Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Could Have, What Should Have


1. Political failure of President Obama in communicating to Americans how long the recovery is going to take. Twice or thrice Obama landed selling 'recovery is on the corner' but something else happened to thwart the recovery. I believe this is a fair criticism. Obama Administration failures like promising unemployment below 8% to purchase passage of stimulus from Congress; those are well known. What does this indicate is how important it is for White House to be guarded in prognosticating economy. It seems to me, President indeed may have much less room when it comes to undertaking concrete measures to improve economy; but "White House as the economic watch tower"; that seems to be the fundamental job here and clearly Obama failed in that. Federal Reserve and other economic institutes put their diagnosis and forecast on table. Administration has access to many other sources. It is the job of White House to 'communicate' these inputs, observations and manage expectations of American Public at larger; all in political terms. No doubt that is where Obama dropped the ball to an extent.

2. Failure to fill Federal Reserve Board positions at a crucial time so as there was an effective quorum for backing 'quantitative easing' early on. For a while now Liberals like Yeglesias and Ezra Klein have been criticizing Obama Administration for this failure.

3. The biggest 'bus' the Obama Administration missed is for sure Housing. I know from my personal experience that so many eligible well employed folks during the recession could not refinance their homes to lower the monthly mortgage payment because of lower house valuation. Banks kept on with high rates of 2007 / 2008 wherever they could and that sapped additional 'cash' from the economy. Obama Administration made few feeble attempts to help few home owners; but did not show any appetite to take on GOP and Banker lobby to push hard on any of those measures. Whatever strength we see today in the  Economy, it is all because of improving house prices and clearly this is what Obama Administration could have engineered early.

4. Leonhardt has one more interesting point like how Administration could have taken advantage of structural deficiencies of Washington Political Apparatus (I guess that is what Bob Woodward would have called 'breaking walls by finding ingenious ways'). GOP obviously was loath to increase the stimulus price tag. Leonhardt makes an argument that Administration was right in saying that no one could sense 'coming anemic recovery',  CBO included. CBO expected good recovery, meaning less unemployment in coming years and hence computed less cost of unemployment benefits. That CBO bias would have helped Administration to propose more generous terms of extended unemployment benefits. Leonhardt faults Obama Administration for not utilizing this opportunity. 

This is a very smart observation and possibly with some leg. But for one I cannot imagine that despite Congress passed stimulus law with substantially more liberal terms, if the price tag would have increased substantially; GOP would not have kept quite. GOP  would have forced to stop this bleeding or else would have forced Obama to pay the political price.

In general Leonhardt downplays how damaging and destructive GOP has been to policies which would have improved economy. The worst part is despite all that, Republicans keep hammering Obama for their own non-cooperation and blithely Media forgets that too as somehow it is the Obama fault that Speaker Boehner could not bring his caucus to a deal or GOP agreed for sequestering.(Exhibit A - Bob Woodward, who wanted Obama to find some magic to 'break the wall of GOP resistance'.)

Leonhardt does mention 'oil spikes and Euro mess' as external shocks which did derail recovery. But it is as if he wants to underplay that along with rest of American Media since all these folks are not ready to put aside their cherished 'non-sense of all powerful American Presidency which can swim against global events' (it cannot).

For a balanced coverage I would have expected Leonhardt give equal credit to concrete accomplishments of Obama Administration:

1. Despite the political cost Obama has been made to pay, stimulus was passed and it helped to soften the blow.

2. For me the smartest move was 'bank stress test' and the way Administration helped engineer securing equity capital to banks in relatively harsh environment of 2009 and 2010. The way Administration orchestrated 'saving of American Banks' is under appreciated (and for their own political reasons Administration under sells that too since the image of 'cop of Wall street' is much more easy politically! )

3. Automobile industry intervention. At times it was a heavy handed tactic; but it helped American Auto Industry to survive and that is all that matters in the end.

4. Finally, Administration played a key role to co-ordinate with other G20 nations for globally synchronized stimulus during those tumultuous times. If one looks at Europe and subsequent lack of G20 actions; one realizes how correct that policy approach was and how tight that execution was.

What does all this mean - a) to the election and b) to the policy after the election?

