Saturday, July 18, 2015

Train Wreck Called Trump - Coming to a Halt?

Democrats have been devouring the beauty of how the candidacy, the outlandish rhetoric and surging poll numbers of Donald Trump would hurt GOP in 2016 election. It is well understood that, not just a candidate or two, but across the board Trump Presidential Campaign is destroying viable GOP plan in 2016 general election.

But may be the bonus for Democrats is coming to an end. Donald Trump lampoons Sen. John McCain for getting caught by Vietnamese. This political attack is way below the acceptance level of most Americans; I suspect including even the minority of racist and anti-immigration White Americans who might have enamored with Trump Politics. 

Obviously no soldier becomes POW with any willingness. All soldiers, except few exceptions, go to war to die for their country, to defend their country. It is like not better than arguing that Trump went into business to make money in corrupt ways! Of course most good business people want to make money in legal ways. Given this simple context of a soldier, war and POW - well established over centuries - all civilized societies regard their POW with respect and honor. Needless to say, common logic and basic human decency tell us that POW is the embodiment of heroic efforts to defend one's country. Trump would be wise to read how Jews deal with POWs and Jews set the example there.

Sen. John McCain's captivity was beyond a simple case of POW. It is always worth mentioning his exemplary display of moral character when again and again he prioritized release of other POWs than his own release when Vietnamese were conscious of high predegree of his family in American Navy. Where does Donald Trump's moral character compare with this bravery, impeccable patriotism and adherence to high morality?

Truth is Donald Trump is a vessel of 'filth in American Politics', he is serving that role for 2016 cycle. Possibly every Democracy needs such a ludicrous character who practices such 'gutter politics' to remind us that we the voter have responsibility to keep aside such bigotry and utterly dirty politics. Human frailty is such that, we need constant reminder of what we need to avoid and then there comes Donald Trump to fulfill that role.

Apart from his contradictory and outrageous lies against Mexican Immigrants, he attained the stupor by questioning Jeb Bush's Immigration Policy because he married to a Mexican woman. He deleted that tweet, but we got one more revelation of the 'hellish world' of Trump. And now comes questioning of Sen. McCain's war skills and his patriotism.

Republican Party has one of the worst tendencies of 'chicken hawks' symbolized by Dick Cheney and George Bush. These two folks and phalanx of Conservative pundits, themselves never served in American Military nor Trump too, but never hesitated in pushing lives of young American boys and girls in waging unwarranted wars in places afar on this globe. Donald Trump is the next step in that evolution - trash lives and honors of those who survive these ordeals. The way Karl Rove conducted a brutal politics against a proud Democrat veteran  Max Cleland in 2002; one feels 'trashing of veterans and POW' is not far from worst political instincts of GOP. 

Chances are that many Republicans themselves and definitely majority of Americans would not find trashing of American soldiers - POW or dead or victors - acceptable. 

It was bound to happen - the way Donald Trump train was speeding; he was bound to lose any remaining sanity and with Sen. McCain criticism we are getting glimpses of how that 'train wreck' would end in a complete political disaster.

(May be Fox News Channel should demand complete unconditional apology from Trump to Sen. McCain and all American POW before he is allowed to stand with other candidates in the coming televised debates. Fox has a fantastic chance to tame the 'tiger named Trump' which is ragging a havoc in the GOP tent.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Iran Deal

It is still early in the day to fully assess this fairly important deal between Iran and World Powers (USA, Europe, Russia and China). But here are first impressions:

1. For the core of the deal, here is a take:
a. Basic contours of the deal in terms nuclear program containment, inspections and lifting of sanctions are retained as agreed in the April 2015 deal.
b. For the first 10 years, break out period - time needed for Iran to rush through to the first nuke - remains at least 1 year. After that Americans are aware that it will start reducing, implicit to that is the classified part of Iran's long term nuclear program which would calm down American Congress. 
c. Snapback arrangements are in place so that if Iran breaks terms of the deal, West will be able to restore sanctions despite hesitant Russia and China.
d. Missile embargo on Iran will remain for 8 years and arms embargo for 5 years, potentially both of which can be reduced if Iranian adherence to the accord is truthful.

