Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Policy over Politics

Diagnose is right - Obama choose 'changing policy over changing politics'. But Ezra ignores the reality that possibly very few of these 'policy changes' will in the end start making 'real change / difference' in lives of people. At that point the call of 'going for policy over politics' hardly matters because even if it was true, the policy did not hold up. Just imagine Supreme Court turning down ObamaCare or monthly reminder of over 9% unemployment rate.

The other question Ezra ignores is that given this predicament of 'choosing policy over changing politics' what can Obama offer for 2012 election? What offering from Obama at that point can convince Americans to vote Obama second time rather than going for trying another guy? The only way he can do it is by:
- completely removing 'Nebraska Cornhusker' possibilities by way of coming clean about exactly what policies he would enact in 'full transparency' if elected and
- to ask Americans a mandate with usable Congressional majorities to execute and deliver the policy charter.

 In other words - to run as a parliamentary leader campaigning with a detailed party election manifesto (with all gory policy details) and to fight for election of each foot soldier - member of Congress - in the process.

Otherwise what other Democrats are saying will turn out to be true.

Update - Looks like I am wrong with this month's unemployment rate, which is below 9%. But neither Obama Administration pats itself nor anyone serious can ignore the long path America has to go before most Americans wanting to work are gainfully employed.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

JFK, Hollywood and American Politics


I barely resisted yesterday talking about JFK while writing a post about Marilyn Monroe. But today after reading Ross Douthat's classic column about 'myths of JFK' I could not agree any more with Ross about that - JFK Presidency was not that great for Americans after all. As like with passage of time folks are understanding the lasting impact of LBJ Presidency (legacy of Medicare and signing of Civil Rights Laws) despite the humiliation brought by the Vietnam war; people will start realizing that indeed JFK was not that great and he was the genesis of Vietnam quagmire. Douthat's lists all of the consequential shortcomings of JFK presidency. Except for unequivocal support for a 'space program' (which Douthat forgets to point out); there are few things of lasting importance to which JFK contributed.

And then there was Marilyn Monroe - it is hard to ignore circumstances surrounding her relationship with the married Catholic President. It would not be a surprise to learn Marilyn Monroe expected the president to leave his beautiful wife, kids all that to marry a tinsel town sex symbol; all while being in the White House! That was how much she had been unreasonable / unhinged in her expectations from others. Not that such an unreasonableness on Marilyn's part absolve what JFK rumored to start - adulterous relationship while being in the White House (which in the end culminates in 'that spot' on the blue dress of Monica Lewinsky, all by Democrats). Regardless of whether JFK had relationship with her or not, there is no doubt that JFK didn't find it anything abhorrible to use some Hollywood 'stardust' and 'flesh' for his own political means. 

But of course, it is not only Democrats who have used Hollywood for their own purposes. When it came to Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, GOP did find utility in Hollywood glamour too.

This all means, until American Politics learn to stay away from Entertainment Industry and not to exploit publicity of practitioners of that industry for their own political means; we will continue to have this collusion of interests and even flesh. In that respect, Americans have grounds to be satisfied with recent presidencies of George Bush and Barack Obama. As Douthat implies, unless America buries properly all this JFK and Marilyn Monroe hoopla, we would not have emotionally cleansed. Canny politician as he is, Obama Presidency would not let die this JFK mythology till November 2012 election as he still needs votes in droves of likes of Frank Rich, the baby boomers infatuated by JFK who still struggle to see beyond even after so many years and acquired wisdom due to aging. For sure, Obama will not do anything to encourage this 'Camelot business'; least because that will be a unflattering comparison with his own performance in the first term. But come January 2013 and if he is reelected, it is in Obama's interest to take Democrats fully out of the JFK land once and for all. For a Republican President, things would become easier to drop these JFK references from Public Mind.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hollywood in love with Hollywood


My Week With Marilyn

B++



Hollywood turns to its own stars to produce new character movies as movie business is going away so dramatically from real life characters. Invasion of computer gimmicks on movie business is so complete by now. In that sense, this movie is refreshing and nice. It is neither attempting to state any larger, polemical points nor at the same time is not a wash like 'Black Swan' which was yet another movie about the entertainment business. If at all, the movie misses an opportunity to indict Hollywood culture of 'show business and culture of flesh'.  It does not tell effectively how hard it has been for Hollywood to give up the male chauvinism and the road traveled since then has carcasses of lives of many talented individuals; Ms. Monroe being the prominent one. 

