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

Snoop Dogg got arrested...hah hah

Rapper Snoop Dogg and five associates (more like 5 members of his entourage) were arrested after a fracas at London Heathrow Airport that injured seven police officers.

First, they tried to enter the British Airways First Class Lounge. Now, it is common sense that the only way to get into the First Class lounge was either holding a first class ticket or you got some sort of elite membership with BA. Well it turns out not all 30 members of Snoop's entourage held such a ticket. I am sure Snoop Dogg had one, plus two others but it does not give him the right to let in 30 more of his enlarged entourage into that lounge. BA did offer the group to stay in the Business Class Lounge, but members of the rapper's posse refused to stay.

Then they went into a nearby duty-free shop and started hurling bottles of whisky and argued with staff. So the airport officials and BA thought that was enough.

So because of their attitude and rudeness, BA decided not to let them board their flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. So when police came over and told them of the denied boarding, a member of the group became abusive and pushed officers.

It led to six men (including Snoop Dogg) being arrested on charges of violent disorder and affray and spent the night at the London police stations.

They deserve it, plain and simple.

Yahoo Music - Snoop Dogg Reportedly Arrested at Airport

West Ham United FC reaches the FA Cup Final

westham_semifinal_sized.jpg

West Ham United FC won a glorious 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough to reach the FA Cup Final for the first time in 26 years. No one thought it could be done with this recently promoted team to the top flight, but we surpassed all expectations.

With over 39,000 people in attendance, we watched as Marlon Harewood scored the 78th minute strike on the West Ham end to send the team to Cardiff for the Final.

On May 13 at 3PM, West Ham United FC will play Liverpool FC for the Final. However, regardless if win or lose, we will get to play in the UEFA Cup competition next year since Liverpool has already qualifed for the UEFA Champions League.

Come on you irons! =)

China - US Talks

China wanted a full honour guard, diplomatic affair, and state dinner.

Bush only offered a summit type affair with a working luncheon.

It's pretty much a loss of face for China, and I think it shows that the US is not willing to see China as an equal power. I wonder how it would look in another 10-20 years.

Besides, no significant progress was made on any current issues. You can say that Chinese President Hu and his wife got to see the United States for the first time. I wonder if there will be a second...

Higher Gas Prices, Deal with it!

Hey, the price of gas in Beverly Hills is $4.049/gallon. In some places in the country, the price at the pump may exceed $4.50. There are reported gas shortages along the east coast. Oil prices are hitting highs this week, staying a bit above $72/barrel.

Cleveland is ranging from $2.69 to $2.86 per gallon. Should we really act so upset about this?

Everyone, including me, remembers about the time when gas only cost $0.99. We all loved that zero in front of that price sign. Then we got used to seeing a $1.xx for a while. Last summer, we complained when we started seeing $2.xx, but then the West Coast was seeing $3.xx, so we thought we weren't doing that bad. This year, we will see $3.xx, and in a few places, $4.xx. All I can say now is "deal with it!"

We cannot take low gas prices for granted anymore. The days of enjoying a glut in oil supplies is no longer there. Oil companies, world tension in the Middle East, limited refineries, and other factors have all attributed to the current situation we are in.

Here's a common sense question: at the current technological stage we are in, auto companies have the ability to produce cars that can use up to 30-40 miles in fuel economy, or perhaps 60 miles per gallon. We knew that oil is going to be a precious commodity in the future, why haven't we started improving our fuel economy standards? People say it would drive up the costs for building the car...bullshit. People say it will result in smaller-sized vehicles with less safety...bullshit. People say it cannot be done...complete and utter bullshit.

Now with consumers reacting badly to higher gas prices, automakers are now working on improved fuel-economic vehicles, hybrids, electrics, and so on. Isn't it possible to see that if I had a car with 2-3 times longer driving range, I can do more. I can drive my car to breakfast at a local diner, then shop at a mall nearby, buy some stuff from Home Depot, then drop everything at home, and drive all the way to NYC for some dinner and partying. All of this on one tank of gas. It would actually increase consumer spending, not reduce it.

