Some Political Jokes


Based on journalists’ reports and other published materials, I have assembled the following jokes for your enjoyment. The contents are half real and half fiction. I wrote the fiction part by creating an imaginary context whose purpose is to give you a good laugh rather than providing extra information.

Bill Clinton’s Astute Observations
Why he won in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
Why Hillary lost in 2016: “It’s the angry crowds, stupid!”
Why Al Gore lost in 2000: “It’s Monica, stupid!”

“Corporations Are People!”
Shorty after his re-election in 2012, President Obama invited his opponent Mitt Romney for lunch featuring hamburgers especially prepared by the White House chefs. The butler in the next room heard Romney saying out loud, “Hamburgers are people, too!” There they started debating again.

Move Over Darling
According to his biographers, President Lyndon Johnson liked to make his secretaries work through the night in the office. When they got tired, the sofas were there for them to lay down for a nap. One night Johnson came in and squeezed himself into the sofa where a secretary was resting.
“Move over! It’s your President,“ he commanded.

World’s Most Honest Politician
Winston Churchill had the strange habit of coming out of his bathroom totally naked (indecent exposure if you will). One evening a maid went into his bedroom to tidy things up for the night. She was shocked when Churchill suddenly appeared in a state of nature.
“Now you know that your Prime Minister has nothing to hide,” Churchill calmly reassured her.

World’s Smartest Tax Accountant
President Trump was advised to claim $59 million tax deduction for the total loss of 59 cruise missiles he ordered to be fired into Syria.

Pre-Existing Conditions
Members of the US Congress know that they will be denied coverage if they vote to privatize their own health insurance provided by the government. The reason is that they all share the same pre-existing condition — Their crooked eyes are permanently fixated on the ugly money donors, a condition that is impossible to cure.

What Makes Us Special
Many Americans don’t understand why we are not embraced as liberators when we fight a war on foreign soil. In WWII England which was our staunchest ally, an American soldier recalled what an Englishman said to him, “You are over-paid, over-sexed and over here.”

A Truth Not So Subtle
Senator Hayakawa from California often dozed off while the US Senate was in session. A reporter asked Senator Edward Kennedy to confirm the rumor because their seats were next to each other.
“I never saw Senator Hayakawa, I only saw his pillow,” replied Kennedy.

Voting Fraud
Somewhere in America, voting fraud is said to be rampant. To prevent it, the following regulations are written down for strict enforcement:
No persons may enjoy the pleasure of voting more than once on election day.
No children may vote.
Homeless or illiterate persons must write down their addresses.
Poor persons may pay a discount price of $1 for the voting forms.
Dead persons are not allowed to vote.

Posted in Economics/Politics, Funny/Personal | Leave a comment

The 2016 US Election


Winners and losers are only separated by a thin line. Many people have crossed that line, some more than once. Thomas Edison once said, ”I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Most people don’t have the luxury to recover after failing so many times, but the point is, learn from your own mistakes.

The failure of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election was a shock to many. How could she have lost to Donald Trump, an inexperienced egomaniac with a penchant for insulting people? Truth is, Hillary had failed to learn her lessons. The first lesson was losing to Barack Obama in the 2008 primary election (Why was she a worse campaigner than he, a novice after all?). The second one was a big challenge from Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary (Why did so many young people flock to an old man who repeated the same real issues like a recorder?). The third one was an ineffective presidential campaign mostly focusing on Trump’s negatives (Why couldn’t she be more positive than Trump who ran an under-funded campaign based on hate?). Her vulnerabilities were obvious but she had not learned from them. Neither had the Democratic Party she represented.

Recently, Hillary admitted that she had made some mistakes, with no further elaboration of what they were. However, she immediately turned to blaming former FBI Director James Comey, Russian hacking and Wikileaks. Granted that all those were true, their impacts were only partial. Hillary will not learn if she does not honestly examine her own mistakes.

