Monday, April 29, 2013

President's Predicament

Ezra Klein is out with President Obama's Defense. It is an admirable attempt and a tragic tale of American Politics. But I do not agree with his take. Here are my responses:

- The most important aspect of Leadership is precisely about discovering what works in changed times. If standard 'political playbook works' (traditional bipartisanship); then it is great. Measure of a leader will be how far that leader stretches the society with what works. If 'standard political playbook does not work' - which is what the current situation is - then it is the job of a leader to find what works. That is what Reagan did with his 'Morning in America' politics and that is what Thatcher did with her 'stick'. Another way to say, no one needed to tell Steve Jobs about how to invent new products for prosperity. He did those innovations on his own. That is what is required from President Obama. Not that he is not capable. Reality is he is 'way ahead of the curve' when it comes to deploying Big Data and Social Media. He has been the pioneer in using Internet in mobilizing vast number of voters who generally do not vote. Very likely those are the exact techniques President Obama will need to use to undertake 'micro mobilization' at each constituency level to pressure the recalcitrant Congressional Republicans. He has not been taking that path whereas OFA is simply a start. (I agree, in some sense I am towing Bob Woodward line that "Presidents find their will through Congress". Where I differ is Woodward refused his basic journalistic responsibilities in not apportioning the blame which rightfully belongs to Republicans. It is all right to keep prodding our President to find a way out; but we as citizens must demand basic accountability from Republicans. Story of America in Obama times is Tea Party has been able to get scot-free for all the havoc they have wrecked upon Americans. Woodward fails in pointing culpability of Republicans and that is where I differ from him.)

- Ezra further says in his defense of President Obama:

"But politicians understand their incentives. Republican legislators have to win primaries among electorates that deeply dislike President Obama. In that world, working with the White House very likely means losing your job. It also means making Obama more popular, which means making it less likely that you and your party will get back into the majority in the next election"

OK, then is President Obama making it fait accompli to these Republican legislators that more they oppose Obama agenda, more they pay 'political price'? If Republicans find it hard to co-operate, then make it politically expensive for them to oppose Obama Agenda. That is possible only if President 'explains how precisely opposing Obama Agenda' is equivalent to pulling down Americans. If Paul Krugman does his job to explain 'lunacy of austerity'; what is stopping President Obama to talk these 'truths' to Americans directly?

- Finally, Ezra concludes by saying

"But it’s deeply insulting to the grown men and women who populate the U.S. Congress to posit that the only reason they’re acting as they are is that the president doesn’t lavish them with sufficient attention, or campaign in their districts, or twist arms like Lyndon Johnson. Give Congress a bit more credit than that. Like the president at the White House correspondents’ dinner, they take this stuff seriously."

I can believe any such seriousness of Congress if they had 'alternative solutions to our problems'. Their alternatives are 'Sequester' which is pushing down America further down! In other words, Congress is for sure not believable. They do NOT take welfare of Americans seriously.

We will believe that when Paul Ryan has integrity to come forward and say 'austerity only' is not a solution of America's problems in light of recent developments - R&R fiasco, implosion of Merkel and Cameroon austerity in Europe while Japan finally going with gusto to QE. We will believe in seriousness of Congress when Republicans do not pull down Eric Cantor who is trying to calibrate his views. Until then denying the reality of "Republicans in Congress are pulling down this country" is essentially Stockholm Syndrome on behalf of Ezra Klein.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Communicating Complex Economic Realities

As Liberal Media come to terms with political setbacks to President and Democrats in the sequester fight, one wonders whether it is a sign of things to come. May be it was all baked way back in President's first term and his fateful political decisions then. What is obvious is as your Politics stops working for you, downward movement gains and pretty soon 'lame duck presidency' starts in the very first year! White House will find itself in a weaker position as Congress continues to waive one after the other sequester cuts in isolation. Mother of all those waivers will be if GOP proposes to wipe out Defense Cuts without any restoration in other spending and then runs 2014 election on a plank that President Obama is undermining 'national defense' when he refuses to accept those defense outlay increases in isolation. Of course, President can call 'bluff of GOP' not by pointing Republican hypocrisy on deficit and debt (who cares for deficit?); but asking GOP to 'raise revenue' to fund rollback of Sequester for Defense Spending. 

The reason President would want to avoid further political defeats in these fiscal and domestic battles is otherwise GOP will hold this country hostage for coming Debt Ceiling Increase fight and essentially snowball these presidential defeats into an impotent presidency unable to undertake any 'change for Americans'.

***

"The real debate right now is with a Republican Party that won’t permit any more stimulus, won’t permit any more deficit reduction if it includes tax revenues, and won’t even permit the federal government to make it easier for people to refinance their homes.

