The Parallax Brief

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Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Charles Krauthammer Nailed for Lying

Regular readers may remember the Parallax Brief’s exasperation with Charles Krauthammer’s wooly and wantonly disingenuous column for the Washington Post on missile defense. To use unsound reasoning is one thing, but the Parallax Brief is noticing that the Right is increasingly crossing the rubric into outright lies to pursue its ends.

Now, the Parallax Brief expects this from unhinged demagogues like Anne Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, but he holds intellectuals like Charles Krauthammer to higher standards. Yet here is Krauthammer, in his very next Washington Post column, “Obama’s Manifesto”, lying:

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Filed under: Economics, Politics, , , , , , , ,

Special Relationship Put to Test by Brown’s, Obama’s Gifts

At least now the Parallax Brief knows he isn’t the only one to suffer the toe curling holiday season embarrassment of receiving a hugely expensive or deeply thoughtful gift, and having to present in return some cheap tat picked up at the local bric-a-brac store at 7.30pm on Christmas Eve.

Or the crushing disappointment giving a girlfriend a Christmas gift so breast-quiveringly romantic it could have won a place in Elizabeth I’s bed chamber, only to be handed a 10 pound Woolworths gift voucher in return.

From National Review Online:

“British prime minister Gordon Brown thought long and hard about what gift to bring on his visit to the White House last week. Barack Obama is the first African-American president, so the prime minister gave him an ornamental desk-pen holder hewn from the timbers of one of the Royal Navy’s anti-slaving ships of the 19th century, HMS Gannet. Even more appropriate, in 1909 the Gannet was renamed HMS President.

The president’s guest also presented him with the framed commission for HMS Resolute, the lost British ship retrieved from the Arctic and returned by America to London, and whose timbers were used for a thank-you gift Queen Victoria sent to Rutherford Hayes: the handsome desk that now sits in the Oval Office.

And, just to round things out, as a little stocking stuffer, Gordon Brown gave President Obama a first edition of Sir Martin Gilbert’s seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill.

In return, America’s head of state gave the prime minister 25 DVDs of “classic American movies.””

Nothing goes right for poor Gordon. Let’s just hope the Anglo-American special relationship lasts better than did the Parallax Brief’s own special relationship after the Woolworth’s voucher incident.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

Krauthammering Away At Russia, Missile Shield

Charles Krauthammer is clearly a smart guy, which makes the Parallax Brief wonder seriously why he penned last week a combination of flab and fallacy on US-Russia relations, titled Obama’s Supine Diplomacy, for the Washington Post.

Krauthammer justifies the titular accusation thus: that Russia has already provoked the US on several fronts:

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Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, Russia, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fresh Angle on US-Russia “New Era”

Sometimes the Moscow Times opinion editorial columns can be a little overbearing. While undoubtedly well written and informative, they are almost universally po-faced. Amid this environment of solemn political analysis and grave social policy, Mark H Teeter brings a delightfully light touch and sharp wit to his keenly observed bi-weekly columns on life and news in Russia.

Most weeks he addresses US-Russia relations through the prism of an American living in Moscow, and this week must have provided a bonanza for Teeter, as Barak Obama apparently “pressed the reset button” on US-Russia relations, and wants to reopen nuclear arms control talks with the Kremlin.

(Note to self: I do wish the press wouldn’t refer to the pressing of any kind of button when it comes to nuclear arms. It causes a certain… frisson. NTS2: And speaking of uncouth Obama press coverage, when will they stop referring to the fiscal stimulus bill as Obama’s stimulus package? How can I take this stuff seriously when I read things like, “Obama’s giant stimulus package was viewed for the first time by the Senate today,” and “Obama’s massive stimulus package was cut in size by a bi-partisan group of centrist Senators.”)

Anyway, back to Teeter: funny guy, sublime writer, irreverent vignettes on US-Russia relations and cultural differences through the eyes of a veteran American expat in Moscow.

Today, Teeter has managed to trump every single one of the major op-eds and foreign policy wonk notes I’ve read on the start of a another new ‘new era’ of Russo-Yankee relations. He notes that a cabal of experienced and baggage free Russia veterans sit waiting for Obama, if he chooses to use them, and outlines just what kind of benefit they can bring.

Click here for an engaging read.

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, Politics, Russia, , , , , , , , , , ,

World Economy at One Minute to Midnight

Over the last week, portents of doom have enveloped the Parallax Brief. Increasingly, a Great Depression of the Twenty Tens looks to be the fate of the world. Lest we forget, the economic turmoil between 1914 and 1945 led to political upheaval almost unimaginable now, and unleashed the horrors of total war on the developed world.

Why do I feel so pessimistic?

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Filed under: Economics, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Iran Satellite Launch no Barrier to Soft Power

Dealing with the Middle East is clearly President Obama’s most pressing foreign policy task, and the politics and complexities of the region also make it by far his most exacting. Obama must deal with the region as a whole, yet within the Middle East pot, he is faced with a broth of caustic, distinct, and often mutually repulsive ingredients seemingly always at boiling point.

