Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney's Foreign Trip

"...a willingness to sacrifice U.S. interests in exchange for political cash.
...
a suggestion that Israel had thrived while Palestinians struggled because of the innate superiority of the Israelis, was also something more. It was racist."


That is the opinion I have of Romney's Foreign Trip as the USA Presidential Candidate.

Will it cost him votes? That is up to Obama how he turns all this into 'Romney Presidency = Four More Years of Bush-Cheney Presidency'. Even after four years, that argument is enough to raise 'dread' among Americans. As we are in the less than 100 days of campaign, the strategic phase of this campaign is over and we are now talking 'tactics'. Fear as the tactic is going to be the dominant technique employed by both campaigns. That is where we will be going next.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Liberal Column Worth Your Time

"IF you were born before 1946 or after 1964, you are free to go. Kindly close the door on your way out. I need a private moment with my fellow baby boomers. ...

At least the Republicans have a plan. The Democrats generally recoil from the subject of entitlements. "

-- Bill Keller, NYT

Generally it is very hard for me to quote any of NYT Editorials or Op-Ed, those are just a waste too much. (Bill Keller is the past Executive Editor of NYT.) But I can say with clear mind that this one passes the muster. Bill Keller has helped to put this whole debate about 'entitlement reforms' - the elephant in the room - in probably the most intelligent and ethical way to Liberal Constituency than any other earlier attempts. I like that.

Question is will Democrats take this challenge. President Obama has gone MIA on this one. That is pathetic and totally repugnant for a politician who aims to solve our problems. President Obama is in that sense a failed politician, so long as he does not dare to articulate clear cut 'entitlement reforms' during the campaign season.

We are not politically so naive not to understand what is the game plan here for President Obama - let us 'get by without spelling out any hard reforms we Americans have to undertake' and simply fool Americans by talking about 'taxes on rich'. Yes, of course taxes on rich need to go up and we got to address always increasing inequality within America. But that does not mean you get a license to be silent on the most pressing needs of America - how to control our medical costs and entitlements. That is the 'cool aid' President Obama is selling us. That is dangerous and in the end will be the main reason Americans would embrace the disastrous policies of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. President Obama with his unwillingness to talk about these hard and adult choices, because of his calculative, poll tested means to do politicking; would have in the end been the responsible person to bring down the whole Progressive edifice down. What a shame and what a tragedy.


Update - The post is edited to correct the language as it appeared in the first version.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Opening Ceremony

I watched the delayed broadcast of 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony on NBC, that customer unfriendly behemoth

I was moderately impressed by the ceremony and its execution. At times I found it weird, like so much emphasis on NHS. Also I expected even fuller and cleaner treatment of 'ultra-rich' legacy of British Music. Found that bit missing.

It may be cliche to praise so called 'openness and democratic ways' of the ceremony compared to Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony; but overall I still have good memories of that great Beijing show. I think with London Olympics, the important thing is Britishers pulled off the ceremony decently and they will very well execute all these games excellently. That in itself will be an achievement to be proud off for Britishers. (Except that their opening loss in Cycling Road Race hurts...very disappointing to see that British Cyclist could not repeat their success. But then they will roar back in many other remaining Cycling events.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Not Quite So

Andrew Sullivan thinks Barack Obama made a blunder when he slipped into a Warren style 'condescension' and effectively chastised entrepreneurial drive. He has a point that an incumbent president seeking reelection simply cannot afford to be so careless in what he utters and keeps making these mistakes again and again.

However, equating that with Romney's refusal to disclose his 'tax returns and foreign accounts' is simply wrong. In Romney's case there are two clear, hard facts:
- he has refused basic transparency as expected from contemporary presidential candidate; and
- by the same token until he discloses all that information, doubts about Romney having done 'something wrong, illegal and effective white collar tax cheat' are not going away.

Compared to that, Obama's mistakes are:
- being not careful in what and how he talks; and
- being insensitive to what it takes to run a 'business'. I can say so confidently because I had founded and ran a business for more than 5 years in my past life. One thing I know for sure entrepreneurs need is - encouragement. Obama is missing that point - give him as much shellacking as you can for that.