Hillary supporters like to say that America is not ready for a woman president. No! Americans are ready for anything new. They have already voted and re-elected a black president. On the other hand, they have rejected Sarah Palin because she showed amazing ignorance in world affairs. Americans are ready for a woman who can connect with the people, not just any woman. Hillary has failed miserably in showing understanding and connecting. Her supporters say she did not really lose to Trump because she won the national popular votes (albeit coming mostly from California and New York). Remember, the name of the game is the electoral vote. What matters is the popular votes being counted within each state, not across the whole country. Thus the candidate must win state after state in order to accumulate 271 electoral votes required for the presidency.

The Democratic Party should accept the responsibility that they had nominated a candidate who could not connect well with the people. If they cannot field a better candidate next time, we can look forward to another failure in 2020. The Democratic party bureaucracy deserves a shake up, too. Some of its leaders are over seventy years old. It needs to cultivate young blood and new visions. This by no means implies any virtues for the Republican Party. The GOP has gone berserk for many years. It has degenerated from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of No. Desperate for victory, the GOP has allowed itself to be hijacked by Trump, who is not a true Republican but has beaten all the Republican candidates in the nominating process.

What is Hillary’s political vulnerability? Her baggage is only part of the problem because Trump has his own baggage, too. It all boils down to her poor emotional connection with the voters, which is what an election is all about. If you think that her emails and her enemies did her in, how do you explain Trump’s popularity based on ego and unjust scapegoating of immigrants and foreign competitors for America’s woes? Did Trump create any enemies? Trump’s temperament led him to offend so many people that his insults did not seem to matter. In short, the American voters deserved a better candidate than any of those two in the 2016 election. In the absence of a third candidate, they tended to pick the firebrand whom the people could wrongly but easily connect.

Hillary’s careful manners and scripted conversations didn’t offend, but they betrayed a sense of aloofness and inauthenticity that gave people little emotional reason to vote for her. Neither did she inspire voters on the good things she had done and offer a better future for the country. Just compare their campaign slogans of “Make America great again!” and “I’m with her!”. Which one do you think conveyed a better message? Hillary’s slogan made people think that it was her turn to be president. No! Americans wouldn’t accept that kind of privilege or entitlement. She had to earn it every time she went out to campaign, not by qualification or seniority, but by her ability to whip up the crowd.

It has been reported that Bill Clinton was not happy with her campaign. He advised that Hillary should pay more attention to the millions of angry workers being hurt by stagnant wages, factories moving overseas, crushing health care costs, ballooning student loans, and government dysfunction in Washington. The advice fell on deaf ears. Hillary simply continued to hammer on Trump’s bad temperament and insisted that he was unfit for the presidency. She seldom stressed what she would do to make life better for the millions of disenchanted voters. As a consequence, she lost three important “blue” states: Pennsylvania by 71,000 votes, Michigan by 22,000, and Wisconsin by 11,000.

Hillary could have been president had she carried those three states even after losing Florida and Ohio, which were really tossups. She blamed her enemies causing her to lose those three states. In fact, she was complacent and did not campaign hard enough over there, thus allowing Trump to move in through the back door. Trump offered many crazy campaign promises that would not work, but he managed to connect with the angry voters. Based on Trump’s snafu, many experts predicted that Hillary would win a landslide across the country in many states. It did not happen due to her continuous hammering on Trump’s negatives that many people already knew. She should have inspired the voters by telling them why she wanted to be president, and how she planned to change things for the better. In short, her campaign lacked a positive inspirational message that could stir up the crowd. She failed to follow up on what Michelle Obama wisely said, “If they go low, we go high.”

Now America winds up with a president who has an unstable temperament which is unfit for the office. This is unfortunate but real. The whole world has to wait and see what will come out of this in the next four years, maybe eight. God please help us!

Posted in 21st Century, Economics/Politics, Game Changer, Inspiration | Leave a comment

Lost in Translation


A young man from China arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. He knew very little English but was eager to adopt a convenient English name for a new life. His friend had advised to use Sam Ding, which was simple, easy to pronounce, and sounded more or less like his Chinese name.

During that era, many immigrants did not have travel documents for various reasons. Ding was one of them. The US immigration staff would meet them at the port of entry to do screening and registration.