In general seeing that the 'core of the April 2015 accord' is retained is a good thing, avoiding Sec. Kerry the caricature of a 'sold out American diplomat'. 

2. The harder part of the deal is still maneuvering it through Congress. At least one or possibly both chambers are expected to vote against the deal and it will be only President Obama's veto on the back of Democrats which will stop Republicans from damaging the deal. We are looking at least 3 months or so before the dust settles. By then Papa Pope Francis is expected to come to the dean of American Hawks and ruffle enough feathers among GOP members on topics of Global Warming and Poverty that Iran issue would go on the back burner. We would also have potentially Fall Government Shutdown, an 'annual Republican show' by hardliners in Republican Party when budget negotiations come up. All in all, there are enough 'shiny things' in Congress making Republican Members opposed to Iran Deal lose the focus.

3. There is a big component of follow through of the deal through UNSC followed by a year long preparatory and inspection steps in 2016. Obama Administration's UN Ambassidor has her task cut out as well as Sec. Kerry needs to put in place Iran Czar Diplomat to implement the deal on the watch of Obama Administration. This administration is not well known for it's administrative competence and follow through, so danger of Obama Administration bungling the deal in execution is there. That is what Sec. Kerry will have to ensure if he intends to secure his legacy (about that Nobel Prize, we will see this Fall if anything comes there).

4. Tantrums of Bibi, is a nice 'side show' to this Iran Deal; entertaining world public in otherwise a grave and somber process. President Obama needs to continue to keep distance from that 'loud mouth' and if possible leave Oval Office without meeting Bibi at all. All low level contacts and institution to institution interactions are in place so as USA can coordinate security level cooperation with Israel as the war in Syria and Iraq continues. But it should be 'that's all'. Until Israel political class and society wake up to the new reality and embark upon peace initiatives; there is nothing what USA or rest of the world can do - all the opposition by Israel and critics to this deal; it is all vain. 

5. Addressing anxieties of Saudi Arabia and other Arab States is a different matter. President Obama, Sec. Kerry and Sec. Ash Carter; all of them need to do whatever it takes to keep American ally Saudi Arabia in good understanding. Otherwise this whole endeavour of bringing Iran in a peace deal would loose it's other necessary half part - that Arab States continue to be partners of USA - squandering all substantial benefits.

6. Kernel of the deal and President Obama's faith is that as Iranian Economy opens, sufficient stakes are created for Iranian Youth so as they would be reluctant to go back to past where Iran pursues nukes at the cost of wellbeing. Some question this basic premise, but overall that is the risk worth taking as other choices are not helpful too

7. As far as American domestic politics goes, American Public will back President Obama while Republicans, especially presidential candidates, will continue their shrill rhetoric making the process of 'going away from broader Americans' uninterrupted for Republicans.

8. It is good for Syriza PM Tsipras and Greece that the world media attention goes away from them. That will give some breathing room for Greek Parliament to start drinking the chalice of European Medicine.  

9. If the progress of the deal in coming months goes smoothly, it will help potentially to thaw relations between Russia and America. As Obama Second Term starts winding down, both Putin and Obama would have incentives to undertake some tentative steps in mending relations between these two countries. As Greece issue recedes and Iran Deal on track, Chancellor Merkel and Europe also would find the room to start repairing relations with Russia for issues like Ukraine.

Back to back progress in Greece and Iran Deal would provide badly needed stability to fried nerves of global investors while Chinese Government works through its peculiar band of State level heavy arm twisting to calm down Chinese Stock Markets. This all should be good for global capital markets in the short term.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reluctance to Lend More to Greece

It is a fact that when Syriza government took over in January of this year, Greek Economy was relatively on the path of improvement. Greece had primary surplus and lenders had not been fully burnt with it. The achievement of Tsipras and Syriza after coming to the power is fully destroying Greek Economy and dramatically increasing the amount needed in the third bailout - probably increasing by $50 Billion or so. And zero concessions or debt relief in the process from Troika. 

No wonder, no one trusts Tsipras, Syriza and Greece anymore. There is a case to be made that even after European Tax Payers have ponied the bailout money for the third time, Greece would not improve as it is endemic to the Greece Culture and Politics to keep blaming outsiders for their weak economy while refusing to take their own full responsibility and yet again and again go to Europe with a hat in its hand.

