying that it is not only cruel but of little economic benefit.

But the federal government has said the seal hunt is humane, sustainable and a much-needed source of income for fishermen in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

A slaughter of biblical proportions

Ferocious Slaughter at Christian Publishing House in Turkey
A ferocious slaughter occurred on Wednesday at a publishing house that distributes Bibles in Turkey, when assailants broke in, tied up three people and cut their throats, international media reported.

The massacre, that added to string of attacks apparently targeting the country's tiny Christian minority, occurred in Malatya. The city is known as a hotbed of Turkish nationalism and is the hometown of Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981.

Osama bin Laden


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The kiss of death

Protestors burn effigies over Gere-Shetty kiss
Richard Gere's repeated kisses on the cheeks of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in an event to promote AIDS awareness sparked protests in India with demonstrators burning effigies of the actors.

Footage of the Hollywood star sweeping Shetty backwards in a dramatic embrace at the Sunday night event in New Delhi was repeatedly aired on news channels.

Some called for the actors' deaths.

outrage over Shilpa Shetty-Gere kiss
Activists of Hindu rightwing groups went on rampage in several north Indian cities Monday to protest Hollywood superstar Richard Gere hugging Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty, while a hitherto unknown fringe group damaged the STAR TV office in Mumbai to protest the presence of a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl on the media group's premises.

Shiv Sena members attacked a press conference Monday being addressed by Shilpa in Mumbai in the wake of Gere giving her a surprise hug and peck on her cheeks at a show organised in New Delhi Sunday to create AIDS awareness amongst truck drivers. They also burnt the effigies of both actors and demanded that the Hollywood actor should leave the country immediately.

A shocked Shilpa, who was shooting for her movie, reacted angrily over the burning of the effigies and the protests by the Shiv Sena across the country.

"If protecting Indian culture and tradition means burning our effigies, please go ahead and carry on with your protests. But, our culture also teaches us to imbibe 'Atithi Devo Bhava' (the guest is god)."

"I was completely taken aback. My work was disrupted. The set was damaged. I know it is blown out of proportion. I feel people are overreacting. Don't misuse the freedom of expression in a democracy," she told media persons.

Defending Gere, she said: "He was just trying to strike a dancing pose. In India entertainment means song and dance, so he was trying to do something entertaining. That's it. He didn't try to kiss me on my lips. He was just giving me a peck on my cheeks.

Apart from Mumbai and New Delhi, sporadic protests were seen in Kanpur, Jaipur, Varanasi, Meerut and Indore by so-called guardians of morality.

"This is an intolerable and obscene act. It is against the values, culture and traditions of the nation. Gere must apologise," said a protester at Indore.

Meanwhile, a group of activists belonging to the Hindu Rashtriya Sena ransacked the office of leading media house STAR TV in Mumbai protesting the presence of a Muslim boy and a minor Hindu girl from Surat in the studio.

Moronic Media
This week news channels that claim to have national reach will showcase how Indian news television can plumb the depths of depravity and idiocy. We the people working in TV news channels have made a superb opening on Monday with the Richard Gere-Shilpa Shetty kissing controversy. According to most news channels this is the most serious issue that the country should be debating this week.

By degrading content, by excessively dumbing down, by becoming hostage to easy market economics, by failing to realize the truism of content being king and the market being its courtier, the media in India has erased the credibility of the pursuit of journalism. More often than not it is seen as taking sides, it is seen as a tool of political expediency and easy money. The 1990s has been the decade in which the media has fallen from its hallowed glory. And in the 2000s instead of arresting its slide, the media has further slipped from the Imagination of India, into some other kind of disconnectedness. So we have shows on superstitions and haunted houses on news television in 21st Century India. We have stories of snake marrying each other. We have a seductress on a crime show. No wonder media is seen as a crass tool by a crass citizenry. Use it when required and beat the hell out of it when not. No wonder lathis and hathodas were used by college student turned goondas to protest against a Star News broadcast of the marriage between a Hindu and Muslim.

Isn't intolerance modern 21st century India greatest shame? And a large part of it is because the media in this country has become pliant and soft.

Religion-work disputes happen frequently By H.J. CUMMINS

RELIGION: Sanhedrin Kills Passover Lamb... By J. Grant Swank Jr.

