I'm sure you're thrilled you finally managed to take the majority in the Diet. I'm sure you're happy Aso resigned. I'm sure you're ecstatic you put your man in charge of the country.
But seriously, must you hire twenty sound cars to blast how great you are at 9:00 a.m.? One car after another it was propaganda after propaganda loud enough to terrify my hamsters. Please, winners ought to be more gracious.
Before I begin: This post is not about politics. I'm talking about this from a purely financial point of view. Numbers. If anyone leaves comments with political hate-talk, they will be deleted with extreme prejudice.
As we all know, Americans don't save much. That's one reason why we have to borrow so much from China, Japan, etc., and it's obviously a bad thing. In addition, many people are unable to retire due to a lack of sufficient money to fund their golden years. So in order to make it easier for you to save, Obama is proposing several measures. One of them is this:
In a second move, Mr. Obama said the Internal Revenue Service will allow people to check a box on their tax returns and receive their tax refunds in the form of United States savings bonds. White House officials said about 100 million families get tax refunds each year, and the average refund is about $2,000.
This wouldn't be a bad idea...if U.S. savings bonds actually offered a decent rate of return. According to the US savings bonds website, the interest rates as of September 2009 range from -5.56% (this is not a typo -- the website really says that the rate is negative) to 1.5%. So the government gets to keep your federal tax refunds for years and pay you almost nothing. (You know the Chinese demand more than 1.5% on their money.)
If that's not bad enough, with the current rate of inflation, the value of your money will decrease. If you're making 1.5% on a bond and the inflation rate is 4% (let's just say), then your money is worth 2.5% less every year you leave it in the bond. So by saving, you actually lose ground.
The best way to encourage saving is not "allowing" people to put their tax refunds into some savings bonds that pay a nominal and virtually worthless rate of return. It is by raising interest rates and making saving (i.e., delayed gratification) worthwhile.
But I doubt that's really going to happen. If everyone saves, who's going to increase consumer spending, the all-important gauge of economic activity in America?
Yesterday Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (which BTW is neither liberal nor democratic) finally lost its grip on Japanese politics. Mind you, it's taken...something like fifty years, but who's counting?
Of course not everyone's happy about it. There have been sightings of angry drunken old Japanese men screaming, "Change in bad! Any country will tell you that!"
Gad, I love this country.
P.S. I'm loving the post-election silence. No more annoying sound cars, just the dulcet tones of construction drills at 9:00 in the morning.
The facts of the case are very clear and cut-and-dried:
The Calderons entered Japan illegally using forged passports.
They stayed in Japan illegally, again without any proper documentation. They never made any effort to get visas or anything.
They had a child (Noriko) in Japan.
Japan does not automatically grant citizenship to people born in Japan. So as far as the Immigration Bureau is concerned, Noriko is not a Japanese citizen, despite her Japanese first name.
Once the family got caught, the laws had to be applied to be fair to all law-abiding citizens and immigrants in Japan.
The Japanese immigration officials made several concessions and gave the family two options:
Choice A -- the entire family returns to their home country.
Choice B -- Noriko can stay in Japan and finish her education. She has a relative in Japan. But her parents must return to their home country. Usually deportees cannot return to Japan for five years, but the Ministry of Justice will waive the no-entry-for-five-years rule so that they can visit their daughter.
Some people seem to think that it's totally unfair that the family gets deported. But the Japanese immigration laws are very clear on the consequences of entering the country illegally and/or overstaying your visa. I'm not sure why people, esp. foreigners, think that the government should let the entire family stay just because the couple had a child in Japan. The last thing Japan wants is a flood of illegal aliens entering Japan on forged passports and having kids so that they can all live in Japan.
