Lowest Common Denominator

I have seen over and over again, the basic mathematic principle of lowest common denominator play out.

Be it relationships, work or politics, it is the lowest behavior that becomes common and everybody falls to it. People upholding higher statutes are sooner or later grinded down by people who uphold no higher values despite always claiming to do so.  Be it at the personal level — helping others despite inconveniences to themselves until the day you ask for help and are bluntly turned down, turning the other cheek  for so long that you realize they don’t care if a cheek is left on your face or selflessly offering service till you realize that most are busy furthering their own cause. Or be it at the global stage — secularism over fundamentalism, nonviolence over violence, integration over segregation.

And that brings us to the crux of the discussion today. Please read this article from New York Times, “British PM ‘Appalled’ by Protest Plans.” A radical Islamic group, Islam4UK, is planning a protest march through the streets of a town that has achieved iconic status in Britain for honoring the passing hearses of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan. As part of the protest march they plan to carry “empty” hearses to replay the honor bequeathed but this time to civilians killed in Afghanistan.

If that is not outrageous enough, this plan was announced by Islam4UK in letters sent to the families of the 246 British soldiers that have died in Afghanistan.

Islam4UK is an off-shoot of a group that was banned in 2005. The group in 2005 praised the perpetrators of 9/11 as heroes.

As you can see, it has got nothing to do with justice since it is not as if this group is asking for innocent Afghanis killed in the war to be honored, it is basically interested in honoring all Muslims — terrorists or otherwise and doesn’t care about honoring members of other religion. It is also not considering any facts about who started this latest cycle of violence in South Asia and the Western world including the barbaric attacks of 9/11.

I believe we are at a major inflection point in relationship between peoples. The doors that have been open in the West to integrate people from all parts of the world are going to get shut and shut fast, especially to natives of certain countries. For, some people are hell bent upon bringing us all down to the lowest common denominator — accept me but I will not accept you. Don’t fight me but I want to take you over.

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Pakistan — you reap what you sow

The Seed

When General Zia ul-Haq led a coup against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977, and subsequently hanged him in 1978 under the pretence of plotting to kill political opponents, it was then that the present deplorable state of Pakistan was etched in to history in advance.

Irony of irony was that Bhutto himself chose ul-Haq as the Chief of Army in 1976 despite his lack of seniority thinking more senior officers posed greater threat to his survival. But then the history of Pakistan, and indeed the Muslim empire in South Asia is replete with blood letting by benefactors and family members of those that greatly helped them. Aurangzeb, effectively the last Mughal Emperor of India, executed his brother Dara Shikoh and put his father, Shah Jahan — of Taj Mahal fame — under house arrest until his death.

The Soil

Zia ul-Haq started off supremely unpopular both at home and abroad. However, it was the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets that saved his illegitimate presidency. The United States, who had decried General Zia up until that time had no other option but to support him to in turn get support for their agenda in Afghanistan. Zia also courted the Islamic ideologues in Pakistan and abroad. This allowed him stability at home and cash pouring in from United States — to support the destruction of the Soviets at any cost — and Saudi Arabia — to spread the Wahabi form of Islam –  a most conservative form of Islam. Money from both sources funneled to the Islamic ideologues who set up Madarassas to train the mujahedeens that spread across Afghanistan and later became the Taleban and Al Qaeda.

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Average Joe

Actually, Joe Biden is not even average. He is way below average. Let me just break the news — he comes in last, at the bottom, no one behind him. I am of course talking about his Net Income and Net Worth when compared to other Senators.

Biden’s tax returns for 2008 showed earnings of only $269,256 and paid $46,952 in federally taxes.  The salary paid to a US Senator by us, the tax payers is, $169,300. I believe the remainder of Biden’s income is from teaching engagements in local colleges in Delaware. His net worth could possibly be negative.

And quite honestly, that’s the way I like my Vice President.  While he still makes more than the average American — which he should given his responsibilities — he is the closest to understanding what an average person’s daily trials and tribulations are like.

  Being a US Senator doesn’t require filing of exact value of assets, instead a range for each asset is provided. Hence it is difficult to know he exact net worth of a Senator but it is very easy to decipher who is filthy rich, very rich and rich (note: there are no poor senators — except of course for Mr. Biden in 2008 given Senator standards).