Life of Ms. Monroe had been a complex concoction of inferiority complex, horribly troubled childhood, enormous talent surging to achieve greater artistic achievements on a newly maturing medium, un-channeled rebellion against the darker ways of Hollywood - actresses as a sex symbol only & hegemony of studio production houses; and never ending quest of finding so called 'true love'. Neither mundane compromises needed to sustain any relationship were there in books of Ms. Monroe, nor she ever wanted to make the personal call to quit Hollywood glamour entirely (she did quit Hollywood at times) having developed the taste of using her hyper sexuality for her own purposes regardless of how un-balanced emotional demands were drawn on others. In a sense that life was nothing but narcissism and unwillingness to stop exploiting emotional gratifications made possible by blurring life 'off the screen with life on the screen'. 

May be I am getting too much swayed by the story of protagonist Collin Clark having seen how 'like a violin Ms. Monroe plays' a young life of 21 years youth. May be that is the success of this movie. But bringing audience this far but not crossing the line in explaining how exactly this business of 'exploiting tragedies of one talented individual' for the purposes of titillating millions while filling coffers of Movie Financiers; that is a disappointment of this otherwise well crafted movie. The movie is clean, plain and a simple story with limited span rendered in beautiful images and capable performances by most of the crew. Watching all that is joy and worth your time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Waiting for Elections

That is the real message of the failed super committee. Too bad that like Spaniards, we cannot have timely elections and give a clear verdict to overcome this impasse. That is the problem with American System, on the background of stark events, citizenry does not get a quick opportunity to react. All of these shenanigans of our politicians, voters have to remember; accumulate all this happening (for example Supreme Court judgement about ObamaCare sometime in 2012); and then vote. And when we vote, we do not give  a clear mandate. In a sense, failure of super committee is failure of Americans to give clear verdict in elections.

Some would argue that Americans did give 2010 mandate to Tea Party and Tea Party is doing its job of insisting on cuts rather than any tax increase. The challenge for Democrats is to demonstrate how this urge to resist tax increases at any cost is fundamentally giving a short shrift to core 'economic justice and fairness' we expect or we want in our politics. We all want everybody to pay the fair share as well as take their own responsibility. 

May be 'rich' and GOP are opposing tax increase because their present contributions are overwhelmingly getting transferred to 'have not'. The need may be for Democrats to articulate their plans about how they would rationalize this 'wealth transfer' once the inherently 'rigged system for rich' is corrected. That is the challenge for Obama and Democrats and they are late to this game. 

What about GOP Leadership? Americans may feel like giving a chance to a new Republican guy in the White House. But all of the GOP candidates carry 'so much baggage' and are so blind because of ideology that none of them see the core reason of a political power - to be an instrument in bringing social and economic justice. For all these Republicans, it hardly registers that 'rich' have been getting far better share in this country and GOP essentially has been protecting rich really well at the cost of everyone else. In any case, fighting for social or economic justice has never been the forte of Republicans, we all know their history.

So this is where we are - Americans do not have any capacity to turn on heat on their recalcitrant politicians and then these politicians get away; we all are waiting for that election in November 2012. During the year, the same issues, same trench ware-fare and same gridlock will continue. Everybody will fight for  only a marginal advantage and in the end this marginal advantage would be treated as a mandate by one party to foist a dramatic change on the other party. Then the vicious cycle would repeat. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wonders of Demographics and Globalization

IKEA is the place to find boyfriends and girlfriends. 


...So what IKEA does is laudable, and we wish IKEA's business will prosper. I am thankful for IKEA's tolerance toward us."

