In The News
There is good news from London. You will soon be able to enter a pub and raise a glass at any hour of the day or night.
If there were any clearer proof of the unstoppable progress of mankind, I have yet to find it.
And if Ken Livingstone gets elected mayor, you may soon be able to smoke dope, too. And use the drug ecstasy. But Ken’s ideas do not stop there.
“Capitalism is more lethal than Hitler,” is how “The Times” reports Ken’s views. Ken is concerned about the number of people who die each year because the IMF and World Bank won’t forgive loans to poor countries.
“Each year,” he says, “the international financial system kills more people than WWII. But at least Hitler was mad…”
Livingstone is a moron. No doubt about that. His support for drug legalization only casts doubt on the cause. Equating the IMF with capitalism is like saying the Censorship Board is the same as “A Clockwork Orange”…or that “Gone with the Wind” kills people because popcorn is bad for you.
But you have to admire the British press. They know what they are doing. Entertain. Shock. Rock `em…sock `em. Put in plenty of stories about babies…rapists…pets… murders…and naughty ministers (both secular and religious). Best of all — a priest who rapes and murders babies and pets.
American journalists, by contrast, take themselves too seriously. They are all graduates of journalism schools and can neither write nor think. Instead, they shore up empty stories with such high-minded drivel, it is almost unreadable.
The front page of today’s “International Herald Tribune” tells us that Fujimori is headed for a runoff…Leaders of the two Koreas are going to meet…A Japanese leader said nasty things about immigrants…and a Socialist won the election in Greece. The style of reporting is practically nagging; they seem to be telling me that I should be interested in this stuff. But I’m not. It is interesting only to readers of “Foreign Policy” magazine and nuts like Lyndon LaRouche. Lyndon can talk convincingly about every head of state in every country around the world. But he can’t change his pants without written directions. And it looks as though he has not done so since the Yom Kippur war.
But the foreign policy stuff serves its purpose. People who can’t organize their bathroom medicine cabinets are given an opportunity to meddle with the policies of a country they’ve never visited, where people speak a language they’ve never heard and benefit from customs and traditions about which they have no clue. Readers are invited to do just what Pere Delattre warned against — escape from the cares and obligations of real life. Politics…and especially the politics of a distant country…provides a key.
The editorial page develops these foreign policy fantasies like a confection at a royal wedding. Layer upon layer of surgary nonsense is piled up, one on top the other. “Stand by Taiwan,” says the main editorial. “Don’t Clone People,” announces another story, which goes on to worry about the “ethical” dimensions. “Time to Slow Down and Consolidate Around `Euro-Europe'” say guest editorialists and former politicians Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt. And there’s someone informing us that “Japan’s Liberal Democrats Will Have Much to Answer For.”
But the best one is one that makes the case directly: “Americans Need to Discuss a World of Problems.” Iraq, The Balkans, China, Russia, Haiti…etc., etc. “Americans have not witnessed a serious presidential debate about foreign policy,” writes Robert Kagan earnestly, “since the end of the Cold War.” Of course, I don’t recall any serious presidential debates before the end of the Cold War either. And thank God. Can you imagine George W. Bush and Al Gore having a “serious debate” about foreign policy? Spare us.
There is also a front-page item telling us that the “Washington Post” — which owns half the “Herald Tribune” (the “NY Times” owns the other half) — won three Pulitzer prizes for putting out this drivel. It is the dream of every wobbly reporter to win a Pulitzer. So the stories — like the books that get literary awards — are written to appeal to the pretensions of fellow scribblers and the awards committee.
Not so in England. The two big stories on page 1 of the Times are about babies. One toddler was flown from Albania to Aberdeen for treatment of a rare disorder that makes it impossible for him to eat. The other — just five months old — was struck in the head in an attack on a train platform. No one seems to know what happened, but the child is not expected to live. Police are looking for witnesses.
Then on page 3 is the story that you see in all the media today. It is about a male nurse who raped patients in the hospital. He administered strong doses of a sedative so they didn’t know what was happening. On one occasion though, he seems to have given a victim too much of the drug Midazolam. She died.
Elsewhere on the page — this is page 3, remember — there is the story of a man who caught his neighbor’s cat in a trap and choked it to death. Another story tells of a church cleaner who was exploited. She was paid two pounds an hour…and then sacked when she asked to be paid the minimum wage.
Other stories deep in the paper reveal fears of an “anarchist computer attack” on the City (the London equivalent of Wall Street)…and the fact that people in the North of England are not keeping up with the Joneses in the South. The paper quotes an official report, saying there is “widespread deprivation and misery” in the North and a standard of living roughly equal to that in Chile.
Things must have been better in the North many years ago — say, about 1,500 years ago to be precise. Bones found on the site of a building project in Yorkshire prove that giants once walked the earth. No, not giants like Churchill and Wellington. Real giants. A group of Anglo- Saxons seems to have been very big. Thigh bones suggest a man 7 feet tall — extraordinary for the era…and rare even today.
Gotta run…here we are at Waterloo station…
On The Eurostar April 11, 2000
*** About $300 billion disappeared from the Nasdaq market yesterday. The Nasdaq fell 5.81%. As I said yesterday, I don’t know whether we’ve seen the top in the Nasdaq yet. The high-water mark stands at 5,048 on March 10.
