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Archive for September, 2012

Diaoyu Islands Dispute

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

The dispute between China and Japan appears to only escalate with each passing day. Yesterday, the Chinese Government issued a White Paper, reiterating the sovereignty of China over these islands.

See key statements of the White Paper at the link below:

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012Diaoyu/2012-09/25/content_15782101.htm

Waves of protests erupted in China ever since Japan’s government announced its “nationalization” of the islands. Many overseas Chinese organized protests all over the world as well. Last week, I covered such a protest at Chicago’s Chinatown Square and witnessed the beating of drums, denunciation against Japan’s latest actions, and the shouting of Anti-Japan slogans.

The emotions ran high, from many overseas Chinese regardless their place of origin—mainland China, Taiwan or Hong Kong. It was a united front.

Being a Chinese, I resonated with them. Digging into the history of these islands, as I prepared to cover the event, I felt strongly that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China. Sino-Japan relationship, despite the strong economic ties that have been developed in recent years, always feels like walking on eggshell. What the Japanese did to China in the 30s and 40s, not to mention at the turn of the last century, was still very hurtful and fresh in the minds of the Chinese.

I wonder how Americans feel about this dispute?

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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The Crux of the Problem

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

 

 

I was recently in New York City on a business trip, and met the son of a friend of my colleague for a drink after work.  John works for a firm, which I shall call XYZ Capital, trading stocks. John is a very responsible young man, the only child of two hard-working immigrants who live in New Jersey. I learned that his father, an engineer, was a frugal man who has spent his life working as a technical representative for an electrical engineering company that sold equipment across United States. John, who apparently earns a substantial income from his trading activities, is generous to his parents, particularly his mother who he spoils, buying her vacations and theatre trips to New York.

John has an engineering degree and of course his father was keen to see him following his footsteps and pursue a career in engineering. To use his own words, his father continually asks him, “When will you get a real job?” He laughed sheepishly as he told us this. I questioned him further about his daily activities and whether he finds his job rewarding, not just financially, but as a long-term career.  His response, of course, was that the money was very enticing and upon further questioning I found out that, in addition to his basic income, he receives a distribution of profits at the end of the year. This bonus for some reason is treated as capital gains and therefore has a much lower rate of tax. I don’t know how they manage to transform income into capital, but this is as major loophole in the tax code, exploited by much of the financial services industry and of course is the major reason why Governor Romney, the Republican candidate for President, paid only 14% tax on multi-million dollar income for decades.

John said that for the time being he was very happy in his job. Apparently his company is not one that is trading all night around the world, but focuses on US stocks, and so he has more or less a 9-to-5 job and the money is very very good.  Who can blame him, but the crux of the problem, is how the United States is going to compete in the world in the future and get out of our current economic quagmire, when our best and brightest are enticed to gamble on stocks, trade in derivatives, or manufacture complicated schemes on securitized mortgage loans.  Those young men and women with engineering degrees, business degrees, and science degrees, should be the foundation of building new industries and new businesses in the United States.  

However the George Bush Tax Cuts and other concessions he gave to Wall Street, the banking industry, and financial services generally, have made it far too lucrative to expect these young people to choose a much harder path to success. That has to change but then we come up against the next problem, —  how do we get Congress to have the political will to make the changes necessary and create not only a fair society, but a society where we are building industries and businesses of substance and not just gambling with pieces of paper.  This should be food for thought over the next few weeks as we choose our President.  It will also be crucial to tackle these issues in 2013 if this nation is going to continue to recover from the great recession, put people back to work, and build a fair society where the top 1% are not the only people to benefit.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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Romancing the Dram

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

  

Although we live in a world of Facebook and Twitter and instant e-mail responses, flowery descriptions, particularly of consumer brand products still play an important role in marketing.