Which end of the telescope?

The US economy is either growing well or not, depending on if you are a broker looking at stocks or a trader looking at currencies.

Karen Talley Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES reports,
The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded above its closing record for a time on Tuesday, abetted by Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson and on optimism about upcoming earnings from International Business Machines and Intel.

"Investors were pleased with the latest round of economic news and "the first-quarter results and outlooks we're beginning to see are pretty healthy so far," said Georges Yared, chief investment officer of Yared Investment Research. "This is making investors feel confident about continued growth."
Meanwhile, Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss reports for Reuters,
The dollar dropped to a two-year low against the euro on Tuesday after data showed U.S. core consumer prices rose less than expected in March, bolstering expectations the Federal Reserve may be more inclined to cut interest rates this year.

The dollar also fell against the yen and sterling, which rose above $2 for the first time in almost 15 years as UK inflation data cemented expectations the Bank of England will raise rates next month.

Tuesday's economic releases renewed worries among investors the U.S. economy may be slowing, compared with solid growth in other regions such as Europe and Asia, analysts said.

"The negative dollar sentiment right now is related to the U.S. economy's potential for further slowdown and therefore rate cuts from the Fed," said David Powell, senior currency strategist, at IDEAglobal in New York.

"We do expect the U.S. to return to trend growth toward the end of the year. But in the meantime, we could be in for a period of sustained dollar weakness and we expect that to be most pronounced against the euro and sterling in the coming days and weeks," he added.


Barry Ritholtz has long been hard on the folks who have a blinkered look at inflation, not seeing it for the trees. As he explains it, focusing on core inflation rather on the headline number is simply looking at "inflation ex-inflation". If you take the inflationary numbers out of the inflation data, you get no official inflation. I like to think of it as eXeXeX rated inflation: dirty fantasy.

Irwin Kellner at MarketWatch plays the same tune in his commentary, "Consumers feel all inflation, not just the core number":
For about 35 years -- following the lead of Arthur Burns, the then-chairman of the Federal Reserve -- whenever the inflation figures were released, economists both in and out of government routinely removed prices of food and energy in order to uncover the "core," or underlying, rate of inflation.

This exercise seemed reasonable for a while, since both food and energy prices are volatile. They rise and fall for reasons having little or nothing to do with the state of the economy -- not to mention the posture of monetary and fiscal policy.

Food and energy together account for over 25% of consumers' spending. Since both are necessities, when their prices rise sharply, it drains buying power that people might spend on other goods and services.

Soaring food and energy prices are the reason why consumer confidence is sliding, and why retail sales, excluding the effects of higher gasoline prices (which push up their dollar value) are softer than merchants had expected, thus causing retail inventories to rise.

Another point worth noting is that since food and energy are purchased literally every day, when their prices jump, it heightens people's awareness of inflation and causes them to factor it into the decisions they make -- including their wage demands.

One financial writer at a major newspaper wrote the other day that prices at the wholesale level were flat in March. He was misled because he looked at this index excluding food and energy.

However, the financial markets aren't fooled. They've boosted yields on the 10-year Treasury over the last couple of weeks. Even more important, the Treasury-TIPS spread has jumped sharply since the beginning of this year.

When this spread goes up, it means that investors are buying Treasury Inflation Protected Securities to protect themselves against inflation.

This spread is now at its highest point since the middle of 2006 - when the Fed was still raising interest rates.

Remember that when you read that today's US CPI figure was "flat", suggesting tame inflation and no pressure on the Fed to raise rates. Actually, core CPI was flat. Real CPI was up 0.6% on the month, which is WAY up on an annualized basis.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Two headlines

These two stories appeared, one under the other, on my GoogleNews page:

Aussie sex is short and not so sweet By Tamara McLean

Alleged teenage rapists granted bail

Don't want no religious terrorists

MQM rally flays 'self-styled' Sharia By Imtiaz Shah
Karachi: Tens of thousands of protesters gathered yesterday here in a rally called by the pro-government Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to protest the self-appointed Taliban-style anti-vice campaign being launched by a religious school in the capital Islamabad.

The authorities have been at odds with the clerics and their followers at the Jamia Hafsa madrassa and Lal Mosque over attempts to halt government moves to demolish mosques built illegally on public land.

