Wednesday, November 30, 2016

S. Gurumurthy On Demonetization at SASTRA: Polemics, Politics and Nonsense

I'm an alumnus of what is now known as SASTRA, a fact that both alumnus and alma mater may wish to forget. I'm often asked, by my fellow alumni, who'd rather remain unidentified in this blog, as to why I'm harsh about SASTRA in my Facebook posts and today I'll give my answer. SASTRA invited erstwhile chartered accountant and now newly christened, by SASTRA, 'Distinguished Research Professor in Legal Anthropology, S. Gurumurthy to deliver a lecture on the burning topic of the day, the demonetization drive launched by Narendra Modi. The lecture brought to the fore my visceral distaste of everything SASTRA has become.

SASTRA is now a Hindutva stronghold and is firmly in the camp of Narendra Modi. Dr S. Vaidhya Subramanian, in his opening remarks, made his admiration for the scheme quite explicit but the lecturer of the evening after dishing out dollops of polemics in the name of economic analyses made some stunning admissions that ran counter to what Dr. Vaidhya Subramanian had said.

The 'Distinguished Research Professor' and the keynote speaker said that the demonetization scheme will cause a contraction to the economy and that those who planned this are well aware of this consequence. The possibility of a contraction is now a widely conceded point. However, Gurumurthy, as he would do throughout the lecture, is playing loose with facts here and that is a major issue in a lecture given by one who carries a title like he does and that too within the aegis of an academic institution in what is supposed to be like an academic lecture. There is no inkling so far from the government, officially or otherwise, that possible economic contraction is factored into their decision making. If it was factored there is no estimation what would be the severity and within what limits that contraction would be deemed tolerable or expected. Essentially, Gurumurthy is just making up facts here and that is an insult to the audience and the academic institution that he now represents.

Two-thirds of the Rs 1000 denomination notes and one-third of the Rs 500 denomination notes do not return to the banking system but sloshes around, probably as black money, said Gurumurthy. A questioner asked then "why introduce a higher denomination of Rs 2000? Would that not increase the hoarding?" Gurumurthy nonchalantly said that the government could not print enough Rs 500 or Rs 1000 and hence the higher denomination and added, rather stunningly, 'this is an interim measure'. The audience clapped without realizing that what Gurumurthy said had no factual basis and the government has not said any such thing. Moreover while Modi is pleading the people to bear pain for 50 days Mr Gurumurthy happily says that this currency crunch will continue for 3-4 months. Modi supporters now need to run for cover.

S.Gurumurthy -- Image Courtesy Rediff (20gurumurthy1.jpg)
Gurumurthy also asserts that one of the key motivations for Modi to carry out this step is to stem the trend of jobless growth and stimulate job growth. That might be news to Modi himself. Gurumurthy does make valid points, about that shortly, on how the Manmohan Singh period, 2004-2014, was fueled by influx of dollar and how that excess liquidity sloshed in the monetary system. Modi's stated reason was curbing the menace of fake currency and black money. Gurumurthy is cooly attributing motives that were not spelled out by Modi and is still only a theoretical possibility. Modi's economy is plagued by jobless growth and that is, no doubt, causing political concern. The roots of that problem will not be adequately addressed by this demonetization.

Gurumurthy cites an 'Economic Times' report that said thanks to the demonetization move life in the the 'fake currency capital of India, Malda in West Bengal, has come to a grinding halt. He snidely hints that this is a Muslim problem. A June 8th report in Indian express cites a now widely referred study which says that nearly 250 out of a million currency notes are fake and that this is largely done through ISI. Of the fake currencies recovered Delhi and Uttar Pradesh account for nearly 43%. Interestingly while the government blames Pakistan's ISI for the problem they signed an MoU with Bangladesh to stem the flow from the Indo-Bangladesh border. Between these two articles the scenario is patchy and information is sparse but our Distinguished Researcher needs only convenient pegs to hang his narrative. Also, fake currency constitutes only Rs 70 crore annually. The big problem is pathetic infrastructure to detect and seize the currency. So while the demonetization program would render the estimated Rs 400 crores, total in the financial system, possibly useless there is no hope that the cycle will be stopped forever. The nation is being subject to torment for a problem that is inadequately addressed by this gargantuan step.

Refuting allegations that construction industry has ground to a halt Gurumurthy quoted a friend of his, this how researchers in Indian universities like SASTRA collect data, to say that it is high value builders who are dependent on buyers flush with black money that are hit hard. He then conceded that this too is a temporary phase for maybe the next 3-4 years. Black money and corruption, the root cause, will remain India's Sisyphean problem.

Choking off terrorism financing and the supposed reduction of stone throwing against Indian army soldiers in Kashmir is all attributed to this scheme. Gurumurthy explains how terrorists, with meager funding, could wreck havoc on a large economic scale as was done during the Mumbai attacks. But, by his own logic then the terrorists need only small funding and having no need for large funding this demonetization will, if at all, only put a dampener for a very short while. The horrific 9/11 attacks, also a very low cost operation, cost the US economy hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly billions. Demonetization is the most ineffective tool to fight terrorism. Kashmir's problem is a long festering one and runs way too deep to receive a body blow from this step. This is laughable premise and one that only a chartered accountant turned researcher can offer.

The reasonably good part of the lecture was when Gurumurthy talked about how Manmohan Singh sought to manage the humongous inflow of dollar by making low-interest imports possible and which in turn strained domestic manufacturing. Gurumurthy is also correct in labeling the dollar influx as 'hot money'. From 2004-2014 dollar and FDI inflow was on a scorching pace as the global market was hunting for higher returns in emerging markets as the US market teeter from 9/11 and dot-com bust first and then in 2008 the debilitating near fatal financial crises. Also, in that period US based offshoring soared exponentially bringing FDI with it.

While Gurumurthy was on solid ground talking about the problems created by excess liquidity he then took a leap into name dropping Thomas Piketty and tied "Piketty Bubble', a term referring mostly to wealth inequality driven by Capital, to "asset price inflation". Also, Piketty's own conclusions are now being increasingly questioned. A notable paper by an MIT grad exposed some flaws in Piketty's approach to curbing wealth inequality. The paper also showed some problems with current approaches to curbing excess liquidity by crimping growth. This is exactly where a true academic rather than a lumpen polemicist would have shone through with illuminating arguments. Alas, this is SASTRA and he's Gurumurthy and we cannot expect anything better.

The partisan polemicist in Gurumurthy came to the fore when he very tenuously tried to connect the dots between how Manmohan Singh's government managed excess liquidity and the black money crisis that Modi is purportedly addressing with this demonetization process. Note that according to a white paper authored by Pranab Mukherjee, now President, in 2012, cash component of black money accounts for only 3.7-7.4%. 93% of black money is not held as cash. The FDI inflow (3.6 billion dollar in 2004 reached a peak of 43.4 Billion dollar in 2008 and then tapered to 27.4 Billion dollar in 2010 and touching 44 billion in 2014) and dollar inflow, the prime drivers of excess liquidity, could not seep entirely into the financial system as black money. The connecting dots that Gurumurthy claims he researched, remember 'distinguished', were not published in any peer reviewed journal. That somebody could claim what can be charitably called 'back of the envelop calculations' as research and get applauded in an academic forum speaks volumes about the standards of Indian Universities. Interestingly, when Gurumurthy said that Manmohan's management of the economy was "monumental mismanagement" the audience enthusiastically clapped. One wonders why would an audience clap when a 10 year government led by an economist was labeled a 'monumental mismanagement". But this is a crowd that came to SASTRA to hear Gurumurthy speak, their political allegiance is no mystery.

For someone billed as researcher Gurumurthy is heavily dependent of anecdotes and even tweets that he had noticed as sources of data. So why does SASTRA patronize such a mediocre guy? Gurumurthy's politics of militant Hindutva completely dovetails with the current philosophical bent of SASTRA. What can one expect from a University that conducts a technology conference centered on Mahabharata and publishes a blog by a computer science student claiming that In-vitro-fertilization technique was well known in the mythical era.

Seeking to buttress his theory that India has ways to cope with draconian surprises like the demonetization scheme Gurumurthy again anecdotally claimed that vegetable vendors in popular bazaars operate on 'relationship' basis and are adapting to this temporary inconvenience by forgoing immediate payment. Then he proceeded to contrast this with 'contract' based western model and said "if Walmart had entered India this would not be possible". I'd love to know from this researcher of legal anthropology if Reliance Fresh, a mega grocery chain run by the Ambanis, friends of Modi, would sell vegetables to the common man on 'relationship basis?

I'm sick to my stomach of these upper middle class Marie Antoinettes patronizingly recalling how the maids and other laborers they use refuse payment or accept payment at a later date in the national interest. National interest, my foot. I cannot think of doctors or medicine shops or diagnostic clinics or marriage halls ready to accept payment at a later date. If these Antoinette's don't have cash how do they expect the maid who cleans their kitchens to have cash and these maids would not have plastic cards to buy at Reliance Fresh. I'm being told "oh there's paytm", "there's ATM". Banks are struggling to dole cash that the government says should be available to customers. This is reality. Gurumurthy speaks of an auto-rickshaw guy who refuses Rs 50 in payment. I wonder how the auto-wallah found money to pay for gas. In a nation where corruption has eaten into the body politic like cancer am I to believe that its citizenry suddenly found their soul and moral uprightness the moment Modi the messiah waved a wand? Bollocks. Bull Crap.

