The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Espera un Minuto, Mi Compadre

Immigration on the Border (1): Why a Wall & Obstructionism won’t do, but the National Guard Will

As long ago as August 2004 there were reports of U.S. officials apprehending Syrians along the border. A prosaic statement you might say, except for that we are not here talking about Iraq, but New Mexico and Arizona. Admittedly, much of the hype surrounding Middle Eastern terrorists infiltrating the U.S.-Mexico border comes from minutemen groups. Yet combined with Senator Norm Coleman‘s (R-MN) announcement that government officials smuggled “enough radioactive material to make two dirty bombs” into America, it can only be hoped that the revelation causes alarm.

Terrorism is just one part of the broader debate about immigration though, the crux of which is two-fold: what to do about securing the border, and how to deal with those illegal immigrants presently inside the country (see Immigration at Home). Regarding the first, the potential link between illegal immigration and terrorism leads to the conclusion that securing the border is an absolutely vital concern. Moreover, as the current border control system is flagrantly incapable of doing so – evidenced by the estimated 11 million illegals that have already bypassed it – whatever method is most effective should be implemented.

 You know me, VIP, no ID, bottles in DP, I do it B-I-G

You know me, no I.D., drinking D-P, I do it B-I-G

Some suggest erecting a wall. Make it a hundred feet tall, replete with a moat, razor wire, spotlights, and attack dogs. But while such a barrier would be effective in theory, it conjures up images of Palestine and Berlin pre-1989 and is certain to provide America-bashers with plenty of useful PR.

Tonight, President Bush will propose in his primetime address that the National Guard “temporarily” assist the overwhelmed Border Patrol with its duties. Combined with steps to legalize those already in the United States and expedite the visa process (see forthcoming second article), this is a positive prescription. It would minimize the awkwardness caused by the petulant (and sometimes violently extrajudicial) minutemen militias and help deal with the onerous strain of illegal immigration on public infrastructure and slippery terrorist, drug smuggling, and criminal operations. The protests of Mexican President Vicente Fox can be overcome and he will soon be gone from office anyway.

The Guard’s being streched too thin due to other responsibilities is a legitimate concern, and military planners will have to work out the details. But eliminating the billions of dollars of pork that Congresspeople squander every year on pet projects would be a start and help free up valuable resources. Yet critics on both the left and the right frequently assert that it’s not the National Guard or U.S. military’s “role” to play grab ass along the border.

This argument, however, is categorically flawed. To begin with, almost every other country in the world – most of them with military expenditures a mere fraction of the half trillion dollars the U.S. Defense department consumes annually – uses it military to defend its territory. Additionally, the U.S. military already does patrol borders: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, and elsewhere. Yet even holding these factors aside, previous transformations of the military haven’t been rejected simply because they would redefine its purpose; witness the Rumsfeld Doctrine and the “revolution of military affairs”. These shifts may be either celebrated or discredited but in both cases they are so judged based on their merits, not merely because they alter the status quo.

Ironically, the United States is the victim of its own success. Throughout the country’s history – stemming originally from the founders experience with the devastation standing armies had brought to Europe – Americans have rightly been wary of granting the military power at home. Two broad oceans and usually amicable neighbors made this possible. The presently broken system and the real danger it poses to U.S. security, however, make obstructive axioms about the military’s role inappropriate and unhelpful. The United States must know who is crossing its borders, and if the National Guard is best suited to monitor the border then it should be given the task.


 2006. All rights reserved.


May 15, 2006 Posted by | Author: DML, Democrats, Immigration, Latin America, Mexico, North America, Politics, The GOP, United States | 3 Comments

On Prose and Politics


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, The Four Quarters

Of the events of the 1930's leading up to the Second World War, no other event inspired young ideologues more than the Spanish Civil War. Young Intellectuals enlisted in droves to fight on both sides, including the writers Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. The socialist backed International Brigade, funded in part by the Soviet Union, allied with Spanish Republicans in an attempt to defeat the Spanish fascists led by General Francisco Franco in a war that served as a precursor to the war that by 1940 engulfed most of Europe.

A portrait of the artist as a young man

Nancy Clare Cunard, a left wing intellectual living in Paris at the time, sent out a questionnaire to two-hundred writers living in Europe. She posed the following question: "Are you for or against the government of the Republican government of Spain? Are you for, or against, Franco and Fascism? For it is impossible any longer to take no side." The Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot responded with a "neutral", leading to the assumption by Cunard and others that he was either politically ignorant or sympathetic to the fascists. This was not true, however, as he was a believer in "via media" or the "middle way", a belief that moderation is the only stance that takes into account the shortcomings of human nature. During a debate between T.S. Eliot, a fascist writer, and a communist writer, T.S. Eliot mentioned the following:

"Fascism and communism, as ideas, seem to me to be thoroughly sterilized. A revolutionary idea is one which requires a reorganization of the mind; fascism and communism is now the natural idea for the thoughtless person. This in itself is a hint that the two doctrines are merely variations of the same doctrine: and even that they are merely variations of the present state of things…. What I find in both fascism and communism is a combination of statements with unexamined enthusiasms."

Eliot believed that these "unexamined enthusiasms" led to irrational decisions during a time when rational thought was completely necessary.

This example of moderation is still relevant today, as we are faced with an increasingly polarized nation where sides are being taken and decisions are being made, sometimes irrationally. It is always important to take a step back and objectively examine issues in context. At we attempt to place news events in context, while providing non-partisan analysis and perspective.


May 14, 2006 Posted by | Author: JPL, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The China Counter

A Survey of Media Portrayal of America in the Middle Kingdom

People’s Daily, From May 9th, 2006
Favorable: 14
Unfavorable: 10
Neutral: 53

China View, From May 9th, 2006
Favorable: 4
Unfavorable: 3
Neutral: 9

During Chinese President Hu Jintao’s April 2006 tour of Seattle, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey, Chinese media coverage of the trip was overwhelmingly favorable, and not only of Hu himself but of the United States in general. This stood in stark contrast to the oft-perpetuated image of a belligerent, power-hungry America inimical to the P.R.C.’s interests. Indeed, beginning in late 2004, throughout 2005, and into 2006 The Screaming Pen observed that Chinese media coverage of the United States appeared to become more conciliatory. Yet this was an admittedly subjective conclusion.

Wo hen gaoxing renshi ni!

The Method

The China Counter is thus forged out of a desire to quantify the accuracy of this hypothesis. The Counter monitors and classifies articles published in the People’s Daily (“the National Voice of the Party;” Beijing) and China View (a direct arm of the State, published by the Xinhua News Agency; Beijing), two large newspapers with national readership. Only original pieces are counted (not those pulled from a wire service such as the AP or Reuters), and when an article appears on both sites (as the news agencies sometimes share material) it will be counted once.

The scope of The China Counter includes only those articles whose main focus is either the United States or U.S.-China relations. From these there are four main kinds of articles. The first consists of those stories about cultural, social, athletic or other events and trends in the United States. These tend to focus on “soft” issues and are usually favorable or neutral. The second discusses U.S. domestic politics or international relations, often with no explicit mention of the effects these have on China, but these are usually only a short logical leap away. The third deals directly with U.S.-China relations. The fourth are opinion pages, op-eds, or blogs linked to the two sites’ homepages.

The articles are marked as favorable, unfavorable, or neutral/balanced. Favorable articles are those that focus on cooperation, admiration, or friendly relations between the two countries. Unfavorable articles are those that center on disagreement or are intended to highlight tensions. Neutral articles are those that are balanced and impartial, providing analysis without conclusion.


The correlation of the media’s tone to the thinking of Chinese leaders – a relationship made plausible due to heavy government censorship and even control of the press – might thus, through quantifiable measurement, contribute to the currently ubiquitous debate in America: Will China be peaceful or hostile? This assumption must nonetheless be presented along with a caveat: because news articles are inherently public, the ideas presented may be merely a product of China’s obligatory, or declared, policy. Put simply, it may represent what officials “want us to see,” not the leadership’s true thoughts and motivations. The relevance of The China Counter should accordingly be taken at face value.


 2006. All rights reserved.

More on the People’s Daily
More on the Xinhua News Agency
China Media Guide

May 10, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Author: DML, China, Country Profiles, International Relations, The Media, United States | 1 Comment

It’s a Definite Maybe

Alternatives to Black Gold

Bean Guzzler

When Tim Kay used his internal combustion engine to power a carriage in the late 19th century, the modern automobile was born. Originally hailed as an environmentally preferable alternative to manure dropping horses, the automobile’s reliance on refined oil -and our reliance on the automobile- has yielded several positives, namely economic expansion, industrial innovation, and Jed Clampett’s accidental discovery of Texas T, which led to the relocation of his family to Beverly Hills. It is also apparent that our reliance on oil has caused serious problems, including pollution and dependence on foreign oil in times of high prices. It is apparent that there may be an interesting side effect to high gas prices, however, as alternative sources of energy become profitable to produce when oil and gas prices are high.

The Options
Alternatives to purely gas and diesel powered vehicles are plenty, although for today’s discussion we will focus on the most likely options. They include completely replacing oil as a fuel, finding new ways to extract oil in different forms, and blending today’s fuels with additives in order to increase efficiency and decrease emissions. New technologies that could help accomplish these ends that were not economically viable to produce when oil was cheap, are now economically viable at $70 per barrel oil. Economic viability implies that if conventional oil is at a price lower than what it costs to produce an alternative, the alternative will not be produced because consumers will purchase the cheaper good. Along with providing insight into the direction of alternative energy, this is an important exercise in illustrating the market’s role in the energy issue. So far, it is apparent that the only way a move away from conventional oil will occur, is if market prices dictate a move, as tax credits for hybrid vehicles at both the state and federal level have been largely ineffective.

Shale Oil

The harvesting of the oil sands in western Canada have resulted in an economic boom in that area. This project, initiated on a large scale when oil became pricey, should serve as an example to America, who has similar reserves in the mountain states. Shale oil, which is held in porous rocks and is expensive to extract, is abundant in the Green River Basin of Colorado. It is estimated that the Green River Basin may hold up to two trillion barrels of shale oil. Cambridge Energy Associates estimates that it is viable to extract shale oil when crude is around $50 a barrel.

Related links:

Raytheon teams with Hyde Park Company for Shale Oil

BLM picks Oil Shale Development Candidates


Biodiesel is a mixture of diesel fuel and vegetable oil that produces a cleaner burning fuel with fewer emissions. The vegetable oil acts as a natural detergent that cleans oil lines better than the chemicals that are added to diesel. It is estimated that the production of Biodiesel makes sense from a profit standpoint when crude is at $80 barrel.

Related Links:

Countries Largest Biodeisel Plant Planned

Interest in Biodiesel Increases with Price of Gasoline


Although it is likely that we will eventually move to an alternative to conventional oil, OPEC nations would merely have to increase production for an extended period of time in order to drive the price of oil down, again making these alternatives unlikely. In order to be effective as a cartel and continually bring in the American dollars that prop up many of their economies, the oil producing nations need to do a better job from the production end. A shift away from oil would wreak havoc on the economies of Iran, Venezeula, and Russia, nations who are dependent on international oil sales. Also, this technology will not be adopted overnight, meaning that the current price of oil with regards to viability is somewhat irrelevant. If companies and investors believe that increasing oil prices are a secular, long term trend, then it would be absolutely necessary to begin developing alternative technology now, as a paradigm shift in the energy business could leave energy companies without an alternative energy business facing a loss in profitability.


May 10, 2006 Posted by | Author: JPL, Energy, Oil | Leave a comment

Buying Korean

The Trouble with Entering the South Korean Market

There is perhaps no country with such loyal devotion to its homegrown companies as South Korea. Domestic all-stars Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and others have easily maintained dominance due to the fealty of Korean citizens and, also importantly, favorable relations with government, while foreign darlings from Apple to Hollywood’s movie industry have run up against tremendous difficulty penetrating the market.

While even conservative estimates of the worldwide market share controlled by Apple’s iPod put the figure around 25%, in Korea this plummets to 1.8%; Korean firms iRiver, Samsung, and Cowon are the clear mp3 industry leaders here. In cinema, government regulation mandates that movie theaters run only Korean movies for 146 days a year. From July this number will drop to 73 days per year, yet the reduction will be brooked due to robust demand for domestically produced movies.

Not Seoul Tasty

Allegiance to things Korean is found in sports too – from soccer to ice skating – and in health care, with many Koreans living abroad in the United States and Europe preferring to return home for complicated surgeries. Moreover, many Koreans question whether last year’s cloning scandal involving Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University, despite his own admission of falsification, was truly worthy of international opprobrium or merely an attempt by foreigners to undermine the nation’s scientific achievement. Foreign brands looking to enter the Korean market should be fully aware of this national mindset, which additionally doesn’t appear to be changing with the generations: young Koreans routinely preoccupy themselves with a firm’s nationality and prefer to “buy Korean.”

Difficult, but not Impossible

American brands looking to make inroads in Korea can take solace, however, in the success made by at least one foreign firm. With over 50 locations in the country as of May 2006, Outback Steakhouse – an American-based (Tampa, Florida), yet Australian-themed concept restaurant – is viewed as fine dining by many Koreans. Outback’s prosperity clearly may relate to its identification with “the lucky country,” a place better liked in Korea than is the United States. Next: Kangaroo-inspired iPods?


 2006. All rights reserved.

May 7, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Author: DML, Business, Country Profiles, Korea, World Markets | Leave a comment

Oil, Gold, ETFs, Oh My!

“Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die in euphoria.”

– Sir John Templeton
The financial media’s obsession du jour of rising commodity prices has resulted in a frenzy of investing by amateurs seeking the high returns that they cannot seem to capture in the current lackluster American equity market. A recent article in the Financial Times mentions that pension funds in the United Kingdom have been pouring record amounts of money into the commodities markets. ETFs that allow investors to bet on the price of oil and gold have been opening at a record pace, as news conscious investors are afraid that they will miss the boat on the commodities boom.

While it is possible that long term factors such as rising world demand for commodities, along with shorter term factors such as the current situations in Iran and Nigeria will cause increases in the price of oil and other commodities over time, it is foolish to believe that the current bull market for commodities, especially oil, will continue forever without experiencing a price correction. There is a distinct possibility that we may be in for a short term bear market within a secular long term commodities bull market , especially for oil. For today’s discussion we will focus on oil prices, as it is a topic receiving heavy attention in the American media right now.


Graph: Notice that the current bull market for light, sweet, crude is longer in duration and greater in magnitude than other historical booms, most notably the one that occurred in the mid 1970s.

Smart investors are aware that the time to buy into an asset class is when that asset class is out of favor with other investors, not when it is experiencing record returns. Logic tells you that the time to invest in an oil ETF would have been in the late 1990s, when oil prices were low. It is apparent that the global herd of investors are acting illogically and this is where the smart investor will recognize and seize opportunities. It is possible that the same people who saw opportunities at the height of the tech bubble in 2000 and lost money, are some of the same people who are buying into Oil and Gold ETFs right now. Although past performance is not indicative of future results, we may be experiencing a price ceiling right now, which would be negative for those who recently bought into oil, but good for the price of gasoline at the pump.


 2006. All rights reserved. is not liable for any loss resulting from any action taken or reliance made by you on any information or material posted by it. You should make your own inquiries and seek independent advice from relevant industry professionals before acting or relying on any information or material which is made available to you pursuant to’s information service, as it may not prove accurate. You rely on this information at your own risk. is not for profit.

May 7, 2006 Posted by | Author: JPL, Oil, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Germany’s New Popularity

A Dangerous Precedent: The Price of Paying Ransom for Hostages in Iraq

German nationals in Iraq have reason to be both comforted and disturbed by reports (in Der Speigel magazine and on ARD public TV) that Berlin broke precedent and paid ransom money directly to insurgent groups to secure the release of two engineers this week. German ex-pats can take solace in knowing that, if captured, there may be a monetary incentive in not beheading them on camera. At the same time, Germans are likely to become increasingly prized targets, potentially leading to a spike in abductions.

But next time?

At that point, will Germany continue the payments, furthering the crisis, or will the policy’s lack of efficacy lead to a reversal and the bloody sacrifice of future hostages? Will the government consider paying ransom only in Iraq, or in other global hotspots as well? Whatever the answers to these questions – and although this would be difficult to explain to the released captives – the strategic outcome looks gloomy for both German citizens and companies with interests in Iraq and beyond: in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and every other place where restive groups may look to cash in.

Cruel but Vindicated

Against this backdrop, the U.S. government’s long-standing declaratory policy of refusing to negotiate or barter with terrorists over hostages – however cold-hearted and unfeeling – appears justified. While the sentimental and PR value of capturing an American will remain an impetus to their abduction, at least they can know there is no additional financial motivation in doing so. No matter, some will say: simply being American is enough in some parts of the world.


Of note: In 2003, German companies spent 190 million Euros of FDI and imported 675 million Euros of products, much of it petroleum, from Nigeria. While imports “dropped sharply” in 2004 (the latest year for which figures were available) according to the German Foreign Ministry, firms doing business in the Nigerian delta – where much of the country’s oil is found and where MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Nigerian Delta), among others, has recently ramped up kidnapping and extortion efforts – should be acutely aware of the risks engendered by claims of ransom payments in Iraq.

 2006. All rights reserved.

May 6, 2006 Posted by | Author: DML, Europe, Germany, Iraq, Middle East, The War on Terror, United States | Leave a comment