I have always been amused at the wonderfully evocative descriptions used to describe wine. When this process started I don’t know, although many years ago I had the opportunity of visiting some of the finest vineyards in Bordeaux and was struck by the ambience that the winemakers had created, in what were really storage warehouses.   I remember flaming torches on whitewashed walls, marble entryways, and subdued lighting over storage racks of some of the most valuable wines in the world.  Being in the Scotch Whisky industry at the time, I marveled at the French ability to create a feeling of luxury, quality and expensive tastes in their wineries. I wondered why the Scotch Whisky distillers had not followed these practices. For I knew that the Cognac industry had similar techniques, maybe not quite so lavish, but nevertheless their producers had created the mystique and the feeling of expensive exclusivity for their brands. 

So for many years I have been engaged by the lavish descriptions of wines. “A cheeky little personality;” or “a good nose with a strong finish;” or “an aroma of fresh pear, apple and cinnamon, with a touch of hazelnuts;” or the “smoky wood flavor, kissed by the sun.”  These and many other descriptions are lovely and romantic, but have become common and acceptable language for fine wines and for some not so fine wines!  I have to admit with a little practice one can notice fragrances of fruit and flowers in many wines.  So I can’t say that this descriptive business is total nonsense but nevertheless it is really just good marketing.

Apparently, my feelings many years ago that the Scotch Whisky industry should follow suit has now happened.  I was amazed to see that The Glenlivet Single Malt Whisky now has similar descriptions on its carton. After 38 years experience in the Scotch Whisky industry, I know that Smith’s Glenlivet was always designated by the industry as “top-notch.” As such, it commanded a premium price when traded in bulk from distiller- to-distiller for use in many of the major blended brands of Scotch. The industry has generally done a good job in establishing single malts as their premium products, commanding sometimes astronomical prices.

Scotch Whisky is aged in used oak barrels from the US bourbon industry and used sherry casks from the sherry industry. As the Whisky matures, it extracts flavors and indeed some coloring from the used barrels, which contributes to establishing its own flavor.

The Glenlivet, now describes itself as having a nose of “vibrant aromas of summer meadows and tropical fruits, notably pineapples” and a palate of “floral notes, smooth and sweet fruit notes of fresh peaches and pears and vanilla,” with a finish of “Marzipan and fresh hazelnuts.” This description on the carton also talks about the distillery producing Glenlivet high up in the remote area of Speyside in the Highlands of Scotland.  I am certainly amused that tropical fruits, pineapple and marzipan and hazelnuts could have any connection to these remote areas of  Scotland.

The wine industry, plants varieties of grapes usually in arid sandy soil often with flowering rose bushes at the beginning and end of each line of vines.  Thus it is possible to pick up fruit flavors and floral aromas.  Malt Scotch Whisky is made from malted barley – the influence on flavor comes not only from the barrels, but also from the waters of the Highland streams and sometimes the location of the distillery, the age of the pot-stills, and even the walls of the distillery itself.  It’s hard to imagine summer meadows and tropical fruits resulting from the distillation process.

Nevertheless, I am pleased that the Scotch Whisky industry is Romancing the Dram. I think it’s good for the business, and it’s fun for the consumers who develop their own knowledge about their particular favorite Malt Whisky.  So, I am all in favor of it.  

One last point I was always taught that Malt Whisky is best between 8 and 12 years old. It does not improve over the 12-year-age, so those consumers who pay for Whisky of 15, 18 or even 25-year-old are not really getting any extra quality.  Just, perhaps, bragging rights.

 

 Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

September 6th

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Four years ago on September 6, I was on a plane rushing from Chicago to Beijing, via a transfer in Toronto, the only route I could get a seat within hours of learning the news that my father had passed away.  I was very shocked despite having seen him in Changchun, capital of Jilin Province where he lived less than two weeks before ago when I visited him and my mother and knew he was very weak.  The impact of losing him hit me so hard that I couldn’t stop the tears and couldn’t breathe without feeling the physical pain in my chest.

Four years later on the same day I was on a plane again, this time from Chicago to New York City. I was on my way to attend the premiere of Mulberry Child, the feature-length documentary based my book, at the Quad Cinema. It was a coincidence that the week-long screenings in NYC would start in early September. Personally I dedicated the occasion as a tribute to my father.