So that you get an idea, the richest five and their avg. net worth (all data from 2006):

1 Herb Kohl (D-Wis) (owner of Kohl’s Dept store)   $336,885,513  
2 John Kerry (D-Mass) (wife owns Heinz Ketchup)   $267,789,805  
3 Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass)   $102,822,519  
4 Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa)   $90,713,011  
5 Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif)   $79,555,657  

Interestingly enough, all five are Democrats but lest you get carried away, Republicans make a fine recovery and occupy 12 out of top 25 spots.  The 25th rank goes to:

25 Maria Cantwell (D-Wash)   $6,181,006  

And the 75th, spot goes to:

75 Patty Murray (D-Wash)   $641,509  

So the questions we really need to ask are:

1. Is it only the rich that can make it to the Senate?

2. Or, is it getting elected that somehow allows for Senators to get rich? (This can be found out by looking at historical records, may be one of the readers who is in the know can comment on this.)

3. Most importantly, is democracy actuallya pseudo-aristocracy? Pseudo because I do believe we are, on the average, much better off than under a true aristocracy.

4.  First a statement then a question. Statement: I believe America till recently has not been class envious, i.e. rich have not been envied for their wealth but actually look upon as inspiration and American ideals promoted all to aspire to be rich. Question: With the recently acquired knowledge of how many rich people got rich and the recently acquired loss of their own net worth, will Americans start thinking differently?

I have opinions (of course!), but what do you think?

Data source: http://www.opensecrets.org/ (click on Politicians and Elections –> Net Worth)

Obama’s “real” agenda

Mr. Krauthammer, in his Washington Post article titled, Obama’s Ultimate Agenda writes, “Obama has far different ambitions. His goal is to rewrite the American social compact, to recast the relationship between government and citizen. He wants government to narrow the nation’s income and anxiety gaps. Soak the rich for reasons of revenue and justice. Nationalize health care and federalize education to grant all citizens of all classes the freedom from anxiety about health care and college that the rich enjoy. And fund this vast new social safety net through the cash cow of a disguised carbon tax.

Obama is a leveler. He has come to narrow the divide between rich and poor. For him the ultimate social value is fairness. Imposing it upon the American social order is his mission. ”

And to that I say……ummmmm…..and what’s wrong with that?

I urge you to read the full article. For, nowhere does he mention a logical, cogent thought as to why that is bad for the country? Which, is of course nothing but the people of America and it is indeed the people of America that Obama, even according to the incredulous Mr. Krauthammer, is trying to support.

Dyed-in-wool dogmatics like him belong in comics not in newspapers. Somehow to allow equal opportunity, education, energy self-reliance, and relief from anxiety regarding health coverage, food and shelter is implied to be evil!

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What do the people of the world think? – Part II

The Good — In Part I, published on Feb 23rd, we covered the nations with net positive results, i.e. countries viewed favorably by the world populace — at least the populace of the countries that the poll was conducted in.

The Bad — In Part II, I cover the nations with net negative less than 10 points, i.e. countries viewed unfavorably by the world populace but too badly.

The Ugly — In Part III, to be published at a later date,  I will cover the nations with net negative greater than 10 points, i.e. countries viewed  really unfavorably by the world populace.

So without further ado, Part II (China and United States):

Section 1: A re-cap on the poll. 

BBC World Service Poll in conjunction with Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland conducted  13,575 in-home or telephone interviews across a total of 21 countries between 21 November 2008 and 1 February 2009.

The poll asked if the individual’s view of a countries’ influence was “mainly positive”, “mainly negative” or “neutral?” The question was asked about 16 countries. 9 out of 16 countries had a net positive influence and 7 had a net negative influence per the poll (see graph below).

world-poll-2009

 Section 2: Comments on some of the countries with net negative scores.

Rank 10: China

 China is the country with the least net negative points — 1 point —  but has had a swing in the negative direction of 13 points compared to last year. Similar poll in early 2008 showed net positive of 12 points for China.

I believe Olympics has done more harm for China than good: firstly, it brought renewed focus to the annexation of Tibet and the continued supression of human, religious and other rights and secondly, the widespread coverage of pollution in Beijing laid bare the callous approach taken by the Chinese Government towards the environment, natural resources  and forced human migration. The tainted toys and milk scandal also must have contributed to the negative trend.

In general, the communist regime, its mind wash program that still continues via controlled media and demonizes other nations it doesn’t like and its overall cloak and dagger mode of operation leads many to not trust the Chinese establishment.

Rank 11: United States of America

The USA reduced its net negative points from 12 to 3 in one year (2009: 40 positive vs. 43 negative) .  Almost all of that positive bump can be attributed to the huge sigh of relief that emanated from across the globe as President Bush’s term ended. The mindless violence caused by US invasion of Iraq, its unwavering support of Israel despite its draconian measures against Palestinians in peace time and war time alike, and its interference in internal matters of many countries — mostly leading to negative affects — had left little trust for the Bush administration and its policies.

