Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I'm still afraid of China... Part 2

This is a continuation of my previous blog where I express my growing concern for our inability to compete with China....

    In a discussion on the advantages that China may hold over us, if I didn't mention their education system, I would be remiss.  Anecdotal as it may be, this struck me particularly as my son and I were touring Princeton University a few months ago, and 2/3's of the tour guides seemed to be of Asian descent.  So I did some research.  Here is what I found...  School in China is compulsory for 9 years and then for the last 3, students go to technical schools, high schools or start in the workforce.  

The days typically start at the same time as our schools do, 8am, unless the kids come in early to clean the school.  That's right, they clean their own schools.  There are no janitors in Chinese schools, the kids have the responsibility to clean. They have, on average, 8 - 40 minute classes, instead of our 7-40 minute class routine, but they have it 6-7 days per week instead of 5.  It is not unusual for Chinese children to be in school until after 9 at night. They take breaks and can go home for lunch and dinner, but come back to school after each.  The time spent at school, between classes, is mainly spent studying, as there are exams each day.  Uniforms are normal, but if not, there are strict dress codes.  Chinese children are not allowed to date in schools.  Their middle school is generally accepted as being equivalent to our High Schools.  For those parents and teachers, who hate teaching to the test, don't move to China.  The 3 years of High School are mostly spent preparing kids to take the Gao Kao, the higher education test.  The last year of High School is entirely dedicated to it.  Forget about being on a Varsity Sports team, they don't exist. If you are good at sports, you go to sports schools where you study and train in your sport, while you have little interaction with textbooks on other subjects.  Let's talk Olympics for a minute, as a way to illustrate that the Chinese are good at setting and achieving goals.  China won 32 gold medals in the 2004 Summer Olympics, about twice the number they had if you averaged the previous 5 Olympics.  They set a goal to do better on their home turf, and 4 years later, they won an unprecedented 112 gold medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics.  That's over 3 times better than their best effort ever, and a scary thing if you think about what they could put their minds to do next.

     If you really want to be scared, you'd want to take a close look at the financial comparisons between our countries.  Seriously, don't read any further if you are weak-hearted....China, in the last 28 years has moved from a "poor" society to the 2nd major economic power in the world.  From 37th place to 2nd place, that's a huge spread.  How do we do against this "poor" country in our currency reserve?

We suck. While the "rich" country of the United States of America set set aside a whopping 77.65 billion dollars, China has, at the same time, set aside $1,955 billion dollars, um I don't have a calculator handy, but isn't that more than 25 times what we have?  We probably make it up in our comparative debt analysis, but no, lo and behold, we are at 37% of our GDP and China is at 16%.  Well at least it's not 3x our rate, there should be comfort in that. FYI ours is at 13,750 Billion while China's is at 400 Billion.  That's more of a stark reminder as our debt has to be measured in Trillions and at the same time theirs is in billions. Sobering thought, isn't it?  China actually owns 907 billion dollars of US treasury bonds, so they could pay off their debt twice with just these if they wanted to.  That makes them our largest creditor, FYI, and gives them a huge amount of political and economic clout.  Ever wonder why we have become largely silent on any, human rights issues out of China?  I don't. I tried to find some good statistics on how much property the Chinese already own in the US, but I couldn't. I am certain, that the Chinese are buying more and more of our properties though, as we look like a fire sale to them.

Their dollar is strong, and our properties are cheap.  It's not only China doing it, a Canadian friend of mine came down recently to buy 2 homes in Florida, saying that it was a deal he couldn't pass up.  There has been talk of eventually having to back our debt with some sort of collateral, and one of the only things we own of value, is federal land.  Think how scary that could get if China owned the roads we drive on, or the power plants we pull from?  It's already happening at the state level, what's to stop it at the federal level?  Nothing. 

     One of my biggest fears is the widening gap between male and female births in China.  With the government's "one child" policy in place since 1979, and with the invention of portable ultrasound technology, more Chinese families have chosen to abort female offspring, to make sure they have a male heir.  This has vastly skewed the numbers for males, and with the Chinese already having almost 20% of the world's population, the last thing you want is a disparity between men and women. 

