Monday, July 29, 2013

What is wrong with Fox News

Not that most people need to know what is wrong with Fox News - it is all prejudice and connecting partisan (well Republican, Tea Party) motives when there are no sufficient basis - is all clear with this one single interview.

Reza Aslan has done yeoman's service in exposing Fox News (and Eric Wemple / Washington Post in rightly publishing all this). 

One single interview fiasco will not expose Fox, but that is a step forward and a step in the right direction.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Egypt in Death Spiral?

First, it was the democratically elected government of Mursi which overreached in pushing non-secular constitution, failed to protect minorities (Coptic Christians) and undertook irresponsible, negligent management of Egyptian Economy. Mursi got thrown by a combination of Army and Liberals. Now Army is overreaching by killing Muslim Brotherhood folks point blank, in falsely accusing Brotherhood of Terrorism and attempting to implicate Mursi in politically motivated accusations. Army is undertaking such a sever suppression of Brotherhood so as to push Brotherhood to Terrorism; then Army can start the war to undertake Assad style genocide in wiping out Brotherhood.

Let us be clear of one thing - there might have been bit of 'moral credibility' for the General Sisi's coup; but there was no mandate. Any attempt to pretend the mandate by whipping up crowds in Public Squares is a myopic vision of governance. All of this is pushing Egypt in a full blown death spiral. Succession of overreaching regime after regime is unlikely to hold together a structurally weak Economy. Egyptian Economy is a rump collection of subsistence farming, tourism as the important source of foreign currency which is completely devastated by the ongoing unrest (the other major source of income is Suez Canal), no natural resources to benefit from and no worthwhile manufacturing or service industry base. This is all on top of exploding population with extra-ordinary high rate of unemployment among youth - the Egyptian youth most ill suited for today's global job market. Meanwhile the Army continues to suck unusual amounts of resources from the system. This is a recipe for the complete destruction of Egyptian nation state.

Can anything be done? Those Arab donors like Sudi Arabia ($8 Billions to Sisi's regime) and Kuwait (another $4 Billions) are unlikely to tell Army to go easy as those countries themselves do not have any sterling history of Open Societies. EU and European nations can tell few things here and there. But may be Obama Administration would indeed need to do some 'baby sitting' here by telling Army right things and applying whatever pressure points at its disposal. Israel will be all 'glee' in seeing back familiar faces of Egyptian Army in the saddle with 'slaughtering of Brotherhood' as a kind of 'cherry topping'. But Sec. Kerry needs to ignore any interests of Israel in much harsher suppression of Brotherhood. Kerry Critics like Goldberg are right about one thing though - stabilizing Egypt, influencing Syrian conflict and engaging with Iran; all possibly have higher priorities than a photo-op of Bibi and Abu Mazen. Bottom line - it is much in interests of America that Obama Administration and Western Governments in general do as much as possible to contain 'exploding Egypt' and help Egypt in the right direction. Another failed / broken state, that too 3 millennium old nation state of Egypt - the largest Arab State at most critical place geographically; all that looks really scary. "Unraveling of Egypt during Obama Years" - that would not be any pleasing legacy to read. Obama Administration needs to be creative here and needs to get deeply engaged with many critical players. Both Army and Liberal forces (who desperately need to unite politically under one cohesive political force; else National Government for a limited time is another choice); will be more receptive to American advises than Brotherhood or Naur Party. Idea is whatever leverage and communication channels available; Obama Administration needs to use those in halting Egypt's descend.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Perversion of Governance

Speaker Boehner is out with a new proposal - "evaluate Republican House by not how many laws it passes, but by how many laws it would repeal"! This is some breathtaking view of Governance. Whichever way one looks at it, this is nothing but 'triumph of nihilism' Republican, and Tea Party in particular, have been advocating for a while.

Honorable Speaker Boehner wants us to forget that his party 'actually got less votes' than opposition even though it won more seats because of gerrymandering. We Americans are not stupid enough to forget that gerrymandering is a bi-partisan art which both parties have been undertaking for a while now. So no, we do not blame Republicans for doing gerrymandering, those of us who vote Democrats we simply blame without consequences to our Democratic operatives.

