Monday, November 24, 2014

The real deal on immigration

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post has written a lucid, thoughtful, well-informed and entirely wrong-headed column on immigration.  It's so thoughtful you should read it anyway.

But let's state the obvious: The immigration situation -- I will not call it a problem, because to the people who matter, it isn't one -- was created by American business practices. American business managers -- enough to count -- don't want any changes to a situation that provides them with plenty of cheap, abusable workers. And easily exploitable customers.

It isn't a party issue. Exploiting bosses are as likely to be Democrats as Republicans.

If you know your American history, you will recall that the influx of cheap, abusable workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries caused endless anguish among the WASP elite who ran things in  those days. They worried -- and they were correct -- that it would change America in ways that would dethrone them. But they needed cheap labor, and business' desire for cheap, easily controlled labor has always been paramount. That's why business liked -- and still likes -- slavery, as we saw in Germany and Japan not long ago and can still find in places like Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic.

But, some readers will object, what about the restrictive immigration laws of 1924? Business was never riding higher; if you are right, Harry, how did that pass?

Because it allowed sufficient cheap workers to come in. Half a million Germans, fleeing violence and depression, supplied industry with its workers. (Almost all returned to Germany after Hitler created jobs, so we had to kill them, but our corporations benefitted from their labor in the meantime.) Green card exceptions supplied western and Midwestern agriculture. The losers were Southern farmers, but before the loss of black workers to the North and Midwest became acute, the Great Crash drove the ex-sharecroppers back.

A lot of people are making easy money off our so-called broken immigration system. I recently came across a copy of "Autos USAdos" magazine, published weekly in Houston. It is similar to the Maui Bulletin in that it advertises cars, except they are all used cars, and the free weekly is 200 pages, on slick paper in full color.

With around 20 cars per page, that's 4,000 cars. If the magazine helps sell 200 of those cars a week, that's around $2 million-plus per week.

There are "especiales de contado" -- cash deals. (None over $10,000, to avoid having to make money-laundering reports to the feds.)  But financing is available, too: "no seguro social, no licencia, no credito" -- no problemo. Others say, "sin papeles, sin aseguranza." Some will take pesos.

No problemo indeed. CarTex advertises "5 minutos y estas aprobado!"

I guess those guys didn't take any lessons from the liar loan epidemic of the early 2000s. And why should they? Easy money.

I haven't seen one of those contracts, but you can bet the fees are outrageous.

When Emma Lazarus saw Lady Liberty raising her lamp beside a "golden door," it was golden all right, but not for the immigrant.

UPDATE: And at the other end of the political spectrum from thoughtful and well-informed, we have the Tea Party.  But a Palin v. McCain Senate race would be fun.

I note the absence in all the antiObama screeching of any discussion of how to deal with visa overstayers, who make up 40% of illegal immigrants. (Even Obama spoke only of making the Mexican border more like the Berlin Wall, although it is true that his approach would apply to sneakers-in however they got here; while it is possible that his gesture toward more border security was an insincere sop to the Tea Party racists who are interested only in keeping brown people out. In any case, I could have told him that gesture would earn him no credit so he could have saved his breath.)

The Times says, blandly:

What started five years ago as a groundswell of conservatives committed to curtailing the reach of the federal government, cutting the deficit and countering the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party has become largely an anti-immigration overhaul movement.

That implies that the movement's members now are the same as the ones who started it; but the TP was quickly taken over by Bircher/racists; and the original gold bugs, who are still there, have been swamped.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Into the mouths of babes

RtO has had harsh things to say about gun nuts -- who are, after all, all gun owners, so far as outsiders can tell -- and all of them were deserved. But nothing I can say is as damning as what the gun nuts themselves say, when the deal goes down, as it does once an hour or more.

It begins with a very nice man that you would want living next door, Jon Holzworth. He did this:

Jon Holzworth, of Lake Stevens, said he is not a big advocate of open carry. “I’d rather people not know I carry, because I don’t want people to judge me based on the fact that I own a firearm,” he said.
But he showed up Wednesday with a gun on his hip, “because we’re here at this meeting to protest the protesters for not supporting Starbucks.”
Curiously, for someone who doesn't want people to judge him because he owns a firearm, he has this notice on his door:

Notice the image of a pistol hanging from the sign

 And this on his car:

And, soon to be ironic, this:

According to Flock the NRA, Holzworth had this to say about tots and guns:

Teach your children young I say, and you will have a child that RESPECTS and is SAFE with a firearm

How young? He doesn't say, but sheriff's investigators say he left his 3-year-old son and a 4-year-old alone in a locked room with a firearm. What could possibly go wrong?

