Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Bonuses to be paid of US$18B and the Pork Barrel in the Stimulus

The above are two current topics from yesterday’s happenings in Washington and New York, both having the theme ‘business as usual’.

It is unconscionable and Obama reiterated this, that banks, which continue to accept Federal bailout money, pay huge bonuses to staff based on their performance last year. Why should effectively, tax-payers who lose their jobs, subsidize well-paid executives just because it was drawn into their contract of employment. If the bank had gone bust these executives would not have received this bonus and so it is fair that if the govt. saved the bank from foreclosure, the bonuses should be pared to a reasonable figure of not more than $500,000 at the top and pro rata down to the others. Needless to say that if there was no bailout money for a bank they should be free to pay out what it wants to whom it wants as long as its shareholders are in majority agreement to the payment.

On the other matter, where the House of Representatives split completely on party lines, the Democrats should know better than to insert ludicrous spending into this bill which will only inflame right thinking voters, into believing that Congress live in a different world to them. It must be remembered that the pork barrel will help certain communities with money on projects that are nevertheless questionable, however it is the principal of the practice that is at stake. The President promised that there will be change and it will not be business as usual. So in order for him to have credibility he must pare this down significantly in the Senate version and when it therefore returns to the House at least 50 Republican Congressmen could be persuaded to support the final version, by so doing.

These are all examples of good governance that should be applied from the commencement of the new administration. We will soon be confronted with a few other similar ideas, and the other contentious issue is the buy American plan to help the US economy. It should however not be mandatory, as it would inflame the exporters to the US and thereby prevent them from buying US goods, an altogether silly idea. Of course subtle encouragement is OK in any country and why shouldn’t the US also engage in helping their domestic industry. We must be sensible and think when we make rash and hurtful comments, as they come back to haunt us. This issue is also one in the same light and a similar judgment call should be made.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Day, January 19th 2009

Today is Martin Luther King National Holiday in the USA. Tomorrow is Barak Obama’s Inauguration on Capitol Hill. The recent poll amongst US blacks resulted in them overwhelmingly agree that Dr Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech delivered on the base of the Lincoln Memorial, has finally become reality.

In essence the speech was that he believed one day all Americans, Black and White will be equal and live without the bondage created by race. I need not say how apt the inauguration of the new US President, the first African American, follows the MLK holiday which is the reason why the African Americans finally feel empowered to even state this fact.

As an immigrant American, I get misty eyed at the significance of this symbolism and wish I had the time to watch the inauguration. Sadly I have to work and will miss the news and TV coverage of this momentous event. My thoughts and prayers are with the event and the new President, and I hope that he will be able to achieve some of the expectations the whole world has on his Presidency. We cannot predict the future, but having optimism that events will improve is worth holding on to.

The crisis the world is facing this year is unprecedented and occurs once in anyone’s lifetime. In some cases this is number two for some people like my father who was born in 1928 and so lived through the crash of 1929 and the depression of the 1930s where his grandfather who had so much went bankrupt. Even then the world crisis affected the world not just a country. This time too no matter what one says it has affected everyone in one way or another. The solution to this crisis needs someone with charisma, hope and optimism to be in charge and I believe we could not have hoped for a better person to take the helm. The saying goes that God works in mysterious ways when the heart is right!! HE SURE DOES.

It is therefore apt that with the fulfillment of the dream, the new challenge of the century is now handed to the man who takes up this mantle. I wish I were able to see a video of the whole “I have a dream” speech as one needs to listen to this again today to understand more fully the whole significance of the day and how it seamlessly relates to the events of tomorrow. I pray that all young people in the world are taught this story of courage to give them an overview of history and of how important an event tomorrow is.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The United States indifference to the Palestinian Cause

As an American with more international exposure than 99% of the population I see the situation in the Middle East with completely different eyes. In essence the United States Government, which supports the will of its people be it right or wrong, permits Israel to carry out anything and everything it does to defend itself from its hostile neighbors. This is because the US public firmly believe that the use of any force as also happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, to get its objective is justifiable.

This is because the American public have no idea of the history of the setting up of the State of Israel from what was Palestine and how it has survived to date. If they knew the truth their attitude would be very different, and the lobby that backs Israel has the power not to let the people know the facts. The position shown to public is that Israel is a Jewish state anointed by God and not challenged by the Christians in the US who are more pro Jewish than pro Arab. An Arab in the view of the average American is an enemy and the Jew is an ally. This is the crux of the problem.

In the current Gaza crisis the Israelis know that they will never get rid of Hamas or the rockets they send over to Israel periodically. They may believe they can reduce the capability of Hamas by bombing Gaza out of existence, which has currently happened. The reality is that the intensity of destruction is directly proportional to the sympathy for Hamas, so I fail to see anything other than punishment and revenge by a powerful force against hapless people who are nevertheless sympathetic to anything and anyone wanting to harm Israel. Why does Israel continue to do this?