Romney camp is in no position to debate these valid points with Obama expect the point #1; all for their ideological extremism. Given that, Obama Campaign has to vigorously debate with Leonhardt type journalists and continue defending economic policies while conceding grounds for valid criticism.

The real importance of all this is how Administration approaches second term economic policy. To start with, on the campaign trail, Obama needs to 'hedge' recovery and constantly remind American Public about the hard road ahead. For Housing, Obama needs to say that he will work with GOP to re-calibrate roles of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in Housing Finance while completely rejecting any proposals to curtain 'mortgage deductions' for middle income folks. The overall message of 'short term expenditure to help economy while balancing longer term fiscal deficit' is what Obama needs to emphasize and that is the value of Leonhardt's criticism.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Apple Maps

Apple CEO did the right thing by apologizing its customers for the Maps App snafu. 

It is understandable why Apple wanted to go away from Google Maps as both companies vie for the same market in this digital economy. As rivalry between Apple and Google heats up, it will be interesting who would bring great innovations to Maps and map related apps. Google definitely has an advantage, not just being an early entrant, but due to their software engineering prowess and culture of mathematically inclined software development. Just look at what Google has done in the Spanner Project. Now, that is some real contribution to humanity... Of course Apple with their piles of Billions and many brilliant engineers can deliver too. As Tech world slowly comes out of RDBMS thrall (which benefited Oracle most), all other types of data organization technologies and linking with geographical information are becoming more wide spread and critical for business. With California joining Nevada and Florida in approving 'robot cars'; who knows we may be on the verge of another tech revolution where one of the dominant ways of dealing with data will be in the geographical or map context. Google is spear heading these efforts and Apple wants to do the catch-up. 

This healthy competition among Tech giants to deliver 'real, concrete, now and here' change in human life is at times far better than litigious and always contentious 'change' these politicians promise. We know our recovery from 'economic slump' is complete when these 'contentious political debates' make room for news about challenging and creative competition among companies to create new markets and new technologies. Unfortunately we are not there yet.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Obama UN Speech


I was very anticipatory for the speech. Following Obama over years, it was obvious that this was his moment. Unusual, but Obama shines when he makes a genuine efforts to 'see hope for all of us' on a backdrop of a tragedy; in this case tragedy in Benghazi. This speech is vintage Obama in that sense. Folks are decent not to say it in public, but Obama is one of the best 'mourner-in-chief' America has seen in years; the guy knows how to start the process of healing, how to make tentative attempts to connect to 'others' while delivering the tough love; how to undertake public catharsis. 

Simplistically, the cadence, word play and thematic structure of the speech resembles a African American Clergy style. I like that, people appreciate it and Obama delivers it great; just re-read the last part of the speech.

Add to it one spoon of Constitutional Lawyer Background and another spoon of a politician who successfully sells augments on hustings, starting with weaving the whole speech as a story telling of Chris, the slain USA ambassador. That is the recipe of high caliber Obama Speech. 

What was the Clinton Speech to DNC, Obama Speech to UN is. (Obama's DNC speech was a wash...) Obama is made to deliver such speeches, possibly very few today in the world can bring that much credibility when he stood on that UN General Assembly Podium. 

Substance - Mandela quote: check, Gandhi quote: check, talking about daughters: check. If this was the speech Bush had given just after Lebanese Seder Revolution (high point of Rice-Bush Freedom Agenda); American Right would have gone all gaga. Coming from Indian background, reading Obama's Speech; what struck me most was what a vast 'scope' he encompassed willingly and effectively delivered on the topic of Universal Freedom. American Media, even enlightened ones like NYT Editorial and WaPo Editorial; were all stuck with how Obama defended the freedom of speech from American point of view, how he vowed to bring justice to murderers of Chris and how tough of a warning he issued to Iran. Those all are valid points and no doubt are the first priority from American perspective. But while doing that, one does not get a sense that American Media has got the whole later part of the speech where Obama daringly attempts to continue his Cairo Dialogue with Muslim countries, other under developed countries, new democracies and all those other countries which are not that 'sexy' on American TV to talk about. That is good, hard 'sale' of Universal values of Freedom and Tolerance Obama undertakes on global scale

Effect - American Public for sure got what they wanted to hear from their president. Rest of the world - the message is that given an opportunity Obama still wants to continue on the road of Cairo Path; but without keeping aside his 'hefty stick' (he will not hesitate to use force at right time). Perhaps, this is all laying grounds for his diplomacy in the second term if Americans re-elect him.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How to change Washington?