The dynamic here is, there are countries in Europe like Portugal which have successfully reformed on harsher terms than Greek and countries like Finland and Slovakia which do not have welfare programs as generous as like Greece. So what is important for the Europe - to continue to consolidate the Euro project with these countries while letting go Greece or to expose the Euro for further fissures down the line. Seems like Chancellor Merkel's assessment is rather than spending more money on Greece, it might be worthwhile to take the hit but apply the resources to further consolidation of Euro with remaining members.

As I argued earlier, the danger is after getting evicted from Euro, Greece will fall in the lap of Russia. But there are limits there as well - to start with it is not that Russia has lot of change to spare for Greece given subdued Oil Prices which will continue to be so once Iranian Oil floods global market after the expected deal with West. Secondly the same internal divisive forces in Greece which squandered European help twice, would also waste Russian Monies as well. In other words, it is difficult to imagine that the melodramatic political culture of Greece would use any external aid wisely.

Outcome is Europe demanding 'all legislative changes' upfront from Greek Lawmakers before loosening up any purse and Europe will continue to lend money in piecemeal fashion, depending upon how Greece fulfills her mighty reform promises.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Well done South Carolina

As South Carolina chambers pass the bill to lower down confederate Flag from statehouse grounds, we all see one step forward in this republic.

American republic has no place for any divisim and for any racism. Agreed, American South would need more than lowering the racist Confederate Flag. But one step forward is much better than no progress at all in the name of perfectness.

Yes, yes slowly; the American Republic keeps moving forward. That is what South Carolinian legislatures showed today. We applaud those chambers for that and we thank them for their 'sense of belonging to a nation at large'. 

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Soccer Champions - USA and Chile

USA Women Team wins FIFA Cup for the third time, long time after 1999 when they had won last. The dominance of USA Team, progressively assertive as its deep tournament run unfolded, was crystal clear. Carli Lloyd showed it all. 

With this win USA Women's Soccer will continue to gain popularity, more advertising and endorsement dollars as Fox Channel finds it out. With USA Women's Soccer - it is bipartisan compared to more Democratic slant for USA Men's Soccer due to popularity among Hispanic population. For sure USA Women's Team success and popularity will 'rub' positively for USA Men's Soccer as well. 

Talking of Men's Soccer, Chile scored a major win in almost a century after defeating mighty Argentina in Copa America. Chile would be savoring this win greatly given that South American soccer is always overshadowed by super powers of the game - Brazil and Argentina. For world's greatest soccer player - Lionel Messi - the bad luck in championship games continues. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Merkel - Time to Step Up

USA Defense Secretary Ashton Carter travelled Europe to urge Germany start 'punching', if not necessary above her belt, but at least commensurate with her heavy weight group she belongs to. Chancellor Angela Merkel tried her best and led Western response in constructing the Minsk Accord. But neither the accord nor the peace are holding there while Czar Putin wanders around the globe with impunity.

Question Chancellor Merkel needs to ask herself is given the unchecked aggressiveness of bully Putin, does she want to give one more chance by letting Tsipras's Greece elope with Russia? Though the earlier attempt of Tsipras schmoozing with the Czar did not yield him any bounty, the danger of Putin drawing couple of Billions from his treasury to lend Greece is there. What that can do is, move Greece decisively in the Russian column as buying sympathy of Greek folks in their current dire state is very cheap. What such a scenario can do is it will embolden Greek people to vote 'no' in the referendum, get out of Euro, throw away Western debt obligations, access Russian & Chinese monies (1) as stop gap, bring back Drachma, devalue it substantially and slowly start climbing the economic hole it has got itself into. During the process Tsipras would nationalize Greek Banks, halt any privatization of existing public sector and embark upon massive Socialistic experimentation to collect pieces of broken Greek Economy. Sure, in the end Greek economy cannot be on the sustainable footing unless IMF and ECB prescribed reforms are undertaken. But what Putin style economy management would buy for Tsipras is to show to the world how a communist economic policy brings miracles in the short term. After all like Putin, Tsipras is a politician and faking 'some results' is nothing new in Greece. 

