Monday, December 31, 2012

Fiscal Cliff - Part One

President Obama pursued a larger budget deal because he wanted
- revenue increase by tax rate increase on affluent (which seems to realize in the latest Biden-McConnell fiscal cliff 2012 deal ) and
- revenue increase by closing of tax loop holes (earlier Speaker Boehner offered $800 Billion of revenue increase on that account). 

However, as Congress embarks upon dealing in stages (tax rate increase first and the sequestering and debt ceiling issues in conjunction with tax reforms later) what is clear is Republicans will for sure drop the ball of 'revenue increase by closing tax loop holes'. That is what Grover Norquist is waiting for another opportunity - no more revenue increase of any type after this deal. Any reminder of this second part simply infuriates Republicans. (Clearly President Obama needs to avoid bragging 'four more years' and all that as well as he needs to stop pushing zingers to Republicans in public. He needs to be presidential rather than a simple Democratic Leader in public. He should negotiate very, very hard with Republicans; but public posture needs to be always of an elderly president cobbling together all these recalcitrant Congress members. In other words, he needs to adjust his communication strategy to the 'second term' where the president is not on hustings.) 

Given this tendency of Republicans not to follow through on any other revenue increase, it is understandable why many Progressives are going to be upset and worried that President Obama will fold to GOP at 'debt ceiling increase time' and will simply accept entitlement reductions without any revenue increase. But these Progressives should not undermine the value of reaching some kind of a deal which retains at least $600 Billion revenue increase by tax rate change. Granted, around $1 Trillion would have been available to Democrats if fiscal cliff is crossed. But there is still merit in paying some price of getting GOP along with us by sacrificing some revenue.

But the fear remains that GOP will still play ugly at the time of debt ceiling (which is what Market is more worried about than the fiscal cliff). To that, President Obama should mark the line at 'dollar-to-dollar principle' - for every 1 dollar cut in spending, another 1 dollar must be found in revenue increase (not necessarily by tax rate increase on individuals). He said so in his prep rally today, but this is something which he has to keep harping. Next, President Obama needs to lay out multiple choices in attaining spending cuts (both for sequester and debt ceiling increase). He is not facing any election, but Congress members are and that is why he needs to take the lead in laying the ground work. It is like he takes the hit in putting forward different poisoned chalices, Congress gets to choose one. Along with that he can also put forward many proposal of revenue increases on table for Congress to pick. By doing that, what it achieves is it would take President Obama out of the picture and then it will be all Congressional play to balance spending. After all, as Republicans are rightly saying; once the tax rate increase part is out of way in the fiscal cliff resolution; President Obama and Democrats are not going to get any chance of 'shaming Republicans' as 'protectors of rich'. Republicans have paid enormous price of that Democratic attack (loss of 2012 election, eating crows by breaking the pledge of 'no more taxes' and cracking the invincibility shield of Grover Norquist...). But American Politics need to move forward. Fight over sequestering and debt ceiling will be next parts of Fiscal Cliff saga.

Update - With House approval by 257-167; 'crazies' (darling name of House Republicans by Liberals) have delivered here and we move to part 2 and 3 of Fiscal Cliff i.e. the political fight for sequester cuts and increasing debt ceiling.

Update 2 - Finally, the elections of 2012 are over. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Value of Childless Leaders

"Wang himself is seen as uncorrupted, partly because he doesn’t have any children, who often operate as family bribe-takers."

-- David Ignatius, Washington Post

Very few in Western Media understand the 'allure of childless politicians' in Asia. Family connections and intentional or unintentional usage of those connections for graft; that is such an ingrained culture in Asia, South Asia that every now and then when a childless politician comes along fighting corruption; Asians instantly recognize the priceless nature of such a leader and then they flock to that politician.

In India we have long list of such leaders who carried the swagger because they did not have children. In recent days it starts with late BJP PM AB Vajpayee, current Gujarat strongman Narendra Modi, activist  Anna Hazare and many others. Of course for every childless corruption crusader  we have childless corruption Goddess like ex-UP CM Mayawati and current Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa. Trinumal leader and current West Bengal CM Mamta Banerjee, is sui generis since personally she is unmarried with no children, totally corruption free individually; but for her fight against corruption comes at a lower priority to the top priority of  redistribution of wealth. (That is understandable in West Bengal milieu where Communism is the lingua franca of Politics.)

Compared to Western norms, especially Conservative politics, where a married politician with kids is such a desired  life story; in India and China having no children is considered as a political asset. (Rahul Gandhi is not even entertaining to marry!) Clearly it is a statement about 'how corrupt' these economies are. But things are not that squeaky clean in USA as well and there is more ground to cover in attaining Scandinavian standards in this regard. Regardless, fight against corruption is global and all countries, nations have to work. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

India Awakening?

Tragic death of Delhi rape victim will further galvanize Indians to take strong action against the 'non-sense' which goes on in troubling women. Clearly 'moment of Indian women has arrived' and it is so great to see that finally Indian Public is forcing her Political Class to act. That Pakistanti girl braving Taliban to exercise her right of education and now this incident; these are promising signs.

While all this is happening, Indians continue to resist against 'corruption' too and are demanding more cleaner governance. As like how Dr. Singh's government opted for 'cash transfer payment' to reach beneficiaries directly in avoiding subsidies lost by corruption; it needs to undertake similar 'game changing reforms' to punish those who indulge in women harassment and rape. Primarily, judicial process for such cases must be swift and scrupulously conducted. 

(Compared to how Indians are awakening and demanding 'answers' from their political class, it is saddening to note that we Americans are completely numb about our own social deceases - 'love of guns' even when our children are mowed.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Opportunity for Brave

Not for nothing President Obama has been reticent about Gun Control so far. He had to remind American Media that he was 'not on vacation' last four years. The reason is Congress. In the end laws have to be passed by both chambers and with 'crazies populating House', nothing is certain. Carrie Brown of Politico is right to contend that 'flop of Boehner Plan B' is a bad news for President since it is now proven that he does not have any partner to deal with, to solve issues of America and to deliver a legislation.

