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.