Besides, the consequences of allowing the couple to stay and the implication of the decision would be felt everywhere in Japan, esp. for immigrants like me. Japan will most likely increase random ID checks for foreigners so that they can identify and deport illegal aliens as efficiently as possible. I may not even be able to deliver a baby in Japan unless I can prove to my doctors that I'm a lawful immigrant. Furthermore, since the Calderons came to Japan on fake passports, etc. it may take longer to pass through immigration & customs at the international airports and seaports. And the Immigration Bureau will take longer to issue visa renewals, etc. to legitimate immigrants because it may need to check every passport's authenticity, etc.
All these things will increase the administrative cost, which will be passed on to Japanese citizens and legal immigrants via higher taxes and visa processing fees. The family was able to petition through numerous courts and legal due processes in Japan. Isn't it about time they accept that they need to pay the price for their actions?
Now gas is dirt cheap again in the States. I heard that it's going for $1.50 / gallon. This is great for many of us short-term as we ride out the current recession. But it's a disaster if we let the cheap gas lure us into complacency and not innovate green technology, such as solar power, etc.
Because as long as we depend on oil as our primary fuel, we'll always be at the mercy of the OPEC nations. Take a look at the following list of member countries (* denotes founding member):
United Arab Emirates
How many of them do you suppose is our ally and promoter of human rights we hold so dear? Not many. We worry about things like gender equality in countries like Iran and Iraq and Nigeria and/or Iranian nuclear threats, etc. Guess what? They can do what they do because we give them lots and lots of money for oil.
Hero Material and I've been watching The Closer recently, and who would've thought it would manifest in my subconscious?
A couple of nights ago, I had this weird dream that Kuro committed some kind of crime. I don't even know what he did, but that's not the point of my dream. The poor hamster was arrested, complete with teeny handcuffs. Shiro, with her litter, came to the police station to defend him. I was playing the Brenda Leigh Johnson character (the investigator, if you're not familiar with the series), so of course I asked her lots of difficult questions. The poor hamster squeaked in distress, hopping around on the table, but I didn't believe that she was telling me the truth. Meanwhile the infant hamsters were writhing on the table, blind, deaf and hairless. It was just really surreal. Kuro told Shiro he loved her, and the dream more or less ended.
On the non-weird-dream / hamster front, the weather's been odd. The temperature plunged suddenly, and it's freezing here. The big news here is the "massive" layoffs of maybe 2,000 workers or so by several local corporations. In Japan, there are two tiers of employment: seishain (full-time regular company workers) and contract / temporary workers. The latter category is broken down into two categories: shokutaku shain and hakken shain. Shokutaku shain is someone employed directly by the company on a short-term contractual basis, usually for a year. Hakken shain is what most Americans consider temp workers, meaning the company got them through temp agencies. When companies decide to cut costs, they usually let go of their contract / temp workers first. Currently Japan still clings to lifetime employment, and companies have certain obligations to their seishain. That includes not firing them first, paying for their health and pension insurance premiums, giving perks, bonuses, etc. (Contract / temp workers do not receive any bonuses or pay raises, etc.) Due to all this inequity in employment, a lot of non-seishain have been protesting the recent layoffs, etc. Furthermore, IBM Japan laid off its seishain (gasp!), which created even more drama. Oi.
BTW -- The Big Three bailout is a huge conversation topic in Japan. After all, it does affect Japanese firms. Auto suppliers hope for the bailout since many of them have contracts with the Big Three. I enjoy reading financial analyses, etc. but if I read another person write that Japanese firms have a huge cost advantage because they get free health insurance and pension, I'm going to scream. I've been in two countries with nationalized health care. It is not free. Everyone must pay. People pay about $400 or so per month, and if they're seishain, companies pay a big chunk of it. Companies also pay for their pensions. If that's not bad enough, Japanese companies must ensure that their workers aren't overweight or overly rotund around the middle or pay an enormous fine to the Health Ministry for overburdening the national health insurance system. Furthermore, the government had a huge screwup with its pension funds, and since Japan has too many retirees and not enough young workers, it's planning to double the sales tax. So please, stop with all this "free" stuff.