The 4-year-old shot Holzworth's son in the mouth. The loudmouth daddy seems not to have been available to reporters, but the family that shoots together shoots off its mouth together.

Brother-in-law PJ Thayer, also a professional gun nut, drags a (probably reluctant) God into it:

"We believe it was point blank shooting in the mouth, straight back into his face, that bullet stopped before it went to his brain," Uncle PJ Thayer said. "I have no question God's hand was on my nephew. A handgun at point blank range on a three year's old skull, there's gotta' be something at work there and we're confident there was."
And all the other thousands of toddlers shot to death in this country, God didn't give a hoot for them.

Uncle PJ has more confidence in gun owners than RtO does:

"I'm a concealed gun owner myself, but it's either on my person or it's in a safe. There's no way a child can get a hold of it," Thayer said. "I just would like to tell people that if you have a weapon in your house, if it's not on your person, it needs to be locked up."
Thayer said his sister, Michael's mom, wasn't around at the time of the shooting.
"She wasn't home, she left her son in the care of his dad," Thayer said. "This would have never happened if she was home."
I will bet money that a search of Uncle PJ's house will turn up a loaded firearm, probably on the nightstand, and probably another close to the front door, and another close to the back door.

Because gun nuts are frightened. Not that they might shoot a neighbor after mistaking him for a prowler (see "We don't call 911" sign), or that someone might get shot inside their home. They are frightened of "others," froghtened to go unarmed into a coffee shop.

Because, as Jon Holzworth says, "Everyone shoots." He apparently blames "our cowardly Congress," although what Congress has done so cravenly, other than quiver anytime anyone mentions reasonable regulation of guns, is hard to say. I'm guessing failing to enact firearms regulation is not what Holzworth had in mind.

Anyway, Holzworth is right about one thing: everybody shoots somebody And you can't start 'em too young. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review 336: Zarafa

ZARAFA: A Giraffe’s True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris, by Michael Allin. 215 pages, illustrated. Walker

“Zarafa” is supposed to be one of those books bout a popular fad that either illuminates an age or provides a talented writer a launching point for extended but not necessarily tightly connected ruminations about a time. An Anna Nicole Smith for the 1830s, perhaps.

Unfortunately, the most that Michael Allin achieves is to be loosely connected.

The Romans imported hundreds, maybe thousands of giraffes to be slaughtered in the arenas, but for 1,500 years only a few more ever arrived. When Mohammed Ali decided to curry favor with France in 1826 with a gift giraffe, there had not been a live one in France for 350 years.

The cast of characters is promising -- various confidence artists, scientists, adventurers and the occasional writer like Stendhal, although Stendhal missed seeing the giraffe on his first attempt and Allin never bothers to say whether he made another. Nevertheless, Stendhal and the giraffe shared Paris for a while, so in he goes.

To say that “Zarafa” is unfocused is too kind. Nevertheless, we learn this and that about giraffes and one giraffe in particular. It is hardly worth the effort, especially since the book contains a number of niggling errors.

The strangest thing we learn -- by omission, since Allin never addresses it -- is that while the giraffe was a sensation, at least as much as the first pandas were in the United States, and charming and beloved by all, the French never gave her a name.

Zarafa was not her name, it is the Arabic for giraffe.

While "Zarafa" is not a good book for adults, I notice that it has inspired about half a dozen children's books since it was published in 1999.

The people's bankers

From time to time, I repeat a post from my commercial blog, Kamaaina Loan, here. Like now.

I would add that it is time to break up the big banks. It won't hurt. We won't run out of money. When the government broke up Standard Oil, we didn't run out of oil.

Here is the Kamaaina Loan post:

It has been 80 years since the Pecora hearings exposed how big banks work against the public interest. New Deal regulations limited some of the worst depredations and, most importantly, initiated the longest period in history without a financial panic.
Since 1980, the trend has been to regulate less and less, or not at all. In 2008 the country realized the benefits of that policy with a giant crash.
This week the Senate held a hearing on “regulatory capture,” which means the regulators get too cozy with the banks. The New York Times headlined:

New York Fed Chief Faces Withering Criticism at Senate Hearing

So that even what restraints on banks’ antisocial practices remain in law are nullified. One way that happens is through “revolving door” hiring of former regulators by banks they used to oversee, with expectable bad outcomes.
Pawn shops are regulated, too, but there is no revolving door between America’s 12,000 pawn shops and federal and state regulatory agencies.
Just sayin’.
Pawnbrokers are the people’s bankers.
#mauipawn #mauigold

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Off and on over the years, I have considerd writing a piece about the weird stuff that happens in state legislatures. I've never done it, in part because each January the Associated Press always provides a roundup of the sillier legislation passed in the "laboratories of democracy" during the previous year.