But from there to go where honorable speaker is going - that the business of House is nothing but keep repealing ObamaCare despite states like California and New York finding that ObamaCare indeed can be doable and CBO saying ObamaCare would not add to deficit - that is too much of a jump. It is the exact kind of jump Morsi attempted in Egypt. He was elected, but he forgot that there were many more Egyptians who did not vote for him than those who voted for him. You forget that and you know the consequences - it is shame that a polity as old as America wants to commit same mistakes as like a young democracy like Egypt. That is where honorable Speaker is taking us.

Our founding fathers would think - if ObamaCare is not perfect, you come up with proposals to fix it. Not that a 'hatred of your political opponent' to drive all of your legislative actions. 

It is too sad that America has to endure a speaker who essentially does not believe in legislation.

Friday, July 19, 2013

President Obama on Race

Reading some comments on Right to President's informal speech, one understands why 'race' is still an issue in this country. These Obama haters on Right are simply unable to come through to understand proprietary of President's remarks.

As an elected President, there is every reason for President to bother about 'national concerns' which give rise to violent protests. Coming to the podium and simply thundering that 'violent protests' are not tolerated at all costs and then to stop the elocution at that point - that wouldn't have helped the course here. Zimmerman trial verdict made an appropriate occasion for the President to put forward historically still healing grievances of a substantial population of this country. He made necessary moral purchases to speak about his own personal evolution to espouse his thoughts by sternly rejecting any 'violent means' in expressing the anguish suffered by African-American community. He owed both to the African-American Community and to the entire nation to talk about this issue and put forward some reasonable thoughts to move forward. To construe even these basic endeavors nothing but an exercise in politics as perceived by Obama haters - well, I don't understand such a mean spirit so many of these Conservatives are displaying here. Mere existence of such 'hatred' in a way vindicates President Obama's decision to talk at all about this incidence; regardless of how less perfect such an human effort will be.

I wish we had larger number of Conservatives like Eric Erickson when he reacted:

 "I don't really have a problem with the President's speech today."

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Girding Towards Inevitable War?

Back from Monsoon soaked India vacation, as I try to understand what Republicans in Congress are up to; I see that things do not look any promising. Not that things are any better politically in India as her currency continues its downfall against Dollar and multiple candidates like Mayawati, Niteesh Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav (implicitly, if not overtly) continue to throw their hats in the contest for the next prime minister. May be Sonia Gandhi's Congress does not have to do anything as these third party candidates fight among themselves as well as against the presumptive BJP nominee Narendra Modi. Possibly we are in two stage scenario as far as Indian Politics goes - an unstable Third Party dominated (non-Congress and non-BJP) government after 2014 elections (or even 2013 early elections if Congress thinks that 'good Monsoon' is enough to risk Sonia's gaddi) as a semi-final; followed by another general election in an year or so whereby Indians flock to a stable arrangement of either Narendra Modi or Sonia Gandhi in response to unstable Third Party contraption. In a sense, India is due for a bout of instability, circa Janata Party 1977-80 or Jantal Dal 1989-91 or Gowda-IK Gujral musical chairs era of 1996-98. I foresee two steps process towards stability in India because currently I do not sense that majority of Indians have equivocally coalesced behind either Narendra Modi or Sonia Gandhi. No wonder Indian Rupee is in free fall. But I digress. 

Talking with friends back in India with interest in American Politics, general impression is President Obama should have fought the election of 2012 not just as his re-election campaign but a campaign against intransigence of Tea Party as the principle obstructionist force to stop real 'change in America'. But President Obama did not campaign like that while Republicans fervently campaigned to stop 'big Federal Government'; ObamaCare being the poster child of such government intrusion in private lives. 

One can argue that President Obama, with his back to the wall for his own re-election, was simply not in a position to campaign as a parliamentary leader to elect larger Democratic majority in Congress. In any case, the time to plot Congressional majority was when Republicans were winning Governorship and State legislatures immediately after 2010 census which resulted in gerrymandering of Congressional districts. When Majority in House actually gets less popular votes than Minority, we know that American Politics is 'upside down' so far as representing 'will of people' goes.