The self-exiled leader of MQM, Altaf Hussain, in a telephonic address from London, called upon the religious scholars to raise their voice against the acts being perpetrated by the management of Lal Masjid and students of the madrassa.

"The people of Islamabad are insecure and under threat due to the activities of these religious terrorists," said Hussain.

Hussain said the rally was aimed at presenting the "true spirit of Islam".

"Islam is a religion of peace, and it does not need Kalashnikovs and sticks," he said.

The row over the illegal mosques escalated last month when, in behaviour reminiscent of Afghanistan under the Taliban, burqa-clad women students from the madrassa raided a house they said was a brothel.

The students have also pressured owners of music and video shops to close down their businesses.

150 Graduates of Pat Robertson's College in Bush Administration By Jeff Musall
Some have accused the Bush Administration of being far too cozy with the religious right and the agenda of dominion that they ascribe to. Others have reacted that the accusations are unfounded. The fact that the Bush Administration has 150 graduates of Pat Robertson's low rated and just recently accredited law school might suggest the former. This revelation isn't news to the faithful, it is even on the Regent University website. It is news to those of us concerned that the Bush Administration is in bed with the far right of the religious base.

On its own website's admissions page, Regent states that it seeks to admit "students who are serious about the critical roles they will assume as future counselors, conciliators, defenders of the faith, effective client advocates and followers of Christ." Later it adds "Regent Law seeks men and women who are dedicated to becoming Christian leaders who will change the world for Christ."


Draped in flags, 370,000 Turks rallied in Ankara on April 14 against their religious-minded prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It was a demonstration that emphasized both the intense opposition that Erdogan will face if he stands for president, and the depths of Turkey’s cultural division.

Among the slogans chanted by protesters as they marched to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder, were: "Turkey is secular and will stay secular" and "We don’t want an imam in the presidential palace."

Erdogan hasn’t yet announced whether he wants to take over as president on May 16, replacing the incumbent, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who is retiring. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. If he does, Erdogan is virtually assured of election: the chief executive here is selected by the parliament, where the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) holds a huge majority. Under Turkey’s constitution, Turkey’s president is largely a figurehead. Yet, the chief executive does possess some important prerogatives, including the authority to confirm the appointments of governmental officials.

Sezer, an arch-secularist, has used his presidential powers to slow AKP efforts to expand its influence over the machinery of state, blocking the nominations of hundreds of senior bureaucrats proposed by the government. If Erdogan takes Sezer’s place, and the AKP wins parliamentary elections later this year, "Turkey would look like a single-party state", Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish expert at the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy, argues in a recent paper.

During the protest in Ankara, it was not constitutional niceties that people were worried about; it was Erdogan’s political views. A former Islamist-turned-"Muslim democrat," Erdogan’s management skills have impressed many political analysts since his party came to power in 2002. Turkey’s economy has grown by nearly 33 percent over the past four years. In addition, his government managed to push through reforms that opened the way for the country’s European Union accession process, 40 years after Turkey first knocked on Brussels’ door. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

But many Turks remain convinced Erdogan’s pro-market, pro-western make-over masks an Islamist core. These critics are quick to point out that Erdogan is a man who once said, "thank God, I’m for Shar’ia [Islamic law]." Recent tax hikes on alcohol, efforts to alter the country’s secular educational system, and a failed attempt to criminalize adultery provide additional evidence that Erdogan still harbors a conservative Islamist agenda, and is just waiting until the pillars of Turkey’s secularist institutions are sufficiently undermined before he moves to implement it, critics say.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Yield not

A year or so ago, brokers were promoting Aussie bank stocks for their dividend yield. Rather than put your money in the bank, you'd be better off to buy it, so the story went. Back then the bank stock yield was over 5% for most of the big 4 banks.

Now, thanks to the cheapass yen carry trade, the prices of stocks have gone up so high that the banks are, in some cases, showing a yield under 4%.

You'd think, from an Australian stock investor viewpoint, it would be better to sell the bank and take the lower-taxed capital gain rather than clip the dividend coupon and pay ordinary income rates on the income.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Cheapass yen to carry on

Over the last few days the correlation between the weak yen vis-a-vis the Aussie Dollar (AUDJPY.FX) has been almost tighter than the correlation between the ASX200 index and the Share Price Index futures. The result has seen the SPI and ASX200 soar ever higher into new record territory, on top of an almost vertical run for the last 6 months, all on the back of the cheapass yen.