There has been fair amount of criticism lately when President Obama asserted that 'change cannot happen' from inside. You have starting from Ezra Klein to insiders of WaPo blogging to Molly Ball at The Atlantic faulting President Obama

I do not agree with this criticism and think that President has got it right here. Ezra's main arguments are:
- ObamaCare is a prime example of how the change happens from inside; and 
- after the shellacking of 2010 when President changed his tack to get pressure from outside of Washington, his political opponents simply stiffened and went fully ballistic. 

First of all such an argument ignores the political cost of Nebraska Corn Husker and Louisiana Purchase during the sausage making of ObamaCare. No doubt the substantial reason for Obama and Dem loss in 2010 was because of these Washington Insider strategies. One can legitimately complain about the policies advocated by the Tea Party, but one cannot disagree with what they represent - Americans across the board from Left to Right do not want 'old style cozy Washington Bipartisanship'. President Obama hears that while his critics in this matter are advocating the 'business as usual'. Perhaps having been part of Washington Elites these critics may have an high opinion of themselves and the wisdom of experts residing in Washington. On the other hand this can be even understood as a classical example of how every time a politician attempts to ignore the Beltway consensus, no matter how enlightened these experts are, they reject that path. I feel reactions of these Beltway Pundits is nothing but vindication of President Obama's basic political assessment here. President Obama's political antennas are very sensitive and alert than what these pundits are arguing about. 

But then what about the observation that every time President Obama tried to bring pressure from outside, the political opponents simply stiffened their resistance to President's agenda? But then how different this is than the parliamentary democracies unfolding from West minister to Loksabha in New Delhi? At some point in this Internet and Tweeter era American Public at large will have to come to grips with how a complete mandate needs to be given to a political party to achieve the change and then hold that political force as fully accountable. What President Obama is 'arguing for change from outside of Washington' is nothing but an electoral argument for such majorities. If at all, he needs to be much more explicit and emphatic over here. How American's resolve the simultaneous urge 'to hedge absolute power' to 'enough political power to achieve a meaningful change' - that is the 'meta-narrative' which a politician seeking votes would have much less influence on; including President Obama. That is not the debate where he needs to go.

With a decade of intense polarization, American Politics has reached a stage where 'the change has to be sold and effected' by directly taking your political opposition head-on. There is no going about that and anything else would simply mean less transparency and reduced democracy in our political process.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Blasphemy

It is the nature of capitalism that big companies become defensive, while newer rivals emerge with better, smarter ideas.
“Oh my god,” read one Twitter message I saw. “Apple maps is the worst ever. It is like using MapQuest on a BlackBerry.”
MapQuest and BlackBerry.
Exactly.
-- Has Apple Peaked? by Joe Nocera in NYT.

Living in Cupertino, to like and to agree with Joe Nocera is pure 'blasphemy' for an engineer. But it is not just Nocera, Steven Pearlstein argued on similar lines in Washington Post few days back too. So regular journalists are noticing the pattern as well.

I am sure multimillionaire, possibly billionaire, engineers and executives at Apple would laugh out all this talk. They must be thinking, 'they have seen such criticism earlier too just to come back again'. Sure that is possible once again. But I think that unless Capitalism of Big Tech Companies evolves to a format where 'nimble start-ups are grown within'; Apple or Microsoft or other big tech companies will not be able to defy the gravity. Cisco has been trying this model of 'in-house start-up' and I suppose Google emulates it in some manner too. But we have not seen maturation of such 'business practices' to deliver results (to defy the Nocera Law of Big Tech Companies). Clearly, that is the area Apple would need to do more innovation. 

Meanwhile an apology from Tim Cook for this map software failure - that could be a good, humble gesture.

California Tour

As like many other Silicon Valley folks, we were all waiting breathlessly for the most important meeting of the day in our office. It was all about sighting this:





(Courtesy of friends who graciously permitted to share these marvelous photos.)

Needless to say, the wait was all worth as NASA Space Shuttle Endeavour treated Californians on this bright Fall Day. One could easily detect the nostalgia, inherent pride for world class Engineering and our primordial urge to go beyond earthly bounds into the Infinity of Space; in all of these Californians flocking to bid farewell to the space shuttle. 

