Archives for the Month of March 2006 on Through the Magnifying Glass

The French: Too Much Pampering

French lawmakers went ahead and approved an online copyright bill Tuesday that would force Apple Computer to break open the exclusive format behind its market-leading iTunes music store and iPod players. It seems they cannot stomach the "monopoly" and popularity of the US-made iPod player, and they want to give their own French mp3 or compatible players a piece of this online music market. The National Assembly, France's lower house, approved the bill by 296 to 193. It goes to their Senate for a final reading and vote before becoming law.

Steve Jobs may choose to either withdraw from the French online music market rather than share the proprietary technology. I rather he should choose to former. Even though you can "rip" audio Cd's into mp3 or Apple format songs into your iPod, the French just do not want to deal with trying to make their own proprietary product. They are more intent in producing policies and rules that guarantee that French companies get a substantial piece of the online music market.

Does this example portray France as a country of economic difficulty and a lack of innovators and creators? Could you still say that France is a capitalist country or a more socialist one? Clearly, it has become one of the least vibrant economies in the industrialized world, as well as one of the least equitable. Private companies are just needles in the large haystack of public or government-owned industries. State workers enjoy the lavish offerings of a 35-hour workweek, six weeks of paid vacation, state-mandated profit sharing, and being able to retire at the age of 60. You have to wonder if working hard is not the French way.

Innovation is probably the loser here because the state workers just do not see the need to be competitive with their private counterparts. They are currently enjoying the full luxury of worker protections, but this group is currently shrinking. Then why are these companies not hiring more workers? Economic risk. It seems that any level of risk that could happen is an absolute no to the French worker and they would stage a national strike for any type of reason that threatens their job. If the government wanted to raise the work week back to 40 hours, watch out for strikes and protests in every major French city.

Recently, a new government law would give employers up to two years before deciding whether to give new young employees the kind of lifetime job security conferred by French law. This made most of the younger people quite upset. They do not want reforms that could generate more jobs and income. They just want to continue to enjoy the economic fantasy of living in the same job all their life and not worry about losing it. Quite a selfish fantasy. It makes it so easier since after attending University, you got a job already waiting for you.

Clearly, it is way too much pampering and no wonder French university students just only know how to stage a protest, and not actually do something useful and find a job and actually look at advancing yourself up the ladder. The words "imagination," "creativity," and "innovation" are just blank meanings to them. No wonder they cannot find a good job.

A poll released in January by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that only 36 percent of French respondents felt that "the free enterprise system and free market economy" is the best system. - France to Apple: Share Technology

Washington Post - French Take to the Streets to Preserve Their Economic Fantasy


Dear Taxpayer,

I would like to make a request to raise my credit limit from $8.184 trillion to $9.000 trillion this coming Friday. I am afraid my spending habits and insufficient cash flow will max out my credit limit and I rather not risk a default on my borrowing. It would cause irreparable harm to my credit rating across the planet, and I don't think it would be nice for those foreign central banks to start pitching out clean and crisp U.S. dollar bills out the window.

It would cause interest rates to soar, consumers will stop spending, and a recession may hurt everyone in the good ol' U.S.A. I am sure we can work out any sort of financial arrangement where I can pay the interest rate of at least 15% but of course I will try to pay more than that if the rate is much more favorable. I am sure that when the next period ends in 2008, I am sure I set aside more dough over to paying my debt off. It will piss a lot of people off, but I do not want to burden my children with it after I "depart."

Please approve my request and I will be sure to send you a package of military rations as a gift.

Kind Regards,

The U.S. Government

* * * * *

Christian Monitor - Is rising US public debt sustainable?

Newsday - And deeper in debt

Continue reading "$9,000,000,000,000"

Scientology Kicks out South Park

We all know South Park goes way out on making religious satire against every major religion, but it looks like attacking Scientology has claimed a victim of the crazy cartoon's success.

Soul singer Issac Hayes has quit his job as the voice of "Chef" on the show. His reason was the show's "inappropriate ridicule" of religion. Really...and you still stayed on after the Jesus fighting Santa pre-clip, Christopher Reeves sucking on dead fetuses to stay alive, and the killing of Kenny? Over 150 episodes have been made making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons, and Jews. It seems that when make-believe Scientology was next on the list, you left.

Series co-creator Matt Stone said the veteran recording artist was upset the show had recently lampooned the Church of Scientology.

