What Comes After the Bailout of Portugal

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Sometimes reviewing past news events can yield unexpected irony. Here, for instance, is the New York Times’ page on Portugal News. The second-to-last article, dated on January 12th is titled, Portugal Says It Needs No Bailout and Won’t Seek One. After that there is a series of optimistic articles titled, respectively, Portugal’s Bond Sale Better Than Expected, Bond Sale A Success In Portugal, Optimistic Outlook Eases Portugal’s Borrowing Costs.

Two days ago, however, came this gem: Portugal to Ask Europe For Bailout.

This bailout comes after the previous bailouts of Greece and then Ireland. The European Union has detailed a bail-out fund of approximately one trillion dollars, which can be lent to countries at lower than at-market interest rates. Originally this was meant to stop the market panic over the European sovereign debt crisis. To some extent it has succeeded in alleviating the panic.

On the other hand, it has obviously failed to contain the contagion to Greece alone.

By itself Portugal is not too big of a problem for the fund. Its economy is smaller than Greece’s; so is its population. The fund will be able to deal with Portugal, as it did with Greece and Ireland.

The question is, however, what comes next. With the bailout of Portugal, all eyes are looking towards Spain. This is the market’s next target.

A bailout of Spain would be a magnitude more difficult than the previous bailouts. Its economy is far bigger; more than a trillion dollars in GDP. This is four to five times bigger than Greece. It has a population of 46 million, several times that of Greece.

It would be very difficult and extremely expensive to rescue Spain’s 1.4 trillion dollar economy, unlike the relatively cheap rescues so far enacted. The bailout might perhaps or probably be impossible.

In other words, the eurozone has almost reached the end of its line. In the summer of 2010, during the height of the Greek crisis, analysts worried not about Greece but about Spain (and Italy after Spain). Spain was the big fish, the debt-ridden country in a recession big enough to pull down the euro. The fear was that Greek bankruptcy would set off a chain reaction, moving from Greece to Ireland to Portugal and finally to Spain.

Well, Greece, Ireland, and Portugal have asked for a rescue, and it has come down to Spain. Spain must not fall.

 

 

A Russian Perspective on the Russian-Georgian War

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

In the summer of 2008, although many people have forgotten, Russia and Georgia fought a brief war. The war began when Georgia launched an invasion of its rebellious province South Ossetia. South Ossetian resistance was bolstered when Russia launched a massive intervention. Georgian and Russian forces fought for several days, ending in a resounding Georgian defeat.

The American perspective of the war reflects American suspicion of Russia, dating from the hostility of the Cold War. Georgia, most grudgingly acknowledge, did start hostilities. But Russia’s response was extremely disproportionate and, in this view, deserves to be condemned. On the other hand, the war has revealed that Georgia is definitely not ready to join organizations such as NATO or the EU.

This article, by Mikhail Barabanov of the Moscow Defense Brief, provides a fascinatingly different perspective. It is from the Russian point-of-view, specifically a military one. Mr. Barabanov begins by celebrating the quick victory of Russian forces:

Initially, Georgia’s attack on the capital of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia on August 8, 2008, seemed like it would lead to yet another bloody, drawn out Caucasus war. However, the quick, energetic, and sustained intervention of Russia (the guarantor of peace in South Ossetia since 1992) escalated by August 11 into a powerful blitzkrieg against Georgia proper. Commentators who until recently described the Georgian Army as the “best” in the post-Soviet space were at a loss for words.

He then paints a picture of the situation that stands at stark contrast with the usual Western perspective. America’s media generally describes Georgia as a reforming country moving towards democracy and rule-of-law.

Mr. Barabanov, on the other hand, describes Georgia as a war-hungry nation intent on building its military:

…Mikhail Saakashvili devoted exceptional efforts to the creation of a fighting armed force that could return the separatist autonomous republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the Georgian fold…Significant funding went into force generation: during Saakashvili’s rule, Georgia broke world records for defense spending, which grew by 33 times to reach about $1 billion per year in 2007-2008. Last year’s defense budget was 8 percent of the Georgian GDP. Only Saudi Arabia, Oman, and North Korea spend more as a proportion of their national wealth.