But then President Obama has been bold from time to time in his political career - starting from taking on Hillary in primary, passing of Health Care Act, bailing out Auto-Industry and killing of OBL. Now is the time for him to be bold again.

At the core, the paralysis of American Governance is due to two fatal flaws which govern both chambers of Congress:
- misuse of filibuster by Minority in Senate and
- adherence to badly constructed 'majority of majority' convention in House.

President Obama has been tepid in his urge to Senate to change the filibuster rule even though he has been burnt maximum due to negative effects of this rule; just look at how his nominations have been killed over years. Senate leader Reid has indicated his willingness to alter 'filibuster rule'; but needs to concretely execute on that promise so as to stop extreme abuses of filibuster (like requiring 60 votes to even table a bill).

As they say, earlier GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert instituted a practice whereby unless support of 'majority in the majority party' is there; no bill would come to the floor. This has 2 negative consequences in our polarized politics:
- crazies in majority are able to stop any bill which they oppose without any accountability towards governance and
- despite having votes to pass a bill in House (with the help of other party); such possible bills simply die.

It is not just the implosion of Boehner Plan B, but how are we ever going to get votes in House for increasing Debt Ceiling or Immigration Reform or Gun Control or even resolution of Fiscal Cliff? How is Senate even going to floor those bills if Sen. McConnell of GOP is not forbidden from misusing filibuster? In other words, agenda of Obama's entire Second Term is useless unless he is able to elevate the position of House Speaker to Parliamentary Style House Speaker (who would allow bills to the floor without 'majority of majority' support) and drag kicking and screaming Senate to modern era. Obama's second term will be nothing more than simply 'care taking presidency' unless he brings to American People's attention 'how exactly dysfunction in Congress' is stopping America. He implores Americans to pressure Congress for Gun Control laws. More importantly he should rally American Public to force Congress to rise for Governance and these two changes are critical for that. Not only chances of passing of Gun Control are higher in that scenario, host of other critical issues as well will start moving.

Non-working Congress is nothing new to Americans and folks like Bob Woodward incorrectly expect President to do the 'voodoo magic' of making 'crazies in House' to yield to senses. But if President Obama uses his word power, eloquence, power of Oval Office and his popularity to highlight these 'fundamental cracks' in foundations of Congress; he would have removed core impediments for success in his second term.

Folding knees and bending over to Tea Party - that did not solve problems; those simply got pushed to the next election. Having won that election, President Obama can be brave to fight for institutionalizing these fundamental changes in the way Congress works. Without that he will be a foot note in History vindicating Palin prophecy of irrelevance of 'Person of the Year adulation'. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Broken House

"In a parliamentary system, he would resign and his party would elect a new leader. We don’t do it that way here … usually. But it’s hard to see how Speaker Boehner continues from here — or why he would want to."

-- John Marshal, TPM

Exactly. There is much less reason for Speaker Boehner getting re-elected. This is some phenomenal implosion on GOP side. I thought Boehner would be able to pull some how. But he could not. When Jonathan Chait claimed Boehner did not have votes, I felt he was more partisan there.

At this point few things are clear:

- It is pointless for Obama White House to engage with GOP House. That caucus cannot pass 'any' deal no matter how many concessions President Obama gives (which he has given too many at this point). If President Obama still continues to pursue a deal seriously with GOP (publicly the 'kabuki dance' can continue) American People would start doubting political skills of this newly elected President. Most likely Obama White House gets the message here and will not waste any more political capital in offering any more concessions.

- Unless GOP House simply passes the Senate bill of tax cuts for $250K only, there is no recourse left for House (apart from 'embarrassment forcing' GOP to come back to Boehner plan B again). This means we are going over 'fiscal cliff'. (Need to watch Market reaction.) At least that is what President Obama's real default position will be and should be.

- Speaker Boehner has an option of sacrificing his Speakership and bringing a bill to floor to be passed by Democratic Votes and few Republicans. But I doubt any such 'heroism' on part of Boehner or GOP will happen. 

- Come next year, as many Republicans have noted, President Obama will be in an incredible position to deal with GOP. First by an executive order he will order payroll deductions NOT to increase for income below $250K. He can do that and basically he would halt collection of additional taxes for few months  for non-rich even though Law says something else. That and Market pressure will be enormous for the new House to accept $250K Tax Cut threshold (or say $400K, the revised offer from President). 

- All this means we are going to see absolutely brutal political fight in coming months when Debt Ceiling issue comes to the floor. I believe it would look like how Clinton faced intransigence of Gingrich when USA Government was forcefully closed by House Republicans. 

We all know how all that ended and a sense is Obama has to deliver that kind of 'whacking' to GOP. Basically in last quarter of a century Republican Politicians simply have not behaved responsibly with a Democratic President unless 'the stick' comes on their rear parts. That time is approaching fast for Obama. Today's development was one major stop in that journey.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stick with Hagel

President Obama will do right to nominate ex-senator Charles Hagel as his new Secretary of Defense (though he has a good option of nominating ex-senator James Webb too). He needs a saner voice, a conservative who is not beholden to lunacy of right. President Obama has effectively taken out the decades old political advantage of Republicans on National Security. He doesn't own this accomplishment to anyone and he is fully entitled to pursue his approach towards National Security which draws down systematically overseas commitment as well as rationalizes American Military apparatus while focusing on other emerging threats.

All this smear campaign against Hagel, not much with any substance as Dana Milbank correctly points while going against the editorial of his own paper. Dana Milbank was right about Susan Rice and he is right about Charles Hagel too.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Obama at Newtown

"God has called them all home."

No, I could not resist tears. Just too much to bear.

Hope is, this moves the political needle. Looks to me, contrary to my expectations; Obama is right on course to try some honest efforts to change the direction. High time he does that.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What do I title this post?

May be it is 'we' who have to be blamed here in not having any control for this mindless violence abated by easy availability of guns. 

In opposing Iraq War I remember we could summon more than 100K people in San Francisco to protest against the war (I know since I participated then in those protests). Where are we now?

Do we go to protest and demand from our politicians that we put in some serious 'gun control' laws?

I do not have any special perch to make a case for Mexico. But it is precisely lenient laws of America in Gun Control which have been making havoc over there for decades.