However, as I think over the history of this remarkable NASA program and decades worth efforts by countless engineers, scientists, workers and others; in the end I feel like it is a program where everything worked out all well except the core 'business case'. Of course, the military pay-offs in itself may justify the whole shebang. But if you consider the history about how the program was sold originally to American people as a 'space truck' which will lower the cost of putting stuff in space by reusing the vehicle; it did not turn out to be the case.  With 134 missions, and the total cost of US$192 billion (in 2010 dollars), this gives approximately $1.5 billion per launch over the life of the program; now that is not cheap (reference item #38).

Strategically, not only do USA does not have a follow up space vehicle to pursue 'on hand space exploration projects'; at the least this 'gold plated expensive Space Shuttle' project kind of starved so many other worthy NASA programs. Just imagine if Curiosity was all happening in late 1990s rather than 15 to 20 years later.

But those are all issues for politicians and 'bean counters'. In California today was the day to enjoy and marvel at what good engineering can do. It is hard to undermine the grit and sheer organizational willingness to overcome all these colossal challenges, to prove not once but twice how collective human ingenuity can still overcome hurdles. That is what this passing 'shuttle' meant to me and possibly to thousands of Californians and admirers world around.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reactions

Peggy Noonan - A typical conservative to provoke Romney that he should think 'whath fury has he brought to GOP'. As usual, total silence on 'policy contradictions of GOP', complete reluctance of GOP to help poor, middle class and minority to deal with tough life or no acknowledgement of how GOP actively pushed Hispanic voters from its ranks. Her solution, all these problems will go away if some Bill Clinton equivalent of GOP stays with Romney all the time! Go figure.

WaPo Editorial - Still some attempt to frame the issue as 'on one hand you have GOP saying like this while on the other hand Democrats are saying...'. Why do Dems need to come into this picture at all? We Dems are perfectly capable of our own flame outs. Criticize Democrats when Dems say wrong, don't rush to false equivalence (just because you might have been tired of writing all these scathingly Romney critical editorials).

Ross Douthat - He has gone even further than WaPo Editorial in needlessly comparing how Democratic Rich think like GOP Rich folks. Polarization in America is caused by the 'echo chambers of Rush Limbough, Fox News and Huffington Post'. Rich of both parties - they are busy in earning their millions while donating few to political parties in between. He is simply lost in an argumentation which is much less directly related to what Romney said.

David Brooks - That is where Ross Douthat should look. David Brooks wrote one of his better columns, especially the initial part where he nailed the exact way any Conservative, any American who is worried about our debt load; could talk sensibly about the scale and dangers of ever increasing Government Entitlement Expenses.

Bloomberg Editorial - But best and absolutely right argument is put forward by this editorial:

"Race, class, sex, region and ideology are all genuine dividing lines in American experience. Those divisions will be exacerbated from time to time, with elections in particular providing ample invitations to friction. But Americans are more than the sum of our prejudices and demographics. We hold high ideals and hard history in common.

The task before both Romney and his opponent, President Barack Obama, and the rest of us, too, is to assert our common bonds and aspirations with greater frequency and conviction in the weeks before November. A progressive tax code, in which all contribute to the general welfare relative to their means, is a hallmark of a decent society. Few Americans wish to dismantle it. Likewise, the nation’s social compact might be frayed, but this is no civil war here; we don’t need another Lincoln. A little respect and decency should suffice."

Now that is some sane reaction, hopefully with which more Americans would reconcile. 

Prof. Daniel Drezner - He simply exposes the epic inaptitude and carelessness of Romney's Foreign Policy in this 'take down'. Surprisingly, this part of the same speech is not as widely distributed as the first part; hence this blog post is an important part of this conversation.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Where are Obama's Rich Surrogates?

No, I am not asking for those rich Obama Supporters to contribute more money. Apparently Obama Campaign is reasonably well placed as far as campaign cash goes. I am looking for a Rich Obama Supporter to come forward and state plainly that he/she has paid more taxes all along than Mr. Romney, that person does not have any foreign bank accounts and the person has tax return information public. That is the right response to this non-sense Romney Campaign is peddling (apart from this classic post by Ezra): 

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax."