My interpretation is that by showing how powerful and destructive they are they will galvanize the world to action, and force a settlement politically on the Palestinians. The Palestinians will be forced to accept even though they may not like it if they are to be prevented from extinction. Israel knows they always will only have one ally in the form of the US and no other. They know no matter what they do they cannot change that fact, so they don’t care for world opinion and therefore just carry on as they know no one can stop them. The power of their army is no match for their enemies and they also have the ultimate capability of nuclear weapons.

As long as they are oppressed and have no escape the Palestinians will become more extreme and Hamas eventually will become the government.

The great debate on what is best to stimulate the economy

There is considerable input from all quarters on what is needed to avoid a catastrophic recession or even a depression. The opinions are as diverse as the number of advisors. If one goes back to basics, one can find the solution that works, not being tainted with labels for the economic theories propounded. What is needed is an amalgamation of right and left leaning theories into one that actually works. This is not a capitalist socialist thing either, as China is suffering as much as the US. The out of work Chinese have to go back to their home villages, giving up their yuppy lifestyle.

So how do we use existing productive capacity to good use that will immediately stimulate the economy? There is both the supply side and the demand side to contend with and so there is no use manufacturing cars with the existing productive capacity if there is no one to buy them.

It has been said that the US boom was fuelled by the increase in consumer spending which came out of increased confidence, job security, increased income, and increase in wealth from increasing home values and stock values. People then felt wealthier and so did not hesitate on borrowing on credit cards and home equity lines to spend on cars, second homes, flat screen TVs and exotic vacations. Now all these are in reverse and hence the contraction in every area of demand leading to unemployment.

Companies cannot afford to lose money even though the government can and so the layoffs are in the private sector while those in government jobs are secure for the time being. It is therefore very sad that the risk taking entrepreneur and his hard working employees lose their jobs through no fault of their own, many of them gearing up their business to meet demand which has suddenly dried up unexpectedly almost like a tornado.

It is for this economic tornado, just like for the real thing, that low interest federal money must be given. How it is to be equitably distributed is the question. When it is distributed will it have the impact bearing in mind the changed circumstances. This is the unknown. If I am a business man and I have laid off or about to lay off workers when I see a fall in demand for my products, will the $5,000 or whatever figure is given to me, prevent a layoff or encourage me to hire? That is the $64,000 question. In essence we must find the fix that will immediately have an effect in boosting demand and therefore reduce the need to layoff to put it simply.
There is a natural reticence to spend when one is out of a job, or about to lose one. Even if one has savings, one is less likely to spend fearing the length of the layoff. So unwittingly economics turns to psychology of confidence as the only practical solution. No matter how much tax rebates I receive, I will not go and spend it. I may spend a little of it, but for the bailout money to be effective I must spend all of it. Then should I spend it on imported goods or goods produced at home. That is not something that I could be compelled to do and is just a personal choice depending on what is available in the market along with the price and quality as I see it, along with my sense of patriotism. All these cannot be measured in figures.

It is therefore important that obstacles to confidence boosts such as the Gaza crisis are resolved so the economic crisis can be short lived. One cannot wait to resolve the economic crisis before the Israel problem is resolved, or shall we call the Palestinian problem is the US media have there say. There in lies the nub because the US just does not see the gravity of the Middle East crisis as emanating from the need for a few million Israelis insisting on living amongst a permanently hostile Arab neighborhood, supported exclusively by US aid and arms supplies to brutally suppress all who attack their land.

A holistic approach to the world is therefore needed, as all the large economies, of US, China, Russia, India, Japan, EU and Brazil are in crisis due to the intertwined and interdependant relationships they have with each other. We cannot go back to isolationism, which is now advocated by many, so this issue does not arise. I say it will, if we let greed get the better of common sense. It does not matter what ism we subscribe to.

The root causes of the current recession can take its time to be debated, and we should fix the current crisis as soon as possible before we sink to an even lower level of confidence in the future, when the worst of human qualities will be set free to add death and destruction to the already troubled psyche.

In a novel approach if the government was efficient, I would make the government the spender of last resort buying consumer goods and capital goods and then giving it to the users with some kind of interest free IOU rather than give money which will end up in a savings account, or used to draw down debt and pay of liabilities and credit cards. The effective way of doing this is giving people low interest credit if they purchase from a range of items that will be specifically identified as being the quickest to stimulate employment!!! So if I buy a car the government through the banks will lend!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General of the US

If nominated my Obama and confirmed by the Senate, I personally believe this is an inspired choice for the position, as it is largely ceremonial and in the public eye where he can make pronouncements in the interests of Public Health in the United States.

Appointing a person in the media spotlight allows both name recognition and familiarity. He has not made any faux pas in his job reporting from hotspots all over the world and is generally aware of most of the public health issues worldwide. He is a neuro-surgeon by training and is therefore competent and no pushover.