What Angela Merkel needs to evaluate is when Iran Deal is at the critical juncture, does she want to strengthen Putin's hands making the job harder for Kerry and Obama as Russia (followed by China) is the most sympathetic to Ayatollah regime in Tehran. No wonder Obama Administration continues to pressurize Chancellor Merkel.

From American point of view, European NATO partners continue to shortchange on their fair share of defense spending. Ok if that is the case, then at least spend money in keeping Greece in the fold to avoid any strategic realignment strengthening already expansionist Putin's Russia. That is the real charter Chancellor Merkel has - avoid Greece slip in Putin embrace. Ideologically and with his instincts of waging high stake gambles, Tsipras is predisposed to undertake such a path.

Imagine, if Chancellor Merkel says she will allow ECB to spend few billions in back stopping Greek banks until the referendum is done. Idea is regardless intransigence of Tsipras, EU to stretch her hand of help to Greek people. Agreed, the instinct is to punish Greek people who cheated while entering EU and then refuse ever after to accept that they cannot afford 'their style' of public spending on a credit card. Agreed, instinct is to stamp down one up showmanship of Greece politicians who refuse to tell 'truth' to their own people; least it embolden Podemos of Europe. But the strategic goal of West must be that - regardless whether Greek goes out of Euro and adopts new Drachma or decides to stay within Euro; Greece remains firmly aligned with Western economies and interests.

One would say, it is a very cynical way of describing the current situation given that question of 'lives of Greek' people is involved. But it is hard for rest of the world to apportion blame in this case - both Europe and Greek equally seem to be at fault; though one would expect in the end 'proud and prudent people' always want to live within their own means rather on borrowed lagressee. The job for Chancellor Merkel was to 'negotiate' Greece in accepting ECB and IMF terms. For variety of reasons, she and Europe have not been able to do that. As usual, Europe's deeply intertwined History, past grudges, tendency to sustain endless 'talk shop' rather than close the deal to move on and essentially inability of European political system to overcome these divisionary tendencies; all that might be contributing to make the EU-Greece Agreement elusive. Someone needs to tell Greek people that whether they remain in Euro or they chart their own course; running to a 'sugar daddy' is hardly a lasting solution. When Greek politicians are not doing that job, Chancellor Merkel need to don that mantle. It will be effective only when she shuns 'more angrier and bitter' voices in her own country, rises to the occasion and takes the first step of 'help' for Greece people.

Think of it this way - as and when Greece comes out of Euro and charts her own course (and worse, takes help from Putin); the human suffering in Greece will not go away. It will exasperate and all Western Capitals and Parliaments will be clogged with 'humanitarian aid' bills to Greece. That will be inevitable. So why not do it before hand? The urge to 'punish' reckless Greek Politicians should neither make Europe loose the strategic objectives nor make it ignore the magnitude of human suffering involved in all this Greek Drama. There will be 'time' and 'place' to put 'little politicians' like Tsipras in their place; but true leaders do not allow such petty considerations make them loose the eye on larger goals. The world is waiting for such statesmanship from Chancellor Merkel. She and today's Germany are certainly capable of such a feat and that will be one remarkable way for Germany to fulfill her global responsibility. Chancellor Merkel has the reservoir of global goodwill. One like it or not; politically she is among the top in the world and it is still not late for her to spend that political capital to achieve some tangible resolution to the Greek problem which has been tearing apart what is cherished in the grand Euro Project.(2)

--------------------

(1) Would China managed AIIB make it's first trench of loan to Greece when it would have come out of the shackles of IMF and ECB?

(2) There is a danger of Greece blackmailing West to get money without undertaking reform by threatening to join Russia. But we are not there yet. All along Greece has been trying to work out it's economic mess with in parameters of ECB and IMF. So there can be an argument other way, but Greece is not blackmailing West for its geopolitical vulnerabilities.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dramatic Week in American Politics

"This is as good as it gets for the president of the United States. It will never be a better week than this for him."

-- Former Senator Tom Daschle, the original force behind ObamaCare

"Barack Obama is one of the most consequential presidents in American history — and he will be a particularly towering figure in the history of American progressivism."

-- Vox

“We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.”

