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Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Just wanted to point your attention to an interesting article I read last month in The Wall Street Journal, titled Not Really ‘Made in China’.  It takes a look at just what goes into the trade deficit amount that is listed for products shipped from China.  Basically, if China is the country of origin then they get the “credit” for the import of the product…and as we all know we are all in a huff about how much our trade imbalance is with China.  But what is revealing about this story is how China is often the assembler of parts made in other countries and so actually isn’t the beneficiary of that whole dollar amount credited to the trade.

The article uses Apple’s iPhone 3G as an example.  The parts/labor value for the $178.96 phone come from Japan (34%), Germany (17%), South Korea (13%), U.S. (6%), and Other Countries (27%).  China only represents 3.6% of that value.  But because they are the final assembler they have the trade statistic.  Very interesting.  I encourage you to read and see what you think… may influence our thoughts a bit about how we view trade numbers.

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While the character Joseph Cinque wanted his “free” from slavery in the film Amistad… it is interesting to note a separate group that wants its “free” in education.  Not that I am striving to be the European protest announcer, but tempers have stirred again, and the students in London are not happy about University’s charging fees.  To be honest, I don’t know much about the British school system (perhaps Elijah can provide some insight) and so don’t know if all education is entirely free at the University level or what.  But if Harry Potter has taught me anything it is that the O.W.L’s are tough.

Also again I wish to point out that regardless of the merit of either side’s argument, I doubt that breaking windows and throwing fire extinguishers down from rooftops onto the police is a brave act of protest against… oppression??

When you ask for fees in order to f**k, that is called prostitution young lady. And we won't stand for that

I’m sure some will think it is important to add that the 50,000 students that showed up were intent on peaceful disruption, and that it was a gang of hooligans that got things going.  That said, it didn’t appear to take too much of a spark to get that fire going.

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…fun when they are actually doing something cute – but usually just crying, and shitting all over.

Okay, just kidding… unions are never cute.

My long absence from writing was re-awoken this morning upon seeing the picture below in the Wall Street Journal.  The French, if you didn’t know, are embroiled in major strikes because of government proposed changes to the retirement age from 60 to 62 (sacrebleu!).  Gas stations have run dry as refinery workers protest, workers blocked the road to the airport causing travelers to walk on foot (see the sideshow in the above link for more photos of fires, trash, and general mayhem).  And why is the government proposing the age increase?  Because the pension is unfunded and people are living longer and taxes are already stifling the countries economy.  But this would only make sense to the sane – and un-entitled.

I know how to use colors in my sign!

The thing that annoys me most about unions (and this is primarily the ones overseas, because thank goodness ours don’t pull this crap) is how their intent of making everyone suffer until their needs are met is the primary concern.  And this is where the baby comparison comes in.  How does shutting down gas stations that your fellow Frenchmen use help your cause?  Or making people walk to the airport?  Imagine being at a restaurant and someone not getting the salad they ordered and so they take everyone hostage.  It’s infuriating.  And it’s the same thing we witnessed in Greece.  A country is drowning in the ocean, and the people want it to rub suntan lotion on their back while they sleep on their stomachs (bad analogy – or brilliant?).  I’ve never understood how this mentality gathers any support.  Hundreds of subway workers are unhappy so they strand thousands and reduce the productivity of a city to near nothing.  Unions are the only group who’s mob behavior is celebrated – except for the mob that is, with whom Americans are fascinated.

The unions in Europe are worse than America, because they have been bred on a welfare state mentality for far too long.  And that is why I am fiercely anti-union (see here, here, here, here, and here if you don’t believe me).  I don’t want to see our amazing country ever reduced to a spectacle such as this.  Thankfully our unions simply picket and use the same bumper sticker from the 1920’s, rather than set fire to things.  But that day may come – if you don’t discipline the baby, you get a rotten kid.

So what is there for us to do?  Is it possible to protest the protesters?  Well, we have but the government will come around on their side.  We choose to buy from Toyota or other car makers who’s non-union cars are more pleasing and affordable for us – and the government bails out GM.  We put our kids in private school and ask for our tax money back and are laughed at.  We ask for a Walmart in our town, and the city council creates rules about square footage.  At least for the time being we can shop at Trader Joe’s which pays better than union grocers – but, hey that still won’t stop unions from picketing them.