Look, I get it - Republicans are beholden to 'no tax increase for Rich at any cost' whereas we Democrats are beholden to 'no, we cannot do gun control else we loose elections' (just think of how apologetic John Marshall is, otherwise bluest of a blue guy...).

What is the point of Obama's tears? Yah, I know it is great politics and I never have any doubt about his sincerity. He is the best thing to happen for us in given circumstances. 

But come on guys if Constitution is to be interpreted as 'unbridled rights to arms'; then screw our Constitution. 

Why do we Humans live after all if not our 'progeny' to prosper? If our Constitution does not understand that, then - God Damn it - change that Constitution? What is more important? Some few centuries old document or survival of our Nation as we know?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rice, Well Done

"U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice withdrew her name as President Obama’s leading candidate for secretary of state Thursday, saying the administration could not afford the “lengthy, disruptive and costly” confirmation process her Republican critics have promised."

Well done Susan Rice, you have served our President very well and you absolutely made a right call here.

Now, President will have much freer hand in selecting a suitable candidate for this critical position. (If he needs more time, he can always turn to Hillary to help us out for few months; she has been always there!)

Update - My earlier post on this topic is here, around a month back.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Eden Gardens

Growing up in India where we had much less sports to follow than Test Cricket, Eden Gardens in Kolkata evokes special memories; the giant sporting venue where 100,000 spectators would enjoy the sublimity of Test Cricket as well as Cricket in other forms - T20 and One Day. It was that ground where the legendary Test Cricket Team of Clive Lloyd and Malcom Marshal reduced India to 90 all out and newspapers across India wrote Editorials in unprecedented dread.

That is the same ground where the fallen hero of India - Mohammad Azharuddin - scored a sublime century in the first inning, even when he had body fever of 104 degrees. And of course, that is the same ground where India's storied Test History was made when Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman scored more than 400 runs together to take Indian Batting to Stratosphere.

That is the same ground today where we witness 'corruption' of MS Dhoni - the 'morality free captain of Indian Test Team, the team of millionaires'; who goes after a poor, old but dedicated groundsman to doctor the pitch and in the end still fail miserably(Indian Test Cricket Team lost in home away series to Australia and England, both by 0-4 staggering margins. Except 2-0 Test series wins against West Indies and New Zealand each; Dhoni Test Cricketing record is 5 wins and 10 losses in last 15 Test matches.)

What has this match exposed about India is - complete inability of a nation to hold their sporting heroes accountable. IOC barring IAO is not an aberration nor Cricket is free of what alias other sports in India or Indian Society in general.  Seems like a larger national problem. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Civil War as a Ploy?

It is hard to accept that Sen. DeMint would not have thought over before lobbing bombs on Speaker Boehner's non-proposal. On clue, dyed-in-the-wool Conservative Jennifer Rubin argues against the 'loony express in her Party' while Right leaning Politico promptly portrays how Speaker Boehner is risking everything in stretching his hand to the White House. It is so unbelievable but at the same time predictable. It is orchestrated to get a more Right leaning deal from President Obama so as he feels not to overreach.

Truth is Republican Party in House is indeed operated like a 'party of gangsters' when they scrupulously follow 'majority of majority' rule. You bring a bill to extend Bush Tax Cuts to all but the top 2% and it will be passed in the House on the strength of Democrats and few other needed Republicans. But that is not how it works in House. As American Public is generally unaware of 'filibuster abuse in Senate'; it is also unaware of persistent refusal of Speaker Boehner in bringing bills even though those bills have bipartisan majority votes. To adopt and maintain such a stranglehold despite being detrimental to Americans at large,  you would need ways to book-end your proposals both on Right and on Left and that is where this criticism from usual suspects on ultra-Right helps.

Not that all this will necessarily help Speaker Boehner to sail through in the end. Contradictions, intransigence and 'disbelief of numbers' all run so deep with Republican Party that despite all these theatricals; GOP is nowhere near to pass any tax increase on top 2%. In the end, all of that tension can be too much for the Speaker to bear and he either would let White House go over the cliff or pass  a simple bill to extend Bush Tax Cuts for Middle class with GOP caucus voting 'present' only! All such options become palatable on the background of usual ultra-Right Hounds making their familiar noises. 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Turmoil in Egypt

My basic take on all the politics unfolding in Egypt is, Liberal and Progressives 'screwed' it in the first place and they are now trying to rectify the situation by opposing President' Morsi's decree. What is further shameful is, though Morsi 'power grab' is indeed bad; these progressives are dependent on Mubarak era Judges to get themselves out of this mess. 

Intense 'infighting, rivalry and inability to forge leadership'; all that resulted in Egyptian Progressives conceding the ground to Brotherhood and other Islamic Parties in the Assembly election at the start of the year. Were these Progressives to have majority in that election, for sure they would have backed Constitution Draft today! Now that it is drafted by Brotherhood and Islamist Parties; it no longer becomes 'representative of all of Egypt'; as if all those votes to Brotherhood and Islamist Parties in the assembly election and votes to Morsi do not count! Sour grapes.

Fragmentation of votes among Islamist Parties occurred too, but it was not as bad as like Progressives and Liberals. Besides, Muslim Brotherhood has been the dominant player all along.

All this reminds me politics in India. Indian Opposition Parties from Right (BJP) to Left (Communists) with Socialists dominating in the middle (Janata Party and their brethren); tried couple of times to rally against Indian National Congress; but failed miserably because of intense 'infighting' among themselves. Despite being on the right side of the History, they could not achieve much. Same seems to be the case with Egyptian Progressives and Liberals, prominent leader among them being ElBaradie - these folks blew when they needed to be united. Let us not forget that Brotherhood and Islamist constitution will not be any progressive and indeed will be want of 'inclusive of all Egyptians'. But the crucial moment - Assembly Elections - to make the difference is lost and Egyptian Progressives will have to start the long march of correcting all these imbalances over a protracted battle lasting over multiple decades. 