-- Ezra Klein at Wonkblog, Washington Post 

What President needs to undertake is expose Republicans for their role in holding back American Economy. (Reinhart and Rogoff are villeins here - they never bothered to criticize GOP for the way Paul Ryan and the gang misused 'faulty theories' of R&R; essentially being an active party to man made crisis of American Economy.) Is President Obama exposing GOP though? 

The core political problem for Obama White House is, how do you run against Republicans to win back House (there are only 25 or so such opportunities, that is another of unfortunate millstones of American Politics - gerrymandering) while keep organizing dinner parties for Republicans and undertake charm offensive on Tea Party? 

If President confines himself to an orthodox political play book, indeed he is boxed here. But if he undertakes explaining and communicating 'complex economic realities' to Americans; he may find a path. Economic truths which he badly needs to communicate to Americans are:
- Primary reason of deficit is recession, lack of growth (it is not that as if President is 'swiping America's Credit Card on building palaces and other boondoggles); as growth continues, America can stabilize its deficit even though the progress is muddled here.
- For economic growth, 'not taxing rich' is not the only solution America needs to adopt all the time.
- Investing in future is what is needed for economic growth and borrowed money is justified for those investments so long as those borrowings are spent productively. Austerity is not a solution here, it does not work.
- Finally the real problem for America is moving borrowings from 'spending on past' (Medicare and Social Security) to 'spending on future' (education, infrastructure and innovation) and White House budget for 2014 is the first step in that direction. 

Absent any such ground breaking communication with Americans, Obama Presidency risks the danger of chasing Republicans in vain with nothing to show. 

*** 

Even though few experts argue that it is no problem that President Obama does not have any working relationship with Congress; the reality is here is a President who has failed to understand - ultimately what matters is 'getting things done through Congress' as far as domestic policy goes. It was all right at the height of 2008 victory to expect that President Obama could 'go over' Congress to reach Americans and then pressurize their representatives to get bills passed in Congress. But that can happen in Pelosi House only without President Obama being LBJ. The Big Data can only take you so far - winning in 2012. But legislation in Congress? Governance? Well, this President's past catches up with him quickly - he has been barely 2 years in Senate before occupying the White House. No History of working with Congressional folks over years nor any willingness to overcome this gap. Folks, Maureen Dowd was right; no matter how much hand-wringing you do here. If you reap political fruits of 'being Washington outsider'; you need to have a foresight in knowing that you would pay a price for such 'rootless in Washington' and you need to plan in advance in mitigating the concomitant risk.

Given all this, the path for President Obama is to undertake this outreach further; deploy all the technology his team has amassed in harnessing YouTube, Twitter and Facebook in reaching to Americans and tell them economic reality which is otherwise overshadowed by histrionics of Tea Party.

He doesn't do that and we may even see some dramatic implosion of Obama Second Term.

Update - Paul Krugman has done his job here. President, what about you? Are you up to the task? Have you been frank with Americans about 'what is going on'? 

Nah, I do not expect anything from Congress. That is way above its 'pay grade'. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Presidential Red Lines

Washington Post seems to be right when it criticizes Obama Administration for not honoring it's own 'red lines'. President Obama must be aware that anytime a President issues 'red lines'; he has to ensure that there are consequences in defying those red lines. If not, 'power crumbles'; President's word carries no weight with pretty negative consequences all across the board instantly. That serves American People very poorly. This is all Politics 101 in President Obama's language

One can understand why White House would be reluctant to undertake any action here:
- American Public in general is still not disposed favorably towards any 'military intervention abroad'. 
- No one wants to repeat Bush Iraq War mistakes. (President Obama cannot be lost on the 'optics' when he is joining other living Presidents in dedication of George Bush Library; essentially the place which will chronicle in details how wrong an American President has been when it comes to 'foreign intervention'.)
- In general there is less clarity in terms of what exact decisive intervention America can undertake without having 'boots on the ground' when Syrian Opposition is neither unified nor aligned with Western interests.
- Finally, Administration might be exploring a possibility of genuine 'collective action with Russia' to make a real difference on ground rather than engaging in any loud public announcements. If it means giving an appearance of 'lax Administration' for a while, so be the case. If such are the calculations of Administration, it might not be all bad then.

