Saturday, July 08, 2006

In China

Rob Skiff
July 7, 2006
Somewhere over the North Pole

It takes quite a while to fly to China. Right now I’m 30,000 ft over the Greenland cursing Continental Airlines’ movie selection. However, I’m also thinking about the possibilities that this trip has for the school. I’ve got a good feeling that if we can come to some type of understanding between Nanjing AV and Vermont Commons that this marks a start of a wonderful relationship.

At the airport I met a Chinese who worked at the National Bank of Canada. I presented my card and got into a polite and interesting conversation about econometrics. Piper entered the conversation and switched to Chinese and charmed the hell out of him. It was a brilliant example of how important it is to have a smart intelligent and dynamic Chinese language speaker on your team. One of the reasons that America is falling behind is our lack of second language skills. The opportunities in this world belong to those that are intelligent, creative, skillful and have the ability to speak in another foreign language like Spanish or Chinese. If your also able to synthesize and see connections then you have a chance at influence. Don’t forget your mastery of math and science. Without that nothing else is possible.

The trip from the airport to the hotel is the first impression that an area gives to a guest. The Bejing Airport is modern and has the anywhere world atmosphere of all places directly connected to the world. Piper as usual guided Pete and I through the process of finding a cab and getting us to the hotel. Our cabby was 35 years old and has a son who is ten. We asked him about Tienamen and he told us that everyone remembers and that the democracy movement is just bubbling under the surface, but the government keeps a lid on it. People so not have access to the quality that they need. He also thinks that the education here in China is not good and that learning English is essential. The road from the airport was lined with trees, everywhere there are advertisements for renewable energy and green building. Pete told me that the leaves show clear indication that they are not getting enough light because of the smog, and we are encased in a think has where even the location of the sun is not visible.

After checking into the hotel, we took a walk to the Forbidden City and Tienamen. This area is huge and the people were well dressed with some funky clothing. The younger the kid the more they resembled their contemporaries in Ecuador, Vermont and the rest of the world. For them globalization is already here and the world has already knit itself into a global culture. To get to Tienamen we walked though Bejing’s version of Church Street with thousands of people walking around. I did not get one stare of look, it was as if I was just a normal piece of the environment. Piper could not believe the changes that had taken place. She remarked that the people were much more sophisticated and that the city was clearly using the Olympics as a motivator to do a massive program of urban renewal.

Walking into Tienamen was amazing. The buildings are massive and Mao’s tomb opposite the Forbidden City created quite the impression. The Forbidden City was the home of the emperors for a very long stretch of Chinese history. It was forbidden for any ordinary citizen to enter the Emperor’s presence unless they were a member of the civil service. The closer you got to the center of the city and the presence of the emperor the greater the power and honor. Watching thousands of people walk in and out of the city made me realize the power of communism and how much a symbol of reform opening up the city must have been. Now the people were the center. However, old cultural forms don’t die they just become integrated into the new cosmology. Mao’s tomb outside the gates, with his portrait on the its mail wall has clear significance. It is now the square that is the symbolic center of the Chinese world. That is why the democracy movement gathered here to build the statue of liberty, and that is way the party cleared it with tanks and a lot of blood.

After hanging around, we walked into some back allies and saw some beautiful courtyard homes of the party members. Their wealth is shielded from prying eyes, by an architecture that replicates the philosophy of the forbidden city in miniature. They are beautiful buildings. The art galleries, restaurants and smells all seemed more familiar to me as what I remember from Thailand and Indonesia. We got into another cab and talked to the driver. This guy was not as open. He asked it we were Americans and we said yes. He said he liked the American people but did not like our government. Piper answered “We don’t really like our government either. That means were just like you.” He laughed and then quickly changed the subject.

The noodle shop where we ate dinner was great. A tour group from the south of China came in and ate. The waitress, who was from Bejing was clearly horrified by their manners. They were country people, just like me. I liked them from the beginning. They are another part of China that I know very little about.

