Saturday, May 28, 2011

Best in Soccer = Barcelona

That is what today’s reality is. Dominance of Barcelona and those handful of players seems like ‘unparalleled’ in the folk lore of Soccer considering how much Soccer is played globally. Indeed there are no peers to the Barcelona Soccer. Amazing what few gifted players with regimental discipline can achieve.

Fed Generosity

Felix Salmon of Rueters notes how Federal Reserve Bank of USA lend billions of dollars to European Banks at almost zero rate during the early months of Financial Crisis of 2008 (September to December).

This blogger does not have enough expertise and knowledge to make sense out of this. But enough to know that this is some kind of breath taking help from Fed during a critical period. One reason could be in early months of the crisis Americans must have felt that it was their CDO business which had been responsible to bring European Banks down. There is some truth in that as European banks had blindly bought CDO trenches believing ratings given to those instruments. Meaning these banks believed American Mortgage Market was on sound foundation as was led to believe so by rating agencies and American Establishment. It was not the case. Hence Fed felt to extend the hand of help considering how eagerly these European banks had loaded themselves with American mortgage notes.

Fed haters like Ron Paul will read this report in only one direction - how America accumulates more debt to help European Banks. That will be one ugly, misleading and in the end counter productive take on this information.

But one point it clearly shows is the ‘culture of secrecy’ in the world of Finance. Basically Banks, Central Banks and Financial World are all loath to open their dealings so mistakes of all players are covered. Accountability is much harder in such situations and that is the problem still.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What a fantasy David!

David Brooks renders a fantasy in his latest NYT OpEd column. If America were so lucky we would not have been in such a desperate state.

But in the end it is a fantasy because he forgets one name - Grover Norquist.

As things stand today, Republicans are more scared of primary challenges from tax cut zealot Norquist than facing Democrats in a general election. So it is near certainty that GOP would not be ready for any revenue increase measures and would rather accept their own political demise and America’s further decline while adhering to nonsensical Right wing tax cut lunacy.

So David relax and indulge in these fantasies only to get away from increasingly harsher and darker reality of American Life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Partisanship - Ryan Style

When GOP talked ‘pulling the plug on Grand Ma’ in misleading Americans about ObamaCare in summer of 2009, it was all acceptable to Rep. Ryan. But when Democrats legitimately make GOP plan of cutting Medicare senselessly an election issue, it becomes demagoguery by Democrats!

With NY-26 result and Senate firmly rejecting House Budget Plan, Rep. Ryan’s ‘right wing social engineering’ will have to wait for another day. I mean Rep. Ryan and GOP have been conducting themselves in worst possible manners as far as advancing strategically core conservative goals go. I guess they are so enraged with Obama and their hatred for him is so strong that, they would not care their own destruction in the process. And what a destructive path these American Republicans are on - Rep. Ryan on way to become modern day Barry Goldwater, presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty is ok with deep cuts in Social Security as if social engineering with Medicare is not enough and Sarah Palin is inching towards declaring her possible candidacy for Presidency!

How does it end? The craziness will not stop till 2012. The first reaction from GOP is to ‘double down’ on this destructive path. Will have to wait till 2012 to expect any change from GOP side. Till then Dems and Obama have to provide basic ‘sanity’ in American Politics.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Middle East - Act II of 2011 Drama

With Israeli PM Netanyahu reacting viscerally to the Obama Speech, second act of this drama is complete; if we take Arab Spring as the first act. The third act will start next Tuesday when Bibi speaks in House to thunderous applause of GOP House Members. Clearly Bibi thinks not only he is answering to voters back home in Israel, he is overtly involved in American Domestic Politics including insult of an American President. His game plan is simple - wait till Obama’s defeat in 2012 and then work with GOP to continue his senseless policy. Of course the reality is different; but then ‘denial’ is the natural state of Israeli Right.

Knowing this stirring by Israeli PM in American Domestic Politics and GOP eagerly enabling that, as some suggest Obama might have decided to ruffle few feathers and expose Bibi by arguing for 1967 borders. Bibi will have to face criticism in Israel for his path of taking Israel away from White House and at the same time exposing Israeli underbelly to the whole world - that Israel is hardly interested in any peace and wants to continue its current colonizing policy.