Given all that, the question is what can Democrats do now? President Obama, as the head of Democratic Party, plotted the strategy of 'staying away from critical legislation like immigration' as a nod to the reality that Presidential involvement polarizes politics. (Immigration bill is essentially an economic policy here as CBO has said it would essentially bring around Trillion Dollars to Federal Budget while hyper Republicans are essentially making immediate border security tasks as a mini stimulus by way of pouring tens of billions of dollars.) 

President Obama had the luxury to get involved in Congressional brawl while rescinding Bush Tax Cuts because Republicans simply had no choice due to 'sun set provisions'. Next, Republicans postponed debt ceiling fight for later months while President Obama simply conceded grounds for sequester as he did not have any leverage in that fight. 

The principle pivotal point for President Obama is whether he wants to insert himself in the 'immigration debate' knowing fully well polarization ripple effects of presidential involvement. Basically, if House does not take the immigration bill with a concrete provision to provide amnesty to a large number of illegal immigrants; all bets are off. It will be as clear an indication as possible of end of bi-partisanship as well as end of 'staying away' from the debate for White House. 

As things stand, Tea Party is clearly gunning for such confrontation with President Obama even though 'turning back on amnesty' is essentially a death knell for the Republican Party. Separating SNAP component from Farm Bill, is the opening gambit by Tea Party in this coming war. Budget fights and Debt Ceiling increase - Tea Party will ensure that all those will coalesce with Immigration fights and other confrontations by late Fall or year end. That is when one would expect all these building 'tensions' to explode on American Political Scene. That is the precise backdrop President Obama must utilize to confront Tea Party and explain their 'destructive agenda' to Americans. President Obama must leverage that debate to make the case to Americans - gerrymandering or not - unless Americans reject this fetish of 'bi-partisanship' and elect parliamentary majorities; nothing of consequence is going to get enacted. If Tea Party errs on the side of  destabilizing American (and Global) Economy in the zeal of fighting for Debt Ceiling increase; President Obama  will have it easy to make such a case to Americans as Tea Party would have further discredited itself. (And then there is unfinished business of Revenue Increase, which is getting lost as budget deficit continues to improve.)

The political task for President Obama, as a head of Democratic Party and as a politician who wants to bequeath a relevant legacy for future Democratic leaders; is to convince Americans that 'old style bi-partisanship' does not deliver anything useful to Americans when we have an entrenched political force like Tea Party which believes 'no government' in any case is a solution for America's problems and propounds 'governance nihilism'. Success and failure in this arduous task will determine legacy of Obama Presidency. 

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Astonishing Lack of Historical Understanding

A former historian, one named Paul Pirie, argues in Washington Post that America’s dissociation from the British Empire was flop looking back. What does he want to advocate instead – that American colonies should have continued like Canada and Australia and would have then gained independence without all that revolutionary violence and harder lifer thereafter. Why does he think that as better? Because:

- Canada under British Empire did not have slavery and
- there are more people going to prison in USA than in Canada and Australia.

The later argument is so laughable that one does not want to spend more time on that. Pirie focuses on only narrow slices of facts. It completely ignores the argument that ‘liberty’ is possible only if you have State ready to enforce punishment for offenders. There can be valid arguments whether means deployed in USA are draconian or too harsh on some segments of the society. For that criticism to hold, what has that to do with American Revolution? One can very well criticize American Legal System for that without stretching to connect to founding of the nation. Living within the British Empire, USA could have still evolved to the state where it is – that of harsher prison terms. To ignore the cultural roots (how Wild West got incorporated into USA bringing with it ‘bang, bang’ justice system colliding with Conservative preference for stronger law enforcement) and evolution of American State means basically not understanding true causes of harsher incarceration rates. In any case, it has hardly anything to do with American Revolution.

But the core aspect this historian ignores is if USA were not to divorce from British Empire, it would have been party to the British Colonialism. Step forward who thinks that has been a worthy legacy? In the 19th century when America was mopping its remaining part of the revolution – emancipation of Blacks; Britishers were busy laying foundations of colonial exploitations in far flung places of earth - South Asia, and Africa (sun never set on the Empire…). In the 20th century when America was stepping forward as the bulwark against German and Japanese aggregation, British Empire was busy pulling off Jallianwala Bagh and then thunders of Winston Churchill that he was not presiding over liquidation of Empire when one scantly dressed Indian Man asked for the independence. So is USA not better off not having to be linked with all that? Any time short comings of American Revolution are acceptable to stay away from the mess of British Empire.

