Saturday, April 25, 2009, 08:02 AM - Political developmentsBeijing, China
(workerscompzone has been traveling in Asia; this is the fifth and last installment of this journey....)
On to Beijing. From Hangzhou, the high speed rail to Shanghai is a breeze.
The train is filled with road warriors. Practically everyone has a laptop and is working the laptop and the cellphone. These are folks making every minute count.
After grabbing a kumquat mojito at rooftop Shanghai bar, it's off to the capital.
If Shanghai is the San Francisco, Beijing is the Phoenix or the L.A. It's vast, flat, mostly low or mid-rise.
Joining the local tour for a day, you learn the most interesting things.
The Ching emperors, who lived in the gargantuan Forbidden City, were pampered beyond belief. I'm told they had tasters to pre-taste food (lest they be poisoned) and tasters of their body excretions (to make sure their health was in balance).
The tour guide suggests we go to the Chinese herbal medicine factory, so off we go. Chinese medicine doctors (in white coats) sit down with the group and feel pulses. I'm only a partial skeptic, as I realize that Chinese herbal medicine goes back thousands of years. Besides, aren't many medicines herbal compounds anyway? There's always that fear that the cure for some horrible disease could be found in a plant in the Amazon rainforest that's just about to be plowed under.
These white coated guys are sharp. Without missing a beat, they diagnose some of the health issues of some of my fellow travelers. The group sort of collectively gulps.
Then again, they diagnose some of my travel partners with conditions they don't in fact have. The group gets edgy.
By this time we have been given a sheet showing various alternative herbal compounds that are available for sale downstairs. The names of the various flowers and roots are listed. They're so unfamiliar that it's clear only a Harvard botany PhD. candidate would know where these items could be found.
By now we've looked at the price tag for some of this stuff. It's several hundred U.S bucks a month and they are recommending 3 months minimum. This is some serious commitment.
The translator seems to morph into a salesperson. I detect that "Always be closing" sales pitch. Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. She's sharp. Knows how to play on a parent's concern about a kid's health issues. She meets resistance by taking an "it's your choice whether to have better health or not" attitude. She speaks very bluntly to the people who look stressed, overweight or tired.
But some of the group walks away.
Now the translator seems quite impatient. I can see her impatience as seeing whether someone will take the bait.This triggers one of the group muttering that she's quite a bitch.
Others are torn. Should we just try the stuff? If it's this arcane it's got to be worthwhile.
Is Western medicine killing us? Maybe, but the sales pitch is too much.
If your insurance doesn't pay for something it will make you think twice about whether you need it (in workers' comp this is not a problem).
We leave without buying anything. Got to get over to the Ming dynasty tombs.
The sun is getting low on the horizon, and the vendors are setting up their stalls where they sell fried goat testicles and caramelized scorpions. We're told to avoid these like the plague; the frying oil is said to have been reused so many times that it looks like oil.
Got to get over to those Ming tombs.
You can read earlier dispatches from Seoul, Shanghai, Xian and Hangzhou by scrolling down.
Stay tuned. Next week there will be hearings on the WCIRB's rate filing.
Should be interesting.
Thursday, April 23, 2009, 03:43 AM - Political developmentsHangzhou, China.......
(workerscompzone is traveling in Asia and blogging on some items of interest he encounters........)
It's 1 p.m. Tired of lotus root stuffed with sticky rice, stinky tofu and Hainan drunken chicken, workerscompzone dreams of Western food.
AhHa...dreams do come true. The Golden Arches are visible in the next block. Better known as McDonald's.
Inside, roughly 50 young Chinese young men (and one Chinese girl) sit, sipping colas and munching fries, eyes glued to a flat panel TV. They're watching the Rockets play Portland in the NBA playoffs. Loud cheers erupt when Yao Ming makes a dunk or blocks a shot. When the Rockets fade in the last few minutes, the crowd drifts away, unhappy that their warrior's team has not carried the day.
This is Hangzhou, a city of approximately 6.5 million.
