Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bangladesh - Intolerant Nation?

USA citizen blogger Avijit Roy was killed during his visit to Dhaka; possibly for his secular and atheist writings.

Bangladesh has been experiencing a paralysis of law and order for long time. It's political system is a mess and it's leaders hardly rise above the fry anytime. Still, in general it is less militant and radicalized compared to Pakistan. It has a strong cultural basis of Bengali language and reasonably left leaning, secular outlook. But many political parties have cultivated radical Islamic views as those suit their political purposes while occasionally such politics spills in taking innocent lives.

We have seen it in Paris and now we see it in Dhaka - secular views are under attack by misguided folks. One would think in the year of 2015 that would not be the case, but the evil and ignorance continue to live in this world. What is needed is political leadership across the spectrum, across countries resisting such suppression of freedom in the name of religion. Probably more important is public at large, society at large, demand from their leaders that they stop sheltering radical religious views harming innocent lives in the process. One way to do that is Bangladesh Society keeps demanding justice for the loss of Avijit's life. 

Bright minds from South Asia migrate all over the world to seek opportunities. These capable individuals scale achievements in areas of their expertise in migrant land and then on many occasions work back home to bring back their insights and experience to the land of origin. That is the process of 'osmosis and exchange of ideas' which would enrich societies back home. Avijit Roy with his wife were engaged precisely in one such endeavor but his life got cut short in between.

Bangladesh as a nation and Bangla as a society owe to the world that Avijit's murders do not go free and they are brought to the justice.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

America's IS Trap

Imagine Bush had not invaded Iraq in 2003 while Saddam toppled by Shiite Iraqis in some variation of Arab Spring which played out in Middle East in recent years. Imagine Iraq was presided by the same disastrous rule of Al-Maliki driving the country to precipice upon receiving blows after blows from IS coming from adjacent failed state of Syria which America never invaded. In that scenario, to what an extent Americans will be clamoring President Obama to intervene in Syria and Iraq? Al-Maliki essentially ripped out fragile stability purchased on backs of America's sacrifices in Iraq; and that Americans, especially Conservatives, want to restore back that scrambled egg - Iraqi stability. Americans feel obliged to retain fruits of their sacrifices. There is a feeling of squandering of that hard fought stability in Iraq. But Republicans and Hawks conveniently forget that whatever semblance of stability achieved it was because of the "pottery barn rule" - that Bush needlessly invaded Iraq and hence the responsibility came to USA in investing blood and treasury in Iraq to achieve peace. You remove that ill-fated decision in the first place and then one suddenly starts understanding remoteness of fight against IS and why it should not be America's sole responsibility to manage Iraq or for that matter to manage whole bunch of territories in this violent world. (One can very easily understand how Republicans would want to make the battle for Mosul as referendum on Obama Foreign policy; same way the battle for Kobani became test for Obama.)

As Greame Wood has argued in The Atlantic, the path on which IS has embarked upon - a literal interpretation of Kuran in an attempt to run Caliphate in 21st century; it can only end in one way: complete collapse of IS. The non-sustainability aspects of IS in today's world are simply too glaring, too many. How do you run a state today with no passport, no borders and no viable legal framework to honor property and contractual rights so as Capitalism can flourish in that state? Apart from these contradictory precepts IS wanting to adopt in today's world when rest of the world simply has no interest in accepting any of this non-sense; IS is simply creating too many enemies too fast to survive. Practically every other alternating interpretation of Kuran is unacceptable to IS resulting in a state which is permanently at war. No state in human history has survived which is permanently at war. This is especially true when resources at disposal of IS are paltry while all other competing forces are endowed with manifold resources. At some point, greater Ummah is also going to realize the nihilism insisted by IS and just the sheer survival instinct for those groups will start making them to work in ending IS. Shiite and Iran will have to confront IS for survival. Same goes for Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia, Erdogon's Turkey and Kurds. Given this array of forces aligned against IS, question is why would America portray battle to capture Masul as Crusade? That is the "trap" American Conservatives want President Obama to enter into. They are framing this debate in same old Bush line of argument - "in order to save America here, you fight these terrorists there".

President Obama's failure is he is not making these things clear to Americans while more and more Americans get pulled into jingoistic case of owning the war against IS fully. In other words, he is letting his political opponents to set this debate as "to love America means to commit America's men & women" in the war theater of Iraq and Syria against IS. No one is talking here stopping active help by America in defeating IS. More needs to be done to bring together all those local and indigenous rivals of IS to finish it off. But America does not need to get involved in the vortex of IS ground fighting on the very first pretext. IS wants Crusade and it would love to have American foot soldiers in the battle. (Imagine a propaganda value it would unleash if it takes an American soldier as a prisoner of war with endless confessions on Internet...) Job of American leadership, contrary to the harakiri what these Republicans are advocating, is to avoid all these temptations and help natural, local forces to pull down IS.

Danger of other rogue attacks from terrorists outside the orbit of IS is ever present. Obama Administration needs to guard America from this danger. America needs to work with rest of the world in removing one of the cardinal causes giving rise to nihilism of IS - lack of governance and failed states. From Libya to Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Nigeria; all these Islamic states are hobbled by governance failure. Those failures are the ones which are giving rise to an interpretation of Kuran which provokes these societies to opt for culture of death as propounded by IS. America's interest lies in working on these longer term objectives while not wasting all precious resources on IS when IS will collapse due to its own contradictions and everyone else as its enemy.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Dems - Don't Attend Bibi Speech

Israeli PM is slated to give a speech to American Congress on March 3rd. Democrats in Congress should boycott this speech lock-stock barrel. Reasons are pretty clear:

- As is the norm, speeches by foreign leaders in USA are to be co-ordinated by White House since ultimately contemporary Foreign Policy is the responsibility of current White House occupant and he needs all the maneuvering space as possible to set the tone and contours of foreign policy. This includes highly visible communication act of a speech in the Congress. In this case, Israel PM did not co-ordinate his speech with Obama White House; implying a clear cut intention of undermining Obama Administration. There is no reason for Democrats in Congress to participate in this scheme.

