Silent Archimedes

Posts Tagged ‘China’

A Letter to America

Posted by silentarchimedes on November 3, 2008

Dear Fellow Americans,

The land of the free and the home of the brave...

The land of the free and the home of the brave...

Tomorrow is one of the most important days in recent American history. It is a day that will affect the short term prospects of America and the standing of America in the world for the next century. The events and actions of the past eight years have accelerated the damaging path the country has embarked on for the past thirty years. The irresponsible actions have left America crippled economically, politically, morally and psychologically. Both parties have been hijacked by the special interests of corporations, ideological groups and personal interests. The values in which America was founded on have been distorted. The decision made by America tomorrow will go a long way in determining if we continue this egregious path of self-destruction.

The debt at the national, local and consumer levels are not only due to the actions of the past eight years. The decision by the Supreme Court in 1978 (Marquette National Bank of Minneapolis vs. First of Omaha Service Corp.) to deregulate interest rate caps at the state level was the precursor to the inundation of credit cards and the mortgaging of personal futures for the present. Although Reaganomics has been credited with bringing the country out of the vitriolic stagflation of the late 1970s, it has had a long term effect that has eaten away at the fiscal responsibility of the federal government. At the core of Reaganomics was reducing tax rates by reducing government spending which in turn was achieved by reducing costs associated with regulation and social programs. However,  unexpected costs from the burgeoning Cold War resulted in large trade and federal budget deficits. In order to cover such deficits, the government began borrowing heavily both domestically and abroad. This decision to mortgage the future of the country for the present instilled a belief that debt is good, even to other countries, such as China, Japan and India. America became a borrower nation instead of a loaner nation, which it had been for decades during its prominence.

The deregulation of these two critical issues are the main causes of the current economic problems. It instilled bad habits at all levels of society. Although quality of life continued to increase the past thirty years, it was mostly at the cost of the future. Both politicians and individuals began feeling entitled to such luxuries and expected it to last forever. However, as analyzed by Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond (Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed), it is this infectious mindset that causes great societies to fail. This country is at that critical juncture. Do we reinstate the values, sacrifices and hard work that made this country great or do we continue down this destructive path?

In addition to the present economic and ideological problems that endanger the quality of life of America, there are many massive elephants in the near future that can derail any sense of comfort in the nation. A fundamental restructuring of social programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is required in the next one or two presidencies before the effects of the baby boomer population cripple the flow of aid from the system. The high quality of life has left Americans lazy, fat and indifferent, and the medical costs associated with treating related diseases and health issues threaten to destroy the already broken health-care system. The super-highway system that supported the rise of American power is also the bane of the country’s dependence on foreign oil and its lavish automobile lifestyle. Furthermore, the infrastructure of America is crumbling and poses a danger to the lifeblood of a large country like America. A massive government infrastructure initiative is required within the next twenty years. The only question will be where does all the money come from? As globalization continues to redistribute the wealth and power of the world, the education system and America’s ability to compete are also being tested. American children  continue to fall behind other countries at all levels of education, from middle school to college to graduate school. This country has been able to sustain its technological competitiveness partly through the immigration of top-level students from countries such as China and India. However, the current backlash on immigration coupled with the increasing prestige of other countries’ higher education systems, begs the question of how America will sustain its technological edge? Corporations and special interest groups as super-humans continue to eat away at the fabric of America. Their selfish narrow-minded view of profit and ideology permeate all levels of society, from individuals to the government. Ideology has especially polarized the country into two hardened stances, secularity versus ideology. The effects of this has left the country fearful and suspicious of each other. Finally, the effects of the internet and other entertainment-related technologies cannot be understated. Although they have created luxuries beyond anyone’s belief and increased the free flow of information, they have also created a schizophrenic society of 24 hour media frenzy and questionable freedoms of morality. The neutrality of journalism and the mental well-being  of society are at stake. Coupled with the constraints of global warming and moral responsibility, the above problems must be faced responsibly.

These problems will definitely be difficult to face and resolve. Most of these have been simmering for years, but have been effectively ignored. However, what has always made America great has been its ability to come together as a country and sacrifice for the greater good of the country and the world. The sacrifices by this country during the Civil War and World War II for the greater good cannot be forgotten. Although society was simpler and less polarized then, the country must come together once again to face the unprecedented wave of issues that threaten to send America down the road of self-destruction.

