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Who Wants a Jersey??!

Hey Guys,

Let me know if you’re interested in getting a DC Touch Rugby jersey.  They’re perfect for scoring tries on the pitch and for writing memos in the office.  Who needs sleeves, amiright?  If you want a jersey respond to this post with your name and your size.  The price will be $20-$25.  I’ll collect money at rugby over the next week or so.

Naturally, if you’re playing in the tournament it would be nice to have a jersey.  We would look like a much more cohesive unit with everyone donning the blue and whites.  But, it’s not necessary.  The most important thing is that you sign up for the August 27th tournament! (See previous post for details.)

Saturday touch

Who’s in for Saturday touch?  Going to be a perfect day.  Don’t waste it. 

More on China…

Super tired, but had a quick thought that I’m curious what you guys think of.  China’s government isn’t a democracy, but it’s certainly populist, and if not entirely, at least increasingly.  Why isn’t that enough?  Why do they need Democracy if they’re aware of people’s opinions via twitter and other social networks, as well as protests, and look to respond to them?  The regrettable things that they’ve done like destroying villages, re-routing rivers, etc is always about the larger social benefit, is it not?  The Communist Party’s principal aim is to remain in power, but it seems to me that they understand that maintaining power only comes with keeping Chinese citizens happy.  Aren’t the Communist Party’s actions largely driven by appeasement?

Who Needs Democracy when you have GDP Growth?!

Responding to a NY Times article by Mr. Eric Li which can be found here:


Honestly, the guy who wrote this, Eric Li, makes me shudder with contempt.

First, I disagree with Li’s assessment of US democracy.  The baseline
is not pure democracy, but a constitutional republic, which Li
acknowledges.  And while it is influenced by “special interests” and
money, the government is not controlled to the extent that Li seems to
claim.  Indeed, note the rise of grassroots movements like the Tea
Party and Occupy Wall Street.  Also, note the healthcare industry’s
incredible opposition to Obama’s healthcare bill (which passed).  Li’s
third contention that ours is a democracy/republic “in name only”, is
indicative of his abject failure to grasp the concept that
“re-election” is a good thing because it subjects elected officials to
the will of the people (but as a compromise against mob mentality, not
entirely: Congress v Senate).

Second, I disagree with Li’s pronouncement that China’s chosen
political system is expedient.  Let’s not forget that authoritarianism
is the root of China’s ten thousand year history.  Indeed, the
examples of democracy in China are largely when a local political
system has so abused its power (leading to multiple deaths, outright
and uncompensated takings of hundreds of properties, bribery verging
on the insane) that large numbers of people are lead to take action
because, frankly, their actual lives (or livelihoods) depend on it.
This is the bottom of the proverbial barrel in terms of democratic
impulses.  So no, the communist government does not embrace democracy
as we understand it, it embraces democracy as the Party understands
it.  The inhumanity of China’s policies make African dictators blush
(see China’s “new” diversion of the Yellow River to Beijing and the
countless communities and lives being uprooted and threatened).

Third, the best possible argument Li can make is that China’s unique
heritage (both cultural and political) gives its population a
willingness to endure authoritarian regimes that creates economic and
governmental adaptability, which in turn leads to solidarity in
promoting national agendas, which in turn leads to benefits for the
population (and average citizen) as a whole.  But who gets to define
“benefit”?  Explosive GDP growth plus unprecedented exposure to
pollution and astronomical increases in related illnesses?  More crap
to buy but a total disregard for human life (i.e. the girl who was run
over in the street and ignored by 8 pedestrians)?

Ok, let me be more sympathetic to this guy.  Oh wait!  He thinks
Tiananmen square was the people’s fault!  They “went too far”.
Clearly, he belongs to the camp that believes “you have to crack a few
eggs to make an omelet”.  His idea of a few eggs is state-sanctioned
murder for the purpose of political repression.

Nevermind, this guy is a d-bag.


A little lesson by your boy Bernanke.

Hey Everyone,

It appears the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, will be giving a series of lectures on the Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis at George Washington University in March.  The lectures will be cybercast on ustream.  I’ve posted the links with dates.  I’m sure it’ll provide nice fodder for some back and forth.