-- President Barack Obama

This has been an extraordinary week in American Politics. First, a Democratic President gets an authority to negotiate a meaningful Trade Pact with the most dynamic region of global economy. This gets followed by the vindication of keep improving America's Health Care System by nation's highest court. Next, American System decisively follows the progressive path in granting the sexual freedom and sanctity of marriage for all.

But our 'gun wounds' still continue. President Obama's Republican Opponent may find it courteous to travel with him, but this country is still missing a sensible approach about guns. Yet, the hatred which can misuse guns, Americans are attempting to face it head on is no mean achievement.  

While America is busy sorting her domestic mess, absence of the 'global cop' causes 'bad guys to cause mayhem' everywhere else. That will be the task cut out for President Barack Obama in remaining months of his presidency. Otherwise in some sense Obama Era is approaching it's conclusion even though Conservatives and 'Barry Goldwater of our times' decry what just happened.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Faulting Pope Francis

Ross Douthat, one of the most sensible and credible voices on Right which is ready to engage with Left, faults Pope Francis for:
- not acknowledging that more global poor are coming out of poverty and
- not acknowledging how technological advances are helping humanity to sustain more bodies on mother earth. 

There may be so truth to what Ross Douthat is saying. But he is missing the 'elephant' in the room. Essentially this Papal encyclical is to bring 'shame' to those Republicans who still stick to fossil fuels all the while irresponsibly ignoring all kind of scientific evidence. The papal encyclical is about Koach Brothers of the world, it is about Sen. McConnell of the world, it is about Russia, it is about Saudi Arabia and it is about Australia; all those who support burning carbon fuels to generate green house gases without bothering to pay any coast while doing so.

Pope Francis is also poking holes in underlying assumptions behind the relentless propagation of Global Capitalism as 'the' solution for prosperity of all. But he is not alone, Thomas Piketty has already done that in Economics. Pope Francis is picking up the leftover part of Moral Case against Global Capitalism. Too bad that no political force in Western Democracies (including USA) has articulated any coherent case to go beyond the current Global Capitalism which is vulnerable to give us Financial Crisis as well as gaping inequality while leaving behind many people of this planet in poorer conditions.

Criticism of contemporary consumerism should not be any surprise to Ross Douthat. Many Conservatives can readily understand that 'excess consumption hardly leads us to human happiness'. 

When Vatican speaks all this, it is not that Papacy gets exposed for weaker reasoning; rather it is the Papacy which joins the Moral Force needed 'here and now' to keep prodding Humanity to undertake what is imperative. Any other interpretation of Catholic Encyclical is missing the point.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Resurgent Bengal?

After becoming Chief Minister of Bengal, angry lady Mamata Banerjee did not offer too many occasions to praise her. But with two PMs - Modi and Sheikh Hasina - on her sides in brokering the settlement of land borders between India and Bangladesh; Mamata has lived up to her promise. Here she is the leader towering over two Prime Ministers delivering what ultimately is the right step in the welfare of Bengali People on both sides of the border. That Mamata gave up a parochial, narrow viewpoint to see the larger goodness encompassing all Bengalis is a heartening sight in otherwise perennially divided subcontinent on caste, religion or language basis. 

Division of Bengal by Lord Curzon was one of the most imperial hubris by the British Empire heaped on the subcontinent. If there was one occasion which helped to cultivate "British Rule as the Machiavellian divide and rule approach" among India's population; it was the Partition of Bengal more than hundred years ago. It took more than a century just to have land demarcation done. Sharing of river waters and co-operation on sea links are still incomplete. We are still counting wages of Lord Curzon's sins.

But then precisely because population of subcontinent did not remain united and did not show the vision in sorting their problems on their own; British Raj exploited Bengalis and Indians at large. No-one is looking at the possibility of undoing what Lord Curzon did. But what West Bengal, India and Bangladesh can do is to remove cobwebs of past and lay down the foundation to bring prosperity to 156 Million Bangladeshis and 91 Million residents of West Bengal. There may be an international border between West Bengal and Bangladesh; but it is hard to imagine peaceful and prosperous Bangladesh without the active support and backing of India which shares land border on all 3 sides of that country. There is much to be gained by both countries when  Bengal imagination is unleashed on both sides of the border. Bengali language is the umbilical cord, but shared history - unfortunately tragic on so many occasions - and realization of same destiny; are the forces to be recognized. Channelling this energy, 'can-do spirit' towards constructive purposes is the job of politicians on both sides of the border. It is great to see that Indian PM Modi is sizing on this opportunity with gusto, Mamata facilitating this co-operation and Bangladesh PM seeing virtues of such co-operation; all are equal signs of maturing polity in the subcontinent.

