'International' Articles

Citizens United: Does it apply to foreign corporations?

A friend of mine brought up an interesting point in an interesting way.   Basically, he inquired as to whether Citizens United will permit foreign corporations to spend their money to run political commercials, and then admitted he felt ill at the thought.  I agree.

Luckily, and somewhat hopefully, I believe the answer is as follows:

First, there is currently federal law that was untouched by the Citizens United decision that is very broad and specifically covers this issue.  Section 441e(a) of title 2 of the United States Code states that: “It shall be unlawful for . . . a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make — (A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election; (B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or (C) an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication [the political ads at issue in the Citizen United case].”  2 U.S.C. § 441(e) (emphasis added).  Further, this section defines “foreign national” as, among other things, “a foreign principal . . . , except that the term ‘foreign national’ shall not include any individual who is a citizen of the United States.”   2 U.S.C. § 441(e).  After flipping to title 22, we learn that “foreign principal” includes foreign individuals, governments, foreign political parties, and partnerships, associations, corporations, organizations, or other combination of persons organized under the laws of or having its principal place of business in a foreign country.  22 U.S.C. § 661.

Thus, these laws state that a corporations that are not organized in, and with a principal place of business in, the United States cannot, directly or indirectly, run ads for or against a politician.  Then, why did Obama mention this issue during his State of the Union?  Maybe it was his fear that foreign corporations would use their subsidiaries in the United States to run such ads.  Tenuous at best.

Further, the Supreme Court in Citizens United addressed this issue.  In writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated that:  “[w]e need not reach the question whether the Government has a compelling interest in preventing foreign individuals or associations from influencing our Nation’s political process.”  Based on the tenor of this opinion, it appears that the Supreme Court would not have any issue with finding that the Government has a compelling interest in limiting foreign influence over our political process.  That is the standard necessary for the government to circumvent free speech.

Fear not from foreign corporations, our government has it covered.

Add comment February 2nd, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize: Gore, Palmeiro, and now Obama.

To start, I want congratulate President Obama for his victory in winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.   He joins Mikhail  Gorbachev (1990) and Nelson Mandela (1993) as notable leaders who won this prestigious award.  He also joins Al Gore (2007) and Rafael Palmeiro (1999) as Americans that cleary do not deserve such an award.  Now, for the record, I am making no accusation towards any of these individuals with respect to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.  However, their lack of achievement in the area (peace or defense) in which they won their awards really takes the awards themselves into the irrational.

Al Gore.  No comment.  We can save that for another day.  Rafael Palmeiro.  I can keep this brief.  Back in 1999,  Palmeiro won a Rawlings Gold Glove award for his play at first base while being a member of the Texas Rangers.  As for background, each year, a “Gold Glove” is given out to one player in each league at each of the nine baseball positions.  To his credit, Palmeiro only made only one error during the 1999 Major League Baseball season (and errors are bad things).  Ordinarily that would be an incredible accomplishment for a first baseman (who is the guy that all the infielders throw to).  However, he only played in 28 games at first base that season (and there are 162 games in a season).  The other games he played (135 of them) were as the designated hitter (a designated hitter is what is says, a player, who only hits, and does not field).  The Rawlings Gold Glove is awarded to those players who exhibit “defensive excellence.”  How that was exhibited by a player that played defense in less than 20% of his team’s games (as opposed to the normal 80-95%) is a question that will remain forever unanswered. 

Now we are presented with another award that does not appear warranted.  As legend tells us, after Alfred Nobel died in 1896, his will spoke to us and offered an annual Nobel Peace Prize “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”  I hope one day President Obama meets this standard.  To claim he already has is dishonest.

It should be noted that this peace prize is awarded by a committee of only five people, all of which are elected by the Norwegian Parliament.  In its press release on October 9, 2009, this committee awarded President Obama the prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”  When did that happen?  The press release specifically stated that the committee “attached special importance to [President] Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”  What work?  And how did the word “vision” get in there?  I believe the standard above specifically states “have done” — visions are irrelevant.  To the committee’s credit, they did try to show how the vision actually did something (”[t]he vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations”), but, seriously, can anyone argue that this rises to the level of the Nobel standard above?

Nonetheless, I again congratulate President Obama for winning this award.  (Mr. Palmeiro gets no such respect from me as that was Tino Martinez’s award in 1999.)  President Obama has obviously “done” something to win this peace prize.  In my opinion, that was impressing five Norwegians with him vision.  Imagine if he actually does something to lead us to a world without nuclear weapons.  What would he win then — a Gold Glove?

