Free Markets, Free People

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Musings, Rants and Links over the 18th Fairway:03/16/2010

The French Finance Minister has noticed that the disparities within the European economy are causing a number of issues, and fingers the….Germans!

“Clearly Germany has done an awfully good job in the last 10 years or so, improving competitiveness, putting very high pressure on its labour costs. When you look at unit labour costs to Germany, they have done a tremendous job in that respect. I’m not sure it is a sustainable model for the long term and for the whole of the group. Clearly we need better convergence.”

You see, having an economy so efficient that you can be more competitive than your neighbors with high wages and a high standard of living means you need to change so that the French, Greeks and other assorted PIIGS can continue down the path they have chosen. The Germans are just too darned efficient for the greater good.

In the interest of being helpful I have identified several important initiative’s that the Germans should adopt to align themselves more fully with their neighbors.

  1. Do not keep your debt levels below 3% of GDP…ever.
  2. Encourage massive strikes at the drop of a hat.
  3. Make public services far more attractive than working in the private sector, with massive  strikes and riots to keep it that way.
  4. Make it almost impossible to layoff anyone for any reason.
  5. Mandate at least six weeks paid vacation for every employee.

That should make sure your economy is not too efficient.

Is China’s economy about to rollover?

I won’t explain this, just let it sink in:

I don’t think it will be as bad as Japan, but the evidence isn’t giving me any great comfort either.

I love Apple, and I love my iPhone. Still, is Apple really worth more than Walmart? Or these various baskets:

  • 4x the global smartphone market
  • 5x the global music market
  • 100x the global smartphone app market
  • Enough to buy HP, Dell and Hitachi, with mad money left over for Xerox or Seagate

Yep, that whole efficient markets hypothesis may take a beating again.

Did any of you see Michael Lewis on 60 Minutes Sunday? If you didn’t, I highly recommend it.


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Cross posted at The View From the Bluff


CBO: Obama budget deficit 9.8 Trillion over next 10 years

How can you tell when claims of budget hawkishness and fiscal responsibility are all talk and no walk?  When you put deficit commissions together with no power and propose trillion dollar a year deficits for the next 10 years as the Obama administration has:

A new congressional report released Friday says the United States’ long-term fiscal woes are even worse than predicted by President Barack Obama’s grim budget submission last month.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that Obama’s budget plans would generate deficits over the upcoming decade that would total $9.8 trillion. That’s $1.2 trillion more than predicted by the administration.

Any idea of where we’d get the money? We certainly don’t have it. And if you guessed China, et. al., yes, you’re right – for all intents and purposes we’d become a wholly owned subsidiary of the PRC.

The new report predicts that debt held by investors, including China, would spike from $7.5 trillion at the end of last year to $20.3 trillion in 2020. That means interest payments would more than quadruple — from $209 billion this year, to $916 billion by the end of the decade.

So, we’d be paying almost a trillion a year in interest (with even more money we don’t have). You can imagine what a debt like that would do to us, not only the economy but in terms of national security.

The deficit picture has turned alarmingly worse since the recession that started at the end of 2007, never dipping below 4 percent of the size of the economy over the next decade. Economists say that deficits of that size are unsustainable and could put upward pressure on interest rates, crowd out private investment in the economy and ultimately erode the nation’s standard of living.

And is the White House concerned? Well, other than lip service, it has moved decisively to address the problem /sarc.

“While the president is intent on ramming through Congress a new trillion-dollar health-care entitlement, he appears far less concerned with addressing the looming crisis of entitlement spending already on the books,” said Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the top Republican on the Budget Committee. “Instead, he delegates this task to a ‘Fiscal Commission’ — which would not even report until after the next election.”

Other than make recommendations, the “Fiscal Commission” has absolutely no power. And the White House has shown no real interest, other than the usual lip service, in addressing the huge deficits projected for the next 10 years. I’ll be interested to see if the White House continues to treat the CBO’s reports as the gold standard after this one saying the administration has proposed an even higher debt than it claimed.