But of course Obama did not talk about 1967 border only to slap Bibi. In the end border solution is what is needed for any meaningful peace plan. Besides, these are all insurance purchases by this White House - come September, it is almost given that USA and Israel will be totally isolated in UN on Palestinian statehood resolution and that will be one humiliating spectacle. Israeli PM is all interested in dragging down USA on this path of isolation with hardly any concrete benefits to Israel itself.

It is true that this impeding show down in UN is symbolic only. But Hamas and Fatah are not fools. The idea is you play on the ‘victimhood narrative’ in the World Gallery and then set the stage for Caro style mass protest. Hamas and Fatah will shun their violent means till the UN resolution passes and then the genie would be out. On the backdrop of people’s revolution in Egypt and Arab Awakening all across; it will be hard for Israel to sustain continued suppression of Palestine and to avoid the blood shed at that point. Syrian Regime would like to wash its dirty laundry by enabling Palestinian resistance in a bid to suppress revolt of it’s own people. Iran will not be far way too. Hence Obama line of granting primacy to people’s will is an exactly right approach to point suppression of people’s will in Syria and Iran. If played properly that can drive a wedge between Palestine Resistance and opportunistic Syria and Iran; provided Hamas remains away from terror tactics (in which the case of Israel and USA is straight forward). But Bibi does not believe any of these subtleties or opportunities and is simply content making himself the ‘reactive force’ to all these events unfolding in Middle East.

Chances of Palestinian Liberation Movement becoming violent again after UN resolution are very high since it will be hard to withstand contradictory pressures of agitating against Israel for more freedom on the backing of Syria and Iran who themselves are suppressing their own people. At that point ‘attack on Iranian nuke sites’ by Obama may inflame the rhetoric rather than dousing chaos all around Middle East. As Egypt elections come near, rhetoric against Israel will continue to climb, pouring oil in the fire. Given this scenario of how uncontrolled things can become in Middle East, it is easy to see dramatically diminished role of USA in Middle East. But Obama is not engaging in this conflict as a desperate attempt to keep relevance of an aging super power. He is doing so because Bibi is behaving as if he is Obama’s domestic political opponent and Bibi is dragging USA to a complete isolation in eyes of the whole world which clearly is detrimental to American interests. Given all that, proposing resolution of Arab-Israeli conflict along the lines of 1967 border is only the first step by Obama. In the end, he will have to follow through this act by adhering to few more specific points:

1. As Obama said in his speech, people’s will and their freedom must be honored all across Middle East and North America. This will sap the lifeblood of Israeli policies of not coming to negotiation table while continuing Palestinian occupation. Any such colonial behavior by Israel should not get any support from America and by saying ‘people’s will matters’ it would help make it clear to the world that it is not America which is supporting Israel to go on the path of ‘apartheid’.

2. While this all would pressure Israel, its security is non-negotiable to America along with complete rejection of any terrorism by Hamas, Fatah and any other party.

3. Finally, Iranian nukes are the ultimate play on terrorizing the region by force and hence those are unacceptable and may even underwrite American raids as like what killed Osma Bin Laden.

Obama speech in this week needs to be viewed as a start of America’s movement away from senseless Israeli policy and an attempt to retain some American credibility. Obama needs to follow through that and then make it very clear that eventually, and for obvious reasons, in the end Israel has to find and work with Arab Partners to bring the peace. As he said, otherwise the dream of democratic Jewish state will vanish. In a sense we are possibly seeing cantors of a policy which is attempting to insulate American interests from the suicidal path Israel is embarking upon under the leadership of its current Prime Minister.

Update - One is glad to see that President is relentlessly 'on message' as evident in his morning speech to AIPAC. Here are two good commentaries on the speech - one be Goldberg and another one by Marshall.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tortured Fools

As if details of killing Osma Bin Laden without explicit torture is not enough for these fools, Rick Santorum is pontificating why torture is needed for America. Well, he did not stop there but went after Sen. McCain essentially.

I have lost most of my respect for Sen. McCain because of the way he has pandered to Ultra Right in recent years. But one thing he has maintained consistently is not to make ‘torture’ as the prime instrument of intelligence as well as to point out dramatically diminishing returns of such crude measures. He has his moral case too. So all in all Sen. McCain has conducted himself with mighty grace and stupendous moral force in this regard. No sane person want to go here to disrespect him or cross a line which Sen. McCain wants to draw so forcefully; even if one does not adhere to strict ‘no torture’ position.