All, by the way, Europeans are dealing with paying about $5-6 dollars per gallon, so Americans complaining about $3-4 dollars per gallon should just shut up and sit down.

Chinese Economic Supremacy

It is just over the horizon but according to economists, China is expected to eclipse the United States' economy by 2045. These 1.3 billion citizens have now surpassed the United Kingdom as the fourth largest economy (in terms of GDP) in the world.

The Communist Party has transformed this once centrally planned economy into a free market with "socialist characteristics." Understandbly, we have to be quite impressed with the way they did over the last two decades. One biggest problem is that they are growing too fast and the gap between the rich and poor has become quite a serious issue with villages and towns attempting to revolt against the rich and influential.

Of course the Chinese renminbi is artificially low. While we do complain about the high exchange rate, we do have to note that the rate has been dropping slowly from 8.25-8.30 to near 8.00. The politicians complain about the trade imbalance but is it just because it is free market economics? More than half of all industrial goods are made in their factories. They have managed to secure almost $1 trillion in foreign reserves. With that amount of money, they could probably be at the same stage where the US was after the end of World War II where we had money to give out loans to war-torn countries.

People say that tax cuts and lower government spending (Bullsh*t!) is helping the economy. Higher government spending is more like it, especially under the current Republican administration. But perhaps those people need to look pass that and thank our foreign lenders instead. They have been keeping the US economy afloat so that consumers (like you and me) can keep buying more imports, resulting in higher trade deficits. US economic prosperity will dry up when foreign creditors in Japan, China, and Europe start to stop lending or start to reduce the amount of debt they can let the US borrow.

Oh but wait, they wouldn't want the US to fall into a depression or an economic calamity! It would affect the whole world economy. We need to keep the US floating. You have to wonder whether the world will continue to appreciate US superiority in the next 40-50 years. It is not being unpatriotic, but economic realism.

Can foreign lenders continue to finance US' $250-300 billion deficits for each consecutive year? Forget about Bush's pledge to cut the deficit in half. It is complete nonsense to continue to repeat this promise since the Congress decides on the budget blueprint, and all Bush can do is to threaten to veto the spending bills (but he hasn't vetoed any yet). By the time Bush will leave office, our national debt will reach $9 trillion! But really, go back to China and Japan. These two Asian countries are the largest foreign holders of US Treasury bonds.

China and other countries in Asia will continue to finance the US' debt system until they are strong enough to prosper on their own. They will just slowly start to sell US bonds to stabilise their own financial systems. These creditor nations hold the upper hand over us.

This is why the US must be wary of insulting China, Japan, or any other country that holds a substantial amount of US Treasury bonds. Avoiding a global meltdown is in everyone's interests but you cannot maintain such propserity forever. Soon, the cycle needs to change to balance itself and start up again. The impact may be too much for America to endure.

The Independent - America meets the new superpower

Historical - The Nation - Debtor Nation

Easter Weekend Notes

It was great to go home for Easter Weekend since Europe gets Friday and Monday off. I flew home on Virgin Atlantic Thursday night and came back Monday night.

The good things:

Food! I had dinner at Koi Sushi in the Bryant Park Hotel on Friday night. It was quite delicious but I think you can find the same quality of food at other Japanese restaurants. The Kobe beef was good too though I should get it medium rare instead of medium. The rasberry mojito is the drink to have while eating there. Sunday night was Porcao Churrascaria, a Brazilian restaurant near Madison Park. It's an all-you-can-eat beef affair. There are like 18 offerings from rib-eye, steak, chicken, and fish. You get a coaster (red/green) to decide if you are still hungry or full. A bottle of Brahma, Brazilian's national beer, will help drink down all that meat. Of course, one should taste the Capirinha too, a sweet blend of cachaca run, sugar, and fresh lime. You can get full and drunk at the same time!

Koi Sushi - Web Site

Porcao - Web Site

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Movie!