Some estimates put the number of young Chinese men, that cannot find mates, to 40 million by 2010.  Um, that's a lot of horned up, motivated soldiers to have, and it's less than 9 years away.  What are we doing to combat this?  We are ramping up our exports of Hollywood films and TV shows so we can show these men what they are missing.  I posted a modest picture of Kim Kardashian (left) to illustrate what we show, but trust me, it was tough to find a modest picture of Kim Kardashian.  Exporting pictures and films of our best looking women to scores of frustrated Chinese men, seems like taunting to me, at the very least, it seems like a bad idea.  It is nice to see us still manufacture something here in the US though.  One need only to drive through some of the once great manufacturing meccas in the US, to see the shuttered buildings, and gated properties that used to be manufacturing plants to get the feel of whether we are growing or shrinking against China as a manufacturer (the answer is shrinking).  We even buy a lot of our military gear abroad now, which makes us more vulnerable in the event of an attack.  China, on the other hand, has thousands of new factories and trained labor ready to convert to making things for use in war.  We still make more bullets than China currently, but of course we will have the greater need. 

     I'm going to close this blog with a tongue and cheek look at how an attack on the US might go.   Let's imagine the Chinese military landing on some beaches in California and see what might happen. Picture our General talking to his aide getting an update on the landing just hours after......

General:  What's the sit rep on the landings?

Aide: Um, not good sir, we've lost all five beachheads.

General: ALL FIVE?  How in God's name did we lose all five?  What happened in Santa Barbara?

Aide: Bed news sir, it was overrun quickly.  They tweeted ahead of time that they had covered their bayonets in dust, gluten, latex, and Oh the humanity of it all, Peanut Butter! They found no resistance when they arrived.

General: Those Bastards! What about Toro Canyon?

Aide: Funny thing about Toro Canyon sir, they technically own it.  The first boat came ashore and it was filled with lawyers and eviction papers, and well, we were trespassing after all......

General: Hollywood?

Aide: It was an inside job sir.  For years Jackie Chan has been hosting events and flash mobs in all the strategic places and the press has conveniently sent these pictures out.  The Chinese had every square inch recorded and were able to circumvent our defenses easily.

General:  San Diego?

Aide: Overrun and surrounded in minutes by the Chinese and their paid mercenaries. 

General: Paid Mercenaries?

Aide: Well technically they were the day laborers standing in front of the Home Depot, but they were still pretty effective.  Our intelligence reports that they were back by noon, looking for landscaping jobs.

General: Well that just leaves Ormond Beach where we have the Naval Base, how bad were the casualties there?

Aide:  Good News sir, no casualties.  Bad News sir, we surrendered immediately.  Don't take it out on the soldiers though sir, it was diabolical what they did.  They knocked out the Internet, except for Google, and paid to have the top 20 searches return with the answer "Surrender to the Chinese" It was over before it started sir. We didn't stand a chance.  The Troops are being held captive in their own homes, and are already complaining about the conditions there sir.

General: My God, who could have predicted this?

Aide: Only the Ongion, sir.  

The future Mrs. Kim, Kim Lee Kardashian

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'm still afraid of China... Part 1

I don't know the solution, but I do recognize a problem when I see it.  It makes sense to pay attention to large and powerful countries that are ideologically opposed to you, as someday they may try to take you over.   I think an overthrow of the US could come in a variety of ways, and I think we are losing grounds on all the fronts. Follow me down my envisioned future path, and let's see how we make out.....

     Let's start with population.  According to the latest US census, we have 308 million people.  That seems like a lot of folks, until you look at the Chinese numbers.  Their census in 2010 set their population at 1.34 billion people.
That's a whole lot more folks, in fact it's more than 4 times our population.  It may seem inconsequential at first, but then envision any sport or game with a 4 to 1 roster advantage.  How successful a football team would you have if you faced off each week with your 11 men, against a team on the field of 44 men?  Think of the Alamo.  So greater numbers quickly turns a chess game into checkers.  You don't need a strategy, you just keep sending your men in, and the odds are so lopsided, the win is guaranteed.  For some reason (likely because I am a geek), when I think of China's overpopulation, I am reminded of the Star Trek episode where Kirk finds himself in a replica of the Enterprise on a really overcrowded planet (The Mark of Gideon, Season Three).  This wasn't a particularly great episode, but the theme of not being able to get away or have privacy, resonated with me in my household of 14 at the time. That's China to me now. Fact is, they simply outnumber us. 