That misses such escapades as the Great Ramp Kidnapping in the North Carolina General Assembly, a story RtO may retell someday, but not today.

Another reason I have not done the story is that, although the state assemblies are loaded with some of the loopier citizens of this so-called great republic, for the most part, the assemblies themselves are not quite so crazy. It is harder to find a whole assembly of kooks than to find individual kooks in it.

Still, when a kook rises to speaker, that seems worth noting. Thanks to Wonkette, I became aware of the new leader of the House Republicans in Nevada, who will probably become speaker in January. His name is Ira Hansen, and he is a piece of work.

The Reno News & Review summarizes Hansen's outlook:

one of the most contentious public officials in the state. Hansen doesn’t like blacks, gays, Israel, many Republicans, and most Nevadans—he once wrote that newcomers to the state, who constitute four of every five Nevadans, should accept Nevada as it is or leave.
He revealed this over many years of columns in a Sparks newspaper. Since he often repeated columns, he cannot very well say now that he misspoke, or wrote in haste. Not that he seems likely to take up these favorite excuses when Republicans are -- as they so often are -- accused of deep racism.

Another Sparks newspaper opinionator -- I am guessing, not a Republican, says:

“Alas and alack, I believe Ira is an overt bigot, racist and homophobe. … The Barbwire never forgets, and I’ve got the evidence in Ira’s own words, which I will be publishing as the legislative session approaches. Can achieving high office and political power change the leopard’s spots? I hope so …”
RtO hopes not. We would be poorer for losing an authentic voice of the people. Some people, anyway.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Trust me, I'm an unregulated market

While the big banks were busy cheating their customers by rigging the forex (foreign exchange) markets, somebody was taking them for a billion smackeroos the old-fashioned way.

Bernie Madoff would be proud. And envious. He had to pay Manhattan business lease rents and maintain the semblance of a real business. Much easier to set up a cyber bucket shop and milk the rubes of all their bitcoins and other digital money.
In May and June last year, Mandal and his wife, Wasima, 37, also a physician, invested $30,000 each with Secure, which required customers to use U.S. dollars. The Mandals swapped pounds for $60,000, using a bank. Following instructions from Secure, they then wired the money to banks in Australia and Cyprus to open their accounts.
Logging into the company’s website regularly, they watched as Secure traded the dollar versus the euro. Secure’s website showed that their accounts had soared in value to a total of $245,000 -- a fourfold increase -- in just 10 months.
Mandal says he decided to withdraw some money in March. In an e-mailed response, Secure said he’d have to wait. It cited issues with the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which is a Treasury Department rule that applies to U.S. citizens using foreign accounts -- a law that was irrelevant to Mandal, who’s a U.K. citizen. The March 5 e-mail said Mandal would get the money in a few days.
Both these stories are from Bloomberg, which I prefer as a source of crime, er, business news because it goes into so much more detail.

Other than that, not much has changed since I first subscribed to The Wall Street Journal in 1971 (after reading my father's copies sometimes when I was a wee tyke). I soon learned that the most interesting part of the Journal was page 4, where the crime stories ran.

While the daily paper in Norfolk, Virginia, where I then worked, would give play to a stickup of a cab driver that netted $60, day after day the WSJ reported on financial crimes that netted tens, often hundreds of millions of dollars.

And the thieves would seldom go to prison for these heists. If they did, it was 24 months in Danbury (the country club masquerading as a federal lockup for business criminals), while the mugger who stuck up the cabbie would do 5 hard in a state hellhole.

Not too long before I became the business editor at the paper, a couple of upstanding local businessmen who ran a shipyard were convicted of bribing their way into Navy contracts. It was a surprise (not that they were crooks, that they were convicted) and the retiring business editor, Artie Henderson, was stunned when a judge sentenced them to a shortish term in the pen.

"Why put men of that class in prison?" Artie wailed. "Because they are thieves," I said.