And, of course, one of the rather large points is the effect of having countries like China holding 20 trillion in US debt instruments and the amount of control that grants such countries over what we can or can’t really do – economically, in foreign policy, militarily, etc. That much debt becomes a weapon, whether the administration or others want to admit it or not. It’s an economic bomb and detonating it would have a profound negative effect on us and our economy and our enemies know it. It reminds me of the saying about how a capitalist will sell you the rope by which you hang him. That’s precisely what we’re doing with this debt problem and our desire to spend what we don’t have.

The time for a sane fiscal policy which cuts spending and the size and scope of government is long past due. And even if the politicians don’t recognize it yet, it is the public’s understanding that the time has come that is driving this discontent manifested in the Tea Parties and the overwhelming “wrong track” majorities to be found in polls which track whether or not people believe the country is on the right track or the wrong track. Democrats thought the public believed the country was on the wrong track during the last administration because of Bush. But after a year of Obama, those same numbers are even higher.

The people may not really like the fact that such measures must be taken, but they are prepared for them. They understand that this spending addiction, if continued, has no acceptable outcome and that the longer it continues the worse the outcome will be.

Step one is getting sanity back into the federal budget. And adding 9.8 trillion to an already huge debt while pretending to be concerned about deficit spending isn’t how that is done.

~McQ


Rebellious Province?

So, I’m watching “60 Minutes” last night, as they reported about Chinese espionage against the US.  Then out of the blue, I hear Taiwan described by Scott Pelley as, “the rebellious Chinese island that mainland China wants to reclaim.”

Wow.  Except for the bit about Taiwan being an island, there is almost nothing in that sentence that is factually correct.  It is almost the complete reversal of the truth.

Taiwan is, in fact, the last vestige of the Republic of China–the government that was pushed off the mainland by the communist rebels in 1949.  The communist government in Peking–that’s right, I wrote “Peking”–never occupied it or owned it, so they can’t “reclaim” it.  It isn’t a “rebellious” province.  It is the last outpost of the legitimate–and I use that word very advisedly, considering the Kuomintang’s shaky claim to legitimacy–ROC government that the Chicoms drove out of the mainland.

That really irked me.


Podcast for 14 Feb 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael  and Dale discuss the Republican desire not to be seen as the “Party of No”; China, the Euro, and the Dollar; and what seems to be a fundamental shift in the assertions of the AGW crowd.  The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


China Sees No Agreement Forthcoming In Copenhagen

And that’s the good news:

With just two days remaining in historic and contentious climate talks here, China signaled overnight that it sees virtually no possibility that the nearly 200 nations gathered would find agreement by Friday.

A participant in the talks said that China would agree only to a brief political declaration that left unresolved virtually all the major issues.

The conference has deadlocked over emissions cuts by, and financing for, developing nations, including China, who say they will bear the brunt of a planetary problem they did little to create. Leaders had hoped to conclude an interim agreement on the major issues that would have “immediate operational effect.” The Chinese, it appears, are not willing to go that far at this meeting.

The New York Times goes on to wonder if this is just a bit of political brinksmanship on the eve of world leaders arriving. Obviously the NYT thinks this is about a negotiating position. One can only assume they make that assessment based on the supposed promise Obama said he extracted from the Chinese during his visit there.

If that’s the case, I’d say that both Obama and the NYT most likely have it wrong. China has made it clear for years that it exempts itself from hard emissions cuts because it considers itself a “developing country”. After years of preparing that position and presenting it to the world, it’s a little naive to believe a single visit by a new president would be likely to change it. China wants its cut of the loot. It’s not seeing that happen. It isn’t establishing a “negotiating position” in front of the arrival of world leaders, it is stating a fact – China foresees little if anything coming out of Copenhagen. While other countries and world leaders may feel intense pressure to make something happen, China doesn’t. If Copenhagen falls flat on its face, as it appears it will, nothing changes for China in terms of limiting emissions. It will simply patiently wait for the next international conference, where the pressure on industrialized nations will be even higher, to again make its demands.

Why am I making that assertion? Buried further on in the story is this paragraph:

China has been a natural godfather to many of the Group of 77 countries because its government has extensive investments in Africa and Latin America, often involving lucrative deals to bring oil and minerals home.