But it's too bad Hayes left the show. The Church of Scientology would have had access to millions of young and college kids to brainwash. We are damn lucky that they haven't pursued setting up student clubs about it. - Soul singer Isaac Hayes quits 'South Park'

Dubai Backs Down, Are You Happy USA?

After weeks of anxiety, a showdown between President Bush and Congress, and politicians pandering to a fearful public, Dubai Ports World (DPW) has decided to abandon its plan to manage operations at six U.S. ports Thursday, and stated that it will transfer them to a United States entity.

Hours earlier, the House Appropriations Committee voted 62-2 to block the port deal -- the same committee that also blocked implementation of a new "open skies" treaty that would allow foreign airlines or investors to own more than 25% of the voting stock of a U.S. airline.

Interestingly enough, on the same day, the U.S. Commerce Department announced yet another record monthly trade deficit for January, putting the U.S. on course to break last year's record deficit of $724 billion.

Some politicians were undoubtedly pleased with the surprising news. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said, "Those of us who feel strongly about this issue believe that the US part of the British company should have no connection to the United Arab Emirates or DP World." Republican Congressional Rep. Peter King, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee also said, "It would have to be an American company with no links to DP World, and that would be a tremendous victory and very gratifying."

Let's go back to June of last year. At that time, China's CNOOC and America's Chevron submitted competing bids to buy California-based Unocal, and its Asian oil reserves. While the all-cash $18.5 billion CNOOC bid was stronger than Chevron's $16 billion cash and stock offer, the Chinese company had to face regulatory hurdles and political resistance from Congress. Politicians protested that it threatened U.S. national security, and even some of them contend that Unocal held critical dual-use technologies, but this was highly doubtful by industry specialists. But with the publicity and the danger of a prolonged delay in the bid, CNOOC abandoned its purchase bid in August of that year. Essentially, it was a dead deal since members of Congress already took steps to delay CNOOC's offer by lengthening the necessary government review to 120 days for any Chinese takeover of a U.S. oil company.

Here's a piece of Chinese wisdom: "Beware of what you seek, for you might get it."

So thank you for succeeding in stymieing the acquisition of Unocal by CNOOC and preventing DB World from managing U.S. port operations. We have proven the fact that we have given another hypocritical example of ourselves. We have been consistently trying to convince other countries to open their oil and gas sectors to investment by US-based firms. How can those countries be expected to open their natural resources to US investment when we are blocking them from investing in ours? Same goes for port operations and management.

But for DB World to transfer its operations to a U.S. entity, which one? Shipping experts have stated that most of the other port terminals are run by foreign-owned companies, so the list is quite short. Strange enough, we are not making a fuss about them. We are only making an issue for Chinese and Middle Eastern companies. This is what we call "discrimination." But even if they are willing to accept more rules and review of their takeover plans, we would still not give them that final "yes" because of where they are located from.

Imagine if China Airlines made a hypothetical bid for bankrupt Delta Airlines, U.S. politicians would even protest that because it threatens "national security." Oh really? (Obviously, foreign airlines cannot even buy a U.S. airline anyway.)

For one columnist, he openly wonders if other foreign companies get the idea that the U.S. does not trust them enough to do business with them, and begin acting the way human beings do when they get poked in the eye, he states we can be looking at "8 percent mortgage rates, 6 percent unemployment, $4 gasoline, a $1.50 euro, and a 9000 Dow." People say we are a economic superpower, but we are also the most debtor nation on this planet.

Do we have the financial will to say "Stuff it!" to the Chinese? They are sitting on over $800 billion in foreign reserves, most of it in U.S. Treasury bonds.

For Dubai, it is one of our few trading partners with whom we run a surplus! Last year, it was about $7 billion. They import American cars, watch American TV shows, and they put their money in American banks. They also have a huge contract with Boeing. So that means...

U.S. - You can take that DB World deal and stuff it!

Dubai (UAE) - Fine! (calls up Boeing)

Boeing - Yes?

Dubai (UAE) - Thanks to your Congress, you just lost billions of sales of potential Boeing jets with GE engines. We are switching to Airbus.

Boeing - No!!!!!

News Links

BBC News - Dubai firm to "transfer" US ports - Dubai Firm Backs Out of U.S. Ports Deal

ChinaDaily - US lawmakers meddle in CNOOC's Unocal bid

Washington Post - Foreign Owners Overboard?

Continue reading "Dubai Backs Down, Are You Happy USA?"