And the IMF is apparently OK with that. The world must be a better place for the printing machinery of the BoJ. Wakarimasen.

David McMahon is reporting for Reuters that "... the International Monetary Fund said it saw no need for "heavy-handed" action on the yen carry trade.
"The yen also hit decade lows against the Australian and New Zealand dollars after the IMF comments, which were taken as a green light to continue borrowing in yen to fund purchases of higher-yielding currencies."

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Crowd control

The Pacific Daily News stirred up a hornet's nest today, suggesting that employees of the public school system should be allowed to access the PDN's community online forum when at work, on work time, using work computers and work bandwidth. See the headline story, GPSS: 'Access denied'; School system bars workers from online news forum By David V. Crisostomo.

The PDN suggests this is a "freedom of speech" issue, or, perhaps, public school discrimination specifically aimed at the PDN.

What makes this story a story is that the PDN is usually leading the way to spot government waste, inefficiency and workplace mismanagement. The PDN omits to disclose what it's employee internet usage policy is. And the apparent hypocracy of the story is not lost on many of the commenters in the PDN StoryChat feature.

But it is not a simple matter of PDN hypocracy and complaining about being picked on, as most would believe. This is part of a much grander corporate designed business model.

This is about saving Gannett's bacon.

The following is from a blog By Marc Wilson:
Your online newspaper can earn more money than the local Yellow Pages and the largest radio station in your market. Your online newspaper might even become more profitable than the largest local TV station.

That’s the conclusion of a new study conducted for the Suburban Newspaper Association by Borrell Associates.

The biggest local Web site – typically run by the major daily newspaper – will generate more revenue than the largest-grossing broadcast radio station in the market.”

We knew, via multiple Belden research studies, that many online newspapers were attracting two to three times the cumulative market share of the largest local radio station.

Now, Borrell is telling us that savvy newspapers are turning that marketplace dominance into revenue and cash flow.

“In 36 markets we chose at random,” the Borrell study says, “we found 15 local sites surpassing the largest terrestrial radio stations in those markets in terms of gross revenue. With double-digit annual revenue growth over the next four years, it is conceivable that a large local Web site will gross more than the largest cluster of radio stations owned by a single company in its market by 2010…and perhaps more than the largest-grossing TV station.”

That’s big news for publishers looking for a business plan to replace revenue bleeding away from print products. That’s assuming the newspaper doesn’t cede the opportunity to a competitor – a local radio or TV station, or an online-only startup.

Regular readers of this column know that one of my most repeated themes is the need for the local newspaper to “own the Internet.” This is a franchise that can be developed with relatively little cost — and can be hugely valuable in the future.

But the Borrell report noted that newspapers aren’t guaranteed the spot as the No. 1 local Internet site. “Joining the pack last year … were the Johnny-come-latelies — the TV and radio stations that had written off the Internet as a fad just a few years ago, and a whole new crop of entrepreneurs attacking the market from the ground up with home-grown local sites.

Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper group, earlier this month launched an innovation known as the “Information Center.”

Gannett CEO Craig Dubow defined the Information Center as “the newsroom of the future." He called it “a way to gather and disseminate news and information across all platforms, 24/7. The Information Center will let us gather the very local news and information that customers want, then distribute it when, where and how our customers seek it. It is the essence of our Vision and Mission and a key element of our Strategic Plan.”
Dubow, in a Nov. 2 memo to Gannett employees, said 11 pilot projects had tested the concept and created “stronger newspapers, more popular Web sites and more opportunities to attract the customers advertisers want.”

“Implementing the Center across Gannett quickly is essential,” Dubow added. “Our industry is changing in ways that create great opportunity for Gannett. Innovations such as the Information Center are one way we are meeting the challenge and implementing our strategic plan… Let me close by saying I truly believe the Information Center will transform our industry…”

His memo added: “Creating an Information Center means retooling the newsroom, expanding into multimedia, embracing community interaction, shifting resources and rethinking the way a community is covered.”

Gannett has clearly seen the need to fundamentally change the way it does business in order to “own the Internet.”

