Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sugar Lawsuits?

“You could not enact a real-world study that would be more conclusive than this one.”

“Each 150 kilocalories/person/day increase in total calorie availability related to a 0.1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence (not significant), whereas a 150 kilocalories/person/day rise in sugar availability (one 12-ounce can of soft drink) was associated with a 1.1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence.”

"This is as good (or bad) as it gets, the closest thing to causation and a smoking gun that we will see."

"By definition, all calories give off the same amount of energy when burned, but your body treats sugar calories differently, and that difference is damaging."

"The take-away: it isn’t simply overeating that can make you sick; it’s overeating sugar. We finally have the proof we need for a verdict: sugar is toxic."

Question is will FDA do anything about this - designating a standard for daily sugar consumption and being ruthless in pointing out 'food items available in the market' which are essentially toxic? The article again and again talks about 'linkage between tobacco and lung cancer'; same for 'sugar and diabetes'. 

One wonders where is 'progressiveness of Obama Administration' in all these matter? It is understandable the instinct of Obama Administration to trade waters carefully considering power of sugar lobby sustained by wrong Agriculture subsidies, careful calculations in not creating too many enemies at the same time and basically not to inflame already poisoned relations with Congress. 

May be the only way American System would change is the American way - liability lawsuits. So I would say if this study and other studies enable 'aggressive lawyers and lawsuit start-ups'  - remember one of the earlier Billion Dollar lawyers were minted by Clinton's Tobacco settlement - to take the well traveled paths of American legalities; that would move the needle. Bloomberg's 'soda size bans' can only go so far.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Time to get honest

Barack Obama might have guided John Kerry to Sec. of State position. That is all right and good for this country.

More than eight years back, there was a Democrat who took the sword for us. His life has been - "you take it for the party". He - John Kerry - has served us well and the old guy is still scrambling to put something good for all of us on the table as Sec. of State.

President Barack Obama understands that. 

Very rarely, Hollywood is so blatantly political; so much on the right side of the History.

Update - Of course when Benghazi has occurred, it makes sense to promote State Department. After all there have been few Americans lives which have been unfortunately lost in that whole Libya affairs. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Woodward Slander, Sequester and Deficit Reduction

First it was the claim that President Obama moved the goal post when Speaker Boehner refused around One Trillion Dollar revenue increase in the Obama offer of Grand Bargain in 2011. Bob Woodword wrote the book and tried to blame President when in reality it was the Speaker who failed to bring his caucus on board.

Now once again Woodward is at some old tricks - blaming President Obama for asking revenue in sequester defusing proposals; claiming that sequester is all about spending cuts. No wonder White House is hitting back so strongly and they need to reply back for sure.

Sequester was to force Congress to act. But Super Committee failed because GOP did not agree for any revenue increase. As has been rightly pointed, in the original sequester agreement; it was all about 'deficit reduction, not just spending cuts'. Hence President Obama is right to insist that 'revenue' must be part of the deal.

It is not clear what is the malice Bob Woodward has with this President. But time and again, he has attempted to advocate a line of argument which would undermine this President and basically undermine any sensible resolution to our Deficit Reductions Plans. Woodward cannot claim to hide behind 'but I am just a journalist reporting as I see' argument because for every President, he has attempted to get an 'inside track' about sensitive information and since Americans would not have any opportunity to validate those 'information tidbits'; Woodward gets tremendous latitude in selling his interpretations to the world. That kind of 'journalism' may be all kosher in pulling down Nixon, but Woodward seems to be stuck in such archaic and essentially 'corrupt' ways about gaining information. With the spread of Internet and death of Print Media, the world has changed

Whether President Obama gets actually any 'revenue increase' in any sequester resolution; that is a different matter. There should be 'revenue' in the mix; is also a generally accepted principle. But to advocate revenue should not be at all on the table is like joining Simposon-Bowles in low balling revenue needed to reduce our deficit. All these attempts by so called 'very serious people' (at least David Brooks had decency in apologizing for his willfully wrong characterization of President Obama) is effectively way of 'turning down what the election of 2012 implies - revenue should be part of the deficit resolution'. 