China is emerging as a leader among the 130 nations that make up the misnamed Group of 77. While Hugo Chavez may be the court jester, the real power of that group lays with China. And China sees a developing power vacuum with the diminished role of the US – partially due to the financial crisis and partially due to a young and inexperienced president. Again, they’re not staking out a negotiating position, they’re telling the rest of the powers the way the table is set. Demands will follow later.

Meanwhile Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in town flashing your cash as an incentive for “poorer” nations to cooperate and collect:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who arrived in Copenhagen overnight, announced on Thursday that the United States would participate in a $100 billion fund to help poor and vulnerable nations adapt to climate change and build more energy efficient economies. She cautioned, however, that American participation in the fund was contingent on reaching a firm agreement this week.

It was the first time the Obama administration had made a commitment to a medium-term financing effort and a clear effort to unblock a negotiation that has been stalled. She said the money would be a mix of public and private funds, including “alternative sources of finance,” which she did not specify.

Nor did she say what the American share of the fund would be, although typically in such multilateral financial efforts the United States contributes about 20 percent.

Of course 100 billion isn’t anywhere near what the “poorer” nations want. In fact, a group of Central America nations want somewhere in the neighborhood of 115 billion alone.

The circus reaches crescendo tomorrow as the remaining world leaders, including President Obama arrive. Given the way this is shaping up, it appears it may be another “Olympic event” for the president.

~McQ


China Buying Oil Leases Off American Shore?

That’s the word from Mark Tapscott at the Washington Examiner:

Gas prices here in the U.S. are creeping back up towards the $3-per-gallon mark even as news breaks today that China’s state-owned energy firm just closed a deal to buy interests in four development leases on the American Outer Continental Shelf (OTS) in the Gulf of Mexico.

The deal, which requires approval of the U.S. government, is between Norway’s Statoil and China National Off-Shore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). This is the same CNOOC that would have bought Unocal four years ago for $18.5 billion but for pressure from Congress, according to The New York Times, quoting an energy industry trade publication.

Because it must be approved by the U.S. government, the Statoil/CNOOC deal puts President Obama and Ken Salazar, his Secretary of the Department of the Interior, which controls OTS leasing, in a difficult position.

Really? Why does it put the government in a “difficult position”? Oh, you mean the apparent willingness to sell these leases to foreign entities vs. opening them up to domestic American exploration?

The deal also focuses renewed attention on Salazar’s slow-walking of a new plan for approving energy exploration and development in the OTS, which includes approximately 1.7 billion acres, and, according to Interior, holds up to 86 billion barrels of recoverable oil and more than 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The administration is moving much too slowly to open more of the OTS to development for domestic U.S. uses, according to Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute …

But it apparently isn’t moving too slowly to open up the OTS to foreign competitors.

In the meantime:

If the administration approves the deal, it will be more vulnerable to charges that the White House is being careless with U.S. national security issues in the energy sector, and that it is putting the interests of a foreign power before those of U.S. energy consumers.

If Obama and Salazar reject the deal, it will likely complicate relations with China, the emerging Asian superpower that defense experts predict will be able at will to challenge U.S. legitimate national security interests around the globe in the near future.

Oil isn’t going away anytime soon and its use is critical during any transition to alternate energy sources (which, for the most part are vaporware). Additionally, the charge that the Obama administration is playing fast and loose with US national security will resonate if the public becomes aware that domestic producers have been barred from OTC production but foreign producers are given access.

So the dilemma facing the administration is one of its own ideological making. Its “slow walking” of the plan for domestic producers to explore the OTC is a decision it made to thwart the desires of a majority of the nation to secure those assets for the US’s use. And now it’s going to hand them over to China?

That will not play well in at all in middle America.

~McQ


India: We’re Not Hurting Our Economy For “Climate Change”

The Copenhagen summit is in December and yesterday UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said he didn’t expect a binding agreement to come out of the meeting, dashing the hopes of environmental extremists that the nations of the world would agree to binding reductions of so-called greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Today India, apparently speaking for, or speaking with the approval of, the world’s developing nations (of which China considers itself one):

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Thursday that the world’s poor nations will not sacrifice their development in negotiations for a new climate change deal.