Gannett intends that this ownershp of the internet concept is to be accomplished by means of "crowdsourcing", according to Jeff Howe in his article, Gannett to Crowdsource News.
According to internal documents provided to Wired News and interviews with key executives, Gannett, the publisher of USA Today as well as 90 other American daily newspapers, will begin crowdsourcing many of its newsgathering functions. Starting Friday, Gannett newsrooms were rechristened "information centers," and instead of being organized into separate metro, state or sports departments, staff will now work within one of seven desks with names like "data," "digital" and "community conversation."

The initiative emphasizes four goals: Prioritize local news over national news; publish more user-generated content; become 24-7 news operations, in which the newspapers do less and the websites do much more; and finally, use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features.

"We've already had some really amazing results with the crowdsourcing element of this," said Jennifer Carroll, Gannett's VP for new media content. "Most of us got into this business because we were passionate about watchdog journalism and public service, and we've just watched those erode. We've learned that no one wants to read a 400-column-inch investigative feature online. But when you make them a part of the process they get incredibly engaged."

The most prominent example, Carroll said, occurred this summer with The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida. In May, readers from the nearby community of Cape Coral began calling the paper, complaining about the high prices -- as much as $28,000 in some cases -- being charged to connect newly constructed homes to water and sewer lines.

Maness asked the News-Press to employ a new method of looking into the complaints. "Rather than start a long investigation and come out months later in the paper with our findings we asked our readers to help us find out why the cost was so exorbitant," said Kate Marymont, the News-Press' editor in chief.

The response overwhelmed the paper, which has a circulation of about 100,000. "We weren't prepared for the volume, and we had to throw a lot more firepower just to handle the phone calls and e-mails," Marymont said.

UPDATE April 9: The PDN editorial today, "OUR VIEW Censorship, GPSS wrong to ban its employees from access to PDN's StoryChat forum", confirms this PDN chatforum issue is as much about Gannett head office directive as "discriminatory" "censorship". The fingerprints are:

Timing: The editorial lauds the number of participants on the chat since "this version of the site was launched in September 2006." This coincides with the timing of the articles noted above.

Radio: The editorial specifically takes issue with the use of radio at GPSS, arguing GPSS should "turn off all the radios", which expands the brief from "discrimination" against other internet sites to attacking radio audiences. As the articles above point out, the goal of this new "crowdsourcing" is to become bigger than the local radio stations.

Guambat does not condone the apparent political-izing within GPSS nor the disproportionate use of work time and resources for labor organizing or other personal "business", but it does truly help to understand the broader scope of the debate if the true interests of both sides are clear to us, the humble observers.

Friday, April 06, 2007

He's ba-ack!

The owner of the Guam Greyhound track is nothing if not persistent. Rude even. Devilishly.

He has badgered Guamanians for years in successive attempts to, first, legalize large-scale commercial gambling on Guam and, second, get the monopoly on it.

He's run a couple of hugely expensive public initiatives, unsuccessfully. Each time, though, it costs the people of Guam thousands and thousands of dollars to entertain his ambition and to fight it.

But has he been in even the slightest way deterred? Don't bet on it.

Earlier this week he offered to "give" the the cash-strapped Government of Guam ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS ($100,000,000.00) if GovGuam would give him a 40 year monopoly and casino rights. He did this because he was "saddened" by the poor state of Guam's coffers.

But the Governor wouldn't cough up: "the people have spoken".
Yep, the people have spoken loud and clear and consistently. But that won't keep a good idea down.

Today the Marianas Variety carried a legal notice from the Guam Election Commission advertising yet another of his initiatives, Proposal A: "An initiative to legalize slot machine gambling in Guam ... [to raise taxes] to be used for health care for Guam residents, public schools in Guam, addictive behavior counseling ...."

Methinks he has addictive behavior issues with running this same, sad campaign over and over and over an....

Camacho rejects $100M casino deal

Not a chance

Against the odds

Taking a broad view

The war to keep Indonesia democratically secular, or at least non-Sharia, won one little battle recently.

Publish and be damned - but Playboy lives to excite another day by Mark Forbes
INDECENCY charges against the editor of Indonesian Playboy have been thrown out of court, prompting an outcry from Islamic groups.