Tomorrow begins that choice. Tomorrow the country decides which path to take, one of sacrifice for the greater good or one of continued wantonness. Tomorrow begins the day where America can begin reinstating the values that made this country so great. A country of uniqueness not found anywhere else in the world. A melting pot that protects individual rights and helps others at times of need. A constitution so strong that the thought of a revolution is unfathomable. The land of opportunity and openness. A land of thousands of parks and natural resources. The separation of church and state and the freedom of religion. The land of the best medical care and higher education system. A land of tolerance and hope. And the land of the free and the home of the brave…

Whomever you vote for tomorrow, please think openly and clearly. Without any bias of age, race, religion, and fear, think who will be better for America. Who will lead America towards a path of redemption and strength. A path that requires sacrifice but cherishes American freedoms. A candidate that realizes that what America needs now is a problem solver with pragmatism and humility, and not one fixated on idealism, intolerance and fear mongering. Look closely at your choice, and know that when you go home afterwards, there will be a better America tomorrow. A better America for yourself and your family, and also for its great citizens of today and tomorrow.

America’s tomorrow begins now…

Thank you.

Silent Archimedes

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NBC Olympics equals “No Bolt Coverage Olympics”

Posted by silentarchimedes on August 17, 2008

The decisions by NBC during this 2008 Olympics has been mind-boggling, to say the least. If they are so worried that fans will turn away after Michael Phelps quest for eight golds are over, they should have been doing a better job preparing and accentuating other popular events. Here are some decisions by NBC that have made many Olympic fans frustrated:

1. NBC equals No Bolt Coverage. If you are into track and field, like I am, you knew that Tyson Gay’s chances for gold in the Olympics were gone when he went down with a hammie in the 200m US trials 2 months ago. You also knew that as good as Asafa Powell is, he is a choker at big meets. Yet, NBC continued to focus on a dream final of Powell, Gay and Usain Bolt. Bolt’s performance in the 100 has been totally dominating since he started running it 13 months ago. With his care-free, happy, dancing Jamaican attitude, he was the perfect athlete to introduce and show to the American viewership. Instead NBC never showed the most amazing 9.69s world-record breaking 100m final live. It was shown more than 13 hours later, after Phelps historical swim, near midnight on the east coast.

2. Why are Michael Phelps swimming events not shown live on the west coast? Instead they are shown tape-delayed or hours later? Their explanation that showing it live on prime-time increases viewership is morally flawed. A true sports fan, although a minority in total viewership, wants to see a historic event live at all costs. Imagine watching the Super Bowl on the west coast hours after it happened because of this reason? It’s just wrong. If necessary put it on twice, live and prime-time. It’s not like the events take 2 hours to complete. It’s a few minutes! You don’t even have to put it on NBC. Put it on cable, MSNBC!

3. What is NBC’s infatuation with beach volleyball? As much as I love beach volleyball, it’s not really a sport I want to see at night during the Olympics. I get to see it often enough on TV. Yes, we get the point that the women are in bikinis, but this is NBC. It’s not like they can really show the shots that men want to see (ie from behind, close-ups, esp of the Brazilians). So we are shown lots of women’s beach volleyball with too few spikes and blocks and too many dinks from afar. If you are going to stick to volleyball, I prefer indoor volleyball, which I never get to see except Olympic time. The times they did show it was very fun to watch. There were enough jump serves, digs, blocks, spikes, dives to last me a lifetime!

4. I feel for Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson. This one is not so much NBC fault, although by completely focusing on Michael Phelps, the most awesome 1-2 punch by the US women’s gymnasts was neglected for most of the days. The US has never finished 1-2 in the women’s individual all-around. What Liukin and Johnson accomplished would have been the main story of any other Olympics. Too much attention was focused on the age of the Chinese gymnasts and not on the positives of other gymnasts.

5. Are there other countries in the Olympics besides China and the U.S.? The way NBC has focused on Chinese (rightfully) and  American athletes it almost feels like this is a two-country Olympics. I never would have known from the coverage that the Aussies are third in medals count, or that Great Britain has the third number of golds, or that Kazakhstan has 8 medals.