I do not justify many non-liberal strains of Brotherhood and their kind of politics. Again comparing with Indian situation, RSS continued it's ultra-conservative views for long; but that did not hinder BJP (political organ of RSS) from adopting Modernist views. So as Muslim Brotherhood adopts to governance, who knows even they may tamper their views. After all improving miserable lives of common Egyptians is the dire need of the hour and so long as that gets addressed; Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Parties would have time on hand and room to maneuver in diminishing stridency of their political views. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Update

"It’s an uncomfortable but real truth that we are not all in this together; America’s top-down class warriors lost big in the election, but now they’re trying to use the pretense of concern about the deficit to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat."

-- Paul Krugman, New York Times

"Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don’t negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don’t like the White House’s preferred policies, let them propose their own. That way, if the White House eventually does give in and agree to some of their demands, Republicans will feel like they got one over on the president. A compromise isn’t measured by what you offer, it’s measured by what the other side feels they made you concede."

-- Ezra Klein, Washington Post

These are indeed hearty developments and despite Speaker Boehner's far cry that 'listen, it is not a game'; the 'sky is falling game of fiscal cliff' continues. When popular backing is with Obama and Democrats, GOP must realize that if they do not like Obama offer, come forward and propose their own.

Oh and when Paul Ryan comes forward and proposes those draconian cuts to Medicare, just put those proposals in contrast to all those election speeches where he was the second coming of Jesus in claiming to protect Medicare and lower classes of America.

As President Obama 'threads the needle' of explaining Americans how his tax proposals are not out of line of historical average; heat will be on GOP. 

(And can the duo of Simpson-Bowles shut up for a while? They have hogged too much publicity without any resolution of America's problem when primarily they need to talk to GOP and stop the non-sense of blaming  'both parties'.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Capitulation or Confused?

"The president will travel to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, to continue making the public case for action by visiting a business that depends on middle class consumers during the holiday season, and could be impacted if taxes go up on 98 percent of Americans at the end of the year,"

Presumably the case here is Congress should pass Tax Cuts else small businesses are going to get impacted. GOP would say, 'Sure Mr. President, why not extend Bush Tax Cuts for all Americans then? Passing Tax Cuts for 100% is better than for 98%, isn't it Mr. President? After all these Small Businesses would get additional 2% customers and that too rich ones. What is wrong in that?'

Where is the other half of the argument that doing Tax Cuts for 100% Americans is 'irresponsible' as it includes top 2% earners too?

Or is President Obama basically signalling to Senator Patty Murray and her Democratic Caucus that letting Bush Tax Cuts 'expire' is in no case acceptable to him? In other words, 'capitulation to GOP threat of vandalizing Economy' is back!

President Obama is still missing few critical things here - first and most importantly, how to communicate with Americans like Bill Clinton did in the Democratic Convention and how to avoid 'confusion'. In this case, the real case President has to do is to 'highlight' 98% of Small Businesses WILL NOT see any change in their personal tax liability because of increasing tax rates on above $250K annual income. Small Businesses getting impacted 'due to reduced sales in absence of no middle class Tax Cuts' is a coarse case since it keeps the GOP argument of Tax Cuts for all 'intact'. Agreed, such nuances are difficult and the 'message' essentially becomes 'coarse' in all this. But that is the challenge President Obama has to address in any case. 

This also implies President Obama is not ready to follow the bold script created by Senator Patty Murray - that let Bush Tax Cuts expire for all rather than accept a 'faulty deal'. As rightly pointed by the Senator, Congress will get an opportunity to pass Tax Cuts for 98% of Americans next year; what will be wrong is to squander that opportunity, subject Democrats to ideological insistence of GOP and in that process inflict permanent damage to America's Fiscal balance. President Obama has a great opportunity to help America 'get rid off' failed GOP theology of 'Tax Cuts for Rich' and seems like he may miss that.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Movie Review - Lincoln


I watched Lincoln yesterday on advice of David Brooks (though it was not at the cost of shopping for me). Bit 'underwhelming' for me. May be because of the buzz, I expected more. 

The problem with the topic is it is such an 'over researched' chapter of American History. Those of us who have followed Obama Administration over years and in particular all the sausage making of ObamaCare, hardly are surprised by Lincoln’s ‘here and now’ Politics. Obama had followed this model of Politics in rallying Nancy’s  Democratic Caucus to support ObamaCare. We still vividly remember Nebraska Corn Husker, Louisiana Purchase, endless chasing of Iowa Senator Grassley and eventually failed courting of Maine Sisters; we know all that. It was about practicing 'Lincoln model of legislation'. Obama very appropriately invoked Lincoln then too. But for a greater and lesser extent, this is how ‘law making’ is always done; whether it is History making laws or mundane passing of budgets. May be this movie brings this aspect very strongly, explicitly to a larger audience and probably it has done a great job of that since Americans need to understand how Congress works or fails

But I am thinking at this point in time when we have just re-elected the first Black Commander-in-Chief, we may want to look at aspects which are larger than an individual i.e. in this case beyond Lincoln. I agree that Lincoln is singularly 'rarest' of those individuals who made 'difference' single handedly. But then this fact is so well established, to portray it using the pivot of 13th amendment only; I am not sure that it is so convincing. (Or possibly I lack the necessary grasp of American History to understand it fully.) Overall I wished to see more of other aspects of that whole History beyond an individual, aspects like how economic incentives of warring colonies influenced their politics. 

I also found the character of Lincoln 'over mature' in this movie. I wished to see more human / mundane aspects of Lincoln. Lincoln in this movie simply confirms the 'larger than life' portrait of him without adding much of insights. Daniel Day-Lewis will not be my pick for his 3rd Best Actor Oscar. But I can be wrong here since there are far more political forces at play - the name is marquee, for God’s sake it is about Lincoln, Hollywood's perennial need to placate GOP and the Emperor of Hollywood has directed the movie

I liked Tommy Lee Jones lot – the character was set properly and he delivered it very well. Meanwhile Sally Field pulled off a powerful performance, I found that character so lively and authentic. 

