Subscribe to my blog

James Hong

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The price of democracy (to us)

I am supportive of democracy in the Middle East, if true democracy can be achieved. While extremists grab the headlines and form our impressions, the average person in these countries want the same things everyone else wants: food, shelter, opportunity, a sense of future and hope for their children, friends, family, and peace. Systems of government in the Middle East that distribute the wealth of their resources can be stable. However, there's a lot that can go wrong between where we are now and such a utopian vision. It not likely to happen, because where there is oil there is power and where there is power there is corruption.

What I really want to talk about is the price of these revolutions to those of us living in the rest of the world.

Ever since they started pumping oil out of the ground in the Middle East, the western world and the US government in particular could give a damn about democracy in the region. All they wanted was stability and "their guys" in control so oil could be extracted at a good price. Have no doubt, half of the guys being toppled are "our" guys. Now that they are being ousted, it can only lead to oil becoming more expensive.

This is bad news for our economy. As we learned in the 70s and in 2008, as energy prices rise, everything else falls. EVERYTHING. Energy is the basis of most of the technological leverage the world has created over the past 100 years. Google's servers need energy. Your cell phone needs energy. The food we eat requires a lot of energy, from fertilizer to pesticides to transporting that banana from south america to your plate. Energy is everywhere. If prices rise, expect everything to get a lot more expensive. Expect corporate profits and the stock market to fall. Expect real estate to fall. The only thing that might not fall is gold, due to the worldwide civil unrest that may ensue.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Considering an out of state Pied-à-Terre? Think again!

Well here we go. It's clear that States and Municipalities are in trouble. You hear examples about even here in the bay area. Half moon bay is considering disbanding their police department to avoid bankruptcy. I think I heard there was talk of even unincorporating there. San Carlos already disbanded their police department. Vallejo declared bankruptcy in 2008.

The problem is that the municipalities can only be propped by the states for so long.. California is on track for a $25 Billion deficit this year... and neither the states or the cities have the ability to print money like the US government can.

The only way to deal with this problem is to either scale local and state government down (expect crappier roads and lower quality of services) or to raise taxes. Expect both.

In an astounding example of how aggressive states are getting (and this is likely just the beginning, check out this Wall Street Journal article.

Apparently NY is getting technical on their definition of what sort of residence can be excluded as a permanent residence. The generally accepted policy is that one owes taxes to a state only on income generated in the state even if they have a vacation house that they use less than 180 days a year. But apparently a vacation house must be a "mere camp or cottage".. so if like in the case mentioned it is deemed suitable as something someone could actually live in (in this case, an 1100 sq ft house), then NY feels it can now go after ALL income.

In other words, because this family owns a house in NY, NY wants to tax them on all income on top of the taxes they are already paying in their home state on the same income.

WOW. more to come i'm sure.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Asianz have come a long way

As I was growing up, asians in the US mass media were either depicted as hot subservient women that would make great newscasters or tekashi/long-duk-dong style nerds. Sure I played the violin (or piano) like every other asian kid too, but that didn't automatically make me an incompetent driving, accent sporting nerd.

There was a brief attempt in the 90's to change this, with Russell Wong getting his own show called the Vanishing Son , but 1) he's half asian and 2) he was still a martial arts expert. It was basically the show "Kung Fu" all over again, and it wasn't very good. There was also a rap group out of LA called the L.A. Boyz. They were pretty talented, but probably came to the conclusion that Asian rappers would never make it in the States in those days, so they had to go to Taiwan to build an audience.

So it's pretty cool to see a lot of Asians in the half generation behind me actually making it in the entertainment scene. One of my high school classmates, Tim Kang (pic left), is on some big CSI type show called the Mentalist.. and while I can't say that it is exactly my favorite show, it's nice to see that he isn't forced to fake an accent or anything. Is he a math whiz in the show or something that I don't know about? Also notable is John Cho from the Harold and Kumar series.. and even though he does play a somewhat anal asian stereotype, the dude likes to light up and that is new.

But the place you are really seeing it is in the music scene. I am a big fan of the MTV show America's Best Dance Crew, and quite consistently there are really strong asian teams on there. Many of them win. One of the members of the Black Eyed Peas is Filipino-American. The current lead singer of Journey is a Filipino dude that they actually discovered on YouTube. The reason I was just thinking about this is because I just realized that Far East Movement, the group that did that "Like A G6" and now "Rocketeer" song is a bunch of Asian dudes from LA. (In retrospect it should have been obvious they are Asian-Americans based on the name of their group, but the fact it wasn't probably says something).

I'm very happy to see this happening, and for once I think I will actually buy an album in order to support this effort. Anything to help erode lingering memories of Long Duk Hong ;) It's nice to think that Jackson will grow up in an environment where nobody's thinking he can't be cool because he's Asian.