Of course, Conservatives do not want to accept that all problems of Romney Campaign are related to what kind of discredited policies he is selling. They never want to accept that Romney Tax Policy numbers do not square nor his jingoistic "carry water for Israel at any cost regardless of how much American blood has to be dispensed"[1]  foreign policy. And here Romney has been the disciplined politician to fallow the party line. For over 6 years he has been proving his credentials with Conservative Base. Heck, he even picked an ideologue as the VP candidate just because Conservative Brain Power thought it would bury Obama Campaign. All that has not helped and Obama still has a fighting chance to come up electorally. Few more openings like this and opportunities to parade supporters who have paid high taxes; and very soon Romney's this argument would fail to persuade anyone.


[1] - Let us not pretend that 'bombing Iranian Nuke sites would not have any American cost. One garbage film comes on You Tube and 4 accomplished Americans die within few hours and Talibans attack an Afghan base where within hours more than $200 Million Hardware is rendered useless along with couple of coalition forces lives. How to stop Iranian Nuclear efforts and eventually all that would indeed need bombing of Iranian Nuclear Sites; all those are different matters and in due course Obama Administration / American Leaders will have to make necessary calls. But what we cannot assume is it would be a surgical attack only and there will not be any American lives lost. Directly in that attack, may be not. But we have seen this movie once attempted by one Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz; and I believe Americans are in  no mood whatsoever to see it again. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

We saw him!

We saw him, we spotted him

Can we have Market on fire come next week now?

(Nah... any economy which is so beholden to sighting of 'his highness', is nowhere near any greatness...There is a long way for China to take her rightful position in the Parthenon of Great States.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bernanke Indeed Moves the Needle

Brad Plummer at Ezra Klein's Wonkblog quotes Economist Thoma saying that basically Fed Chief Bernanke responded to Woodford. If you look at this class act animated GIFs from 'rortybomb'; you would realize indeed that is so.

This a big deal, in the language of VP Biden, "Big F***ing Deal".

As I mentioned earlier, with European Economy possibly on mend, we are potentially looking at a big turnaround in Western Economies early next year. (That is why this talk about Bernanke helping Obama to get elected is bogus, since consequences of this move will be felt quite possibly after the elections only. Predictably Romney-Ryan line of non-sense did not find anything useful here.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Europe Turning the Corner?

First, we get expected result from German Constitutional Court in blessing German's participation in ESM bailout fund and now we have a, small but important, electoral vindication in the Dutch election.

The only thing I worry about is still conflicted and 'behind the curve' sentiment of German Public fanned by skeptics like German Economist Sinn. I suppose more time and resolution in America's political situation should help things further (except that situation in China continues to be of worry).

Fast and Furious

Just the other day, many Foreign Policy Experts were bemoaning that this presidential election is devoid of serious foreign policy issues and here we get one in the tragic killing of an American Ambassador in Benghazi, Libya. With this incidence on September 11, foreign policy issues are firmly back; square and middle. Here are early thoughts in this regard:

1. Sec. of State of Hillary was right to say openly - 'how could this happen in a country where America helped to liberate Libya from dictators?'. She was correct to point in the same breath that this act does not represent the all of Libyan People or Libyan Government and more importantly, many other Libyans helped to protect other Americans. American Public at large need to know all this.

2. President Obama along with Sec. Hillary was right to reiterate that 'justice will be done' in this case. Though ultimate responsibility of protecting American ambassadors in Libya lies with Libyan Government, American President must make it clear that 'there will be a price to be paid' if such completely avoidable and senseless violence takes place. President Obama has said this. If needed he must 'reiterate' this again and again, in UN when he visits UN by end of this month and must direct State Department to make it a high profile pursuit in finding perpetrators of this heinous act.

3. Debate will also shift to what kind of 'freedom' we are talking for those Americans who needlessly spread such a non-sense about other religions and cost lives of fine Americans doing good work in dangerous places.   It will be imperative for American Political Class to single out such a gross and needless misuse of 'freedom of speech'. Republican party in recent years has not lived up to Secular standards set by George Bush; but President Obama and Democrats must make it clear to American People how 'exploitation by few misguided Americans' needlessly results in American blood. Early signs from Republicans are encouraging in this regard.