Lot of commentary on this subject is through the geopolitical angle of how Modi's India is trying to catchup with China in wowing nations in the sub-continent. That may be so; but the heart of such co-operation needs to be recognized - opportunity opened to leaders of subcontinent to correct enormous human suffering folks of Bengal and subcontinent have suffered over the years due to British Raj mistakes followed by sustenance of those divisions instituted by British Raj. In overcoming these sins of pasts, if it means India to be more generous on most occasions; then so be the case. It is great to see that Indian PM Modi clearly sees the need and utility of such an magnanimous approach to India's subcontinent neighbors. So long as he keeps delivering on that; chances of subcontinent wide peace and prosperity will keep improving. 

Monday, June 01, 2015

Rewriting Iraq History

Seems like slowly it is dawning on Washington that Iraq is 'again a lost cause'. Sadly Barack Obama is not the President who can undertake anything like David Petraeus's 'surge'. Neither does Barack Obama have 'that mandate' nor there are any cheap choices available. In anycase 'surge' was not cheap. George Bush had to order additional American soldiers to the tune of 20,000 and finally he had to accept the presidency with 18% approval rating. (Agreed Great Recession played role in writing off Bush presidency along with Katrina, but the lion's share was his Iraq War.) Barack Obama does not intend to immolate his presidency like that, at least till now. Meanwhile one just has to look at Jeb Bush's advisers - as if he has made the point that he picks up all those we contributed enormously to George Bush's disastrous Iraq War policy. It is not just mess of Jeb Bush's answer about Iraq war - there are far too many people in Washington who are deeply vested in continuing faulty Iraq Policy of George Bush.

Washington Post Editor Fred Hiatt is one such charlatan. He backed Bush's Iraq War from get go and for years opted for defending it using all sorts of intellectual contortions.

Americans might not have seen the 'sham' called Bill Kristol, another big time proponent of Bush's Iraq War; but at least Fred Hiatt is finally seeming to reconcile the ill fate of Iraq. Needless to say, in that he blames Barack Obama for not undertaking second coming of another 'surge'. (Yah, our Commander-in-chief is searching for another 'infidel' commander to lead that project since David Petraeus has set the bar high there.) 

May be Obama allowed Maliki to stick around very easily. But it is doubtful Obama had any choice. The failure of today's Iraq is squarely with Iraqi's as Ash Carter said point blank. Sins of Malaki Government are too much to overcome right now. 

It is given that Obama Administration will continue to treat Iraqi situation as a radioactive matter, to stay away as far as possible. Focus on IS is appropriate for Obama Administration. It will be for the next administration to undertake any kind of policy change about Iraq unless deterioration warrants immediate intervention. But looking at today's American voters, it is doubtful if the next President is going to get any different 'mandate'; mandate for any adventurous policy. Hillary might seem to pursue a hawkish policy; but she will be lot more 'checked' by the resurgent Left within Democratic Party. For a Republican President - it will be all right to keep making noise about Obama Foreign Policy; but again it will be all 'talk' and no 'show'. The reason will be simple - today's America would rather prefer America the Global Cop going after FIFA instead of pouring thousands of Americans & Billions in the endless pit called Iraq. 

Truth is:
- defeat of IS, 
- either overthrow of Assad or some different stable arrangement in Syria,
- inclusion of Iran in the larger world community after the nuke accord,
- more freedom to Kurdistan and
- enhanced understanding / co-operation among Sunni Arab States;
these are all conditions to produce the lasting peace in Iraq. Second American surge does not figure in this list.

Whether Iraqi map stays same or not is not the most important question. Question is whether peace in larger Mesopotamia comes or not. Only when ground situation develops along the lines mentioned above, we would have a chance of peace in the area what we call Iraq today.