Minstrel’s Alley Sees Its Book, The Guys Who Spied for China, Precursor to Recent Chinese Espionage Activities

Minstrel’s Alley recently reduced the price of its eBook of The Guys Who Spied for China, written by Gordon Basichis. The Los Angeles based media group reduced the price so that readers may obtain a better sense of Chinese espionage practices and the pervasive tensions that these activities have created between the United States and China.

Minstrel’s Alley Publisher, M.J. Hammond explained that the recent case, reported in the Washington Post, where a Chinese citizen was recently sentenced for stealing classified information regarding drone and missile technology, further reinforces the public need to read its book. In the most recent case, the convicted spy stole thousands of documents detailing how drones and missiles can be operated without any satellite guidance.

“We recently reduced the eBook pricing on The Guys Who Spied for China so readers could glean a better understanding of Chinese espionage operations in the United States,” said Hammond. “Author Gordon Basichis first wrote his novel about Chinese spy networks that were active in the close of the twentieth century. The book is still as relevant as when it was first published in 2009.

“The Guys Who Spied for China is a roman a clef,” said Hammond. “But the novel is based on Basichis’ offbeat experiences in working to uncover Chinese Espionage Networks in the United States. Gordon Basichis narrates how it all began and the attempts that were made to suppress Chinese spying efforts in the United States. “This is not your typical spy novel,” said Hammond. “It is a quirky and intimate novel that is often darkly humorous. It is character based and offers a unique perspective. Women enjoy reading it as well as men. Some of our best feedback has been from women.

 

For the complete press release click on this link

Will They Serve Frozen Yogurt At The Next Revolution?

All rhetoric aside, revolutions are not started by the poor.   The poor may contribute later on, or pile in and take the revolution to certain extremes, but they are not the ones who start it.  I realize it is romantic to think of the poor rising up to break the yoke of poverty, but it is simply not the case.    It could be argued that if the poor were that well organized, then they would get it together enough not to be poor.

It’s the disaffected bourgeoisie, the merchant class, the middle class, that always  always gets the ball rolling.    If at first it is not the middle class directly then it is their progeny, their erstwhile sons and daughters who grow restive in the coffee houses or on the job, in the schools, where discussion leads to protests, and protests leads to violence, or the series of incidents that set it all off.   Robespierre, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, was from a family of lawyers.  Castro, in Cuba, was from a wealthy middle class family and also a lawyer.

Lenin was also an attorney; his father a director/inspector of the public school system.    Trotsky was raised in a family of wealthy farmers.  Che Guevera was from an upper middle class family and was himself a doctor.   Mao Zedong’s father may have started life as a peasant, but by the time Mao was still a young boy the old man was doing just fine as a  farmer and grain merchant.

The American forefathers were largely merchants or gentrified farmers.   Those frocked coats and powdered wigs cost a few bucks, and none of them have been cited as showing up in a peasant rags. In the case of most revolutions, the leading intellectuals and rabble rousers took their cues from  principles and doctrines in the literature of choice.    The French and the Americans cited passages from the Age of Reason, while the Russians and Chinese took their cue from Karl Marx.   Most peasants weren’t reading Marx at the time, and the literature found in  Age of Reason or the Enlightenment was mainly accessible to those that had money, and certainly those who could read.

Another misnomer is that revolutions occur out of principle.   That they are driven by the abstracts of ideology and their anticipated application.   Revolutions, at least successful ones, are based in economics and not the more higher minded principles as some would believe.   Most successful revolutions emanate from self-interest and economic necessity before being disseminated to a greater mass through rhetorical ideology.   Even in today’s world where even the most complex strategic considerations are boiled down to simple jargon and sound bites, embedded at the root core there is short and long range self-interest and its related economics.  The higher minded rhetoric, all that stuff about liberty, equality…whatever…comes after when you need more bodies to sacrifice themselves for the greater cause.

I think about revolution not because I am encouraging it.  I do ponder at what point the middle class once again decides it has had enough of the chicanery and double dealing that leaves it holding the bag.   I think about the Tea Party and realize that some laud them while some mock or hate them, fearing the worst from the dregs in their lot.  But the Tea Party thing didn’t come out of nowhere.  People are pissed off.   The middle class is pissed off.  These are the people who have lost their houses, their jobs, their dignity, and their chance to make life better for their children.   While with the Tea  Party all that anger is being channeled almost entirely to the wrong places, the frustration is real.

