Monthly Archives: February 2014

Pfaff on the Ukraine

 Ukraine and U.S. Militarism
by William Pfaff

Paris, February 26, 2014 –The Obama government has taken a Cold War stand on the crisis in Ukraine. The White House has warned Russia not to intervene, which they have not threatened, and has ordered U.S. military precautions. This seems unnecessary, since the Europeans seem to have matters in hand. Moreover, events last week were the second effort in a decade to bring the Ukraine into the Western camp, wrenching it away from its historical ties to Russia, a provocative and risky project.

The initial American effort to get Ukraine into NATO, following the Orange Revolution (2004-2005) and its turbulent aftermath, broke assurances given Mikhail Gorbachev when the Berlin Wall came down, and amounted to an effort to detach a part of historical Russia, with strong and lasting cultural and linguistic ties to that country, and place it under American military command. This was foolhardy, and disastrous to U.S.-Russian relations.

From the start it has been difficult to interpret foreign policy as Barack Obama envisages it. The reason, so far as I can see, is that he has always been a man of American domestic affairs and of law, his profession. He has in his first term, and as much as we have seen of the second, surrounded himself with both liberal and conservative advisors, both anti-war and interventionist, with contradictions even within the two camps, all of which has blocked consistent policy.

Following his 2008 victory, he wanted a “reset” in Russian-American relations, but has followed policies of his predecessor, notably continuing to develop an anti-missile shield supposed to save Russia as well as the United States from an absurdly improbable nuclear attack by Iran, but also facilitating an American first strike on Russia — as Moscow has noted.

He also has allowed the Neo-Conservatives to persist in the effort to detach Ukraine from Russia and attach it to NATO. On the precedent of the earlier failure President Obama should have fired the Neo-Conservatives still present in his administration, such as Victoria Nuland — Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs. Secretary Nuland was heard in the midst of this month’s crisis, during a famous tapped phone call, profanely blurting out to the American Ambassador to Ukraine details of what apparently was a planned coup d’etat.

A new fraternal alignment of Ukraine with the European Union (a relationship more prudent than outright membership) is essential. The Europeans’ present diplomatic conduct is responsible for the present calm in a fragile Ukraine and the constructive decisions that have been taken with respect to new elections.

Mr. Obama’s disposition to combine threat with accommodation has been evident in previous instances. Among his liberal policy appointments are National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Samantha Power, Ambassador to the U.N. and a prominent defender of military intervention to deal with humanitarian outrages. Both seem to have advocated the bombardment of Syria last year, when the Bashar el-Assad government was accused, on unconfirmed evidence, to have used chemical weapons against the rebels. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin intervened, to the Obama government’s dismay, to impose a peaceful solution.

The President’s advisors include people who support the drone war on Islamic militants, a new means of war of which the administration is enamored because it kills at long distance and at no risk to the operator, other than moral. This is a high-technology sniper’s weapon system, dropping its targets with an anonymous shot. The infantry sniper kills an individual in a war in which it is presumed that those deployed on the enemy side are legitimate targets.

The identity of the drone target and of the group accompanying him, who are destroyed with him (or her), are not the operator’s responsibility. Too often the target turns out to be a family at a meal or asleep, or a clan meeting or a wedding. Such has been the unfortunate experience. The drone is like the roadside bomb or the mine, or fragmentation weapon. The President has taken upon himself the responsibility of picking targets.

President Obama has also supported the American army’s demands, in the cases of withdrawal both from Iraq and the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, to keep certain combat troops in the country after the official withdrawal of American forces. These would have continued training local forces, pursued “anti-terrorist” missions, and in Afghanistan, conducted the drone war against the Taliban. This proposal was rejected (thus far, in the Afghan case) by the obstinate refusal of both Iraqi and Afghan leaders to give the soldiers conducting these stay-on missions immunity from national law, depriving the host countries of full sovereignty. What kind of withdrawal is this?

This passive/aggressive disposition has also been apparent in Mr. Obama’s announcement of a “pivot” to Asia, an act that could only be interpreted as a provocation to China, meaningless unless China is understood in Washington as likely to attack its neighbors (among them two formally allied with the United States, South Korea and Japan).