An officer had just finished registering Antonio Fuentes, the man waiting in front. He then turned to Ding and asked for his name.
“Sam Ding”, Ding tried to pronounce as accurately as he could.
“Okay! Same thing”, the officer acknowledged.
He then wrote down “Antonio Fuentes, Jr.” on the form.

The Chinese immigrant came out of registration with a fancy name. Instead of Sam Ding, he wound up with one that he could not even pronounce!

Posted in Funny/Personal | Leave a comment

Answering the Herbalist’s Call


I was born in 1950 into an herbalist family in Guangzhou, Southern China. We moved to South Vietnam because my father got a contract as a Chinese herbalist in the Cantonese Hospital in Cholon, the sprawling Chinatown adjacent to Saigon (Now Ho Chi Minh City).

After completing his contract with the hospital, my father decided to stay in Cholon and opened an herb shop of his own just two blocks away from home. Living next door was Grandma on Mom’s side. She was a midwife operating a small 10-bed maternity ward. We felt like having two homes which were connected through a backdoor.

We maintained a home office catering to many clients who came at odd hours. Since my father never said no to his clients, the rest of the family helped out when a client came unexpectedly (We had no phone and no advance-booking tradition). During the flu season when the workday typically started at 6 AM and ended at midnight, the whole family was mobilized including the kids. Among the four siblings of two boys and two girls, I ranked second, and was the most willing helper because I found the job more interesting than school work.

I often wondered how Dad could remember all the herbs being used. Dad showed me the classical herbal dictionary where about 1000 herbs were listed and described. “Try to learn five a day and you’ll be done before the year’s over.” So this became my goal before turning a teenager. It took me about an hour to read and remember five herbs. I was also encouraged to spend time at the shop to look at, feel, smell and taste them. I was surprised they did not taste as terrible as the tea brewed from an herbal mixture. Several months later, I was proud to show that I could identify most of our inventory even if blindfolded.

Learning the herbs is only the first step. The art of Chinese medicine involves putting together the right mixture of herbs that reinforce rather than conflict with each other in order to bring about a cure for a particular illness of a particular person. It is always custom-made according to the condition of the patient.

Dad taught me not to be lazy intellectually. By that he meant not to copy blindly from the many “ancient secret formulas” floating around, and not to take the words of those “wise men” for granted. A good herbalist should draw his own conclusion based on knowledge and experience, tempered by logic and empirical evidence. The only criterion of a good herbal prescription is its cost-effectiveness, not where it is copied from.

As time went by, I found myself often sitting next to my father to observe how he interfaced with each individual client employing the cardinal rule of “Look, feel, ask and pulse read”. We kept a record of the client’s condition for each visit and the corresponding herbal mixture being formulated. Gradually, I could understand the reasoning and subtleties in the process of writing an herbal prescription.

While Dad graduated from the Guangzhou Herbal College, my training involved apprenticing with him, which was an acceptable alternative for entering the herbal profession. Since we owned and managed the business, my herbal education was a 24/7 immersion because it was actually our livelihood around which most activities revolved.

As the Vietnam war began to escalate, we moved to Hong Kong in 1964 where most of our relatives had long settled. In 1968, I left for college in America to study Physics, a subject I had scored high in the public certificate exam and my teachers said I was good at. However, I ended up with a B.A. in Economics (Berkeley) that I really liked. This was followed by 6 years of work in Hong Kong in the economic consultancy profession, capped by an M.A. in International Relations (Chicago) in 1978. The following year, my family immigrated to America where I first worked as a technician in Silicon Valley, then as an engineer after obtaining an M.S. in Engineering (Stanford) in 1989. During those years, while my father carried on his herbal profession uninterrupted, my herbal training turned into a hobby due to the demands of a full-time job, higher education, and raising a family of four after getting married in 1979.

In 1993, something unexpected happened. My company went through a massive layoff, a victim of the personal computer revolution. I suddenly discovered the potential of partnering with my father in the herbal business. We opened an herb shop called Herbs & Tea in San Jose. Since we were the only duos operating the business, it became a 24/7 immersion just like the good old days, except that the clients might phone beforehand for a consultation and would not come during odd hours anymore.