This Twitter Exchange Went Viral and Captures My Sentiments Exactly.
When Gurumurthy, who once extolled about the virtues of Varnashrama Dharma in SASTRA, praises 'relationship' based economy I shudder. It is not without reason that Kancha Iliah, Dalit activist, supported the move to allow Walmart into retail sector in India. Retail sector in India, like everything else, is caste ridden. A 'contract based' free market dependent Walmart will be a boon to Dalits. But that might irk Gurumurthy, a Brahmin. Also, let's not forget that Gurumurthy was once the flag bearer of an organization called 'Swadeshi Jagran Manch' which harped on self-reliance. Ironically Modi, his supporters believe, is a free marketer open to inviting foreign capital. Modi has assiduously courted foreign investments in his frequent foreign jaunts.

In typical uppity manner Gurumurthy that he often talks to his "security fellow because he's from a village". Would Gurumurthy refer to anyone on the stage or in the audience as 'fellow'? And is someone coming from a village a lab rat that his royal highness distinguished researcher seeks to study like they are guinea pigs?

Gurumurthy fulminates that the RBI sets monetary policy and is "arrogant" and does not kow-tow to the government. He wonders if in the world any where else such an institution exists. The guy SASTRA identifies as 'eminent columnist' (is that a degree now?) has not probably heard of America's Federal Reserve and its autonomy.

Only a partisan political hack like Gurumurthy will compare Raghuram Rajan to Gandhi and say that Rajan, unlike Gandhi who was instructed by Gokhale to learn India by touring, did not understand India because he was an American academic. Rajan did not come to India to start a political revolution or to find a bride for himself. Rajan, a legendary academician who crossed swords with the even more legendary Alan Greenspan, came to run the RBI because of his experience at IMF and for his knowledge of capital markets. But then this is SASTRA and he's Gurumurthy.

Dr S.Vaidhya Subramanian deserves special mention. I had to cringe when the Dean of planning refers to a memento as "momentous momentum". The opening remarks are a showcase in mediocrity and illustrates what ails Indian academia. Unfortunately for me my father did not own an university else I too might have a Ph.D and carry a title exceeding my abilities. Trying to rise up to the occasion the heir apparent plumbed the depths of ridiculousness. He said the scheme had elements of geography, since people asked "what about Modi's promise of bringing money from Switzerland and other tax havens abroad"; elements of physics, since "there were equal and opposite reactions to the scheme"; elements of chemistry, since relationship "between god and devotee changed, employer-employee relationship changed". I wish Dr. Vaidhya Subramanian the very best and my sincere prayers that one day he may indeed grow up to the title he carries today.

One Mr Mahalingam was called upon to present some remarks and moderate the question answer session that was to follow Gurumurthy's lecture. Alas, Mr. Mahalingam had no such thing to do. If moderating a question answer session is taken as reading written questions then yes he did moderate. He probably went home wondering what was he invited for.

Finally Gurumurthy. SASTRA has conferred an ill defined but very high sounding honorific title, "Distinguished Researcher in Legal Anthropology". First of all Gurumurthy is none of that. He's not at all a researcher much less a distinguished one and even less in something as esoteric as legal anthropology. By the way he's neither a researcher in law or, for that matter, anthropology let alone 'legal anthropology'.

What a waste.


World Bank Data for FDI inflow

Piketty Bubble

The disconnect between jobs and growth

"Where are the jobs" -- India Today article-

MIT student challenges Piketty

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Madame President Hillary Rodham Clinton. My Vote Explained. A Case for Clinton.

I'm a social liberal and a fiscal conservative who'll be voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton is a competent candidate and has the potential to be a good president. As a fiscal conservative I'd have loved to cast a vote for Jeb Bush or John Kasich but I cannot, in good conscience vote for Donald J. Trump. EVEN IF TRUMP BECOMES PRESIDENT IT'LL BE WITHOUT MY VOTE. MY VOTE COUNTS. A TRUMP PRESIDENCY WILL NOT BE UPON MY CONSCIENCE.

Hillary Clinton, let's be clear, is NOT the 'lesser of the two evils'. This column will argue that African-Americans, Progressives, those concerned about Climate Change, those concerned about tuition cost and student debt, those concerned about affirmative action, those concerned about human rights and everything that a decent citizen would desire to see progress on should choose, affirmatively, Hillary Clinton.

 A woman who has released 30 years of tax returns is rated as less honest than a guy who refused to release his tax returns and sheepishly admitted to not paying federal income taxes for decades. Give me a break. A guy who regularly stiffed those who did work for him is rated as more honest than Clinton. In what moral universe are we even pretending that Trump and Clinton are interchangeable commodities?

A few snippets from Clinton's career to illustrate her character, first positively and then to highlight those that remain her challenges or weakness.

A newly minted first lady took on the herculean task of cleaning the aegean stables of America's healthcare system. Like Clinton loves to say, "before Obamacare there was Hillarycare". Hillary's attempt crashed and burned facing opposition from Republicans, the healthcare industry and democrats too. The failure almost derailed the nascent presidency of Bill Clinton. Hillary was humiliated and humbled before the nation but she was not to be kept down. She picked herself up, went back to the same Congress that defeated her, worked with the same opponents and rescued an insurance plan for children amidst the wreckage that was her healthcare reform plan. Millions of children have benefited from CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Plan). The defeat left lasting scars on Hillary's experience. Never again in her political life would she attempt grandiose plans. She opted, instead, for incrementalism. This cost her dearly against the soaring dreamy oratory of Obama in 2008 and almost cost her again against Sanders's 'political revolution'. Only, in 2016 a smarter Hillary had retooled her campaign and was well suited up to meet any insurgence from the left flank of the party. Economist quotes Don Nickles, a former republican congressman who helped defeat Hillarycare, "She's a likable person. When it comes to dealing with Congress, she'd be a big improvement on Barack Obama".

Firemen typically vote Republican but when New York City firemen, the first responders on 9-11, needed help they turned to the newly elected junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton. Clinton went after the Bush administration that was trying to downplay the health effects of working in World Trade Center. She created a health care plan for the affected responders. She also secured from Bush billions for New York City as restoration funds. While many pillory her comfort with and her ties to Wall Street they don't realize that Wall Street is indeed NYC's cash cow for taxes and funds. Clinton went to Wall Street, not to line her pockets, but to raise money for NYC. A woman who was called 'Carpetbagger' for contesting from a state where she had never lived won re-election and every primary election held in New York. Sure, she fell short of her promises to create jobs in New York but it was not for lack of trying, as a New York Times investigation pointed out. Economist quotes Tom Reynolds, "a former Republican congressman who collaborated with her in upstate New York, 'She's hard working, true to her word and very professional'".

Michael Morell, a 33 year veteran at CIA, a former acting-director and deputy director, under Republican and Democratic presidents, wrote in New York Times that he'd vote for Hillary Clinton. Morell wrote that while working with Clinton in the Situation Room he saw that she was "detail-oriented, thoughtful, inquisitive and willing to change her mind if presented with a compelling argument". More importantly "she did not bring politics into the room". Colin Powell, Robert Gates, Michael Bloomberg to name a few have all crossed party lines to endorse Clinton not just because they hate Trump but also because of the immense respect they have for Clinton.

When African-Americans shrug at voting for Clinton and compare the history making excitement for Obama they're missing a vital point. The Supreme Court is hanging in balance. Since Scalia died affirmative action got a reprieve in the Abigail Fischer case else it would have been wiped out from American universities. Let's face it, come November 9th it is only either Clinton or Trump as President-elect. A Trump presidency will wreck havoc for African-Americans. Imagine Rudy Guiliani or Chris Christie as attorney general and then cast your vote. The Clintons have expressed regret for the unintended consequences of the crime bill and Hillary has promised Criminal Justice Reform. Tell the Congressional Black Caucus to hold her to that promise else vote against Clinton in 2020. Do you think a President Trump would open his doors to John Lewis and talk about police brutality? If you say yes then maybe you can remain home instead of voting.

Above all get this straight, you'd have personally helped elect a racist as a president. You'd have helped elect a guy who'll demolish and discredit everything Obama had done and while doing so he'd be gleefully heaping more verbal insults on Obama. This is not fear mongering into voting for Hillary but a reality.

Now, the progressives. Get over Bernie Sanders's loss in the primary. Sanders lost fair and square and he knows it. Donna Brazile's shenanigans and DNC did not sway the election to Clinton. Sanders, though he lost, achieved a bit. He entered the Democratic party and has influenced it's direction. If you want action on Climate change Hillary Clinton who, as New York Times pointed out, has a detailed plan to combat it. Do you think for a moment the GOP or Trump give two hoots about climate change? They'd laugh you out of the room.

It is ironical that Clinton takes a lot of flak for her changing stance on TPP but Obama completely escapes censure. It is Obama, the anti-NAFTA candidate of 2008, who should really be called out on this flip-flop. Also, those who rail against Clinton for her prodigious fundraising are forgetting many things. Clinton's fundraising has helped down ballot democrats unlike Obama who used his fundraising prowess mostly in his own service. It was Obama who broke, after promising to take public funds and the restrictions that come with it, the post-Nixon tradition of accepting public funds. Yet, too often the ugly label of 'liar' is easily applied to Clinton.