The critical question is what can America do to avoid further slaughtering of civilians in Syria now that the number might be approaching 70,000 and Assad Regime quite possibly using chemical weapons; all while keeping America's engagement at distance (meaning no American soldiers inside Syria). Few things come to mind:
- Work with UNSC to get UN inspectors in Syria as early as possible to ascertain usage of chemical weapons. The idea is to make a public case of how discredited Assad Regime is; making it virtually impossible for any other nation to stand with Assad Regime.
- To explore a possibility of joint USA-Russia brokered regime change in Syria in expedited manner rather than at glacial speed of international diplomacy.
- Continue to work with Arab States (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) and Turkey who sponsor major militias opposing Assad to consolidate their structure, to weed out Al-Qeda elements in those resistance forces and generally making them capable of governance in post-Assad Syria. Kerry's State Department has an opportunity to subtly exert pressure on these militias to move in right directions via newly expanded American aid to Syria.

Syria will be one critical test for President Obama and his Administration in terms of avoiding mistakes of Bush Iraq War but at the same time avoiding regrets like of Bill Clinton when America completely ignored genocide in Rwanda. Beyond a humanitarian case, stakes in Syria with ripple effects on rest of the unstable Middle East are higher for America compared to America's interests in Rwanda circa 1990s.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Male Beasts - India's Shame Continues

It is going to be long, long time before India is cured even to a reasonable degree from wide spread Male Chauvinism,  Male Brutality and Violence against Girls and Women. Latest uproar about a rape of 5 years old girl and violence against her is a step in that direction. Already many Delhites are realizing the importance of standing in support of those 'who raise their voices and refuse to tolerate any more non-sense'. 

The question is how long Rulers and Politicians want to continue this agony. If they take Administrative and Political Measures decisively; Indians would see that these politicians are on their side, on the right side of history and all of Indians would benefit. 

The key to Administrative improvements is transparent and quicker disposition of complaints from citizenry. Next, it is imperative that courts move faster on cases involving violence and sexual abuses against women and children. Whether current punishments on statues are sufficient for such crimes or not; sure Indians should have a debate about that. It is unlikely though current punishments for a convict in this regard would be any less. Critical thing is redressal and quicker disposition of these cases. Until that happens, ratcheting up harsher and harsher punishments for a convict will be of marginal utility. If your Police and Courts are convicting a sliver of vast number of accused even after a long period; what good it is that punishments are harsher while majority of perpetrators of such crimes are let go free? 

This would also mean Indian Police structure, their attitude, their training, their composition (more lady constables with larger portion of women in higher positions) and ways of holding accountability; all that need to change. Today, Indian Police force is primarily a cog in the wheel to perpetuate vast corrupt systems run by 'politicians-criminals-state resource plunderers'. The attitudinal basis of majority of Police Force is Feudal, class oriented society where it is far more important to attend needs of VVIP than taking complaints of grieving commons. (When that same VVIP can transfer you in a remote place and cause substantial dent in your income, it is natural for a police to listen to that VVIP. So change this incentive structure.)

Substantial number of these male sex criminals are coming from 'lower classes of India'. Well, because India is comprised predominantly of poor people and lower classes. Unfortunately sexual attitudes and perversion are also 'extreme' in this strata of the society. Religious leaders, caste leaders, community heads; many of them hardly regard enlightening commons about sexual attitudes and crimes against women and children as important. What we need in India is Media and Politicians (those who want to help change India) to take on Khap Panchayats and other retrograde religious organizations so as to cut short any moral justifications of sexual perversion. Also any 'class coloration' of sexual abuse, crime against children need to be avoided. 

We need Political Leaders in India who are actively promoting the culture of 'accountability in criminal prosecution of crimes against women and children'. (Yes, this means Delhi CM Shaila Dixit and Delhi's Police Commissioner need to go.) Rather than measuring progress of a state or region on the basis of Economic Growth Rate alone, we need 'High Command' which values, encourages and cherishes those leaders who have brought perceptible increase in number of cases resolved. 

Questions which Messers Dr. Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Shushil Kumar Shinde need to ask themselves are - have they done any of these things in light of all these cases which are getting exposed? What Political Capital Dr. Singh, Rahul or Sonia Gandhi have spent in addressing this carnage of rapes against minors, brutality against children and tone-deaf Police force? What is more important to Dr. Singh - to prepare and attend useless BRICS meeting in Durban in hobnobbing with the new rich kid on the block (Xi Jinping) or tending to burning needs of this vast country which is struggling to move itself on the path of more Humanity? 

Dr. Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and rulers of India have not done enough and are still not taking seriously what all they can do to shake up the dubious label Delhi has got - Rape Capital of India. Their job is to make Delhi as the 'model city' when it comes to security and well-being of women and children so as rest of the India can emulate that example. Obviously India's rulers are failing miserably in this basic job. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cruz Effect

"Cruz has correctly calculated that the way to power among Senate Republicans is through attention-grabbing accusations." 

