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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Time to Cleanse Corrupt FIFA

“We’re struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what FIFA did,...It just seemed to permeate every element of the federation and was just their way of doing business. It seems like this corruption was institutionalized.”

-- Law enforcement official, New York Times

New Attorney General Loretta Lynch is having a good start - she is taking on 'one of the most powerful but equally corrupt Sports Organizations' in the world - FIFA. FIFA before Blatter and even now has been an utterly corrupt organization is a common knowledge. Bosses like Blatter play 'racial politics' to rouse African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Asian soccer federations whenever European Federation and USA attempt to bring issues of corrupt practices. But in awarding FIFA cup to Qatar and Russia; FIFA transgressed all inhibitions about corrupt practices. This must stop.

It may sound strange, but what is needed is President Barack Obama stands firmly, publically, behind his Attorney General in her pursuit of FIFA corruption case. President Obama needs to bring all the might of his office behind this investigation and expose the sordid and ugly world of global soccer. He needs to give an example of how USA cleaned corruption in Baseball and exhort the global community to stand up to the task of cleansing the dirt of FIFA corruption. It is he, the first black President of USA, who is in the best position to call the bluff of rascals of the world like FIFA chief Blatter who want to hide behind 'charges of racism' in covering his own greed and corrupt ways.

If at all 'politics is to be for good'; now is the occasion for President Obama. By lending force of his administration, he will demonstrate to Americans at large that he cares about cleansing the mess far apart from America's shores. Latino community in USA is the natural supporter of global soccer, they would be delighted to see their commander-in-chief not shying away in taking on all powerful 'pope of football'. As many have observed, 1 in 6 Americans is foreign born; that is a fertile ground for fans who would care about the transparency in global sport like soccer. No better way than to connect and nurture existing bonds with this population apart from showing 'where you stand' in the business of global soccer.

It may seem that the corrupt Blatter is all but inevitable to become FIFA boss in coming elections. But if President Obama were to pick up this fight, he might find willing partners in unexpected quarters. How in the world Chinese Boss Xi Jinping would oppose fighting 'corruption' when he himself is on a crusade against corruption in his home? How can Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff dare to go against the fight of 'corruption' when her second term is completely bogged down by the engulfing scandale of Petrobras? (In spite of 7-1 humiliating loss to Germany in 2014 FIFA World Cup at home; where Brazil goes, the world Soccer goes there.) Sure, Czar Putin would not like all this; but then it is all the more reason to pick up this fight which can drive a wedge between Russia and China.

I have no idea whether Obama White House will show the 'dexterity' in using a perfect occasion delivered by her Attorney General to progress further the fight against global corruption. But the case for doing so is strong. If Obama Administration undertakes that, it will be a service to America, and more importantly, to a sport which has unique global following.

Update - It is true that vast majority of FIFA members want embattled chief Blatter to continue. No surprise here since many of those countries are used to corrupt ways with minimal to non-existent tradition of democracy or internal transparency. But what big countries of Europe, USA, Brazil and China, Japan, South Korea can do is exert the power of 'market' and 'money'. It is these big countries and their markets which sustain huge flow of money into FIFA. You take away that, FIFA coffers become empty and then it does not matter how many Blatters are occupying FIFA executive committee's at that point. As English Soccer Player Gary Lineker says, UEFA and other countries opposed to Blatter should walk away from FIFA. That will force rest of FIFA members to come to senses and start participating the cleansing process. FIFA cannot be UN Human Rights Commission where corrupt and dictators would lecture USA and successful Democracies about Human Rights. Even there USA threatened to walk way. Walking away from FIFA will not be hard at all. A federation and Cup of entire European countries, Brazil, China, Japan, USA, Canada, Australia and many other countries would not be a bad cup at all.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Obama Pacific Trade Deal

Paul Krugman is right to charge Obama Administration that the new Pacific Trade Deal would:
- give a pass to banks and
- allow big corporations to hold sway on trade potential at the cost of jobs as well as upholding of phony Intellectual Property rights.

But he does not mention the strategic point of 'containing China' by engaging with rest of Pacific Rim nations. That is one of the core motives of pursuing this trade deal. Equally, Obama Administration is right to argue that this deal is a chance to enforce appropriate Labor conditions in countries like Vietnam. 

It is all right that Elizabeth Warren's of the world would make lot of noise. But Obama Administration must continue this path of liberalized trade, that is the only way to keep  American Economy competitive while plucking along the strategic goal of containing China. 

Friday, May 08, 2015

United Kingdom - Hangs on for Unity

The disastrous outcome in the UK election would have been Labor Party getting maximum seats but needing to get support of SNP for majority. What that would have brought in is desperation of PM Ed Miliband in keeing SNP Boss Nicola Sturgeon happy at the cost of trading 'unity' of UK. That is because what is not clear is whether SNP is for preserving UK or creating a free Scotland at any cost; including breaking Queen's Kingdom. So far all pointers are in the direction of breaking United Kingdom - that is what seems to be the end goal of SNP. "If the referendum failed, then let us try the Westminster route"; that seems to be the SNP strategy here. With Labor government, Ed Miliband would have meekly participated in games of one Nicola in breaking UK. With Cameroon's Tory securing the majority, this bad outcome is avoided and that is the significance of these results.