Add comment December 14th, 2009

World Cup 2010: Group of Death?

[New York. December 10, 2009.]  After the groups were chosen for the 2010 World Cup, immediately, soccer (a.k.a. non-US football) fans and commentators  commenced the “Group of Death” argument.  As in prior years, the debate ended fast, with little controversy.  Few have chosen to disagree with the football brass on this issue.  (Note the usage of the term “football”; I do not know of any soccer brass.)  They have all dubbed Group G the Group of Death (such group includes  Brazil, North Korea, Cote d’Ivoire and Portugal).  Since this is the World’s game and means more to most than politics, we shall examine.

FIFA-2010

First, the basics.  World Cup football begins with eight Groups.  Each Group has four teams.  An elaborate selection process is used to determine which teams are placed into each Group.  This process seeks to offer the Groups parity, but, like everything else in sport, true parity cannot be achieved.  Each Group member plays the other three teams once (three points for a win and one for a draw).  The top two teams in each Group by points move on to the “knockout” round (essentially a quarterfinal).   At the December 4, 2009 selection “event,” Charlize Theron told us that the 2010 World Cup groups would be made up as follows:

Group A:  South Africa (86) / Mexico (15) / Uruguay(19) / France (7)
Group B:  Argetina(8) / Nigeria(22) / South Korea(52) / Greece(12)
Group C:  England(9) / United States(14) / Algeria(28) / Slovenia(33)
Group D:  Germany(6) / Australia(21) / Serbia(20) / Ghana(37)
Group E:  Netherlands(3) / Denmark(26) / Japan(43) / Cameroon(11)
Group F:  Italy(4) / Paraguay(30) / New Zealand(77) / Slovakia(34)
Group G:  Brazil(2) / North Korea(84) / Cote d’Ivoire(16) / Portugal(5)
Group H:  Spain(1) / Switzerland(18) / Honduras(38) / Chile(17)

What are  the numbers in the parentheticals?  They are the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, which I will use to analyze the Groups.   For those that do not follow soccer, FIFA is the International Federation of Association Football, is the international organization that governs various tournaments, including the World Cup.  Of course, it is known by its French acronym, FIFA.

FIFA, along with its good friends Coke [NYSE:KO], issue internation team rankings, and the last such rankings were released on November 20, 2009.  Spain is number 1 in the world, Brazil is number 2, and so on.

The analysis I will use involves three components to determine which, if any, of the Groups is the “Group of Death” (in the soccer world, this is the most difficult group to get out of — reminder, only two of the four teams in each group advance).  Each component will rank the eight Groups from most difficult (1 point) to easiest (8 point); then, a weighted-average of each Group’s three components will give a final tally.  Of course, at TRP, we love our math.

Component 1 (25%):  The sum of each team’s FIFA rankings for each Group.  For example, Group A, with France (FIFA Ranking 7), Mexico (15), Uruguay (19) and South Africa (86), has a total of 127.  This is the second highest of all eight groups — so Group A will get a ‘7′ for this component.

Component 2 (50%):  The same calculation as Component 1, but using only the top three teams in each Group.  For example, Group B, with Argentina (8), Greece (12), Nigeria (22) and South Korea (52), has a total of 42.  In my opinion, this is the most relevant component, so it is given double the weight of the two others.

Component 3 (25%): Since the third-place team in each Group does not advance, the FIFA ranking of that team will be used.  For this component, “third-place” means the third highest ranked team in the Group.  For example, Slovakia, in Group F, has the highest ranking of all third-place teams — so Group F will get a ‘8′ for this component.

Based on this analysis, the Groups are ranked as follows:

Group F (8.000) (easiest)
Group C (6.000)
Group D (5.125)
Group B (4.875)
Group A (4.500)
Group E (3.500)
Group G (2.250)
Group H (1.750) (most difficult)

There you have it. Are you confused? Let me try to make this clearer through another example, using the potentially strongest group:  Group H has the least total FIFA ranking of all eight Groups with a 74 (so they get a ‘1′ for Component 1); it has the second lowest total FIFA ranking for its top three teams with a 36 (a ‘2′ for Component 2); and it has the second lowest seeded third placed team with the Swiss 178 (a ‘2′ for Component 3). Now, do the math: 1 x 25% + 2 x 50% + 2 x 25% = 1.75.