The day started in the Shanghai train station, a beauty that could win international architectural awards. The Shanghai-Hangzhou trip, about 250 miles, takes around an hour by high speed rail at a tariff of $10 U.S. It's the sort of train that one day may link L.A. and the Bay Area.
If you awoke from a deep slumber and found yourself here, you might
for a moment think you were in Beverly Hills. Huh?
Long treasured for its scenic lake-vistas, Hangzhou has been favored for centuries by Chinese royalty and artists. Classic paintings of Pagodas and Buddhist temples on mist enshrouded hills overlooking West Lake......perhaps you've seen that in walks through various California Chinatown curio shops.
Despite the lakeside traffic, West Lake has a dreamy, calming quality that has seduced emperors and poets. It's one of THE places to be married in China.
But what's the Beverly Hills reference?
Hangzhou's West Lake continues to be a favorite getaway for people all over China. But today I notice car dealerships. Lamborghini. Maserati.
Ferrari. Rolls-Royce. Brand Italia and Brand Paris are well represented here.....Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Hermes.
And, of course, Starbucks. The Hangzhou area is famous for silk, and tea. But coffee looks pretty damn popular.
Entrepreneurs are on the rise in China, and some do very well, thank you. Riding in a taxi, I note some of them-thirtysomethings-working the cell phone in the back of their BMWs.
Later I stop in at the Hyatt Hotel on West Lake to pick up a copy of the International Herald Tribune. Got to stay in touch. In the Herald Tribune I read that Wii injuries are on the rise. Wii shoulders and Wii knees...with game players complaining of strains and swelling related to use and overuse of the Wii game.... Perhaps in the comp world we'll start seeing depo questions on gaming practices??
Turns out they're having a Chinese-Arab business investment summit here, at the Hyatt. The folks milling around in the lobby before the conference begins look like they're pretty wired-in players. I could get into the parlor game of speculating whether two crew cut American ex Marines in the corner are part of someone's bodyguard force or just wheelin' and dealin' on their own account.
In the back streets they're whipping up Schezuan spiced-turtle, but here near the lake it's sushi and KTV parlors and some good Malaysian curry houses.
It's a big world out here. I'm like a sponge, soaking up some of these wacky contrasts as I move through these places.
My next post will be from Beijing (you can check my recent posts from Seoul, Xian and Shanghai). Next week I'll be back to following the ongoing California workers' comp scene.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009, 02:39 AM - Political developmentsXian, China
(workerscompzone is traveling in Asia and offers you some insights as he travels)...........
Xian, Shaanxi Province.....In many ways it's the cradle of Chinese culture. To the North lies China's accident ridden coal mining belt, Shanxi Province (what a difference an "a" makes!)
Here in the middle of China is the home of many of the early imperial dynasties.
Qin Shi Huang was the original uber autocrat. After subduing the Zhou dynasties just before 200 BC, the first Qin Emperor consolidated power in a way that had not been seen before. A uniform currency and writing script were established. The Great Wall was begun, linking several prior smaller city walls.
There was no need to pass an infrastructure bond. Roads and canals were built on imperial fiat. Mass numbers of laborers must have expired in doing all of these projects.
Qin apparently lived by the sword. Expeditions in all directions expanded and consolidated the Qin dynasty.
A Legalist, Qin apparently rejected the Confucian moral based philosophy (Confucius is said to have lived 551-479 BC), installing a punishment based system.
But, like many politicans, he seems to have been obsessed with protecting his back. His son proved to be a weak emperor, and the Qin Dynasty was short lived.
What better way to protect yourself for eternity than creating an army of bodyguards for the afterlife? That's Qin's thought process, and his tangible legacy that brings visitors to Xian today.
Imagine a vast football field that's been excavated into rows of pits. Standing in the pits are thousands of life-size clay warriors. The terra cotta warriors, which some now call one of the "Wonders of the World".