Erwin Arnada vowed to continue publishing, but said his magazine - tame by Western standards - would not feature nudity.

The case has become a lightning rod in the hard-fought morality war being waged by Muslim groups. Mr Arnada had to move his offices to Bali [a Hindu oasis in an otherwise Muslim country] last year, after being besieged by rock-throwing protesters.

Chief judge Efran Basyuning said that Playboy's pictures "could not be categorised as pornography". He quoted an expert witness who testified they were not vulgar as the models' genitals were covered.

The content differed from American Playboy and was more art than pornography, the court was told.

Judge Basyuning said prosecutors had incorrectly charged Mr Arnada under Indonesia's criminal code instead of press laws so the "indictment cannot be accepted".

The models were professionals who had been featured in similar poses in other publications without attracting complaints, he observed.

Prosecutors are considering if they will refile charges against Mr Arnada. It is unclear if proposed cases against some of the Playboy models will continue in light of yesterday's verdict.

Mr Arnada said the verdict demonstrated freedom of the press was valued in Indonesia.

Islamic leaders and cabinet ministers had joined the opposition to Playboy following large public demonstrations. They claimed the magazine was corrupting Indonesia with "Western decadence".

Indonesia's parliament is still considering sweeping anti-pornography laws that would ban any pictures or films that could be considered titillating. Under the proposed laws, women could be jailed for wearing "provocative clothing" that revealed their navels or emphasised their breasts.
This is porn

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cheap as chips Yen

Many have noted the effect of the yen carry trade on the world's stock markets. It's a fairly simple strategy: borrow yen at give-away rates in Japan and put your free money at work elsewhere, raising inflation (asset prices) worldwide thanks to a profligate and gutless Bank of Japan. Guambat has mentioned it many times recently.

When this simple machine is at work fundamental market factors become irrelevant and the only way a market can go is up. Its effect was dramatically observed in the Australian market this week, and less so in the US market today.

In the Land of Oz, on Monday strong retail sales figures pretty much brought the majority of prognosticators around to believing the Austrlian Reserve Bank will raise rates sooner than later, causing the Aus stock market to tank and the Aussie Dollar to fly.

On Monday, the ASX200 SPI (analagous to the S&P500) lost over a hundred points at one point. On Tuesday, with no fundamental news to back it, the SPI rose back over a hundred points and then charged further upward well into new record territory. All on the back of cheapass yen. And bloody minded Japanese Central Bankers.

This is illustrated in the following two items, first, the obligatory thousand words, and then the picture worth another 1000 words.

By David McMahon
NEW YORK, April 3 (Reuters) - The yen dropped to a
one-month low versus the [US] dollar on Tuesday on expectations that
Japanese investors will resume selling the currency as they
park money overseas in the fiscal year just started.
Japanese mutual funds and corporations often repatriate
overseas profits before book closing at the end of March,
buoying the yen. Traders said that with the new fiscal year
under way, speculation was growing that these flows will
reverse and the yen come under renewed pressure as Japanese
investors resume purchases of higher-yielding overseas assets.
"With the fiscal year having finished, the repatriation
flows have dissipated, and now there's the expectation that
Japanese investors will resume overseas investments and selling
yen," said Camilla Sutton, currency strategist at Scotia
Capital in Toronto.
Mid afternoon in New York, the dollar was up 0.9 percent
at 118.85 yen while it was up 0.6 percent at 1.2225
Swiss francs . The euro was up 0.6 percent at 158.43 yen
, near a session high of 158.82, a level last seen on
Feb. 27 before investors rushed to buy back the Japanese
currency and unwind carry trades as global equity markets
The Australian dollar retreated from a decade high against
the [US] dollar [but not against the yen] ahead of an interest rate decision, with investors betting the Reserve Bank of Australia will hike rates to 6.5
percent. The pair traded down 0.6 percent at US$0.8115 .

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Of Walter Reed and Circuit City

Guambat has left it to the many others to lament the hypocracy of the "support our troops" brigade.* Guambat does not speak of the fellow troops supporting their numbers, but the big money, big media, big politician types who glorify the little guy just to use him/her up in the latest military mash-up that seems to have no common rationale, and then dump the little guy when he/she's used up. You know, support our fallen heroes, but let's not talk about the broken ones. Let's build a tomb to the unknown soldier, but a derelict dump for the known ones.

