Barack Obama

Another 4 years

With academics and a lot of other things consuming my time, I’ve spent less time caring about the 2012 US elections. Myself aside, international support for Obama doesn’t seem to be significantly lower than in 2008. If the world were the electorate, it seems likely that Obama would have been elected in a much greater landslide.

But though the results are the same, 2008 and 2012 differ in one massive way: The reason. In 2008, there was genuine support and enthusiasm for Obama internationally. This was reflected by his overseas trips that did much to help Obama build up his brand. 4 years on, it was understandable given the domestic situation that Obama would be less focused on foreign affairs. But it was also notable that direct support and enthusiasm for Obama was much lower. It wasn’t that people didn’t want Obama to win, but rather than they were less likely to support him directly. The 2012 support stemmed more from a general dislike of the Republican candidate, or candidates.

This might well have been the unfortunate result of Obama’s own doing. His rock-star status and breath-of-fresh-air-appeal in 2008 created some very high expectations of how he would perform. Once in the White House, reality struck, limiting his capacity to do many of the things had argued for. The Arab Spring, the rising tensions in Asia and Europe’s slow disintegration probably didn’t help the case.

As it stands, though non-Americans are happy for Obama’s re-election, there is doubtlessly less enthusiasm for his presidency. Not that it really matters, given that the events on the ground are forcing Obama to ‘pivot’ to domestic issues.

The demise of democracy: Part 1 (USA)

For the past half century, democracy has been the political ideology. The cold war saw a concerted effort to promote democracy, led by the USA. Since then, more and more countries have moved towards some form of democracy as the specter of communism was beat back. The idea of everyone’s opinion being considered in an equal and fair manner, without prejudice, captured the imagination of millions around the world. The recent spate of political upheaval in Arab stats, dubbed the Arab Spring, was heralded as the dawning of true democracy in the Middle East. But reality presents a far more murky picture, one where democracy’s success and future are both called into question. Here’s an examination of where democracy stands across the world.


One of the biggest proponents of democracy, the US itself has found its political system mired in partisan deadlock in recent times. Ever since Newt Gingrich’s political blockade against Bill Clinton, both Republicans and Democrats have used their time as the opposition to do just that – opposing virtually everything that comes their way. The filibuster has been used endlessly in the Senate, and often for entirely trivial matters. Most recently, the House of Representatives has become the new place of gridlock with dozens of bills stuck in committees and a sizable collection of party-line votes.

The long list of unapproved nominations to various government positions is another case in point. Both Bush and Obama have had difficulty getting nominees approved. Many commentators have rued the over politicization of judicial appointments. It’s not that nominees are outright rejected (ignoring the question of competence or capacity), a vast number of them are simply never voted on. It is telling that mistrust in the US political system is at new heights. Disapproval of Congress, supposedly the US home of democratic representation, is at an all time high with nearly 80%# disapproving of Congress’s work.

Ideologically, more and more voters class themselves as independents; but ironically, the number of independent senators and representatives is dwindling, both in terms of ideology and party affiliation. Indeed, the emergency of the Tea Party has pushed the Republican party further to the right, unseating many moderates in the process.

While one could legitimately argue that this is all just a part of the democratic process, one can’t but help question whether democracy remains the undisputed king of all political systems.

Next time: The West (Europe)

Joe Mason for President

I wrote last week about the need for Obama to grow a back-bone. I then stumbled upon an interesting blog called ‘Vote Third Party’ which features a number of pointed videos and articles regarding both sides of the political debate.

One in particular was brought to my attention by The Atlantic. A very pointed critique of Obama’s positions and repeated compromises. Whether this is a serious campaign remains to be seen, but some of the points brought up by the video echo many of the thoughts that Democrats will no doubt have.

Why the US shouldn’t pressure China on currency issues

US China Currency US-Chinese relations have been rocky at best and outright hostile at times. The Chinese got pissed of at the US’s decision to sell military arms to Taiwan and then at Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama. Then there was the row over censorship in the wake of Google’s pull out. The latest spat has been over China’s supposedly undervalued currency. To be fair, there is an almost unanimous international consensus that the RMB is undervalued. This however is irrelevant. Regardless of this, the US should not be trying to pressure China for a RMB rise.

