Archive for March, 2010

Google’s China play? Search me

March 24, 2010

I’m mad as hell that Google put Hong Kong’s autonomy at risk to escalate its fight with mainland China. The search giant’s recklessness is amplified because Google has no reasonable objective to achieve by baiting Beijing and inviting Chinese authorities to crack down on Hong Kong’s freedoms. I’m thankful the bonehead idea of rerouting search results via Hong Kong to evade censorship failed, not because it preserves suppression in the mainland but because it preserves freedom in Hong Kong. As I wrote in Asia Times, Google’s supposed desire to deliver uncensored results for mainland searches doesn’t make sense, given its agreement to abide by China’s rules as a condition of doing business there. Google’s longstanding corporate hypocrisy also raises questions about its claims of mainland cyberattacks and hacking. I guess Serge and Larry won’t be sending this fellow Stanford alum a Christmas card this year either, though I’ll keep an eye out for spybots.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

MGM ‘lion’ picks Macau over Atlantic City

March 19, 2010

A couple of years ago, I visited Atlantic City to write a feature as a special correspondent for Macau Business magazine. My only previous visit to Atlantic City had been to try out for Jeopardy about 15 years earlier, when I took the test, ate the buffet at Merv Griffin’s hotel (Merv also produced Jeopardy), and drove straight home.

Atlantic City was depressing back then, like the Louis Malle film of the same name, and it was still sad when I returned. The few bright spots included Angelo’s Fairmont Tavern, a red brick Italian restaurant with great fish and a signed photo of Frank Sinatra over the bar; The Quarter, a Cuban themed mall at The Tropicana, though the hotel had been seized by regulators en route to its third owner in about as many years after a bankruptcy; and Borgata, the newest, biggest and fanciest casino in town that brought Las Vegas style and customers under 60 to Atlantic City.

Last week, MGM Mirage announced that it would sell its 50 percent stake in Borgata to settle a five year long probe by New Jersey casino regulators into its Macau partnership with Pansy Ho, the daughter of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho. State investigators deemed the younger Ho an “unsuitable” partner for MGM. In the wake of that finding, MGM chose Macau over Atlantic City and kept its partnership with Pansy Ho, as I wrote in Asia Times.

“Absolutely the right decision for MGM,” IGamiX managing partner Ben Lee told me. “Asia is a short, medium and long term growth story. The States is a mature market. If MGM gave up Macau, they would find it extremely difficult to get back in again, and nobody in Asia would ever take them seriously after that.”

The kicker is the report from New Jersey investigators skewers MGM for ignoring its own findings about Stanley Ho’s underworld ties and his relationship with Pansy Ho, and for being less than forthright with casino regulators. The report gives a whole new meaning to MGM lion besides that 63 ton bronze sculpture of Leo outside the MGM Grand Macau.

But MGM doesn’t seem to think its dishonesty matters, even though it runs highly regulated businesses in several other jurisdictions, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and hopes to get another stock listing in Hong Kong this year. MGM acts as if its settlement with New Jersey puts that corporate duplicity, now in plain public view, behind it; instead, perhaps the report should lead investors and regulators ask, “If MGM lied to New Jersey, how can we be sure it’s not lying to us?” Otherwise MGM’s roaring deceit and arrogance will keep paying off.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Tapping palm oil without tapping out rainforests

March 9, 2010

Traveling in Borneo for Lonely Planet, I’ve seen firsthand how palm oil plantations can distort and destroy rainforests. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Last month, palm oil producers and consumers, scientists, investors, environmental advocates, and development groups gathered for the International Conference on Oil Palm and Environment (ICOPE) to try to better meet the challenges facing the industry as demand for palm oil and palm oil development grow. As I wrote in Asia Times, what matters isn’t what people say at these conferences but what happens afterward. Last week produced a troubling sign: an agreement by top producers Indonesia and Malaysia to jointly defend palm oil’s record. Malaysia’s palm oil producers have long dismissed any criticism of their industry with the vehemence and veracity of the 20th century US tobacco industry.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Medical care goes global

March 3, 2010

As America’s meandering healthcare debate takes another turn, look beyond Washington, way beyond. Thousands of Americans every year go overseas for medical treatment that’s often cheaper, more advanced and more attentive than what’s available in the US. Although medical tourism specialists are moving into Central America to be closer to the US market, the epicenter of the global medical travel phenomenon remains Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital. Bumrungrad turned to international patients in the wake of the 1997 Asian economic crisis that began in Thailand, and the current global recession, which dramatically slowed growth in medical travel, hit the hospital in the midst of a US$57 million construction and renovation project focused on the international market. In Bangkok, I interviewed Bumrungrad’s CEO Mack Banner for Asia Times about how Bumrungrad got to the top of the medical tourism pyramid and how it plans to stay there. While politicians fiddle and patients get burned, Americans’ best bet for affordable, quality medical care right now is in Bangkok.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.


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