     Moving away from population let's talk commerce and the trade imbalance. 15 years ago approximately 6% of the goods sold at Walmart were made abroad, and in fact they ran a Buy American campaign.  Today over 60% of the goods come from overseas, largely from China, and it's not only Walmart doing it.  Think of any of the larger retailers.
I heard recently that Walmart had just placed orders for 4 more super freighters from Maersk to carry the goods here from China. I couldn't substantiate the claim, but the largest one out there now can carry 11,000 containers from China to California in 10 days.  I could find good figures on our trade imbalance.  The good news is that we sold 91 billion dollars worth of goods to China last year, the bad news is that we bought 364 billion dollars worth of Chinese goods last year.  That creates an annual trade imbalance of 271 billion dollars !  It rose 23% last year alone and is still growing.  How's that Flat World thing working out for you now?  They have the ability to control their currency, which the current administration blames for the imbalance, but we all are to blame when we insist on the least expensive products, instead of the best made ones.  Again, no answers here, I'm just alerting you to the snowball rolling downhill at us, and the fact that it is gaining speed and momentum. One of the oddest things to me is that we are increasing our food imports each year from China at an alarming rate.  In 2008 it was 5 billion dollars but 10 years before that it was less than one billion.  I couldn't find a current figure but I'm sure it's up a lot more now, and it's not foods used for Chinese cooking, it's apple juice, coffee, shrimp, oil, and garlic.
Garlic ready for export

The trade imbalance doesn't include the goods that are produced in China and then shipped through other countries either.  As soon as we pass a law to protect us from a particular food item, they figure a way to route it through an non-restricted country.  It's a shell game, literally, but the shells are shrimp.  If you want to buy local garlic, look for roots on the bulbs and a less than white color, or shop at a farmer's market.  The Chinese garlic is pure white, irradiated, and has no roots attached, it is cut close to the bulb.  We have already had health issues associated with Chinese food products, as they do not have the same restrictions as US growers do placed upon them.  The problem lies more with the processed food items we purchase, as there is no way to tell where the ingredients in them come from, but one thing is certain, an alarming number of them are coming from China.It's not food, but remember the pet food issue in 2007?  Over 1500 pets died from a toxic ingredient in the pet food, that could have easily have been in some of the processed foods we eat.  After a year of investigation, here is what happened in China according to Wikipedia....

Chinese state media announces that 180 food factories have been closed for improperly using industrial chemicals and recycled or expired food. The director of the Chinese General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine's quality control and inspection department states that "These are not isolated cases." Most of the offending manufacturers were unlicensed food plants with fewer than 10 employees. It is estimated that three-fourths of China's one million food processing plants are small and privately-owned. In addition, the Chinese State Administration for Industry and Commerce states that it closed 152,000 unlicensed food manufacturers and retailers in 2006 for making fraudulent or low-quality products.[92]

      This will end part one of this blog.  In order to try and present the most accurate information, the research part of this blog took many man hours. I hope you find it was worth it.  Next week, I'll look at Chinese education, their investments in us, and their armed forces and tie this all together with a humorous look at the way I could see an attack on us going.  Yes, I can make that funny.  Feel free to comment and give me more ideas to work with.  Stay tuned for part 2.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I'm phoning it in this week....

     In life, there are the goals that you set, and then there is the stark reality made up of compromises, and self negotiation.  When you pile your plate up with too many things, it is natural and even expected that something will fall off it.  So, today it's the 24th anniversary of the day I promised to love, honor and cherish my wife, and here at 5:11 in the am, I sit here, without a card or a gift, and worse yet writing a blog.

