John Kasich vs the clowns running for president

February 14th, 2016

There’s an American saying: “Anyone can become president.” And in the 2016 election we’ve been trying to prove it. ….

The US presidential field has begun to narrow at last. Although, to judge by who’s left, this is not because of quality control. ….

[Mr O’Rourke has bad words for each candidate still in the race, with the exception of] John Kasich [who] is the very popular conservative governor of Ohio, a not-very-conservative state.

Ohio is a microcosm of American conflicts – labour v management, nativists v immigrants, blacks v whites, Occupy Cincinnati v the 1%. They all hate each other, but they don’t hate John.

Kasich beat an incumbent Democratic governor and was re-elected by a landslide. Before that he served nine terms shovelling important manure in the Augean stables of the House of Representatives – 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee and six years as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

No wonder he’s so far behind. Republicans are in no damn mood for competent, experienced politicians with broad popular appeal.

PJ O’Rourke, “Viewpoint: Are Donald Trump and his rivals a big joke?“, BBC News Magazine, 9 February 2016.

For O’Rourke’s satirical roast of the other candidates, from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, down to Ben Carson, click on the link above.

American political satirist and journalist PJ O’Rourke (born 1947) is a Research Fellow at the Cato Institute and author of 20 books. His latest publication is Thrown Under the Omnibus (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2015).

Islamophobia encourages terrorism

February 14th, 2016

I do not always agree with Hungarian-American billionaire/philanthropist George Soros, but one paragraph of his recent column caught my attention:

ISIS (and Al Qaeda before it) has recognized the Achilles’ heel of Western civilization – the fear of death – and learned how to exploit it. By arousing latent Islamophobia in the West and inducing both publics and governments to treat Muslims with suspicion, they hope to convince young Muslims that there is no alternative to terrorism. Once this strategy is understood, there is a simple antidote: Refuse to behave the way your enemies want you to.

George Soros, “Putin is No Ally Against ISIS“, Project Syndicate, 10 February 2016.

The column is available at the link above in English and other languages. George Soros (born 1939) is a pioneer of the hedge-fund industry and author of many articles and books. His latest book is The Tragedy of the European Union (Public Affairs, 2014).

A broader, but similar message was delivered as a command long ago by Christ, as recorded in Matthew 5:43-44 of The Holy Bible, King James Version:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Christ is not known to have said this, but He may plausibly have thought “Hatred breeds hatred”.

a media culture that ignores the sensible

February 13th, 2016

FT columnist Gillian Tett writes that TV broadcasts pay no attention to the work of sensible, local politicians in the United States, so potentially excellent candidates are ignored in national elections.

[W]hy are practical, sensible politicians … such as not leading the nomination races? Big-money politics is part of the problem. So is voter anger against elites. But the other problem is a media culture in which raucous drama grabs attention — but debates about vital real-world problems such as pension deficits get ignored. John Kasich, for example, has a strong record of pragmatic policy reform inside Ohio and as governor enjoys 62 per cent approval ratings; but he has been drowned out by people such as [Donald] Trump.

Nevertheless, the next time that I hear a bewildered — or scornful — friend from Asia or Europe ask what is wrong with US politics, I will tell them to widen their gaze; or block their ears. America has plenty of politicians who deserve respect for trying to tackle tough problems. Some have even delivered local success. But these are not the women and men on the TV screens today. And that is a tragedy indeed.

Gillian Tett, “Politics away from the spotlight“, Financial Times, 13 February 2016 (metered paywall).

buying elections

February 13th, 2016

FT columnist Simon Kuper has written an excellent piece on the globalisation of national elections. Here are small excerpts from his long column. The full article is recommended TdJ reading.

US campaigns have become so pricey that many American donors now see better returns on investment in smaller economies. For instance, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu typically gets more than 90 per cent of his funding for his primary campaigns from American donors. Last time, most of it came from just three American families. ….

