Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pakistan's Case For Debt Relief

Zahid Malik, Editor-in-Chief of The Pakistan Observer, the most jingoistic of Pakistan's English-language dailies, admits that Pakistan, which possesses both a world-class army and nuclear weapons, is an economic basket case. He wants Pakistan to ask the world community, after taking into consideration the devastating floods ravaging the country, to "write-off" $53 billion in foreign debt. Mr. Malik didn't use the word "forgive" because that would mean Pakistan is begging the world community, which, according to Mr. Malik, they are clearly not.

It is a very interesting article that highlights both Pakistan's image problem and the writer's delusions. Before we go on, it's good to note, however. that Mr. Malik does makes a good case for debt relief:
Now that it is recognized internationally and by the UN that losses from the unprecedented floods were more than the 2004 tsunami, 2005 Pak earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, therefore, I think Pakistan needs much more than just assistance for relief and rehabilitation. The losses to infrastructure alone are so high that Pakistan would not be able to recoup in the next five years. Almost the entire Kharif crop of the country has either been washed away or adversely affected by the floods translating into losses worth trillions of rupees to the farmers and the national economy
No one can argue with this line of reasoning, but the question is: is anyone listening?
If we look to the response of international community received so far, though we do not want to make any comparison, it is like peanuts to the assistance given to Haiti. We have been pledged just over $ 815 million as against $ 5.3 billion aid to Haiti. The international community went in a big way for Haiti because two former American Presidents Clinton and Bush pursued the case of relief and reconstruction of the tiny Island State.
Interesting comparison. Haiti is one of the poorest countries on this planet; so wretchedly poor, in fact, that it possesses little or anything of value except people, and most of them live in abject poverty. Pakistan, on the other hand, is no Haiti. It is rich in natural resources, fertile agricultural land, and has an industrial base. Pakistan is definitely richer than Haiti. For example, Pakistan spends like a drunken sailor to buy weapons for its military. Currently it is shopping for a contract to buy radar systems for its new JF-17 fighter aircraft, a deal estimated over $1 billion. In fact, defense spending is the second biggest line item of Pakistan's annual budget, behind debt servicing. This from a country that not only has nuclear weapons, but affirmed the right to use them (against India, who else?) as a first-strike weapon.

Mr. Malik thinks that not only should the world community write off Pakistan's foreign debt, but compensate it for being on the front line in the "global war on terror":
Therefore, what I am talking about is building a case quantifying the facts by the experts and with input from the Provincial Governments and endorsed by the DNA of WB and ADB about the huge flood losses. Aid for the flood damages should also be accompanied by a demand of $ 60 billion which according to my assessment Pakistan suffered in the war on terror and the resulting losses of human lives, infrastructure and so many other expenses. In fact Pakistan has been suffering continuously since 1979 when we joined the civilised world to oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.
Mr. Malik does not say how he arrived at the princely sum of $60 billion, but given how much money the United States has given Pakistan since 1979, and will give in the future, it sounds like something an extortionist or a blackmailer would demand. Let's, for the sake of argument, we forgive Pakistan's foreign debt and "compensate" it to the tune of $60 billion, what guarantee do we have Pakistan will spend the money on human development and rebuilding its infrastructure? How much of it will be squandered, stolen, or handed over to the military to maintain an army it doesn't need?

Because ven in the best of times, Pakistan was a beggar country. Almost every Pakistani leader begs China, Saudi Arabia and the United States for money on a regular basis. Yet it has the temerity to demand equal treatment, like a partner or friend-- an equal. What do you call a "friend" who keeps borrowing money from you and never pays you back even though he can? A moocher. A freeloader. Haiti, at least, admits its poor, but Pakistan is poor but doesn't want to admit it.

Will the world community forgive Pakistan's foreign debt? I don't think so. Pakistan just cannot be trusted: specifically, its leadership cannot be trusted. At best, the debt will be restructured in some fashion so Pakistan can use the savings for flood relief. The world community would be more amenable, in my opinion, if Pakistan agreed to certain conditions, but Mr. Malik makes it clear that Pakistan's sovereignty is not negotiable.

Pity. Hope Mr. Malik realizes 'beggars cannot be choosers'.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cut Chemist: Spinner Extraordinaire

Cut Chemist is one of the best hip-hop DJs around. His name is spoken in the same breath as DJ Shadow, Q-Bert, etc. His collaborations with Jurassic 5 was just sweet. URB magazine, which I use to read back in the day (the late 1990s), has a nice interview with him:

Grand Master Citizens: Cut Chemist from Society Theory on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pakistan's Leadership Deficit

Asif Ali Zardari has to be one of the worst (if not the worst) president in Pakistan’s brief history! The man has a set of brass balls to behave the way he does, and say things, that illuminates his incompetence.

For one thing, while Pakistan is facing one of its worst natural disasters, Zardari is on a grand tour of Europe. While visiting Russia, he made the following statement:
“Pakistan will come out of this a stronger nation,” Zardari said at a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. “We have... the capabilities, we have the people, and all tragedies always unite nations. This tragedy will again unite us,” he said. President Zardari called upon the international community and the regional partners to help Pakistan out of the difficult situation caused by floods.
It beggars the belief he would say such a thing, but it does display his leadership style: He doesn’t have any! He should be in Pakistan, doing all he can, providing succor and relief to the victims. No. Zardari can’t be bothered to mingle with the riff-raff.

