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, , , , , , , ,

Conservative Russia

People simply do not realise that Russia is a deeply conservative country.

Fiscal policy is buttressed on a low, flat rate of income tax (13%), and there is virtually no social safety net, with spending on unemployment security, medical provision, disability aid, infrastructure, the environment, and urban regeneration far lower, in both absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP, than its G8 contemporaries.

Similarly, military spending is high in comparison — and growing — medical care is available free in theory, but requires private insurance or additional cash payment in practice, and businesses are in reality pretty un-regulated.

If that doesn’t sound to you like a set of policies Newt Gingrich or William F Buckley would support, then you don’t know your dyed in the wool conservatives from your woolly jumper wearing liberals.

The Parallax Brief believes, however, that these government policies are generally matched by the views of Ivan Six-Pack. Now, the Parallax Brief had been led to believe by his pinko sociology teachers in college that communism taught progressive views on gender, race, immigration and class, so it therefore came as a shock to find when he moved here that after 80 years of Marxist indoctrination, young ladies in Russia often reject feminism, men ooze with unrepentant machismo, and the population appears to generally support a penal code that could have been based on Dostoyevsky’s work.

The Parallax Brief passes no judgment on Russia’s conservatism (beyond finding it ironic that those who criticise Russia the most would like similar policies implemented in their countries (I’m thinking of you Charles Krauthammer, Ed Lucas, Anne Applebaum and the Republican Party)), but does view it as the foundation from which Russia can be better understood, and its news and policies better analysed.

With this in mind, over the coming weeks, the Parallax Brief will highlight news which he believes can be viewed best through the prism of ‘conservative Russia’, and hopes that in doing so he can provide a fresh and oft ignored perspective on Russian life – as well as, of course, stimulating debate.

First up, on Wednesday 11 March, will be Russia’s recent admission that it is the world’s leading heroin user.

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

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Time for a Better Understanding of Russia and Russians

A story by Clifford J. Levy in the New York Times yesterday opened with a sentence that encapsulated the insultingly patronizing view of Russians held by vast swathes of the western press:

“Over the last eight years, as Vladimir Putin has amassed ever more power, Russians have often responded with a collective shrug, as if to say: Go ahead, control everything — as long as we can have our new cars and amply stocked supermarkets, our sturdy ruble and cheap vacations in the Turkish sun.”

What Levy is basically saying is that Russians are so vacuous – at least compared to us enlightened and freedom-loving westerners – that they have happily traded liberty for lifestyle.

Ostensibly this is true. Russians are, in general terms, fatalistic and apathetic about their ability to change their environment. Further, it is true that while Putin has increasingly centralized power and runs an undeniably authoritarian government, he has remained amazingly popular as Russians are living better than ever. “Authoritarianism by consent,” Levy calls it.

Yet this is a slothful, superficial analysis.

Russians don’t love Putin because they can now afford to frolic in discount resports in Turkey, but because he was in power during the period when the country emerged from the crushing poverty, lawlessness and misery of the 1990s, and regained some of its pride and gave its citizens hope.

In the 90’s the Russian people were promised escape from the yoke of communism, but were instead ruined. Led by western economists of the Chicago School and their Russian equivalents, the young reformers, an insidious laissez fair capitalism was installed in Russia via the infamous shock therapy, and was combined with a stripped-down, basic form of democracy which, absent of the great institutions which protect democracy in the West, was ripe for abuse.

Most Russians were plunged into poverty the depths of which Russia had not experienced since the First World War. Meantime, a tiny, nefarious group, now known as the oligarchs, accumulated unimaginable wealth by plundering the nation’s resources, seizing control of Russia’s industries through bribery and violence, and stealing aid money earmarked for the beleaguered Russian people. The whole calamity was presided over by the corrupt, incompetent and infinitely malleable Boris Yeltsin.

The IMF, supposedly supervising Russia’s transformation to a market economy merely nodded its supine approval as the villains pillaged the family silver. And all the West did was gloat about its ‘Cold War victory’, support to Yeltsin in the mistaken belief he was a democrat, and point to the freedoms Russians now enjoyed.

Some freedom.

Russians may be naïve about capitalism and democracy, but they know when they’ve been ripped off. Is there any nation on earth in which the people, after that decade, wouldn’t accept a curtailment of freedom in exchange for some hope, pride, stability and prosperity?

It is clear that the blame for Russia’s current state should not be placed exclusively on the shoulders of the West, nor should we fall into the trap of becoming apologists for all that is broken in Russia, but until the West comprehends the epic scale of its post-communist nation-building failure, and understands that Russians are not simply a uniquely vacuous, apathetic rabble, but actually share the hopes of all peoples, the sooner the West can go about understanding Russia and its problems, as well as improving relations.