Republicans argue, but Biden-McConnell Agreement does raise taxes and bring revenue on the table. However that is just $660 Billions over 10 years whereas Boehner himself had considered around $800 Billion to $1.2 Trillion revenue increase in earlier discussions. So we are not there yet in terms of having brought in much needed revenue. On that background, basically Republicans are 'short changing' revenues of Fed and these so called 'very serious people' (Woodward, Simson, Bowles, Brooks, etc.) are essentially actively encouraging that!

That is why few on Left like Jonathan Chait were apprehensive for the Biden-McConnell accord and worried that it would essentially result giving up lot revenue permanently. May be their fears are coming true now. (Not taking Biden-McConnell at that point would have been very bad, essentially not even gaining $660 Billion of revenues and poisoning the Political Well to a saturation point with serious consequences to Economy.) Which means, in the end President Obama will have to accept the sequester and plough through its difficulties. There could be few things which may help Administration in this regard:
- Sustained political pressure on Republicans through Media may force them to consider at least relaxing few stupid conditions of sequester like not giving freedom to Department Heads to decide where to cut the said amount. Spending Cuts Only Republicans should not have any problem here because amount of cuts does not change and they get the political credit for responding to bad sequester.
- As some have argued correctly, 5% reduction in department expenses; that is what Federal Government must be able to deal with. Most Private Organization do such purging on regular basis and to be efficient Federal Government also must do that.
- Congress would have easy opportunities to restore funding for some of these programs when Congress makes annual budgets. If political pressure is strong and Congress has to act, then these same Republican Crazies in House will back certain programs with more funding. So in that sense, this should not be end of the world. (But that does not mean White House relaxes the paddle on relentless Media Blitz about the negative effects of sequester; that is still needed.)
- Finally, sequester is a right opportunity to rationalize America's Military Budget. We should not loose that chance considering all these wild military programs

Given all this, Senate should still pass it's sequester resolving bill next week where 50% is revenue and 50% cuts. If nothing else, it will at least give President Obama some sensible basis to work out a resolution with Republicans (even though as many Liberals argue, that is a bad strategy to start negotiations; you do not start it where you want to comprise in the end; same mistakes President Obama has made again and again).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Waiting for 2014?

Slowly mainstream American Media is picking on the 'fetish of Centralism, plague-on-both-sides'. This game has been played much longer than warranted - keep blaming both political parties for the lack of a grand bargain to reduce our deficit and control entitlement costs. Folks like Simpson-Bowles, Washington Post Editorial, etc. all conveniently forget that:
- time and again President Obama has said that he is open for 'entitlement reforms' to reach 'half-way' of our deficit reduction goals;
- but it is Paul Ryan and House GOP gang who want to 'husband' any tax loophole closing to bring revenue in future so that they can give further tax cuts to rich rather than balancing half of deficit reduction.

No matter what facts tell - that it is capital gains, dividends and consequent low taxation of the same - which have contributed more to exasperate inequality in America; all these (what Krugman calls 'very serious people') folks will keep blaming President and Democrats. 

At this rate, President Obama and Democrats would not have any option apart from waiting for 2014, go over Republicans in Congress to make the case of what is besieging this country (no surprise - obstinate GOP insisting on no more revenues) and seek House victory in 2014 while retaining Senate. As some research is saying that 'gerrymandering' is not all that hopeless to permanently lock House for Republicans; there is going to be a legitimate opportunity for Democrats to go after 2014 House victory. Fractious GOP caucus in House and issues like 'immigration, minimum wage support' are not going to be any easy for Republican Party. Add to that the revelation that in the end more Americans are with President and Democrats. Unless GOP comes to senses, Democrats may calculate that sustaining all the lobs of 'sequester and monthly fiscal crisis' may be still worthwhile. Sadly that means solutions to problems of American people have to wait for a while.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Xi Jinping Worldview

As the Chinese Big Boss settles in his saddle, stories are coming out about how does he envision China and her coming years. Granted, one single story does not make a man and there are many more Sino Experts who would have much more profound understanding of what is happening in China. But in the absence of more news items about decision makers in China as well as availability of Sino Experts outside of 'pay wall' in some cases; common Americans still have to hazard a guess about how does the Chinese Leader view the current world.

Based on the story in New York Times, it seems:

- For the Chinese Leader, centrality of Communist Party is given. He cannot or does not want to envision China as a prosperous and peaceful country which may or may not be ruled by Communist Party. May be it is his lineage or deeper understanding of Chinese Society that compels him on this road. But the end result is Xi Jinping does not want to make any moves to take China in multi-party polity. All that will have to wait until 2023 presumably when his terms end. The historic lesson for him from Soviet Union is 'primacy of Communist Party'. One wonders how well that is aligned with the welfare of common Chinese people. 