The rest of the article then details the mechanics of the war, and the Russian perspective on the Georgian defeat. Unsurprisingly, Georgia is characterized as the aggressor and Russia. Mr. Barabanov argues that Georgia suffered a total defeat, also unsurprisingly (and, to be fair, not unrealistically).

There is one final point which Mr. Barabanov makes, and this one is something that is worth dwelling upon. While acknowledging the strength of the Western armies themselves, he is far more skeptical about Third-World armies trained by the West. Armies like these (i.e. the Georgian army), he argues, have consistently underperformed vis-a-vis the technology they have. The quote is relatively long, but it is worth stating in full:

A clear analogy can be drawn between the fate of the Georgian Army and the collapse of the armed forces of South Vietnam in 1975. Like the Georgian Army, the South Vietnamese Army was built, trained, according to the American model and was well equipped. However, when they fought against the forces of North Vietnam, which combined local combat techniques with Soviet and Chinese organization and tactics, the outwardly impressive South Vietnamese forces proved to be much less effective than expected and fell apart after several defeats. In Georgia, as in South Vietnam, the imitation of Western methods of organization and force generation failed to match Western levels of military effectiveness. The creation of an effective national military machine requires long-term work on the part of the state, and an ability to take national characteristics into account. In and of themselves, “Western” standards of force generation do not guarantee superiority over “non-Western” armies. Those who believe in the a-priori superiority of the West in military affairs have learned yet another unpleasant lesson from the Georgian affair.

Here Mr. Barabanov’s words strike quite squarely on the truth. America has never been very good at training non-Western forces. The South Vietnamese and Georgian  cases indicate this. Today the United States is once again desperately trying to train a national Afghani army to Western standards. Americans would be wise to take Mr. Barabanov’s words into account.

 

 

Why It’s Strange That Everybody in the United States Speaks English

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Imagine you’re a tourist planning on visiting India. Determined not to be seen as culturally ignorant, you’ve decided to learn Hindi, the official language. As the plane lands in Bangladore, you are confident that you can speak in the native language.

Except when you get out onto the street, the people aren’t speaking Hindi. They’re talking in a dialect of Kannada, and you can’t understand them.

Eventually, after several painstaking months, you learn Kannada as spoken in Bangladore. Now you’re really confident that you’ve got this thing down; you know both Hindi and a very local dialect. You fly to Mumbai.

Except in Mumbai the people on the street don’t speak Kannada, Hindi, or English. They speak Marathi. And a fair share of the elite speak English.

Might as well have stayed with English.

Or imagine you’re visiting China. Once again, as a culturally competent individual you’ve mastered Mandarin, and blast into Shanghai completely prepared.

In Shanghai, however, it turns out that the local language is Shanghainese. You didn’t even know that existed, but when local residents talk to each other you don’t understand any of it.

A local friend you’ve made later, born and bred in Shanghai, confides to you that he feels uncomfortable going to other provinces. In Guangdong locals speak in Cantonese; in Sichuan they speak in Sichuanese; in Tibet they speak in Tibetan; he can’t understand any of it. True, locals can switch to standard Mandarin when talking with non-locals, but he still feels like a foreigner outside Shanghai.

The next day you board a plane back to the United States, where everybody understands and speaks the same exact language. Every word that a person says in Seattle can be comprehended by a person in Houston; every word that a person says in Houston can be comprehended by a New Yorker. With the exception of the South and a few inner-city ghettos, there is even no difference in accent.

This achievement is frequently understated. Many Americans simply assume that things are like this in other countries – everybody in the Middle East speaks Arabic (true, but the regional dialects are mutually incomprehensible), everybody in Nigeria speaks “Nigerian” (definitely not true).

In truth, as the examples of China and India show, it is actually quite strange to think that in a continent-stretching nation with hundreds of millions (or billions) of people, it would be the case that the language would be so uniform. Few countries can claim to have done this. Brazil is one. Russia is another – but remember that Russia is the descendant of the Soviet Union, which tried and failed to impose a Russian common language upon the tens of millions of its non-Russian citizens.