It snowed in Japan. Burr. My city was saved from the horrible white stuff (I really don't like snow), but the temperature's falling rapidly. It's going to be colder tomorrow.
On the writing front, I realized that I set up the entire fourth chapter incorrectly. It's a shopping / planning / conflict sharpening chapter, and I know that part is right. It's the setting and how the heroine chooses to shop that are wrong.
BTW -- This is something that came up on one of the online forums I lurk. One member questioned my integrity, alluding that I'd blindly defend professional associates I have relationships with (such as literary agents, etc.).
I have no patience for incompetence. If I find someone's performance less than satisfactory, I won't defend them just because. So if you see me say something nice about some industry professional, it means I really think that person's nice.
Finally -- since the Big Three begging for $25 billion from the government is a big discussion topic among many (it's huge in Japan too), I'll leave you with something to consider.
The total compensation pool (that includes salaries plus bonuses) for Honda's twenty-seven top executives, including its CEO, is $13 million dollars. That's $13 million for ALL of them, not $13 million per person.
Toyota just announced that it had reduced its directors' salaries. The company stated that it is important for Toyota executives to set good examples for its workers and that the executives must sacrifice first.
On the other hand, Rick Wagoner (GM CEO) gave himself a pay raise in March 2008. He is currently receiving $2.2 million dollars a year in salary alone. Furthermore, all Big Three executives flew in their private jets to beg for $25 billion from the Senate. ABC news reported that the round trip for Wagoner alone probably cost GM $20,000.
This column is dedicated to the top managers of American business whose policies and practices helped ensure Barack Obama's victory. The mandate for change that sounded across this country is not limited to our new President and Congress. That bell also tolls for you. Obama's triumph was ignited in part by your failure to understand and respect your own consumers, customers, employees, and end users. The despair that fueled America's yearning for change and hope grew to maturity in your garden.
Millions of Americans heard President-elect Obama painfully recall his sense of frustration, powerlessness, and outrage when his mother's health insurer refused to cover her cancer treatments. Worse still, every one of them knew exactly how he felt. That long-simmering indignation is by now the defining experience of every consumer of health care, mortgages, insurance, travel, and financial services—the list goes on.
Obama was elected not only because many Americans feel betrayed and abandoned by their government but because those feelings finally converged with their sense of betrayal at the hands of Corporate America. Their experiences as consumers and as citizens joined to create a wave of revolt against the status quo—as occurred in the American Revolution. Be wary of those who counsel business as usual. This post-election period is a turning point for the business community. It demands an attitude of sober reappraisal and a disposition toward fundamental reinvention. If you don't do it, someone else will.
I found the article very interesting, although I'm not sure which came first. Is it the consumer need for cheap stuff or the corporate need (driven largely by investors) for profit? I think they feed off each other. In order to provide consumers with cheap stuff (which are now more disposable than ever before) made companies cut cost ruthlessly in order to make as much profit as possible. And as companies cut cost by laying off people and reducing wages, people's need for cheap stuff became stronger.
Speaking for myself, I don't expect companies to provide any help in case their products break before the warranty expires. So I buy from either:
companies well-known for manufacturing reliable products, or
companies with the cheapest products
The former is usually reserved for big ticket items like laptops, cars, TV, etc. The latter is reserved for little things like ballpoint pens, kitchen timers and notebooks or things that I can live without.
BTW -- I do expect and demand that big Japanese retailers do better than their American counterpart. For example, I buy a lot of electronics from a big regional chain store. Its service staff always provide great assistance when products they sold break down and facilitate the warranty process between their customers and manufacturers. Not to mention, its sales people know everything about the products they sell and are happy to spend however much time necessary to help you make the best purchase possible, even if you leave the store without buying anything. I don't have to waste my time surfing the net for information because somebody there will give me the answer I need to make a decision within a second. The store is not the cheapest in the city, but it earned my loyalty, and I absolutely adore shopping there.