Actually, IKEA's tolerance has pretty much run out.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Deaf and Blind GOP

Will Paul Ryan, Michele Bachmann spare some 10 minutes to listen to Arun Maira? Well, na; these GOP folks are so ideologically driven that anyone who does not agree with their unproven theory of 'give more tax cuts to rich so jobs will be created' is simply Socialist and Communist!

Listening Arun Maira, the whole demeanor of this person dramatically contrasts with bombastic 'protect rich at any cost' crowd of GOP field. No wonder RNC Chief is getting the message, but until GOP gives up these suicidal policies; there is no well being of America possible in hands of GOP. 

I have not read Maira so I cannot comment on the theoretical foundation of his articulation; but his assertion that humanity needs to think beyond Socialism and Capitalism rings a chord. It is also clear, and I am sure Maira would be aware of this, that Scandinavian model is not applicable to large countries like USA, China and India. He is fully aware of still developing economic structure of India and China compared to USA. In fact, more accommodating and global conscientiousness implicit in his view starkly contrast with overall avaricious attitude of Americans. GOP actively promotes a philosophy where Americans think that they have a birthright to consume this earth as they want, regardless of if there is anything left for others. There is such a strong undercurrent of 'hell with the world, we are Americans, we are superior and hence we will tread this Earth any which ways we want' in the entire GOP philosophy. (Ross Douthat's latest column comes to mind - GOP wants to actively promote a feeling of 'raising to this greater call of duty for humanity' while basics of sharing and caring this only earth are completely ignored.)

The standard answer from Conservatives is Americans earn this right because they protect Liberty and Freedom and have been following 'rule of law' for over two centuries. Moreover, when the world is in trouble, not only Americans work fearlessly to 'bring that wall down Mr. Gorbachev'  but ready to shed blood to bring Freedom in places far away (Iraq)  and ready to take Trillions of Dollar debt in this fight (even if it means we do not leave any money for our own well being and education back home). Well China, India, Brazil and many other economies of this world do not own any 'blood' to USA. Having been Sheriff of the World for few decades, neither America has capability to carry out those self-imposed duties nor rest of the world would tolerate those any further. So Conservatives better keep their 'arrogance' of American Sacrifices with themselves and mind their own business.

That is the exact thinking - mind your own business and be a good citizen of the global system - that is  the approach a healthy political system needs to have today. This means you do not insist upon American style Capitalism for rest of the world. Finance dominated Capitalism as followed in this country is not even good for Americans themselves. Not for nothing practically two third of Americans think that the 'game is rigged for haves' in this country and hence majority thinks that children are likely to have less prosperous life than its own generation. Answer to this predicament is not a feral Libertarian Cry (that counter intuitively Cultural Conservatism will come back in times of increased inequality); but to eliminate ideological blindness. Deeply sought 'personal responsibility' by Conservatives neither  comes by protecting rich nor sacrificing societal investments like Infrastructure, Education, Science & Technology for tax cuts which do not work. Looking at GOP presidential debates and GOP's Congressional actions, it is clear that GOP is deaf and blind to what is happening in  world at large when it comes to policies to address our entrenched problems. (Anyways it is the season of Thanksgiving, so no wonder Boehner is discovering virtues of taking care of 'have nots'.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Euro

I am very much afraid that the euro zone is about to plunge us into phase two of the global financial crisis--and that as with the Great Depression, phase two may be even worse than the dismal years we've just endured. 


In search of fairness, we may all get a lot more justice than any of us really wants. 




Martin Wolf says that the eurozone is unlikely to survive. Paul Krugman is saying the same thing.I’ve been saying it too. But one thing’s for sure: a euro breakup is emphatically not priced in to markets. So fasten your seatbelts: it could come sooner than you think. 



It is pretty much clear that we are fast approaching this point of 'no return' on Europe. Some of the observations for a common person are:

- Both Greece and Italy are unlikely to get any money from any international lenders in market or from ECB on a sustained basis, even though here and there money will be available for borrowing. This would mean you are looking at hard default of these states at some point with grave consequences for the people of these countries. Shenanigans of politicians in these countries would have convinced people of these countries, other Europeans and world at large that capacity of Politics of these nations to face their own problems is dramatically below the threshold needed to get out of this crisis.