Bush's Empty Threat of His Veto

With all due respect to the conservatives, Bush's fiscal credentials and performance during his five years in office should be given a score of ZERO! It's quite simple. On March 20, George W. Bush will pass a historic milestone by passing James Monroe for second place. Only Thomas Jefferson is in first place. Do you know what it is?

U.S. presidents who went the longest without vetoing legislation. (Check out the figures)

Bush has never followed through on his threats to use his presidential authority to reject spending or policy measures that have exceeded his administration's guidelines. With his poll figures numbering in the high 30 to lower 40's (yes, Bush may choose to ignore them, but senior Republicans leaders cannot), many members from both political parties just see his veto threats as empty ones.

Now, he wants a line-item veto. Perhaps he misses being Governor of Texas, where its state constitution does allow the use of the line-item veto. Is it possible that Bush is sifting through the old "Contract with America" files? Perhaps he can remake an old idea with some glitter and call it one of own Bushisms.

"Too many bills passed by Congress include unnecessary spending," Bush said. Really, we did not know that (Slap to the forehead)! The line-item veto would "give me the authority to strip special spending and earmarks out of a bill, and then send them back." Hmm, actually, Bush has been exercising the line-item special, by excluding the emergency military bills for Iraq and Afghanistan. He does not even include their figures into his "official" budget. Ask a fiscal conservative. Does this really, honestly, truthfully makes sense?

Former House Majority Leader (Texas Republican) Dick Armey said, "I consider the president's call for a line-item veto more of a political statement than a policy statement. A lot of us have been trying for this since 1984, and given all the challenges, a lot of people don't think it's worth their time anymore."

Bush wants the public to focus on his proposal because of their anger at congressional prerogatives (also known as earmarks, which is also known as PORK or PORK BARREL PROJECTS!). Come on here, this has been a nuisance dating back through the last decade or so, and it happen under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Perhaps because last year, total pork barrel projects for 2005 numbering 15,000 cost taxpayers over $47 billion dollars.

But back to his veto threats. According to the White House budget office, Bush has threatened to veto 133 bills as president. His most recent threat was against any congressional move to block the Dubai ports deal. He said that the absence of any vetos shows that he and the Republican-controlled Congress are working well together. This can be debatable. He did have to compromise with a Democratic-led Senate for a short period when Jeffords defected from his party to become an independent. He did sign a bloated highway spending budget where it contained over 6,300 earmarks. Now, Congressional Republicans are becoming more confrontational with the President as the November elections start to approach.

Does Bush have any political capital left to issue any more veto threats? We will see in his final three years in office.

Bloomberg - Bush, Veto Pen Unused After Five Years, Seeks Line-Item Power

Know Your First Amendment

So what were the freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights, which is also part of our U.S. Constitution?

Freedom of Speech
Freedom of Press
Freedom of Religion
Right to Peacefully Assemble
Right to Petition the Government for a redress of grievances

In the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum poll taken on Jan. 20-22, only one of the 1,000 adults polled could name all five freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment. Only 8 people in 100 could name at least three First Amendment freedoms. Yet more than one in five (22 percent) could identify all five major characters in "The Simpsons." Four in 10 surveyed could name two of the three judges on the show "American Idol," and one in four could name all three.

Here were some stupid answers given during the poll:

21 percent said that the First Amendment gave the right to own and raise pets

20 percent said it was to drive

36 percent said it was the right for women to vote

Washington Post - Noted With Interest

Pictures of War

(Revised 05-Mar-06)

The human psychie can change quite drastically when supporting a position and realizing the consequences or benefits of that position. In the beginning we knew that removing Saddam Hussein from power was in the best interests of the "coalition of the willing." We knew that the process of bringing about democratic change in the country of Iraq will be long and difficult. Even despite this, we start to question the leadership and decisions of our civilian and military leaders the moment U.S. soldiers and innocent civilians start to die. Past examples include Somalia where 18 soldiers and two Blackhawk helicopters were lost while capturing two Somali clan officials on Oct 3, 1993.

The video of a dead U.S. soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu really damaged the American psychie. It was one of the factors that led to the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia.

For Vietnam, the public saw three famous photos. (link) The young naked girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running down the street when a South Vietnamese plane mistakenly dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese tropps and civilians. (link) The second was the execution of a Viet Cong officer with a shot to the head by the South Vietnamese National Police Chief Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan. (link) A third photo really shocked the American public when it shows women and children massacred at the town of My Lai, a South Vietnamese village.