The issue of how to share the burden of fighting global warming has divided the developing and industrialized worlds as they prepare to negotiate a replacement to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol at a December summit in Copenhagen.

“Developing countries cannot and will not compromise on development,” Singh told an international conference on technology and climate change.

Naturally he threw a little diplospeak out there to soften the refusal to play the game:

However, even poorer countries need to “do our bit to keep our emissions footprint within levels that are sustainable and equitable,” he said.

Riiiight. And that means they’ll decide what constitutes “sustainable and equitable” as it applies to their economy, not the targets some world body wants to put on them. Both India and China, two of the largest emitters of GHGs in the world have repeatedly said no to binding reductions and international monitoring. But they’re up for a little friendly looting:

Developing countries want financial aid for their climate change efforts, and Singh said wealthy nations have an obligation to ensure they get access to new, clean technology that will cut emissions and increase energy efficiency.

“We need technology solutions that are appropriate, affordable and effective,” he said.

I certainly don’t blame them a bit for refusing to hurt themselves economically in the name of specious “science” (thankfully, Americans are beginning to figure out the scam). And the fact they won’t do so should confirm to even the most fanatic global warmist that attempts to cut GHGs will indeed cause major economic distress. Additionally, as pointed out here and elsewhere, cap-and-trade attempts in Europe and elsewhere have been a disaster with no net reduction in such emissions observed.

I look for Copenhagen to be a bust and am quite happy about that, frankly. The US will show up empty handed with nothing but promises (Waxman-Markey thankfully not having passed yet), the UN will play the international “Chicken Little”, 3rd world “developing” countries will have their hands out as usual and industrialized nations won’t be able to agree on much of anything.

Perfect.

~McQ


Enabling Missile Technology To Go To China – Again

One of the reasons Democrats are pounded on their seeming lack of interest in National Security are things like this:

President Obama recently shifted authority for approving sales to China of missile and space technology from the White House to the Commerce Department — a move critics say will loosen export controls and potentially benefit Chinese missile development.

The president issued a little-noticed “presidential determination” Sept. 29 that delegated authority for determining whether missile and space exports should be approved for China to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Now the folks at Commerce say, hey, don’t worry, we’ll make sure they don’t get the good stuff:

Commerce officials say the shift will not cause controls to be loosened in regards to the export of missile and space technology.

Eugene Cottilli, a spokesman for Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, said under new policy the U.S. government will rigorously monitor all sensitive exports to China.

Except this is exactly the same set up which, under the Clinton administration, enabled China’s missile and rocket program to make its own “great leap forward”.

Let’s summarize – previous setup under Commerce:  rocket and missile technology manages to find its way to China.   Setup is changed to where the entity charged with national security must approve such sales:  technology transfer stops.

So why, then, would you abandon something that works and re-erect the setup that didn’t?

Well, one could logically conclude, among other things, that you’re not real serious about national security – that’s why.

~McQ


Dumping The Dollar

While the Fed tries to assure us that when the time comes it can wring the excess money it has pumped into the economy without driving it into the ditch, Paul Krugman and others want more spending, and we’re staring at 9 trillion in additional debt, the rest of the worldhas seems to be quietly deciding that the dollar has become an unstable currency in which they’d rather not trade:

Secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank governors in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme, which will mean that oil will no longer be priced in dollars.

The plans, confirmed to The Independent by both Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong, may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices, but it also augurs an extraordinary transition from dollar markets within nine years.

They’re talking about a whole range of different currencies to replace the dollar but the fact remains that the old buck ain’t what it used to be and those trading in oil are looking for a more stable means of trade.

The transitional currency in the move away from dollars, according to Chinese banking sources, may well be gold. An indication of the huge amounts involved can be gained from the wealth of Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar who together hold an estimated $2.1 trillion in dollar reserves.

Which explains some of the growth in the price of gold. Of course this transition will take time as the various countries carefully get rid of their dollar reserves over the coming years. However, if they are as committed to this transition away from dollar as the base trading currency for oil as this article indicates, then obviously the strength of the dollar will be adversely effected over that transition period and beyond as dollars are dumped. Couple that with the excess dollars we’ve pumped into the system these past few months and you can begin to understand the possible economic disaster this may end portend.