But just don't equate that with Romney's contempt of Americans - that Americans have no business to know how much 'tax compliance and chicanery' he had in past. That just does not square.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Gloom Darkens Further

While the world media will be busy reporting the four year carnival called Olympics, the news continues to be grim from European Finance.

Looks like Spain will be needing 'lock stock barrel full state bailout' as it is getting totally priced out of bond market to refinance its regular loans. This means few things:
- Folks with money (Germany & IMF) will start 'sacrificing Greece' to save resources to bail out Spain as that economy is very big.
- So Greece exit from Euro and its subsequent descend to hell looks more and more certain.
- Spain bailout would not 'taste' good to fiscally disciplined countries like Finland so their uneasy in staying Euro 'as is' will increase. Either countries like Finland would need to be accommodated by relieving them in 'not underwriting common European liability' (which I do not know how that can be done); or as Dr. Doom (Nouriel Roubini) is saying, Finland may exit Europe. In itself Finland is a small economy, but the damage from any such exit will be huge as it will send a message to the world that there will be 'life after Euro' while 'healty national balance sheets' no longer find it beneficial to stay in Euro.
- The game theory simulations (as member states loose faith among each other and everyone is on their own) indicate that Italy may find it lucrative to exit Euro while German to stay put. I doubt PM Monti would be a spoiler here instead of being a good European citizen despite bit shaky performance by him lately. On the other hand German unease to 'stay in Euro' will continue to rise even if it would mean more loss to Germany.
- German Constitutional Court is expected to rule on ESM funding by September 12. Till then Spain would become totally 'dry' and will be become the number one priority. I believe eventually ESM will be approved by the German Court. But as usual, this can be 'too late' if not necessarily too little. What all this tells is continent wide finance management by 'legislating and court'; that whole Merkel strategy can be upended here. And if indeed Merkel Political Strategy of navigating through this mess collapses, we would be talking 'end game of Euro' and not the 'end game in Syria' (as there is no end for Assad brutality...)! 

Any such chaos will shake American Economy thoroughly making President Obama's re-election attempts miserable. The only thing at that point left for President Obama is to hope that Americans will understand that 'persistent negative news from Europe' essentially torpedoed American Recovery for the third year. Once Olympics are over in next three weeks, European chaos will get played all over global Media; given that it may not be such an outlandish 'hope' for Obama Campaign.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Triumph of British Cycling

It rarely gets as strong as like this - complete dominance by British Cyclist in Tour de France. Amazing stuff, inspiring team work ethics. Here is one telling comment by one British fan on Guardian web site:

I'm awestruck, to be honest.
I've never seen the yellow jersey lead out the sprint coming into the last kilometre. Absolutely amazing, what a competitor.
Well done Bradley Wiggins, you're a legend.
And Cavendish was simply unstoppable.
We've waited years for this, thank you.


Also my understanding is the core contribution of British Cyclist to the game is their sustained efforts to move 'away' the cycling from doping scandals. That is great.

So all is set now for British Cyclist to bang the world stage next week in London Olympics. We will see if Australia or any other team brings any surprises there.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Consensus

In highly polarized America, there are few areas where we have remarkable consensus. One of them is 'gun control has nothing to do with tragedies like Aurora shooting'. What a great nation! 

"Should this young man — whose nature was apparently so obvious to his mother that, when a ABC News reporter called, she said “You have the right person” — have been able to buy guns, ammunition and explosives? The gun lobby will say yes. And the endless gun control debate will begin again, and the lobbyists of the National Rifle Association will go to work, and the op-ed thinkers will have their usual thoughts, and the right wing will issue alarms, and nothing will change. And there will be another mass murder. 

That James Holmes is insane, few may doubt. Our gun laws are also insane, but many refuse to make the connection. The United States is one of few developed nations that accepts the notion of firearms in public hands." 

 -- Roger Ebert, NYT 

Meanwhile, the only national leader with credibility has no choice apart from expressing frustration:

“Soothing words are nice...

But maybe it’s time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country. And everybody always says, ‘Isn’t it tragic?’ I mean, there’s so many murders with guns every day...