He didn't say another word but he was not persuaded. He ate lunch with those guys at the Civitan. Moose, Elks, Rotary, Lions etc. and surely prisons were not made for his friends.

(I had a lot of respect for Artie. As a vet back from World War II he had gotten elected to the Portsmouth City Council and fought a lonely -- eventually successful -- campaign to allow veteran housing in the city, something the country clubbers who had run the town didn't want. But by the time I knew him, Artie was tired and sick and beaten down.

(After his Civitan lunches, he would sleep at his desk, mouth open. Once one of the photographers took a picture of his gaping mouth and taped a print of it on the ceiling over Artie's head. Artie was humiliated. None of the young guys in the newsroom, except me, knew about Artie's brave career. And none of them ever did half what Artie did for his town.)


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our ships just came in -- or did they?

Pasha's MV Jean Anne, modern and mysterious
Wall St. just loves Matson's purchase of the Alaska business of Horizon Lines, and -- presumably -- is OK with Pasha's purchase of the Hawaii operations of Horizon.

Matson's share price was up over 20%, making it a $1.5 billion company, up from a $1B company when it split from A&B. (A&B is now a $2B company, up from $1B at the split, so there.)

Pasha's increased presence in Hawaii can hardly be good for Matson, but what does Wall Street know? Not much in my experience.

What about Pasha's value? You'd have to ask George and I don't think he'd tell you. My impression is that Pasha is one of the biggest businesses in the country if not in the world, but it is privately held (apparently mostly by the Pasha family), so there's one in the eye for those who argue that the financial markets benefit us all by using collective knowledge to allocate capital in the best way.

This is been a load of complete barnyard waste since capital markets first started functioning in a modern way about 400 years ago but the financial marketeers never tire of telling that to us, and lots of people believe them. It is only stating the obvious to say it's bunk.

Usually the evidence is negative -- markets collude to destroy people, work, environments, cultures, nations, you name it. But sometimes the evidence is positive -- when those rare managers who know what they are doing build their businesses without resorting to the "discipline" of the markets.

This appears to be the case with Pasha, as with a few other big, very successful firms, like Cargill, Lykes (until its presiding genius got old and blew his capital on a harebrained corn farm in the jungle) and others you have barely heard of because whatever they do (making money is only one aspect), they don't think it's any of your business.

And it isn't although maybe it should be. Living on islands that require marine shippers, it is not a matter of indifference who is running the ships and how.

RtO has nothing against Matson (RtO owns a chunk of Matson stock it bought at a very favorable price, thank you) or Pasha but remains wary.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Talkin' hospital blues

 I prefer to restate the obvious, but sometimes if no one else will make the first move, I feel I have to do it myself. But until  last night, it was always on the blog. Last night for the first time, I testified at a public meeting.

The House Health Committee held a public hearing on the deteriorating financial situation at the hospital. About a hundred people spoke.

Some spoke of the future and some of the present. Only one person spoke of the history of the crisis. Here is what I had to say about that. I have the impression the legislators didn't like it much:

Good evening. My name is Harry Eagar. I am retired now, but for 25 years I was the business reporter at The Maui News. I am going to give you a history lesson and an ethics lesson.

In the early ‘90s Maui Memorial was throwing off substantial surpluses. It needed to reinvest this cash in new medical technologies and expansion to deal with a growing residential and visitor population. It was prevented by an Oahu-centric Legislature that looted this surplus to support deficits at state hospitals in places like Lanai and Kona.

Ethically this was unjustifiable. Hawaii is an island state with several remote, rural localities. It was not the place of the customers of Maui Memorial alone to cover the deficits of the rural hospitals. All of us in the islands are an ohana, and it is the duty of all of us who are more favorably situated to help provide basic public services like roads, schools and hospitals in places where local revenues cannot cover the whole expense. That is, the ethical course would have been to cover the shortfalls from the general fund.

It is easy to understand why the Oahu legislators did not do this. Using the general fund would have meant less money for them to spend on projects in their local areas.

The decision was not only unethical. It was stupid management.

By starving Maui Memorial, it weakened our hospital and eventually eliminated the surpluses that supported the small hospitals. Now you need to find money to support all the hospitals.

The answer is not the fantasy of Dr. Kwon’s so-called free private hospital. Building that would have completed the ruin of Maui Memorial, but there was a service never intended to be provided by Kwon’s project: mental health care.

Again, it would be unethical to deprive a whole island of hospital mental health services. And you have now learned, from the disgust at the closure of Molokini Unit, how unhappy the voters would have been to have learned that Kwon had eliminated mental health hospital care on Maui.