- ECB may try to lend from time to time. But unless it is practically able to cross over the 'ultimatum' of Germans in not lending too much (since after all entire credibility of ECB is based on German strength); in the end it may not prove to be sufficient.

- As Italy goes down, France would start looking shakier. The Politics of the country is alive and in a bid to address Market pressure, it will continue to push down more and more draconian measures on French People and Economy in order to save it's AAA rating. Any time that rating goes down, Euro based on Franco-German strength gets another mortal blow. In French bid to save its AAA rating, austerity and taxation would continue harshly crippling growth prospect and bringing down Europe further. With the near certain ascend of Socialists by mid-next year in the French Politics, it is even less probable that necessary 'realignment' of generous state entitlements of French People with diminishing scope for further taxes while a requirement to compete globally; all that can be achieved. In other words, Politicians will continue to fail in being frank with their own people.

Question is are there things which USA, China and rest of the world can do to their respective economies to reduce this impeding shock and will there be necessary political consensus to achieve that. With highly partisan politics, USA does not seem to have that political strength. Republicans will continue to point the need of austerity and no new taxation (their agenda) so America does not go along the path of Europe whereas Democrats will continue to raise the issue of 'fairness' like Germans. It will be interesting to watch if Obama and Democrats sense an opportunity to  strike 'any deal' with GOP to give boost to Dollar as one of the few 'standing Western Political Systems' capable of facing its issues head-on. We will not have to wait too far, in couple of weeks or so Congressional Super Committee will have to speak to the nation about where they are and we will know.

Just as after the WWII, intact American Industrial base gave an edge to American Economy over recovering Europe, there seems to be an opportunity for American Political System to project the last man standing economy of the West of certain size. (There will be many non-European Western Economies which will be still intact like UK, Sweden, Canada, etc.) We will see whether American Politicians size this opportunity or not, though chances are dim.


Sunday, November 06, 2011

USA and Oil

Times of India contributor SA Aiyar has got it right, USA is about to become nearly self reliant for the consumption of carbon based energy sources. Question is whether Democrats and Obama are ready to articulate this possibility in the context of national interests. Yes, it is contrary to what Science is saying that carbon based energy sources for sure contribute to global warming. But the issue is 'national interest' which need not be aligned to 'global interest' for a while. Eventually all of Humanity needs to worry about Global Warming. But until you have global consensus about this issue, national interests trump other considerations.

In other words, the choice in case of 'Keystone Pipeline' is clear - USA to accept the Canadian proposal and approve the pipeline. I guess Obama White House is simply waiting for Thanksgiving weekend or Christmas Weekend to declare the pipeline approval - dog days when Media attention is minimal. Unfortunately that is how Politics work whether you like it or not.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Problem of Pakistan

You have one of most accomplished journalistic minds in America on this story about Pakistan. It is a lengthy article, but giving full justice to the topic and hence you never go way until you finish it.

As far as concretely doable actions by America, two theses come out of it in the end:
- Kind of criticism of Obama Administration policy in according 'privileged status' for the goal of decimating Al-Qaeda over the longer term issue of stability in Pakistan and security of its nuclear weapons; and
- continually neglected aspect of developing 'relations' with various parts of Pakistani Society in a way to help nurture institutional nuggets within that society so that multi-decade decadence of Pakistani Society and State overall is interrupted.

In other wards, we are talking bit of 'soft nation building' by USA in Pakistan. Hillary Clinton would have been the most ideal person to achieve this objective, but so far it seems neither she is involved that much in these tasks nor Obama Administration wants to invest any more than what is politically lucrative - again simply according higher priority for 'kinetics about terrorists' while ignoring what is happening in Pakistani Society at large.

I do not have much hope in this regard. Americans are not good in this kind of 'soft nation building'. We are not talking larger budget outlay for USA Aid to Pakistan, but greater involvement by American Governmental Machinery to kick start private sector level engagements and to provide meaningful inputs for better governance at all levels in Pakistan.