While asking the world community for donations, Zardari, the billionaire, was visiting his various properties around Europe, estimated to be valued at over $1 billion. And God only knows how many millions are tucked away in secret bank accounts. Zardari could easily sell a fraction of his holdings to fund flood relief and still have plenty left to indulge his hedonistic lifestyle. But we know Zardari’s history all too well: the man is greedy.

This is bad enough, but the man also has no sense of national honor. When British Prime Minister David Cameron bad-mouthed Pakistan on Indian soil, protocol dictates a vigorous and visible protest. For example, Pakistan should have cancelled Zardari’s forthcoming trip to England. After all, national honor is at stake. Zardari not only went forward with the trip but was photographed smiling and shaking hands with Cameron like a couple of university chums. It was a shameful display.

Pakistan, in my opinion, faces a serious leadership deficit. Is there one decent fellow in Pakistan who can lead this country out of darkness?

Friday, August 20, 2010

ESPN Adds A Much Needed Nice Touch

ESPN has added a cool new navigation feature on its front page. Instead of clicking on the sports to go to that particular page, a mouseover event gives the user a neat little dropdown box, listing all the key links for that page, hence saving a step. Take a look:

I visit ESPN multiple times a day, so this is a welcome step. Cool thing is that the dropdown box also displays your favorite teams for quick access to their respective pages. Nice design touch, ESPN!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why Lady Gaga Is A Superstar!

Lady Gaga is on the cover of the September issue of Vanity Fair.

I presume this is what she "really" looks like, without the excessive make-up, outrageous costumes and teased-up hair. I honestly never seen her in a "normal" way.

In spite of her overpowering flamboyance, I love her music. She's pure pop. Closest thing we have to a superstar since Madonna, who Lady Gaga shamelessly emulates, from style to sound. Like Madonna, Lady Gaga is a product of the dance club scene, where she absorbed countless hours of disco-inflected music. It is this glue that binds her music together into high-energy dance anthems.

Is Lady Gaga a genius? These days the word 'genius' is used to describe anyone with a modicum of talent. Geniuses are defined by their uniqueness, as much by their eccentricities. In my opinion, Lady Gaga has both. Her skills as a singer, musician, and producers are so unfathomably great, that it's not much of a stretch to call her, well, a genius.

This is only my opinion, of course. I don't have to justify them to anyone.

What Lady Gaga has done, like Madonna before her, is she made dance music cool again. I've been a dance music fan since I first heard my first disco song in the late 1970's (Most probably the Bee Gees, but I can't remember the specific moment or song). The arrival of Madonna and Michael Jackson made the 1980's cool. Can Lady Gaga do the same for the post-internet era?

I hope so

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Reminder Why Air Travel Sucks

Whether or not his actions were justified, Steven Slater has become the poster boy for our collective disgust with air travel. The problem with air travel is not just the airlines, which is a given, but passengers, who demand too much for too little.

For me, anyway, air travel should be a simple affair: get me from point A to B safely and on time; don’t lose my luggage (especially if I pay for the privilege); no need to feed me or slake my thirst (airline food sucks anyway, and I can bring my own bottle of water); and no need to entertain me as I can either read a book or listen to my iPod.

Other than that, I will gladly pay the stated fare plus fees and taxes to fly wherever I want.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Libertarians Are True Believers In Small Government

I don’t often listen to conservative talk radio: I find them to be mendacious, the hosts to be total jerks and repetitious, but I especially save my contempt for the people who call these shows, claiming to know what they’re talking about when they're not; most of whom are total idiots, mere mouth-breathers, in my humble opinion.

One so-called conservative caller made the spurious claim that libertarians believe in no government at all, whereas conservative believe in small government. Libertarians are not anarchists! We believe in the rule of law as much as conservatives (probably more), which require specific institutions to carry them out—which, of course, is enshrined in government.

And since we’re on the topic of small government, libertarians can claim, unequivocally, that they, not conservatives, are the true torchbearers of small government. As we have witnessed, from Reagan to both Bush presidents, conservatives (and liberals) have increased the size of government through a combination of profligate spending, burdensome regulations, and limiting of civil liberties.

For all intents and purposes, conservatives have abandoned small government altogether. Is it any wonder that libertarian ideas are gaining wider currency in the Republican party? It’s time for conservative to walk in the wilderness for awhile and think about what a small government-type is.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How Toy Story 3 Is About Freedom

The libertarian Adam Smith Institute opines that Toy Story 3 is an animated allegory on the pitfalls of socialism. I never thought about Toy Story 3 in stark political terms, but I’ll be damned if it’s not true!

However, there are more movies that harp on the evils of capitalism. One clear cut example is Chicken Run, an animated film about a group of chickens plotting to escape from the clutches of an evil farmer, who is bent on turning them into chicken pot pies in order to maximize profits. The chickens, acting collectively (like good Marxists), manage to thwart the farmer’s plans and fly the coop, so to speak. On the surface, it is a fun little movie, but the underlying theme is more insidious. On this score, Toy Story 3 is a welcome antidote.

Whatever the political themes, both films are a joy to watch.