Thursday, December 29, 2005

North Korea Cuts Off International Food Aid

North Korea has cut off food aid from the UN's international World Food Program.

According to the article, " may be a ploy to get the WFP to relax rules for its aid." "While donor nations insisted on extensive monitoring, Pyongyang is insisting that the WFP operation be scaled back to a skeletal staff with no field offices, essentially making dependable monitoring impossible."

"(The government) may be concerned with control issues when it comes to the market," said Dujarric. "And obviously to them politics has priority over feeding the people."


“We are heading back toward a situation like in the 1990s in which you are foreclosing the mechanisms by which people actually access food,” said Noland. “At the same time you are shutting off information.”

In the last crisis, by the time the world understood the severity of the famine, and Pyongyang finally called for international food aid, it was too late for hundreds of thousands of its citizens.

One thing I agree with George W. about: "Kim Jong Il... he is _starving_ his people."

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Wild Card

North Korea is in the news (from the AP wire):

N. Korea Aims to Boost Nuclear Program

- - - - - - - - - - - -

By BURT HERMAN Associated Press Writer

December 19,2005 | SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea said Monday it plans to boost its nuclear weapons program because of hostile U.S. policies toward the regime, and it called Washington's criticism of its human rights record hypocritical.

The latest tirade cast (sic) fresh doubt on efforts to resume six-nation talks to resolve an international dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

The North "will increase (its) self-reliant national defense capacity, including nuclear deterrent, pursuant to the Songun (military-first) policy, to cope with the U.S. escalated policy to isolate and stifle it with the nuclear issue and the 'human rights issue' as pretexts," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Since the crisis began in late 2002, the United States, South Korea, Russia, Japan and China have sought to persuade Pyongyang to disarm in exchange for diplomatic recognition and aid.

In September, the North agreed in principle to do so, but implementation of the accord has stalled over new financial sanctions imposed by the United States to stem alleged illegal activities in North Korea, including counterfeiting and money laundering.

The two Koreas agreed in high-level talks last week to work to implement the September agreement. South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young traveled to Washington on Sunday seeking to restart negotiations.

The North claimed in February that it had nuclear weapons, and experts believe it has enough radioactive material for at least a half dozen bombs. The claim has not been verified independently.

The North's latest statement came in response to a U.N. resolution adopted Friday expressing serious concerns about reports of human rights abuses in North Korea. The U.S. envoy for human rights in North Korea also this month visited the South for a U.S.-supported conference on the issue, where he called on Seoul to take a stand on the issue.

"The U.S. is a typical criminal state which politicizes the human rights issue and applies selectivity and double standards concerning the issue," the North said Monday.

North Korea has been accused of abuses ranging from an absence of basic civil liberties to public executions and life-threatening conditions in confinement. The U.S. State Department believes that the isolated communist nation holds 150,000-200,000 political prisoners in camps.

The North denies the accusations.

As it has in the past, the North on Monday turned the human rights accusations back against the United States, referring to the Iraq invasion as being "in utter defiance of the U.N. and the system of international law" and calling interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects "medieval torture which would make even brutes blush."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

AP on Foreign Support for the Dollar

The Associated Press sounds the worry alarm about the deficit, and about foreign countries propping up our dollar:

U.S. Foreign Money Addiction Means Trouble
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By ELLEN SIMON AP Business Writer
December 10,2005 NEW YORK --

...At our current rate of trade and budget deficits, foreigners need to purchase $2 billion in dollar-denominated assets each day just to keep the dollar stable, said Axel Merk, who manages $60 million at Merk Investments and runs the Merk Hard Currency Fund.

"I guess everyone wants to keep this game going," Ibbotson said. But if one of the countries we're most dependent on drops out, it could be "like a bank run."
David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's, is also concerned. "If this money stopped coming, the dollar would take a dive and U.S. bond yields would have to come up. That would constrain capital spending and housing and slow down the U.S. economy."

Why did foreign investors' interest in the U.S. intensify?
For one thing, investors can get a better return on U.S. bonds than they can in their home countries. Yields in the United States have been near 4.5 percent, while yields on Euro bonds are closer to 3.2 percent and yields on Japanese bonds are near 1.5 percent.
Second, our massive trade deficit has sent tens of billions of dollars abroad, as imports increased while exports declined, which has helped foreign business owners sock away plenty of dollars. And our budget deficit means the federal government keeps issuing more debt.
Then, there's our personal savings rate, which has been hovering near zero.
"We need the money because we're not saving any," Wyss said. "We need it from anyone who has a spare yen to lend us."


The gush of foreign money "is critical to keeping the U.S. dollar from collapsing, because we have a large trade deficit," said Daniel Katzive, foreign exchange strategist at UBS. "If the deficit wasn't financed, the dollar would fall until it reached a level where U.S. assets were more attractive to foreign investors."It's simple accounting, he said: Cashflow in must equal cashflow out. "If it doesn't, you have a big adjustment until you reach equilibrium."

The bit about "If this money stopped coming, the dollar would take a dive and U.S. bond yields would have to come up. That would constrain capital spending and housing and slow down the U.S. economy" should sound familiar to anyone who's paid attention to what I've been saying for the last few years: that following a Chinese withdrawal from the US bond market, the dollar would fall, then bond rates would rise, and the housing market would suffer, and hence, the economy, which depends quite a bit on housing prices. I always feel that I'm crying in the wilderness, but it's nice to hear an echo from an authority once in a while.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Richard Pryor, Gone--Rest in Peace

Richard Pryor, one of the twentieth century's very greatest comic talents, had a heart attack and passed away at 65 years old today.

Comedian Paul Rodriguez called Richard Pryor "the Beatles of Comedy." I remember watching him some 30 years ago, on Saturday Night Live, talking about taking his acid trip: "some skinny white dude, talkin' about I'm gonna be 'trippin''! I don't see no luggage!" Or, of course, taking a word-association test from Chevy Chase, so as to get hired as a janitor:

Chevy: "Spearchucker!"

Richard: "White Trash!"

Chevy: "Jungle Bunny!"

Richard: "Honky!"

Chevy: "Spade!"

Richard: "Honky Honky!"

Chevy: "N-----."

Richard: "Dead Honky."

Ironically, a visit to today showed the title of his latest DVD: "I Ain't Dead Yet, Motherf#cker!" I wish it were still true. Rest in Peace, Richard: you're a true genius.