In the end, the 2008 Olympics will be defined by two topics – China and Michael Phelps. Everyone knew that going into the Olympics, and nothing was going to change that. The only one capable of drawing deserved attention to other athletes, such as Liukin, Johnson, Torres, Bolt, Lochte, Nadal, and Wariner, is NBC.

My related Olympic posts:

Posted in List, Opinion, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Book Review: Crash Proof

Posted by silentarchimedes on July 10, 2008

Book Review: Crash Proof

How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse

Author: Peter Schiff with John Downes

After seeing the striking similarities between Stephen Leeb’s The Coming Economic Collapse: How you can thrive when oil costs $200 a barrel and Jim Rogers’ Hot Commodities: How anyone can invest in the world’s best market, I decided to read one more book on this topic to verify the similarities. The first two books, in simple terms, describes the American economy as teetering on a precarious cliff due to horrible economic policies that have stripped it of its purchasing power and flexibility from a mountain of debt. With the growth of China and the East, prices of raw materials such as oil and metals are skyrocketing. This will only hurt the American economy as our current standard of living requires huge amounts of oil and imports. However, we are required to use our future earnings to continue this consumptive economy.

In all likelihood, this book will basically say the same things as the other two books. However, it will be interesting to see how it is presented and if a more convincing argument is used.

THE AUTHOR: PETER D. SCHIFF

Peter Schiff doesn’t have as much clout as a Jim Rogers, but nonetheless is well-known in the business world. He has the nickname “Dr. Doom” because of his extremely bearish views on the U.S. economy and the U.S. dollar. He is currently the president of Euro Pacific Capital Inc., a brokerage firm that specializes in international investments. Schiff became the economic advisor to Ron Paul in his presidential campaign because of Paul’s commitment to constitutional values to stimulate savings and production.

THE REVIEW

As expected, the book’s general cause and effect of why we are in this economic state are the same as other recent books on economic gloom. That is not to say this book is unoriginal, as some people have mentioned in the Amazon reviews. Since this is the third book on the topic I’ve read recently, I might be inclined to label it unoriginal, but that’s being unfair. I could easily have read this book first. Additionally, I am not reading these books for originality. As mentioned, having three experts (and I’m sure lots more because of the books out there) write books on the same dour predictions due to the same causes, should make one take action. I am also interested in reading about the suggestions of each of them; whether they are the same or different.

That being said, this book definitely has its own unique style of conveying its arguments. The first three chapters are very fun to read. This historical perspective on how our country went from producers to consumers, how the government massages economic data to its own benefit, and how the dollar has declined is written with simplicity, logic and a wry humor. Schiff is the master of analogies and simple stories to demonstrate how stupid some of the economic actions are in this country. If you are not an expert at economics these chapters will clear up some confusion you have about debt, economic indicators, and the state we are in. The stories using Farmer Chin and Farmer Smith to explain how China is buying our wealth makes it easy to understand.

On our consumptive behavior, he equates it “to a philandering playboy who inherits a huge fortune and then proceeds to squander it. during the dissipation period, he lives a good life, and by all appearances he seems prosperous. but his prosperity is a function of the hard work of his ancestors rather than his own. once the fortune is gone, so too will be the gracious lifestyle that it helped support.”

In the second chapter, sections are divided by “comforting distortions” and “disturbing realities” to differentiate what the government wants the public to perceive about the well-being of the economy and what the actual reality is.

I’m not sure why, but Schiff goes away from his fun use of analogies and stories. It becomes a little more technical and dry in the chapters where he explains inflation, stock market chaos, real estate, and debt. It’s unfortunate, because the first three chapters rank as one of the best I’ve read. Experts will probably reverse my views with these two sections, but as a pseudo-beginning contrarian, the first three chapters cleared many things up for me.

His last three chapters are reserved for what you should do to protect yourself against the upcoming crisis. Nothing too crazy here, although Schiff is more on the conservative side than a Rogers or Leeb. Investing in gold is still the common theme in all three of them. The other two are less commonly suggested but still make sense. His advice is general and not so in depth.