Four years have gone since his passing, but he is alive in my heart and his influence on me still goes on just as if he were still with me. I have and will always remember him as a man of integrity, a dedicated public servant, and a loving father. His passion toward life, his optimism facing all kinds of adversity, and his strength, both mentally and physically, will stay with me and inspire me forever. I cherish the memory when, as a child, I used his arm as a swing; and in his 80s, I still couldn’t beat him in arm wrestling. And I’m grateful to this day that his firm no against my joining the army before finishing high school changed the path of my life.

My father passed away on September 6, 2008 after battling with lung cancer for three years. He remained a fighter to the last day of his life. Upon learning the news of his diagnosis in 2005, he was silent for a week and then decided his way of living the last phase of his life: no operation, no chemo therapy, and no hospitalization. He wanted to control the quality of his remaining days without drugs, and he wanted to live with dignity, and with his mind as clear as he had always been. And he did, enduring a lot of pain without any complaint.

He expressed two last wishes during that time: live to see the Beijing Olympic Games and the Shanghai Expo. He was able to fulfill the first.

Many readers of Mulberry Child expressed admiration for him. I was touched and pleased. He would have liked hearing those comments. I took comfort in the fact that I was able to present a hardcover copy of my book to him in August 2008 when I visited him, and in September when I went back to attend his funeral, I saw my book on a prominent position on his desk. Longing to have the book accompanying him, I placed that copy under his pillow when he was wheeled away for cremation.

He would be pleased to know that the film Mulberry Child had been produced, well received at film festivals, with three awards under its name so far, and resonated with many viewers at theatres. I’m looking forward to the premiere in NYC, a place I had once lived for five years and my father had visited before.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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America Deserves Better

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

 

This was the theme of last week’s Republican convention.  And yes, America does deserve better. We Americans deserve a Congress that is willing to compromise in order to move the country forward.  A Congress that is not so bitterly divided that there is virtually no communication between the two parties. A Congress where the leader of Republican Senate does not believe that their main objective is to remove President Obama from office.  Their main objective should be to deal with America’s problems and achieve bipartisan agreement to achieve these goals. This is how they should represent the people. But sadly this Congress is engaged in party politics of the most vicious and vitriolic nature.  As such, this Congress is beyond the “do-nothing Congress,” to a “let us harm America Congress,” for the sake of parties and ideologies. In these deeply troubling economic times, their actions have contributed to the suffering of hundreds of millions of Americans, and at the same time their inaction has weakened the country both economically and internationally.

So what did the Republican convention last week achieve?  Does anybody now know what Governor Romney’s policies would be as President of the United States?  He said he said we need to cut the deficit, we need to cut entitlements, we need to cut costs of education, we need to cut defense, we need to cut taxes for small businesses and corporations alike, we need to cut taxes for the 1% wealthiest individuals in the US, but what he didn’t say, was how this can be achieved and where the extra revenues would come from.  He talks about creating new jobs, but how do these flash and burn cuts create new jobs? These austerity policies are being followed in Europe.  They have not cut the deficit.  In fact the policies have made their deficits worse, unemployment is soaring, and there are riots on the streets.

How many people truly believe that a President Romney would achieve his policies, while the more moderate elements of the Republican Party are being swamped by the ideologically intransigent Tea Party elements? In his efforts to pander to the right- wing conservatives, he has made pledges and promises that would make him a slave to the Tea Party controlled Congress.

Of course, promises, misrepresentation, and even downright lies have become the norm in the political system of the United States. But the man appointed by Governor Romney to be one heartbeat away from the Presidency, has gone well beyond the usual political rhetoric and has achieved a new low in misrepresentation.

A contributor to Fox News stated that in Paul Ryan’s speech there were more blatant lies and misrepresentations in a single political speech than has ever been heard at a convention.  Other criticisms in the media describe his speech as “The most bizarre convention speech…Ever.”  Thus it appears that Romney and Ryan are willing to blatantly lie to the American people about the most important issues facing this country. 

So how comfortable can we, the American voter, be about the pledges and promises of the Romney campaign in order to get our vote? Yes, the American people do deserve better. But it seems unlikely Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan will provide the solutions to this country’s current problems.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com