*** Remember, the myth of the New Era is that these stocks are invulnerable to cyclical downturns. They are supposed to be able to move onward and upward forever — without regard for earnings, interest rates, time, space…nuclear war…
*** That myth has not been totally shattered. But there are at least a few hairline cracks. If it were an airplane, the engineers would ground it. Since it is more like a hot air balloon, or dirigible, it will have to pop — or maybe explode, catch fire and crash — like the Hindenburg.
*** The Dow, meanwhile, managed to capture some of the money leaving the Nasdaq — but not a lot. The index was up 75 points.
*** Most likely…both the Dow and the Nasdaq are now in bear markets. The Dow is still expensive — with a price that is nearly twice as high, relative to GDP, as it was in 1929.
*** Internet investing goes from one New Thing to the next. First it was the portals…then the e-tailers. Then B2B (business to business). Now the B2B stocks are already passe. “B2B web sites,” explains the “Financial Times” today, “fall out of favour as traditional companies wake up to the benefits of the Internet.”
The “FT” is describing the process I talked about here a few days ago. The Internet is just a communications device — and now everyone is learning how to use it.
*** Among the B2B stocks cited by the “FT” are Ariba, down 40% from its high; Commerce One, down 50%; and the Internet Capital Group, down from 200 to 70.
*** These companies are really selling not much more than information. They pass along information about what products are available…at what prices. But information alone isn’t worth very much. “The question becomes,” as the “FT” quotes one e-commerce analyst, “who captures the most value…the industry incumbents…or the [Internet] pure plays?” Bet on the incumbents.
*** Richard Schmidt of Stellar Stock Report figures that $40 billion worth of “locked up” stock will hit the market every month this year. That’s a bit more than the total of new money coming into the market. Almost $120 billion came into the equity markets in the first quarter — but the rate of new money inflows usually declines later in the year.
*** China is in trouble. The last Red Empire is getting the bills from operating a society on the basis of discredited myths. And they’re big bills. “Le Figaro” reports that 15 million people have been put out of work in the last two years. The number of people unemployed underemployed, and doing useless or even counter- productive work must total in the hundreds of millions.
*** There is trouble brewing among China’s “black faces” — the miners. About 20,000 went on strike in February; 80% of the country’s coal mines operate at a loss. The government has plans to close 25,800 mines.
*** Laetitia Casta’s face — not to mention much of the rest of her — has been in the French press a lot recently. She was chosen as the model for “Marianne” — who represents France similar to the way Uncle Sam represents the United States. But then word got out that Laetitia had moved to London to avoid France’s high taxes. Not true, says Laetitia. She’s just working in London. “The Economist” points out that though taxes are lower in London, the cost of living is higher.
*** Interestingly, the tax rates for a single person are lower in Britain than they are in the United States.
*** But France is a great country. You can walk down the street and see pictures you’d have to pay good money for in America. One poster on the metro shows a beautiful woman clad only in panties and a pair of socks. She is lying on a bed while a man reads a book in a nearby chair. “Don’t you like my socks?” she asks.
*** “The Times” of London reports that Clinton has sent two psychiatrists to Miami to try to talk Elian’s relatives into turning the boy over to his father. Low blow. As someone once remarked — you’d have to be crazy to talk to a psychiatrist about something important.
*** What is the “strong deflationary force” in the market? Well…maybe it’s the removal of reserves by the Fed. Reserves were sharply increased in the run-up to the year 2000…as a Y2K precaution. But figures from the Saint Louis Fed shows that they have been returned to the levels of August 1999.
*** There’s a photo of a man with blood streaming down his face in the “Times” supplement. He is a white man in Zimbabwe, where things seem to be going from bad to worse. Among the 12 million people in the African nation are about 70,000 whites — many of them farmers. Robert Mugabe, who has led the country down the road to ruin for the last two decades, needs these whites. Without them, the economy would be in even more desperate condition. The white farmers produce Zimbabwe’s major exports — relics of the pre-Information Age…agricultural products. You remember, the stuff you grow in dirt.
*** Now Mugabe needs the whites for another reason. With, as “The Economist” puts it, “a worthless currency, roaring inflation, burgeoning foreign debt, acute petrol shortages and fearsome unemployment,” he needs someone to blame.
*** The farmers, whose farms have been invaded by Mugabe supporters with clubs and machetes, are starting to leave the country. One reported how he and his wife were beaten and forced to sign a statement apologizing for insulting Mugabe and giving title to the farm to the mob. It was not a purely racial incident — the black farm workers were beaten, too.
*** Someone should call the police. Uh…one problem…the police are Mugabe’s police. In fact, the Attorney General — who probably went to Georgetown Law school — announced that he had no intention of protecting the farmers. “The land issue,” he said, “cannot be resolved by court orders.”
*** I had to get a new passport yesterday. Mine was stolen along with my computer. So I lined up behind a group of Americans at the consulate. Everyone had a story to tell — and few with happy endings. One woman’s purse was stolen in the airport within minutes of their arrival. Her husband’s wallet was pickpocketed the very next day.