I went to see "Friends with Money." It's a bit of drama with a bit of comic relief on three couples, and their lone single friend, played by Jennifer Aniston. It takes a funny look at how money affects our lives and relationships with loved ones and friends.

The bad things:

High Gas Prices!

Since my Hoboken flat is being rented out, I have to stay with the folks in Morris County, so it's driving to and back from nyc. It was pretty much $2.70-2.80 per gallon, so I think I spent about $75-80 during the whole weekend. I could remember when it was just a buck, or when it hit $1.80, and that was the record-breaker at the time. Of course my last night, I took the train home, but it's a pain. The best place to get a fill-up would be right before the Holland Tunnel, 'cause in the city, the price of gas starts at about $3.

Red light cameras

I think everyone is getting thoroughly upset by this. Honestly, they are used as a cheap revenue source when the cops are not there. Couldn't they just be used for their one important purpose? To combat crime, and not used to fine your "imperfect" driving skills? NYPD is installing 500 cameras now. Of course in London, there are thousands of them. The taxi driver that took me to my flat from Paddington complained about the cameras taking pictures of his taxi while he was standing along the block, and the fine alleged he was illegally parked!

Airport Security up the wazoo!

I think they must have bumped up the metal detectors another notch. I had to take off my belt buckle and watch while heading back to Heathrow from Newark, and they never went off before. At least they [TSA] finally stated that shoes must be taken off (instead of "strongly encouraged.") I personally think that's a waste of time since most airports outside of the US do not even check for shoes. Plus, even though there are shoes/sneakers that are security-approved (they do not have any metal), the TSA staff will still ask you to take them off, so what's the point?!?!?!

Maybe we should start walking through the detectors naked. It was easy before to just take off the coat, put your pocket stuff in the coat pockets, handle the laptop from the backpack, and hold the pair of shoes in the other. But now you have to also take off your belt, your watch, bracelets, and perhaps even your ring.

It is quite annoying, being a seasoned traveler and all.

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But overall, it was a very good weekend. Now I'm back in London, five hours ahead, and looking forward to some good football action.



Get arrested for your music

Now this is highly disturbing. It seems that Harraj Mann, a UK Indian resident of Hartlepool, was going to the airport to travel to London. He was escorted off the plane by two plain-clothed police officers and questioned. It was concluded that he was not a security risk and was released.

Durham Police said the action was taken "as a result of information received." It seems that during the taxi ride to the city airport, he used the tape deck player that was available in the vehicle, and proceeded to play some mp3's. Some of the selections included songs by The Clash and Led Zeppelin. He played the punk anthem "London calling" and Zep's "Immigrant Song." It seems that the lyrics made the driver fear his passenger was a terrorist.

Police told Mr. Mann, during the questioning, that his choice of music had aroused suspicion.

So next time, be careful playing R.E.M's "End of the World" or the latest album from Green Day. You could be considered a "terrorist!" Argh!

BBC News - Terror fear over Clash fan's song

French workers whine about getting a job

It's shameful to see French youths protesting against the CPE legislation which would actually get them to work for real, instead of lanquishing in a permanent secured job that lacks creativity, innovation, and career-building.

Young workers are just easy to whine about getting fired too easily. It will only happen if they screw up. If they do a good job, they will get that French guarantee of job security.

France must wake up to a more rapid and competitive European market as well as competing against American and British workers.

French protests reflect fear of U.S.-style job insecurity

Abolishing Categorical Funding May be Problematic

Note: The comments made do not represent the views or opinions of the Undergraduate Student Government.

After six years, the categorical recognition and funding system, used by the USG Finance Committee, was abolished on February 28, 2006. The need to present 10, 20, or at least 30 student members of your membership roster is no longer needed. New groups will be limited to only $500 in the first year. In the year thereafter, groups may request for unlimited funds.

