Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Category


 

In my previous piece which I wrote in response to my good friend Ramon Casiple’s “China’s Dilemma,” I argued that it is the United States and the Philippines which actually have a dilemma over Ayungin.

I based my argument on the fact that the US Senate has yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), upon which the Philippine claim is based. The US does not recognize such concepts and principles as archipelagic state, archipelagic waters, and exclusive economic zone upon which the Philippine claim is based.

Since Ayungin and other disputed islands and features in the Western Philippine Sea (a part of the larger South China Sea) are not part of the metropolitan territory of the Republic, I foresee difficulties in invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines to explain why the US cannot come immediately to our aid.

 

For the complete article, click on the link below:

 

 

http://www.interaksyon.com/article/88634/commentary–being-a-us-protectorate-weakened-ph-position-vis-a-vis-china-in-dispute


 

Prof. Andrei Tsygankov

Prof. Andrei Tsygankov

 

 

Andrei Tsygankov, a professor of political science and international relations at the San Francisco State University, believes Obama does not have a Russia policy. “That US strategic thinking is impotent;” the world has changed since the end of the Cold War but US thinking has not.

Tsygankov argues that the US cannot return to Cold War strategies of containment and ideological struggle. He believes the proper approach is to help Russia become stronger in a future and a more secure multipolar world. Otherwise, the alternative is a dangerous bipolar world dominated by US and China with Russia firmly on China’s side.

The confluence of events after the end of the Cold War had led to Obama’s current predicament. Russia became so weak and supine the West almost got everything from it thanks to the drunkard Yeltsin.

 

Russian President Boris Yeltsin

Russian President Boris Yeltsin

 

And yet, the West did not give anything of consequence to Russia. Instead, it brought the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an anti-Soviet military alliance that should have disbanded after the Cold War’s end, right up to Russia’s doorsteps and subverted pro-Moscow regimes through the so-called color revolutions.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

 

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that post-Yeltsin leaders of a different breed like Putin cannot accept such further diminution of Russian power and the embedding of existential threats at its very borders. Looks like the American have not heard of Napoleon and a guy named Adolf Hitler.

 

China President Xi Ping

China President Xi Ping

 

 

At this point, China found it opportune to repair its relations not only with Russia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) but also with India. If the US is dreaming of containing China in the East Asian littoral through another containment strategy, the SCO may make it easier said than done. China’s cultivation of Thailand and Myanmar and normalized relations with India can afford it access not only to the Indian Ocean but to new sources of energy.

 

 

Furthermore, the ASEAN connectivity projects specially in mainland Southeast Asia will have positive spillover effects for China’s economy.

 

 

Putin can then decide which state will butter the Russian bread. Or could even have both buttering up to the Russian bear. And supply the bread to boot!

 

 

Of course, in some way, an incoherent power is more harmful than one with a carefully crafted strategy.


US President Barack Obama upped the ante when he warned of grave consequences should Crimeans opt out of Ukraine in a referendum. Majority of Crimea’s population is Russian.  It also contains an autonomous district that houses the Russian Navy Black Sea fleet.

Crimea (the peninsula in the Black Sea), Russia, and Ukraine

Crimea (the peninsula in the Black Sea), Russia, and Ukraine

The West protests the referendum saying the presence of Russian soldiers in Crimea puts illegitimate pressure on voters.

Crimean peninsula

Crimean peninsula

To emphasize his point, President Obama received the interim prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, at the White House in a clear sign of support.

Obama and Yatsenyuk

Obama and Yatsenyuk

The United States recognized Kosovo (which got out of Serbia) some years back.  The official line was Kosovo was a genuine struggle for independence while Crimea will be a naked land grab. 

Celebrating Kosovo's independence

Celebrating Kosovo’s independence

What gives? 

Whatever happened to the right of national self-determination?

Oh, I think I get it. 

Russia and Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine

If the rump state aligns with the West against Russia, it will be recognized with alacrity.

If it is friendly with Putin, dire sanctions will follow.

Realism rules!

The situation seems to be getting more and more complicated.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had sent advanced surveillance planes to monitor Ukraine’s borders with Poland and Romania.

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus

 

NATO reportedly redeployed 15 jet fighters from Italy to the Baltic states near Belarus. Accordingly, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that he will offer Russia the same opportunity to deploy 15 warplanes to counter NATO activity near Belarussian borders.  The request was in compliance with the terms of Russian-Belarussian alliance.

The Ukrainian crisis is obviously of interest to the global powers and is still in the making.  

I will continue to write on the crisis.  That is, if I am not composing photoseptons for my other blog, http://bmmphotopoetry.wordpress.com.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

Oh, by the way, the current crisis started when pro-Western protesters (with obvious Western support) ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych last February.  Yanukovych may indeed be corrupt.  The problem is he had a clear electoral mandate.