What UK PM David Cameroon needs to do is to expose the folly of breaking the current UK. He better listen to Boris Johnson in moving UK more along federal structure rather than the current untenable situation of SNP having its say on 85% English residents via their 56 strong MP cohort in UK Parliament while SNP getting complete powers in running their own affairs in Scotland

There are two more areas where Tory PM David Cameroon needs to 'thread the needle':
- without losing economic benefits of being a part of EU, he needs to establish firmly the centrality of Westminster sovereignty over EU (read German) bureaucracy operating from Brussels; and
- give up the wrong headed fetish of 'austerity' as championed by Finance Minister Osborne. 

Only by addressing these two core problems, David Cameroon would get the necessary political space to strengthen the federal structure of UK to keep it intact. Tory victory in 2015 has presented him with an opportunity to precisely achieve this historic task - keep the 'united' of United Kingdom.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Shut Down Clinton Foundation

The basic business model of any foundation undertaking charitable work is, the patriarch makes lots of money in legal manners and in a good old tradition of 'giving back to society' creates the corpus fund to give away money to actual groups and people who undertake the hard task of charitable work. The patriarch puts right people at the helm of the foundation and then puts in process, tradition in place so as it continues to function well, continues to adhere to it's original goals.

Clinton Foundation does not adhere to this traditional business model. First of all, Bill or Hillary didn't make any multi-millions to give away in any noticeable manner. Clintons are not Gates Family of Microsoft. So then what is the source of funds at Clinton Foundation? Bill's 'connections and network' all over the world developed as American President. However, there is a very fine line between 'sleaze, corruption' and 'networking' when another of your family member is seeking the highest elected office of the land. 

Bill Clinton could have opted to a model where he rubs his 'start dust' to raise money for many, many other competent and qualified non-profit organizations undertaking great work. Why did he opt for spending all of his foundation money in-house? Gaining competence in undertaking volunteer work is not easy, it takes years of dedicated expert involvement and such operations are expected to be separate from fund raising. No wonder, many donors are noticing sub-optimal ways of Clinton Foundation.

Once you cross the line of no-spending in-house and just using Clinton Foundation as fund raising org, one immediately realizes for that you do not need a foundation. Bill Clinton can always give a speech to raise money for a worthy cause. Given that Hillary Clinton is seeking Oval Office, the prudent course for Clinton Family is to shut down the foundation. If Hillary wins the election, she will get an opportunity to make the difference in the world much beyond what Clinton Foundation would do in its lifetime. Then why not make the seeking of this highest office 'clean, corruption-free and with legitimacy'? The specter of Feds coming after Clinton Foundation and shutting it down due to corruption / non-transparency while Hillary is in Oval Office; that will be a political disaster sapping all the political capital of President Hillary Clinton. Remember, when Bill Clinton was President; there was no Clinton Foundation. There is enough of baggage always there with Clintons, she would not need one more albatross of Clinton Foundation to sag her political energy.

You may ask, what about then Chelsea Clinton? What about her? Monies flowing to Clinton Foundation are not of her making. May be it will not be a bad idea for her to start a business or to make a corporate career to rake in millions first and then she can worry about giving those to charities. And if she is all driven by dedicating her life to volunteering and charitable work; then great, she can pick from 'n' number of other charitable trusts around the world to undertake this noble work. It does not have to be this Clinton Foundation nor Clinton Foundation as a lame and essentially illegitimate vehicle for 'good acts towards to humanity' in an attempt to mimic Royalty of Great Britain as the 'family in the business of doing good all over the world'.  

You really marvel at what a 'sleaze machine' Bill Clinton has created in his post-presidency years. Apart from hobnobbing global leaders and celebrities - Davos style - it is hard to note any high impact work done. We know that just getting global leaders together and seeping tea together, nothing much consequential happens. Global leaders respond only when their respective politics generate enough pressure to act. Bill Clinton should know it - how much did he care about 'kumbaya talks' with other world leaders when he was in the Oval Office? He allowed Rwanda Genocide and then regretted in his post-presidency years. What lack of new 'idea' prevented Bill Clinton from intervening in Rwanda Genocide? There was not any lack of new ideas, old ideas like stopping genocide by force were perfectly actionable - there was no enough domestic political pressure to intervene and Bill Clinton allowed thousands to get massacred. 

The world will not miss anything if Clinton Global Initiative and Clinton Foundation wind down. But the world would miss a lot in an embattled presidency of Hillary Clinton if she wins the Oval Office and the mess of Clinton Foundation pulls her down. Continued existence of Clinton Foundation is simply manifestation of a flagrant absence of basic political decency on part of Clinton Family.

(Republicans are not going to demand winding down Clinton Foundation. For them it is a never ending source of political troubles to their principle political opponent; a classic advantage not to be squandered in a competitive electoral politics.)