Here's a bit of background. During the Spring 2000 semester, as Vice President of Finance, my committee and I were quite concerned about the increase of funding requests from the larger student groups, fiscal accountability, and the lack of resources to help build up the new and small to mid-sized clubs. One major club had problems with their financial budgeting, resulting in USG picking up the tab. The cultural, ethnic, and religious groups were swallowing a large percentage of the funding budget, and it was quite difficult to decide how many events we can truly fund for each student group. We stood at around 95 student groups (today's number is approaching 130-140).

It was decided that a categorical system was needed to help slow down the large groups, to solidfy the middle groups, and still be able to give new groups a chance to hold a decent few events. We also placed restrictions on how much funds can be requested from the Category I and II groups. III groups are the larger-sized clubs that have been on campus for many years. In the past, we have seen groups requesting quite a lot of funds, but would overestimate their costs or they may decide to cancel their events for different reasons. Other groups would underestimate ticket revenues or materials costs.

Despite these guidelines, the rules did include some measure of flexibility for special one-time funding, or for extra spending for special cases. We wanted to maintain a measure of accountability, a more balanced field between the big and small groups, and to keep improving campus life.

Having categoricals placed some measure of control to help the Finance Committee. It made it easier to know which groups were level I, II, or III. It actually made student group officers and members work themselves to submit the forms on-time and with accurate information (in most cases).

It is unfortunate to see such a system be thrown aside. Going back to the old set-up (in some sort) does not help the current funding situation. With over 130 groups putting hundreds of requests for events and banquets, the Finance Committee will have a hard time deciding who to fund. The categorical set-up gave a semblance of order. Without it, the larger groups will grab a larger share of the funding pie. It now rests on the members of Finance Committee to use their "impartial" judgment but that is always hard to do.

Conservatives Keep Quiet about Federal Debt

Fiscal conservatives are complaining once again about the rapid increase in federal spending. Even though the Sept. 11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Gulf Coast hurricanes account for only part of the increased spending, the other factors are the military buildup, domestic spending, and the rise of benefits for the elderly, poor, and disabled.

Yes, we want to maintain national security and protect our domestic infrastructure, but the continual overspending cannot be sustained in the long run. Conservatives talk about cutting taxes more which would empower consumers to spend more money to help build up the economy, but if federal spending continue to outstrip economic growth, the consumer factor becomes moot.

The White House tries to point to recent domestic cuts and the elimination of many small programs, but this is not good enough. Even with slightly reducing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, the federal government is still project at least $300 BILLION DEFICIT for this year.

This week, the House is scheduled to debate the $2.8 trillion budget for 2007, and they are already projecting an additional $3 TRILLION OF DEBT in the next five years. Ladies and gentlemen, this would mean our overall federal debt will exceed $11 TRILLION!

Why are the conservatives keeping quiet about this? They know that overspending cannot be sustained. They only choose to keep reminding the public that they are doing this to protect America's national security. The public is becoming ignorant because they want lower taxes but when government services start to fail and repairs are delayed, they argue about the need for more spending.

The House Budget Committee last week rejected a proposal that would require spending hikes to be offset by cuts in other spending or by tax increases. In time of war, the public would understand the need for tax increases to keep the terrorists at bay, but conservatives are trying the peaceful military approach. It is not working here.

The neo-conservatives and military hawks know this. Only the fiscal members along the right side believe they are going in the wrong direction, it's too bad the leadership are not listening to them.

Please, would someone cut the federal credit card for them?

Picking the Right USG President

For those that have served in USG in years past, Case's student government has undergone major structural and constitutional changes. It has transition itself from a residence-type representative system to a more academic one. It chose to move itself from Thwing Center to Adelbert Hall to provide a more formalized setting for its meetings. Steps were done to ensure that the agencies and committees of student government were explained in detail and to ensure a smooth-running organization. Almost every governing document has been updated to adapt to these new situations.

Though these changes have been done to improve USG's organizational and structural ability, it still depends on the students that are elected by the student body to fill those positions. Experienced representatives compete against popular students over the right on who's the person to best represent the undergraduates. Candidates try to exhibit some form of mastery in their campaign speeches and plans in order to persuade any student willing to cast his or her vote their way. Campaign flyers and posters are plastered against every known posting space. Chalking covers mostly every entrance to every University building. Regulated mass e-mails talk about the need to support a particular candidate. Anything that can be taken out of a political how-to-book in winning an election is being used.