Obamacare is a financial boondoggle where the buyer and seller are both subsidized with taxpayer money. It is in a financial death spiral. That said, Obamacare has expanded insurance to millions and needs to be rescued. Good luck trying to get that rescued with a Trump presidency. Sure, many like to see a public option floated, I don't, but that's beside the point. A president Clinton will at least bend her ear to that option. Healthcare reform is near and dear to Clinton's heart. If there is one are where I trust her more than anything it is in fixing Obamacare. Note, when candidate Obama pretended that healthcare reform could be done without personal mandate it was Clinton who cried hoarse that it cannot be done. She was vindicated. Clinton's tenaciousness, lack of dogmatic adamance and pragmatism will all be brought to bear on this vital issue. We all know that while the GOP and Trump will trample on Obamacare they've no idea of what to replace it with. So if in your self-righteous anger you want to stiff Clinton, go ahead and waste your vote but roll the dice on the a Trump presidency.

Clinton, if she wins the election, will do so on the shoulders on Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Sanders and Warren will undoubtedly play important roles in influencing policy in a Clinton presidency. They will be the channels for progressives to  pressure a president Clinton. If Clinton turns out to be, as you all say, a liar then primary her in 2020 and defeat her. Or work to elect a progressive Congress in 2018 midterm elections and foil her agenda but give your vote to her now to stop Trump. Giver Clinton your vote and keep her in your debt. Elizabeth Warren has shown that she'll not shy from a fight even if it is against the president of her own party. Do you progressives want to put in the White House a guy who still ridicules Warren as "Pocahontas"? A president Trump will show the middle finger to both Sanders and Warren.

Why am I voting for Hillary Clinton despite my deep aversion of liberal economics and my loathing of Warren, Sanders and the progressives? Simple, in my order of priorities the damage due to misguided economic policies can be addressed far more easily than tearing the American society apart along racial and ethnic lines as Trump would do.

The danger of Trump in the presidency is not theoretical or exaggerated. While Clinton's punchline "can we trust nuclear codes to a guy who can be baited with a tweet" is campaign rhetoric about an opponent it is, sadly, every bit true. Today there's news that Trump's campaign managers, the adults in the team, have confiscated his twitter account till election day lest he goes off on his tweet storm and becomes the news, in an unwelcome manner. Make no mistake voters, Trump is a man-child.

Recently Trump said to himself at a rally "stay on point Donald. Stay on point. Nice and easy". Trump is now essentially tethered to a teleprompter and for once he's staying with it. This was the same guy who used to mock Obama's reliance on teleprompter. Nobody thinks Obama would talk nonsense or offend an international ally if his teleprompter stopped working and nobody thinks Trump can talk any sense if his teleprompter breaks.

Trump's ignorance is staggering, his complete inability to learn anything has been proven time and time again. During the all three debates Trump could be focused for only the first 30 minutes each time. Voters, there is no other Trump waiting to show up, this is it. This is the Trump we get as president.

For a fiscal conservative as me Trump is reckless on economics and he's an insult to the word 'businessman'. It is not without reason that less than a handful of his peers have endorsed him whereas businessmen and CEOs have endorsed Clinton by the legions. Many of those have never voted for a democrat.

We often hear that the press is in the tank for Clinton. That's a lie (see my earlier column ). But let's pause and think as to why Trump has managed just one or two endorsements whereas Clinton has practically landed every newspaper endorsement across the country. Whether newspaper endorsements matter is a different question but we should ask ourselves why does an Arizona newspaper which has never endorsed a democrat in 100+ years endorse Clinton? Why do newspapers that traditionally do not endorse democrats do so for Clinton, yes that very Clinton, this year? Then we've newspapers like USA Today, Foreign Policy, Atlantic Monthly that normally don't get into endorsements writing editorials shredding Donald Trump and voicing support for Clinton? We've to note that the Arizona newspaper and others have received hundreds of subscription cancellations, abuses from readers and even death threats. So why did they do it? The Trump presidency is a dark threat to the republic and they realize it, that's why.

I'm fully opposed to liberal economics, affirmative action, misguided government actions to combat climate change and I support free trade so why would I support Clinton? Is it because I think 'crooked Hillary' is a closet republican? Far from it, the clear and present danger of Trump overrides all those concerns. I'll not vote for Trump saying "oh I worry about Supreme Court judges". Do I trust Trump to carry out intelligent decisions on anything? No, I don't.

I've complete contempt for Republicans who say "I find Trump intolerable, I condemn his bigotry but other larger issues are at play and I cannot vote for Clinton". This is nonsense. Hillary Clinton is NOT an interchangeable commodity with Trump. Anderson Cooper of CNN told Trump's campaign manager Kellyanne Conway today that we criticize the Clinton Foundation so much because we happen to know everything they did thanks to tax releases, documents released (by them and by wikileaks) but we know next to nothing of Trump's foundation or his businesses. It is appalling that very little attention has been paid to Trump's sprawling and interconnected business across the globe. While Hillary has been asked about how they would handle Clinton foundation if she wins the election nobody has bothered to ask Trump what he'd do about his businesses.

While I cheerfully vote for Clinton I'm well aware that Sanders and Warren will overreach in their zeal to impose a socialistic vision on the economy. They're welcome to do it but voters will teach them the lessons Obama was taught in the midterm elections. Socialist overreach produced tea party. So roll your dice.

All that said here are my irritations about the Clintons. In 2008 when McCain out Palin on the ticket I recoiled with horror and wrote "Go home McCain, Palin first". MY objections to Trump are akin to my objections against McCain-Palin ticket except that they were far less an existential threat to the nature of the country thanks to somebody like McCain on the ticket but were a clueless bunch in a very dangerous time. In 2012 I voted for Mitt Romney. Unlike Romney the Clintons have earned nearly $200 Million purely by influence peddling. This is why they don't appreciate handwork and don't understand, like Obama too doesn't, that money is to be 'earned'. Trust me, Obama will become the richest ex-president in no time. Also, Obama will be doing his own influence peddling to raise $1 billion for his presidential library during his lame duck status and I'm sure a thankful Hillary will help in fundraising too. This is a sickness of American politics. Sanders too is not immune to it as he showed with the foundation he created after his candidacy ended.

Hillary Clinton is a public servant and she needs to remember that. Too often the Clintons skate to the very edges of the law and then act injured when partisan opponents use that as leverage to launch investigations. Shut the damn foundation down or hand it over to Bill Gates or Jimmy Carter. Yes, the foundation has indeed done admirable work on behalf of millions of HIV affected in Africa but all the good in the world does not excuse the ethical breaches that it has committed. Obama, to his credit, gave us completely scandal free White House. The Clintons, if they are capable of it at all, should live up to it.

A New York Times article today screams that Clinton aides will enter White House with baggage. The article is unfair in singling out the Clinton aides alone. Both candidates have eager supporters or surrogates who are waiting to dip their beaks into the gravy train if their candidate wins. On the Clinton side at least it is people with experience and judgment albeit with some less than stellar qualities but the Trump surrogates are mostly political has-beens itching to get their way back into the echelons of power. Ever since the GOP establishment shunned Trump those that had, like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Guiliani, fallen by the wayside of GOP have wormed their way to the political stage and are salivating over plum positions in a Trump administration.

Hillary needs to enter the White House with a retinue of talented people who are unsullied by recent shenanigans. Cheryl Mills, John Podesta and Huma Abedin, to name a few, should not find a place in any White House position. The role of Bill Clinton needs to be defined. But I doubt if sanity will prevail. The Clintons prize loyalty above probity.

During the campaign Hillary acknowledged the trust issue and said she needs to earn the trust from Americans but she has till now shown very little direction over how she'd earn it back. Hopefully we'll hear more once the heat of the campaign is over and she's lucky to win.

Post-election this will not just be a divided nation but a nation where once unsullied institutions like the FBI have become tainted. There is staggering amount of healing required. Trump is incapable of any healing and hopefully will not be the president. A president-elect Hillary Clinton's first order of business would be to build bridges. In that I've full faith in Hillary given her record of reaching out and winning over the harshest partisan opponents. However, if the GOP decides that a scorched earth approach of launching pointless virulently partisan investigations and even an impeachment then they deserve to be in the doghouse for another 8 years. The GOP, if it ever wants to be the party of Reagan and Lincoln it needs to clean it's own house and that will not happen easily. BY cooperating with President Hillary Clinton to create a better America the GOP may, just may, redeem itself.

I'm of the firm view that Donald Trump should be decisively rejected at the ballot box and a vote for Hillary Clinton is the only effective way to achieve that. 

America's Favorite Sport: Hating Hillary Clinton. The Scandals, Real and Imagined.

"The central point about Mrs Clinton, however, is that she is being judged by an absurd double-standard. By any respectable measure, she is one of the most impressive Democrats of her generation. If she was a man, her toughness and intellect would win universal approval". That was The Economist in a column titled "Hillary Clinton, trail blazer" published in December 1992. Yes, 1992.

