Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Elite Education in the US of A

Something is very wrong with how the American elite gets educated by all those top ranked universities when famous alumni who went on to become leaders make the same stupid mistakes over and over again. Read this well-written op ed here by one of the most informed writers on the Muslim world on Afghanistan that is so vivid and heart wrenching you want to throw your computer out of the window.

Moral Quagmire in Afghanistan

So Prez Obama was just in Kabul days ago pressing Prez Karzai to crack down on corruption knowing full well his brother is a drug king. Guess what? Nothing is done. On the contrary US officials are saying, as they did in Vietnam, such drug runners are essential to the war's effort. Really? Didn't work then, wouldn't work now.

Read Prez Kabul's de facto response here to Obama's visit.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bad Movie in Kabul

So Obama wants Karzai to crack down on corruption in Afghanistan? Read the lead story on Obama's unannounced trip to Kabul prior to touch down in this paper here.

I would be more appreciative if we had been spared of this embarrassing display of tiresome PR to placate the uninformed back home in good old US of A.

Asking Karzai to crack down on corruption is about the same as asking Don Corleone is tame mafia crimes in Brooklyn in Coppola's immortal movie Godfather.

Is there anyone in this world who keeps up with the news who still does not know Karzai's brother is the number one opium overlord in Afghanistan? Furthermore, have we not read that none other than the US military has pleaded with Washington not to crack down on that business because they need local tribal support?

Ok. To give "face" to Obama Karzai will do something about crimes. What is likely to happen is for his henchmen to crack down on all his brother's competition eliminating (and I don't mean just economically) those who do not submit to Karzai bro's orders. There will be relative peace because after the crackdown there will be just one monopoly of crimes standing that goes all the way to the palace of Kabul where the president sits.

Mr Obama, please spare us the theatrics. Get your troops out and let the Afghans deal with each other. What do your want to betray your own core values to defend opium and crime bosses? Is that worth losing thousands of American soldiers and civilians and suspending one's basic beliefs about drugs and violent crimes/

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Afghan Policce & US Folly

Interesting article from Newsweek here.

US has spent $6 billion since 2002 on training up a police force of 98,000. An effective force is a central part of Obama's exit strategy. US experts admit less than 12% of the force is "effective". What does that mean? Not able to even catch thieves and police the streets "effectively". We are not talking about going to the mountains to catch Al Qaeda fighters, for chrissake.

Let's do the math. $6 billion on 98,000 police = $61,200 per head. Per capita income is $800. Al Qaeda or the Taliban don't have that kind of money let alone spend only on the "police" force. Yet these enemies have been able to hold off the mighty US military.

What does that tell you? To me it is senseless to fight in a country where your supposed allies are not motivated even if you show a fortune on them. They are mostly likely laughing their head off at your naivete and stupidity and are crying all the way to the bank. Cynical? Read the latest on how the US is helping the opium business in Afghanistan.

In case you have been avoiding the news for sometime, the opium business is monopolized by the brother of the president of Afghanistan, the "ally" on whom the US effort depends.

So, how could you motivate the police when everyone and his brother in law knows the US is in bed with the opium king?

Yoiu tell me.

Opium and USA

If you are caught with heroine and opium on US soil, you can look forward to many years in jail. It's a big federal crime. When it comes to foreign wars, beginning with the Vietnam War, USA abandoned all pretense to the values the nation had held dear.

During that war, the Americans not only tolerated opium cultivation they created a US run airline, called Air America, to transport opium from difficult hills up country to facilitate distribution on behalf of those hill tribes the failing US military wanted to win over to help fight the communists. Never mind the opium would end up in Los Angeles or New York. In war all is "fair" right?

But of course what the US did in Vietnam was illegal, but who cares, right? In the end the war failed to win hearts and minds.

Now, we are seeing the same tiresome movie. The US military is now openly in support of opium trade again. We are condemned to watch this B movie all over again. Never mind what the US used to stand for: the rule of law, respect for humane values and all that. They read well in textbooks. It's sad to see the decline of moral values in the USA.

You want to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan? Imagine you are a young Afghan. You grow up watching GI's supporting opium in your own backyards. You then get a scholarship to Yale. Would you have much respect for Washington leaders telling the world how to behave? I doubt it.

Read this heart wrenching report on the US involvement in Afghan opium trade here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The "Mountain" has moved

In the classic Kurusawa movie "Ren", a rising warlord patiently watched the action of the dominant warlord of all warlords (WOAW) before he pounced. Finally he saw the opportunity when WOAW moved the bulk of his troops out of his impregnable fortress to attack the patient usurper. He uttered those simple words to his generals: "The Mountain has moved".

It's so zen. Mountains do not move. When they move it means the center of gravity, gravitas, the solidness has become "light" and vulnerable. In the movie the WOAW lost. It had lost its mind, it had lost its strategy, it had lost its "gravity".

This is how I read this article (here) about Applied Materials, the Rolls Royce of semi conductors in Silicon Valley is building in China its largest ever plant, and the largest of such plants with not only cutting edge technology of today, but putting down deep roots in China the platform for tomorrow's technology. This exercise is headed by one of the most important techies in the entire semi conductor business.

I do not argue that US companies should not invest abroad. They should indeed do so. However, what been happening is nothing short of moving the "Mountain". It's hollowing out of the core of what once made USA great.

Applied Materials and many other cutting edge firms are saying by their action they have "seen" the future, and it is in China. This is still a country of limited intellectual and political liberties, right? Yet, they see the future there?

Should that raise several red flags in the US of A? Do we see, hear serious debates and then actions to remedy the situation?

The issue is not really even about China. It is about the US of A. Why has it become what it has become, a place that a firm like Applied Materials no longer sees the company future in the nation's future?

We do know a lot of about some of the structural problems. Many blame China's "slave" labor wages attracting investments.

Relative wages play a part, but only up to a point. Go to MIT, Caltech, Berkeley or Princeton and visit their PhD programs in physics, electrical engineering, math and their cousins and you meet more Asian, particularly Chinese, students than "locals".

The "best and the brightest" young Americans all want to become investment banks and consultants. Money, do we not know, is galactic. Engineering? Physics? Too hard, too boring. No money. Civil Engineering? Who in their right minds want to work on building better roads, airports or dams?

The proverbial message is no longer just on that wall. It is not even a message anymore.

The story of Applied Materials in China is yet another floodgate being lifted. Another dyke widened.

The balance of global power, both soft and hard, is shifting so rapidly away from the US it pains to see the amount of low quality political debates in the main US media, especially on Fox News, where repeated assertions of USA being number 1 has become substitutes for intelligent analyses; that only the Democrats or anyone who is not Republican could fail to see that USA is a country blessed personally by God.

If anyone needs to be reminded how regressive USA can become, just read the latest on textbook changes in Texas as mandated by backward looking Republican stalwarts.

Long gone are the days of traditional Republicanism: fiscally conservative, culturally liberal and enlightened. The Rockefellers were Exhibit A.

Hubris and ignorance are lethal ingredients in all the falls of empires in the past. USA has an oversupply of both right now among its ruling elite in the Congress, in the media and in State politics.

China may have its cyclical comeuppance in another asset bubble that would take the market cap of its stock markets down a few pegs, but the underlying structural change is as amazing as the head in the sands of the Republican Party, the party which should be promoting growth and technology, but now spending its energy on backward looking rhetoric.

The final paragraph of the article is not a journalist trick to overstate in order to impress. Any frequent travelers to China who have talked to the young and the bright could recognize that voice.