- Speaker John Boehner could have guided Israeli Ambassador to White House when he breached this topic with him. He did not do it. Clearly Speaker was motivated by the partisan bickering and did not let go an opportunity to snub President Obama. Once the Bibi Speech became football, there is no reason for Democrats not to produce an equally partisan response to this speech.

- When Israeli elections are so nearby - March 17 - it would have been prudent for the newly elected Israeli PM to address the Congress to articulate Israel's concerns and strategies with a new mandate. A speech before the election is nothing but a blatant attempt by Bibi to use American Congress for his electoral prospects. (Once upon a time Barack Obama on the eve of 2008 election wanted Brandenburg Gate as prop for his Berlin Speech. Chancellor Merkel rightly rebuffed him. Obama White House did not get an opportunity to straighten up Bibi, but Democrats do that by having half of Congress empty on Bibi's Speech.)

- Israeli PM thinks he is waging a jihad (!) against Obama's dovish policy towards Iran and in the process defending Israeli's security. And to protect Israel, that is his argument, he would do anything, Implicit to this and his speech to Congress is he wants to make political life of Democrats harder by snatching their Jewish votes and Jewish Dollars in American elections. Democrats cannot be beholden to such an open interference by an Israeli politician. Israeli politicians, and Bibi in particular, want American politicians to keep aside America's national interest and serve misguided strategy of defending Israel at any cost. Time has come to break this nexus and stop making American Foreign policy hijacked by Israel. Rather than succumbing to propaganda of Israeli Conservatives that "these Democrats are leaving Israeli security high and dry"; what Democrats need to argue is that neither Bibi aggression against Iran is going to solve the issue nor America can concede it's sovereign foreign policy to a different country - even though it happens to be Israel.

- Israeli PM wants America to bomb Iranian nuke installations and basically undertake even more costly ground war against Khamenei's Iran than Bush's Iraq war. There is no reason for America to fall for this nor the blackmailing by Israel in this regard. Absence of Democrats to the Bibi speech will make an emphatic statement that not all Americans would simply allow other nations to dictate it's foreign policy with long term consequences

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Europe's Greece Problem

We are talking here 3 possibilities:

1. Greece defaults and abandons Euro.
2. Greece defaults but sticks with Euro.
3. Greece enters into some kind of compromise with Troika.

The thing is the middle option is not viable. But that is where Syriza is going - they essentially do not want to pay for the mountain of debt unless it is reduced with the full knowledge that minus the debt and interest payments, their current budget is balanced. That is; so far as 'cash' goes, it collects as much as it needs to pay for the immediate government expenses.

But alas the modern national economics is so simple. The problem is apart from 'cash' coming and going from government accounts, there is a basic thing called liquidity in the market so that private economy continues. Greek banks have around $160 Billions of deposits and so far 10% of those are withdrawn. Banks generally have anything between 5% to 20% as Capital (in various tiers) of their assets, that is loans. Most of the deposits are deployed, presumably in productive loans; including loans to state. These loans cannot be rescinded just because Bank's depositor's are asking money back, which they can indeed do at anytime at nominal fees. Hence, banking is essentially the business of confidence and right now ECB is underwriting that confidence for Greek banks.

Anytime insults from Greece exceeds the tolerance level of Chancellor Merkel, we are likely to see ECB pulling the rug under Greece, no matter how much smart Greece's finance minister is. Syriza folks are convinced of Paul Krugman Theory that austerity has to be avoided. There are couple of aspects of that theory:
- Will continuing to throw money at public sector workers, who in all likelihood are not generating any value, is still economy saving 'demand generating' spending?
- And when all of this marginal money to be pumped as stimulus (remember, Greece is primary budget surplus only on the current lower state revenue, it would not be having any additional money which Syriza wants to throw as per it's mandate) is all going to come from Troika, what does Greece have to give as 'collateral' to these loans? Especially since there is no creditworthiness left for Greece in international capital market.

It would have been a different matter if Syriza and Greece political class, as well as Greek national will, had some smart ideas to direct 'stimulus' money in more productive ways rather than just throwing it on redundant  public sector employees. May be Krugman's point is it does not matter - the goal is to generate demand and if it means 'spraying the money'; so be the case.

Because Greece is not printing its own currency, its hose to 'spray this money' is controlled from Frankfurt. That is the fundamental difference. Bernanke Fed could print Trillions of Dollars at will and allowed Obama Administration to spray it effectively and so as to take USA out of Great Recession.

With Greece, Syriza mandate is NOT to choose the option number 1 i.e. default and go for it's currency. Greeks do not want to give up Euro since they do not trust their own politicians in managing their own currency or stewardship of their monetary policy.

It may be all right to 'win' an election by boasting that Greece would not pawn its 'sovereignty' to Troika and it may be indeed the case that Troika at some level increased misery of Greece; but in absence of any hard collateral and willingness to shun bombastic rhetoric; acceding to Troika demands is the only choice. Indeed that could look like 'selling of Greece sovereignty' to Syriza's voters. But after all the lender has more vested interest in getting back her money or avoid Spain and Italy springing up these ever growing demands of debt write offs. Keeping this natural alignment of the lender intact and compromising with Trioka seem to be most natural choices here for Greece.