Some conservatives complain that nowadays, there are too many Mexicans who don’t know English. Yet of the Hispanic immigrants who enter the United States, only 6% of their grandchildren will speak Spanish at home.

The extent to which the United States has succeeded in establishing a common language, across a continent and through three hundred million people, remains an amazing, if much-ignored, accomplishment.

 

 

A Reflection On Media Coverage Of Japan

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

It is rare to see a country more advanced than the United States. Americans like to bemoan about how other countries always do things better, but in fact most of this is just talk. When it comes down to it, America is usually still ahead of a given country in most measurements of development.

Japan is one of the few exceptions to this pattern. In the media coverage of its earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters Japan has often been characterized as more advanced than the United States. Its buildings are built to higher standards against disasters such as earthquakes. It is far more successful in discouraging crime and looting. Its nuclear regulators are more accountable than those in the United States. In many ways life in Japan is nicer than life in the United States.

A generation ago such acknowledgments would have been tinted by a hint of fear. Japan was supposed to be the rival of the United States, an economic threat that warned of American decline. Today that role has been taken over by China, in the wake of Japan’s economic stagnation.

Thus coverage of Japan has been generally quite positive. Indeed, sometimes the tone of media coverage has verged upon awe. If a nation with as much technological prowess as Japan was so badly damaged by the tsunami, a reporter might write, what would a similar event do to the United States? The implication is that Japan’s technology is just plain better than America’s.

Interestingly, this type of coverage is reminiscent of the coverage America’s media gave to another (totally unrelated) event. This was the South Ossetia war in 2008. At that time America’s media adopted a similar tone of awe towards Russia’s military. Russia’s army, after all, is one of the few that can legitimately challenge America’s. It is one of a very few states – perhaps the only one – that might actually win a conventional war with the United States.

The American media’s awe of Japanese technology today sounds quite similar to its awe of Russian arms in 2008. Very few countries can arouse the wonder of the American media. It is refreshing to see it happen.

 

 

The Myth of a Multiracial American Utopia

With the results of the 2010 Census slowly coming in, a number of news stories have focused on the growing number of multiracial Americans. They talk about, for instance, about an individual whose father of race A is and whose mother is of race B – and who identifies with neither race. America, the theme goes, is slowly becoming a nation of mixed-race people.

There is an earnest hope about these stories. The hope is that, as the number of multiracial Americans increases, there will eventually come a time when race does not matter. Everybody will eventually be multiracial, so nobody will think of race anymore.

It is an admirable dream.

Unfortunately, the dream of a multiracial society in which racism ceases to exist will probably remain just that – a dream. In fact, there are a number of mixed-race societies in the world. These are places such as Mexico or Brazil, products of centuries of mixing after the Spanish and Portuguese conquests. Indeed, Mexico and Brazil pride themselves on being multiracial. While Americans celebrate Columbus Day, countries in Latin America celebrate Dia de la Raza (although sometimes the name is different), commemorating the creation of a new Hispanic race.

Racism, unfortunately, still is quite prevalent in these mixed-race countries. The general rule is that the lighter a person’s skin, the better off they do. The political and economic elite invariably have the most European ancestry, despite being very much in the minority. The poor and needy always have more indigenous or African ancestry.

Take, for instance, the telenovelas that air on America’s Spanish-language channels. If one were to judge what a typical Hispanic-American looks like just by watching telenovelas, one would be forgiven for concluding that 50% of Hispanic-American women have blonde hair. No telenovela will ever have a main character whose skin is as dark as Hispanics in real-life.

Or take Brazil, another extremely multiracial society. Here is a picture of residents in a typical favela (Brazilian slum), taken by the New York Times.

Here is a picture of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (a leftist politician who herself, in all probability, strongly opposes racial discrimination).

Notice a difference?