     I hate this month.  In the first few weeks, we celebrate my birthday, our anniversary, Dan's birthday, Father's day, we run a large charity golf outing, and we plan for graduations.  This year it wasn't busy enough, so we moved the Court of Awards for Boys Scouts to the first weekend in June, instead of it's traditional day in April.  To help prep for all this stuff, we took the weekend before and conducted a flag ceremony for the Veterans on Memorial Day, visited my sister in the hospital and helped move our daughter into her new home.  Did I mention my son's baseball practices, piano lessons, games, and band concerts?  Well, it's only because I made half of them, sufficed to say, it's a busy time for us, so I'm phoning this blog in. 

     I'm not doing research, I'm not searching the internet for the exact picture to make you feel the right emotion, hell I might not edit or spell check this (What? You normally edit and spell check these, you couldn't tell). You are getting what you get, cuz something had to give.  I've got a trip out, starting tomorrow, and I need to finish this to get all the golfers tee times put together for the tournament.  At least then, when they call the house, while I am gone, they can get their times, and I won't have to do it Friday when I am packing up the 100 gift bags.  I need to get to my office by 6 today so I can finish 3 expense reports, before I take off.  More than likely, however, tomorrow night will find me in a hotel, taping receipts to paper and trying to remember who I had dinner with 3 weeks before. Did I tell you I have a new boss at work too? Way to make a great first impression Yarger.

     I probably should have gotten the card on Saturday when I was helping a Scout finish his First Class requirements, or between Saturday and Sunday when I was doing my second cook test on a Texas Beef Brisket, in preparation for my son's graduation party this summer.  Did I mention my wife and I are on the Senior Bash committee too?  I could have skipped the cocktails I had with some friends on Saturday night, but we had been intending on inviting them over for 2 years now, and if it didn't happen then, who knows if it ever would have. 

     I gave you five paragraphs, and that's all you are getting this week.  This is my idea of phoning it in. I'll set this to Auto post tonight, as I have to be up early to head out.  In closing lest you think I am complaining in this blog, I'm truly not.  We find value in all these activities, we go all out, and all in for the important things in our lives, and yes, sometimes that leaves cherishing our relationship at the bottom of the pile.  So be it.  If I picked up on one thing in the 24 years, it's how my wife thinks.  We'll find time in a few weeks to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and it will be done with dinner, and wine, and laughter and cards.  That is, if we BOTH find time to go out and buy them. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

For Crying Out Loud....

My Dad used that expression a lot, or so it seemed to me.  It usually went like this..."For Crying Out Loud Louise, do the kids have to spill the Kool-Aid every night at the table?"  (We didn't have to, but we did it a lot).  I'm not sure I know the origins of the expression or the correct usage, but my Dad's version  works for me.  I thought of it the other day when I was moved to tears, and wondered what my Dad's reaction to them might have been.....

     It was the Sunday of Memorial Day and my Scouts were participating in a flag ceremony and the reading of the honored war dead.  We were halfway into the names when I tasted something salty on my cheek and realized that I was openly crying.  It was likely the combination of emotions that got to me, my gratitude for the sacrifices made for my freedom, my patriotism swelling inside of me, the pride I felt for the job my Scouts had done that day, and of course the thanks I felt for all of God's blessings, but there was no excuse for it, I was crying.  I used the back of my hand to hide any evidence of it, and got myself under control, but later thought of the many times in my life and events that had and hadn't brought tears.

     I was born, like most kids, crying.  Unlike most kids, however, I kept that particular skill for a lot longer than nature intended.  You don't mind being called a crybaby at 2, but at 12, it's a lot different. 
I seemed to have a lot of trouble dealing with the strong emotions that I felt, without them being accompagnied by my self produced waterworks.  I liked that I was passionate about so many things, but the tears I could have done without. I'm going to give myself a pass on the first 10 years or so, just because my crying instances would be too many to count, and I hope to keep the blog short, but sufficed to say, a lot of things brought me to tears back then.  I cried when my siblings gave me a mean nickname (Scum), and used it incessantly for about a month.  It was "Don't sit near Scum" or "Don't let Scum walk with us" and things to that effect.  Many of them were in on it, but in retrospect I likely deserved my lumps.  Coincidentally my weekly bath time fell right about in the middle of Star Trek, and admittedly I would rush the process a little, less I miss the ending each week.  There is nothing worse than being told to take your bath when Captain Kirk is getting beaten senseless by a Gorn... Well, OK, there are 2 worse things, 1. Coming back after your "bath" to see the Gorn defeated and have no idea of how it happened, and 2. Having to lay down on the living room rug in tight quarters with the kid who skips his bath each week. 