The Clintons are surely to be blamed for the predicament they find themselves and for putting the Obama White House, an administration that has been remarkably scandal free, in a fix. The day Hillary became Secretary of State the Clinton Foundation should've been shut down or transitioned or far stricter rules for accepting contributions be put in place. On the issue of the Foundation I'd also fault the Obama team for not insisting on any of that though they did insist on a number of rules before she was indeed nominated. All that said the emails and the Foundation related stories have been so vastly exaggerated to make Clinton look like she is some Don Corleone. But then, as Economist argued in the article, hating Hillary Clinton, actually just her, not Bill Clinton, for nearly 3 decades has been America's most favorite national sport.

First, the emails. A bit of perspective here. In 2007 Bush's Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez had fired 8 US attorneys and a Democratic run Congress investigated. The investigation turned up the fact that the then White House officials used personal email addresses willy nilly. Many emails, now said to be 22 million, the White House said were lost. While calling commentator Juan Williams's claim that there was 'zero' coverage of that as false Politifact did concede that compared to the outrage and coverage given to Hillary's email saga it was nothing. Poltitifact conducted a Lexis-Nexis search of related articles and found 125 newspaper articles about the Bush White House email affair compared to 1700 articles on Clinton's email travails. Politifact does point out that the two cases differ in one significant manner, in the Bush White House affair Bush himself, as President was not even remotely involved, whereas in Clinton's case it happened to be a prospective presidential candidate who could very well become president.

Now, why did Clinton do the private email server snafu? Prior to assuming office Hillary got in touch with Colin Powell and asked him questions about how he handled emails and correspondences. Powell happily used to send emails from his private email addresses and he decided that such emails were not public records. Also, fed up with restrictions that the NSA/CIA wanted him to observe Powell, in his own words, "we just went about our business and stopped asking". An important caveat, Powell did not use a private email server.

With this backdrop Hillary Clinton decided to use a private email server 'for convenience' which would help her avoid having a private email account and an official one. When her tenure ended her lawyer and her team decided which was 'private email' and deleted them from the server. Sure, this sounds fishy, illegal and corrupt BUT at the end it is not at all different from what Powell did. As for classified emails that were found on her server. That is a complex issue. Many were classified ''secret' at a later date and not at the time it was sent. This was standard practice in government. Even a State Department official jousting with an FBI official to reduce the classification status, not granted though, is routine.

We've to get one thing clear the Federal government, especially at the President's cabinet level does NOT function like the IT department of a private company. That the FBI, despite director Comey's characterization of Clinton and her team as being 'extremely careless', would not decide to charge Clinton has caused sufficient heartburn amongst many and that alone has caused many to suspect that the investigation was scuttled. Of course, the recent resurrection of the case in a politically suspicious manner has made yesterday's critics of Comey today's supporters and vice versa. Legal scholar and author of books on US Supreme Court Jeffrey Toobin in a column flat out declared "Clinton has committed no crimes with regard to her emails". Let's also remember that former CIA director and 4 star general David Petraeus, who intentionally and knowingly gave classified material to a biographer who later became his mistress, was also not charged.

The New York Times which originally published the email story in it's endorsement of Hillary for presidency finally conceded that the matter was one for the 'help desk'. A column in left leaning magazine Vox sums it up in the title, "The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign". And The Economist agrees, "In the annals of political misdeeds, future historians will not pause on Mrs Clinton's emails long. But they will marvel at how an exaggerated belief in her malfeasance created the conditions for Mr Trump to seize the White House".

Without a doubt the Clintons were peddling influence when they were raising money for the Clinton Foundation but that is perfectly legal. When Sanders repeatedly cast aspersions on Hillary giving speeches to Wall Street she bristled "if you have something to say specifically Senator come out and say it". Till today there is not a single shred of evidence to show pay for play. Not a single legislation or favoritism was shown by Hillary either as Senator or as Secretary of State.

A notorious charge is how the Clintons forged relationship with a Russian industrialist and facilitated the sale of US uranium maker to Russia in exchange for a donation to the foundation. Contrary to the popular myth about the press ignoring her scandals it was, yet again, New York Times that first reported on the supposed scandal. Buried in an article titled ominously "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal" was this "whether the donations played any role in the approval of the uranium deal". Essentially there was no story but hey why bother. Politifact conducted a detailed fact check on the Uranium story and said that the deal was approved by multiple federal agencies and the deal was part of a complex altering of geo-political strategy to engage with Russia.

The Associated Press reported with fanfare that more than half of Hillary Clinton's visitors were donors to the foundation. For nearly two days the press and Cable TV coverage ran around like headless chicken. Then the verification happened. AP essentially screwed up. What the AP story did not mention in its attention grabbing headline was that it was a percentage of people that Clinton met that did not include heads of states and other federal employees. Essentially it was nonsense. There was, yet again, no story.

After the FBI director dropped a bombshell about "re-opening" the investigation into Hillary's email case the networks and press worked themselves into a furore. Nearly two days Hillary's campaign was literally besieged and pummeled akin to how the Trump campaign was pummeled after the release of the Billy Bush video in which he boasted of grabbing women by their genitals. Unlike the Billy Bush story which had no ifs and buts the FBI story started to unravel. The Director did not have a warrant to search the laptop they secured from an estranged husband of Hilary's aides which supposedly contained emails from Hillary's private account. Also, the investigation of that aide's husband itself was due to an unrelated case. Further leaks from FBI showed that the Director refused to push ahead with Trump related investigations because it was close to the election. But in two days Hillary's campaign suffered a near fatal body blow and we will know Tuesday if that really costs her the election.

Meantime, Fox news host Bret Baier went on air to claim that the FBI was close to charging Hillary for irregularities with the Foundation. Again, for two days the news spread like prairie fire and then Bret Baier apologized that that was really not true. Trump campaign manager told CNN that though the news was false the "damage was done". That, my dear readers, is absolutely true.

The wikileaks email release is another yawn. We cannot forget the fact that Julian Assange, prompted by Putin or not, is interfering with US presidential elections. What wikileaks is doing is no different from what the Watergate burglars attempted to do. Couple of excerpts caused some stir and as usual unfairly so.

In one of her speeches Clinton spoke of how she dreams of a "hemispheric where there are open borders and open trade". Immediately the right and left pounced on it; one to say that she believed in open borders; another to say that she was hypocritical in opposing trade pacts. Nonsense. Sure, her opposition of TPP is politically expedient but nowhere has she said she's totally opposed to trade. No sensible person can be. Further, seen in context the remark extends to combating climate change and not about opening borders to illegal immigrants.

Another eye brow raising remark was where she said that sometimes one has to have a public opinion and a private opinion. Immediately everyone pounced on it and said "aha, there you go hypocrite. Crucify her". Nonsense. What Hillary was saying was how politicians have to sell policies to different audiences and moderate their presentations. It is not for nothing that governing was called akin to sausage making. Whether it is the Civil Rights legislation or the 13th Amendment or the Affordable Care Act they were all passed with inordinate amount of skulduggery and politicking. This is NOT a bad thing in totality. A rambunctious and large democracy like US has competing interests and each senator or congress person tries to do what he/she thinks their constituents demand. Balancing that requires deal making. And, sometimes, as JFK learned during the Cuban missile crisis, the public has to be kept in dark about a defense deal. Transparency is overrated.

While there was absolutely no bombshell the steady drip drip of wikileaks took a toll on Clinton's ratings during the home stretch. Just as Trump's led tape and implosions during the debates were hogging the limelight I saw TV commentators spend time discussing Trump's latest craziness and then with a pious desire to restore balance to the news segment would pivot to Clinton's emails and preface the remarks with "well Clinton is no saint and she has her own problems like the wikileaks today which said...." Then it would be a discussion on how some campaign official wrote uncharitably about Sanders, their hard elbow strategies to knock off Sanders etc. Sanders himself laughed it off saying "well if they had hacked my campaign's email they'd find similar emails about the secretary". Yes, this is what campaigns do.

The consensus view about the email was that Hillary Clinton comes of as a moderate and that she's no fire breathing progressive radical. Even the much anticipated speeches to Goldman Sachs contained no shred of controversy. There was, contrary to what was expected, no hypocrisy or no bootlicking. By and large editorials then rounded off by saying that Clinton comes off as a nuanced person who takes the world in all complexity and fleshes policy out of it. A thankful and much needed balance compared to her competitor.

The Clintons, particularly Hillary, are the most investigated politicians since Richard Nixon. Unlike Nixon they were never charged or indicted on any criminality and yet just the fact that they have been repeatedly investigated becomes, by circular logic, proof that something must have been amiss. Whether it is the Monica Lewinsky scandal or the email scandal the irony is neither investigation started there but they started as inquiries into something else that Hillary supposedly did. The emails were a collateral finding that came out a very highly partisan investigation into Benghazi against Hillary. The Benghazi investigation was complete political theater at the end of which even the republicans conceded Hillary did nothing wrong.

Picture Courtesy 'The Economist' from article "Hillary Clinton, Trail blazer"

Given how the GOP has loathed and investigated her one can only sympathize with her desire to have control of her emails. Unfortunately her remedy only deepened her misery. The fact that a partisan investigation led to this should not be lost sight of. No politician, if investigated so extensively would come off clean.