I find it very satisfying for being able to help my clients solve their health problems. In the process, we also become friends. After all these years, I have finally heard my calling and settled in the profession I truly love. It may seem like a long wild detour, but I think fate has brought my career back in a great circle to where I originally began as a little boy.

Although my father wished that I would follow in his footsteps, he never insisted upon it because he wanted to see me develop my other potentials. On the day we opened the herb shop in San Jose, Dad was so happy that he was moved to tears. He said we were finally in full control of our own business and destiny. He also said that in this profession, you could never retire if your clients still wanted to see you. Dad passed away in 2006, one year after seeing his last client at the age of 96. I guess this is also my fate because I am still professionally active although having retired officially since 2015.

Posted in Funny/Personal, Health Care, Inspiration | 1 Comment

World’s Biggest Middlemen


In everyday life, we try to eliminate the middleman in order to cut cost and foster closer relationship between producer and consumer. How successful are we doing that? I can see four areas where the middleman seems indispensable despite all the scandals and damages they’ve done. They are the so-called too-big-to-fail entities that need urgent reforms.

Religion

Since ancient times, humans prefer to worship God through an agent such as a village elder, a priest or an organized church through established rituals. Have we thought about seeking hope, comfort and salvation directly from God? Does God really prescribe that we must go through an agent? Being a Catholic since young age, I began to ponder this question only recently. I guess I’ll never find an answer unless through divine enlightenment.

Internet Platforms

The Internet has produced many big companies that bring large numbers of consumers and producers together through their versatile website platforms. Their success owes to the great services they provide in terms of choice, efficiency and lower price. Examples are Amazon, Uber and Airbnb. They are fast evolving and growing with plenty of things to learn and unexpected problems to solve.

Another group of companies establish the social networks that bring people together by facilitating the sharing of interests and experiences. Ironically, the dating websites have successfully revived the ancient role of the matchmaker that seemed dying in this modern age. Examples are Facebook, LinkedIn and Match.

Banking and Finance

We trust the banks by depositing our hard-earned money with them. We also trust the government to bail them out or take over responsibility when a bank fails. We never care what the banks do with our money which they use to make loans to other people, hopefully producing a profit. On the other hand, we scream when the government uses taxpayers’ money to bail them out when they fail. We tend to forget it was the big banks’ subprime-mortgage fiasco that precipitated the great recession in late 2008 from which we are still recovering almost ten years later.

The stock market represents another big middleman for sellers and buyers of financial instruments called stocks, shares and mutual funds. Since luck plays a significant part in stock trading for the average consumer (so-called small investor) who has no leverage in a bidding auction system, Wall Street operates more or less like a traditional gambling house under the heavy influence of big players and the seducing investment analytics they produce. The stock market is the best place where the strong legally eat the weak and get away with it by blaming the capitalist market and the economy.

A third big middleman operates in the insurance business. As customers, we pay regular premiums, and trust the insurance companies to compensate for our losses in case we die (life insurance) or suffer from an accident (fire, flood, earthquake and auto insurance). Again, we never care how they make use of the premiums we’ve paid because we assume they invest wisely. In any case, Warren Buffett has said that insurance is a good business where the insurers receive the money first before paying out any. When the insurer pays compensation, it mostly wins because in reality only a small percentage of the insured get into accidents or die. The laws of statistics favor them. The insurance business is based on the principle that the majority subsidizes the small minority, thus allowing the insurer to pocket the profit as a middleman. The only condition is that the insurance market must be big. It won’t work if only several thousand people buy insurance.

Health Care

Health care insurance has become the norm in industrialized countries as a health maintenance program rather than an accident-compensation program. Where universal health care is practiced, the government runs the health insurance as a single payer. On the other hand, people in developing countries pay for their own health care on a piecemeal basis when they get sick. Strangely speaking, with all the medical technology available, health care is much more expensive for the average person in industrialized countries than in developing countries, especially in the United States where there is no universal health insurance. What are the causes? They can be summed up in two words, corruption and lack of competition.

The situation is very complicated in the United States where relentless health care inflation has priced out tens of millions of citizens. I will discuss this further in another post.