In Britain’s coming European referendum, Goldman Sachs and other American banks are among the biggest funders of the anti-Brexit campaign. Meanwhile, says the OECD …, “anti-Islam groups in the US have provided financial support to Dutch politician Geert Wilders … whose Freedom party is … a rallying point for Europe’s far right.” ….

But let’s not single out American money. “The Kremlin is working hard to buy off and co-opt European political forces, funding both rightwing and leftwing anti-systemic parties throughout Europe,” says US vice-president Joe Biden. ….

… China likes to help out African ruling parties ….

Qatar funded various Islamist movements in the Arab spring …, while Spanish police are now investigating alleged payments by Iran to Spain’s far-left Podemos party. ….

It turns out that national elections — like national tax systems and national defence — no longer work very well in an unregulated globalised world.

Simon Kuper, “How to buy a foreign election“, Financial Times, 13 February 2016 (metered paywall).

Isis recruitment

February 13th, 2016

Bombing rebels in Syria increases the number of civilian deaths, refugees, and Isis jihadis. Here is the experience of one man, a human face for the tragic events that thousands suffer each day in Syria.

Ahmed never used to pray. He fought for a rebel group at war with the jihadi militants of Isis. But all of that changed when Russian air strikes flattened his sister’s home in the eastern Aleppo countryside — killing her, her husband and their three children.

Ahmed headed to the Isis-controlled eastern Aleppo city of al-Bab. He announced his repentance, took a one-month religious course and 15 days of military training, and became a fighter for the jihadi forces of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

“Am I happy? No. ….,” the 21-year-old fighter told the Financial Times …. “My goal now is to fight with Isis to the death? … I can’t let my family be killed like this.”

There could be many more like Ahmed if a ceasefire plan announced this week does not stop the violence in Syria. The carnage has reached fever pitch since Russian forces fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad began a massive offensive on Aleppo, sending tens of thousands fleeing.

Erika Solomon, “Syria rebels mull joining jihadis amid Russia-backed regime gains“, Financial Times, 13 February 2016 (metered paywall).

Ahmed is not his real name. There is much more in the full article.

Here is a related article on Isis recruitment from this weekend’s FT:

These Isis men, as barbaric as they are, they are hot. They are macho, hairy, they’ve got guns, they’re exciting. They are the One Direction of Islam, they are pop stars, pin-ups and sex symbols, and these repressed, rebellious, horny teenage girls fancy them, so they buy themselves a one-way ticket to Syria for some halal sex and no guilt because Allah approves. ….

It’s not radicalisation, it’s sexualisation.

Shazia Mirza, “From playground to warzone“, Financial Times, 13 February 2016 (metered paywal).

Shazia Mirza (born 1977) is a British stand-up comedian of Pakistani descent. Click on the link to read the full column.

Bloomberg for president?

February 12th, 2016

New York’s former mayor, Michael Bloomberg (born 1942), is considering a run for president as an independent. Many think that he would steal votes from from the Democrat nominee, throwing the race to the Republican candidate (Donald Trump or Ted Cruz).

Hedge fund manager William Ackman (born 1966) does not agree. He supports Mr Bloomberg, and thinks that he has an excellent chance of winning in a three-way race. In the US, there is no direct election of president. Mr Bloomberg could conceivably win the presidency even if he comes in third in the first round of electoral college votes.

If no single candidate receives an overall majority in the electoral college, the 12th Amendment to the US constitution allows the House of Representatives to choose the president from among the three candidates who received the most electoral votes.

If the top three are, say, Mr Bloomberg, Donald Trump or Ted Cruz for the Republicans, and Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for the Democrats, then Congress, which is under Republican control, would surely choose Mr Bloomberg rather than destroy the party by selecting Mr Trump or Mr Cruz.

William Ackman, “America is burning but Michael Bloomberg can put out the fire“, Financial Times, 12 February 2016 (metered paywall).