Their jobs are going offshore.  Their trades skills if not obsolete are being transferred to other countries, leaving crafts people to work in humiliating call center positions where they try to accommodate those as pissed off as they are.   Small businesses have watched the stimulus money get kicked back to the larger banking and financial interests.  They have watched the money go offshore so domestic interests can make nice with foreign interests, so everyone is happy for the next financial shell game.  Many small and medium size business owners realize they are in a game of musical chairs, and when the music stops they may lack a place to plant themselves.    The less evolved make irritating claims about wanting their country back.  Few realize that while there were always virtues there were also the ugly elements of sexism, racism, and the economic leverage of the Robber Barons that is not at all unlike the way things work today.

But the smarter souls realize the middle class is dissolving.   It is a species facing extinction, or if not extinction then certainly a serious depletion among their ranks.   It is becoming increasingly evident, at least to me, that both the right and left are creating a permanent underclass.  The Conservatives may be more calloused and venal, willing to exploit cheap labor, and under the guise of free enterprise ship people’s livelihoods to other places, in order to serve their bottom line.    But then the Liberals or Progressives, or whatever they are this year, in offering meager entitlement without any real job training or actual support of industry have policies that may keep people alive but eliminate their chances of obtaining the skills that will empower them toward gainful employment.   At the end of the day, it is really two sides of the same coin with both sides pandering to their bases.  One caters to the rich, and the other tries to garner votes from the poor.  The middle class pays the tab and then finds itself ignored.

Common sense would be that rather than just hand people money, it would be wiser to re-purpose factories, even in the supposed archaic industries.   Develop a modern version of Roosevelt’s WPA where younger folks can form in teams to  employ modern technology with seasoned business sense to make stuff.   No country survives by merely shuffling paper around.  You need to make stuff.  Even in a global economy you cannot constantly suffer trade deficits for goods you can be making here.  Or, more to the point, you can not do it and survive.  Re purposing  factories would allow the government to supplement production.    The factories might even operate at a loss to stay competitive, but that loss would not be nearly as costly as just laying out billions for stand alone entitlement programs where nothing comes back to the coffers.

But then some argue, why bother with outmoded industries?   Well, for one thing not all of our citizens are technological geniuses.   Some of the work may be mind numbing, but it is a living, and a better living than either the call service job that has filled in in many blighted cities, or the government check that covers close to nothing.     It is better to have people working at something,  especially products that would reduce our imports and overall deficits, than not working at all.

We talk about what great innovators we are.  We love to revel in our inventions and our technological brilliance.    We boast of our start ups and how great technological achievements have originated from that humble garage workshop.   It may be true.   But as Co-Founder of Intel, Andy Groves, points out in his terrific article on Bloomberg Business Week, entitled How America Can Create Jobs, even when we innovate through the start ups we no longer scale these companies but instead the big outfits buy them out and ship most of the work offshore.  There is little chance for a new Microsoft or anything else when either that fledgling company is left to fend for itself, having no access to the kind of capital that would enable scaling to competitive levels.    There is little chance when that nascent company is bought up by the big kid and its resources moved offshore.

And both sides of the aisle are equally culpable.  The conservatives bark about free enterprise and the lack of government intercession.  These were the same people who couldn’t wait for government handouts from the bailout, where many suffered little or no consequences for their duplicity and lack of sensible business practice.   On the other hand, we have the current majority in government boasting of its reforms.    They boast of a  financial reform and a bill that has no teeth.  Companies too big to fail are still too big to fail.   As for much of the legislation, five minutes after  its passing any corporate interest with a team of lawyers and common sense has figured out a way to beat most of it.   There is little pressure for this current or any future administration to reduce or eliminate tax credits for shipping its jobs offshore.   There is little incentive via added tax credits to encourage even foreign companies to set up shop over here and hire American laborers.

So, in all, minus the rhetoric from both sides and all the concomitant window dressing, you have people either out of work or working jobs so meager they can’t support their families.   Credit extension to the regional banks who would in turn provide funding for local businesses is little more than a passing topic of conversation.    The economy is once again stalling.   Consumers are reluctant to make purchases.  There is talk of a double dip recession.   There is talk the housing market could slip even lower with increased foreclosures.

And the middle class?   I have to wonder at what point does the toxic mismanagement reach critical mass?    It is one thing to wear a ridiculous hat with tea bags draped from its brim.   It is another to consider the twenty-first century version of tarring and feathering, vandalizing, and otherwise making life miserable for those who have reduced this country to a shadow of itself.   I think about this recent little fiasco in the California City of Bell where it was recently discovered that four of the five council members were getting paid about $100,000 for their part-time jobs in the blue collar city of 40,000 people.   The Bell city manager, who made nearly $800,000, which is roughly three times the salary of the President of the United States.  For the City of Bell.