- Xi Jinping is fully aware that even if he avoids to be Mr. Gorbachev of China, dangers are all around to pull down the Communist Party. He rightly identifies 'corruption' as the most important of these challenges. But ironically he is not arguing that 'corrupt Chinese leaders will try to hide behind Chinese Nationalism'. On the other hand, he himself is engaging in more strident Chinese Nationalism. If all of that is to just establish Xi Jinping as the leader / decision maker of China; China is possibly into more troubles due to such a weak leader, such a weak system.

In any case  Xi Jinping's Chinese Nationalism will pretty soon collide with the grim news coming out of North Korea. The kind of fireworks young North Korean apprentice is undertaking just to formalize his claim to the inheritance; it is unprecedented. We will see, how the contemporary Chinese Emperor navigates this challenge. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Clueless American Politicians

"I still think Obama makes a mistake by not trying to lift his game—by not taking his presidency and leadership to a new level that might break the political dysfunction in Washington. But it’s hard to quarrel with success, or with good luck."

David is right here and the mistake President Obama and all of American Politicians are doing here is:

"In the past three recoveries from recession, U.S. growth has not produced anywhere close to the job and income gains that previous generations of workers enjoyed. The wealthy continued to do well. But a point of increased growth today simply delivers fewer jobs across the economy and less money in the pockets of middle-class families than an identical point of growth produced in the 40 years after the Second World War.

This erosion between growth and the prosperity of average Americas is still vexing economists and a lot of lawmakers have yet to even acknowledge the problem. But repairing this link is arguably the most critical policy challenge for anyone who wants to lift the middle class."

That is President Obama's failure and I do not think State of Union Address effectively addressed any of these problems. 

One of the reasons American Political Class refuses this broken link between 'economic growth and prosperity for most Americans' is GOP regards any such characterization as 'class warfare'. Can you imagine Wall Street Journal Editorial ever accepting any doubts about Capitalism? That the Capitalism as practiced today in America is very one sided and it fails to 'lift all boats' in any sensible manner? Nay, that is never going to happen. (Read Larry Kudlow, he is still stuck with Laffer curves...) Hence GOP is not going to admit all this.

President Obama has this opportunity to talk about these issues and propose something meaningful about that. May be it is a basket of small initiatives like kindergarten help and increase minimum wage. But only two offerings would not make a comprehensive solution. Part of the problem is to make America sensitized to what is happen - broken link between general economic growth and prosperity to most Americans.

The other part is President Obama would have to make resources available for these basket of solutions (leaving aside the other half of more meaningful regulations on wild Capitalism as practiced today). The only way America has access to money is by way of borrowing. But when we are borrowing left and right to pop up Medicare to take care of our Seniors (our Past essentially), where is the room to borrow for Future?

Paul Krugman is right in a way that we should not worry about borrowing right now when economic growth is so low and income distribution is so skewed against majority of Americans. But he is essentially resigned to 'Medicare as Stimulus' considering GOP would never accommodate diverting savings of Medicare towards future investments.

But that is the precise case President Obama and Democrats need to make. We do not have any such case, nor any basic understanding from GOP. At times, GOP behaves as if they actively want to 'sabotage' any economic recovery just because of their animosity towards the President.

We see no way out from this quagmire.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope's Resignation

It is a monumental event is obvious. In probably one of the oldest institutions of humanity, this Pope has tried what logic tells us so calmly - frailty of human body and mind in the end catches. When you think you are not in a position to carry the mission of 'ministry you represent', you make a way for someone else. This is  important because prevailing ideology of Roman Catholic Church for centuries can be summed as:

"The pope is not any man. He is the vicar of Christ. He should stay on to the end, go ahead and bear his cross to the end. This is a huge sign of world destabilization that will weaken the Church."

But men of Benedict's stature clearly have given their entire lives in service of God and will be carrying the 'cross' whether they are occupying a position or not. Question is not of carrying the cross, but of how much it healed rest of humanity. Here, by and large it seems this Pope's legacy is going to be lot dimmer.