Having a position of authority Dr. Gupta can impose his own stamp on matters and knowing how to maximize public exposure, through selective use of media, will be more effectively able to communicate his message to the mass audience. This is most critical to get the message to the masses.

Obesity the leading public health issue can be more purposefully dealt with by a young looking, slender operator, expounding the virtues of healthy eating, in order to reduce as much as possible the preventable diseases of the day. He can expound the truths and myths of smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug abuse as well as sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS without getting stuck into politically sensitive areas of abortion and women’s reproductive rights.

I was so surprised when I heard of this choice that I thought it was a joke, but the more I thought about it I believe his appointment is one of the most inspiring of the administration, and one where a permanent stamp can be made on this position with future SGs finding it exceedingly difficult to emulate. I am confident that he will perform his function to the best of his ability. We can expect some novel approaches to improving the general health of the population that is increasingly dependent on drugs to live at an enormous cost to themselves, and their productivity in whatever they do.

In conclusion, I wish him well and hope he can by his position influence the world public opinion, which is not his brief. He is in a position together with the WHO to use the power of the USA and wealth of the Bill Gates Foundation to do some lasting good in eliminating and minimizing scourges around the world, especially as it pertains to the young and innocent children who are sick or may be at risk of developing preventable illnesses.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The crisis on the Gaza strip January 2009

Lets go back to basics with a little bit of history and as you know even that is interpreted in a different light depending on the angle you come from.

Palestine was the land of the Palestinians, before Jewish immigrants arrived and gradually bought property in Palestine, first through legitimate means and later by coercion, and still later by devious and surreptitious means before the Palestinians who previously welcomed these people realized what was happening around them. Finally in 1948, the immigrants set up the state of Israel and those Palestinians who refused to live as second-class citizens in the Jewish state had no option but to live as immigrants in Jordan, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip. This strip is a barren tiny space less than half the size of Manhattan Island in New York.

The Palestinian leadership since 1948 ingrained on the refugees that they would one day return to their homes, which were now in the state of Israel. So when a democratically elected government, lead by the militant Hamas party pledging the eventual destruction of the state of Israel came into power it seemed that Israel had a sworn enemy on its borders.

To cut a long story short, the hardcore Hamas militants, have kept up a barrage of rockets to Israel, usually of low intensity and strength, but latterly with a longer range. The ammunition, has been smuggled through porous borders with Egypt. Israel using the policy of maximum force has decided to target Hamas, and bomb from the air, from land and from sea using the latest technology, bought and given by the US and some developed by Israel.  

While Iran and some Arab states or individuals, support Hamas with money and equipment, the US supplies Israel. So there is a proxy war going on where the Arabs can only see the US pounding the hapless Palestinians!!

It is therefore a US problem as they are the only friends in the world Israel has, and as they have this feeling of being surrounded by enemies, they are carrying out what their electorate believes is the only way to go. Remember there is an election in Israel in the offing. Palestinian deaths will only increase the electoral assets of the perpetrator. This is the background of the crisis.

This is one area the UN has been impotent in, as all UN resolutions have been ignored by Israel, and as they have a veto power in the form of the US to defend their interests they act with impunity in ignoring all resolutions.

The innocent Palestinians are the most affected as there will be a further 1000+ deaths of innocents and they are still refugees in their own land, and if one goes to Gaza, you will realize it is the last place on earth you can convince anyone to live in as their home. In short this largest refugee camp on earth will remain like this until something more acceptable is made available. 

With so many Jewish people both in Israel and the US believe it is a god given right that Israel is the land of the Jews, in essence Zionism, this is not accepted by the rest of the world. Let me also put my two cents into this argument. Any God will never allow any country to be taken over in his name. So no one has a right to a country by way of religion. Over the years people have settled all over the world and once borders were closed and passports issued post 1900 one was hemmed in and only permitted to enter anyone else’s country through the laws of the acceptor.

There is no possibility of a solution to this crisis until an acceptable solution is given to the Palestinian people to live in dignity in their homeland, however that is defined. In fact an impartial observer will say it is Israel that has to give more land concessions than the beleaguered Palestinians. They need contiguous land, airports, sea-ports and infrastructure to be a state. Nothing short of a return to the 1967 borders will allow this to happen. The world will have a Mideast Crisis till this is achieved. No one other than the innocent Palestinian people are really affected, so this will not be done as they just don’t have the political capital from anywhere for that objective.

It therefore takes a statesman with a lot of guts to solve this crisis once and for all, and at present I do not see one on the horizon. President Obama is the only one with the moral authority to do something, but his utterances and obeiscense to the Jewish lobby who helped him financially to get elected are anything by supportive of the Zionist cause. He can of course take a volte face in the interests of world peace and take a stand and impose a settlement. 

The Palestinians have been let down by their own leaders pursuing personal agendas, UN playing international games, and by Israel playing big bully, using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Only God can help them, so help them.