This book is pretty much in line with other books I have read about the upcoming economic crisis. They help confirm the dire situation we are in. However, there are some negatives about this book that leave it open for criticism. Although this book has lots of charts and graphs, the source of them are all from the same website, prudentbear.com. By using only one source, and that source being well known as always being bearish (their phrase is “The One Stop Shop for the Bear Case”), it leaves an atmosphere of bias. He should have used more sources, especially those coming from the government and neutral sources. Additionally, every few pages in the book, he reminds the reader that he will later give advice on how to protect yourself from the crisis. We know that! Almost everyone reading this book reads it for the advice given. You don’t have to keep reminding us. Finally, during his last three chapters, there is a constant stream of subtle to not-so-subtle pressure to sign up with his investment group, Euro Pacific Capital, Inc. Talking about it once is enough. If we believe in what the book is preaching, we will naturally consider the author’s company when we do invest.

VERDICT

This book is not for experts or those that are already truly in the know about the economic situation of this country. Just from the title, it’s apparent he is trying to capture readers unaware of the situation. If you are still trying to understand the problems, this book is easy and fun to read. The first three chapters definitely stand out; not just in this book but in other books I’ve read. In terms of advice, the Roger’s book Hot Commodities ranks first (although all of them are in commodities). In terms of specific advice, Leeb’s book The Coming Economic Collapse gives more only because he is allowed to legally. Since Schiff is an investment advisor for a specific company he cannot give specific stock advice. Without the first three chapters, I would rate this book lower, but with it, it’s a good book to read overall.

Rating: 8 out of 10 bears

Posted in Books, Economics, Opinion, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Book Review: Hot Commodities

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 17, 2008

Book Review: Hot Commodities

How Anyone Can Invest Profitably in the World’s Best Market

Author: Jim Rogers

WHY I READ THIS BOOK

This is my second book review on the precarious economic situation in global economics, specifically in America. The first one was The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrel, by Stephen Leeb. Now, under the assumption that America is on the cusp of a long recession or some sort of economic crisis, I decided to read a book about a neglected investment area that already is in the midst of a long bull market, commodities. Commodities are the raw materials, natural resources and hard assets that prop up everything in our quality of life, from food such as corn, sugar, and pork, to infrastructure such as copper and rubber, to energy such as oil and natural gas. Without commodities, and a speculative market for it, we would be seeing drastic regional and daily price differences of everything, ranging from televisions to groceries to jewelry.

One funny thing I noticed with these books about economic crises is the required two stage title, the what and then the how. The Coming Economic Collapse: How you can thrive when oil costs $200 a barrel. Hot Commodities: How anyone can invest profitably in the world’s best market. Crash Proof: How to profit from the economic collapse. Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets: Surviving the public spectacle in finance and politics. All the titles could’ve done without the second title. It makes it a little juvenile and commercial, but I won’t judge a book by it’s cover.

THE AUTHOR: JIM ROGERS

I had heard of Jim Rogers before, but not much about his past. He came to fame in the 1970s where George Soros and him created the Quantum Fund that far outperformed the S&P in the high-inflation oil-crisis 1970s. The Quantum Fund returned over 4200% in that first ten years while S&P returned only 47%. After retiring in 1980, he went on to travel the world many times over… literally. He set the Guinness Book of World Record in 1992 by motorcycling over 100,000 miles across six continents (he details in his earlier book Investment Biker). He has traveled across China multiple times. Then in 2002 he set another world record by driving through 116 countries and 245,000 kilometers with his wife in a custom-made Mercedes. His current claim to fame is creating the 1998 Rogers International Commodity Index and predicting the current commodities bull market in 1999. This was during the height of the dot com when commodities were at multi-year lows and in a major bear market. He has also been a guest professor of finance at Columbia University, a moderator of finance shows on CBS and FNN. Like Soros, Rogers has also moved his entire family to Singapore because of the belief that Asia is the next financial epicenter and America is due for a major economic crisis.

REVIEW

“Commodities get no respect.” The first line in the book. I’d have to say I agree with him. I’ve been investing for less than 10 years and no one talks about commodities the way they talk about stocks and mutual funds. I guess most people only talk about automobiles like Corvette and Accord (stocks) or General Motors and Honda (mutual Funds). Unless you are a true car enthusiast, you leave the details about engines, suspension and chassis to the experts. However, we know that the materials that make up a car or a company’s products are what makes them run and exist. In short, Rogers pretty much expresses in simple terms that the supply and demand fundamentals of most commodities are way out of whack (his words). Supply is on the short side and demand is increasing.