As far as India goes, it is an accomplishment of some sort that considering high caliber & credibility of authors of this article; there are no disparaging references to Indian foreign policy responses. This means disciplined and calmer foreign policy adopted by India is generally in good taste of global opinions and I as well do not see much to fault there since such a foreign policy is fundamentally helpful to protect core interests of India. Of course, there are things like greater South Asian market integration, opening up Indian educational institutes to Pakistanis and in general larger contribution to common projects helping all South Asian countries; all that will help and India should surely undertake that. But the basic temperament India is displaying in this relationship is on the right track. 

Friday, November 04, 2011

Another Conservative Nonsense

If one believes, as Republicans do and evidence suggests, that Obama’s policies have made a bad situation terrible, then why wouldn’t the GOP try to block him? 


Does she have any proof? But alas, punditry on Right is nothing but making 'false statements' as self-evident. She further adds

Americans are an optimistic, generous lot, confident in their ability to weather difficulties and invent solutions. Ingenuity is in their bones. 

Is she standing for an office or what? Making such platitude, self-congratulatory statements is a great past time for American Politicians. Part of American Exceptionalism on Right is nothing but indulging in 'superiority complex'. And then we Americans miss the opportunity to 'get real' and face our situation squarely.

When is American Elite going to understand that this century is no more fiefdom of American dominance and there are many more societies in this world which are equally capable, competent and from where America needs to learn? Americans simply have to get their house in order, for sure GOP Nihilism does not seem to be the way though for that.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Blind Opposition on NYT Pages

There is no other word than to say 'crap' about David Brook's latest column talking about Blue Inequality and Red Inequality. It is utter non-sense with no basis to reality.

1. First of all, both of these (Blue Inequality and Red Inequality) are fictitious notions which Brooks toss around with no basis in any professional research or substantive basis.

2. South Korean President Lee recently came out and mentioned that he would actively discourage youth of his country to go for college education and would rather prefer them to opt for vocational training which will enable them to get jobs while industry also getting appropriately skilled employees. Washington Post Editorial went on taking President Obama to task on this basis for his relentless emphasis on college education. Brooks entirely neglect all of those arguments. Besides, Germany is famous for her vocational training based educational system and coupled with industry - state/union societal compact has fared much better than many other advanced economies in weathering out the current recession. Again all these things do not exist in Brooks world.

3. On what basis Brooks assume that Red Inequality and Blue Inequality are not overlapping? Those with College education in rural area too are in the top 1% of rural / Red areas. So where is the beef? Or Brooks just want to take his readers on a ride with no basis?

4. Why only Liberal Art College degree holders complaining in these Urban areas about Blue Inequality? Are Engineers stupid not to see the havoc created by loop sided Financial Types in this country? 

5. Where does Austin, Texas fit in this categorization? Brooks does not see any Blue Inequality in that city? What non-sense does he talk?

6. What has State to do about reducing Red Inequality after Republicans having banned all of social issues from Governmental intervention? These same Republicans want to abolish Education Department at Federal Level, they do not want Federal Government to get involved in student grants. So why Red Inequality is the business of State then? Do your social revolution and solve that.

7. Basically Blue Inequality is nothing but about fair taxation and 'sell out of Congress to Financial Industry'. Let us keep things simple, clean and focused. That is what Occupy Wall Street Protest is about. Talk about that. Tell either it is a rational protest or give your arguments about why it is incorrect;  no point doing an end run around that. That is same as like GOP Presidential Candidates who assume that we Americans do not have any 'gray matter' left and we are just stupid to accept any 'crap' what Brooks would write.

Amazing that NYT Editorial oversight would allow such meaningless and false column. If you want solidly balanced and Conservative columns / opinions - Brooks should read what his collegoue Ross Douthat writes. He has been producing one after the other phenomenally 'cut the chase' kind of breathtakingly honest and insightful columns. Brooks - he is just wasting Web Real Estate for NYT. (Even former NYT Editor Bill Keller is writing so well now that he does not have to carry the burden of being a 'liberal mouth piece'.)