You can watch the videos here:

They air on March 20, 22, 27, and 29th 2012 each at 12:45 p.m. ET


Basketball and Religion

Hey Guys,

I know I sent the rent control article yesterday, but here’s one worth discussion for sure.

It’s about Jeremy Lin and about the conflict religious athletes face between greatness and humility.  The fourth paragraph from the last is particularly interesting.  Lin says:  “I’m not working hard and practicing day in and day out so that I can please other people. My audience is God. … The right way to play is not for others and not for myself, but for God. I still don’t fully understand what that means; I struggle with these things every game, every day. I’m still learning to be selfless and submit myself to God and give up my game to Him.”

I’d appreciate your thoughts about this, guys.  It’s busy days for all of us, and I know I don’t have time to respond to this today, and maybe even tomorrow, but like I said, I think it’s an interesting topic for discussion.

On John Stewart, Private Equity, and US Manufacturing

Hey Guys,

Jon Stewart interviews
a Yale prof. about private equity.  I can’t recall if this was the
link in the last discussion…oh well.

Apple=”Exploding Sweatshops”


Have you read this investigative report from the NY Times:

I wonder what Paul Krugman would say.  I mean, c’mon Paul, exploding factories and nerve damaging chemicals?  There’s got to be a line in the sand somewhere (note: wherever that line is, Gail Collins would have already dispelled my concerns with her dry, sardonic wit).

I wanted to raise this issue largely because I’m trying to make sense of the ethics from an investor and consumer perspective, and also because targeting Apple as the corporate “bad guy” in this really floats my (proverbial) boat.  You see, Christina and I have decided to invest our 30K inheritance in so-called “socially responsible” mutual funds, essentially meaning no stock in S&P500, Phillip Morris, foreign countries with questionable human rights violations, and EPA violators.  Oh, and no companies with exorbitant executive compensation (sorry, Disney, go hack your wares on some other kid’s college fund!).  So far, I’ve settled on this:  Due to our irrational aversion to risk at the tender age of 28, we decided a balanced portfolio with the highest yielding, socially responsible mutual fund would do.  The 10 year return, you ask?  A whopping 3.5%!  I’ve seen better returns on used Ikea couches.

So I thought I would pose my dilemma to you guys.  And why this particular group of gifted minds?  First, because I know we all heart econ (or used to – Roberto, you were an econ major, no?).  Second, because I’m convinced that we are part of an enduring liberal tradition that is not without its blind spots.  Apple’s rise in market share and popularity is like force of nature.  It’s literally so uncool not to have a Mac that my sophomore sister “gifted” me with her brand new Acer and took out more loans for her 17″ Pro.  I feel like the only person of my age range without some piece of Apple technology.   Unfortunately, my decision to decline a drink from the kool aid of Steve Jobs (who I’m SURE is in Heaven) was not based on moral considerations.  It was based on the fact that I (irrationally) distrust growing monopolies and Macs are so damn expensive.  But honestly, when I pull out my HTC made in Taiwan cell phone in front of my co-workers and their iPhone v23’s, I’m feel a bit embarrassed.

I guess this is what bothers me: how can a 21st century economy so rich produce so many well-meaning, liberal consumers who care so little about how their stuff is made?  And what’s the solution?  I mean, we have such an abundance of material wealth (the 1%) and yet workers are dying from horrible conditions and millions lack basic food and access to clean water (the 99%).  It’s, like, totally protest-worthy!  (I recently heard a statistic on NPR that there are more people dying of starvation today than there were 30 years ago.  That made me sad.  You know what made me sadder?  NOT HAVING AN iPHONE).

I have a few observations I’d like to knock around.  First, I just can’t fathom how capitalism can produce such jarring inequality and harmful results.  By the way, I defend capitalism all the time to my uber-lefty friends by making the “we are all better off…eventually” speech.  Second, if capitalism does produce such enormous prosperity, and that wealth is supposedly spread, couldn’t we actually give a slice to those Foxconn workers rather than offer them sprinkles?