The unfortunate, sad reality is that, judging by the examples of existing multiracial societies, a more multiracial America will not lead to racial harmony. Rather, as in Brazil or Mexico, those with the lightest skin will end up doing better than those with darker skin. Human nature is just too inherently suspicious of those who look different for racism to end merely by adding more people who look different.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

Mexican Immigrants and the 2012 Mexican Presidential Election

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

There are quite a number of Mexican citizens living in America. Much political attention has been paid to these people by both American political parties. Liberals hope that the votes of their children will carve out a new permanent Democratic majority. Conservatives, on the other hand, relentlessly campaign against undocumented immigrants and “amnesty.”

When immigrant rallies occur, conservative media frequently focus on immigrants from Mexico waving Mexican flags. The implication is that these people are more loyal to Mexico than the United States.

Let’s take this thought a bit further, to a subject which most conservatives don’t think about. Like the United States, Mexico will have a presidential election in 2012. There are a lot of Mexican citizens in the United States (whether documented or undocumented). What if they voted?

So far they have not. Before the 2006 presidential election, Mexicans living abroad had to physically be present in Mexico to vote. Given the difficulty and expense of doing this (for all expatriates, not just Mexican), this effectively disenfranchised the Mexican expatriate population.

Before the 2006 presidential election, a new law was passed. This allowed Mexicans living abroad to register for an “overseas” ballot. The expectations were quite high; imagine the power of Mexico’s enormous expatriate vote to affect domestic Mexican politics.

As it turns out, however, only 32,632 Mexican citizens living in America bothered to take the offer. Most of them probably didn’t know about the procedure, or perhaps found it too complex. Apparently Mexican immigrants are just as disconnected to Mexican politics as they are to American politics (or more disconnected, in all probability).

Whether turn-out will be just as low in 2012 is still a mystery. Still, it’s pretty fascinating to consider what might happen if expatriate voting actually went into high-gear. What if the current ban on campaigning abroad was overturned? Imagine the PRI holding a political rally in California (or better yet, Arizona!). How about the PAN running advertisements on Univision?

Probably nothing more would piss nativists off than having Mexican political parties physically campaigning in the United States for the Mexican immigrant vote. It’s a humorous, if slightly unrealistic, thought.

 

 

Asians in the Soviet Union?

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

I recently came upon an interesting Youtube video of the former Soviet Union’s national anthem. The music was set to a clip of Soviet propaganda, which was also interesting to watch. There was a lot of emphasis on heavy industry, for instance, a peculiar obsession of communist countries that still lingers in places such as China.

In the middle of the video, however, something very surprising occurred. Take a look at 0:48, 1:44, and 1:52.

These scenes show what look unmistakably to be individuals whom we in the United States label as “Asian.”

Who are these people?

There are several possibilities. Perhaps they are Chinese, North Korean, or from another East Asian communist country. The video might have been showing Soviet assistance to its allies. This is the less likely explanation, however; why aren’t there Cubans or Africans (from communist nations in Africa) in the video then?

Or perhaps these people are citizens of the Soviet Union.

When most people think of a Soviet Union citizen, they imagine a person with features that Americans associate with “white” people. There is reason for this: people of Russian ethnicity – who fit under the definition of white – composed the majority of the country’s population. They dominated the Soviet Union’s elite; all of its leaders were “white.”

Most of Central Asia, however, also was a part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union bordered China and Mongolia for thousands of miles.

It is very difficult to classify the “race” of the people in these areas; it is a region most people (including, admittedly, me) do not pay attention to. Yet one imagines that if a place borders Mongolia or China, the people in that place will appear somewhat similar to people living in Mongolia or China.

When looking at the “Asians” in this video, one is strikingly reminded of the way African-Americans are portrayed in American commercials and movies. There is always at least one African-American in a commercial. But they are never the majority. The same phenomenon seems to be happening here, except with Asians instead of blacks.

Perhaps the Soviet Union had token minorities of its own.

 

 

California’s Unusual Black Vote in 2010

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

The black vote is one of the most reliably Democratic constituencies out there. Blacks commonly give Democratic candidates more than 90% of the vote; Democratic presidential candidates in 2000, 2004, and 2008 won 90%, 89%, and 95% of blacks respectively.