One would expect that a former historian would understand that without dissociation from British, original 13 American colonies would have remained as is and the present day sprawling 50 states USA might not have born. Further, are we supposed to believe that under the leadership of Union Jack the World would have pulled of decisive victories for Anglo-Saxon Western world in 3 World Wars - I, II and Cold War; even though economic might of 13 colonies would have been deployed on the side of the British Crown?

If at all one wants to indulge in fantasies (and American Independence Day is a perfect occasion to ponder over America’s journey so far); one should ask what did British Empire lack when the King failed to respond ‘no taxation without representation’ cry from America’s Founders. Same deal with Indians after half a century later. Fast forward 2014, would anyone dare to ask Scots about telling American Revolution as a flop?

Truth is with all its shortcomings, American Revolution has served remarkably well to Americans; it ushered one of the most powerful nation states of History which we find on the ‘right side of the history’ in remarkable number of occasions and the revolution has inspired people all over the world for centuries. Fourth of July is that worthy celebration.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Independence Day for Egypt?

Yes it is a military coup but very rarely the Military feels so much on the right side of History. But I can be wrong as no one will know for sure how things will turn out to determine this intervention by Army Barracks as any good. Earlier I also thought that Mursi was on the right side of History by helping Egyptians towards a more stable and prosperous society with a steady and technocratic hand. But he turned out to be bit erratic and at times resorting to power grab; without much to show in terms of solving day-to-day problems of Egyptians. In order to solve problems of common Egyptians if stability is necessary and to get that stability you need to be bit circumspect in pushing your religious agenda; then you rise to the occasion in standing to the internal pressures of Muslim Brotherhood in waging a sectarian agenda. Ironically even his more conservative ally like Naur Party as well did not find any pushing of Islamic Agenda as of any significance when Naur Party turned its back on Mursi and joined his opposition. What that tells us is practically everyone realized the utter importance to solve the day to day suffering of people. (Telling sign has been how effectively police force as well turned on Mursi government.) Mursi failed to read this writing on the wall and never found where the keys were hidden to kick start the process of solving problems of common Egyptians. Failure to govern always gets amplified when you are seen as pushing sectarian agenda irrelevant to welfare of common people.

Very rarely in History we get presented with such a lack of ‘black and white’ – whether this is a Military Coup with usual authoritarian streaks (Al Zajeera Broadcast is shut down within hours of the coup) or second phase of the same revolution. Most folks know from History text books that whether it is French Revolution or Russian Revolution; revolutions do not stop in the first act. They have more than one act, potentially acts with violent consequences and loss of lives. Is it then the case that Military Barracks wanted to arrest any further losses of human life while laying foundations for a proud and independent nation? In any case it is not so easy to justify the moral case of a Military intervention especially when it involves ejection of a popularly elected president in response to folks on road.

But one can excuse Egyptian Military here – they stayed out of down fall of earlier Military head (Hosni Mubarack); did not partake in writing of the constitution or did not stop election of an Islamists President nor did resist when that same president was asserting his full writ over Egyptian Military and State or when that same President attempted in his own clumsy way to trigger social engineering along more religious lines. These are the reasons why Military’s intervention at this juncture can be tolerated or why high credibility folks like ElBaradei (the leader of Opposition in this second phase), the Coptic Church Pope, senior Muslim Cleric and young revolutionaries of Tahrir Square are gracing this coup by General al-Sisi.

What happens next will largely determine what judgment History would cast on this momentous day. By very nature and definition, framing of Constitution is an exercise of compromise among equal voices, not necessarily proportional to their actual strength in the population. If Majoritarianism, is all that you want to exercise; lofty purposes of Constitution simply starts on a weaker foundations. So all this jostling before elections to influence the new constitution is kosher. What is critical is Military Barracks are able to pull that off with most competing parties realizing downside of ‘seating out of this constitution writing processes’. Unless that realization is there and Army actively creates conditions for such nudging of parties; Egypt will be unable to avoid these repeated attempts of getting her Revolution ‘right’. After all there are going to be only few opportunities to get Arab Spring right.