Mots importantly we've to note that while investigation after investigation has gone into Hillary's affairs we've seen next to nothing on Trump University, Trump Foundation, Trump's bankruptcies, Trumps's taxes that are being audited by IRS etc. While there have been articles by NYT and Washington Post here and there the wealth of material on Hillary, thanks to the investigations, is Himalayan compared to that of Trump's. Further as a GOP congressman conceded it is easy to launch congressional investigations on Hillary because she was a former secretary of state whereas Trump is a private citizen. But then the FBI which is eager to investigate Clinton foundation based on a book and news items is suspiciously silent about Trump foundation which was indeed found to operate illegally in New York City by New York City attorney general.

There is no rational explanation for the intense loathing that Hillary Clinton inspires without including the element of sexism. Economist notes in the article 'Hating Hillary', "the ferocity of such barrages reflected something more: the deep full lines the couple were straddling. The first baby-boomer president and his pushy wife represented a cultural shift that much of America feared....The obvious inference, that Mrs Clinton's unpopularity was fueled by sexism, has always annoyed her critics almost as much as she has. But it is otherwise hard to explain the gap between the measured criticism Mrs Clinton's behavior has sometimes invited and the unbridled loathing that has shown up in its place".

Hillary haters will show a characteristic disdain for facts and will hop from one conspiracy to another until one concedes that she has to be jailed. Though many will eschew the rabid scream of Trump voters of "lock her up" the arguments will be tailored to lead to that conclusion. "She's a corporate shrill" they'd say but when pointed out that she, not Bernie Sanders or Obama, led the fight to create universal healthcare and was literally lacerated by the GOP and the insurance industry the retort, with dollops of sneering contempt, would be "oh well she sold herself after that". "She's a wall street sell out" would be a complaint but when pointed out that Sanders voted for the Commodities and futures treading act the complainer would jump off to another conspiracy. Essentially Hillary Clinton has, in their view, prostituted herself and deserves to be frog marched into prison if not nailed and crucified. After all nobody wants such extreme medieval punishment.

All of the above is NOT to suggest that Clinton is blameless. Clinton needs to learn from the email travails and the stories about Foundation that she has, fairly or unfairly, a severe trust deficit. As one who seeks to occupy the highest office of the land she needs to show Americans that she's better than this. Shut the damn Foundation, put the coterie on a leash and work extra hard to show transparency and earn the trust of America.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Is the Media Biased Against Trump? No. Not At All. Here's Why.

A recent Quinnipiac poll, Politico wrote, showed that "Fifty-five percent of likely voters surveyed said the media are biased against the Republican presidential nominee, while 42 percent said there is no media bias against the real estate mogul. Almost 9 of 10 Republicans say news organizations are biased against Trump". This is plain unadulterated nonsense and completely untrue. Those who live by the sword, it is said, die by the sword. It applies to those who live off the media too.

No candidate for American presidency for a major political party in recent memory has behaved as indecently and as cruelly as Donald J. Trump and no candidate ever has manipulated the media so smartly and hijacked a party so completely. Irrespective of what happens next week this election will spawn a mini-library of books that seek to probe and understand this grotesque spectacle that is within close reach the land's highest office.

Let us not forget that Trump started his candidacy by declaring an entire ethnic race as "rapists and murderers". Contrast that with the speech of Barack Obama, a speech that was a call for a different politics and hope, in Springfield Illinois when he announced his candidacy. That speech of Trump would've ended the dreams of many candidates within hours but his support skyrocketed. The Trump candidacy had just begun. A sickening spectacle of insults and invective driven candidacy would consume the nation for over a year.

Trump followed up that speech with an interview where he ridiculed an ex-war veteran, a POW and former GOP nominee John McCain as a coward for being captured in the first place. McCain refused an early release by his captors when they tried to barter him and instead he suffered years of torture that left him maimed for life. Ridiculing a war veteran, let alone one who was POW and that too a former nominee of his own party as 'coward', especially in the GOP, would end the candidacy of any other. Trump saw his support surge further.

By now CNN, Fox News and MSNBC started showing Trump's rallies live and for the entire duration. Note, during the same time Bernie Sanders, on the Democratic side, was equally attracting thousands to his rallies but was almost ignored. ABC CEO declared "Trump may not be good for America but he was good for ABC". TV ratings zoomed up and Trump was the meal ticket of the media.

Trump dominated Sunday and morning talk shows. Until the Trump came along TV anchors would refuse anyone phoning in for interviews. To be fair to Trump unlike other candidates he made himself readily available for interviews on almost daily basis but it was also possible because he was phoning it in.  A media analysis showed that Trump enjoyed 'earned media' worth $2 Billion. Yes, $2 BILLION. With that megaphone he drowned out the message of all other candidates.

During the interviews and in rallies Donald Trump freely dished out falsehoods. No candidate in US history displayed such complete disdain for facts and relished being indecent and tyrannical. Fact checking site Politifact rates 17% of Trump's statements as 'pants on fire' kind, 34% as 'False', a mere 4% as True. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, had just 2% rated as 'pants on fire', 10% as 'False', 24% as True. See comparative image below (note, the image, a photoshopped one by another site- just added the images of the candidates- does not reflect today's updated site but is slightly outdated).

To argue that the media disrespects Trump like they usually do GOP candidates is a complete cop out. I'm sick to my stomach hearing Trump supporters say that the media disrespected Reagan too. Not everyone disrespected by the media is a Ronald Reagan.

Trump is the master of dark arts in using the media as a vehicle for brazen calumny and sheer falsehoods uttered with impunity. Seeing Trump offer lie after lie after lie while interviewers, partly frozen by the brazenness and partly with a desire to continue having him as guest on their shows, gave a free pass to him. Shows like MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' had a love-hate relationship with Trump.  As Trump defeated one rival after another what was seen as as chimeric carnival became a frightening reality.

Those Trump supporters who lament and rant about negative coverage of Trump need reflect on just a couple of incidents.

Trump threatened to 'spill the beans' about his opponent Ted Cruz's wife Heidi Cruz and linked Cruz's father to JFK's assassination. Not satisfied with that he tweeted an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz alongside a smolderingly beautiful picture of his wife and ex-model Melania Trump. Not even Mafia thugs behave like that.

Heading into the first presidential debate Trump was running close to Clinton. Baited by Hillary Clinton about his past insulting of a Hispanic Miss Universe Trump tweeted, after the debate, that the former Miss Universe had a sex tape. Of course there was no such tape. A presidential candidate spending critical post-debate period, especially after a disastrous performance, to smearing a woman, that too of having had a sex tape, instead of undoing the damaging performance sent the GOP into apoplectic horror and poll numbers slid.

Trump supporters take pride that their candidate is unlike any other and he does not play by the rules. While Trump mowed down a field of far more experienced politicians with insulting epithets, 'Lyin' Ted', 'low energy Bush', 'short Marco' we were told that once he wins the nomination he'd get 'presidential'.

Contrary to the media being against him the media was ready to call Trump 'presidential' if he referred to Ted Cruz as just 'Ted" instead of 'lyin' Ted'. Coming to the presidential debate if he had just stopped acting like a jerk and used Hillary Clinton's emails as answer for every question he'd have been rated a success. But the real Trump showed up and Clinton lacerated him by laying traps into which he gladly walked and made a fool of himself in front of 84 million viewers.

Coming off a less than stellar but successful convention Trump squandered it all when he went after a fallen soldier's muslim mom on account of her religion for a week.There is no section of America that Trump had failed to offend including a disabled reporter whom he mocked cruelly at a rally.

Trump once boasted that even if he shoots a man down in 5th Avenue in NYC his supporters would not desert him. Fortunately not all of America is like that. His supporters gnash their teeth that Hillary Clinton's emails, stolen and published by Wikileaks, was not given due coverage unlike the quantum of coverage given to a 11 year old tape that showed Trump bragging that he could, as a TV star, grab women by their genitals.

I'll cover Clinton's email scandals tomorrow but suffice it to say that out of the thousands of emails released in a drip-drip fashion every day there is not a SINGLE bombshell. At least nothing that would qualify as bombshell on Trump's scale.

Trump justified his lewd obscenity as 'locker room talk'. Nonsense. More importantly we don't elect a locker room talking lothario for presidency. If as TV star if he thought he could do anything as grotesque as sexual assault imagine what he could do with an office that'd make him the most powerful person on earth. Whether he'd go about grabbing genitals or not he surely would not be above using his 'power'.

The most naked manipulation of the media was when Trump, with great fanfare, declared that he'd, after promoting for years a racist trope against Obama that he was not born in US and therefore unqualified for the presidency, disavow what was called the 'birther conspiracy' in a press conference. Naturally all networks showed up for a live relay at Trump's chosen venue, his newly opened hotel in Washington DC. Only as the camera started rolling did the press realize that Trump was using the press conference as photo op for his supposed endorsers. The networks cut away from the event. Then Trump set a new benchmark for brazenness by claiming, as usual falsely, that Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign started the slander against Obama and that thanks to him taking up the issue it ended. 'I ended it, ok'. CNN's Jake Tapper summed it up best, "It's hard to imagine this as anything other than a political Rick-Roll". Tapper's collegue John King added, "We got played again by the Trump campaign". I'm sure Trump supporters would relish that the media got played. But the real joke is on the voters.