China is so massive and diverse that it cannot be described with any easy analogies. It is not the red horde, but a massive cultural identity struggling to make sense of the world within some very clear ecological and economic constraints. There is a lot of optimism on the streets of Bejing, like some great positive change is about to happen. Wireless is everywhere, the cell phones are out and people are walking around. China has 1.3 billion people. I suspect that they will have 300 million people that we would describe as middle class quite soon. 1 million ultra rich and 1 billion lower class rural and urban workers. This part of China is the one that party is concerned with and the whole world needs to pay attention to. How they react to globalization will determine the success and survival of not only China, but the rest of the world. Imagine feeding 1.3 billion people a day, taking care what comes in and what goes out just boggles my mind. Ecological restoration needs to start and end in China and India.

Time to go back to watching the world cup and surfing the web for ecological groups to connect with.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Global Trends 2015

My students are creating some H5N1 infection models and a report that they will be sending the Vermont Governor. Needing to have an example of quality inteligence work, I have asked them to read Globaltrends 2015 by our friends at Langley.


I have started a beekeeping blog to record the first year of the hive. Things seem to be slowing down in my life, so I should have a little more time to write. My apologies to all two of my readers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

China Pulls the Plug

My last post was a tad pessimistic…I’m still of the same mind. Yesterday, I ran into a friend who owns a furniture business in town. In fact he owns several of them. He told me that shipping costs from China have just risen to $2900 per container up from $2000 a couple of months ago. This does not bode well for the world economy. The rising costs of transportation are making globalization an expensive proposition. However, this is the least of our problems.

In an official newspaper of the People’s Republic of China, Lau Nai-keung, pretty much repeated what I have been saying for quite a while. The most troubling aspect of this article is that it is the only truthful account of the current state of the U.S. Economy to be found. Read it, it is important.

“It is well known that the US is the world's biggest economy, taking up about 30 per cent of global GDP, but it is now also the world's biggest debtor country. According to the most authoritative person on this subject, the US Comptroller General David Walker, who audits the federal government's books, the tab for the long-term promises the US Government has made to creditors, retirees, veterans and the poor amounts to US$43,000 billion, US$145,000 per US citizen, or US$350,000 for every full-time worker.”

Then she goes on to say…

“The US is now clearly in huge trouble, economically, socially, politically, and internationally. The Bush Administration bungled big in cyclone Katrina's aftermath in New Orleans, and then a minor rerun from Rita in Houston, and this will trigger the general outburst of people's dissatisfaction with the government, leading to great internal turmoil lasting for many years. In all likelihood, long-term interest rates are going to rise, and the greatest property bubble the world has witnessed is going to burst in the next one to two years.

The countdown is in progress, and there is no way that anybody can do anything to reverse it either by short-term measures such as fiscal and monetary policy, or through long-term reform of tax policy, entitlement programmes and even the entire federal budget. This is as inevitable as gravity, and it will take place under a new and inexperienced chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. I do not want to sound alarmist, but I see very bad omens.”

The cash out seems to be happening. World markets are markedly lower over the past two weeks and gold is going up. A crisis is nearing. The crash is probably going to happen in the next two weeks based on the bankruptcy of Delphi and the impact that it will have on GM stock. Imagine the financial crisis that occurs when GM announces it is bankrupt next week. This article outlines some of the larger implications.

What is going to happen...what is going to be the open calalyst for the fall?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

We got a problem...

I’m getting increasingly nervous about the world my kids and grandchildren are going to be living in. In my darkest moments, the question about survival enters my mind. This has not been a good three months for the United States of America. Our weakness has been exposed and the realization of something being terribly wrong is entering everyone’s consciousness. This summer the rise in oil prices was dramatic. I’m glad I saw that one coming but what interests me is way these events are being used to support a more overt move to authoritanism.

During the beginning of the French Revolution, there was a complete lack of recognition by the elites that the taxes and social policy of the government had gotten out of hand. Moreover, the inability of the leadership to deal with several poor grain harvests and the environment was ripe for social upheaval and chaos. Economic and political trends are accelerated by exogenous events and not driven by them. The 2001 fall in financial markets was not driven by 9-11—the bubble had already burst by then, the trend down just accelerated. This summer gas and oil prices were already going higher, the hurricanes just sped up the price rise. China and India demand rise combined with production decline and coupled with lack of refinery capacity sent gas over $3.50 a gallon. It will not be a couple of years if ever that gas falls below $2.00 a gallon. The era of stagnation is upon us for a while.

