Friday, January 20, 2012

Political correctness trumps nature and free choice

Students in the Canyons School District voted for the cougar as top choice to become the mascot of the new Corner Canyon High School, which is expected to open in 2013.

District officials overrode the student vote after complaints that that the word “cougar” is offensive and derogatory towards women. 

I particularly liked this illuminating explanation on FoxNews website: "However, the cougar is also a large mountain cat — that also happens to be the mascot for Brigham Young University — along with three other Utah high schools."

Sadly, those who consider 'cougar' to be primarily a derogatory term, and the feline species it represents is a secondary issue, are going to allow their bias to over-ride not only the choice of students themselves, but also biology.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Britain admitted spying on Russia

Britain will today admit in the first part of  the BBC documentary "Putin, Russia and the West" the allegations of British using a spying device hidden inside a fake rock. Years ago, when these allegations were initially made by Russia, then PM Tony Blair, tried to laugh off the incident, while the Foreign Office denied any improper conduct. At the time (2006), Mr. Blair said: ‘I’m afraid you’re going to get the old stock in trade of never commenting on security matters.  Except when we want to, obviously.’

Subsequent murder of former intelligence officer turned journalist Litvinenko led London and Moscow to expel each other's diplomats. Russia continues to refuse to extradite the accused murderer of Litvinenko, the former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoy.

In 2006, when an FSB official initially told the Moscow TV program that one of the diplomats identified had been authorising payments to Russian non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including civil rights activists. The Kremlin then used the incident to justify a new law for cracking down on human rights and pro-democracy groups, which then president Vladimir Putin said were funded by Western secret services. The law seriously hampered NGOs that opposed Putin: it included clauses that gave the government power to shut them down and force greater monitoring of foreign funding. The new regulations followed pro-democracy revolutions in neighbouring Georgia and Ukraine, which Russia argued were orchestrated by the west via foreign-funded NGOs.

Putin is currently under pressure from democratic forces in Russia itself as a result of the faked elections in the fall of 2010. This 'spy stone' conveniently reinforces Russia's implication that the West is funding and directing the opposition. The result of the British admission is the delegitimization liberal forces opposing Putin. The benefit to Putin is obvious, but why are the British helping them and undermining the forces of democracy they recently fostered and sponsored?

In the BBC documentary Blair’s former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell says:‘The spy rock was embarrassing. They had us bang to rights. Clearly they had known about it for some time and had been saving it up for a political purpose.’Why are the British admitting this 'embarrassment?

"I would not be surprised if Putin and his team actually used it again to assert their old platitudes discrediting leading human rights activists," said Tanya Lokshina, of Human Rights Watch Russia. In addition to NGOs Putin is also beginning to lean on the free press again. In light of this, what explains the strange timing of the British mea culpa, which is so unfavorable for liberal forces in Russia?

The answer appears to be that financial interest have outweighed political considerations.

Britain is one of the largest foreign direct investors in Russian economy. British investments in Russia reached $40 billion dollars by the end of 2010.

In September of last year Russia and the UK have agreed to smooth over political differences in Russian-British relations. Prime Minister David Cameron visited Moscow officially for the first time.

“Russia is resource-rich and services-light, Britain is the opposite,” Cameron said in a speech at Moscow State University. “In fact, Britain is already one of the largest foreign direct investors in Russia. And Russian companies already account for about a quarter of all foreign initial public offerings on the London Stock Exchange.”

In October of last year foreign secretary William Hague met Russian leaders. The foreign office source said: "The Foreign Secretary is not go oing to say we give up on the Lugovoy case for the sake of business, that's not where we're at."

The Olympics this summer will offer another opportunity for rapprochement. There are some voices in UK calling for withholding the invitation, but they appear to be in the minority. The decision for political conciliation with Russia appears to have been made the the highest levels in the UK. It sacrifices their nascent relationship with liberal forces in Russia closer economic ties.