On this matter, it is rare to find anything other than the official line of anti-Putin invective published in British and American newspapers, but I am happy to say that the Financial Times is running a story today which actually provides balanced and fair minded – and therefore interesting and useful – analysis.

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

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, , , , , , , , , , ,

Wolfowitz Hoists Bush Administration by its Own Petard

This from Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish:

“No U.S. president can justify a policy that fails to achieve its intended results by pointing to the purity and rectitude of his intentions,” – Paul Wolfowitz, 2000.

How delicious.

Filed under: Politics, , , ,

The Right is Against Fairness

A big problem with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party specifically, and the American conservative movement in general (and for that matter the extreme right-wing of the Conservative Party and movement in Britain, too) is that it is slavishly ideological. Anything is acceptable in the name of progressing the Right’s cause; nothing anyone outside the team ever does is ever good.

With this in mind, I found, via Matthew Yglesias’s consistently outstanding blog, a colossally idiotic article by James Besser concerning the possible appointment of a special envoy to aid the Israel-Palestine peace process:

“Some Jewish leaders say the very qualities that may appeal to the Obama administration — Mitchell’s reputation as an honest broker — could spark unhappiness, if not outright opposition, from some pro-Israel groups.

“Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “So I’m concerned,” Foxman continued. “I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.””

Abraham Foxman, the chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, should be ashamed: as Yglesias himself points out, the article is “incredibly stupid—nobody comes out against fairness.

But herein lies the problem with the pro-Israel lobby, and, I might say, the Right in general. They have a blinkered, ‘you’re either unequivocally with us, or you’re a sworn enemy’ approach to ideology that would make a jihadist proud, and simply can’t tolerate deviation from the play book on any matter at any stage, even if deviating is the right thing to do.

Nowhere is this tendency more evident than with Israel. So hysterical is the right’s defence of Israel, that it has become next to impossible to criticize Israel’s actions without being labeled as a terrorist sympathizer who wants to deny Israel the right to exist.

I’m nowhere near smart enough to disentangle the complex knot of issues that comprises the Israel question, but I would suggest one of the biggest roadblocks to peace is that both sides are primarily supported by absolutists who will brook no compromise or discussion. Of course, this kind of idealogical absolutism has been traditionally associated with Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Muslim extremists in general, but the sooner we realize that we have a very powerful contingent in the so-called Judeo-Christian world with similarly intractable, although diametrically opposed, views, the sooner we can sideline both sets of crazies, who would both rather see a continuation of scenes like the one depicted in the picture above than accept compromise.

That way, more reasonable types may be able to get on with the task of finding a “meticulously even-handed”, “fair” solution to what is ultimately an inhumanly destruvtive problem.

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

Redwood Supporter in Sense of Humour Shocker; the Pound

So coldly logical is John Redwood’s delivery that he has been dubbed “Mr Spock” in his time, but for one of his supporters at least, wit is not “a difficult, alien concept, captain.”

Responding to Redwood’s short blog on the pound’s latest fall, one poster drolly asked, “I wonder if we can persuade Obama to invade us in the name of ‘regime change’?”

Of course, he then went on to spoil it with a paragraph of right-wing invective about the UK going bust, his sterling savings being devalued along with the pound and me-me-me, but at least his opening gambit managed to raise a cackle from here in Moscow.

On this matter, I’ve been rather irritated by the right’s response to sterling’s drop. Although the phrase “strong pound” sounds very nice, in a chest out, chin up patriotic kind of way, it really wouldn’t be very beneficial in current times.  

A weak pound lowers the relative cost of British goods and raises the relative cost of foreign goods. This has three, extremely beneficial effects: First, British goods become cheaper in both the home market and export markets, materially aiding British companies. Second, encouagement to buy British will help rebalance the UK’s current account deficit. Finally, making foreign goods more expensive will bring at least a small amount of inflationary pressure to bear on the British economy. The Bank of England’s precipitous interest rate reductions, and the current yields on British gilts, give a pretty terrifying indication of just how very close we are to slipping into full blown debt deflation. Anything to encourage inflationary expectations in this environment can be considered A Good Thing.

In boom times, these factors might be negative, as they would likely fan the flames of inflation and discourage saving. And of course, much more of a drop, and investors may get frightened off British investments, and especially our gilts, making financing our current, essential-for-survival budget deficit more expensive — or perhaps impossible — which would be an outright Russia 98-style disaster.

But so far so good.

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

Bush Administration Went Exactly As Planned

The Bush Administration’s rap sheet is longer than my arm. So well catalogued are the failures that listing them all here would be superfluous, but suffice to say, from Dick Cheney’s opaque Energy Task Force in the early days, through to by far the biggest economic mess since 1929 at the end, the Bush Administration has been one, nightmarish, sparsely punctuated litany of disaster and criminality.