Its the way they do things in the work-a-day world of everyday life, too. Guambat hattips Felix Salmon for pointing out the parable for this moral of the day.

Salmon points to a NYT article by David Carr about the latest human resource misallocation of resources at Circuit City, with a few pithy notes of his own.

Carr's article discloses some of the ignored stories behind the one-day headline that Circuit City was disposing 3400 of its very best salespersons:
Media outlets could not be blamed for having a little fatigue when it comes to layoffs, which have become an organic part of American life. With Detroit laying off more than 70,000 people in the last few years, the approximately 8 percent of Circuit City’s work force who got the heave-ho as a result of a “wage management initiative” — yet another advance in corporate-speak — do not seem like a big deal.

But there are larger issues here. Circuit City, pushed by other big retailers and the consumer’s desire for low prices, could not compete. So they fired the cream of their work force, not even giving those employees a chance to re-apply immediately for their job at lower wages until after a cooling-off period of 10 weeks. In doing so, the company engaged in a kind of domestic outsourcing.

“The fact that this was a nonstory is as emblematic of our times as the firings themselves,” said Harley Shaiken, a professor who teaches labor issues at the University of California, Berkeley. “What makes this troubling is that this is not an auto parts supplier in Michigan under global pressure; this is a retail giant jettisoning its most experienced workers because it is under pressure from the Best Buy across the street. That is a big story.”

In the 1980s and ’90s, the heroic narrative of business reporting began to focus on executives, in which a new pantheon — executives like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and, um, Jeffrey K. Skilling — were touted as beings who had left the gravitational pull of traditional economics.

Even now, the corner office is where reporters usually go when it’s time to cover business. According to Christopher R. Martin, an associate professor of journalism at Miami University, of the top 25 newspapers in the country, only four have reporters assigned to the labor beat.

“Newspapers have shifted from going after mass audiences to targeting upscale audiences. This is a great story,” Mr. Martin said, referring to the Circuit City layoffs, “but it’s about working people. There have been dual wage systems before, but here you have something completely different — the wholesale firing of people who did their jobs well.”

[I]ncreasingly, America is nation of clerks — not adolescents in their first jobs, but heads of households struggling to get by on the desiccated compensation that working in retail provides. Newsrooms, which should know something about layoffs, have trouble fathoming that many people work in retail because it is the only work they can find.

In a bit of happy coincidence, The New York Times did have an article on Thursday in its business section demonstrating that the top 300,000 Americans had almost as much income as the bottom 150,000,000 Americans. The explanation was just a flip of the page away in the brief about Circuit City.

The Circuit City pratfall does have an executive level narrative as well: if you add up salary, bonus, stock options, and other perks, Philip J. Schoonover, chief executive, and W. Alan McCollough, chairman, received almost $10 million in various kinds of compensation last year for steering the company to its imperiled state.

Salmon then does some of the numbers for us to provide even greater impact of that final sting in Carr's story:
Circuit City's most experienced sales people, some of whom were making the grand total of 51 cents per hour more than what the company considers to be "market wages", all got canned overnight.

Actually, $10 million in total compensation between two executives seems almost modest by today's standards – but still, if you save 51 cents per hour on 3,400 workers working 35 hours a week, that comes to just over $3 million a year. It's almost impossible to think of a policy which could cause so much pain on the individual level while saving so little money at the corporate level.

Guambat notes another thing when you look at the numbers: the corporate spin on the financial raison d'etre of the mass sacking.

Carr reports the company line that the sacking will "save $250 million over two years". But the sacking is not permanent. Circuit City will hire more salespersons to replace the sacked ones, even allowing the sacked ones to join the back of the queue if they want to re-apply for their jobs. As Salmon's numbers demonstrate, the simple numbers add up only to $6 million wage savings. That leaves a fair chunk of change from $250 million to try to explain away. But no one evidently does.

* Guambat prefers the slogan, "Support our Warriors - Scrutinize our Warmongers"

Of gooses and ganders
Executive wealth creation
Crocodile tears

UPDATE: This topic is getting quite a lot of blogbuzz, it appears. This one reviews some of it. A quick glance of it all suggests we're not all reading from the same factsheet.