As a result, of UK throwing the liberal forces in Russia under the bus, it is likely to lose its influence on them just as these forces gather steam, and gives credence to the cynical opinion of of power holders that the Western talk about human rights, is not sincere, but merely a political ploy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Russia, the patron saint of dictators

It's regrettable, but you can be certain whose side Russia will take in a conflict involving a dictator. It will reliably take the dictator's side over anybody else - his own people, or a foreign democracy - anybody.

Today, Russia bristled at the insinuation that there's anything wrong with supplying arms to Assad regime in Syria. The ethics of supplying arms used in the wholesale murder of civilians for uprising for over 9 months are beside the point: “We don’t consider it necessary to explain or justify ourselves because we aren’t breaking any international agreements or UN Security Council resolutions,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow today.

Of course, if UN attempted to pass such a resolution, Russia would veto it.

Russian government also insists that sanctions against Iran have failed and are counter productive. Of course, it has fought against sanctions from the beginning, while supplying Iran with nuclear technology under the non-proliferation treaty. A military option is completely out of the question, as far as Russia is concerned. It's hard to imagine a softer approach to Iran than that initially taken by Obama, who failed to even criticize Iran for it's suppression of the uprising after a rigged election in 2009. The logic of the Russian government is clear: giving any credence to morality over realpolitik may have to one day apply to Russia itself. That was prudent, because Russia rigged its own elections in the fall of 2010.

Russia was also dead last to acknowledge Lybia's new government, and has even called the killing of Qaddafi a UN  war crime. Qaddafi had turned down the offer to leave the country with his life and his billions, so his death at the hands of the rebels in Lybian 'crossfire' was a result of his own choices. Russia stands to lose it's lucrative contracts in Lybia for oil, gas and weapons.

Today Russia warned that a military strike on Iran would be a "catastrophe" with the severest consequences which risked inflaming existing tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This is a non-sequitur. A possible fallout from the strike would affect primarily Israel, US, and possibly the EU. It would not significantly contribute to the Sunni-Shiite conflict, which is heating up on its own, with the rise of Sunni Islamist regimes in Egypt, Lybia and Tunisia. Are we to believe Russia is concerned about re-ignition of the ancient conflict between Sunni and Shiites? Of course not, Russia is simply providing political cover to Iran, based on the calculation that it's animosity is primarily directed at the West.

Sadly, little has changed since the days when Russia has trained people like Yasser Arafat, and Kim Il-sung (the original Dear Leader in North Korea imported from Siberia). The key insight to foreign policy of Russia is that it is still an evil empire that sympathizes with dictators everywhere... because it knows it belongs in their company.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reverse psychology in US politics

Listen to how your enemies attempt to frighten you, because that is what they fear most. This adage is apt for the latest shrill pronouncements that Romney is not competitive with Obama.

Today, Rasmussen published a poll for the previous week covering the week ending on January 15th that gives a generic Republican with 5% lead over Obama. The pronouncements coming from the Democrats are becoming increasingly desperate, as Romney appears to be closing the deal on the GOP nomination. Romney is the first non-encumbent to have won in both Iowa and New Hampshire and his support is snowballing in South Carolina, and is very solid in Florida.

Meanwhile, Newsweek wrote an article (which has been extensively, and justifiably mocked) where it makes an emotional statement that Obama's rivals are stupid, and are going to be outwitted by the incumbent. Apparently, the Americans don't realize how good they have it under Obama. Aha...

Nancy Pelosi, who led her party into political wilderness in 2010 midterm elections to the greatest shellacking in US electoral history, expressed her opinion that the "GOP knows Romney can't win". This is ridiculous on many levels. The most obvious is that Romney, who served as governor of Massachusetts, was  the choice of the GOP establishment precisely because his moderate stance makes him more electable than hard-core social conservatives, like Rick Santorum.