First, those who are calling for the move are hardly reliable. Sure, they have their share of Nobel economists and awards. But muddled amongst their claims were that China and Hong Kong were both currency manipulators. C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a think-tank in United States said in a Congress hearing that

“Several neighboring Asian countries of considerable economic significance — Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan — maintain currency undervaluations of roughly the same magnitude in order to avoid losing competitive position to China.”

True, Hong Kong has a peg to the USD since 1983, and the government has had to control the currency to maintain that peg, but maintaining a peg is hardly currency manipulation. And if a peg is to be maintained, its rather difficult to manipulate a pegged currency! The total irony of it all is that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner paid a visit to Donald Tsang and other prominent financial people during his stopover in Hong Kong just this week. The HKD-USD peg has been around for almost 30 years, as long as Bergsten has been out of the government and out of touch with reality. John Tsang, Financial Secretary of Hong Kong put it quite nicely :

“This is a sign of rising protectionism and this kind of absurd voice will continue to be heard. Hong Kong’s peg to the U.S. dollar has been in effect for over two decades, how could we have manipulated our currency in that period?”

Even if we assume their claims are correct, what’s the real problem? Is the US-China trade imbalance a result of currency manipulation or a more fundamental issue with the US economy? Understandably, the currency plays a part, but the underlying problem is not the RMB but the lost of competitiveness of US products. Made in US just isn’t that cool or in demand anymore. US goods are expensive in comparison to almost all countries, that’s the underlying problem. Changing the RMB value won’t change the price of US products. Until something is done, the trade imbalance will still occur.

There really is no better indicator of the US’s lack of competitiveness than the fact that a trade imbalance would occur even if the RMB raised its value. Many Chinese goods would still be cheaper than US goods. Even if they aren’t US goods won’t be the cheapest because Indonesia, South east Asia, India, Brazil and other countries will still be cheaper than Made in US. In fact, Saudi Arabia’s multilateral merchandise surplus of $212bn in 2008 dwarfs China’s $175bn surplus. Has the US cried about Saudi Arabia? No. It wants the oil. Would RMB revaluation do anything to the Saudi Arabian surplus? No. What does Bergsten want to do then? Ban all foreign goods?


Top Posts of the Year: 2009

It’s been a relatively short year for this blog, but it has nevertheless been a fruitful one with nearly 40 posts in a short 2 months period. Here’s a round up of the top posts of 2009.

1. IB Results

SIS had its first batch of IB students completing their exams and the results of this was released sparsely with only certain staff members insisting that they were wonderful. However, in an ironic twist, the school carefully choose to exclude a number of important statistics of comparison.

2. Principal Interviews

With the announcement that Mr. Wray was due to go to another school, the process of selecting a new principal began. Ultimately, Mr. Graham Silverthorne was selected. You can read his bio here.


2009: The Year

Aretha Franklin's Hat

Aretha Franklin's Hat

The decade has ended, so too has 2009. Here’s a roundup of how it went. From political triumph and failure to sporting tragedy and comebacks. Of course we said our fair share of farewells and both sad and fond memories of special anniversaries.


Climate Change: Global Drowning in Brokenhagen

The world had high expectations. But once again, the world was disappointed by bickering and selfishness amongst national leaders. Copenhagen was intended to hammer out an intentional consensus to solving Climate Change. Even before it began, the conspiracy effort to lower expectations and allow nations to skive off requirements began.

First was the questionable time of events of ClimateGate. Admittedly, the emails raised considerable questions. The fact that such phrases were ever used calls for the scientists to review their actions. But a few dubious emails don’t sustain a denial. The few emails that were stolen don’t suddenly overturn the thousands of pages of evidence that shows Climate Change is real and present. In the wider picture, it is still painfully clear that Climate Change is real and that we need to do something about it.Even the political arm of the White House tried to shy away from the issue by scheduling Obama’s appearance at an unimportant time before the realities of the world forced him to make a prime-time visit that created both failure and success.