It’s just gotta stop. And instead of these two people, President Obama and Governor Romney talking in broad things about, they want to make the world a better place. OK, tell us how. And this is a problem. No matter where you stand on the Second Amendment, no matter where you stand on guns, we have a right to hear from both of them, concretely, not just in generalities, specifically, what are they going to do about guns?...

And I don’t know what they’re going to do, but I think it’s incumbent on them to tell us specifically”

-- NY Mayor Bloomber, Politico

The political constituency which otherwise would have made Gun Control as a political issue to argue about, here are they on this issue: 

"Ever since Al Gore’s defeat in 2000, it has become hardened conventional wisdom among Democrats that gun control is a losing issue for the party. And there’s no question that public opinion since 2000 has tilted toward greater skepticism of restrictions on gun ownership. ... 

What this means is that gun control is now overwhelmingly unpopular among the portions of the white electorate Obama is least likely to win anyway—and maintains solid majority support among the Americans most likely to actually vote for him."

-- Ronald Brownstein, National Journal 


Obviously, embattled Barack Obama is unlikely to be any adverturous in this regard. Looks like unless America has paid price of many, many more such mass massacres; we are unlikely to see thawing of this unhealthy consensus.


Update - I caught up with WaPo Editorial and was surprised by its forthrightness. I did not expect WaPo Editorial Board to leave its 'purple cozy political perch'....


The Editorial is right to chastise President than Romney. Being incumbent, it is the President who 'has to pay more political price' in being specific about gun control laws. I am not hopeful that Barack Obama will come honest here, but we will see.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Elder Statesman

Well done Sen. John McCain, many thanks for calling out some non-sense going on in denigrating one Huma Abedin!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Deranged Conservative

No, I am not talking about that 'severely conservative' politician campaigning for White House in Nov 2012 election. Barack Obama's campaign should be able to make appropriate 'toast' of him (if Obama Campaign is not able to exploit the ongoing 'swift boating'; then Obama does not deserve any new term anyways).

I am talking conservative folks like David Brooks who are reacting like 'deranged minds' and missing to grasp what is the crux of the matter in this debate about outsourcing and Bain Capitalism. Here is Ezra Klein doing this job for Brooks:

"The best-world version of Mitt Romney is running a campaign that embraces creative destruction and outsourcing and buyouts and all the rest of it because these things help our economy become more dynamic. That’s where his business experience at Bain might actually help him understand the economy...

The problem is that the candidate running that campaign needs to have a real answer for the workers who are hurt by that dynamism. Part of that answer would need to be a larger safety net — something akin to Denmark’s “flexicurity” system. But the modern GOP won’t permit Romney to run a campaign that embraces a larger safety net. And so he can’t embrace his own economic experience without appearing cruel....

As the first governor to successfully pass and implement a universal health care program in the United States, he would have been credible on the safety net in a way most Republicans simply aren’t. But rather than merging Bain and Massachusetts into one campaign, he’s running from both."


However blinded Brooks is unable to see through the mental fog of ideology and is wrongly criticizing Obama Campaign for pursuing this attack line. Here are few glaring flights of fancy from Brooks:

- He claims Obama is not defending his policies, but what about Obama defense of ObamaCare? Why ignore this?

- Brooks continues "the campaign has begun a series of attacks on the things people don’t like about modern capitalism." Then what should one do? Is it wrong for a Politician to garner support to change what is wrong in our Capitalism? Even after all of Barack's Socialism, has Wall Street been really constrained

- Brooks quotes "As Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has said again and again, it’s not enough to say that capitalism will make you money. " Of course, the question is 'is American Capitalism' making enough money for enough Americans? Are there no other alternatives to think here? 