Overall bit disappointed with the movie. But I am happy to see that Reliance's foray into Hollywood is going so well. That is good for Indian Business, hopefully indirectly to Bollywood too.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Egyptian President Morsi

"It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Morsi has overreached, and that he did so partly on the strength of his recent diplomatic victory in Gaza"

-- Michele Dunne, Former member of the National Security Council under President Obama, Washington Post

"An alarming dynamic is taking hold in Egypt. Power-grabs, brinksmanship and walk-outs are becoming the norm, as a bitter struggle plays out among newly empowered Islamists, vestiges of the Mubarak regime and the country's deeply divided liberals. Political paralysis is the result -- with rule by presidential decree, overreach by the judiciary, and a deadlocked constitutional assembly. As polarization deepens, desperately needed economic, political, and judicial reforms stall."

-- David Rohde, The Atlantic

If Morsi was trying to save the constitution drafting committee and assembly from an impeding court decision by December 2; looks like then he did not have much time and hence he picked the high point immediately after Gaza Truce. But fact remains that, Morsi now has contributed to further fragmentation and division within Egyptian Politics. May be leadership in Egypt is nothing apart from barreling through all this pain (Lincoln?). That can be believed if indeed Morsi relinquishes these 'powers' after the new constitution is drafted and it comes into effect. But that is still few months away and till then unease is unlikely to go away.

However, I do not agree with a suggestion that IMF money should be used to pressure Egypt for more democratic political process. It is better that IMF generally stays away from Politics and continues its focus on getting Egypt's Public Finances in order. In an elected President, Egypt has at least some Democracy whereas  its Public Finances have effectively collapsed. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Preparing Ground for Iran Attack?

While the Egyptian President bask in a well deserved praise and American Media gushes about Obama-Morsi workmanship, one remembers how another USA educated head of state in a Muslim country turned out to be a headache eventually - Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. Bush-Karzai and then Obama-Karzai relationship started well, but in the end did not work much. One hopes that does not happen to Obama-Morsi relationship as there is for too much at stake.

Apart from start of a durable relationship between two newly elected important leaders (and very soon likely joined by Netanyahu after reelection); ground is also getting cleared for Iran action in early part of the next year. I am with this Atlantic article which argues that latest Israeli action on Gaza has may objectives squarely focused on preparing the ground for a possible on attack on Iranian nuke sites:
- first, to shake up and prepare Israeli Military and Public for a possible confrontation with Iran,
- to neutralize Hamas ability to shower Israel by missiles in retaliation of an attack on Iranian nukes,
- removal of a Hamas leader which could have been a trouble maker in Iran retaliation attack and
- validate Iron Dome setup so as folks all over the world notice it

Hamas landed with much weakened missile attack ability as Israel pounded Gaza over 1500 attacks or so. Hamas also lost many more Palestinian lives without gaining much, though Hamas gives damn to lives of general Gaza public. At the most 'relaxation in border regulations' is what Hamas will get eventually apart from some adulation to their leader and marginalization of Fatah. Going forward, at least for few months Hamas will be all busy in rebuilding from the destruction left behind by last eight days. Having 'mowed the lawn for the current season', new mandate in January and recovering relationship with Obama (now that his funding of Iron Dome is sitting well with Israeli Public and Obama seeing a value in not snubbing Bibi right now); Israel will be in much better shape to focus on Iranian issue in coming days.

This also means those who are anxious for a follow-up action will be disappointed. There will not be much of a progress for a simple reason that Israeli PM can legitimately imagine a world where Hamas backer Iran is dealt with. After decimation of Iranian nuke ability and its humiliation; Israel will negotiate with Hamas from a much stronger position.* In other words, Israel has much less incentive to enter into any longer term peace solution with Hamas right now when it can realistically smell that it could get 'more' after the Israeli election and after whacking Iran. Of course, it is doubtful that both Israel and America have worked out full consequences of any Iranian attack or are ready for consequences the day after attacking Iranian nuke sites. However, all that means no rush to enter into any kind of longer term arrangement with Hamas. Periodic 'lawn mowing' - that will be the operating principle for a while and if that means it puts Egyptian President in more lime light; so much is better.

(*) - Rather than investing in a forceful ouster of another of Iranian Proxy Assad in Syria, USA and Israel might be thinking that ongoing Syrian Civil War is keeping Assad completely tied up and then why over invest? Other issue for White House in helping Syrian rebels is White House will have to midwife what kind of coalition emerges in Syria and then it will be pulled into the vortex of actively managing post-Assad Syrian coalition when need of the hour is to focus on Iran. Without investing anything if another of Iranian ally is fully bogged down, then why bother? that can be the thinking of Obama Administration.


(Cupertino City Hall and Library on Wednesday November 21, 8.00 AM)

Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for visiting this blog.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shameless Politics of Jesse Jackson Jr.

For many American politicians, national holiday of Thanksgiving is an occasion 'to launder shameless and dirty political news' since Media and Public are tuned out. That is what this news of resignation of Jesse Jackson Jr. from an Illinois House seat is.

Things did not deteriorate in a last week or so for Jesse Jackson Jr. He was ill, incapable of serving People of his district even before the election; many months before the election. But the hubris did not stop him to seek re-election knowing fully well that investigations of campaign finance irregularities were very likely to implicate him. In that sense, he is a brother of another disgraced Democratic Politician - John Edwards.

But what is disgusting is this 'attitude of entitlement' and willingness to take voters on ride. His State and his seat are 'deep blue' constituency. There was no danger of losing it to GOP if another worthy Democrat was nominated at the last minute. House election results were not expected to be cliff-hanger that every seat would matter (and it did not). So what was the propriety in allowing Jesse Jackson Jr. to contest the election? So many of these minority politicians, and in particular Black Politicians, with a lock on their voters; abuse their constituents and this is a prime example. The whole idea of post-racial politics of Barack Obama is to avoid such corrupt politics of patronage or identity politics. But Democrats failed here.

Despite being the highest elected political leader of Democratic Party, Barack Obama has tendency to stay away from Party affairs and this is a prime example where he stayed 'way too much away' from the Party. He owes to Democratic Party that he does not hesitate in criticizing wrong tendencies of Democrats and the Party avoids such foolish ways (otherwise there is no point criticizing GOP that her politicians do not condemn wrong turns taken by Republicans). Same goes to Nancy Pelosi and many other Democratic Leaders - none had decency and smartness to call the 'bluff' of Jesse Jackson Jr. and prevent him to contest the election in the first place when it was plain as like 'sun light' that he would not be able to serve his voters.