It is the process of dealing with these ingredients individually while simultaneously managing the effects of doing so on the others that has made the Middle Eastern foreign policy soup hitherto indigestible for US presidents.

And Iran just made Obama’s task more difficult by launching its first homemade satellite into space.

If true, this is an extremely alarming development, as the technology for putting a satellite into orbit is directly adaptable the process of putting a warhead into orbit as part of an ICBM’s flight path. Developing ‘staged’ rockets is vital if Iran’s military is to extend the range of Iran’s Shahab missiles, which are currently limited to 1200 miles (2000km).

The news does nothing to aid Obama’s quest to strike a more conciliatory tone with the Muslim state. Demonstrating an understanding of the technology that could in theory allow it to target countries beyond its backyard provides ammunition to those who wish to see military action against Iran, or at the very least a continuation of the failed Bush policy of hard-line isolation and sanctions.

However, hope remains for those of us who believe that the Bush-era diplomatic freeze with Iran was egregious and monstrously counter-productive. First, on the domestic front, Obama has a tremendous mandate so soon after his election and following the deeply unpopular, ineffectual, and mostly incompetent Bush administration. In fact, pressure is on Obama to unveil policies which contrast to those of his predecessor.

Second, Obama’s worldwide popularity makes it far more difficult for foreign leaders to criticize him personally, or blame America for their woes, than was the case with the widely reviled Bush. Iran may already be struggling in the face of a more conciliatory tone.

Third, the administration’s efforts toward Iraq withdrawal are likely to garner further good-will in the Middle East, putting a quid pro quo back on the table, and, in combination with point two, making public opinion less of a problem for Middle Eastern countries dealing with America.

Finally, perhaps Iran could change soon, too. Iran’s economy is in a parlous state, and there is reason to believe that the Ahmadinejad belligerent, hard-line regime is not popular. Given elections in June, Obama and his team could be soon faced with a more moderate Iranian leader, such as Mohammad Khatami.

While it would be fatuous to assume the ayatollahs will decide to walk to road to Damascus and discover the wonders of capitalism and Jesus, there is reason to believe that the time is ripe for the US, led by Obama and Clinton, to gain traction with Iran for the first time in a decade.

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, , , , , , , , ,

Limbaugh, Heffer Epitomize Right’s Ignorance, Lies on Tax Cuts

My usually rewarding scan of the Wall Street Journal was today polluted by the presence of Rush Limbaugh. Quite what the Journal is doing paying this pigheaded shock jock is quite beyond me. The Journal’s main rival from across the pond, the Financial Times, also employs the occasional celebrity columnist, but they’re always in the mold of George Soros or Zbigniew Brzezinski – voices that add value. What on earth could an ape like Limbaugh add to my understanding of economics, finance and business?

Of course, the op-ed was dripping the kind of arrogance, weasel words and outright lies favoured by Limbaugh and others of his extremist ilk; however, its main focus – a recantation of the extreme right’s mantra that any economic stimulus should be in tax cuts – provides an opportunity to expose the egregiousness of the Right’s argument on this matter.

Simon Heffer, the Daily Telegraph’s very own porcine extremist (pictured below), puts the Right’s argument most succinctly, I think:

“Only one thing will give us an economic revival. It is… the transfer of money from the client state to the productive and private sector of the economy. This means spending cuts and tax cuts. Everything else is simply propaganda.”

What the Right is attempting here, as Paul Krugman has pointed out, is an old bait and switch trick.

It is true that a private person is more likely to allocate capital effectively than a government doing it for him – that’s why private businesses are more efficient than state enterprises. Therefore, all things being equal, if people have more money, they will spend more, and do so more effectively than the government. So instead of spending the money through the government, the argument goes, why not give it to businesses and people through tax cuts, and have them spend it for you, more effectively?

Sounds logical, but that is not the matter at hand, and never was. This argument is the equivalent of answering a different question to the one asked. Krugman explains:

“We’re not talking about the government buying consumption goods for the public at large. Instead, we’re talking about spending more on public goods: goods that the private market won’t supply, or at any rate won’t supply in sufficient quantities. Things like roads, communication networks, sewage systems, and so on.”

By doing this, the government can directly stimulate private activity by creating jobs and boosting demand for raw materials, services, and manafacured goods.

Tax cuts cannot stimulate spending in the same way, because in this deflationary environment there are huge economic incentives for private individuals and businesses not to spend money. The idea is to inject the money into the real economy in order to stimulate calamatously declining demand, not remove it by cutting taxes so it can be stuck it in the proverbial sock under the floorboards.

Even worse, the Right wants most of the cuts to go to the higher earners, the group least likely to spend the money.

Of course, the extreme Right, as I have argued before, is an absolutist group that will countenance no departure from their scripture – even when departure is the right thing to do. In this situation, economic theory (and common sense) clearly demonstrates that tax cuts will prove less effective than government spending in stimulating demand, but the right, as represented by the likes of Limbaugh and Heffer, is still screaming for tax cuts.

We must conclude that the Right is either ignorant, or is being wantonly intellectually disingenuous.

Filed under: Economics, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,