The very first question that Trump faced in a debate was about him calling women "pigs, slobs" and many other unmentionables. The question was posed by Fox News' Megyn Kelly. Post-debate Trump went on a twitter tirade and called her a 'bimbo' and mused that she posed a tough question because she was menstruating.

Let's not forget that while Hillary Clinton's emails, obtained by hacking her campaign manager's computer, are aired daily by an insidious operator masquerading as an activist lot of Trump's dirty laundry, really dirty, is still protected by contracts and subterfuge. Trump's tapes filmed during his hit reality show 'The Apprentice' is widely rumored to contain real bombshell but neither NBC nor MGM show any interest in airing them. Today there's breaking news that pro-Trump tabloid National Inquirer bought the rights to a story, that alleges a Playboy model had had an affair with Trump, not to publish it but to kill it. So much for the trop that the media is out to get Trump.

While Trump raves about protecting Second Amendment he shredded the First Amendment. CNN had a countdown clock to show how long it has been since Clinton had held a press conference but little talk was made of the shameful fact that Trump had instituted a blacklist of news outlets that had angered him with unflattering coverage. In what could be seen as irritatingly repetitive let me again say that no other presidential candidate got away with such villainy.

Blacklisting media outlets was the most polite thing Trump did. Trump used to call out reporters like Katy Tur of NBC, Carl Cameron of Fox News and the media in general from the podium and let loose epithets, "low life", 'dishonest' etc. His rabid supporters, or those of his supporters that are rabid, would turn towards the press area and gesticulate threateningly. The threats got so out of hand that Wolf Blitzer of CNN recently pleaded with Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway to tell the candidate to tone it down lest it fatally get out of hand. A prominent news anchor of a very major news outlet is practically begging a campaign manager to stop threatening the press. If this thug reaches the oval office he'll make Richard Nixon look like a gentleman.

Pointing out to a protester Trump said in the "olden days" he'd have been taken out in a stretcher. In contrast Obama today quieted his supporters to allow a protester being escorted away. Seeing the protester wearing military insignia Obama said "we've to respect his service". All my disagreements about Obama's policies and governance aside this contrast could not be any starker.

A complete litany of Trump's thuggery is unnecessary and just the flavor given above should suffice to show that Trump's slide in the polls has nothing to do with how the media treated him. Trump is where he is because of who he is. That applies both to his winning streak in the primaries and now to his struggle in the polls the credit and blame is entirely nobody else's but Donald J. Trump's.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson: False Messiahs and Why Third Parties Don't Succeed.

The nominees of the two major parties, we are reminded endlessly, have historic unfavorable ratings in polls. Of the two nominees Hillary Clinton has received withering criticism on her trustworthiness and honesty even in comparison to, yes, Donald Trump. Every mention of Clinton's numbers on honesty is often wistfully compared to Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, both of whom are not seen as part of the Democratic party establishment. If Sanders's and Stein's records were examined even superficially one could see that they don't stack better than Clinton on trustworthiness and their policy prescriptions border on economic fantasy. It is with good reason that Third Parties have been relegated to the fringe in American politics.

First, Bernie Sanders. Sanders mounted a very impressive and completely unforeseen candidacy that almost rattled Clinton's camp. While Sanders and his supporters shred Clinton for being, well, a politician what went almost unnoticed or unexamined is how hypocritical Sanders himself was or how venal a politician Sanders was.

Sanders, like Obama before him, endlessly excoriated Clinton for her vote that authorized Bush to go to war against Iraq. Sanders claimed that like Cassandra he predicted the mess that would follow an invasion of Iraq. He also criticized the US defense spending. What is the real record?

Picture courtesy Wikipedia. Bernie Sanders.
If US intervention and regime change troubled Sanders so much then why did he vote for NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia? An adviser to Sanders quit and wrote a stinging letter calling him out on his hypocrisy then. Sanders also supported the war against Afghanistan after 9/11. He said he could not support the invasion of Iraq because there was no plan and that it would destabilize a region and draw the US into a protracted war. In fact all that was truer for Afghanistan, a war that Sanders eagerly voted in support of. Note, Sanders opposed the war against Iraq not only because unlike Afghanistan war it was pre-emptive in nature but more critically for the reasons mentioned previously and those reasons hold good for Afghanistan too. Essentially Sanders knew that voting against the Afghan war would be politically suicide and in a typical pattern he caved and voted out of political expediency.

The US army's most expensive program to date is the F-35 stealth bomber project that, at $1.2 Trillion, has overrun cost by hundreds of billions of dollars. Sanders supported that too because the defense contractor Lockheed Martin created jobs, thanks to that pork bill, in Vermont. For a man who railed with manufactured rage against regime change Sanders cheerfully voted for the 1998 regime change in Iraq legislation. The so called peacenik also would not stop drone programs, widely blamed for the death of hundreds of civilians. Some Messiah this Sanders is. When anti-war supporters occupied his office Sanders had them duly arrested.

Asked about his Kosovo vote during a debate Sanders bristled "Well, obviously, I voted, when President Clinton said, 'Let's stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo,' I voted for that". Note, the humanitarian rescue excuse was what Obama and Clinton gave for Libya too and Sanders admonished Clinton for that adventurism.

Though Sanders voted against the Iraq war he has consistently voted in support of the funding for not just iraq war but for all that wars too. A President Sanders would keep the thousands of troops currently in Afghanistan he said. The sulfurous stench of hypocrisy is more revolting.

Hillary Clinton took heat for supporting Bill Clinton's Crime Bill in the 1990s. Promoting the bill in the 90s Hillary labeled violent offenders as 'super predators that have to be brought to heel'. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter today that remark haunted her on the trail. She apologized. Bill Clinton, however, drew attention to the fact that Sanders had indeed voted for the bill and that the bill, faulty by hindsight, did stanch the crime wave that was sweeping then. Also, back then Bill Clinton was leading the Democrats into a new era by showing that they too, like Republicans, could be tough on crime. Sanders escaped all criticism for his vote while Hillary took heat.

Sanders piously claimed that he supported the crime bill because there was a restriction against assault weapons in the bill. NBC anchor Chuck Todd refuted him in an interview that that was not true. Yet, it is Hillary Clinton that is seen as "liar".

Until 2012 not even Barack Obama was in favor of gay marriage. Asked in 2008 Obama wriggled out of supporting marriage equality. Bill Clinton, and Hilary's support of, the now much maligned 'Defense of marriage act' (DOMA) was made an issue by Sanders who claimed he was for gay marriage ahead of Hillary.

While Sanders voted against DOMA and claimed this year that he did so because the act discriminated against gay marriage. Liar. Time magazine traced Sanders's evolution on gay marriage and cited an answer he gave in 1996 where his wife and Chief of staff Jane Sanders told "Associated Press reporter in July 1996 that he opposed the law because it weakened the section of the constitution that says sates must respect laws that are made in other states. 'We're not legislating values. We have to follow the Constitution'". Liar, Liar pants of fire.

Was Hillary being politically expedient in supporting gay marriage in 2013, after Obama did? Of course yes. But so was Sanders when he strategically kept mum on supporting his successor in the mayor's office in his efforts to legalize gay marriage. A Vermont political reporter said that getting Sanders to opine on the issue was like "pulling teeth from a rhinoceros". Rachel Maddow of MSNBC confronted Sanders on his refusal to back gay marriage in 2006 in Vermont. Sanders sheepishly said it was because he thought "give us more time" because of the political climate at that time. Maddox torched him, "Isn't that the same kind of tactical thinking, same kind of pragmatism, that may have driven the decision for which you criticized Secretary Clinton". Oh the saintly Sanders.

The policy prescriptions of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein show why they are still outside the mainstream of American politics.

Bernie Sanders fired up the millennials with a simple promise, free college. I too love free lunch but I remember the caution of economists that when somebody offers lunch it is because they're are stealing my breakfast and possibly my dinner too. Both Sanders and Stein sell this snake oil of 'free college' and it is their ticket to popularity.

The non-partisan fact checking site Politifact rated Sanders's claim that his free college program will be paid for by a tax on Wall Street transactions as "mostly false" because Sanders often fails to mention that his plan critically depends on States providing a third of the funding. So, even if one takes a lowered estimate of revenue raised by taxing stock transactions there's a huge chunk that remains unfunded. Liar, liar, pants of fire. Politifact does not get into the messy question of whether taxing wall street transactions is itself a good idea economically speaking. NPR further dented the case in a fact checking article that concluded that free college does not necessarily create "the most educated workforce" and pointed out that countries which have better educated work force than US do not offer free college. The US itself does quite well in the rankings.

This is NOT to say that the US does not have a problem regarding College tuition increases but it is only to say that free college is not the magic bullet. Further, it is a fact that student aid programs, following the immutable laws of economics, does increase inflation, and in this case that means tuition increase.

Both Stein and Sanders rail and rant against Health Insurance companies when they discuss healthcare costs but when it comes to college costs the only question is how to fund it, not, how to control it. But then any talk of cost control would alienate the drooling liberal campuses of their support.