As of now, 21st Century is firmly moving toward more secular and faithless world. The transformation from 'Believer and Practicing Religious Person' to 'non-believer and non-practicing person' is happening at a faster clip - either via the intermediate stop as 'non-believer but practicing religion for cultural and political identification purposes' or 'believer but non-practicing due to contemporary world'. Both paths are traveled by more and more people in today's world; all reaching eventually to the same end - the world where practicing religion or religious faith plays diminishing role in individual's choices.

There may be few like Andrew Sullivan who would be advocating for Religious Faith to provide the foundation of 'human love and universal compassion'. But he knows too well how miserable Benedict's reign was towards that end. 

As like other religions, Roman Catholicism would not be able to revert this trend just by nominating a bit liberal person as the next pope. Challenges for an organized religion run much more deeper. For it to be relevant:
- First and foremost the basic litmus taste of whether it is open armed to all people of the world, that needs to be fulfilled. (Does that mean next Pope should be non-European? May be.)
- The faith and church must be epistemologically open and receptive to the flood of scientific knowledge which defines contemporary times. It is not sufficient that Roman Catholic Church apologizes for Galileo, but it needs to be much more receptive of what Science tells us about this Universe.
- Finally, after all that; the Church needs to locate and articulate a belief system which will help common people 'here and now' to navigate vagaries of the contemporary life as well as helps common people to relate their individual life and choices to all of Humanity.

That is a tall order. 

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Afzul Guru

" In Afzal Guru’s case, while it is true that the Supreme Court did indeed pronounce him guilty and sentence him to death by hanging, the evidence against him had been far from conclusive. It was the pressure of national outrage over the crime of which he was accused that weighed heavily on the Supreme Court, rather than any overwhelming evidence that proved guilt beyond doubt, when it ordered death for Afzal Guru."

Arun's argument does not fly. It is not the job of Executive Branch to second guess what the highest court in the land decided. If the Supreme Court in India is suspetible to Public pressure, that is the problem of the court and not of Union Government. (Which court in the world is free of that? One has to look at German Constitutional Court to see what acrobats it did to sanction bailout of EU and participation of Germany in that. Of course, history of American Supreme Court is littered with bowing to 'finger in the wind' disposition. Yes, John Roberts stood with ObamaCare; but those are rare occasions. Similarly Indian Supreme Court as well found Union Government at fault when it attempted to slap Billions of Dollars fine on Vedafone, so there are examples all around the map.)

Every Democratic Constitution in the World has a way to overwrite a decision of the highest court of the land - by passing appropriate laws so long as those are compliant to Constitution. Further, Constitution itself can be altered by the Will of People and their mandate too. So if there was a political will to save Afzal Guru, Loksabha could have acted.

Now, none of this is to argue that Indian Supreme Court should not have been more judicious, if indeed there was room to be so. But the point is, just because killing Afzal Guru is politically beneficial to ruling coalition (it is beneficial for sure); it does not mean Government should have re-opened the case somehow or Government should have delayed the execution of the court order forever. Execution of the accused has taken place as per the court order and due process; if that process needs improvements, that is a separate battle than this case.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

John Brenan Hearings

Now this is above the pay scale of this amateur blogger, so take it with a pinch of salt.

"No, Mr president. It is not our job to trust you; it is our duty to distrust you."

-- Andrew Sullivan, The Dish

"I really don't understand this sort of hysteria over the idea of killing Americans who have taken up arms against the United States. Thousands of Americans, Southerners, died in Antietam without any due process. When we stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-day, and Americans approached German bunkers, I don't think anybody asked if they were any German-Americans here, I want to read you the Miranda rights. If you take up arms against the United States you were a target because it was an act of war and you forfeited those rights."

-- Krauthammer, Fox News

But still I am perceptive to Ron Fournier of Nation Journal when he says Obama CIA nominee John Brenan ducked the issues. We cannot go by his physical appearance (as President called him the 'sentry' of USA). That is all fine.

At the end of the day, it is all about what Senator King (I-Maine) said:

”Having the executive be the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and executioner all in one is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country,”

-- Senator King, Politico

But even after all that, I do not want Mr. Saeed and 11/26 tragedies happening on American soil again. We have had enough of those in 9/11. If this means trust Obama Administration, we will hold our nose and back the President. It is up to the President and his sensibilities to make it moral, fitting in our constitution and make it such that it answers as much as possible objections of likes of Andrew.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

India, China, Egypt and USA

Tom Friedman goes on comparing India, China and Egypt in his latest column:

"India has risen despite the state. It is a story of public failure and private success."