But then we have fools like Rick Santorum throwing to wind all that ‘good sense of America’ as authentically represented by Sen. McCain. No wonder, Sen. McCain’s daughter was prompted to tweet this.

I mean what difference is there between Santorum and Medieval Theologians who argued about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Common on guys, we have boat load of problems in this country and they get time to cross Sen. McCain about ‘torture’? Where is the economy of thought and conservatism of ‘discourse’ even if we keep aside the moral case of ‘no torture’? Torture for Rick Santorum is no longer the issue of national security, but has become a new ‘cultural war’ issue. He thinks that is his contribution to American Political Discourse in 2011! No wonder why serious Republicans are craving for Mitch Daniels who is more inclined to keep aside these cultural wars. May be like Trump, there will be some incident where fools like Santorum will immolate themselves.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bengal Renaissance?

With Mamata Banerjee - People’s Didi (sister) - formally dethroning Communist Raj of last 34 years, there is a feeling of once in life time change in Bengal. Question is 3 or 4 years down the line, how much this positive feeling of change Bengalis will continue to have. States in India are with limited power and resources. Most of the Capitalistic changes are driven by the Central Government. Mamata’a Trinamool Party will be to the much of Left of American Democratic Party. (Remember how Mamata drove away Tata’s new motor plant couple of years back?) Decades and centuries long socialistic moorings of Bengal are unlikely to be shaken in a year or two. So all in all it is quite possible that Mamata Banerjee may not be able to move the needle lot. For sure, surging Bengali Middle Class will have a sympathetic ear with Mamata and she will make conscious efforts to move Communist Cultural posts of Bengal in post-Communist era. But feeling is, she may restrict herself to such superficial changes only and will be simply content in hitching the bandwagon of Bengali Middle Class to resurgent prosperity of rest of India. The good thing here is one by one problematic states of India are joining the national economic growth. First it was Nitish Kumar in Bihar and now Mamata has the chance to rewrite second coming of Bengal. That will be enormously positive for India considering still alive Bengali ability to build upon the intellectual foundations laid by past Bengal Masters. Communist Revolution Bengal adopted 34 years back may have failed to bring prosperity and spread to rest of India. So now with Trinamool Congress Bengal has a chance to join rest of the India which has been enjoying fruits of economic liberalization of last two decades. That is the rejoicing moment for Bengal homecoming.

Reality check - all political parties in India are victims of ‘patronage’. Trinamool is no exception and with crushing load of ‘expectations’ it is unlikely to avoid those issues. Feeling is before Trinamool becomes a ‘morbid establishment old hack’; it achieves something lasting for Bengalis. Otherwise Bengal will land up in the ‘flip-flop’ pattern of Tamil Nadu. All that state is doing is keep rotating ‘corrupt politicians’ term by term. Anyone who is trying to read victory of Jayalalitha as people’s reaction against 2G Scam and culpability of DMK, she is living in fools world. One simply has to recall ‘corruption’ in past Jayalalitha terms. May be she will change and ‘sister Chief Ministers of India’ - Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, Mamata in Bengal and Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu - will usher a new era in India. No matter what, it is remarkable that ‘gender parity’ is so widely accepted and practiced in India. Now, that is some emphatic progress.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Unfinished Business in Pakistan

Whether Pakistani government / army willingly protected Osma Bin Laden (OBL) or were simply incompetent to detect that OBL had been living in the heart of Pakistan for years with impunity; fact of the matter is precarious nature of Pakistani State is fully exposed. It is exposed to the extent that this vulnerability would very soon start becoming an issue in the mainstream elections in USA.

Basic two dangers are presented by the current state of affairs in Pakistan:
- bad guys continue to thrive in Pakistan and
- at some day nukes would land up in hands of these bad guys who will pull off a catastrophe much more devastating than 9/11 or 26/11.

Is there any route which anyone can see where Pakistan would willingly yield it’s nuke? No, chances of Libya or Ukraine happening for Pakistan are zero. So long as India has nukes, whether Kashmir border dispute is resolved or nor, Pakistan will not give up it’s nuclear weapons. India will not give up any of it’s nukes as long as relations with China are strained. Those will remain strained so long as Indo-Chinese border dispute knot is not untangled and strategic competition between India and China stays unabated. One would say that strategic competition is peacefully resolved when China would be willing to give her own nuclear weapons. With the current UNSC setup where ‘having nukes’ before a cut off date is the principle criteria, Taiwan issue remains unresolved with USA and nuclear powered Russia stays as is; there is no chance in the world that China would ever give up her nukes, provided Soviet Union does not happen to China. This all boils down to as and when USA and Russia are ready to give up their nuclear weapons, as a corollary Pakistan will give up her nukes provided the whole chain of in between cause and effect unfolds appropriately.