Sanders and Stein also gloss over the fact that with funding free college government will play an explicit role in college education as it now does, locally and at federal level, in school education. Tax payers will demand government oversight of quality. UK does it. Any such suggestion or even a hint of it will make the millennials run away like they'd do from plague

While Sanders and Stein rave and rant, perhaps a tad justifiably, about corporate lobbying they are least bothered by Universities that lobbied enough to make the Obama administration drop a measure that rated universities and degrees according to rates of return (ROI). In their zeal to promote free college these Marxist duo give no thought to the fact that students who pursue their passion in esoteric or less employable fields would be educating themselves at taxpayer expense. Many university courses lack appreciable returns because the degrees are, well, worthless. Yes, their plan is only to give free tuition in public universities but then many are just plain useless anyway. Also these candidates who have no idea of economics do not understand that free tuition would see these public universities struggling to deal with an onrush of students and students who flock here would deprive other universities of money. While superficially it may seem desirable it is not. Two professors who study College costs critiqued Sanders's plan in an oped in Washington Post. Federal attempts to steer money to states that participate in the program while starving the rest will only deepen a crisis elsewhere

Jill Stein's interview with Cenk Uygur of the ultra left wing channel Young Turks is revelatory in a Freudian sense. Launching into a lengthy monologue that can be picked line by line for half truths and playing loose with facts by any fact checker Dr. Stein lays out why her campaign should be appealing to "43 million young people, and going into middle age and beyond, who are trapped in predatory student loan debt" (transcript from Slate). The appeal, Stein says is simple, "there's only one place that they can put their votes in order to cancel their debt". Yep. As simple as that. I come from India, where politicians promise illiterate farmers that hundreds of millions of dollars in farm loans can be written off. They win, they write off the loans and of course it does nobody any good.

Pic Courtesy Wikipedia. Jill Stein
The justification, Stein says, is that the government wrote off $4 Trillion for wall street "crooks" who "crashed the economy". Even a very ideologically sympathetic interviewer like Uighur had to intervene to say that TARP was a loan that was repaid by banks. Penny for penny, with usurious interest. The Federal Reserve made really good profit on TARP. Unfazed, Stein continues her utopian math to say that the hundreds of billions given to banks in the name of Quantitative Easing (QE) could be mimicked to write off student loans. Never mind the fact that to do so a President Stein would have to unconstitutionally order the Federal Reserve to do so. Why bother learning what a President can do or cannot do when there is no chance of becoming president?

Quantitative Easing, assailed by the left and right, was not the invention of some cabal to line the pockets of pin stripe suits in Wall Street. Rather, QE was a very innovative, albeit controversial, financial methodology that the Federal Reserve, under the chairmanship of Ben Bernanke, a student of the Great Depression, to ease credit flow and to create jobs. QE had it's share of detractors surely but it was not a ponzi scheme to enrich a few suits.

Not content with parading her financial illiteracy Jill Stein went on to equate loan write offs to the GI bill. The GI Bill, god bless the Greatest Generation, was not a loan write off or a hand out, rather, it was the debt of gratitude paid by a nation in 'EXCHANGE' for services rendered, the ultimate sacrifice, by the youth of this country. If Dr. Stein proposes free education in exchange for military service then that is already in vogue and nothing revolutionary but any such suggestion on a large scale would have her brood of peaceniks puking, not, lapping up. Uygur's reaction to all this "you are definitely to the left of me". To be left of Uygur means it is lecturing Marx on how to do redistribution better than what the Communist Manifesto said.

Oh by the way guess who voted for deregulating the Commodities Futures Trading Modernization Act of 2000 that the 2011 Financial Crises Inquiry report, CBS news in a fact check of Hillary Clinton's statement at a debate wrote, identified as one that "contributed significantly to this crisis". CBS fact check also noted that when even more provisions were added as to preventing the government from regulating the over-the-counter-derivatives, Sanders "voted in favor of that too". OTC (over the counter) derivates where blamed big time for the financial crisis. Yes, Bill Clinton signed the bill but it is Hillary Clinton on the ballot and it was Sanders who stood on a stage and characterized, with righteous fury, for being a stooge of Wall Street. Some stooge, some righteousness. Shame on Sanders and those who drink his kool aid.

If anyone thinks a few pin stripe suits brought down the world's richest economy to its knees they're being naive. It was the perfect storm in which bankers, consumers, culture of greed, politicians who promoted the 'American dream', conservatives, republicans, democrats, independents and even mega church televangelists who were selling the 'prosperity gospel', all played a role. A good place to learn is Raghuram Rajan's "Fault Lines". Those who revel in conspiracy theories about QE etc should learn what happened to the world's economy when central bankers dragged their feet during Great Depression in Liaqat Ahmed's Pulitzer winning book "Lords of Finance".

Jill Stein and the left wing make a fetish of science when they piously point out how scientists have agreed that Climate change is man made. The same left wing and Dr. Stein included react with apoplectic horror when confronted with the fact that equally good number of scientists have agreed that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are good. I guess everyone loves science only when it confirms their 'beliefs'.

Ripping into Stein's demand to reduce US defense spending by 50% and to "close more than 700 foreign military bases" Slate columnist in a piece titled "Jill Stein's ideas are terrible. She is not the savior the left is looking for", wrote that those ideas sound like they were "hatched in an old Bay area commune". Ouch.

This obsession over defense budget often obfuscates more inconvenient truths. US defense budget is, while being a whopper at nearly $600 billion (almost the equivalent of the next 14 countries defense spending), only 16.2% of the overall budget while Social Security and Healthcare take 43.3% (25.3% and 28% respectively). Medicare spending was $540 billion in 2015 and is projected by Kaiser Family Foundation to reach $1 Trillion in another ten years, 2026.

Affordable Care Act was a financial boondoggle as Americans are beginning to realize this year with soaring premiums. Sanders had his catchy "medicare for all" program. Sure it looks good on a bumper sticker. But no thanks. The so called Single Payer systems of Canada and most notably UK are plagued by their own problems. UK's crown jewel the NIH is literally facing a revolt from doctors who hate the over-regulation of their hours and meager salaries. Sanders never speaks of those and nobody calls him out on those.

Bernie Sanders's home state of Vermont tried the Single Payer system and it crashed to a grand failure almost overwhelming the revenue of the entire state. The cost, Boston Globe reported, "would nearly double the size of the state's budget in the first year alone and require large tax increases for residents and businesses". Snake oil.

An Associated Press opinion poll clearly showed that everyone loves to support Single payer system healthcare ideas as long as they personally don't have to pay more in taxes. While 39% supported a single payer system (33% oppose and 26% are 'neither for nor against') the support drops to 28% if it meant "your own taxes would increase".

Left leaning economists, not the conservative types, pegged the costs of Sanders's programs at an eye popping $2-3 Trillion dollars a year. Sanders scolded them as sellouts and the "establishment". Paul Krugman, a darling of the left thanks to a Nobel Prize in Economics, ridiculed Sanders for his pie-in-sky programs with a valid admonition that the Democrats have created a public image that, unlike the Republicans and their irresponsible policy of unfunded multi-trillion dollar tax cut programs, they can be looked up to for realistic proposals and Sanders's ludicrous tax and spend proposals dent that carefully cultivated image.

Sanders summoned his usual moral outrage during a debate while answering to a question on how Denmark achieves all his pet proposals and has a robust free market economy. Hillary Clinton retorted "we are not Denmark". Retorts have a momentary effect and Clinton did not proceed to dismantle Sanders's rosy picture of Denmark. First, in Denmark the top income tax rate is 60% at income above $60,000. Welcome to socialism where none is rich and all are uniformly poor.

Michael Booth, author of "The almost nearly perfect people: Behind the myth of the Scandinavian utopia", told the Washington Post that "few actually seek to move to Scandinavia, for obvious reasons: the weather is appalling, the taxes are the highest in the world, the cost of living is similarly ridiculous". Booth also adds that Denmark, which "promotes itself as a green pioneer and finger wags the world about CO2 emissions, and yet it regularly beats the U.S. and virtually every other country" in "per capita ecological footprint".Incidentally, irritated by a Democratic Socialist touting the merits of Denmark, the Prime Minister of Denmark told an American audience that "Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy".

Sanders's intellectual dishonesty is breathtaking and makes Hillary Clinton look like, well, not a saint, but a regular politician. Sanders always pretended that his programs are easily paid for by taxing a minority whereas in reality, as Hillary Clinton reminded repeatedly, his proposals will result in Denmark style taxes on all, especially the middle class. Sanders was selling snake oil to gullible voters that they could enjoy Denmark style socialism with American style taxation where 47% do not pay federal income tax and the top 10% pay the largest part of income tax. Chutzpah thy name is Sanders. Naivete thy name is 'Sanders voter'.

Jill Stein also illustrates why third party candidates wallow in the low single digits. We often ridicule the nominees of the two major parties for being politicians, and by that we mean whores pandering to every voters. Reality is different. The last election saw 120 million voters exercise franchise and Obama won over Romney by 4% margin. The US population is 324 million. Appealing to nearly 40% is no mean feat and to garner 51% of that vote is sheer acrobatics. One has to sing a certain tune in Iowa and a different tune in California while not antagonizing the voter in Ohio or Michigan and without forgetting the voter in Florida. In a social media age when a remark in a California fundraiser, as Obama learned, could ricochet in a Pennsylvania primary we need to tip our hat to the nominees of the major parties. The two major parties are far bigger ideological tents than we give them credit for. And for anyone to become the nominee there's bound to be pandering and contradictions.

