Opinion

David Rohde

How Zippos, dredges and vitamins can save the American middle class

David Rohde
May 25, 2012 00:02 UTC

Last week, 41 American companies received awards at a little noticed White House ceremony. Despite the recession, the companies – most of them small and medium-size businesses – have experienced rapid growth and handsome profits in recent years. And they’ve beaten Chinese, Indian and European competitors at their own game.

How? By selling to a burgeoning global middle class expected to grow by 1 billion people – primarily in Asia – over the next decade.

Zippo Manufacturing Co, the maker of the iconic American cigarette lighter, has experienced 1,000 percent sales growth in China over the last 20 years and 900 percent growth in India over the last eight years. While other American companies have shed jobs, the 650-employee, Bradford, Pennsylvania-based company has added 150 jobs in the last three years and experienced a 20 percent increase in sales, most of it overseas.

“It’s tough to compete, but we’re doing it,” said Greg Booth, the company’s president and CEO, referring to cheap lighters manufactured in Asia. “We’re competing in a category that is under incredible pressure.”

DSC Dredge, a small, Louisiana-based builder of dredges, has increased its overseas sales by 1,300 percent over the last 10 years and nearly doubled in size from 80 to 140 employees. Their biggest overseas customers? Nigeria and Bangladesh, countries that Americans think of as impoverished but are experiencing significant economic growth. The firm’s overseas sales have risen from $1.4 million a year in 2002 to over $20 million last year and make up 65 percent of its business. Charles Sinunu, the director of international sales, said the firm just sold three dredges to Russia and sells to 48 countries worldwide.

Ending NATO’s double standard

David Rohde
May 18, 2012 00:42 UTC

This weekend in Chicago, President Obama will gather with more than 60 heads of state to hold NATO’s 25th anniversary summit. He and other leaders will convene as a Western-created system of international justice – enforced in many places by NATO – has grown stronger, and raised expectations of accountability around the world.

This week, Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic finally went on trial in The Hague for war crimes in Bosnia after evading justice for 17 years. Last month, former Liberian President Charles Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes by a separate international court. And in a surprising example of the spreading expectation of international justice, protests among the Syrian diaspora have included signs demanding Bashar al-Assad be sent to The Hague.

At the same time, as people around the globe see war criminals brought to justice, they want to see the world’s most powerful armies held accountable as well. Outside the U.S. and Europe, there is a growing sense of a two-tiered system of international justice. The West puts others on trial for war crimes, the argument goes, while exempting its own forces from scrutiny.

Break up the big banks

David Rohde
May 10, 2012 18:39 UTC

UPDATE: JPMorgan’s surprise announcement late Thursday of a $2 billion trading loss – and the drop in stocks it sparked – is yet another sign of the need for reform.

The numbers are startling. HSBC, the world’s fifth-largest bank, failed to review thousands of internal anti-money-laundering alerts, according to a Reuters investigation published last week.

The bank did not file legally required “suspicious activity reports” to U.S. law enforcement officials. It hired “gullible, poorly trained, and otherwise incompetent personnel” to run its anti-money-laundering effort. Each year, hundreds of billions of dollars flowed through the bank without being properly monitored.

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