Why did it take so long to figure out that these conniving individuals were getting paid so much for so little?  The salaries were only made public after a Los Angeles Times investigation, based on California Public Records Act requests, uncovered the ugly fact that the city payroll was bloated with six-figure salaries.  Since the discovery, some of the grand city officials have resigned.  Others are defiant.  Attorney General, Jerry Brown,  is contemplating criminal charges.   There is much rancor about their very generous pensions.

But supposed they hadn’t resigned.  Suppose they all remained defiant and the state government ignored this outrageous transgression on the public trust.  One has to wonder at what point do the riots start where some of the city officials are dragged into the street?  Maybe never.  Maybe the citizens of Bell all toss back a beer and a Zoloft and go back to American Idol.    But suppose this incident or an incident much like it does get out of hand.   And then suppose in other parts of the country the citizens there think a little tar and feathering of sorts is not at all a bad idea.   You know, little local and regional things that suddenly erupt beyond the point of control.

I know it is a lot of supposing here, but if history tells us anything,   major changes gestate for years before breaking out to a greater order.   History demonstrates it takes just a series of minor incidents that evolve from miniature rebellion to considerable revolution.    America had its Boston Massacre, it’s Tea Party, and Lexington and Concord. Russia had its riots in St. Petersburg.   France had the storming of its much hated Bastille.  And so it goes.

I am not saying we are about to see a full scale revolution, replete with Civil War and all the other accouterments that give new meaning to dangerous living.   No extreme sports are necessary when you have massive rioting and killing in the streets.   But we  are not a country that angers easily.   On the top side of our national persona, we have an embedded sense of law and fair play that if it doesn’t hold us back from theft and duplicity at least burdens us with guilt.

On the down said, we are spoiled, fat, lazy, and have far too many distractions.   A revolution is hard work and takes focus and a great deal of concentration.   Between channel surfing, texting and gossiping, focus and concentration is not particularly our strong suits.    It  may be difficult to sustain anger when you take mood elevators and believe your critical assignment is attacking the nearest buffet.  We are out of shape and eat a lot of frozen yogurt.   It could be argued that unless Fro Yo wins the concession for the next American Revolution, turnout will be minimal at best.   And if there is a turnout, then is everyone proclaimed a hero?  Does everyone get a trophy?  Hard to say.

But then that anger is growing out there.  It is diffuse and misdirected, concerned with petty concepts like racism and people’s sexual preferences.   It is concerned with lifestyle choices and religious beliefs or lack of them.   But then we aren’t there yet.  We aren’t at the place where that slow to anger big dog finally gets off the porch where sensibilities start to galvanize and find articulation.  Where the middle class declares, “enough of this,” and decides that voting for the same thing regardless of party cannot turn it around.   When it becomes clear that it is not an issue of wanting one’s country back but moving it forward.   Against the deliberate intransigence.  And in the face of those who wish to keep you right where you are.

Pitfalls of a Branded Economic Culture

Brand names have always been important.   For years, a good brand can mean everything from quality and reliability to status and social cache.   But in the last twenty five years or so brand names have evolved into “branding” as a cultural and marketing phenomenon.   Without proper branding, products and services can either fall by the wayside or play second fiddle to those that have been served up to consumers and businesses with the proper branding identification.

We have become dependent upon branding.   Without it, it would appear, few consumers could judge the quality of a product on its own merits.   Without branding we lack the know how to determine how one product may differ from another in the way it is made, crafted,  or serviced.  We can’t really ascertain how it performs, whether in the laundry cycle or on the road.   Despite the Internet and all the information sources we have available, there are relatively few places the average consumer can educate himself on the true character and craftsmanship of any given product.   We know little about the skill it takes to make something just so, the materials used and how they are superior from the knock off varieties.

So we brand products and services and generate enough marketing that consumers believe either the truth or the hype, depending on the goods.   The branding culture has had a tremendous effect on consumer habits and they way they shop.   Our economy is based largely on consumerism, and the perception of someone’s wealth and position in society is what drives much of our economy.    The lines of demarcation is such that without wearing, using or somehow adhering to the socially approved brands, you are considered a lesser person with no taste, no wealth and hardly any social distinction.  Some people really don’t care about all that, but most do.

This kind of mindset certainly has its conveniences.  You really don’t have to think much about what you are buying in order to cater to your own self-perceptions.   You don’t have to know much about the product itself, but just the product elevates you to a certain social category.  No matter that the product is actual quality in terms of construction ad design, the fact that it is perceived as such is all most consumers really need to make their shopping day.