- Brooks laments "Let’s face it, he’s [Romney] not a heroic entrepreneur. He’s an efficiency expert." What kind of 'understatement' is that? Is it very hard to distinguish between entrepreneurship of Romney and Google Founders or Alan Musk? Can we not make a simple judgement of which one of that is more beneficial? Can we not understand the simple point of how strength of 'safety net' is all that makes 'destruction of Capitalism' bearable for a society years in, years out? Is it so hard for us to realize that the vaunted ability of America to 'rejuvenate' has been all made possible because of that 'bottom catcher' safety net? You remove that and bottom of society falls out. That is what is so wrong with America's Capitalism and that is what Romney refuses to accept nor offers his vision to restore those foundations of 'societal contracts among different classes' which can make it possible for 'engines of economy' to fire people as they want with much less dramatic consequences.

We get it, we are in a capitalistic society. We are not dumb not to realize that 'property rights and rights of Capitalists to hire and fire Labor are needed'. Those rights are pre-requisites of generating wealth. However what we are arguing is to make all this happen, the out side container of 'public safety' net is needed. It cannot be 'you are on your own'. That  is what Obama tried to fix over years and want to do going forward. Not to see these efforts is 'pure ideological' blindness and in a sense tell tale sign of a deranged mind.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

American Culture



When Prof. Drezner goes with his Zombie Theories to ComicCon and NYT runs a front page article; we know things are serious in this regard.


"I need my beloved, underdog comic culture back!" That seems to be the rally cry here by these Geek Boys (will admit, I fancied myself to be part of that too; but did not succeed much). They are like 'where is my toy'; as these Hollywood Billionaires are descending on their revered land of 'comics' to garner some serious mollaha.


I agree with the general assessment - as Hollywood does not have anything else to make money apart from SciFi and Action Movies; we are running 'empty stomach' as far as Hollywood script supply goes. Not that anyone is much interested in simply 'undressing' of  a young and upcoming actresses - Freida Pinto in Trishna. This is so over used formula getting passed as a creative movie. That may be so boring, like watching some extended Tourism Ad even though it is Thomas Hardy adaption and the movie indeed may not be so bad.


But all this is fine so long as Hollywood continues to make good animation / fiction movies. That Hollywood has done so this year, we enjoy that even if all this seems one-dimensional. Here is what I enjoyed this summer:


Hunger Games (B++)
Good movie, solid execution and easy to grasp political references. The beef for me is that the movie stays at the 'human drama' level only but does not link the story to any larger theme, especially societal issues, since the movie came so tantalizing close to such issues.


Marvel's The Avengers (B)
Good movie, excellent special effect and competent execution.  Scarlett Johansson prominently, but most of the cast is sexy and visually appealing. Apart from that, there is nothing much expected from such type of action movies and this one is no exception to that.


Prometheus (A-)
By far the most liked movie for me so far this summer. Very intriguing, bold and not afraid of taking audience to unusual places; figuratively, literally and visually too. Special effects are top notch. On critical side, there are few issues like why Charlize Theron did not run perpendicular to the falling ship in the end and lack of 'clarity' in telling the whole story in succinct manner . 


Snow White and the Huntsman (B-)
Having two blockbuster movies in one summer, that is something of a feat unstoppable Charlize Theron have pulled off. This movie is all about her, her body, her expressions and her scheming. She has done it quite well. Character Snow White - I was underwhelmed. She is cute and has done her part well, except that at times I found her 'delivery' more of a contemporary teenage girl than the historical context needed. Rest of characters and movie - so, so. 


Madagascar 3 (D+ for adults, possible B for kids)
My ten year daughter liked the movie. I have no idea how other kids of her age in general would view this movie; but may be the movie is 'passable' for them. Otherwise excess of cliche's, too much stereo typing - Hollywood at it's worst - and very predictable plot and script. Hardly any surprise or novelty. Not many memorable 3D effects either apart from the circus finale in London; that part is some nice visuals.


The one waiting for is 'The Dark Knight Rises'; the Batman....may be it will be as good as all the hype.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Swift Boating

Seems like 'swift boating' has gone mainstream in American Politics along with strong rebuttals. I have no more insights in such 'nasty affairs'. All I say is Obama Campaign needs to continue to focus on 'substance & policy issues' while Romney Campaign should provide as much transparency as possible about taxes and finances of the candidate. That way we can get to the meat of the campaign.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Some Progress

Engines of economy will indeed become nervous looking at the impeding clash of tax policy in coming days. As Ezra points, possibility of all this impacting on growth is real and it is true. 