What a shame this whole affair of Jesse Jackson Jr. is. We need to 'rinse free' Democratic Party of such 'feudal leaders' of Third World Type.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Balasaheb Thackeray

Among many articles apprising tragic and dictatorial political career of Marathi Strongman Balasaheb Thackeray; I found this one from Bloomberg as quite lucid, comprehensive and succinct. 

It is critically important that more than 70 Million Marathi speaking folks in this world understand 'what garbage Balasaheb Thackery was' and how important it is for us to know how contemptuously he treated so many folks at large. 

The strongest defense of Balasaheb comes down to his contributions to retain Mumbai in Maharashtra and somehow retaining Marathi People in Mumbai. There are two questions here:
- Was that the only way available - his way of 'riot politics' to retain Marathipana of Mumbai?
- And finally, was that all worth? Can we do the balance sheet of positives of retaining Marathipana of Mumbai at such a huge human cost and negatives it brought to larger Marathi Manus? 

The real tragedy is Indian National Congress which had towering personalities like Indira Gandhi who did not mind taking on notorious Bhindrenwala which cost her own life (though she was the one who cultivated politics of Panjab in that wrong direction); did not have any leader to take on shenanigans of Balasaheb Thackeray. Granted, during Indira era, his 'goondagiri' (hooliganism) had not flourished so much and in a way Thackerary was biding his time while toeing the line of Indira indirectly. But subsequently, every Congress Chief Minister of Maharashtra was simply in terror of Balasaheb's power to create mayhem in Mumbai. 

When Balasaheb saw power in sight in Mumbai, alas RSS and BJP found 'brother in faith' with Hindu Nationalism / Chauvinism of Shiv Sena and they all joined hands with Balasaheb in 'looting' Marathi Manus via their extraordinarily corrupt ways. Heck, at times India's conscience keeper Communist also fell in love with Socialistic slogans of Shiva Sena and ignored all the bloodshed cause by Balasaheb or his corruption. 

Politics of Fear as practiced by Balasaheb throughout most of his career and inability of Indian State to bring him or his style of politics to justice; all that have come to an end with his death. And that is the good news here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lost Cause of Susan Rice

What better than an icon of Feminism taking down another ambitious woman who is defended none other than the newly elected President? Rarely you have such a ripe news to chew.

We have Robert Kagan, not a small name on Right side, coming to defend Susan Rice. Prof. Drezner too. Sure, there are merits in those defenses of Rice. But when you have Dana Milbank and Maureen Dowd, raising enough doubts; it is clear that President Obama is wasting is his newly renewed political capital in the lost cause of defending Susan Rice so vehemently. Does that mean President Obama throw Susan Rice under the bus? Essentially yes, there is no sugar coating here. That is why Politics is so brutal. 

Look, whether it is David Petraeus or Susan Rice; these are big boys and big girls of Washington DC. They do not need President to tell what is right or to set the right 'bar'. Folks occupying these positions are absolutely expected to make their own 'calls' in terms what to do or to know what information could be potentially compromised information. It was the job of Susan Rice 'to be circumspect' while iterating piece of information she was forwarded to. As Dowd explains, most likely Susan Rice was beholden to her own dreams of following Hillary's footsteps that she did not apply her 'own mind' scrupulously to what was she saying on talk shows. Sorry, you live by the sword, you fall by the sword.

What we want is President Obama not to waste his political capital on this lost cause. There is no heroism to stand by your embattled cabinet member when your job is to stand for American People. Interests of American People are served best when there is 'No Drama Obama'. That means for Obama to move on in this regard.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Light Footprint

As familiar trouble spots in the world have erupted, there is a clamor for President Obama to get more involved. I think despite all this, President Obama should still stick with 'Light Footprint Foreign Policy' in general with only one or two exceptions. There are number of reasons for such an approach.

1. To start with President Obama understands it very well that 'fiscal cliff' issue is nowhere near resolution, there are weighty issues of domestic economy which are hobbling America and overall economic recovery is still not strong. Americans expect him to keep that in his mind. Americans want President Obama to husband their pocket book issues first and so far (though it is very, very early in Obama's second term) President is sticking with this script. After all a budget deal is the foundation for America's global role.

2. What in the world an American President can do to solve the Israel-Palestinian issue apart from simply giving a blank check to Israel and protecting her in UNSC? That conflict has a life of its own and unless that 'train wreck' has reached a terminal state with catastrophic consequences; those players (Israel, Fatah and Hamas) do not walk back. At least that is the history. The politics is so calcified in that conflict that the world simply has to move forward (just ensuring that genocides do not occur). Israeli Right is hell bend on bringing the bloodshed and it does not want to accept how 'settlement policies in West Bank' are essentially dooming any chance of resolving this issue in the end. Arabs of Palestinian origin within Israel will eventually force Israel to become a secular state instead of remaining a Jewish state and the internal domestic political pressure at that point will make the peace with Palestine possible. Those who ignore this writing on the Demographic Wall, just need to read American 2012 Election results and understand the force of 'coalition of ascendants'. Israel Right will NOT be able to defy the logic of Demographic Gravity and will eventually have to change.

All that change however is not going to happen in Obama's second term. In next couple of months Israeli PM Netanyahu will get re-elected with harder Right Coalition Partner and then where is the opening to make any peace move? Despite what all pundits in the world say, Barack Obama was right to raise the issue of 'settlement freeze in West Bank' as the crucial step towards peace. But neither Israeli Right nor American Right wanted to listen that sanity. On top of that many Middle of the Road analyst got stuck with procedural issues when they criticized that Obama should have had finesse in raising that issue. 

So 'go to hell' that is what Americans feel when it comes to this perpetual Middle East Conflict. As America continues to become 'self reliant' in Oil and Gas; national security imperatives of Middle East conflicts are less daunting (though the price of Oil may increase since it is set globally).

On a practical level, the primary focus of Obama Administration should be to avoid blood shed as much as possible, let regional power brokers play important roles to control this conflict (in particular Egypt and Turkey) and at UNSC level continue to work for more consensus.