-- Dana Milbank, Washington Post 

You need proof of how destructive impact Sen. Ted Cruz is having on Republicans? Here are two examples. 

"Stop being Politically Correct!" 

-- Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Politico 

So what does Rep. King want USA to do? Deny visas to all Muslims trying to visit USA? Or ask Muslims to report to FBI every day or every week? Is he suggesting 'second class citizenship' to anyone who is not Christian in this country? Where does all this non-sense stop? 

Well, apparently Sen. Graham has nothing to do here since GOP is on 'Cruz Control' as far as inflammatory rhetoric goes. Sen. Graham claims that the Boston Terrorist was on 'Jihad Mission' as if those Tsarnaev brothers talked and divulged all these details to this Senator before starting off fires in Boston! 

There is no restrain, there is no patience and there is no sense of responsibility among these 'jump the gun' type Republican Politicians. Why can they not wait until even basic facts are established? No one is trying to defend terrorists who use Islam to justify their terrorism. But at least let those investigations progress to some reasonable degree to confirm that it is the reason in this case. 

This is the precise type of knee jerk reaction and mindlessness which were responsible to take America into the ditch of Iraq War. Have we not learnt anything from that at all? 

Obama Administration is right to be patient and careful while systematically handling the current situation. But considering the new type of McCarthyism  Sen. Ted Cruz is trying to force on America, the environment is lot more silly and politically explosive. These Republican Law Makers are having some kind of competition among themselves in scaling rhetorical heights as well as making American Politics poisonous at every opportunity. It is hard to maintain sense of balance in such a noxious environment for those who have to govern and make correct choices.  Forget about helping Administration in national times of crisis; but rather these Republicans are pouring more oil into the fire; all for senseless, cheap political 'red meat' for their bases.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston Developments

This is one big adrenaline shot to American moral after a tough week. There will be a time to analyse all this, but now is the time to express gratitude towards the law enforcement machinery of American State which worked hard to bring closure to a gruesome episode in national life.

Dickie Bird - You Are Not Alone

Raising in India in 70s and 80s when Indians did not have much of entertainment apart from Test Cricket (and Bollywood to some extent), the name of English Test Cricket Umpire Dicky Bird is familiar. He was the top notch umpire very often heard on radio commentary. So when he pulls off his all time great XI and media frenzy ensues in India on omission of Sachin Tendulkar in that list, I thought why not take a crack at declaring my own Cricket All Time XI? This is what then I have to show you on one Friday evening:

1. Opener on strike: Sunil Gavaskar (India) - You want your perfect technician on the job here. You very rarely get anything better than Gavaskar in that department. In 70s and 80s, he was 'the hope' of India and he delivered on that - tremendous concentration and mastery on technique. You never forget basics, that is the lesson here.

2. Opener on non-strike: Gordon Greenidge (West Indies) - You need hammer at the other end. Here he is. (If Sehwag was more reliable, he would be here too.)

3. One Down: Vivian Richards (West Indies) - Still no one can surpass the 'swagger and sex appeal' of this guy in Cricket. Mastery in batting and demolishing any best bowling attack on any wicket - that just comes with the territory named 'Viv' in Test Cricket.

4. Two Down: Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka) - You need this Sri Lankan spirit to lit the fire in the middle order. Equally adept wicket keeper who will supplant the role of Vice Captain.

5. All Rounder: Jacques Kallis (South Africa) - Forget his bowling; his batting performance, temperament and numbers in last few years are more than enough to place him in the line of Donald Bradman (if Bradman were to play in modern era). Just the prodigious guy.

6. Wicket Keeper: Adam Gilchrist (Australia) - Again his batting powers and accomplishments would place him easily as the opener or one down batsman in most successful teams. He has been prolific in front of the stump as well as behind the stump.

7. Captain: Steve Waugh (Australia) - The captain who made sure that you make on an average 3.5 to 4 runs per over, you make 250 to 300 runs in a single day and who revived Test Cricket to take Australia to the pinnacle of Test Cricket. You need a 'thinking captain, an evolving captain' for a successful team. Look no better than Steve Waugh. He personified 'leadership' on field - equal measure tactical cunning and strategic long term planning. If he were to be in Corporate World, his are the leadership qualities most Board Rooms will be glad to have. (You can imagine how highly I regard him if my most admired Captain - Clive Lloyd - makes a room for him. Captain of a Test Cricket Team is 'the heart and the brain of the team'. Essentially he is the coach, manager and individual contributor - ultimate form of 'lead by example'; very classical manifestation of leadership.)