Finally, something to make you laugh -- The Matrix Runs on Windows:
Happy Veteran's Day! No matter how you feel about the current war, please do thank them. They've served our nation with their lives so we can enjoy our freedom.
On the writing front -- I've given up on NaNo. It's not that I hate it or anything...well...maybe. But ultimately it just wasn't working for me. The current project requires a bit more thought from me, esp. because I'm dealing with a brand new world and characters. Besides, I can't write the middle section unless I'm fairly satisfied that the opening's more or less on the right track. Why? Because I don't want to throw away the entire manuscript and start over. So currently I'm trying to get down about 1,000 to 1,500 words a day, five days a week. I'm not aiming for a super clean first draft, but I want to be able to keep a big chunk of the storyline and so on. Already I cut about 1k from the opening I wrote during my NaNo attempt because it was just...bad. So I've started a new progress table (see below):
Moving on to general life matters -- DDasked me about my dwarf hamsters. Shiro and Kuro are doing great. Hero Material and I spent over $100 on new cage expansions and toys for them on Sunday. They have tubes to nowhere, two wheels, a heated nest, a wooden arched bridge, a new feed box, a sand bath, a litter box, hanging wood blocks they can chew on, etc. They're so happy in their little heated nest unit because it keeps them very warm, esp. in winter. Japanese apartments don't have central heating, so it can be fairly cold at night. (May is convinced I'm going to be one of those hovering mothers who's going to spoil my children rotten.)
Some pictures --
A brand new water dispenser:
A newly decorated old cage (contains: a heated nest, a water dispenser, a toilet paper core, a sand bath, a litter box):
An expansion cage / secondary unit (contains: two wheels, a water dispenser, a wooden arched bridge, a new feed box, hanging wood blocks, an L-tube):
Two wheels (one new, one old):
Tubes to nowhere (they connect the cages actually):
A bonus pic -- Kuro in her brand new litter box!
Speaking of Kuro -- as much as I find Shiro and Kuro adorable, I have a small...err...issue. The problem is that I cook, and sometimes even after a vigorous washing with soap, my hands smell a lil like food, so Kuro -- she's the glutton of the two -- nips or just outright bites my fingers. But she climbed onto my hands last night and sat there for a bit. So for that, I'll forgive her for trying to eat me. I even wrote a haiku dedicated to my hamsters' uber-cuteness:
The haiku critiquer told me that maybe I should expand my imagination since mine only described something as it was. Maybe next time I'll write about the man-eating Kuro.
BTW -- The Big Three begging for $50 billion from the U.S. government made the headlines in Japan. Japanese people are astounded that the Big Three want to use $25 billion out of the amount requested on health care.
I'm usually against bailouts in general, and I'm not sure if throwing money at them is going to solve the real reason why they're so cash-strapped: they are losing market share, and their operation is extremely inefficient.
The Big Three seem to believe it's fashionable to blame the subprime crisis / credit crunch for their cash problems, but even when the economy was doing great, the Big Three weren't raking in dough the way Toyota, Honda and Nissan did. Since Ford has just decided to ramp up its gas-guzzling F-series truck production (hey, the gas price fell!), I'm not convinced that the Big Three will use any of the money to build more fuel-efficient environment-friendly cars. Also I don't think the Big Three will be able to survive even after the $50 billion bailout. Why? Because they can't force people to abandon their Japanese and German cars and buy the Big Three cars. Legislating people to buy American cars would be the least American thing to do, and unless the Big Three can make stylish, fuel-efficient and reliable cars that American public wants to buy, they will continue to burn cash at an exponential rate and ultimately fail. There's a reason why Deutsche Bank downgraded GM target price to $0.00 / share yesterday.
Finally, I'll leave you with a haiku I wrote a couple of weeks ago in my Japanese class. The topic was seasonal joys.