The flow of this book is very good. He first builds his credentials. Then he talks about the history cycles of commodities, specifically the fundamentals of supply and demand. A step back with a primer on commodities and the exchanges that exist is next. Finally, it’s chapter by chapter of specific commodities that stand to gain in this bull market.

As with all these books, there is always an overt or covert “I told you so” in the writing. It is understandable because the authors are usually taking a contrarian viewpoint and in order to build credibility they have to show that their previous contrarian positions have panned out. Rogers is no exception when he describes the track record of his futures picks. Having the Quantum Fund with Soros as part of your credentials sure doesn’t hurt. What is interesting is that Rogers is at an age where he really doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. His writing style clearly shows this. It is very relaxed and simplistic. He talks about his past and trips around the world in a casual sense as if everyone can do it. He also refers to his mistakes and weaknesses as humourous because they turned out for the better. His attention to detail and research is remarkable.

The primer on commodities is very useful for those that are beginners in the area. Although some might find it too simplistic, “commodities are equivalent to futures“, I found it a necessary part of the book. Since this book was written in 2004, it was unfortunate that current commodities-related exchange-traded funds (right) are not mentioned. I would have been interested to hear his opinions on the Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE), the Goldman Sach’s iShares GSCI Commodity-Indexed Trust (GSG) and Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), amongst others. He does mention that the GSCI (GS Commodity Index) is weighted incorrectly, and thus the creation of his own commodity index.

In short, the commodities he talks about in detail are mostly nothing new. Everyone knows that China is tilting the balance of supply and demand in many key economic areas, such as oil and steel. However, Rogers has been preaching this since 1999 when oil was $10 a barrel and Asia had just overcome the 1997 financial crisis. The last thing anybody was thinking about was a commodity bull market. One viewpoint that was interesting was his lackluster enthusiasm of gold as a commodity. Although he maintains a small stake in it, he views it as something that doesn’t always follow the fundamentals of supply and demand, and that it’s historical cycles are harder to predict. He’s still bullish on it, but not as bullish as more obvious ones, such as oil and certain other metals. His other interesting viewpoint is on India. His first-hand experience in the country leads him to a different viewpoint than the public majority.

Each chapter about a commodity is interesting to read. He describes the importance of it in everyday life and markets and the historical cycles of it. The set up is to show why he thinks it is time again for that particular commodity to be a high-flyer.

Although this book was published in 2004, it is well-known that Rogers has been predicting the current commodity bull market since 1999. Let’s look at the performance of some of his suggested commodities since 1999 and 2004.

Light Crude Oil

Approximate price/barrel and return since 1999

1999 price: $15

2004 price: $35…..133%

2008 price: $130…..767%

Although there are signs of a bubble since 2007, high oil prices are clearly here to stay.

.

.

Gold

Approximate price/oz and return since 1999

1999 price: $270

2004 price: $400…..48%

2008 price: $900…..233%

Rogers is not as enthusiastic about gold. Although it has strong returns, it’s not as strong as the other commodities.

.

Platinum

Approximate price/oz and return since 1999

1999 price: $380

2004 price: $800…..111%

2008 price: $2000…..426%

Low supplies with increasing demand makes this commodity a high-flyer.

.

To be fair to him, I will leave the rest of his suggestions to readers. However, in looking at the monthly returns of most commodities, it is quite apparent that Jim Rogers is on the spot. Check out other phenomenal returns here.

VERDICT

The writing style of this book is so laid back it borders on conversational. However, it works for Jim Rogers because he appears to truly enjoy life like a kid. His wild-child trips around the world are not just rich-man-spending-money trips, but a big part of his research. His first-hand experience in living different cultures surely helps his perspectives. He is known for impeccable research, with simple logical explanations. If you believe the commodities bull market is far from over, as Rogers does, I suggest picking up this book.

Rating: 9 out of 10 corn ears

POLL: Have you invested in commodities (not stocks) since 1999?
1) yes
2) yes, but only gold
3) no, but I want to
4) no
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