Posted in 21st Century, Economics/Politics, Health Care | Leave a comment

The German Solar Effort


Although not known for its sunny weather, Germany initiated the world’s solar revolution about 20 years ago with a vision that other countries would later follow. The goal is to increase the share of all renewable sources in German electricity consumption to 35% by 2020, and 80% by 2050. Compared with other top solar producing countries, Germany is way ahead of the pack in terms of goals and achievements.

The solar vision is based on the simple fact that the new industry needs an initial dose of sustainable heavy investment which must come from the government. Why? Private industries do not have the patience to wait for the big payoff over a long period of time especially facing the powerful resistance of fossil-fuel interests like coal, oil and natural gas.

The government policy hinges on the feed-in tariff (FIT) where all German consumers are required to pay an extra percentage for their electricity bills. This new source of revenue is used to reimburse solar (and wind) producers who feed their electricity into the grid. This incentive has resulted in the explosion of solar and wind energy over the last decade. As these renewables are coming up to speed, the FIT subsidy is gradually being reduced starting 2011.

The spinoffs from the German renewable efforts have greatly benefited the world. By 2015, German CO2 emission had fallen to 908 million metric tons from 1248 in 1990; and is projected to reach a low of 200 by 2050 (Source: German Environment Ministry). The other great benefit is technology advancement where solar and wind have gone through tremendous price drops surpassing coal, oil and natural gas, especially after China has entered into the market.

The technology improvements in solar and wind cannot be underestimated because they make electricity much more clean and economical. Higher efficiency and price drops have brought about a worldwide boom especially in China, USA, Japan and Italy. Furthermore, solar and wind have stimulated battery research due to the intermittent nature of sunshine and wind. Sooner or later, an advanced battery will come into being that will store surplus electricity generated during periods of good sunshine and heavy wind. The advanced battery will also give electric cars a big boost by increasing their travel range, which is the only barrier limiting their sales.

Ranking 4th largest economy in the world with a responsible green vision, Germany has triggered the solar revolution that will also lead to a battery revolution down the road. The German solar effort has greatly contributed to the integration of a modern clean energy system comprising the sun (energy captured by solar roofs or farms), the house (lighting, heating, cooling and others), the factory (electric machines), and the electric car, ship and airplane (transportation). The catalyst is the advanced battery that is light, with high storage, and made from common materials. The search is now on for such a battery that will further boost the solar revolution.

Posted in 21st Century, Business/Investment, Environment, Game Changer, Inspiration, Science/Technology | Leave a comment

Rape of the Middle Class


The decline of the American middle class has been happening since the 1980’s. If you are younger than 40 years, you probably do not notice it that much. Let me recount what I have experienced. To begin, what do I mean by the middle class? Well, if you think you are neither rich nor poor, the middle class means you, and me too.

I came to America for the first time as a foreign college student in 1968. The things that impressed me most were: the multilane highways, the big cars, gasoline at 25 cents per gallon, cheap food, cheap housing, low medical costs, and plentiful jobs. None of these exists nowadays except the multilane highways that need repair. This is a self-inflicted wound due to long years of corruption and lack of investments for the future, despite the fact that the politicians and a segment of the population want to blame globalization and other countries for their own government’s failures.

What hurts the middle class most is high inflation across a broad range of life essentials. The two most obvious are health care and college education. If wages rise and jobs increase, the people will not feel the pain. However, wages and jobs have not kept pace with the inflation rate in America. Uncontrolled inflation can easily wipe out the middle class and lead to social instability as amply demonstrated by the hyperinflation in Germany after the First World War that eventually brought Hitler to power.

Health care inflation has made life miserable for the American middle class. Up to the mid 1960’s, doctors in private practice would come to the patients’ homes for an affordable consultation price. Are you surprised by that? Nowadays, the doctor cannot even tell you how much a consultation costs. The insurance companies have taken complete control as the biggest middlemen between patients and doctors. You pay the insurer a monthly premium and you will receive medical care under the unfair terms such as “preexisting conditions” and “deductibles” that lead to fast rising prices and limited access for sick patients.