Divided into soldiers and generals, these figures (and some smaller bronze horses and chariots) stand guard for eternity over Qin (well, yes, after they were reassembled, having been smashed by various tomb raiders; but that's a Harrison Ford movie script for another day).
Xian would later be the site of the Tang Dynasty. From around 617 A.D to the 900 A.D period, the Xian based Tang Dynasty was a period of great flowering of the arts, as poetry, music and architecture flourished.
This was a major stop on the "Silk Road" that ran from China through istanbul to Europe.
Here's a rendering of the Hanyuan Hall of Daming Palace of Tang Emperor Taizong:
http://www.arch.nus.edu.sg/casa/project ... nyuan.html
Seeing the Qin and Tang sights got me thinking about our beloved Golden State.
When I arrived in California years ago many were still appreciative of the Pat Brown era. Brown's governorship (1958 to 1966) launched many improvements in the state's infrastructure and educational system. Highways, water projects, a master plan for education, a fair employment practices law....these are only a few of the accomplishments.
Brown the Elder's memory still lives on in the minds of many.
Since then, we've had many Governors and legislative kingpins, but less and less results. No Qins or Tangs. Our Golden State has become more and more politically gridlocked.
Perhaps one of our California Governors over the past forty decades would love to have a set of terra cotta warriors symbolically protecting the karma-memory of their whirl at governorship. Alas, for those ex-Guvs, no one believes in an army of clay anymore.
For a while it looked like workers' comp was going to be one of the few enduring legacies for the current governor. In large part the Schwarzenegger administration will be defined by the difficult dance it's had to do with the state's finances. We're moving toward political and financial armageddon if the budget deal initiatives fail.
But workers' comp was different. It was an early, defining "success" (to business, at least), much like Ronald Reagan's early political success in taking on the air traffic controllers.
For a while it appeared that Arnold might be of Qin (or at least Tang) stock. He was going to move on, taking on and taking out various California special interests, including labor.
But it didn't work out that way.
And as many of us are aware, the comp system remains in turmoil. Medical costs are driving projected premium increases. Benefit adequacy is in question. The "combined ratio" is said to be deteriorating. There's an element of palace intrigue, as some in the industry suggest that the Guv's appointees stabbed him in the back with Almaraz/Guzman.
Perhaps elements in the system will be in political play, if not now, then in coming years. Folks around Xian would understand this all quite well.
There's little in this comp business that's bronze. But there's a lot of clay.
(workerscompzone's latest posts have been from Seoul and Shanghai; check back later this week for posts from Hangzhou and Beijing)
Friday, April 17, 2009, 06:36 PM - Political developmentsShanghai, China.......
Workerscompzone is traveling in Asia and will share some insights with you as I go......
Here by the side of the Huangpu River, in Shanghai's Pudong financial district, there's a stunning view from the observation deck of world's second tallest building (the Shanghai International Finance Center building). Just a few decades ago Shanghai's Pudong was farmland. Today the business district is probably as big as San Francisco's and L.A.'s combined.
Across the river is the old Bund district, with European style buildings fronting on the river, facing the busy barge traffic heading to and from the Yangtze. Beyond the Bund lies the Puxi area, home to the "concessions", areas of Shanghai that the Ching dynasty ceded to the British and French after losing the Opium Wars in the 1800s. It's here that one finds the trendy shops and bars that have long marked Shanghai as a world style center.
From the Pudong skyscrapers, construction can be seen everywhere. A few years ago Shanghai and Dubai were said to be the site of a large share of the world's construction cranes. That may be cooling in Dubai, but the jackhammers are pounding here as workerscompzone does this blog.
Some Americans may be holding tea parties, the Governor of Texas talks of secession, and California's unemployment rate now heads toward 12%. Maybe it's a good time to be abroad.
But here in China the economy is still growing, just not at the same torrid pace. If official figures are to be believed, quarterly GDP growth has dropped from around 14% several years ago to 6.1% in 1st Q. 2009. This is said to be the slowest growth pace since 1992. Coastal provinces with extensive manufacturing industries-such as Guandong province north of Hong Kong-are said to be hit particularly hard. Workers are being laid off as plants cut back or close, and workers are dispatched back to rural provinces all over China. An estimated 20 million rural migrants may have lost their job recently.