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If you missed the discussion going on at Mike’s post on vouchers and making a profitable school, then I encourage you to check it out.  Part of that discussion made this article at the WSJ stand out even more to me.  Danone, or Dannon as it’s known in the states, is very active in selling yogurt and water to the poor in Africa.  But this is not philanthropy…it is business:

Mr. Riboud began to see he was missing out on the huge untapped market of products for the poor. In 2004 in Indonesia, Danone’s local managers presented Mr. Riboud with a pyramid diagram showing that out of the country’s population of 240 million, just the 20 million at the tip of the pyramid could afford Danone’s food.

So he decided to develop a cheap, on-the-go drinkable yogurt for poor consumers and children. “Why shouldn’t I be doing business with them, too?” Mr. Riboud recalls thinking.

The first such yogurt debuted in Indonesia at the end of 2004, selling at 10 cents for a 70-gram plastic bottle. The yogurt was an instant hit with lower-income consumers and children in particular, selling 10 million bottles in its first three months on the market. It is still one of Danone’s most popular products in Indonesia, where the average per-capita income is about $11 a day.

Two-and-a-half years later, Danone teamed up with Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his microcredit program that lends money to poor entrepreneurs. Mr. Riboud and Mr. Yunus, having met over lunch, set up a joint venture called Grameen Danone Foods Ltd.

The idea was to sell an affordable seven-cent yogurt product called Shokti Doi—which means “strong yogurt.” Fortified with vitamins and minerals, it was to be sold through local women who would peddle it door to door on commission.

For the 54-year old Danone boss, who eschews ties and gets around by scooter, the Shokti Doi initiative was something of a personal mission. His father Antoine, who preceded him as chief executive, had instilled in him an interest in ventures that had a chance to both make money and give a lift to the poor—the “double project”, as he called it.

Within a year, though, Grameen Danone hit a wall: Milk prices soared, factory openings were delayed, and the saleswomen couldn’t earn a living selling yogurt alone. Today, a significant portion of sales of Shokti Doi come from urban stores, not rural villages as planned.

Danone stresses that none of its low-income consumer efforts are charity. “Danone is not an NGO,” Mr. Riboud says. “Learning to make a nutritious product that can be sold for eight cents without a loss helps us when we put in place a volume strategy, even in mature markets.” [emphasis added]

I think this last line is key.  Not only are they seeking a profit, but foresee that the efficiencies they learn in trying to reach such a poor market will ultimately help them in the more affluent markets.  Certainly Danone may not be indicative of all business… but it does represent the ability for private enterprise to make a profit, and reach the needy.

Danone says its emerging-market bottled-water business is already more lucrative than its water operations in developed markets, which includes the pricey Evian brand. The company strives for “satisfactory and durable profits, but not to maximize profits,” says Danone deputy general manager Emmanuel Faber.

Maybe some forward thinking companies like Danone would be the ones to spring up if education reform allowed competition through vouchers?  The article, as quoted above, mentions Muhammad Yunus – who I wrote about in this post a year ago.  It’s people like these that can re-frame the vision society has of the free market and capitalism.

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Because everyone and their mother seems to be writing about the President Obama-Nobel Peace Prize “scandal,” I thought I’d post something more creative today.  Of course, this isn’t my creativity, but the creativity of a Swedish initiative funded by Volkswagon called “Rolig Hets Teorin,” or “The Fun Theory.”  Their main goal is to demonstrate that “something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.”

This sense of simplicity + creativity = “Piano Stairs”

There is another video with a creative project (“The World’s Deepest Bin”) on the website and a third (“Bottle Bank Arcade Machine”) is currently listed as “coming soon,” so make sure you take a look.

Thanks to Geekologie for pointing this out.

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Not even a year into his presidency and Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.  He didn’t even need to make a documentary.  And it will look good between his two Grammys.