8. Spin Bowler: Shane Warne (Australia) - Do you need any introduction to this 'magic?

9. Fast Bowler: Dennis Lillee (Australia) - You must be out of your mind not to include the 'complete bowler' of Cricket. He defines what is 'fast bowling in Cricket'. That art of fast bowling and the eternal fight between 'red cherry and bat' is nowhere without Dennis. Caught Marsh bowled Lillee - over years Australian Captains saw this for 95 times!

10. Fast Bowler: Malcom Marshall (West Indies) - The bowler who was nemesis of the best defense in the world - Gavaskar and the bowler who shamed Indian Test Cricket Team to 90 All Down at Eden Gardens in December of 1983.

11. Fast Bowler: Glenn McGrath (Australia) - The bowler who re-taught the importance of 'line and length' to Cricketing world.

Reserves:

12. Batsman: Sachin Tendulkar (India): Still great. If Sports was about the 'integrity of a player'; he would always win that. No player received and deserved so much love from Indians and Cricket fans all over the world. He has done lot to the game of Cricket.

13. Batsman: Rahul Dravid (India): Cricinfo says "Rahul Dravid was probably one of the last classical Test match batsmen". Playing in foreign land in adverse conditions - no other heir than Rahul to the perfectionist Cricket of Gavaskar. Who can forget what he achieved on the first day of Test in Headingley in England - "It was a magnificent performance, built on a sublime first-day century by Dravid which Hussain graciously described as one of the finest he had seen". Now, that is Test Cricket. Of course what Rahul achieved with Very Very Special Laxman in Eden Gardens is very worthy too; those two innings alone are sufficient for someone to get catapulted to greats of Batting in Cricket. 

14. All Rounder Bowler:  Ian Botham (England) -  Pure force of Cricketing Nature who can single handedly turn the entire Test Series! In 1981 Ashes Test Series England came from behind to beat Australia by 3-1 and of the 6 Test Match Series, Botham was Man of the Match for 3rd, 4th and 5th Test Matches. Rarely an individual has dominated Test Cricket in its totality for about 20 days or so.

15. Fast Bowler: Curtly Ambrose (West Indies) - I had hard time justifying Malcom Marshal's position to Curtly Ambrose. In fairness, both class bowlers are indistinguishable; anyone would deliver. If at all,  Ambrose's achievements might be more profound compared to Marshall as Ambrose was carrying the weight of West Indies Team when there were not many stars and the team was in doldrums whereas Marshal had the luxury of bowling along with many other illumines. Bowling in company of many other greats is always easy.

16. Fast Bowler: Michael Holding (West Indies) - Another one who can equally replace Marshal or Ambrose. Probably no one can beat him for the rhythm and artistry he brought to pace bowling; equally backed by precision to deliver fantastic results. 

17. Spin Bowler: Bishen Bedi (India) - That 'thinking spin bowler', India should be proud off.

18. Captain: Clive Lloyd (West Indies) - Napoleon said, he would prefer a 'lucky General over a brave General'. That lucky General in Cricketing History has been Clive Lloyd. When you have a team bursting with talents like Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards and tons of all time best pace bowlers (Andy Roberts, Malcom Marshal, Micheal Holding, Joel Garner, Holder and Clark); 'luck' is at your feet. His greatness has been harnessing 'greatest of individual players' simultaneously. So probably for the 'captainship of a star studded team'; he could be still a better choice. 

Umpire - Sure Dickie Bird is welcome.

Opposing Team - From Sobers to Bradman to current invincible South African Test team; all those will have only one result - defeat at the hands of my all time Test Cricketing Greats!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

America's Shame Continues

No, these Senators don't 'pay any price'. We are not stupid not to understand it is 'geography' - thinly populated rural states getting equal representation as that of densely populated urban states who overwhelmingly back 'background check' bill. Yes, for sure Senate is structurally anti-democratic. On top of that, there is no majority rule; it always needs 60 votes. Senators opposing 'background check' were not even in mood to let go the bill pass on majority votes.

What can we do then? For sure, Senate structure is not going to change anytime; especially in a divided country like ours. As many wise folks have pointed, what matters is 'passion', even if passionate gun advocates are in minority. We also know that, the same 'skewed structure' of Senate has been perfectly exploited by both parties on many occasions for their policy agenda. And finally even if Senate were to have it passed, chances of getting anything done in House were dim.

However, it was important to get this bill passed in Senate so as to pressurize House and at least have some progress done for 'gun sanity'. But defeating Obama (he has to take such risks anyways) as well as electoral calculations are far more important to these Senators. Who is to argue with these Red State Senate Democrats when they would ask: what is important - to retain Dem seats in Red States or to have a bill passed which goes nowhere while giving a solid opening to GOP against these Red State Democrats where Obama swagger is nothing? 