I am skeptical of the prospects of a public-private partnership as a rescue for Maui Memorial. We can easily guess what the private partner would want to do: recommend shutting down unremunerative segments of care. Like hospital mental health services.

For patients, it would be as bad in the long run as a private hospital, it would just take a few years longer for the disaster to occur.

The time is now to cough up the hundreds of millions that were untimely drained from Maui Memorial and take the steps that ought to have been taken two decades ago.

It will probably require new taxes, which I know can be found; and new backbones, which I am less certain of.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dangerous local animals

Guidebooks to Maui usually warn visitors about dangerous animals like tiger sharks, sea urchins or centipedes. But there are bears on Maui and it is a good idea to be wary of them.

Like the bears at Yellowstone National Park they are shaggy, and like the bears at Jellystone Park they talk. They have names like Dreaming Bear, Scheming Bear, Sleeping Bear, Cruising Bear, Conniving Bear, Bobby Bare and Yogi Bear.

Most bears that you have heard of, like grizzly bears, Kodiak bears, Russian brown bears, black bears, Himalayan sun bears, the University of California at Berkeley Bears, polar bears and Boo-Boo Bear, hunt for salmon, seals or joggers or forage for berries, garbage or picnic baskets. The Maui bear preys almost exclusively on Trustafarians.

Earliest picture of Maui bear, made on Vancouver's expedition

You can find these bears in Haiku, Makawao and Kula, shambling forward on their hind feet, big furry heads swaying back and forth, snuffing the air for a scent of a Trust Fund Baby (Simplicius gullibilis).

Their tactic is to appear affectionate and kind to the Trustafarian in order to get close enough to devour him or her. Sometimes the bears even attempt to copulate with them, with results that don’t bear thinking about.

Trustafarians make ideal provender for Maui bears. Even if they are stripped right down to the bone, on the first of the following month they become fat and juicy again.

The local population of Trust Fund Kids puts a limit on the population of Maui bears, which, like centipedes or mosquitoes, are an invasive species. Maui bears often claim to be from Siberia or Mongolia, or sometimes Alaska or Canada, but most of them are really dropouts from continuation school in Fresno.

If you see one outside the East Maui and Upcountry areas where they are ineradicably established, you should report the sighting to the Maui Invasive Species Committee  pest hot line: 643-PEST.

The best defense against a Maui bear is a sound scientific education, but walking away quickly is also effective. Should you be molested by a Maui bear, as a last resort you can try the emergency remedy used with jellyfish stings and piss on it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Made in Maui mob

The changeable weather fooled the camera on my not-that-smart phone but I was trying to show how the Made in Maui fair at MACC was choke people. Food court was smellin' good. The sold-out sign was at the Maui Dee-Lites stand.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The moral dilemmas of genetic ignorance

What are the anti-GMO zealots going to do now, stick with their cancer-causing natural potatoes or accept the anticancer spud?

 The potato’s DNA has been altered so that less of a chemical called acrylamide is produced when the potato is fried. Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in rodents and is a suspected human carcinogen. The newly designed potato also resists bruising.

How the free market cares for you

I got a recall notice for my wife's van. If I don't follow through, there's a chance somebody could get killed.

There have been ten of millions of recalls this year of cars, plus other recalls of noxious food, dangerous toys etc.

Here is a list of all the recalls of dangerous products that were made by manufacturers before government regulations began requiring them:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ebola fever and the War with Spain

I write this post with some reluctance. As an issue, Ebola fever is being wildly overhyped. It would be better if people got a grip and paid attention to real issues. But people are not getting a grip, and it is the mission of RtO to praise greasy pork and restate the obvious, so here goes.

In 1898, when war with Spain was coming, there was a wave of press hysteria much like the press and (especially) television and radio hysteria we have enjoyed regarding the threat of Ebola coming into America. Back then, mayors of East Coast cities were panicked that the navy of Spain was going to bombard their harbors.

Each mayor demanded that the American navy station a battleship at his port, to protect the citizens. If this sounds exactly like, to take one example among many, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, that's exactly what it was like.