Romney's experience in economics and in the private sector make him the best GOP candidate to press Obama on his awful economics record. The defensive one-liner Dems are using to fend off this attack that "Obama inherited a worse crisis than he expected" is a non-starter. First of all, Obama, presented the crisis in the most dire terms possible to blame Bush and advance his agenda for government takeover of the healthcare industry, and partial takeover of the automotive and banking industries after bailouts with taxpayer money. Second, Obama's popularity in 2008 soared precisely because the banking crisis unfolded in the US. He was elected to fix the economy first and foremost. Obama's argument that he didn't realize economy was in such a bad shape reveals he didn't give it the attention it deserved, but instead subjected the country to the long-standing wish list of transformational  liberal agenda. Third, the cost has been great. In addition to polarizing the country, Obama is on track to borrow over 6.5 trillion dollars during his first term. For what?! Lastly, the only president to get re-elected with >8% unemployment was Reagan, and that happened because during his first term unemployment fell by over a third after devastating policies of Jimmy Carter (whose second term Obama is now serving).

The Dems know their social engineering experiment will get rolled back amid revelations of disasters like Solyndra that have all the hallmarks of political corruption. Once the most corrupt attorney general in US history, Eric Holder, is gone from office there is going to be a price to pay for people like Reid and Pelosi for the shady backroom deals. For the first two years of Obama administration the Democrats controlled both the White House and both chambers of Congress. What did they accomplish during this time? It seems that their over-spending and over-bearing are likely to cost them more than a single election, but to usher in a prolonged period of GOP domination.

The attempts of the Democrats and their sympathizers in the media to sour Republicans on Romney reveal the how much their fear his nomination. What tools to the have to oppose Romney? Fear-mongering, class warfare, and personal attacks.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Another shoe drops: EFSF downgraded

This was fast. On the Martin Luther King day, a holiday in the US, the US-based S&P downgradedthe European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) from AAA to AA+, even sooner than I expected

Just last Friday Standard & Poor downgraded 9 European economies by one or two notches, and had a negative outlook for every EU economy, except Germany. I wrote that these downgrades would inevitably result in the downgrade of the EFSF and contribute to a vicious cycle of negative feedback, because lower ratings ultimately require more money for bailouts, and also deplete the state coffers.

Nicolas Sarkozy desperately tried to avoid the downgrade of France, before the upcoming elections, which he is likely to lose. After the loss of the coveted rating he said "my conviction is that it changes nothing". 

The chief executive of EFSF, Klaus Regling, said: "The downgrade to 'AA+' by only one credit agency will not reduce EFSF's lending capacity of 440 billion euros". Is this an example of the "too big to fail" mentality, or at least "too big to be affected by a downgrade of only one of the three ratings agencies". Neither. Regling added "EFSF has sufficient means to fulfill its commitments under current and potential future adjustment programs until the ESM becomes operational in July 2012". The previous two years averaged transfers of about 300 billion euros from the EU core to the periphery. It seems that Klaus is merely saying that 400 billion should be enough this year.

Sarkozy's motives for a sudden change of attitude for manipulating the public opinion are transparent. Regling's statement is no less disingenuous, because it attempts to hide a long term problem behind 'solution by redistribution', a short-term and short-sighted strategy. 

Also today Germany refused to boost the funding of EFSF, just as the bankruptcy of Greece this spring is beginning to look inevitable. Germany was pushing private creditors to accept new bonds the planned swap to carry that would increase the banks' effective losses to 75 percent. Those private lenders recently turned down the offer to 'voluntarily' accept 50 percent losses. Klaus Regling, as an major economist and a German, cannot be unaware how this very day his country's policies are making Greek default a certainty, barring some miracle. Greek default will have a devastating effect on the French banks, while Germany hold relatively little Greek sovereign bonds. In addition Germany is benefiting politically as its neighbors and competitors in Europe weaken economically. However, is Europe ready to accept this soft, insidious form of German hegemony?