Point is Obama, Democratic Party and these Red State Dem Senators (Pryor from Arkansas, Baucus from Montana, Heitkamp from North Dakota and Begich from Alaska) failed to create enough 'political space' to cross the Rubicon of 'taking on NRA' when rationality clearly indicates that sensible 'background check is a logical policy without compromising anyone's rights. May be it is too early (or we all are waiting for Michael Bloomberg to loosen up his purse and start financing high quality primary challenges on gun control agenda). No doubt these Democrats turned out to be 'chicken' at the most critical time. Or just may be this President goes too much by books. He is no LBJ or Nixon or 'slick Willy' (Clinton) to find the will of White House through Senate and Congress.

All right, Mr. President; we understand you will not be able to make Congress to love you nor the divided country to put enough pressure on Congress to change the course. But then isn't the route of FDR available to you Mr. President - take the war on Congress and fight to the end regardless of what results are?

OK, President's supporters can wait to see if there is any co-operation from GOP on Immigration and on Fiscal Issues (budget and debt ceiling). We can understand each issue like Immigration, Gun Control and Fiscal Management need a different approach. But if all these initiatives fail (as few on Right are already licking lips for a failed Presidency); Americans will be watching if any fighting spirit is left with this President to take us forward. To a large extent, it will be up to President Obama to make GOP to pay price for this maniac Gun Love.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Is War on Terror Back?

Finally the law of averages has caught up with Obama Administration and the luck ran out. Sadly 3 people died and scores are injured. As information is scant about who was behind these attacks, their motivations and what it means going forward; few things are apparent. Fight against terror acts and all the familiar political compulsions of Bush era are back in focus. Smoke filled scene, building material falling around, fire fighters and police rushing to help folks in need; all these 9/11 invoking pictures are back. As a society we are more familiar with these types of attacks now; though not as seasoned as like Israelis or some other nations. (Sure enough, in Arab-Israeli dispute, Obama Administration cannot take any softer line when concerns of Israeli security comes up.)

For sure President Obama will show restrain and will be lot mindful in pursuing his strategies against domestic and international terror threats. To some extent, the prism through which Obama Administration looks at world events (how to avoid all sorts of external entanglement) will change too. Breeding grounds of terrorists and regimes which are hostile to America; Obama Administration will have to be more assertive against those. Simply said, Obama Administration will not have any more luxury of running totally inward looking policy. Even though this incidence turns about to be of domestic origin,  'renewed Public pressure' might make Obama Administration more assertive in foreign engagements when it comes to terror threats.

On the other hand the luxury the Administration would get is in asking Congress for more resources for security programs. To that extent removing senseless sequester cuts of Defense and Homeland Security should be easy. Possibly the political discourse and tone of endless confrontation may loose little bit as well. That should give Obama Administration and American System needed 'breathing space' to undertake all necessary steps in avoiding any tragedies like today's Boston Marathon Attack. All said, going forward substantial bandwidth of Obama Administration will be consumed in assessing these threats and mitigating all sorts of  security risks. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Is Nihilism Over?

Some time back when Republicans smelled - in particular Senate GOP leader McConnell - that the newly elected Barack Obama is not going to 'part skies and bring heaven on earth'; Nihilism became the operating philosophy of GOP. This Nihilism is nothing but an approach of Opposition Party to the Politics in a parliamentary system where the opposition party simply opposes any policy initiative of the ruling part. Since USA has 'checks and balances' power structure and American Society itself has been so rarely divided on political faulty lines; most commentators on Left dubbed this Republican approach as Nihilism. However, it is Nihilism in American System; but for parliamentary democracies, this is nothing new. 

With the shellacking of Barack Obama in 2010, GOP thought it got the winning formula in this Nihilism. But as the dust settles on results of 2012 elections; Republicans are coming to earth in realizing limits of Nihilism. Hence the renewed interests in bi-partisanship.

Simply stated, quite possibly 'scorched earth' policy against Barack Obama seems to have run the course. There is simply not much upside left in opposing Barack Obama at all cost. Public is tired of all these 'political wars' whereas Barack Obama himself is on the way to become a lame duck President in few months. That is what Rubio performance on Sunday Morning means. 