This is an exciting election. Anything is possible. We might witness a contest between two New York billionaires (Trump and Bloomberg) flanked by a self-proclaimed Vermont socialist (Sanders). The outcome is anyone’s guess.

financial fraud and corruption in high places

February 11th, 2016

Phil Angelides, a former state treasurer of the US State of California, chaired a commission that “uncovered evidence of widespread fraud and corruption in the US mortgage market”. He wants to know why, after five years, not one senior bank executive has been charged or punished.

Since his report appeared in February 2011, America’s biggest banks have paid tens of billions of dollars in fines for misconduct in the packaging and sale of mortgage-backed securities, while the DoJ [Department of Justice] has gone after thousands of borrowers, brokers and appraisers for lying on mortgage applications. But no senior bank executive has been charged with wrongdoing. In a letter to Loretta Lynch, US Attorney General, Mr Angelides has challenged the DoJ to take action before the ten-year statute of limitation expires.

“I ask a simple question: how could the banks have engaged in such massive misconduct and wrongdoing without a single individual being involved? In a sense, it’s the immaculate corruption,” he told the FT. “It defies common sense, and the people of America know this.”

Ben McLannahan, “Charge senior bank bosses, says former commissioner“, Financial Times, 10 February 2016 (metered paywall).

Could this be why Bernie Sanders’ message of close ties between Wall Street and politicians resonates with voters?

(under)funding the NHS

February 11th, 2016

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) is in crisis because the institution lacks adequate funding, writes FT columnist Philip Stephens. The NHS budget has, it is true, increased somewhat faster than the rate of inflation, but it has been falling as a share of GDP, at a time when increasing demands are placed on it.

Things are about to worsen. … NHS spending is budgeted to fall to 6.6 per cent of gross domestic product in 2020 compared with 7.3 per cent in 2014. …. So a society that is at once becoming wealthier, older and demanding more healthcare will be spending less and less.

International comparisons tell the same story. Those who laud the French or German health systems usually overlook the fact that these countries spend about 11 per cent of GDP for the service. If private spending is added to the NHS budget the figure for Britain is 8.5 per cent. Little wonder the NHS lags behind its neighbours on performance in treatment such as cancer care.

Philip Stephens, “Doctors cannot be blamed for the NHS cash crisis“, Financial Times, 10 February 2016 (metered paywall).

the Sanders attraction

February 10th, 2016

Bernie Sanders does not appeal to wealthy or older voters.

According to New Hampshire exit polls, Mr Sanders trumped Mrs Clinton among female voters 55 per cent to 44 per cent. Indeed, he beat her among nearly every demographic group, with the exclusion of voters who were over the age of 65 or who had an annual income of more than $200,000 a year.

Courtney Weaver, “Sanders victory in New Hampshire forces another Clinton rethink“, Financial Times, 11 February 2016 (metered paywall).

Among young voters (aged 18 to 29) “Mr Sanders won by a margin of nearly five to one” over Hillary.

Bernie and Hillary debate Wall Street

February 6th, 2016

Throughout the Democratic primary, Mr Sanders has managed to keep much of the focus on Wall Street, a contrast from the Republican side where Wall Street regulation has rarely figured in debates. ….

On Thursday [4 February] she [Hillary Clinton] attempted to portray Mr Sanders’ focus on Wall Street as narrow minded.

“If all we are going to talk about is one part of our economy, and indeed one street in our economy, we’re missing the big oil companies, we’re missing the other big energy companies. We’re missing the big picture,” she said.

But Mr Sanders was ready with a retort. “Madam Secretary, it is not one street. Wall Street is an entity of unbelievable economic and political power,” he replied.[Emphasis added.]

When Mrs Clinton went after Mr Sanders and accused him of suggesting that her speeches had made her corruptible to Wall Street’s influence — something she called “an artful smear” — the studio audience at the debate booed.

Courtney Weaver, “Bernie Sanders brandishes his Wall Street weapon“, Financial Times, 6 February 2016 (metered paywall).