Blacks were as reliably Democratic as ever in the 2010 midterm elections. The black vote undoubtedly saved many a Democrat from defeat. Exit polls indicate that 89% of blacks nationwide voted for a Democratic congressman.

In California, however, blacks seemed to have been quite a bit more Republican than this. The table below indicates the black support, according to exit polls, gained by Republicans in California’s statewide races:

2010 Black Vote Democratic Republican Nationwide (House of Representatives) 89 9 California Governor 77 21 California Senator 80 17

This can be graphed as below:

 

Link to Graph of 2010 Black Vote For Republicans

 

Now, a word of caution before analyzing these results: exit polls are notoriously unreliable. It is entirely possible that a bad sample skewed these results (although since it appears that the polls for the two California races were separately done, this may be less likely).

If the exit polls prove correct, however, California blacks voted significantly more Republican than blacks elsewhere in the nation. Generally speaking, it is quite a feat for a Republican to get more than 15% of the black vote.

Yet in 2010 Republican candidates in California did this twice. These were not especially impressive candidates; both lost pretty badly. Nevertheless, they got a degree of black support one would only expect Republican to pull during a landslide victory.

Whether this degree of black support is something recent, or whether blacks in California have always voted this way, is hard to tell. According to exit polls, in 2008 they gave 94% of the vote to the Democratic candidate. In 2004 they gave 86% of the vote for Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (this was an election she won by a landslide). On the other hand, in 2004 a relatively paltry 70% voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides (who lost by a landslide).

Looking at the results does seem to indicate that blacks in California have been consistently more Republican than blacks nationwide, if not to the extent they were in 2010.

There are several reasons why this might have happened. Several years ago a blogger named dreaminonempty did a fascinating analysis, in which (s)he found that the blacks living in extremely non-black states tended to support Democrats less. For instance, blacks residing in states with higher black populations were more disapproving of President George W. Bush. This was the graph the blogger created:

 

Link to dreaminonempty's Graph

 

Califonia is a state with a relatively low black population. Moreover, blacks in California are unusually integrated and getting more so. Places traditionally associated with the black community are rapidly diversifying. For instance, today Oakland is barely more than one-fourth black and Compton is less than one-third black.

California, then, constitutes a good example of dreaminonempty’s hypothesis. Its relatively racially integrated communities may have something to do with a less monolithically Democratic black vote.

Republicans should not start celebrating yet, however. Their relative strength amongst the black vote has very little to do with Republican success at appealing to minorities, and much more to do with the characteristics of California’s black community. If the party is ever to regain competitiveness in California, it must begin reaching out to minorities. Judging by the 2010 election results, this is still a challenge the party has yet to overcome. 

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Italian Corruption: A Professor’s Anecdote

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Italy constitutes one of the world’s more developed countries. It has one of the globe’s largest economies (on par with California), relatively high living standards, and all the perks that come along with being a modernized, industrial giant of Europe.

Yet Italy is also stagnating. When Europe falls into recession, Italy falls more than average; when Europe grows, Italy grows less than average. The influence of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a politician who could reverse these problems but who has most definitely not, is not helping matters.

Recently a professor of this blogger – let’s call him Professor X – hailing from Italy, provided some inside knowledge on Italian stagnation. He referenced Italy’s post-graduate education system, where students like him would conduct research and apply to become professors at Italian institutions.

America’s post-graduate system is the best in the world. According to Professor X, however, Italy’s system is entangled in a web of corruption that is slowly asphyxiating it. In the United States potential professors get their Ph.D. degree and then solicit employment at a university. In Italy, however, post-graduate students must pass a test conducted and graded by current professors. The problem is that while in theory the test results are based on merit, in actuality the relationship with the grading professor is what matters.

All types of discrimination occur. Younger students, for instance, must “wait their turn” as professors pass older students. Only once it is “their turn” will the grading professor permit them to pass.

Moreover, degrees achieved at foreign institutions are not transferable. An American professor teaching at an Ivy League institution, were he or she to with to teach at an Italian one, would theoretically have to get an entirely new Italian degree and take the same test. Professor X theorized that perhaps that years-long process could be shortened for an Ivy League professor. But – again – this would depend on said professor’s connections with Italian professors in the system.