While those photos shocked the public, another Vietnam war photo emerged that moved the nation. In 1973 photographer Chick Harrity snapped a photo which showed a baby girl, named Tran Thie Het Nhanny, lying in a cardboard box next to her brother, who begged on the streets of Saigon. When the photo was published in February of that year, it inspired Americans to raise money to bring the baby to the U.S. to undergo surgery to correct a congenital heart defect.

Often from time to time, Americans are deeply shocked by the images of the dead and the destruction of property, but why are we continuing to be surprised by this? Perhaps it is true by some analysts that the public still believes that "death on the battlefield was glorious and heroic." In virtually every American war that has followed, journalists have struggled whether to take or publish, photos of the dead and wounded. In World War I and early World War II, military censors blocked most photos of American losses. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the War Department, and the Office of War Information changed that view in 1943. University of Maryland journalism professor Susan Moeller, author of "Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat," stated that the decision was made because Americans needed a less-sanitized view to understand the true risks and costs of the war.

It helped usher in a new era of frank war photography, the height of it was reached during the war in Vietnam. Unlike today's "embed" photographers in Iraq, they did not have to sign agreements with the military and they submitted to few rules.

Some have blamed the media for undercutting support for America's wars. It is obvious that it will influence the Pentagon's handling for future wars. When the Caribbean island of Grenada was invaded in 1983, the Reagan administration left reporters and photographers behind. It fueled a backlash and the military agreed to allow limited access to a pool of media representatives (no doubt sanctioned by the military) for the 1991 Persian Gulf War. However, the arrangement allowed a minimal view of the fighting. Fortunately, one photo did manage to get through the censors and was published on every American newspaper in the country. (link) The photo showed wounded Army Sgt. Ken Kozakiewicz of Orchard Park, NY, crying aboard a medevac helicopter after learning on February 28, 1991, that the body bag to his left contained a fellow tank crewman.

The photo was first held by the military because it was of a sensitive nature. Kozakiewicz's father, who had been in one of the first American military units in Vietnam said that the military "was trying to make us think that this is antiseptic. But this is war. Where is the blood and the reality of what is happening over there? Finally we have a picture of what really happens in war." For him, showing his son grieving over the death of a fellow fighter gave added meaning to the soldier's death.

Today, technology and war have improved to a point where pictures and videos can be shown right after the event has occurred or in real-time. "Embed" photographers are sent along with military units. Independent photographers and news agencies roam the battle zones. While we may show battle-hardened soldiers like the "Marlboro Man," we now refrain from publishing pictures of the dead coming back, either by voluntary or involuntary means.

The Bush administration claims it would be a public relations catastrophe to show American war dead so officials banned the media from photographing flag-draped coffins being carried off cargo planes. Government officials and American media pundits have repeatedly denounced the Al-Jazeera network for airing grisly footage of Iraqi war casulaties and American prisoners of war. But then the scandal at Abu Ghraib where photos showed American soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners seriously damaged the image of the U.S. military, and it pretty much shut up the U.S. media for a bit.

Retired General Michael Marchand, who served as assistant judge advocate general for the Army, said in 2005, "Two years ago, if somebody had said our soldiers would do these things to detainees and take pictures of it, I would have said that's a lie. What soldiers do, I'm not sure I can guess anymore."

USA TODAY - A look at Abu Ghraib

Maybe soldiers thought that during a war, anything can be done. There are no rules of engagement (yes there is), or there is no Geneva Convention (oh wait it does exist). Perhaps war brings out the evil side of our human minds. When these U.S. soldiers said that they abused Iraqi prisoners "just for fun," does that even surprise us? Who knows if one half of the country was shocked by that, or the other half was applauding them. We are definitely a hypocritical country.

Today, it may not even be possible to see published pictures taken in Iraq and Afghanistan that are similar to those taken in Vietnam or Somalia. Perhaps it is true that the American psychie just do not want to see the results of their actions. Perhaps it is in our nature not to even think of it because we assumed we have the most advanced technological-capable military and war casaulties would be minimal. Publishing the pictures and figures on the dead and wounded is now considered to be politically incorrect.

In any case, we should be exposed to the realities of war. If we choose to participate in a war, we should know the risks and costs of it. We should not be afraid to see what war does. Yes, it is sickening and nauseating, but that's what we chose to do.

Uncensored war pictures

Crisis Pictures (link)

Very, very dirty pictures (link) (link) - I chose not to activate this link, you can type it in yourself. It is a sex-themed web site, but nestled between those forums is a place where American military personnel are alleged to have posted grisly war images from Iraq and Afghanistan.