On this matter, Guardian.co.uk today has an interesting video collage of journalists’ verdict on the Bush administration’s legacy, which briefly garners analysis on each disaster. For me, it doesn’t go far enough in its criticism, but its overt efforts to refrain from shrill invective makes it all the more damning. 

This raises an interesting question, though: the evidence strongly suggests that Bush was the worst president ever, but how exactly did it all go so very wrong? 

The best way to understand the Bush Administration, in my view, is to realize that it didn’t go wrong. In fact, it went exactly as planned. 

Take, for instance, the administration’s criminal abuse of executive power and willful disregard for the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. A significant number within the Bush Administration had been bristling for 20 years against the restrictions placed on executive power after Watergate. According to Jane Mayer in her brilliant expose of the war on terror, The Dark Side, Cheney told Bush early on that at the very least they needed to leave the office of the president ‘stronger’ than when they found it.

This conceited, authoritarian bent, rather the need to fight terrorists, gave birth to the abuses of executive power, the rip-tide roll back of individual freedoms in America and abroad, the abjuring of the legislative branch, and the disregard for international law and the Geneva Conventions that have characterized the Bush administration.

Similarly, Bush was successful in pushing through his economic and social policies, such as giving tax breaks to the rich and large corporations, and blocking additional healthcare provisions. Having so many more Americans outside health insurance, and turning a huge budgetary surplus into a deficit so big it could redecorate Solomon’s Temple, was not some form of bad luck, but a direct consequence of the successful passage of the Bush Administration’s economic and social policies.

Of course, the best example of this phenomenon is that no matter how many times the Bush Administration was warned prior to 9/11 of the dangers of Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden, they simply wanted to ignore it. Again, they were successful in implementing their ideals, namely, that Bin Laden should not be treated as a priority. 9/11 was job done for the Bush Administration as well as Al-Qaeda.

On the question of ‘how did it all go wrong,’ Vanity Fair this week is running a must-read oral history of the Bush Administration in which a plethora of senior American and foreign diplomats, politicians and bureaucrats, as well as senior figures within the Bush Administration itself, provide an insider view of the key moments of Bush’s presidency.

I’ll leave you with one quote from the article which in particular reminds us of just how pregnant with failure even the early days of the Bush Administration were. 

Richard Clarke, chief White House counterterrorism advisor:

The contrast with having briefed his father and Clinton and Gore was so marked. And to be told, frankly, early in the administration, by Condi Rice and [her deputy] Steve Hadley, you know, Don’t give the president a lot of long memos, he’s not a big reader—well, shit. I mean, the president of the United States is not a big reader?

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

Defending Bush Administration’s Record an Impossible Task

It was not a surprise to see self-described “extremely right wing” historian Andrew Roberts (right) penning a piece in the Telegraph to defend the Bush Administration

And he certainly does a better job than Bush Administration counselor, Ed Gillespie, who mustered a set of monumentally pathetic arguments, reliant wholly on weasel words, to debunk the ‘myths’ of the Bush Administration.

Even Roberts, though, adept as he is at crafting a compelling argument, has to rely on some pretty tenuous reasoning to defend what is ultimately indefensible.

Says Roberts:

History will show that, in common with the rest of his administration, the British Government, Saddam’s own generals, the French, Chinese, Israeli and Russian intelligence agencies, and of course SIS and the CIA, everyone assumed that a murderous dictator does not voluntarily destroy the WMD arsenal he has used against his own people. And if he does, he does not then expel the UN weapons inspectorate looking for proof of it, as he did in 1998 and again in 2001.

Mr Bush assumed that the Coalition forces would find mass graves, torture chambers, evidence for the gross abuse of the UN’s food-for-oil programme, but also WMDs. He was right about each but the last, and history will place him in the mainstream of Western, Eastern and Arab thinking on the matter.

For a moment, let’s ignore evidence that suggests the CIA and SIS, as well as UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, did not believe Hussein had the ability to use weapons of mass destruction. What Roberts claims here, in effect, is that being wrong about WMDs was acceptable because plenty of other people were wrong, too.

Roberts is arguing that his and the Administration’s logic was so valid that even though he, Bush and the rest of the Right were proved wrong – disastrously, murderously wrong – it doesn’t mean that they were actually wrong. Oh no, not for a moment wrong: it was simply a case of that pesky evidence getting in the way of an otherwise sound argument. Again.

You know something is very seriously lacking with the George W Bush presidency when his die hard supporters have to resort to arguments as feeble as that to defend his Administration.

Wisely, Roberts avoids domestic policy.

Filed under: Defence, Economics, Foreign policy, Politics, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,