Third party candidates flame out because often they are nothing but the extreme fringe of the two major parties. The Green party of Stein is an extreme fringe variety of the Democrats and the Libertarian party of Gary Johnson is an extreme fringe variety of the GOP. As fringe variations their policy menu is thin and appeals to a very thin sliver of the electorate albeit a very maniacally committed and disillusioned sliver.

Hillary Clinton is often mocked for being over-prepared and less spontaneous. This election cycle in debate after debate, in conversations with editorial boards across the country Clinton won plaudits for knowing what she was talking. Editorial board interviews, like the one with New York Daily News, were unmitigated disasters for Sanders. In a year when media are distrusted by the left and the right Editorial boards released entire transcripts to justify the endorsement editorials. TV debates that squeeze candidates to answer complex topics in miserly 1 minute or 30 second rebuttals were an injustice but editorial boards gave Sanders all the time he needed to answer a question. New York Daily News pressed Sanders on his signature issue of breaking the banks and Sanders could not, in a very lengthy answer, offer any coherent reply. Jill Sanders later termed the interview an 'inquisition'. Sore loser. Left leaning online magazines 'Daily Kos' and 'Mother Jones' in addition to other mainstream media called the interview an unmitigated disaster. The interviewers were aghast at his absolute ignorance and that too on his banner issue. During a debate Sanders rambled on Climate change when asked about Syria.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, a darling of the neither Hillary nor Trump crowd, could not remember where the city of Aleppo is and why it is at the heart of the Syrian tragedy. One could say that these are gotcha questions and that Clinton with all her knowledge of facts still pursued disastrous policies around the world. That intellectuals and erudite people make mistakes, and they sure do, does not mean we entrust the highest office of the land to the completely ignorant. That is idiocy. It is funny to see Sanders voters flock to Gary Johnson. Johnson has nothing in common with anything Sanders promoted.

We mock the nominees for being extra cautious but let's not forget that we as voters do not reward carelessness either. The nominees go to extreme lengths to select non-controversial VP candidates as running mates only to avoid the embarrassments Jill Stein would've faced with her choice of Ajamu Baraka if she had represented a major party.

Ajamu Baraka unflinchingly calls Obama, the nation's first black president, an "Uncle Tom". Just as Sanders gleefully tarred and feathered any and all of his critics as sellouts and "establishment", Baraka, when Sanders meekly endorsed Clinton, called him a "media driven pseudo-opposition" and an "ideological prop of the capitalist imperialist-settler state". Take that Sanders. Oh and Cornel West, a Sanders supporter who in turn called Obama an 'uncle Tom', was labeled as "sheep-dogging for the democrats". Wikipedia lists selected insults of Baraka's sharp tongue. Not satisfied with colorful tongue lashing Baraka holds positions like not awarding death sentence to Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma city bomber. A VP nominee like Baraka will sink any presidential candidate unless of course the candidate is moving heaven and earth to not rise above 3% in the polls like Jill Stein is doing with vigor.

The ultimate utopia was by Jill Stein when she offered "jobs as rights". The government, Stein says, should be the employer of last resort. Current US unemployment hovers around 5%. Under Stein's proposal the government would give them all a job. Fantastic, pray can I have my entree and dessert with it too. What kind of job can the government give? At what pay? Do personal aspirations count or is it any job doled by the government? What differentiates deserving personal aspirations from unrealistic expectations?

Historian Richard Hofstadter in "The idea of a party system: The rise of legitimate opposition in the United States, 1780-1840" captures perfectly the two areas where third parties fail and that explains why the bigger tent major parties survive. America's founding fathers hated party politics but in due course they did arise. Of the three defining characteristics of an opposition party that Hoftstadter specifies two are relevant to our discussion.

An opposition party should be responsible and by that he means that it "contains within itself the potential of an actual alternative government- that is, its critique of existing policies is not simply a wild attempt to outbid the existing regime in promises, but a sober attempt to formulate alternative policies which t believes to be capable of execution within the existing historical and economic framework, and to offer as its executors a competent alternative personnel that can actually govern". Sanders, Stein and Johnson clearly fail this.

Hofstadter adds, "I do not mean to prejudge the question whether a non-responsible critique of government may not have also have some value", "programs and critiques that are essentially utopian in content may have practical results of they bring neglected grievances to the surface or if they open lines of thought that have not been aired by less alienated and less imaginative centers of power". While Clinton did offer a plan to curtail college debt the utopia of Sanders had unleashed a clamor and compelled Clinton to tack further left than she would've done otherwise. While Sanders unleashed a dream it will remain to a Clinton to deliver at least half the promise. A New York Times article today on College debt comparing Clinton's and Trump's proposals shows how rooted in pragmatism and therefore in incrementalism Clinton is. This is the proper function of a democracy. Though Sanders hijacked the Democratic party he achieved more than he'd have had he run as a third party candidate. Sanders has reshaped the Democratic party whereas Stein will be remembered as the person who could not get elected as dog catcher.

Second principle is that an opposition should be effective. An 'effective' opposition is one whose "capability of winning office is also real, that it has institutional structure and the public force which makes it possible for us to expect that sooner or later it will in fact take office and bring to power an alternative personnel". Seen in this light Sanders gate crashing the Democratic party after having been an independent for decades is a sagacious decision but one which also demanded that he play by the rules if he lost the race. This is not the place to extensively debunk the idea of Sanders losing due to a rigged system, check my blog on Hillary Clinton for that. Having lost the race Sanders held out the carrot of endorsement long enough to extract ideological concessions.

Until Donald Trump scrambled the ideological contours of the two parties they represented the yin and yang of the society very well. Any society, let alone America, struggles with two ideologically competing forces. On one side the individual is a unit of society and exists for the sake of the latter in an uneasy truce. On the other side there is no society but a jangle of individuals cohabiting and bound to each by commerce and accommodation of competing self interests. Historian Arthur Schlesinger identified these as "private action" and "public purpose" and said that in American politics they alternatively gain the upper hand in what he labeled "the cycles of American history". The Democratic party and GOP are large ideological tents that have nice demarcated limits and yet accommodating a wide spectrum of ideological shades within their limits. Green party and libertarian party represent ideological extremes that can never garner the support of the larger majorities and therefore are condemned to remain on the fringe. There is no conspiracy to keep the fringe parties in the fringe.

While Hillary Clinton released 30 years of her tax returns Bernie Sanders released just one year's returns and that too without all the schedules attached. After ending his candidacy the Sanderses bought a nice $600K beach house, their third. While he is perfectly at liberty to buy any number of homes he could afford it does smack of hypocrisy when it is a guy who often spoke against CEO salaries. After all if we cannot decide how many homes Sanders should own he too cannot be deciding how much salary if enough for a person, that's between the CEO and his shareholders. Further if Clinton, thanks to the millions she has, cannot speak for the poor then Sanders too cannot speak for the poor.

George Orwell in his essay on Gandhi said that saints are to be judged guilty until proven innocent. Sanders, Stein and Johnson are certainly no saints and they, sure as hell, are not innocent.


Bernie Sanders related links:

  1. Left leaning economists question cost of Bernie Sanders's plans - NYT
  2. NPR Fact Check "Bernie Sanders promises free college.
  3. Politifact rates Bernie Sanders's claim that Wall Street taxes would pay for his college plan as "Mostly False"
  4. Oped by Professors of College of William and Mary in Washington Post "Why Bernie Sanders's free college plan doesn't make sense" -
  5. Sander's Free public college is a bad idea - US News -
  6. CBS News Fact check of Sanders vote for modernizing Commodities and Futures trading
  7. Boston Globe article on Vermont shutting down Single Payer System
  8. Associated Press opinion poll on Healthcare taxes
  9. "Bernie Sanders's Iraq War Hypocrisy" -
  10. "Bernie Sanders' Troubling History of Supporting U.S. Military Violence Abroad" -
  11. "Bernie Sanders' Elephant in the Room"
  12. "Bernie Sanders Supports Keeping Troops in Afghanistan" -
  13. "Bernie Sanders Voting Record Antithetical to his purported anti-war stance"
  14. "Bernie Sanders Loves this $1 Trillion War Machine" -
  15. Michael Booth interview in Washington POst on "Why Denmark isn't the utopian fantasy Bernie Sanders describes"
  16. "Denmark tells Bernie Sanders to sop lying about their country" -
  17. "Sanders buys $600K beach house" -
  18. Federal Spending pie chart
  19. Medicare spending detail - Kaiser Family Foundation-
  20. Bernie Sanders interview with New York Daily News
  21. Jill Sanders calls NY Daily News interview an 'inquisition'
  22. "Sanders burns himself in New York Daily News Interview" - Daily Kos -

Jill Stein:
  1. "Jill Stein's ideas are terrible. She is not the savior the left is looking for" - Slate (includes the link to interview with Cenk Uygur) -
  2. Ajamu Baraka
Gary Johnson: