Europe Plays Fair with Africa by Reducing Sugar Subsidies

   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.


For once, Europe bests the United States in consistently practicing free trade: 


BRUSSELS — The developing world has been adamant that rich nations abandon farm subsidies in order to get a global trade deal both sides say they want. A flood of investment pouring into Southern Africa’s sugar industry demonstrates why the poor countries won’t back down on this demand.

The hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to ramp up African sugar production is a direct response to European Union plans to slash import duties and subsidies that for years have locked out farmers in developing countries.

The expansion shows how the EU’s gradual opening of its farm sector can boost production in some developing countries, offer cheaper prices to European consumers and force inefficient EU producers to close.


For the full story, see: 

JOHN W. MILLER  "African Sugar Production Ramps Up EU Plan to Cut Tariffs Shows How Developing Nations Can Benefit."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., February 17, 2007):  A4.


Government is a Cause, Not a Cure, for Stranded Air Passengers

JetBluePassengersStuck.jpg   JetBlue passengers during the 8 and a half hours that they were stranded on the tarmac without being allowed to leave the plane on Weds., February 14th.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.


To avoid stranding passengers for hours on the tarmac is not a ‘passnger bill of rights,’ but more rational (or fewer) FAA government work rules for airline crews: 


(p. D3)  Duty-time limits . . . can discourage pilots from taking planes back to gates. Federal rules give pilots a total work day of 16 hours, with only eight hours actually at the controls of an airplane. A pilot can’t start a new flight with a scheduled time that would push over eight hours in the cockpit, but the pilot can continue any delayed flight up to the 16-hour limit.

If a flight goes back to the gate, it technically ends. So if the pilot is close to the eight-hour limit, he or she can’t start a new flight to get the plane to its destination. But if the flight sits on the ramp without going back to the gate, the pilot gets the 16-hour window. 


For the full story, see: 

SCOTT MCCARTNEY. "THE MIDDLE SEAT; Stuck on a Plane: Why Nightmare Delays Happen; FAA Rules, Company Policies Prod Airlines to Wait It Out; Calling in the Red Cross."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., February 20, 2007):  D1 & D3.


 JetBluePlanes.jpg   JetBlue planes on Mon., February 19th at JFK airport.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.


Environmentalists’ Advocacy of Tire Reefs, Hurts the Environment

   Tire reef deposited in 1972 near the coast of South Florida will be expensive to remove.  Source of photo:  online verison of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


As we listen to the doom scenarios of environmentalists about global warming, we should ponder the evidence that, decades later, we sometimes learn that environmentalist proposals can be bad for the environment.  


(p. 23) “The really good idea was to provide habitat for marine critters so we could double or triple marine life in the area; it just didn’t work that way,” said Ray McAllister, a professor of ocean engineering at Florida Atlantic University who was instrumental in organizing the project. “I look back now and see it was a bad idea.”

. . .

Gov. Charlie Crist’s budget includes $2 million to help remove the tires. The military divers would work at no cost to the state by making it part of their training.

A monthlong pilot project is set for June. The full-scale salvage operation is expected to run through 2010 at a cost to the state of about $3.4 million.

. . .

“We’ve literally dumped millions of tires in our oceans,” said Jack Sobel, an Ocean Conservancy scientist. “I believe that people who were behind the artificial tire reef promotions actually were well-intentioned and thought they were doing the right thing. In hindsight, we now realize that we made a mistake.”


For the full story, see: 

"Tires Meant to Foster Sea Life Choke It Instead."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., February 18, 2007):  23.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


Zimbabwe Official Says People Eat Field Mice as a “Delicacy”: More on Why Africa is Poor

   Screen capture from CNN report "A Ruined Land," broadcast on December 19, 2006.


(CNN) — Twelve-year-old Beatrice returns from the fields with small animals she’s caught for dinner.

Her mother, Elizabeth, prepares the meat and cooks it on a grill made of three stones supporting a wood fire. It’s just enough food, she says, to feed her starving family of six.