Obama does not have any more honorable and politically palatable choices. Otherwise the alternative is to become hostage to short sighted thinking of Market - that it is always better to post-pone tax / class fight to avoid 'boiling investor sentiment and people's willingness to spend'. There are number of powerful reasons why America's true leadership need to ignore 'craving' for any such approval from the rich class:

- Since when Market has been right about our medium term to longer term financial well being?
- In the final analysis is it unavoidable for USA to increase revenue to address the mounting debt? When one discounts the fairy tale of 'tax cuts for rich propels growth' - having seen travesty of such policy in Bush years; all it means real revenue increase is needed without banking on future growth. If Defense and Entitlements are hard to touch politically, every other revenue increasing measure would hurt Middle or Lower Class unless we specifically make the choice of Rich extending helping hand here. 
- Once we understand this policy as the only choice left, why would not propose / re-iterate it now? It is already late. 3 years have gone waiting for coming prosperity and growth. Intransigent Republicans, their willingness to 'drown America in order to sink Obama' and external challenges like Euro and slowdown in BRICS; all have played the role in delaying full recovery. Prudence demand that we do not harbor any wishful thinking in this regard and plan next few years as equally treacherous too. Meaning, today is equally good as like tomorrow in staking out this policy.
- Finally, not staking out ground here means acquiescence to the Republican Policy of extending Bush cuts to rich as well. But numbers do not lie and come next year, America will have to find some revenue along with spending cut. We all know where 'cuts' are going to come in Republican Era - enter the 'hatchet master Paul Ryan' who will convert Medicaid to block grants, curtail drastically Medicare for coming retirees and all other social spending will reduce drastically. In a way Obama's salvo here to exclude Rich (above $250K) from continued Bush tax cuts is a way of paying entitlement and welfare which goes to 'have-nots'. 

No one is arguing that we do not need reforms for pruning entitlement and welfare spending. In fact that is precisely the second part which Obama needs to argue to complete his full case. Then only Americans will have reasonable understanding of what it takes to get out of this mess. To tell that, that is true leadership; everything else is Romney campaign theater. 

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Be Bold

"We suggest a short-term stimulus package, such as a temporary tax rebate or expansion of the payroll tax cut, and a clear articulation of the coming $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases he’s willing to accept. Obama could also make another stab at negotiating with Congress over a long-term deficit reduction plan, such as that proposed by the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, to show the U.S. is serious about resolving its bloated budget deficit

None of this will be easy, and a heated campaign season only makes it tougher. But policy makers must put Americans ahead of personal and political-party ambitions -- yes, even in an election year."


Clearly, any such proposition would not make any head way, but as Rouch argued the point is Americans clearly know what would a Democratic nominee, the sitting President would do, to halt the miserable trend of mediocre employment. 

That is why all of this down playing by Ezra Klein is really counter productive and if Obama Campaign follows this prescription of not being proactive in 'staking out a policy position', it would have been a one term  presidency without a fight. That will be the real shame and complete bankruptcy of Obama Brand and what 'honesty and morality' it projected at the start.  Without this clear cut 'policy fight', those who voted him in 2008 will be fully betrayed .

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

New Boson Particle and American Loss

Not all news from Europe is bad, here is a good one from Europe! 

Some random thoughts in this regard.

- Of the bat, 4th of July is a good day to announce this discovery as Media in USA is all sleepy, there is much less mischief of our politicians to report and you would get good coverage.

- The newly discovered Boson is not yet confirmed as Higgs Boson. Scientists are fully cognizant of possibilities of 'deviations' in further data which may prompt them to look beyond their standard theories. More data will bring additional evidence to either identify the particle as expected, solidifying their prevailing models; or flood gates would open for new theories. In either case LHC is going to be busy for long time to come, this announcement may be just the beginning of what all would be discovered there in years to come.

- Quite a British affair this is turning out to be - original theoretician from UK, the person behind needed politicking and the guy who built LHC both are British (though Science Team Leads are from California and Italy). UK still punches above its belt when it comes to Science (or organizing Sports, Wimbeldon & Olympics!).