3. Meanwhile, the issue of Iran is a different one. Basically what Barack Obama has done so far is break the exclusivity of Israeli narrative on Iranian nukes. He needs to continue that. As and when his Administration determines that Iranian nukes cross the threshold of dangers to America's interests (including protection of Israel); President can decide the right approach. But all that has to be done on the time of America's choosing and not because a hawkish Israeli PM comes on Sunday Talk shows to talk another 'mushroom cloud' while his GOP brethren are all busy carrying water for him. (After all there are many more people apart from Jews who live in Florida and all those still want Obama as their President...just in case if someone forgets that.)

4. That brings us to the issue of Syria. Yes, it is possible that this is going to become Rwanda for Obama Administration as 40,000 people have died so far. Reluctance of Obama Administration in granting full support to still disorganized Syrian Opposition is understandable considering how difficult to track these elements are after the revolution. Benghazi fires are still blowing in Washington. However, if at all there is any conflict where President Obama would need to loosen a bit and get involved; it will be this. To start with, that is where it can make a concrete difference; Assad government is completely discredited; defeating Assad is one more chip down for Iran and larger Arab Population wants Sunni voice in Syria to be upheld. Once again in partnership with Turkey and European Powers, Obama Administration may need to get more involved. To be sure, we are not talking here any 'no fly zones' or definitely not any 'boots on ground'; but more than what Obama Administration has done so far.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Go Jindal Go

"Jindal seems to get it. Which is encouraging, don't you think?"

Yup, he gets it and indeed it is encouraging.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Transfer of Power

“I wish to sincerely thank the whole party for the trust you have placed in us...We will try everything we can to live up to your trust and fulfill your mission.”

"I want to thank every American who participated in this election. Whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time.
Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won't change after tonight, and it shouldn't. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today."

That is the difference between 'transfer of power' in a dictatorship country and in a democratic country. 

I believe, deep down, Chinese Leadership is fully aware of what an enormous 'distance' they have to travel before they 'give voice to their own people'. At some point, I hope Chinese People will solve this issue. Till then we will have all these 'make believe' showmanship and fully orchestrated power transfer shows.

For all the differences between Soviet Union and People's Republic of China, similarities are just too much to ignore.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Four Star Generals

"The number of e-mails between the two is an astounding number of e-mails"

Question is why would a four star general spend so much high quality / top priority time on one socialite back home?

The rivalry between CIA and Army can be very easily understood. It is CIA which calls the shots when it comes to 'drone war' in Pakistan but the burnt of which is sustained by Army in Afghanistan. Hence, Army has a natural interest in knowing what CIA is planning. 

It is hard to believe that a four start general would not be knowing 'value' of his time and still engages in any such frivolous activities for so long without a purpose. There could be a legitimate motive and that can be trying to get a head start in 'sourcing information about the CIA head'. Gen. Allen's liaison in Tampa could be spying on Gen. Petraeus which might have been 'sensed so rightly' by Gen. Petraeus's mistress. Hence her effective threats to Gen. Allen's liaison.

Of course, this is all gossip and theory only. What all that it shows is it is quite possible that this whole drama can potentially get more ugly before we hit the bottom. Meanwhile, security concerns of America - needless to say those are deprived of attention at the highest levels.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Will GOP Listen?

"Don't scream and yell if one person says 'You know what? It won't kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires.' It really won't, I don't think.
I don't really understand why Republicans don't take Obama's offer to freeze taxes for everyone below $250,000, make it $500,000, make it $1 million,
Really? The Republican Party is going to fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires, half of whom voted Democratic and half of whom live in Hollywood?"

So the question is will GOP listen to this sanity. Reading reports like this, you have GOP Rep. Fleming from Louisiana who are simply brothers of their fallen friend Allen West - never yield to any sensible policy.

It is hard to read how Speaker Boehner will be able to corral his recalcitrant caucus. It does not seem any easy than what it has been for last two years. House Republicans can think that let presidential candidates bother about their chances in 2016 and beyond and it is the headache of Senate Republicans to see how more senators get elected. So long as House districts are gerrymandered, GOP majority is relatively safe till 2022, till next census. Why bother then? Basically Americans are not in a position to make GOP pay for its intransigence in House and House Republicans have least incentive to do anything meaningful even if it means Economy goes into doldrums and most Americans suffer more.

It will boil down whether Speaker Boehner wants any 'glory' in solving America's problems or he wants to be simply a 'care taking House Speaker' who only counts votes in his caucus rather than leading it to a more meaningful policy. It also depends whether members of GOP House Leadership are looking for any future roles. If Paul Ryan wants to be a serious contender in 2016, having a bipartisan agreement under his belt is not a bad thing. But if Ryan thinks political advantage is more in keeping the ideological purity (the reason how broken Republican Primary System influences national politics badly and effectively contributed to Romney's defeat); then we are in for more confrontation. Same goes for Eric Cantor - now that his ploy of making White House subordinate to Israeli PM Netanyahu gone wrong; will he see some benefits in moderation?

For President Obama, it can be argued that premium in exposing his 'steeled backbone' by remaining unyielding is very high. White House can argue that impeding downdraft in Economy due to unresolved Fiscal Cliff; what is new in that? Isn't Obama Administration used to carry this burden? That is what they did all of the first term. A scenario can be thought where America crosses the Fiscal Cliff without an agreement, taxes across the board increase, Economy gets impacted but not so much as Global Economy holds up and as a result America's problem of Deficit diminishes dramatically due to more revenue (Paul Kgruman scenario). For all these reasons, White House may find it worthwhile to take 'the bull by horn' and plough through the impeding Economic hardship. 