Tonight, they dine on rats.

"Look what we’ve been reduced to eating?" she said. "How can my children eat rats in a country that used to export food? This is a tragedy."   . . . 

This is a story about how Zimbabwe, once dubbed southern Africa’s bread basket, has in six short years become a basket case. It is about a country that once exported surplus food now apparently falling apart, with many residents scrounging for rodents to survive.

According to the CIA fact book, which profiles the countries of the world, the Zimbabwean economy is crashing — inflation was at least 585 percent by the end of 2005 — and the nation now must import food.

Zimbabwe’s ambassador to United States, Machivenyika Mapuranga, told CNN on Tuesday that reports of people eating rats unfairly represented the situation, adding that at times while he grew up his family ate rodents.

"The eating of the field mice — Zimbabweans do that. It is a delicacy," he said. "It is misleading to portray the eating of field mice as an act of desperation. It is not."


For the full story, see: 

Jeff Koinange.  "Living off rats to survive in Zimbabwe."  CNN  POSTED: 3:40 p.m. EST, December 19, 2006.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


RatsZimbabweDelicacy.jpg   Rats for dinner in Zimbabwe.  Source:  online CNN article cited above.


“Nuclear Energy is Suddenly Back on the Agenda”

   The Belguim windmill looks nice, but the electiricty is produced by the nuclear plant in the background.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


The latest word on energy, from the 2006 World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland:


. . .  nuclear energy is suddenly back on the agenda — and not just here.  Spurred on by politicians interested in energy independence and scientists who specialize in the field of climate change, Germany is reconsidering a commitment to shut down its nuclear power plants.  France, Europe’s leading nuclear power producer, is increasing its investment, as is Finland.

At a time when industrialized countries are wrestling with how to curb carbon dioxide emissions, nuclear energy has one indisputable advantage: unlike coal, oil, natural gas, or even biological fuels, it emits no carbon dioxide. That virtue, in the view of advocates, is enough to offset its well-documented shortcomings.

“It has put nuclear back into the mix,” said Daniel C. Esty, director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University. “We’re seeing a new balancing of the costs and benefits.”


For the full commentary, see: 

MARK LANDLER. "Europe’s Embrace; With Apologies, Nuclear Power Gets a Second Look."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sun., January 28, 2007):  3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)



Immigrant Entrepreneurs Thrive in New York City

   Manuel and mother Mercedes of the entrepreneurial Miranda family, inspect the corn flatbread called "arepa."  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


Immigrant entrepreneurship contributes to the vitality and dynamism of New York and the nation.  Note the graphic at the bottom of this entry shows that employment increases in the same areas of the city in which immigrant entrepreneurship is thriving.   


Manuel A. Miranda was 8 when his family immigrated to New York from Bogotá. His parents, who had been lawyers, turned to selling home-cooked food from the trunk of their car. Manuel pitched in after school, grinding corn by hand for traditional Colombian flatbreads called arepas.

Today Mr. Miranda, 32, runs a family business with 16 employees, producing 10 million arepas a year in the Maspeth section of Queens. But the burst of Colombian immigration to the city has slowed; arepas customers are spreading through the suburbs, and competition for them is fierce. Now, he says, his eye is on a vast, untapped market: the rest of the country.

. . .

“Immigrants have been the entrepreneurial spark plugs of cities from New York to Los Angeles,” said Jonathan Bowles, the director of the Center for an Urban Future, a private, nonprofit research organization that has studied the dynamics of immigrant businesses that turned decaying neighborhoods into vibrant commercial hubs in recent decades. “These are precious and important economic generators for New York City, and there’s a risk that we might lose them over the next decade.”

A report to be issued by the center today highlights both the potential and the challenge for cities full of immigrant entrepreneurs, who often face language barriers, difficulties getting credit, and problems connecting with mainstream agencies that help businesses grow. The report identifies a generation of immigrant-founded enterprises poised to break into the big time — or already there, like the Lams Group, one of the city’s most aggressive hotel developers, or Delgado Travel, which reaps roughly $1 billion in annual revenues.