Surely the administration might have grasped that China’s leaders, while responsible for stirring trouble with Japan and their southerly island neighbors in the Yellow and South China Seas, would have understood the significance of a reinforcement of American forces in the western Pacific — without a slap in the face accompanying it. The Chinese are reputed a subtle people.

© Copyright 2014 by Tribune Content Agency. All Rights Reserved.

Hot enough for you?

Despite the miserable cold weather recently along the East Coast the NY Times today reported that, globally, January hit a record high in temperature. Here is a link to the global map mentioned by the Times.

The discussion with the map should  convince even diehard disbelievers in global warming but it probably won’t.

It also marked the 38th consecutive January and 347th consecutive month (almost 29 years) with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average January global temperature was January 1976 and the last below-average global temperature for any month was February 1985.

A New Populism?

The Republican party seems to have shifted as far right as possible, but the Democrats are not the flaming liberals their enemies  call them. Our last two Democratic presidents have been centrists. However we hear more talk now of a populist movement in Democratic ranks.  Michael Tomasky, in a level-headed article in the New York Review of Books looks over those prospects. Like most articles in the NY Review it’s fairly long, but it’s not inflated.

The Koch family

The Koch brothers (David and Charles) are known for their generous financial support of right wing candidates and causes. It seems that it runs in the family. Their father, Fred C. Koch, founder of the family firm Koch Industries, was a founding member of the John Birch Society in 1958.

Some Mozart

I haven’t put up any music for a while so here’s  one of my favorite Mozart pieces, the slow movement (of course) from his String Quintet in g minor. It’s customary to characterize this beautiful work as one showing sadness and despair. I’ve never seen it that way. To me it is just serene.

If you want the whole thing there are plenty versions on Youtube.

The problem of poverty

The Tea Party types evidently believe that the poor are deserving of their fate. Most would not agree but it’s easy to retain a bit of that attitude. So I would like to recommend an article that appeared in the online Opinionater section of the New York Times about a month ago.

It describes the result of a study on the effects of cash payments on the behavior of children in poverty. The authors had been studying a group of children in the South, some poor and some not. In addition a sizable subset were Native Americans and they began receiving substantial cash payments from a tribal casino operation.

The results were surprising. There was a substantial reduction in psychological problems and delinquency among the children, and some evidence suggests that it was related to an increase in attention to the children by parents. More money led to better parenting.Could it be that behavioral problems are caused by poverty and not the reverse?

The article is long and is a good general source of information on this topic. That includes a discussion of research that shows that stress in childhood can have significant deleterious impact on brain development. If you’re interested in the topic it’s worth reading.

Hedge Fund Envy?

A famous statistic going the rounds is that the 40 top-paid hedge fund managers and traders made an average of more than $400 million each in 2012. Does that fill you with envy for the fortunate few who have achieved wealth through the efforts of such fabulous managers? Well, maybe you should take another look.

Here is a review in Forbes, no less, of a book by Simon Lack called The Hedge Fund Mirage.  Here are some excerpts:

Lack is an industry insider, having spent a career at JPMorgan, where he helped to allocate more than $1 billion to hedge funds and to seed emerging hedge fund managers. Immersed in the industry, he eventually came to the conclusion that: “While the hedge fund industry has generated fabulous wealth and created many fortunes, it has largely done so for itself.”
His conclusion: from 1998-2010 the index – of Hedge Fund returns – returned only 2.1% annualized on a money-weighted basis, not 7.3%. During that time frame, he estimates that hedge fund managers earned $379 billion in fees, while “real investors” earned only $70 billion in profits. Thus, the operators earned 84% of the investment profits and investors only 16%. But wait, there’s more. These figures don’t account for fund of funds, which add another layer of fees and through which around one-third of hedge funds are purchased. Including these brings industry fees up to $440 billion, or a whopping 98% of the profit pool, leaving only $9 billion for investors.

Incidentally, if you read the nonsense by MIT econ professor Gregory Mankiw in the NY Times in defense of the super-rich, and found any of it meaningful, I direct your attention to Paul Krugman’s blog in reply. That’s where I got the reference to the Forbes article on hedge funds as well.