4. However, I am not sure about candidate Romney's responses so far. As expected, he has adopted strident criticism of Obama Administration. But if reports are right, then facts may not be with him and possibly he will have yet another foot in his mouth:
- The particular embassy statement which Romney holds as an 'apology tour extension' by Obama Administration was before the violence and it makes perfect sense to issue such a kind of statement to prevent any violence. The statement obviously did not stop the violence is true, but then you cannot charge embassy staff for failing 'to provoke further'!
- Another 'tweet' from someone who holed up in the embassy is castigated by Romney Campaign as an example of 'apologetic mindset' of Obama Administration. When it is not clear whether the person was an  Embassy employee or not, situated in life and death crisis; to hold Obama Administration for tweets going out is another form of 'suppressing freedom of speech'. That is not how Americans expect to work for State Department, even in foreign land.

So it is appropriate for many Republicans to advise Romney Campaign to chill down. If 'meme' of this over reaction by Romney Campaign as yet another example of 'foot in mouth' gets some traction; we will see automatic playing down of this incidence by Romney Campaign.

In fact this is a great example of how Romney Campaign gets involved in 'small bore issues and technicalities' rather than the bigger picture - that the world we operate in is a dangerous place and we need a firm, but careful, approach in responding to these world events.

5. Obama Administration will also have some tasks on their hands - increasing security of American Embassies all around the world and being more anticipatory to such violent events. Americans will be expecting that from Obama Administration and it will have to prove this by 'walking the talk'. No amount of past achievements are of any use here, every day is a new day for national security. (Sec. of State Hillary is going to be very busy for the remaining days of her term.)

6. The spat between President Obama and Israeli PM will be, and should be, relegated to background in light of this event. In fact considering the connection of an Jewish-American Developer financing this film to fan anti-Muslim sentiments around the world (and many Americans pay the price meanwhile); it should put jingoistic Jewish rhetoric bit constrained here. Americans would expect American Politicians not to create more trouble by bombing of Iranian Nuke sites or any such aggressive interventions in foreign land; at least for now. President Obama should continue his patient and firm approach to deal and respond this chaotic world.

Update - Goldberg reports that the controversial film maker would not a Jewish person but possibly a Coptic Christian. What is clear is that 'identity' of person(s) responsible for the film is unclear and so attributing it to a Jewish origin is wrong. That is what I mentioned above and my apologies for that.

However, what is clear is this tragic context is absolutely a right context to 'tone down' any kind of 'red lines'  talk and inflamed rhetoric. 



Sunday, September 09, 2012

Could he argue like that?

Despite Obama missing the crucial opportunity of exposing how GOP contributed to America's slowdown and universally negative reception of Obama's speech (Peggy NoonanRoss DouthatMoureen DowdRomesh Ponnuru and many others); 'convention bounce' is helping Obama to have some cushion here. So as this election develops with possibly a thin Obama lead, we have started to see following arguments from Conservatives:

The latter development is a clear signal that Democrats might be winning the argument of more tax revenues from wealthy. It will be just a matter of time when Obama Campaign or pro-Obama PAC simply justapose this statement of Romney with his earlier statement during primary saying that how he was opposed for any kind of tax increases on anyone. That will enforce one more time his 'flip-flopping' policy approach.

Ramesh Ponnuru line of argument is more fatalistic type and desperate round about. That is where Obama really needs to expose GOP politics of undermining America's recovery for petty political advantages. The answer to Ponnuru line is very simple which both Clinton and Obama offered in their convention speeches - Romney-Ryan are simply bend upon further exploding out deficit by giving more tax cuts. How is that less reckless? Just because Tea Party Members refuse to understand this reality does not mean Americans give up putting the right policy on table.

At some point, yes America will leave behind such an adamant Tea Party too. That has happened in past and it will happen in future too - political irrelevance for a party which refuses to listen to real needs of people and real, practical solutions for their problems.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Start of the Final Stretch

So did Obama make his case in the DNC speech? Not fully. What is missing then? I still miss answers to few questions like - why ObamaCare was started while recovery was incomplete and what forces are truly changing America and making her recovery much harder than normally is. Context of ObamaCare is crucial because it keeps coming in voters' minds as the prime example where Obama and Democrats might have gone ahead of 'need of the hour' under the influence of certain ideological inclination. 