In Los Angeles, at least 22 of the 100 fastest-growing companies in 2005 were created by first-generation immigrants. In Houston, a telecommunications company started by a Pakistani man topped the 2006 list of the city’s most successful small businesses.

 But even in those cities and New York, where immigrant-friendly mayors have promoted programs to help small business, the report contends that immigrant entrepreneurs have been overlooked in long-term strategies for economic development.

. . .

Now, some children of the early influx are trying to build on their parents’ success — success that itself has increased the cost of doing business, by driving up rents and creating congestion.

One example is Jay Joshua, a Manhattan company that designs souvenirs and then has them manufactured in Asia and imported. Jay Chung, who arrived from South Korea in 1981 as a graduate student in design, started printing his computer-graphic designs for New York logos and peddling them to local T-shirt shops. His company is now one of the city’s leading suppliers of tourist items, from New York-loving coffee mugs to taxicab Christmas ornaments.

Mr. Chung’s son Joshua, 26, who was 3 when he immigrated, joined the company after studying business management in college, and recently helped land orders for a new line of Chicago souvenirs. But frustration mixes with pride when the Chungs, both American citizens now, discuss the company’s growth.

“It’s really hard to conduct a business over here as a wholesaler,” Mr. Chung said in the company’s West 27th Street showroom, chockablock with samples. “We get a ticket every 20 minutes, no matter what. We need more convenient places with less rent, less traffic.”

Thirty years ago their wholesale district was desolate. Now hundreds of Korean-American importers are there, said Jay Chung, who is a leader of the local Korean-American business association. They face a blizzard of parking tickets and high commercial rents — nearly $20,000 a month for 1,400 square feet, he said.


For the full story, see:

NINA BERNSTEIN. "Immigrant Entrepreneurs Shape a New Economy."  The New York Times  (Tues., February 6, 2007):  C13.

(Note:  the ellipses are added.)


The author of the New York Times article has contributed to a New York Times digital video clip that is based on the article and is entitled "Immigrant Entrepreneurs:  A Tour of One Bustling Ethnic Enclave."


 EntrepreneuvsJayJoshua.jpg   Entrepreneur father Jay and son Joshua own a firm that supplies New York City souveniers.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.


  Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article cited above.


Investments Increase in Electric Transmission

ElectricTransmissionGraph.gif   Source of graph:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.


U.S. utilities are significantly increasing their spending on new electricity-transmission lines, a trend that could ease choke points in the flow of power, enhance reliability and increase the potential for renewable energy.

The spending should put a dent in the chronic problem of underinvestment, a factor in the big 2003 blackout that left 50 million people in the eastern U.S. and Canada in the dark.

. . .

American Electric Power created buzz in November when it announced it will partner with Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s utility unit, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., to build more transmission lines in Texas. AEP is budgeting about $1 billion for Texas projects, some designed to serve wind power developers.

AEP has identified $9 billion in important transmission projects in its 11-state region, including $3 billion for a 550-mile line that would bring cheaper power to New Jersey from West Virginia. AEP Chairman Michael Morris said transmission projects "will begin to pay benefits to shareholders as early as 2007."

. . .

Some projects pay for themselves, in effect, by eliminating grid choke points that limit power flows. In Connecticut, a new high-voltage line to Norwalk from Danbury, cost $340 million but will produce immediate savings for consumers by allowing less costly power to flow into the area. That eliminates so-called congestion costs, or the difference between what it would cost to supply the need in the most economical way versus what it actually costs because transmission capacity is limited.


For the full story, see: 

REBECCA SMITH.  "Money on the Lines Utilities Invest in Transmission."  The Wall Street Journal (Tues., February 6, 2007):  A10.


“Free” Parking Has Hidden Costs

ParkingMeterRedwood2.jpg ParkingMeterRedwood1.jpg   Two views of the new parking meters in Redwood, California.  Source of photos:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.