Although Group G has been presented to the world as the obvious Group of Death (thanks to Brazil, Portugal and Cote d’Ivoire — three top 16 teams), the analysis above results in a Group H of Death.  Clearly, the reason is that Group G’s North Korea is 84 in the world, whereas, Group H’s weakest team, Honduras, is 38.  I have no doubt that Spain (number 1 in the world) would much rather be in Group H, than in Group G.  However, in Group G, the would get the guaranteed win against North Korea, whereas, Honduras is no guarantee.  With that said, I think we can take the following from the above analysis:

  • Groups G and H can share “Group of Death” status;
  • Groups A, B, D and E are actually evenly matched; and
  • Groups C and F are very weak at the bottom.

If you back U.S., English or Italian soccer, get ready for the knock-out round or for some tears.

1 comment December 10th, 2009

Starbucks Coffee in China?

This morning.  A normal morning.  Leaving late.  Driving fast.  Minutes before train.  Long line at Starbucks.  So, there I am — with a pounding headache — in need of an espresso buzz.  Not just any espresso — this espresso comes with warm milk (like mom used to make) and an assortment of flavoring choices (from vanilla to white chocolate).  (And an added bonus — the coffee cups are decked out for the holidays.)  So like a fool, I make my most important — and regretted — decision of the day, I pass on the java, make my train and save four dollars…

Could this lifestyle exist in China?  I would never have thought so until this same morning.  While reading a Wall Street Journal — during my brief awake moment on my commuter train — I noticed an article on the cover regarding Starbucks’ initiatives in China.  Wait?  (Are they not Communist?)  I mean, don’t they drink tea?

 

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Tea and coffee are so dissimilar (besides the fact that they are normally hot, sometimes cold, and receive milk and sugar well — okay, they have similarities).  But for me, tea makes me think of being sick and snobbish people — whereas coffee reminds me of the joy of addiction and fifteen-minute coffee breaks.

How can Starbucks pull this one off?  Then again, they have convinced so many that a Venti White Chocolate Mocha Latte is worth $4.50 and 630 calories.  Obviously, they are doing something right.  Why not make one billion Chinese the next focus — since they are already the largest coffee shop in the rest of the world!

As for some history (and I thank the Starbucks website for much of this info), the first “Starbucks” was founded in Seattle, Washington back in 1971 by two teachers and a writer (I do not think he had a blog) — selling mostly coffee beans.  Then along came Mr. Howard Schultz — with his olive oil voice and espresso drinks — who was initially rejected by the trio, but, started his own coffee chain in 1985, Il Giornale.  Finally, in 1987, the original three sold to Schultz, and the current Starbucks was born.  Immediately, this new Starbucks expanded outside of Seattle.  It opened in Los Angeles in 1991 (breaking 100 total stores that year).  In 1992, the inevitable initial public offering [NASDAQ:SBUX].  In 1994, it finally opened in New York.  And then in 1996 (a year it broke 1,000 locations), it opened in Tokyo — its first step towards world coffee shop domination.  (I like to think of that scene in the film Outbreak, with the map of the United States and all the little red dots, starting from Cedar Creek or in this case, Seattle.)

Allegedly, there are currently more than 12,000 Starbucks locations around the world (if you count stores not owned directly by Starbucks — e.g, Barnes & Nobles).  Although, that number may sound a little high — I have to believe it since, if I tried, I could easily pass about 20 Starbucks locations during a 20 minute stroll through midtown Manhattan.

But can it spread through China the way it appears to have spread everywhere else?   Actually, to be fair, it should be noted that it has not worked in Italy.  Has Starbucks avoided the great boot?  With the love for coffee in Italia, I would have thought I would see the Starbucks label on the 2006 World Cup trophy.  But, I would be wrong.  I guess the Italians “really” love “their” caffe.  (And my biggest shock – Milan, Italy’s “city,” not a Starbucks to be found.)  Okay, back to China.  (Forza Azzurri.)

Could Starbucks really bring tea drinkers over to the dark side?  That is left to be seen.  But, after witnessing its success in the United States and abroad (especially in London), it is hard to deny Starbucks’ appeal.  (Not to mention a member of the current board of directors has his number 24 hanging from the Madison Square Garden rafters — that has to account for something.)

I’ll be sure to stop in for a “Grande Skim White Mocha” on my next trip to Shanghai.

1 comment November 29th, 2006


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