Never mind that if a Spanish fleet showed up, one battleship would not offer much resistance, nor that the proper use of a fleet is as a fleet, a powerful force that can dominate all the waters, not just one port. The American admirals, who were trying to concentrate their fleet somewhere near Cuba, were driven nuts by the amateur naval strategists, just as the communicable disease specialists today are being driven nuts by the instant experts (like Sarah Palin) who only want what's common sense protections for our vulnerable citizens. Lest anybody think I am picking on rightwing creeps (although I am), the Democratic prettyboy governor of New York, Cuomo, has been as bad (although the leftie mayor of New York City, DiBlasio, has demonstrated maturity and judgment that is hard to find elsewhere).

Anyhow, it all blew over and the fearsome Spanish navy was sunk (a topic we will have to return to later for historical revisionism).

Fearsome Spanish battleship, Reina Mercedes, with her sails furled

I still would not have stuck my oar in if two savvy, educated and cosmopolitan RtO readers had not revealed, in comments, that they do not understand the method of transmission of malaria, the greatest killer among infectious diseases of our time (unless it's TB). If two smarties like them don't know any more about infectious disease than that, imagine the level of misinformation among the professional ignoranti, like Limbaugh.

So there. The first step in public health is threat assessment. The CDC correctly evaluated the threat but misjudged, at first, the level of practice necessary to become skilled at dealing with it. Paderewski practiced the piano every day, whether he needed to or not.

It took a few days and only two tries to get up to speed, so nothing to worry about.

Now, let's examine both issues a little more deeply.

As a matter of fact, the United States Navy in 1898 was thoroughly incompetent and could have defeated only 2 other navies, Spain's and China's. Spain had only 2 modern ships and these had not had their guns mounted. China had good ships (bought from England) but crooked contractors had sold its navy shells filled with charcoal, cement and porcelain instead of gunpowder.

At the Battles of the Yalu (1894), Manila Bay and Santiago (1898), the Chinese and Spanish sailors fought with great courage but no hope. If you suspect the situation was much as it is today with the Iraq government that the United States created and continues to support, you are exactly right.

As to quarantines, it is incorrect to say -- as some of the people trying to douse the Ebola panic are saying -- that they cannot work. Sometimes they have been useful.

In the early 1970s, when cholera was introduced into West Africa (probably from south Russia), the international medical advisers thought that quarantines were hopeless and recommended something rather like the Doctors without Borders responses today: public awareness campaigns, changes in everyday behavior, isolation, treatment, prophylaxis.

The health director of one of the newly independent states set up a quarantine along his border. The white American and European advisers scoffed but the barrier held for seceral weeks, buying enough time for his nation to prepare. (I no longer recall which country that was, but a young American doctor, Pascal James Imperato, told the story in a series of articles in Natural History magazine.)

It does not follow that the quarantines being set up in Maine, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Canada and other backward places make sense today.

UPDATE: This is worth reading. Nut graf:

But why stay here when he was no longer sick? Isolation in a hospital is for sick people; quarantine is for people who have no symptoms but could be incubating a disease.

Silver swoons

From time to time, I post something from my commercial blog, Kamaaina Loan blog, (the one I get paid to write although not by Monsanto) at RtO. Today is one of those times.

Kamaaina Loan blog is not meant to be controversial but I got a chance to take mild swipes at some of my favorite targets: inflation hawks and free market fanatics.

* * *

Wow! Sure didn’t see that coming

At the Kamaaina Loan blog we have been following with amusement and fascination the ups and downs of the gold price over the past few weeks. One minute the price jumps to $1250 and a day or two later it’s under $1200 and then back up again.

Sometimes the moves can be attributed to some pretty obvious doings in the world economy, sometimes the leaps and slides seem practically uncaused. But the price has gyrated around the $1225 that the gurus at Goldman Sachs last year were predicting for this period.

But who anticipated that late last week the Japanese central bank would decide to pump a lot of yen into the deflated Japanese economy, the latest in a series of failed attempts to bring that sector out of deflation? (Although the US Federal Reserve and many other wise heads have been worrying for years about inflation, deflation is the big problem. Economists know how to control inflation but — as the experience of Japan over the past 25 years and of the whole world economy in the ’30s demonstrated — deflation is the really intractable problem.)

The American stock market went crazy, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average spiking to a record high. Just why the transfer of ownership of a small fraction of Japanese equities from private (mostly Japanese) hands to Japan government hands should make American stocks so much more valuable is hard to figure.

But the effect on gold and its poor stepsister silver — once the stock market had reacted — was in line with conventional thinking: both fell off a cliff.

Gold got down to a four-year low and shortly before the market reopened today buyers were offering a mere $1172. Silver cratered. It has been a long while since it broke under $17. Today it is flirting with $15.