Tuesday, March 26, 2013


 About a week ago I dutifully attended an all-day Turkic American Convention on the economies of the half dozen “stan” countries in Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.

 It was well attended, including by a number of US House and Senate members.

 Actually, it was enlightening to learn how quickly those new countries – most of which were held under tight Soviet rule until the early 1990s and had little autonomy of their own – have advanced their economies.  All are in, under consideration or desiring the join the World Trade Organization.

 Turkmenistan – because of its proximity to US ally Afghanistan – appeared to be the US favorite at the session, with the attendance of Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake and US Trade Representative’s office director of Central Asia Laurie Curry attending a panel on doing business in the relatively rich country.

 Also popping in unscheduled was Navy Rear Admiral Ron MacLaren – who asked if anyone in the audience knew why a Navy guy was on a panel on how to do business with Turkmenistan – a landlocked country.

 The answer is simple.  Given its proximity to Afghanistan – where the United States is fighting its latest war – he was on the lookout for alternative suppliers for American troops in country.

 That sounded fine, until the rear admiral enumerated the types of goods he has procured for US troops stationed south of the border.  They included everything from toothpaste, to bottled water, to aluminum roofing, to rebar for road construction, to cement, etcetera.

 The admiral gave a very boring lecture on negotiating techniques he uses to procure from the Turkmens – such as stressing the importance of quality and threatening to turn to other suppliers outside the country, among others.  Some experienced Turkmenistan hands suggested to this reporter that those general “negotiating” techniques were laughed at by the sellers – who ended up selling at their own prices anyway.

 But the kicker was when the admiral said not buying from US sources actually benefitted
Americans.  Prices and transportation costs were much lower when purchased in Turkmenistan, he explained.  Procurement of those supplies avoided the higher US prices and expenses to ship in US bottoms to the battlefront – all on the backs if American taxpayers.  Cement – for example – purchased in Pittsburgh and sent directly to Afghanistan would cost a lot more than buying from close-by Turkmenistan.

 I couldn’t believe I had just head that.

 I guess not only does the US military have its own criminal system, but it also follows different law than other Americans.

 Jim Berger

Friday, March 8, 2013

Toys and Triffles

With recent efforts to bolster the US manufacturing base and produce more goods domestically than purchased abroad, the debate over other countries’ ability to raise and lower their currency almost at will to benefit their trade has risen to the surface again in Washington. A lot of members of Congress – including its champion Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) – are stomping their feet and introducing bills requiring the US government to penalize countries that do so.  China is the most obvious and talked about most in Washington.

But it’s not a new issue.

Following is an article – entitled: Toys and Trifles – on the subject published in Washington’s National Intelligencer newspaper on February 16, 1856 –

Toys and Triffles

"On this them, a long while ago, (says the Boston Courier,) we took occasion to remark that the United States imported more unnecessary articles and exported more of the necessary articles of life than any other nation. The following extract from the Albany Evening Journal will no doubt strike others as it does ourselves of the truth of our remark. At the same time it speaks volumes in favor of the argument of regulating in some measures a currency which contributes forcibly to open wide the door of so remunerative a market for the introduction of articles that we ourselves might so easily produce; or if it must be that our people will continue to avail themselves of foreign industry, in preference to their own at home, let it be done on more equal terms than our own currency now permits it to be:

The Nation’s Extravagance

For the year ending August 31, 1855, we Americans imported from Europe, for our own heads and those of our wives and daughters, $1,982,560 worth of bonnets of silk, straw, and leghorn, and of hats and caps. Yet how few of the head-pieces one sees give evidence of having been sent for three thousand miles away. All are seemingly home-made. In that same year, young and old America treated themselves to $8,722,850 worth of watches, chronometers, and clocks of European make. Their appetite too for foreign jewelry was baited with $974,120 worth of the article upon which, without sighing, they paid a duty of thirty per cent. Of leather to cover their hands and their feet they sent across the ocean and bought to the tune of $3,069,860 – enough to hide-bind the nation and sicken it in various ways.

Having killed off all our woolen manufacturers, we let the foreigners take from us in the same year $24,225,379 for fabrics of wool that we had to have, or thought we wanted; for linen goods $8,617,165, for cotton goods only $15,742,923, for embroideries $3,892,749, and for iron and steel and their manufactures $22,980,728. Considering that America is the richest country on the face of the globe in the ores of metals and the means and skill to reduce them, the last item must have been a hard one in a double sense, and perhaps induced the importation by our people for solvents and aids to digestion in the shape of $4,615,735 worth of wines and liquors. Old and Young America bought abroad last year, and on tick, of things they could mostly have made at home, to the extent of $11,281,245! Any other concern in the world would "bust up" under such reckless house-keeping and management."

WTD's Friday Afternoon Podcast for March 8, 2013