- In 1990s European nations made a right bet of starting small to medium scale particle collider while Americans were into their hubris. It took time to fructify, but through perseverance and international collaboration,  Europeans have achieved something which is significant to humanity. There is still a long way to go and still substantial Public Funding is needed. What this announcement says is the whole LHC project is alive, it is not a sink hole and indeed it is producing promising results. Point is amassing of around 10,000 brightest minds of humanity (scientists and engineers) is not going astray. 

- The CERN associated popular culture and rightful tendency to boast about international collaboration are in a way a mechanism to inoculate LHC Project from periodic spasms of 'save taxer payers money' tendencies of politicians to cut funding for such core scientific projects. 

- Advances in other areas of Physics and Science are complementary to what happens at LHC. In that sense science practiced at LHC will be cardinal in all respect.

- In other words, not only get used to news of advances in particle physics coming from Europe (and potentially flow of Noble Prizes going to British and European Scientists); it is very likely experiments and Science happening at LHC would start playing probably the central role for years to come. In Market parlance, CERN & LHC are uniquely positioned to increase, guard and retain their lead position not only in one area but expand in other areas as well with no significant competition coming from any other corner.

- "Abandoning the SSC at this point would signal that the United States is compromising its position of leadership in basic science

-- Bill Clinton

It seems that Clinton's lament was not just true, but consequences are likely to be far more serious than envisaged then. (I would say lack of leadership from Texas in killing SSC has much lasting impact than what Gail Collins worries about Texas.) Even if USA or anyone decides to build any such collider in years to come, by then LHC would have 'cleaned the room' as far as consequential discoveries to be done. And of course USA does not have any spare money, nor ascendant God fearing Tea Party would allow spending any money on such hard core science. The best what USA can do and should do, is support CERN financially and get actively involved. The way things are happening, CERN is unlikely to remain (or should not remain) just an European affair, but rather would be a premium global organization with equally  substantive participation from everywhere. As far as People goes, that is already happenning and kudos to Europeans for this openness. But may be from resource perspective also, more international funding could be a way to go. That is where the next President of USA and future Congress can salvage some of the damage they inflicted years back. (Writing all this on our Independence Day is so enthralling...well fireworks tonight will lighten the mood.)



Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Happy Independence Day

Nothing much consequential happening politically, apart from continued building of tensions all across. 

German Chancellor Merkel may seem like having conceded ground for larger European good when she allowed direct bank re-capitalization without holding the sovereign responsible. Indeed that would break what Martin Wolf  calls the 'deadly embrace of drunkards'  - a weak State called upon to shore up banks which in turn makes the State even more weaker without solving the original bank balance sheet problem. But the question finally is, how big and how soon Chancellor Merkel would write the check? Without the funding, recapitalization of banks just remains on the paper.

You can imagine what kind of Independence Day we are having in USA when the first thing you look at is how shenanigans happening in Europe impact you....well, I suppose that is what they call Globalization.

Our Billion Dollar combatants, err I meant incumbent Obama and challenger Romney; are all busy gathering their forces together. Broad outline so far is - Obama essentially concluding that he can cruise to the coast without committing any concrete measures to cut entitlements, to manage our debt; whereas Romney convincing himself that Gov. Chris Christie is the way to go - never admit for any policy specifics on hustings. And that is how the parody of American Politics continues irrespective of whether it is Independence day or any other day.

Take it easy and have a good time while saluting those who make this day possible - America's soldiers and our security protectors - and have fun. We owe them.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Fútbol imperio de España

Quite one sided match. There was bad luck for Italy, they even were one player down and had to face the Spanish fury with 10 players only. Regardless of Italy's good game, any team which scores the kind of the first goal Spain delivered and then builds on the 'fortress Spain' defense thereafter, it deserves to be the champion. 

Is it the all time great team? Probably, their record speaks so. But more than that, their 'velvet style' of intricate passes equally mixed with long passes, lightening quick pace and versatility of most players; all that indeed makes them one of the most entertaining and lovely team to watch.