If my siblings had done that to me in today's age, they would have probably been accused of bullying, harassment or hazing, and I would still be a stinky 10 year old,  but I digress, point was,  I cried at being teased.  I cried when I got hurt, I cried when I was angry, I cried when I couldn't communicate effectively what I wanted to say (now I blog), and when I felt the world had dealt me a bad hand.  I cried a lot.  A short disclaimer, I cried 2nd most in the family, I had a sister who put me to shame, in fact so much I am thinking of naming her Teary (pronounced Teery) in the blog, but I haven't fully decided yet.  I was the 2nd biggest crybaby in the family though, but at some point, my brain started to get a handle on the emotions, and I started to cry less.  Those times, I largely remember.

     I cried when I discovered my dog died, or more correctly, my dead dog.  My brother Ace had gotten up  before me, so he actually discovered that the dog died.  I, later on, stumbled on the back porch eating my morning Buckwheats and happened to look into a vacuum cleaner box that was there, and it was then that I discovered my dead dog, lying on her back four feet sticking up, in full rigor.  Now, I can laugh about it, but back then, I cried.  My Dad's cure was to take me to the farm and have me dig the grave for the dog (Incidentally this is two weeks in a row, that I am blogging on dead animals being buried, I really need to get out of this rut). 
Anyone that has ever had to dig a grave for a beloved pet, instantly wishes for a smaller pet (why didn't they buy me a hamster?), it's all relative though, it could have been a Great Dane instead of a beagle type mutt.  Hell, think of that poor girl who owns Clifford the Big Red Dog, that'll be a job when he dies.  I wouldn't even want to pick up that dog's droppings, much less bury him.   On the subject of dying dogs and crying, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that I still cry when I watch Old Yeller.  If there are four sadder words in the English language than "Travis, get the gun", I do not know them. 

     I don't cry a lot at funerals.  I have buried many Aunts and Uncles, my Father, and even a Brother, but I really didn't cry at those times.  In most the cases, I knew they were in a better place, or had lived good lives, so I did not dwell on the passing, but on what they had left.  When my dad died, there were a lot of preparations that had to be made, so I pitched in and helped and put the sadness aside for a while, but you can't always avoid it.  Months later, I passed my Dad's old truck and started to wave to him, and when the realization hit me that it couldn't ever be him again, passing me, I had to pull over to let the emotion pass.

 It wasn't too many years before then, that I caught myself starting to cry in the middle of a salary negotiation and my then-boss started to take pity on me, but I yelled at him that I didn't need his pity, just the money I deserved.  It was the sole time that I recall that crying may have gotten me something, but probably it didn't.  Most times crying just gets you wet. 

     Many years passed before I cried again, and it was at my wedding.  I couldn't believe that this incredible, intelligent, vivacious person would commit herself to me, for life, until the very moment she said the words, "I do".  Those were tears that I do not regret.  I can actually sum up the rest of my tears pretty quickly after that.  I didn't cry at the birth of our kids, but I might have at Kindergarten graduation.  If you are surprised at that, consider that all they had to do for the first one was slide down the birth canal, but the graduation took actual effort. 

See, he's a good dog, why shoot him?
 Every event thereafter, that involved me being proud of my kids likely elicited tears.  First Dates, Singing the National Anthem, Plays and Skits, and even the occasional non-proud moment spent just snuggling on the couch as a family (not watching Old Yeller), Guilty as Charged.  They were good tears though.  Those are the tears left in me, I suppose, relegated for very high emotional events, no more raise wrangling, but  maybe for a Grandhcild or two.  In closing, I'd like to apologize to my family for the histrionics while growing up, and I hope that I've truly gotten better at bathing and not crying but I've really got to get going now, I can just hear my Dad say    " For Crying Out Loud, Willie, stop your nonsense, it's almost 2 am....."