It is pretty likely that over 50-60% of the undergraduates have already made up their minds come election day. They will make their choice based on friendship, allegiance to a certain student group or fraternity or sorority, or perhaps a political alliance designed to elect a certain slate. In Case's situation, there are no student political parties. The only thing that matters in these cases is whether you are an independent, a current student leader, a Greek person, or a STPS / Honorary student. The only possibilites before the online vote is whether at least one candidate will get disqualified by the Election Commission based on an accusation from another or an internal investigation made by USG members. This will only depend on the ability of maintaining an impartial Commission. Of course it is sometimes quite difficult to find those type of people. Almost everyone has an agenda of sorts. The only way is to figure them out and then you are on your way to being elected.

With regards to the USG Presidency itself, we have all witnessed bad and good officers. We have seen candidates offer grand schemes of an effective government on behalf of the students. Some have given ideas of reforming the organization itself to root out financial and organizational problems. Others have focused on the need to communicate to the students. Some students will run to oust the current officers because of their lack of action or perhaps wrongful actions during the academic year. This is something that has happened almost every election. It is really not a surprise. There will always be students that will feel that the current USG officers may not have done a good performance, and the officers themselves will think otherwise.

The candidate that is right for the job as President must know that he is only accountable to the undergraduates, not to the University administration. While it is true that being an officer will undoubtedly give you access to the upper echelons of the campus staff, the various administrative offices, and the Board of Trustees, you are there to represent the STUDENTS, not yourself, and not on the other side. This has been lost a few times during each new group of officers that has taken over the reins of USG. Sometimes, you have to know when to put your foot down.

The candidate must also know how to treat the other major organizations (UPB, IFC, Panhel, Media Board, RHA) as a respectful equal in terms of overall governance. USG is a member of the Student Executive Council (SEC) where the President and Treasurer of USG, Media Board, UPB, IFC/Panhel [presidents only] and RHA as a non-voting member meet. This committee is quite important. You will need this forum to exchange ideas and to update each other on issues and problems that may affect a substantial percentage of the student body. The SEC also oversees the distribution of the Student Activity Fee (SAF). Fund allocation and distribution will become a top issue with an expanding student body and a higher flow of revenue from the Fee.

The candidate must learn the difference between having a personal relationship and a professional one. He/she must learn that teamwork is the only solution to a more productive USG. The new President must learn how to handle the personality and behaviour of their Vice-Presidents (Finance, Academic Affairs, Development, Judicial). There will be a difference in this relationship if the President is a graduating student versus a student that is currently a sophomore or junior. Chances are that any one of those Vice-Presidents may look towards the top seat next year so be prepared.

Even despite the reasons above, the undergraduates can be quite unpredictable. It could take a slogan, an incident, rumors, or an argument to change the vote. In the end, it could really be that the most popular person out there will win the Presidency. Even though there are rules in the Election Bylaws that only allow current USG members or past members that have served for at least one semester to run for President, the major factor involved will be the popularity of the candidate running. Social status can never be ignored. That's life.

Past elected Presidents have turned out to be productive, organised, personable, and have the quick ability to sort out the minor and major problems/issues that have surfaced. On the other hand, we have seen poor Presidents that were control-freaks, unorganised, narrow-minded, lazy and unreliable, and were just there for personal gain only just to have their resume say "Student Government President." They know who they are.

Sometimes the dark horse candidate can turn out to be one of the best USG Presidents. Sometimes that good-looking candidate can turn out to be one of the worst. The familiar saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" comes to mind. I do not really care if it is cheesy or not. If you are interested in seeing an effective student government to help get through the bad times the University is going through, you will have to vote for the candidate that can best do that.

Suggestion: Pro-student candidates obviously. Being way too aligned with the administration could be a negative in this case (i.e. STPS).