Economists have long made the case that the solution to the parking crunch many cities face lies not in more free or cheap parking but in higher prices. The idea is that higher prices result in a greater churn — and get more people on buses and subways — which leads to more open spaces. But this notion has often run up against city planners and retailers arguing that cheap and plentiful parking results in more commerce and, thus, higher sales taxes and a vibrant economy.

Now, in places like Redwood City, some officials are finally listening. One reason is that after decades of losing people to the suburbs, many city centers are swelling again. Many of these new residents are bringing cars with them, creating the kind of traffic that makes them yearn for the suburbs again.

One of the most influential of the parking gurus is Donald Shoup, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who commutes on a bicycle. Since the publication in 2005 of Mr. Shoup’s "The High Cost of Free Parking," he has become something of a celebrity at academic gatherings and parking-industry meetings. Lines form at his book signings. "He’s a parking rock star," says Paul White, of Transportation Alternatives, a New York group that advocates for pedestrians and bicycles.

. . .  

Dan Zack, downtown development coordinator for Redwood City, has bought in. A few years ago, his boss presented him with a problem. "He said, ‘We’re adding a million visitors every year, but only 600 new parking spots — make it work,’ " Mr. Zack recalls. After visiting neighboring cities and reading books like "The Dimensions of Parking," Mr. Zack was handed an article by Mr. Shoup.

The city recently raised rates to 75 cents for some prime downtown spots that had been free, and ditched its one-hour time limits, so cars can prepay for as long as they’d like. The move has helped steer more cars to underutilized parking garages away from the main drag.

. . .  

San Francisco, perhaps more than any other city, shows how radically some cities are rethinking their parking. The city is one of the toughest places to find a meter spot in all of America, and there have been a spate of attacks by angry drivers, against parking enforcement officers. One block near the popular Fisherman’s Wharf has average stays of four hours — even though there’s a two-hour time limit — and some spots are filled for days at a time.

Recently, the city hired a company to lay hundreds of 4-inch-by-4-inch sensors along the streets in some areas. The sensors, which resemble reflectors, have recorded some 250,000 "parking events" across 200 parking spots. City planners can now tell you which spots are occupied the longest and how traffic flow affects parking supplies.

If the sensors get a wider rollout, the city has floated a number of ideas. When there’s a Giants baseball game at AT&T Park, the city could temporarily charge about the same as private lots near the stadium. The ground sensors are also connected to the Internet wirelessly, which creates the possibility that parking enforcement officers equipped with PDAs could get real-time information on parking violations beamed to them. It also means consumers could get information on which parking spots are open.


For the full story, see: 

CONOR DOUGHERTY.  "The Parking Fix; Free-market economists are overhauling a frustration of American life — and erasing what may be one of the last great urban bargains."   The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., February 3, 2007):  P1 & P5.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 


 ParkingSensorsSanFancisco.jpg ParkingMeterInternet.jpg  Sensors such as the one embedded in the San Francisco street on the left, could eventually be used to help track parking violators, as imagined in the fictional picture on the right.  Source of photos:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.


In Praise of Microsoft

   A PC screen displaying one of the wallpaper options from Microsoft’s Vista operating system.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


I know what Microsoft wants. I know because I have been exploring its new operating system, Vista, which was released last week after five years of false starts, persistent bugs and great expectations. I also know because after spending three weeks building a computer from scratch to test out Vista, piecing the PC together from parts bought online, I want the same thing. What we want is to eliminate the PC altogether, to dismantle that box of green circuit boards and crammed-in wires, to break through even the most glorious flat-screen monitor and open up a new … vista.

That’s why the operating system has its name, of course, and why the screen images it includes show exotic landscapes with skies lit by sunset or sunrise or aurora borealis displays.

. . .

Apple had it easy: it kept its PC box closed, maintaining control over the hardware so it would perfectly suit its software. But Microsoft faced hundreds of thousands of boards, drives and chips like those I had spread out before me a few weeks ago, all of differing technological vintages, made by hundreds of companies with wildly different goals. Microsoft has taken these objects, along with the many thousands of PC programs now sold, and tried to create a system that would overlook their dizzying differences, bind them to a coherent vision and force them, in all their variety, to leave techne behind for the uncharted possibilities of magic. 