It is true that USA is still a very divided nation. But somewhere in these absolute partisan times, Senators are realizing that Internet and wealthy financed PACs are making it easy to fight for an activist in battle grounds. Just as GOP tries to revive Conservatism in Hollywood, progressive activists are going to see it as their mission to make a stand in Kansas, try to turn Texas Purple and raise to the call of Georgia. In the end, in the Internet era; stark positions of two combatants in the political battle will force Americans from Mississippi to California to confront the compromise as the only way of 'living together in this union'. That is what will happen since a Republican in Arkansas cannot wage another Civil War with a Liberal in New England. Point is with Internet and changed mechanics of political organization; Americans are bound to adopt more compromise in the end. That is what the 'fashion of bipartisanship' in Congress means even though few leaders are loath to accept it

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Heir to Dr. Singh?

First, it was his strong anti-corruption clean up act in notorious Defense Acquisition Process of India. Now, comes the news that he may be one of the handful of those principled Congress leaders who would have stood to the non-sense of Sanjay Gandhi. This is all on top of life long service in Indian Politics, all while remaining corruption-free which is such a big achievement in India. Meet the next PM of India - current Defense Minister AK Antony. 

Not that Congress / UPA is in any great shape to win the next year's general election. Overall economic failure of Dr. Singh in controlling prices is still glaring and lackluster performance by Congress's vote getter - Rahul Gandhi - is unabated. But there have been some speculations that Dr. Singh may not be ready for the third term as UPA PM. That is understandable and Congress indeed needs a new face. What is clear is Rahul Gandhi is absolutely not ready for prime time nor he is showing any willingness to step up to the task of governance. For good or bad, he and Sonia Gandhi have opted for now to a model where Gandhi Family focuses on Party and winning elections while someone else capable takes the reins of governance. For all the criticism of such a strategy, I still think it as a useful model of political governance in a vast country like India with a heavy of weight of history.

If the veteran hand P Chidambaram is able to slain demons of inflation in coming months, he can equally lay his claim for the premiership as a UPA candidate. But chances of that happening are low. Structural problems and supply side issues in Indian Economy compounded by deep rooted corruption cannot be addressed in just few months. Given that, what better opportunity than to project a clean leadership of AK Antony in the coming general election next year and committing the party for serious reforms to root out all pervasive corruption? Besides, no one in Congress Party would doubt sincerity of AK Antony, his loyalty to both Congress Party and Gandhi Family. It just seems time has come for the Congress Party to start preparing post-Dr. Singh era and AK Antony will play a pivotal role in that transformation. 

Friday, April 05, 2013

Timing of Obama Budget

It is understandable that Republicans would be angry for the coming Obama Budget precisely because it is 'middle of the path' budget without extremes. It tarnishes GOP story of Obama as the Liberal Hack who would never talk entitlement cuts. So when he indeed intends to talk so, it 'boils GOP'; their leader promptly preempts the roll out and GOP lackey in Media simply follows on the clue

But President is perfectly right to time the budget when both House and Senate have put those poles - one on Left and the other on Right. And now head of the state is presenting exactly the middle path. Sure, those who are beholden to 'false equivalence' will find it insulting that President is proposing both cuts and revenues and GOP is back to their usual games of 'no compromise' in any case. These so called 'wise people' will then start faulting President for what - timing!

It is OK for Paul Ryan to issue his budget document as a statement of vision; but it is not OK to do same for Senate Democrats and President! 

Nevertheless rational arguments cannot persuade GOP. So to expose the whole GOP hypocrisy, as well as of those so called 'wise people'; President has to expose them by proposing a balanced budget. 

The play book does not change for President - keep presenting sensible, middle of the road options on fiscal issues. Let GOP intransigence rejects this part - at some point Americans are bound to take the notice. They will have to; as Economy again hits a road block possibly because of GOP games in Congress. 

There are folks on Left who are worried that the final deal will be at a midpoint between the Ryan proposal and already middle of the road proposal of President; meaning further to the Right. That fear is real, knowing President Obama's weakness to fall for GOP bipartisanship trap. But I suspect the difference is Senator Pat Murray - the Dem Senator who was able to achieve passing of a liberal budget from Senate. That should be the key difference this time - all these empowered lady Dem Senators (Murray, Warren, McCaskill, Heitkamp, Baldwin, Fischer; from class 1) should be the real 'glue' to hold the Democratic line in Senate. President Obama still has to do some catch up when it comes to 'women power'; but time has come for this Democratic Women Power in Senate to make the real difference. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Where are India's Preet Bhararas?

"From time to time the question arises, how common is corruption in New York? Based on the cases that we have brought and continue to bring, it seems downright pervasive."


US Attorney Preet Bharara has done some sterling service in 'busting political bribery' in New York. Coming from Bharara who went after Wall Street, this is no surprise. Hopefully he is able to lead it to a logical end, get justified convictions in this case and set the right tone to New York Politics. 