Ever since the Bretton Woods agreements – the accords after the Second World War which bequeathed the architecture for the modern international financial system – America’s trading partners have been left to cope with the impact of Washington’s control and, in more recent years, the hegemony of the dollar as the dominant global reserve currency.

The Chinese believe, for example, that the Americans persuaded Britain to stay out of the euro in order to prevent an earlier move away from the dollar. But Chinese banking sources say their discussions have gone too far to be blocked now. “The Russians will eventually bring in the rouble to the basket of currencies,” a prominent Hong Kong broker told The Independent. “The Brits are stuck in the middle and will come into the euro. They have no choice because they won’t be able to use the US dollar.”

Chinese financial sources believe President Barack Obama is too busy fixing the US economy to concentrate on the extraordinary implications of the transition from the dollar in nine years’ time. The current deadline for the currency transition is 2018.

We’ve been talking and hinting about this since it first began surfacing and warning of the dire economic consequences such a move would have. Of course it is the result of our own profligate spending and financial mismanagement, but I don’t think, for the most part people understand the implications of this move to replace the dollar. And it also doesn’t appear we have ability (much less a plan) to reverse this trend toward this change of the economic guard.

~McQ


Stimulus? Try Offshore Drilling

During the last days of the Bush administration, there was a small flurry of hope among proponents of drilling for oil and gas which is off our coast. The president lifted the ban on offshore oil drilling and Congress, understanding the politics of the moment, let their ban expire. As the Washington Examiner explains, that leaves only one obstacle to the US finally going after what is thought to be about 3 billion barrels of oil and 11 trillion cubic feet of natural gas:

So the only thing keeping U.S. firms from drilling off our own continental shelf is President Barack Obama and his secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, who is slow-walking the approval process that must be cleared before the work can begin.

However, President Obama has managed to break 2 billion of your dollars loose to loan to Brazil to help bankroll their offshore drilling in the Atlantic. One assumes that will give Brazil a savings which will allow them pursue drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as well, since they are one of a number of nations pursuing oil and gas there:

Brazil, China, India, Norway, Spain and Russia have all signed agreements with Cuba and the Bahamas to initiate exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico within the next two years. So the prospect of seeing Russian oil rigs 45 miles off the Florida Keys — where American oil companies are now forbidden to drill — is a very real possibility.

That “very real possibility” would see us buying oil from the Gulf from foreign oil producers when it was just as readily available to us and our own companies.

And who would you rather produced it – US companies who have proven over the years that they have the ability to recover both oil and gas safely and in an environmentally sensitive way or foreign companies 45 miles off your coast who could give a good rip one way or the other how environmentally safe their methods were?

Then there’s the recession, jobs and the government’s hunt for revenue. This seems like a natural “shovel ready” industry that wouldn’t cost the taxpayer a nickle to crank up but would benefit the economy and the tax base:

According to the American Petroleum Institute, the development of America’s coastal oil and gas resources would generate more than $1.3 trillion in new government revenue and 160,000 high-paying jobs over the next two decades.

Instead of going full bore and trying to get this program off the ground – or in this case, in the water, we’re still piddling around trying to pass legislation:

Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Ak., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., are bipartisan co-sponsors of a bill that provides coastal states such as Florida their fair share of revenues produced by off-shore drilling and production. The same thing should be done for states on the East and West coasts. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state’s lawmakers hope to tap deposits off Santa Barbara to generate billions in royalties, and Virginia’s front-running gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has made drilling 50 miles off that state’s coast a key component of his energy plan.

Meanwhile foreign nations are moving to exploit resources we should have been exploiting for decades.

We have a huge looming energy gap. We’re behind the curve as it stands right now. While all the politics is focused on health care reform, this need isn’t going away and only becomes worse. Instead of “slow-walking” this, Barack Obama and Ken Salazar should be fast-tracking it and getting us out in those offshore areas to grab the most productive regions first. If we don’t, we’ll be moaning about how the percentage of oil and gas we import has gone up again.

And, as usual, that will be our own negligent fault.

~McQ

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