All this means, despite all the happy talk on Sunday Talk Shows, we Americans may be in for a long and nasty fight.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Slap to American Khap Panchayat

"Meantime, the party’s platitudinous attitude towards immigrants and minorities couldn't be covered up by drafting Christian converts Bobby Jindals and Nikki Haleys; not when the Democratic Party boldly embraced a Hawaiian congressional candidate who described herself as Hindu-American and an openly lesbian senatorial contestant .
In Jesusland, Akin-Mourdock territory, it was a resounding slap to the American Khap Panchayat. Middle America is still strapped by the Bible Belt. "

[Hawaiian Congressional Candidate is Democratic Tulsi Gabbard who won and openly lesbian Senate candidate is Democratic Tammy Baldwin, another winner, from Wisconsine for the Senate]

Generally Rajghatta of TOI is behind the curve, probably always constrained by decorum of reporting from a foreign capital for a news organization back home. In this article, though he is not bringing any new insights, he is right on spot to describe stupidity of Talibans of GOP in stark terms, terms in which folks in India, folks outside of USA can understand colossal callousness of American Religious Right of types Akin and Mourdock (Bachmann, Allen West included).

Also slowly American Media is coming to it's duty in pointing out the Christian Identity Politics of Right. Large number of Indian immigrants to this country are not enthusiastic to a proposition that you got to be 'converted to Christianity'  to participate in the public life of this country. Fortunately win of Tulsi Gabbard indicates that no such Christian Identification is necessary. Granted, I do not want to go to a territory where a strong reaction to American Right Christian Identity Politics is mainly coming from RSS / Gujarat Supremo  Narendra Modi sympathetic world view of Hindu Nationalism. But nevertheless, we want American Politics free of any 'religious litmus tests'. Fortunately, Obama, Democrats and American Media conducted themselves very well when Mitt Romney's Mormonism was not an issue in the general election; primaries being dirty, internal matters of GOP. That is how it should be and that is the great heritage (not so exemplary at times) of American Democracy. 

However, except for making Romney's religious background a non-issue, Republican Party very actively cultivates Christian Identity Politics. As we know from Indian Politics in recent times - BJP courting Hindu Nationalism and Congress being sympathetic to Islamic Fanaticism; it is never a good idea for a modern multi-cultured diverse nation. Rajghatta knows this very well and that is the reason why he could write such a crisp and succinct column about how American Right is falling into an abyss. Too bad, most of America's bright political commentators would not have necessary background to savor this article nor at times they have willingness to learn more about rest of the world. (That is another of trait with American Right - just ignore rest of the world and keep thumping their chests while chanting the name of Ronald Regan.)

Friday, November 09, 2012

Counter Cyclical

Speaker John Boehner has fired the opening salvo in the coming battle of 'fiscal cliff'.  Today President Obama is to set the tone from his perspective and the protracted negotiations are beginning in earnest. One way President Obama can lead these negotiations is by taking the direction of 'counter cyclical' fiscal policy:
- Taxes on 'haves' (say income over $250K) are incrementally increased as Economy improves and
- Public Spending is hold while Economy and Employment are in doldrums and Public Spending is reduced as Employment and Economic Growth pick up.

Fundamentally it is a Keynesian approach, but with concrete commitments to solve the issue of debt. By linking Tax increase to growth, it basically negates the stupid justification of 'permanent tax cuts' - when Economy is good you do tax cuts because Government is collecting more money than needed (Bush GOP argument against Clinton surplus) and when Economy is weak you give / retain tax cuts least it will push Economy further into a ditch.

What President can propose is a 'framework' where as Tax collection increases, certain portion of it will be used:
- to reduce current and past debt,
- time bound one off public investments and
- progressive tax reduction.

As far as Public Spending goes, such an approach avoids suicidal cut backs at the time of dramatic shrinking of Private Spending. That should be a way to stop 'recession prolonging' policies advocated by Tea Party as well as those currently practiced in Europe. As Economy and Employment pick up, reduction in Public Spending will not have much of an adverse impact as Private Sector would have picked the baton by then. 

Politically it would give cover for both GOP and Dems while setting American Fiscal situation on a path of resolution. Of course there is no free lunch - such a policy approach is complex to enact since this will be possibly a first time it will be adopted on such a large scale. What is the 'base line'; that is a contentious topic. Adjudication of various economic indicators on sustained and credible ways is another challenge though there are institutions available to provide those inputs; like BLS for Employment, CBO for Impact of Tax Policy and I guess Federal Reserve for Economic Growth Forecast. Besides part of Frank-Dodd law is implied collaboration among these institutions to detect and spell out impeding risks.

That is where President Obama needs to lead our Fiscal Policy and avoid the fiscal cliff. He will receive the criticism that it is a 'do nothing now' approach in a shorter term. But need of the hour is not to make drastic changes to endanger weak Economic Recovery but to institutionalize 'sound economy policy' for longer term; possibly for generations to come. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Why I get so much worked up?

(A friend of mine in India wondered what is it that so many of recent Indian migrants to USA get 'worked up' about American Elections compared to our friends back in India. This is what I had in response to him.)

I do believe this election was consequential. In general as they say, "elections have consequences" and they need to have. To ignore this reality is "simply being cynical" which is precisely Obama fights against as he articulated in yesterday's speech. 

To some extent Elections and Democracy are an exercise in Faith, wishful thinking, Idealism and Romanticism. There is no going about it - both on winning side and on losing side. No one can doubt the fervor of a Tea Party Patriot and true Conservative while no one can deny what an Historic achievement LGBT supporting Liberals have achieved in 2012. Very simply when these elections only become a routine, jaded and unable to discuss even few of our relevant 'here and now' issues; we would have done with the utility of Elections and Democracy. As I understand, meaning of Americanism is to keep working in retaining 'relevance' of Elections and Democracy. I am with Obama here when he characterizes that the true strength (and shine and glitter) of America is this ability of masses to engage in this political discourse; at time messy, noisy and for sure imperfect collective jamboree in this vast and diverse nation. 

There have been 'down times' for America's Elections (2000 infamously and long lines even in 2012). But when one listens 2008 John McCain and 2012 Mitt Romney concession speeches within hours of election results, one understands the 'qualitative class difference' American Politics is attempting to establish. For me, forget America's Wealth, forget America's dominance (but never forget sacrifices of her soldiers); it is this belief and constant attempt to 'engage and execute democratic routines as faithfully as possible'; that matters. And that is why I get so much worked up! Remember, I have been on losing side too. Though did not vote then, 2004 loss of John Kerry was brutal. Liberals and we Iraq War Opposing Americans failed then and had crushing disappointment to sleep on. But Liberals did not run to Canada then and rest is History!