With prosecutors sacrificing lives fearlessly to go after criminals, to dogged government organizations pursuing securities frauds, to ever alert smart government attorneys like Bharara not letting go any misconduct; we see American Justice System trying to enforce 'rule of law'. 

One just wishes Bharara's native country - India - has many more such fearless prosecutors to go after pervasive corruption in that country. By Indian standards, what happened in New York is hardly news making. But Bharara has no acceptance for such criminality - the exact type of law enforcement official any country would be proud off. 

Well done Preet Bharara.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Budget Wars - Appraisal

As American Politics takes the Easter break, it is a good time to appraise where we are and where exactly we might head from here as far as Congressional Budget Wars go.

President Obama accepted the sequester cuts, Republicans claimed victory and President took the hit for rendering effects of sequester rather more dramatically. For sure, there are grumblings and possibly Republicans as well may pay some political price for the sequester cuts. But overall 'it is water under the bridge' and chances of something blowing big out of consequences of sequester are low, if not zero.

President will present his budget in the week after the Easter break and then the battles will be resumed in earnest. Republicans will start their usual arguments as:
- USA is pilling debt by spending more which will land us into big problems pretty soon and
- hence spending cuts and making government small are the only right ways.
Despite some noises in GOP quarters about how GOP needs to go away from the 'message of cuts' to 'growth for Middle class'; I would not hold my breath for that.

President Obama started correctly by arguing that 'reducing debt is not a priority but growth is'. Question is will President continue along those lines, will he explain to Americans how devastating austerity has been to Europeans and will he argue that 'the question is not about whether the government is spending borrowed or tax collected money; but of how efficiently and productively government does that'. He needs to tell Americans, again and again, 'surpluses can be squandered on irrelevant wars, money can be poured into dubious schemes of tax cuts for rich' with no results. Yes, those are all old arguments. But then Republicans are not running exactly on 'freshest ideas' too; they are still playing by the calcified interpretation of Reagan era.

Basically this means President has to wage a political battle to bring Americans on board about spending and debt. As water moves from a higher place to lower, Politics always moves in the direction of inertia in Public Thinking. Today, that inertia among American People is 'debt is bad, spending cuts are necessary'; but that same Public would hardly be ready to accept cuts which 'bite them personally'. Is President Obama going to talk about such Budget Nimbyness? Unless President becomes brave to talk all this, it is difficult to see how he avoids misguided austerity cuts by Republicans. If President fails in persuading Americans, consequences are reasonably clear - President and Democrats would see their 'balanced budget line' not succeeding and there will not be any additional revenue. Any talk of revenue increase and GOP will promptly respond back by saying, 'but he got his revenue in the year end deal'. By same token then will President argue that, 'GOP got their spending cuts too' whenever GOP demands additional cuts in entitlements? Even GOP cannot deny that debt ceiling agreement of 2011 effected around $1.5 Trillion cuts, plus latest sequester cuts of $1.2 Trillion over a decade. With these competing arguments, does it mean then there will be a stalemate?

Stalemate about budget arguments - no tax increase and no cuts in entitlements; President Obama may want to live with it rather than inflicting damage of austerity even though 'Medicare as stimulus' is not exactly a prudent spending by government. The next Democratic contender would then come with some 'imaginative proposals for investing in future', would fund those investments by 'closing tax loop holes' while proposing rational entitlement cuts to contain runaway entitlement spending. That will be the follow-on act to Obama, he himself content with partial revenue increase.

But I doubt the 'stalemate' will be so easily available to the President. This is because Budget Wars have moved from White House to halls of Congress. In the raw match of House Republicans versus Senate Democrats; my reading is Senate Dem hand is weak. Senator Murray was able to pass the budget from Senate and that is a miracle given the fractious nature of Democratic caucus in Senate and their vulnerabilities. Not all blame is to Senate Democrats for no political unity since many of these Democrats are coming from Red States where misguided perception of 'austerity first and no new revenue at any cost' is a fully entrenched political view.

Given that next budget wars will be played strictly through chambers of Congress, this weakness of hand does not augur well for Democrats. They may resist 'entitlement cuts' while 'keep pushing for revenue', but the best they can expect will be 'deep entitlement cuts and minuscule revenue' from Paul Ryan led House. House GOP will tie these budget battles with 'debt ceiling increase' to push Senate Democrats further. While this all is unfolding, President Obama will be essentially a by-stander as he will be loath to side with a losing side.

To avoid such failures, if President Obama communicates successfully with Americans about premature austerity and failure to 'invest in future'; that can right America's course. The only unknown in the case is how much of a mess Republicans want to make of raising debt ceiling. One cannot undermine the ability of Republicans to 'overplay' and bring forth destruction - both to their party and to the country.