To build their client bases, retail outlets especially rely on stocking branded products.   You must cater to your targeted clientele.   If you stock this product you are considered a lower level, big box type of retailer.  If you stock that brand, then you are the mid-line, department store type of retailer.   And at the upper echelon, you must stock the brands that cause shoppers to perceive you as exclusive.   Coupled with the design of your venue and its geographic location, shoppers know you are ready to service their kind of folk.

But with the economic downturn, branding may have backfired.  With reports of store closings, maybe 70 odd thousand retail outlets across the country, it is becoming abundantly clear that no one really needs all these venues.   Surely, the economic dowturn is the largest factor, but perhaps this financial crisis has shed light on a problem that has existed for quite some time.   Simply put, no matter where you go, you are finding the same merchandise in every place you shop.   One store has no distinction from another.   It is all the same stuff.

You can go to any city on the planet and, largely, it is all the same stuff.  It may vary from one venue to the other, but each venue offers the same merchandise on its social and economic level as the one you found the the last city you visited.   In fact, you might be shopping in the same chain, buying the same stuff.  Only the city you shop in is different.

So if everyone has the same offerings, small wonder retailers are going out of business, left and right.   Small wonder consumers are reluctant to buy anything.  Not only are they short of cash and credit, but they already have a half dozen of whatever it is being offered in any outlet at any given time.   I hear friends tell me, “who needs it?   I already have plenty of those.”

In a nation that prides itself in originality, there are few places carrying original goods.  Perhaps it is time to see more retail outlets offering smaller batches of merchandise from original designers and suppliers.  I realize there are economies of scale, but with staples there are alternate solutions to overcoming the challenges of economy of scale.   It would be nice for a change to not see everyone wearing the same thing or finding in a house the same layout as the last house.   With some merchandise, pots and pans, for example, sure it will be the same.   But furniture?

Perhaps we need a more educated consumer.  Pundits claim we are educated through the Internet, but do we really know the difference in woods in furniture, the types of finish, the distinctions in quality?   Having watched shoppers in furniture stories, I would think not.   In fact, the level of ignorance about the goods we are laying out money for is fairly astounding.

Maybe one way to stimulate this economy is to be a little more original.   To understand quality and craftsmanship and realize the best things are built to last.  Use them, wear them and allow them to take on the vintage textures of an original creation.   Don’t buy junk, because it has a label you can recognize.

Of course the original designers in time may become popular.  Once they do they will scale up production as people rush to buy their goods.   They will buy blindly, with great faith it will boost their status in the eyes of others.   And then these original products will become so popular we will have…branding.  Oh, well.

CSI Is Just Another TV Show In Los Angeles

The public sure loves its true crime stories.  The public also loves television shows that approximate true crime, like CSI, which most know stands for Crime Scene Investigation.   The CBS Television Network programs CSI in a number of cities.   The cities range from New York, Las Vegas, Miami, but not Los Angeles.

The show is produced from Los Angeles, but any producer who chooses to approximate a true crime cop show, using LA as the background, better move the bar that much further from fact toward fiction.   The same my hold true for New York, Miami and the other cities where the show is located as well.   The intrepid cops who solve these difficult cases my in reality be confronting the hardships and obstacles found in the Los Angeles labs.

In Los Angeles, cases are severely backlogged, there is gross mismanagement and alleged lack of supervision  in the divisions responsible for both the fingerprint samples and the DNA.   There is a stuff shortage, a misplacement of specimens.   Court cases are backlogged and trials are often delayed.  There are inaccuracies and errors.  Critics claims the LA Police Department has no plan as to how to rectify this grievous series of foul ups.

The century old wonder of the fingerprint is somewhat of a fallacy.   The crime scene unit investigators are only able to recover fingerprints from any one of the 2,400 annual crimes scenes about 60% of the time.   And then when the files, or fingerprints, are misplaced, the adeptness and fortitude we admire on on CSI, the TV Show is lost in CSI, the reality.

As far as DNA is concerned, there are about seven thousand cases where the specimens are backlogged.   To be kind the Lab personnel is extremely understaffed.   The City lacks the money and he people to conduct what most would deem truly efficient investigations.   With forthcoming budget cuts, the rather dire conditions that have been reported in the Los Angeles Times among other places, may not be getting any better.

Well they did have a news conference.   A series of them, actually.   They did proclaim the backlog, the mishandling of evidence, the lack of oversight, etc.,  to be a serious problem.   I suppose that’s a start.  Most do agree there is a need to do something.   But so far, in the literal sense, it appears the lab technicians can barely get out of each others’ way.   Without losing the specimens.