I’ve heard a few arguments for American society’s tolerance of horrid working conditions that seem fairly common:
1. “It’s the (worldwide and Historical) economy, stupid”: Akin to the “we are all better off” schpeel I give to my Marxist peeps, the contention that the global economy produces unprecedented wealth that raises the living standards of all interdependent nations in that economy is getting a bit, shall we say, old.  And it doesn’t seem to fit the facts.  China appears to be developing some semblance of workplace accountability and products liability law because of political forces and not economic policy.  Sure, unfettered growth and a rise in GDP per capita (because GDPPPerson sounds funny) can contribute to increased awareness and voice, but the establishment of legal regimes seems more important.  Or at least, it doesn’t involve so many kids dying from contaminated milk.
2. “Market actors will eventually conform to consumer concerns”: That’s valid but it doesn’t seem to work when consumers either don’t have sufficient information or the demand for a product is so enormously high that they behave like moral lemmings.  I’m the chief offender: I thought the majority of Mac production and supply was made in the US due to intellectual property theft concerns.  Apparently, they just force foreign workers to kill themselves if something is lost on their watch.  Also, apple is so popular, one wonders if free market economists have an entirely different definition of “rational behavior” than the rest of us.  Besides, isn’t that what Mac’s PR department (going directly to Hell) is for?
3. “I’m too insignificant to make a difference”: In my view, this isn’t even an argument, it’s a really a lame excuse.  It’s like an drunk who refuses to try to quit because his actions won’t cure worldwide alcoholism.  But I have to admit, it’s still compelling to me.  I mean, why bother?  And this is what gets my goad (or grinds my goat or whatever), so many (myself included) seem to put on this “veil of ignorance” (the bad kind, sorry Rawls) when it comes to stuff we REALLY want.  I mean, is our generation actually becoming more socially conscious?  Or are we doomed to repeat the errors of our Tang-drinking forefathers (sorry, Tim)?

At the end of day, I think this economic scenario is an ethical dilemma fraught with pitfalls.  Even assuming we agree on what is right, is there such a thing as a completely socially responsible consumer?  Can we be “economically Puritanical”?  I mean, sheesh, I’m grateful they didn’t cover HTC as well; otherwise, I might not have spent the last 2 hours writing this email.  And (from a religious perspective) doesn’t my decision to purchase goods made by unions at tremendously marked up prices undermine my commitment to use my money to feed the poor and give to the needy?  Aren’t unions generally guilty of their own injustice?   What about companies that use unions, like American Apparel, and teeter the child pornography line in their advertising?  Is all lost?

No need to despair – I’m still a Vassar grad!  I propose a few options to get the (proverbial) ball rolling.  Please roll the ball back to me.
1. Tax your injustice: I read a great book called “Friendship at the Margins” about a missionary who wanted to support an family that worked in a Gap sweatshop in India.  He took an additional “tax” of 12% off of anything he bought in the Gap and at the end of the year, sent the family the money.  He also invested in the Gap and paid dividends to the family, but Gap is soooooo not in.
2. Invest your injustice: Institutional investors can play an enormous role in the direction of corporations, but we might be able to play a similar role in smaller businesses by investing in them and asking them to conform to acceptable standards (Victor, remember that arcade/sushi place you wanted to start, I’m in like Flynn!)
3. Accept your injustice, but try to do what is right after a “searching inquiry”: I like this last one best, partially because I think the right decisions we make as individuals are far more meaningful than the wrong ones made by institutions.  I will respect a person if they’ve asked the hard questions and come to a different result (but I don’t usually like them, haha).  This not only translates, therefore, into trusting that advocacy for what is good and true can be achieved on the individual level, but it involves getting into those awkward conversations with another person to figure it out TOGETHER (emphasis on the word “nonjudgmental”).  Hopefully, among the various bundles of goods chosen, the other person and I will choose the lesser of 13 evils.

Those are my thoughts, would love to hear from you all on this.

Thanks for reading,


The First Debate–“Thoughts”?

Just read an interesting article about a recent decision by the
supreme court and I was wondering what you guys think.


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