On the other hand, the humanitarian work done by the Bush administration in Africa, the humanitarian causes supported by the people of America at large, the spirit of innovation and the ideals of freedom, equality and prosperity (at least for those living in the US) always gets the USA some support in prosperous and poor countries alike.

I will be watching the 2010 report anxiously. For, despite Obama administration’s positive moves on a various fronts– from investment in alternative energy sources, closing down Guantanamo prison, separation of Science and Politics to withdrawal from Iraq and reaching out to Russia, Iran and Syria — it is the ominous global economic situation caused by, in many peoples minds, by US imposition of broken down form of capitalism on to the globe that will likely drive US popularity down. And I am sure there will be a real battering of American image if the recession continues for a long period of time or gets worse.

Is this why Obama went to Canada?

The likes of Mr. Rich, the New York Times columnist, are scratching their heads trying to figure out what they would do to stop the meltdown of the financial system. And of course since they can’t figure out a solution they believe President Obama must be in an equal bind. To quote from Mr. Rich’s recent article, The Ecstasy and the Agony, “Therein lies the Catch-22 that could bring the recovery down. As Obama said, we can’t move forward without a functioning financial system. But voters of both parties will demand that their congressmen reject another costly rescue of it. Americans still don’t understand why many Wall Street malefactors remain in place or why the administration’s dithering banking policy lacks the boldness and clarity of Obama’s rhetoric.”

Given Mr. Obama’s moves to fundamentally restructure the American social and economic landscape, I believe a more likely solution to the banking problems of America is what Theresa Tedasco hints at in her article the “The Great Solvent North.” She points out that the World Economic Forum ranked the Canadian Banking System at # 1 in terms of stability. The Canadian Banking system, in short, is five large banks that are very carefully regulated by the Government and prevented them from taking huge risks and securitizing their loans.  And because it was only five banks it was easy for the regulators to regulate.

I think President Obama, more than to shake Mr. Harper’s hand, went to Canada to learn from the Federal Regulators how to manage banks and save them from themselves. President Obama and Mr. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, both have talked up the virtues of the Canadian system.

If President Obama is seriously considering the Canadian model, the interesting part will be of course the journey — the transition from thousands of banks in the US to only five to ten consolidated banks. I watch the next year with baited breath.

Obama’s Budget

I am rather conflicted about the budget that Obama administration unveiled. On the one hand it has the right investment areas — Health Care reform, alternative energy (with revenue generated from carbon emission heavy industries), and education.

It  also focuses on some of the right areas for generation of revenues — like  roll-back of tax cuts for people earning greater than 250K, cut-back of subsidies to agribusinesses, pharmaceuticals and defense contractors.

However, where it fails, in my eyes, is the cut-back required on wasteful government spending — I don’t see much of that. Another troubling sign is that the deficit for the fiscal year 2009 (that ends in Sept) will be $1.75 trillion. That is staggering addition to the government deficit. He predicts that the deficit will fall to $533 billion in the last year of his term — 2013 — but that is far off in the future.

It is a bold new experiment in trying to level the playing field between the haves and the haves not. However, neither is it trim enough nor is it immediate in reducing deficit, and I fear that entropy will take over as time progresses with positive goals less pronounced and negative factors exaggerated when all of this becomes reality.

In a very perceptive article in Washington Post titled, “A Budget Process Hijacked By Selfish Interest,” Steven Pearlstein points out that it was the drive for self interest that resulted in a pluralist approach which forced competing self interests to be looked at collectively by decision makers and helped balance out the overall outcome. He writes, “It’s hard not to see the parallel between the magic of this political marketplace and the “invisible hand” of the economic marketplace as described centuries ago by Adam Smith. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest,” he wrote famously in “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.””

 However, it is clear that the system can be manipulated and short term narrow interests can take away the focus from the long term issues that are more potent and dangerous. Also, the politics of Washington ensures that such sweeping, radical bills have more angles to attack it from. And that, I am afraid, will be the undoing of the budget. For, immediate, short term gains are easy for the butcher, the brewer, or the baker and hence that is what they lobby for but long term abstract gains like a balanced federal budget, reformed health care and green energy are hard to visualize. Just like Wall Street, Congressmen will continue to focus on short term gains till uncontrolled upheaval makes long term short term and then, unfortunately, change will be impossible to implement.