The export sector of the Chinese economy is under severe pressure.
I'm told that staffing firms are now providing departure planning services for some expats who had come here when the growth was unbridled. Urban registered unemployment was said to be 4.2% in 2008, but the figure could actually be around 9 to 10% acording to a government think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
In response, the Chinese government has offered a huge stimulus program. Many large infrastructure projects are under way. The government can fast track high speed rail and major road and subway projects.
Things that would take decades to do in California can be done in a few years here.
There are efforts to raise farmer's incomes and boost domestic consumption (yes, there is a Wal-Mart Super Center here in Shanghai). For example, the government is subsidizing rural resident purchases of appliances.
An ongoing concern has been the gap here between
the rural poor and the new business elite and urban middle class in Beijing and the coastal cities. This was detailed in a book "Will the Boat Sink the Water?":
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/07/books ... html?fta=y
Some are predicting a V shaped economic recovery here. Others, such as Tom Holland of Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, say that the recovery is at risk for turning into a W rather than a V.
The Chinese economic slowdown may be causing the government to go slow on closing ecologically unfriendly businesses and dirty factories:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/world ... r=1&hp
China has its own Madoffs. On trial now is a 28 year old Chinese billionaire, Wu Ying. Until recently Wu was on China's list of richest people. Apparently within 10 years Wu managed to move from the foot massage parlor business into controlling a conglomerate worth billions, including hotels, department stores, and cafes. Now Wu is alleged to have defrauded investors to support her lavish lifestyle.
A quick glance at the papers show stories of prosecutions for share price manipulation and pyramid sales schemes. I guess Wall Street has no monopoly over those schemes. Certain things are just cross-cultural.
I'll be offering more in some upcoming blog posts from Beijing, Xian, and Hangzhou. Stay tuned.
But back to the USA.... The Chinese will continue producing tea. If there are more "tea parties" in the USA, the Chinese will meet the demand.
Is the USA going through some kind of fundamental cultural shift?
I found Peggy Noonan's piece in the Wall Street Journal to be provocative (she was Ronald Reagan's speechwriter). Here's the Noonan piece:
Saturday, April 11, 2009, 10:03 PM - Political developmentsGreetings from Seoul. To be exact, the airport lounge at Incheon, South Korea's beautiful new airport, probably one of the world's nicest.
Workerscompzone is on the first leg of an Asian trip. I'm not here to do investigative journalism, but I'll blog (when I can) about some things I see.
The Korean economy has been struggling, with exports down 18% (not bad compared with the whopping 41% figures for Taiwan and China and 38% for Japan). GDP is expected to shrink by 2.4% here this year. The government has it's own stimulus here-$50 billion or more.
Tough times here, but the spicy salted octopus and OB beer will drown your sorrows.
California seems light years away. But let's review the past week....after all, it's been quite a week in the California workers' comp world.
The California Supreme Court heard arguments in the Smith and Amar cases. We'll soon know whether applicant attorneys have expanded rights to receive attorney fees for going to court over medical treatment disputes. These are cases that have scared the industry and excited applicant attorneys.
The Big Kahuna of the week was the WCAB's decision to reconsider the Ogilvie, Almaraz and Guzman cases. The community has been scrambling to predict what this portends. Some on the defense side were displeased, hoping instead that the 6th District Court of Appeal would get a crack at the Guzman case.
Others on the defense side saw a marketing opportunity and jumped on it with seminars. I love Billy Mays, Vince Offer and informercials, so who can complain? Surely you have a shamwow, so why not an Almaraz strategy?
Thanks to workcompcentral and the Workers Comp Executive, I'll be keeping up with comp goings on while I'm on the road. I'll bring you my insights when I can.
Meanwhile, got to go....some super spicy kimchee beckons.