Mitt Romney introduces Paul Ryan to Republican Party faithfuls

Mitt Romney recently announced in Norfolk, Virginia that his vice presidential running mate is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

ABC News reported on the elaborate measures taken by the Romney campaign to keep the decision under wraps until the right moment. The report (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/08/how-mitt-romney-and-paul-ryan-tricked-the-press/) read: “Mitt Romney decided on Paul Ryan on Aug. 1, the day after returning from his trip overseas to the Olympics in London and to Israel and Poland. The candidate and his campaign kept the secret for nine days, according to campaign sources. Romney and Ryan met secretly on August 5th, after the decision had been made and just before Romney submitted to round-the-clock coverage by reporters who had been traveling with him.”

Ryan is known as a fiscal ideologue who is in favor of spending cuts to reduce the government budget deficit.  He is respected within the Republican Party for his economic acumen and is considered by many as a key party leader.  Romney’s choice of Ryan as running mate reportedly energized party activists.

The choice of Ryan is considered by many to reflect the fundamental truth underlying the 2012 US elections: “It’s the economy, stupid!”  Both the Republican and Democratic parties must answer voters’ queries on immediate prospects of the sluggish  US economy beset with unemployment since the start of President Obama’s term.  

Ryan tangled with President Obama repeatedly in the past over proposed budgetary allocations for the Medicare program (the so-called ObamaCare).  The Wisconsin representative believed that Obama’s allocations were not sustainable given substantial US budget deficits.  

Notwithstanding these public deficits, Ryan follows the lead of several Republicans since the late 1970s to propose cuts in tax rates, especially for upper income individuals and corporations.  This suggestion is counter-intuitive and must have some solid theoretical backing.

During the late 1970s, the Western countries dealt with a new phenomenon–‘stagflation’–the coexistence of high prices and stagnant economic growth.   It was theorized previously that these cannot happen simultaneously–that inflation sets in only during full employment and that recession dampens prices.  This was the Keynesian consensus at the time.  

John Maynard Keynes

Keynesians ordinarily prescribed increased government spending (and sometimes tax cuts for ordinary consumers) to get out of economic slowdowns.  For this reason, Keynesians are called demand-side economists.  On the other hand, monetarists or so-called supply-side economists, led by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago, believed the key policy tool is the control of money supply to control inflation, that is, tighter money leads to lower prices.  They also believed that artificial market imperfections such monopolization by trade unions  of labor markets, capital controls, and excessive government regulations should be dealt with since they raise wages, interest rates and overall prices.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman

Supply-side economic policies were adopted by President Ronald Reagan during his first term in the early 1980s.  The situation then was similar to current conditions: tax cuts were proposed for corporations and upper income individuals  amid US deficits.  The reasoning: corporations did not invest as much so the economy could grow because of excessive tax rates and regulations.  The tax cuts were adopted but the deficits did not decrease; in fact, they increased.  

President Ronald Reagan

The clarion call then was deregulation.  Government should stop regulating and interfering in the economy and allow market forces to work freely.  

President George Bush Jr.

However, it was not to be a simple binary choice.  One policy program does not exclude the other.  When the big US financial institutions started to go under in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 housing crisis, the US Congress at the urgent request of President George Bush Jr. approved a $700 billion bail-out program for the Wall Street banks as well as General Motors and Chrysler.  Alienating many within his ‘Main Street’ constituency, President Barack Obama had to maintain the program.  In many instances, Obama was accused of being soft on the banks, considered by many to be responsible for the financial crisis.  The five biggest banks were recently allowed to settle lawsuits over practices that forced millions of American families from their homes(see https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/02/09-5).

Obama weighing alternatives?

Our historical discussion shows that political leaders cannot be held captive by their ideologies.  They may be forced to adopt policies that work, pragmatic policies that is.  Should Romney and Ryan get elected in November 2012, I will be very interested to see if their ideology survives its first brush with reality.

Paul Ryan with his latest budget proposal


Toppling Assad: In aid of Obama’s re-election?.


Obama solves his quandary?

As late as a week ago, US President Barack Obama continued to shy away from a closer American involvement in the ongoing Syrian civil war.   He relied on a United Nations peace plan that was repeatedly stymied by Russia and China, permanent members of the UN Security Council.  He is aware that the American public does not want to get entangled in yet another war in the Middle East.  And in an election year, he has to be particularly careful.  This may be the reason the US played second-fiddle to NATO, France and Britain in the overthrow of the Khaddafi regime in Libya.

The most recent poll figures released by CBSNEWS (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57475178-503544/obama-romney-in-dead-heat-in-presidential-race/) should give Obama cause to pause and ponder.

Obama on the stump

The story reads:  “President Obama and Mitt Romney are effectively tied in the race for the presidency, according to a new CBS News/New York Times survey.

Forty-seven percent of registered voters nationwide who lean towards a candidate back Romney, while 46 percent support the president. Four percent are undecided. The 1 percentage point difference iss within the survey’s three-point margin of error.

Romney leads by eight points among men; the president leads by five points among women. 

Republican Party standard-bearer Mitt Romney

The president’s supporters are more likely to strongly back their candidate. Fifty-two percent strongly favor Mr. Obama, while just 29 percent of Romney voters strongly back the presumptive Republican nominee”.