For the full commentary, see: 

EDWARD ROTHSTEIN.  "CONNECTIONS; Techie’s Cyber Odyssey: Magic in Bits and Bolts."  The New York Times  (Weds., February 7, 2007):  B1 & B7.  

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


    In the Vista operating system, the user can shuffle through open windows almost like a deck of cards.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited above.


Job Market Resilience: Going to the Dogs

LoguePatrickRealEstate.jpg  Patrick Logue the former real estate agent and current dog trainer.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.


Selling homes has turned into a dog-eat-dog business, so Patrick Logue decided to work with some friendlier canines.

Mr. Logue quit his job as a real-estate agent near Fort Myers, Fla., in December. Then he set up shop as a franchisee of the dog-training chain Bark Busters. So far, he says, "I have zero regrets."

. . .

Mr. Logue, a 34-year-old former golf pro, became an agent for the Assist-2-Sell franchise chain in the Fort Myers area about three years ago. He says his commission income was nearly $100,000 in his first year and $180,000 in his second. Then it plunged to $40,000 last year. "Nothing was selling," he says.


For the full story, see:

JAMES R. HAGERTY and ANJALI ATHAVALEY.  "Amid Slump, Real-Estate Agents Hang Up Their Blazers; Housing Downturn Leads To an Industry Shakeout; Seeking Alternative Careers."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., February 7, 2007):  B6. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


Many Muslim Newcomers Did Not Embrace Dutch Tolerance

   Source of book image:


Two key moments in Ms. Hirsi Ali’s life stand out. One is her arrival in the West, a moment she considers to be her "real birthday." On the day her husband shows up at the refugee camp in Holland to claim his rights, Ms. Hirsi Ali finds that she can say "no" to a man stronger than she is, thanks to the protection of a democratic state, a protection made visible, in this case, by the presence of Dutch policemen. She thus experienced an imperative that to most of us is a mere abstraction: Individual freedom needs the rule of law.

The second pivotal moment in her life, Ms. Hirsi Ali says, was the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S. She understood what drove Mohamed Atta and his co-hijackers; she once shared their values and had known people like them in the Muslim Brotherhood. "Every devout Muslim who aspired to practice genuine Islam," she writes, "even if they didn’t actively support the attacks, they must have at least approved of them." With 9/11, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s religious doubts erupted into defiance of what she had known while growing up.

From that day onward, Ms. Hirsi Ali became a public voice in the Dutch post-9/11 debates. Eloquently, she made bruising, sometimes inflammatory, arguments. Islam was backward, she said, and needed its Voltaire. She declared that, considered by modern standards, the Prophet was a "pervert" because he had married a 9-year-old girl. Elected an MP for the market-oriented VVD Party in 2003, she became a politician in the grand, passionate style, breaking with Dutch habits of consensus and accommodation.

A nation of 16 million people, with a Muslim minority of about one million (mostly Moroccan and Turkish immigrants), the Netherlands was at the time (and is still) trapped by its carefully nurtured sense of tolerance and hospitality. The trouble was that its newcomers did not necessarily embrace tolerance, women’s rights, free speech and other core Dutch values. Ms. Hirsi Ali knew that she was courting danger by openly addressing such concerns. Nonetheless, she pushed ahead and began working with director Theo van Gogh on "Submission," the film about the mistreatment of Muslim women. When van Gogh was murdered on Nov. 2, 2004, the police found a knife stuck in his body — the weapon was holding in place a letter threatening Ms. Hirsi Ali.


For the full review, see: 

LUUK VAN MIDDELAAR.  "BOOKS; Out of Europe How a prominent African refugee confronted Islam — then fled to the U.S."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., February 3, 2007):  P12.


Reference to the book: 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  INFIDEL.  Free Press, 2007.  (353 pages, $26)