What we are talking here is today’s global power structure manifests itself in Pakistan carrying nuclear weapons and there is no realistic chance of Pakistan getting rid of those. Then the next best course is to have a system in Pakistan which will be an able and competent guardian of these nukes. Killing of OBL by America shows the whole work to be done in this regard.

This broken state of affairs in Pakistan will continue as long as usage of ‘bad guys’ by Pakistani rulers is not abandoned. Whether these bad guys are protected for the reasons of tormenting India, or gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan or to blackmail USA in gaining access to billions of dollars; end result is same - no possibility whatsoever for a Pakistani state to become a responsible agent which rest of the world can trust and do business with. Breaking up Pakistan or Pakistan becoming a full fledged ‘client state of China’; none of these things alter this need of a competent state.

This means the unfinished business in Pakistan is ‘nation building’. Howsoever loathsome business Americans find it, that is the bottom line. It does not have to cost more than what Americans spend today on Pakistan nor it means shedding American blood for the same (in times of ‘drones’ that is less of necessity). Nor does America have to go alone in this business. India has vested interests in this since the option of pulling off OBL killing type raid is not available for India. It is not available to India not because of competency of Indian commandos, but for the real danger of Pakistan starting a nuclear war in response to such an Indian raid (regardless of whether Pakistan detects such Indian incursion during the raid or after the raid). Even China has vested interest in a stable Pakistan as least it would feed Islamic fanaticism in fertile Chinese border state of Xinjian (East Turkmenistan). Besides, China’s immediate goal is to exploit mineral wealth of Afghanistan and with unstable Pakistan supplying militants across the border is hardly a conducive environment. In fact, if America and Obama want to demonstrate the far sightedness; they would invest appropriate international political capital to bring China on it’s side while bringing peace in Pakistan. The only reason China would prefer to have unstable Pakistan is it will continue to bog down India. That is where India and America need to undertake clear strategic thinking to entice China for a peaceful Pakistan.

However, the biggest part what USA and West need to do to achieve nation building in Pakistan is to continue the pressure on Pakistan to hand over bad guys. Imagine, if Obama demands after OBL, hand over of following rogue gallery:
- Mullah Omar of Taliban who protected OBL in the first place
- Al-Zawahiri of Al Qeda if he is in Pakistan (unlikely)
- Jalaluddin Haqqani along with his son Sirajuddin Haqqani of Haqqani Network who basically are responsible for American bloodshed in Afghanistan today
- Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, LET Chief and master mind of 26/11 Mumbai attack.

Bring these guys forward or face more drone attacks ( which are happening any ways) or further OBL style humiliating raids; that needs to be the message to General Kayani.

That is where Indian PM Dr. Singh has totally messed up his Pakistan Policy. Appeasing Pakistan is not going to go anywhere as it is ‘rotten to the core’. India ought to insist that America and Obama make LET Chief transfer as a part of process to cleanse the rot in Pakistan. Terrorist against India or Afghanistan cannot be any less evil than a terrorist risk against America.

Indian Government has a task cut out in convincing America that there cannot be any half-hearted fights against Terrorism. Meanwhile America also should not need any one nation to tell it that - when it comes to terrorism; there is no such option like one terrorist is relatively better than another. All are equally bad. Treating that way, America will take first steps in making Pakistani government eventually capable of securing it’s nuke and eliminating danger of landing up these nukes in wrong hands.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Paul Ryan’s Value Proposition

“...I do not like Ryan's "Path to Prosperity". But I always find him impressive. He has thought hard about the issues, and he is a formidable politician. His manner is excellent: serious, sincere, self-deprecating, down-to-earth. His views have substance, and ought to be met with substance. Democrats would be fools to ignore him, or to try answering him with disdain or mockery (as some do). If that is the turn the fight in the country takes on Ryan's ideas, then (sanctity of Medicare notwithstanding) I can see him winning.”