While the polled voters considered Obama to be better than Romney in foreign policy (47 percent to 40 percent),  a less complicated international environment would be best for a president seeking the voters’ approval anew.  One other thing, this is the first time Romney caught up in the surveys despite weeks of blistering ads against his personal wealth, his role in Bain Capital, a private equity firm that supposedly outsourced jobs overseas at a time when Americans were suffering from severe unemployment, and his reluctance to reveal tax returns on any year while he supposedly was making hay at Bain.  For more details on the Bain issue, read this story from Time magazine

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2119903,00.html?xid=newsletter-weekly

Obama and Netanyahu

We remember Obama’s efforts earlier this year to cool Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear reactors.   Any ratcheting up of the Iran situation will, among other things, cause a global spike in oil prices–endangering the tentative US economic recovery and torpedoing his chances at re-election. 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Recent developments in Syria, including the strengthening of the Syrian rebel forces and the death of four of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s closest associates (including his brother-in-law), may have persuaded Obama to change tack.   Heckling from the Republicans and the American right may also have had some effect.  For one, Romney declared he will arm the Syrian rebels.

It looks like the Syrian rebels now have a better chance to prevail in the ongoing Syrian civil war.  Up to this writing, they have been contemptuous of American caution and were praising Turkey and Qatar as their reliable allies.  They may yet change their opinions about the US.

Rebels in Idlib province, Syria

A new US policy on the Syrian crisis was publicly announced in a news article published by the New York Times last 21 July 2012 (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/22/world/middleeast/us-to-focus-on-forcibly-toppling-syrian-government.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=middleeast).   A truncated version of the article is in today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  

A summary: abandonment of the diplomatic tack and the formation of a coalition of  like-minded countries  to forcibly bring down Assad’s government.

The named coalition members:  US, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

Key concerns:

  • Syria’s chemical weapons
  • Negative reaction to Israel’s participation in Assad’s ouster
  • Broad representation in post-Assad government (Alawites, Sunnis, and Christians) 

Will Obama’s gamble pay off?  Will Assad’s ouster insure his return to the White House?

The same NYT story quotes Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who said: “We’re looking at the controlled demolition of the Assad regime.  But like any controlled demolition, anything can go wrong.”

Even a victory in Syria might not convince American voters grappling with an unemployment rate that remained flat at 8% for several months to date to vote for Obama.  


Department of Finance (DOF) logo

From government’s point of view, the ideal excise tax on sin products is an ad valorem or a percentage tax of the manufacturing price of a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of beer or whiskey.  Failing that, it can accept a specific tax on these products indexed to the inflation rate.  Of course, it goes without saying that government will prefer the highest tax rate, be it specific or ad valorem.

Through  these specifications, government can collect the maximum possible sin tax revenues.

Additionally, the national government believes that high sin tax rates will dampen consumption and consequently have positive effects not only on people’s health.  It could also improve peace and order and reduce crime rates.

Department of Health (DOH) seal

What about the tax preferences of the manufacturers of sin products?  Of course,  they will prefer low rates; specific rather than ad valorem; and unindexed (to inflation) tax rates.  Low tax rates will ultimately lead to lower prices of sin products which will ultimately mean greater demand for the same.  Nonetheless, the demand for sin products is generally inelastic–meaning demand for the same is not very sensitive to changes in product prices except in the long run.  Some tax experts report that beer is the most inelastic among alcoholic beverages while others opine that the nicotine content of cigarettes make demand for tobacco products also inelastic.

Local sin product manufacturers have predictably opposed the government-proposed 1000% increase in specific taxes on beer and alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.  The huge increase is proposed given the relative freezing of specific tax rates since 1996.  The tax law approved at the time did not approve indexation to inflation of the tax rates and provided only for minimal tax increases.

 

San Miguel beer

How will consumers of sin tax react to government’s tax proposals?

Filipino beer drinkers

It does not take one to be a rocket scientist to figure out that consumers will oppose government’s plans.  In his column at the Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday, Prof. Cielito Habito pointed out that the poor consume sin products in a greater proportion compared to middle income and rich people.  Thus, they will oppose increases in tax rates that translate into higher retail prices.  

Colt 45, one of the beer brands of Asia Brewery Inc.

And higher retail prices for these ‘indispensable’ products means lower real incomes for the poor.

This might not register well with a public already reeling with high prices of oil products and an increase in transport fares.  

What we have here is a case where the interests of sin tax manufacturers and consumers largely coming from the ranks of the poor are aligned and ranged against that of government.

Obama and Noynoy smoking

It is incumbent upon government to gather political support for its tax plans within and without Congress.

 

Will it be a good idea to appeal for support from the wives and children of smokers and drinkers who may be concerned about the health of their relatives?  To those who are worried that  the money  spent for sin products is money that should spent for the dining table and other household necessities?  Or will that be seen as an invasion of privacy and curtailment of individual freedoms? Or will it encourage strife within households?

Will examples from role models help?