There will most certainly be both many praises and many criticisms floating about regarding the bestowal of this honor upon the young American President, but I really must say that my first reaction was overwhelming joy.  Why?  I simply believe that while standing up for what he believes American needs, President Obama still retains a considerable amount of respect from the rest of the world (or at least those who vote for the Nobel Prize).

Once again, I am working from the assumption that two-way communication with the rest of the world is generally a positive thing.  From my view I would say that President Obama is not bowing down to the demands of the “enemies” of America (part of the reason for his winning of the Nobel Prize is the fact that he has really amped up calls for nuclear disarmament and human rights).

Still – while I am filled with joy – I wonder how the President of the United States could have won this award after only being President for roughly eight months (let me also add that the nomination proceedings for the Nobel Prize took place before he had even been in office for one full month).  [But let’s not also forget that one need not be a President to be awarded a Nobel Prize, i.e. he could have received it (in theory) even if he had not won the election.]  And in the back of my head is the thought that perhaps President Obama simply looks so much more attractive to the rest of the world in contrast to the administration that he followed…

Either way, I hope that people won’t get nasty about this award: Obama didn’t ask for it.  This is meant to be a gift from the Norwegian Nobel Committee to someone who has positively contributed to the cause of peace.  I think it would be difficult to defend the belief that President Obama has yet to actually impact the global political climate/landscape.  Even North Korea is changing its tune (for now).

Whether or not the world is unanimous in approval of President Obama’s receipt of this award, we can all agree that a world where peace flourishes is a good goal; may we hope and pray that President Obama would continually make decisions that point the way (in as much as one man can) to that goal.

"Damn."

Another disappointing day.

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A section of Hugo Chávez’ speech to the United Nations General Assembly was posted on BBC News online last night.  I took the courtesy of transcribing this portion of the speech:

John Kennedy said, ‘In the south there is a revolution and the main reason is hunger.’  Only a few days later he was assassinated.  John Kennedy was not a revolutionary, but he was an intelligent man, just as I think President Obama is an intelligent man.  And I hope God will protect Obama from the bullets that killed Kennedy.  I hope Obama will be able to look and see-genuinely see-what has to be seen, and bring about a change.  It doesn’t smell of sulfur anymore.  I doesn’t smell of sulfur, it’s gone.  No, it smells of something else.  It smells of hope.  And you have to have hope in your heart and lend your strength to the hope.

Chávez and his rule of Venezuela can be characterized as many things, but I find it intereting to analyze his view of the United States.  In 2006, the last time he spoke at the UN General Assembly, he called President George W. Bush “the devil.”  Now he declares that the smell of sulfur is gone and has been replaced with hope.  We could debate what seem to be his views regarding a link between the assassination of President Kennedy and Kennedy’s stance on South America, but I find his great optimism regarding the presidency of Barack Obama a great opportunity to heal relations with Venezuela and if America so demands it, to exercise some suggestive influence to change certain ways that some Americans might have an aversion toward him and his policies (specifically characterizing Chávez as a threat to capitalism I mean democracy in South America).

Still, some Americans can percieve any interaction with our “enemies” a great threat to national security, and anything divergent from the stagnant animosity America has experienced between itself and a significant portion of this wicked world during the virtuous presidency of George W. Bush ought to be shuned.  Why can’t America talk with these countries?  Why must America set a tone in foreign policy based on closed conditions and global superiority? ◊

Whichever side of the political/economic spectrum we’re on, we can probably agree with a sizable majority that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is incredibly odd.

◊ But I admit that I am rather ignorant when it comes to the scientific study of foreign policy.  I don’t like to be at odds with fiscal conservatives, I simply find that more often than not, I am.  I don’t take my views from this philosopher or that philosopher, but I tend to try to see things through a particular grid, one essentially based on restored relationships between humankind & God, humankind & itself, and humankind & nature.  I am certain that there are ways in which I am totally wrong, but my desire is not to push socialism, capitalism, nor any other -ism, nor is my desire to pledge allegiance to this political party or that political party.  I simply try to view this world as something that was created wisely, broken tragically, and will be redeemed thoroughly via the agenda of one greater than any president or king in this world.

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