-- Clive Crook

Exactly, these are the sentiments I share about Rep. Paul Ryan. It is all right for Paul Krugman to tear him apart or to make fun of him. But Paul Krugman does not contest elections. It is Obama and Dems in Congress who need to contest elections.

Democrats watch out and if you want any chance of navigating this country in future, forget Bin Laden, that is water under the bridge. Take Paul Ryan seriously and build upon Public angst about dismantling Medicare in some competent manner.

Barack Obama has the serious demeanor to take on Ryan. But we need Democratic leaders apart from Obama to come forward forcefully in this debate if progressives were to have a chance.

Virginia Senator Mark Werner, is this enough of a challenge for you to climb down from your pedestal? Why wait, as like business; timing is the essence in politics too.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Big Day for America

It is very, very unlikely that President Obama would take any foolish risks in declaring death of Bin Laden unless he is 100% certain. Nevertheless, confirmation from some independent sources would lend more credibility. Political calculus is very simple - the guy whole nailed down Bin Laden, would Americans bother about where he was born? Point is not that President’s factual information about his birth is any suspicious; point is it becomes irrelevant for Americans to entertain persistent doubts in this regard. Whole of this development should help ‘birthers and their brethren’ to fold their tent.

It is difficult to undermine the impact of this development across the world. Some initial thoughts, which for sure can be misleading, are:

- First and for most President is trying to make a case for ‘American unity’ while declaring this news. Of course, there are lot of tactical considerations in timing of all these events. But in the end very likely President’s case about timing will prevail since it is such a grave matter. Hence the case for more unity would have some realistic chance to resonate with Americans.

- Obviously, context of the ‘budget brawl’ cannot be ignored here. Obama’s calculation is this will force his political adversaries to go more for a compromise than an all out war. Essentially, this makes political ‘up side’ of taking opposition with Obama very limited.

- President was explicit in praising Pakistan in his speech. This is no good news for India. On top of India snubbing USA for $11Billion fighter planes, Obama Administration has simply turned the table on India here. All in all, it will have to be India now who will have to take next steps to repair Indo USA relations.

- Market will be happy for a day or so until the dire states of American fiscal situation come back in focus. But Market would expect that Congress would push the biggest rock of ‘longer deficit deal’ and ‘debt ceiling’. Who knows Obama may even get a clean ‘debt ceiling bill’ in the after glow of this development.

- It will be worth to watch GOP Presidential field - who drops next based on these developments. Chances are high that Republicans would be bit reluctant to face this President. I mean this is the guy who has been keeping a secrete since August 2010 while receiving all the shellacking. So people will be careful. Of course, during now and Nov 2012 lot of things can happen to turn the table. But as of now, it is hard for any Republican to take the ‘punishment’ of contesting this incumbent.

- Budget deal and increasing debt ceiling - it is hard to see why it would fail now. The whole political dividend of ‘hammering this president and going against him’ is suddenly diminished.

- Watch out for Syria and Israel-Palestine conflict. As President Bush said, a nation which can go after it’s enemies hunting for 10 years and even after so many wholesale political changes; it is hard to ignore the voice of that nation. Even China will also take a note of this development and will calibrate her course accordingly.

- Some columnists are going to bite dust here. Here is one ridiculous example - Dick Morris in a column in The Hill blamed Obama for the escape of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan as if Obama’s job has been to be a ‘warden’ of a prison in Afghanistan! Now with that logic Obama must be ‘god’ to bring Bin Laden to justice. Truth is Obama is simply the Commander-in-chief and ultimately this big day belongs to men and women serving in CIA and American Military who have seen that America does not forget injustice done to her even after a decade or so. They are the clear heroes of this big day of America. Hopefully with this development, 9/11 can truly start receding into History.

Update - President Obama has been criticized for not taking NATO Leadership in the Libyan campaign. He has been derided as 'leading from behind'. All that non-sense should hopefully go away with this development.

- The nailing of Bin Laden will be played as an achievement under the outgoing CIA chief Leon Panetta. This means as an incoming Secretary of Defense, he should have relatively free hand; including reduction in defense budget. With one chapter being closed, the environment will resemble to 'bipartisan commission for closure of bases' in the aftermath of end of cold war in 1989. That is what it would look like on Capitol Hill. It will be an indirect way about to fulfill expectations of many Americans - Left and Tea Party - to control our defense expenditure. With this development, under Leon Panetta; defense budget cuts will proceed faster.