Now, that is some classic Conservative take on India. 

No doubt, future of these 3 countries is intricately linked to what 'governing class of those countries' decide about their youth.

What is glaring omission in Friedman's column is he does not dare to compare USA with these three countries. Probably because:

"India has nevertheless shown how its political system can respond to an urgent popular demand for change. The same could certainly not be said of China, where protests over problems including food contamination and illegal land seizures have been suppressed rather than listened to, or Russia, where the regime has set out to eliminate grass-roots citizens’ movements. As for the United States, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings occurred two days before the New Delhi rape; whether our political system will respond to the subsequent outcry remains to be seen."

That is where we Americans are. We have a lone fighter in Barack Obama, waging a hopeless battle for some sanity in 'gun control debate' while 'hiding behind second amendment for naked profits' continues without any interruption. All along our Opposition is either talking some timid changes or simply scheming to subvert our barely functioning democracy. And what about the ruling party? Oh, never mind 'we liberals hardly bother about coming calamity'.

Just because last century was of America neither does guarantee any brighter future for us in this century; nor we are ensured any brighter future than India in coming decades. I guess those may be the reasons Tom Friedman simply did not dare to compare USA with other three countries.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Hagel Nomination

"Whoever helped former Senator Chuck Hagel prepare for today's hearings should retire from the hearing-preparation business. It is hard to imagine how Hagel could have walked into that hearing room without bulletproof (or at least confident-sounding) replies ready on three of the questions he was sure to be asked: about his opposition to the Iraq "surge," about his comments on "the Jewish lobby," and about his policy toward Iran. "

"But Hagel’s value proposition was supposed to be more than that – that he would be a commanding figure who could dominate the debate. The hearings cemented a buffoonish image Hagel will probably never shake and destroyed whatever value-over-replacement he could have brought as an advocate of Obama’s agenda. The Republicans are probably better off with a wounded Hagel in office than voting him down, and Obama can’t abandon him, either. The left-realists have lured Obama into a war that’s turned into a quagmire."

So having had bad Senate hearing because Hagel basically failed to do his homework - exactly as President Obama failed in his first debate with Mitt Romney - questions are:

- Oh, will he be able to pull off Obama Agenda of rationalizing America's Military and generally keep toning down aggressive military posture adopted during the 'war on terror'? Pentagon is full of smart and 'tough as nails' Admirals and multi-star Generals who know how to 'play' Secretary of Defenses to advance never ending power and resource grabs.  That is where President Obama needs a hard working Defense Secretary as 'no push over' Secretary.

- With a weak Secretary of Defense, is America likely to see omissions on national security or lack of decisive armed interventions when needed? (Like how General Tommy Franks foolishly outsourced the job of catching Osma Bin Laden and failed miserably to capture him in early days of Afghanistan Campaign after 9/11. Even though it was a tactical decision of the General on ground, Donald Rumsfeld had set the context of how to conduct the business of war - with a light footprint; as turned out too 'light footprint' to achieve core strategic goals of America.)

There is not much what nominee Hagel can do about  these doubts right now. (Don't go into the loop of 'public self-correction'; better to lie low for now.) You need a skilled politician in the first place for these types of sensitive cabinet positions precisely for reasons of having foresight to avoid adroitly these 'booby traps' of Washington Politics. Hagel failed out of the gate itself and this is just the start; kerfuffles like Senate Hearing are given in these types of jobs.

The good thing is, these problems are solvable for Hagel once he starts. Lay low, keep working on wheels; that is the approach needed for Defense Secretary as personified by Robert Gates. Over a period, once Hagel gets the hang of the place and time to sort out 'confusions in his intellectual outlook' (that is the  business where Gates never ventured whereas Donald Rumsfeld had maximum swagger in that area, unfortunately with bad consequences for America); Hagel can slowly start contributing to national security debates in Obama White House, the reason why President Obama would have wanted him in the first place.

Once President Obama fills his national security adviser, with John Kerry on board and Joe Biden still in his prime; President Obama is likely to get a good team in these critical matters; if not 'the dream team' of national security. It is also helpful to President that Janet Napolitano who is running Homeland Security like an well oiled machine, will be around in the second term. Finally, that is what it should be - commander-in-chief gets the people he thinks he needs to do the job well.