I guess since Obama distinctly downplayed expectations about his next four years in this speech and nearly succeeded in projecting 'President firmly rooted in reality'; some of these concerns should be addressed indirectly. So far as what is holding off America and what distinct paths America needs to adopt; there was less explicit articulation from Obama and Democrats apart from usual policy prescriptions. In that sense, the speech was all safe and standard (or for few others completely anti-climatic).

Of course the real job of demonstrating emptiness of Republican solutions, and more importantly demolishing  Republican criticism of Democratic Policies; was done by Bill Clinton yesterday. (As conventions of both parties are done, one can safely say Clinton speech towers them all.) On that background and continued glow of Michelle Obama's speech on the first night; it was harder for Obama to follow on. However, he made the sufficient case of a 'grounded politician open to listen voices of reason' in contrast to 'ideological stubbornness of Republicans'. Obama might not have closed the deal with voters, but what is so clear in last two weeks is Republicans are running on an 'empty tank'. With that we are in the final stretch of this election cycle.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Obama's Challenge

As of today, the basic case developing against Obama is:

- we are not better off compared to where were we four years back and
- Obama essentially squandered an opportunity to focus on Economy, instead went for Health Care Reform which kind of instigated GOP and from there we were all on a slippery road. (Charlie Cook of National Journal was the latest to make that case few weeks back.)

The hard part for Obama to argue is how indeed we are NOT worse off than where we were four years back. As Biden talks about a bumper sticker - "OBL is dead and GM is alive" (to which one can add - there are no more American Troops in Iraq); that can be one formulation. But more mundane and truthful answer from Obama will be "we are better off than where we were four years back, but surely not where we wanted to be". He seems to answer that way. The challenge is to explain the truth here - for 3 summers in row, we got American Economy gaining momentum in Spring to loose it in Summer. Some of that was due to Euro crisis whereas clearly in 2011 it was because of the shenanigans of GOP in Debt ceiling increase crisis to push American and Global Economy over the brink for the pure political calculations of bringing down Obama at any cost. That is the challenge for one of the most articulate politicians of our era - to explain with dexterity how blind political opposition trumps the basic duty of GOP to join Dems in service of American people. 

The second argument is even harder to answer properly. Basically it will consist of two parts - first and far most Obama needs to articulate policies he wants to pursue in his second term and basically needs to reassure Americans that he will stick to that domestic policy framework. In other words Obama needs to commit that he is unlikely to make the mistake of 'big bang governance' - that his Administration can pursue all hot issues with equal importance simultaneously as it tried in the first two years. Not only does Obama need to dispel any lingering feelings with American People that he can be waywardly in pursuing ideologically driven policies howsoever desirous those are (like ObamaCare); but he will stick to the netting and simply focus on core economic challenges our nation faces - reinvigorating growth, deficit control and tax reforms. 

The second part of the response will be Obama to retread 'selling of ObamaCare'. He did not do that part well earlier, but he needs to still do that - Medicare and Health Care Costs to Fed are main drivers of our deficit (apart from reduced tax receipts during recessionary times). Through ObamaCare, Obama attempted to set in motion 'provider side' reforms without reducing individual benefits of current or future seniors (unlike GOP which is advocating Voucher Care). The only way 'provider side' adjustments were sale-able was by expanding the coverage so that Providers get a larger customer base to cushion themselves. On top of it, it is an humanitarian case to cover more Americans in health care insurance market. It provides the necessary safety net to a larger population and collectively we all are better off in controlling emergency health care costs as well as more Americans are in positions to undertake more business risks as they have now increased availability of health coverage. Sure, convention speech is not a place to go into all these gory details. But the fact is unless Obama appropriately explains his thinking for taking one of the most visible projects of his four years; it is hard for people to get aligned to his world view.

Only after Obama has credibly answered questions regarding how we arrived where we are today and where he wants to take us in next four years, he will have the requisite 'credibility' in exposing the emptiness of Romney Ryan Ticket. Policy contradictions in Romney Ryan Ticket are low hanging fruits and for sure Obama needs to expose fully all those contradictions. It is imperative that Americans know how fateful and in all probability much downward going path Republicans are arguing in this cycle. But to make the case convincing, it rests upon Obama answering all these background questions and dispelling major doubts Americans would have regarding his politics.