In 1993 when I became self-employed, I had to buy health insurance that was no longer provided by my employer. The premium was still affordable at around $350 for my family of two adults and two kids. However, it kept on rising faster than the general inflation rate. By 2014, the monthly premium had swollen to $1800 for just me and my wife even after the kids were kicked out by the insurance company. Fortunately, Obamacare came to the rescue with a $1300 federal subsidy that reduced my monthly premium to $500 for two people.

The high insurance premiums had caused 50 million Americans unable to afford health insurance by 2014. In two years Obamacare has reduced this number to 30 million, which is still too high for any developed country. Furthermore, Americans spend more than twice the amount on health care compared with other developed countries, nearly all of which provide universal health care for every citizen. In addition, the quality of health care delivered in America was far worse than that of the other countries. I think this shameful state is a result of corruption that involves the insurance companies, the hospitals, the big pharmaceutical companies and the US government; and to some extent, the health care professionals who remain purposely silent while reaping the high profits.

Besides health care, college education has gone through the roof that puts huge financial burdens on the young generation. Back in 1970 when I was studying at the University of California, my cousin who was a California resident paid $400 for tuition per year. He had no problem with payment while staying at home with his parents. He worked full-time in the summer and part-time the rest of the year at an hourly rate of around $2 an hour (the minimum wage at that time). All he needed was to work a total of 200 hours during the whole year to cover his tuition. Despite being a foreign student paying a much higher tuition of $2,000 per year, I was able to cover half of my expenses through summer and part-time jobs which were plentiful. Nowadays, the annual tuition is $14,000 for California residents and $50,000 for non-residents. At the current minimum wage of $10.50 an hour, a California resident has to work 1,333 hours to afford tuition at the University of California. This means 33 weeks of full-time work per year. Is this possible? How much time will be left for school?

As a consequence, most young Americans need bank loans to pay for their college tuition. The banks are more than happy to offer student loans because young college graduates stand a better chance to pay off the loans than most other borrowers. The colleges (especially private ones) are more than happy to connect the students with the banks while charging more tuition every year without fear of their students’ inability to pay. So you must blame the colleges as well as the banks for this shameful state that turns millions of young people into heavy debtors even before they graduate and find a job. In 2016, student loans in America totaled a staggering $1.4 trillion spread out among 44 million borrowers, averaging $32,000 per head.

Since the US economy is heavily dependent on the auto industry, the continuous rise in oil prices since the 1973 Arab oil embargo has created enormous pressures on the American auto and associated industries. On the other hand, the auto industries in Japan and Germany, and South Korea in recent years have prospered and grabbed an increasing share of the American market. Can you blame the American auto woes on rising oil prices? Only partly. The real culprits are American companies failing to meet the oil challenge to produce better fuel-efficient and reliable cars than their foreign counterparts. Back in 1970 when I was a student, nobody wanted to buy the cheap Toyota sedan that looked and drove like a tin can. Today, I am a proud owner of a Honda and a Toyota in California because American cars still need to catch up to foreign quality standards after all these years. The auto industry is only one example of the falling American competitiveness that inevitably leads to job losses that hurt the middle class. Can you blame foreigners or globalization for that? You can but then you will never improve for it is your own fault.

To come back to my main theme, what is the big deal about the decline of the middle class? The big deal lies in the big picture. All over the world, poor and under-developed countries have no middle class to boast. The middle class demonstrates the richness and power of a country. The middle class is the inevitable result when a country industrializes and develops. The best example is the huge vibrant middle class created in China since its opening and industrialization that began around 1980. If a country is ruled by a dictator like North Korea, or Maoist China before 1980, the middle class cannot develop. In addition, the middle class is much weaker in an authoritarian or oligarchic country like Russia. Therefore, when the middle class in America is weakening for four decades now, what is going to happen to the big picture? We may be wise to note that in 1949 when the middle class in China had been decimated after many years of corruption, hyperinflation and wars, a communist revolution and dictatorship led by Mao took over the whole country. It was a successful revolt of the 99% poor that overpowered the 1% rich. The result produced no middle class but 100% poor with all the riches going to the communist party and being disguised as state assets.

Posted in 21st Century, Economics/Politics, Game Changer, Health Care, Inspiration | Leave a comment