The negative consequences of this corruption are readily apparent: motivated, highly intelligent Italian post-graduate students are leaving in droves. They are trying their talents in foreign countries, rather than braving the entrenched corruption of the Italian system. When Professor X returns to Italy, he advises Italian post-graduate students to get out of the country. That is undoubtedly bad for Italy.

From the words of Professor X, this type of corruption is apparent all throughout Italy. It is rotting the country from within. He worries about the country’s future.

There is reason to worry. Italy is still rich and wealthy by global standards, and will probably remain so for many decades. Yet a country can still decline, slowly and almost unnoticeably, until it is shocking to compare the status of it before and after the decline. In 1900 Argentina was one of the ten wealthiest countries in the world. Today it is often considered part of the Third World. One hopes Italy rights itself before that happens.

 

 

 

A Textbook Example of Media Embellishment

I recently wrote a post title: The Great Twitter/Facebook Revolution Fallacy. This post noted that:

For some strange reason, the American media has always been obsessed with Twitter and Facebook…

This applies to foreign affairs as well. In the context of the events occurring in the Middle East, the Western media loves to argue that Twitter and Facebook constitute catalysts for revolution in the modern era. Indeed, some articles called the 2009 Iranian protests the “Twitter Revolution.”

It then went on to argue that, in fact, Twitter and Facebook played a negligible role in the Arab revolutions, given the very very few individuals in those countries who use Twitter or Facebook (let alone have access to the Internet in the first place).

In fact, given that the Internet was blocked for much of the Egyptian protests, it’s safe to say that Twitter and Facebook had absolutely no role in the Egyptian revolution during its most crucial period. Neverthess, many still insist that the revolution could not have happened without sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Let’s add Youtube to the list.

America’s media has always exaggerated the role that Youtube plays in spreading political change and unrest. A few days ago, the New York Times wrote an article titled Qaddafi Youtube Spoof By Israeli Gets Arab Fans. This article was an inspiring story about how:

A YouTube clip mocking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s megalomania is fast becoming a popular token of the Libya uprising across the Middle East. And in an added affront to Colonel Qaddafi, it was created by an Israeli living in Tel Aviv…

Mr. Alooshe, who at first did not identify himself on the clip as an Israeli, started receiving enthusiastic messages from all around the Arab world. Web surfers soon discovered that he was a Jewish Israeli from his Facebook profile — Mr. Alooshe plays in a band called Hovevey Zion, or the Lovers of Zion — and some of the accolades turned to curses. A few also found the video distasteful.

But the reactions have largely been positive, including a message Mr. Alooshe said he received from someone he assumed to be from the Libyan opposition saying that if and when the Qaddafi regime fell, “We will dance to ‘Zenga-Zenga’ in the square.”

It sounds great. Isreali-Arab friendship. Fun being made of Libya’s dictator. And most importantly, the rising influence of the new media.

There’s just one thing wrong with this picture.

Notice how, in the comments section of the video, everything is in English. At the moment this post was being written, this individual scrolled through eleven pages before seeing one comment in Arabic.

If this Youtube video is so popular with Arab fans (as the article’s title implies), how come there are no comments in, you know, Arabic?

Perhaps the number of viewers from the English world swamped the Arab world after the Times published the article. But the earliest comments, made article was published, are largely English. Of the first 100 comments, only 15 were written in Arabic.

It doesn’t take much searching to find a video with a mainly Arabic-speaking audience. Here is one example, of an apparently popular musician. About 90% of the comments are written in Arabic. Contrast that with the Zenga Zenga video, in which the amount of Arabic in the most recent commentary approaches zero percent.

One wonders how the Times journalist came upon this video and concluded that it was a hit amongst Arabs. Perhaps the author saw the video and thought it was cool. Maybe the author had an urgent deadline and needed to bullshit an article.

But whatever the truth, it is almost certain that the Zenga Zenga video is far more popular in America than it is in the Middle East.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

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