A budget deficit that was huge before this new ½ trillion bailout will now be enormous. Who in their right mind would ever want to by US T-bills in this situation? Was there ever a time when a economic collapse was more likely to occur? I think not. I ran into an old friend of mine who owns a car dealership. He told me that no one is buying and that people are hunkered down and scared. Auto sales are down. Can you blame the people for not wanting to buy a SUV or truck given $3.00 gas? Just wait until winter; unless consumption falls dramatically we are going see shortages in gas and possibly heating oil. The prices of both are going sky high. What will be the people’s attitude when it hit $5.00 a gallon? Lots of debt and falling demand to not bode well for a market where the P/E is in the 50's

As if that were not enough to worry about, we now have H5N1... Not much needs to be said about that….just the building feeling of paranoia and fear. When does the next terror attack happen? Will there be enough fuel to heat the house over the winter? What happens it I get sick? Will my kids be safe in the city? Will my job exist this spring.

Fear is the watchword in the United States of America and I cannot trust that the leadership in this country is doing what is best for the greatest number rather then the privileged few. Yesterday, the President bridged the idea of using military troops to quarantine cities in the event of a pandemic. That means martial law. Sorry, I just do not trust a president with a below 40% approval rating and a penchant for lying, about Miers being the “the best person I could find for the Supreme Court” or “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,” not to take advantage of the situation and further gut our civil liberties. Such an unpopular leader whose political party controls all the branches of government has absolute and unchecked power. I doubt if he will use this for the better of all of us rather then his select friends. The worst decision I ever made was voting for that guy back in 2000. A great leader would talk to us around the fireside, level with the people, and call for sacrifice. Bush, with that little smirk on his face, is asking that we "trust" him. I don't.

There is very little we can do right now other then watch our own backs. However, I'm open to suggestions...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Back Online....

It was an exciting summer. Leah and I had a son named Anjay Glenn. Needless to say most of my energy went into taking care of Austin and a very pregnant Leah. Since school has started, I will be updating this blog more religiously. My students at Vermont Commons have created a blog for their philosophy class. They are a gifted group of students. Their views of the world should prove quite interesting.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Wrong and Right...

I was wrong about the Euro increasing in value relative to the US$. The past two weeks have seen this currency crater. When you screw up you need to admit it and move on. However, my observations on the US stock market were dead on. However, my ideas about the US$/Euro were wrong. Reason for the screw up was easy. I relied on conventional wisdom and did not follow the EU Constitutional Debate. The French rejection of the EU Constitution has created a crisis of confidence in the Euro. I was not looking at the possibility of politics impacting the price movement. I didn’t lose any cash, because of good risk management…but still being wrong can teach you a lesson. Here is mine…Never forget that exogenous events can and do have an impact on “rational” markets.

It is a little early to see what impact their positions are going to have on the returns of hedge funds and companies like Berkshire Hathaway. Rumor has it that many hedge funds were long the Euro and if so they got shafted. Also Buffett was publicly saying he was long the Euro. If so then the oracle from Omaha made a big mistake and his profits are going to be a lot lower…

Remember a month ago when I talked about GM? Now they are laying off 25,000 workers. That is not a very good sign. Combined with their low car sales means that this cornerstone of US manufacturing is in huge trouble. Their bonds are junk and their prospects are pretty bad. Can bankruptcy be fare behind?

Middlebury Reunion

A lot has happened in the past month and I have been very busy. Classes have ended and the senior class at Vermont Commons has graduated. The good byes are tough especially considering that I have taught some of these kids for four or five years. The world keeps turning and times change.

I went to my 15th college reunion. It was fun, but a little depressing. The accomplishments of some of my classmates are quite extraordinary. I spent a fair amount of time with an Assistant Professor at Duke in the Medical School, a homebuilder and an oil executive. There were also some impressive people leading quiet high quality lives of teachers, parents and storeowners. I liked hanging out with these people the best. It was also great to see some close friends that I have not talked to in ten or fifteen years. The reunion made me realize that I am just a simple person with no real desire to be anything other then a good husband, father, teacher and friend. I’m just a simple hobbit living in the shire.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Commons Co-Article in Burlington Free Press

The Burlington Free Press published a report on the Commons Co-op Project. It was a good article and great publicity for the school and the project. This project has been taking a lot of time lately and I will soon be posting an update various activities and events that I have been participating in.