I realize that it is tough to be a cop.  It is tough to be a police lab technician in a large city where despite all reverie that violent crime has gone down there is still plenty to go around.  Yes, it’s tough to be a cop and it is tough to be the lab technician.   But it’s a lot tougher to be a crime victim.

Crime victims expect justice.   They should get it.  Often they don’t.  Los Angeles has seen more than a few cases where hte obviously guilty were set free.  In some cases they were free to do it again.   But with crime victims there is a need to believe in some criminal and societal code.  A moral and ethical code where the powers that be will do their very best to bring the criminal to justice.

Increasingly, we see their very best is lacking.   Their very best isn’t even good.   So when you are a victim of rape and you are looking for justice, for some form of retribution that will at least in some small way alleviate the shock and terror you have experienced, along with injury to body and psyche, you expect to encounter the long arm of the law and not delays and excuses.

Which makes this all worse I fear is that with the economic downturn crime and unemployment are among the few things that will rise.   People get desperate and even the more restrained and less violent of criminals may be prompted to commit violent criminal acts.   The streets will be more dangerous, and the criminals will know by the time the labs get around to retrieving their DNA and fingerprint samples they could possibly die of old age.

After the collapse of our economy , for those of you who can’t experience one more shock and disillusionment,  keep your eyes on CSI.  It’s a better world on your flat screen TV.

Financial Meltdown Remedy–Stashing Your Cash in the Home Safe

Selling Safes

As the financial crisis worsens more people are taking their money out of banks and buying home safes.   They feel their valuables are better protected when it is closer to hearth and home than it is in a bank that could fail at any minute.   They are stashing gold, jewelry and cash.  According to an article on CNN, home safe sales are up by at least fifty percent.

I am sure the trend is catching on.  And with the trend come the bragging rights.  We often love to brag about the most insipid of things.  In communities where life is too often measured by who has the nicer car and who maintains better lawn care,  this is a one more topic for the cocktail and barbecue circuit.   I am sure we will here from people who ten minutes ago didn’t know a safe from a cab stand, all about the intrinsic qualities, the locking devices, style, weight and, naturally, the size and cost.

The financial meltdown is hardly funny.   But aspects of running out to buy a home safe that you believe is safer than banks, is pretty funny in a darker way.   It reminds me of the old timers and miser of yore who hid their money under the mattress, or in the cookie jar or the cut out pages of a book.   My grandparents long ago employed one such fellow who discovered to his dismay that my grandmother on a cleaning spree unwittingly donated the cobwebbed books and, consequently, his money to the Salvation Army.

With mattresses now so technologically advanced, it is really difficult to hide more than a few bills under one.   Too much cash can ruin the rest on a Tempurpedic.   The cookie jar is a tough place for stashing gold, and the safe, well, as good as it is, it’s vulnerable to burglars and home invaders.

Banks are guaranteed.  Your home safe is not.   It is really, really tough to crack a bank safe, cracking a home safe is a whole different matter.   Yes, they may be harder to crack than before, except for the smaller ones you can either carry out the door.   Or the ones set in the drywall that can be cut out and, yes…carried out the door.

The really good, expensive,  home safes may be impervious to the blow torch or maybe even to dynamite.   Well, some small amount of dynamite.   But they are not impervious to someone sticking a gun in your face and ordering you to open the safe, before they kill you.   Will this happen?   As the economy continues its downfall, you will see more crime.   You can’t count on much, but you can sure count on that happening.

The geekier burglars will hack in to vendor databases and find out where you live.   Intercept your mail.  Whatever.   So what’s the trend, then?   Install an alarm system.   That will protect your house and your safe.  Until the geeky techno burglar bypasses your alarm and gets into your face, or waits in hiding until you come home, sticks a gun at your head and orders you to open up.   Burglars driving by will see the new alarm sign and figure, ” there has to be a safe in there.”

Now I’m not saying someone shouldn’t have safe.  Probably they should.  A good fire safe is excellent for protecting valuables against a fire.   It’s a great place to stash some cash for emergencies and some of your jewelry and the kind of bonds you can easily have replaced.   It’s great for your prized autographed Babe Ruth Baseball or a document signed by Abraham Lincoln.   Whether it is good for stashing gold bullion, as some are wont to do right now, well that is another story.

So what to do with most of your cash, your valuables, and, if your are lucky enough, your gold coins and bullion?   Stick them in a bank.  After all, that’s what banks are made for.