Monday, January 27, 2014

Pen, Phone and Congress

"The logic of total opposition hasn’t changed: Republicans still face a risk of fratricidal attacks if they cooperate with Obama on anything, and gridlock and high unemployment still help Republicans by driving down Obama’s approval ratings."

Hence, it is understandable that President Obama wants to assert that 'he has a pen and he has a phone' to make change in lives of Americans. What one is not sure is Congress, with stoic faces of Republicans in State of Union address, is the right place to imply the politics of circumventing the Congress.

Situation has come to this state of affairs having President Obama and Democrats never realizing how Tea Party and larger Republican Party successfully built their political fortune on 'complete and nihilistic' opposition to any of Obama's agenda. President Obama missed those signs in 2010 when GOP successfuly sowed the seeds of ObamaCare as Government Overreach; it does not matter how many needy millions of Americans are going to get health insurance because of that law. While Democratic Party completely missed what the Census of 2010 and consequent gerrymandering brought - a hammerlock on House by Republicans. 

President Obama would have had a chance to achieve anything substantive with this Red Congress if either he had personal 'political history' with these lawmakers (essentially cheat slips to be paid off for personal favors Obama would have extended to lawmakers in reaching White House) or he has been popular with Americans forbidding Congress not to dare crossing him. Having won the first term on the basis of 'some one who is outside of Washington wanting to change Washington'; President Obama did not have any consequential political relationship with vast number of Congressional members. So he was stuck there. And as far as 'popularity' goes; President Obama and Democrats were enamored by the success of 2008 to think of Liberal Politics as 'wanting to spend the garnered bounty of political capital' to undertake a deep Blue reform with insufficient across the board support among Americans. Most liberal base of President Obama, including voters like myself, were swept by the scale of Democratic victory then, propelling for a strong activist strain of policy making; locking President Obama and Democrats permanently on Defense for long time to come. In other words, predicament of President Obama - unable to move any agenda with the Congress - is essentially making of himself.

No one is absolving Republicans for the way they have been sabotaging Americans for a while; all based on their conviction:

"They haven’t abandoned any of the central tenets of their party philosophy, which remains anchored in the conviction that the central problem in American life is a government that takes too much from the rich and gives too much to the non-rich. "

But having ditched Angela Merkel style politics - don't worry much about policy consistency / relevance, but worry about retaining popular base so as everything else follows on that popular support - President Obama is reduced to nothing other than 'pen and phone' in his pursuit of end run around the Congress.

But one is not sure how far a long term effective politics can be run that way. For a starter, Congress cannot go away from any consequential decisions of policy. Even seemingly autonomous foreign policy sphere where the Commander-in-chief is expected to have enormous policy leverage, Congress matters - just look that the way Congress 'screwed White House' in the Syria debate. Second, will Obama White House be able to detect 'opportunities' to pursue an executive process rather than a legislative route to make difference in lives of Americans? One cannot undermine the political acumen needed for identifying such right openings; the political acumen needed probably no lesser than to smell the rise of Tea Party. For example, Obama White House could work with Congress for the bipartisan legislation to enact reforms to Voting Rights while however intensely it wants to participate in the Common Core war, it may be prudent to stay away from it. It is the same Congress with which Obama Administration should deeply engage to pass Atlantic and Pacific Free Trade Agreements as well as Immigration Reform. 

Thirdly, even when Obama Administration identifies an opening to work on something without Congressional involvement (Federal IT procurement process?); will it be able to 'pull off it' competently? President Obama has to answer that honestly after the fiasco of ObamaCare roll out. Most Americans are unlikely to believe anything there at first. Meaning, there is a long way for this Administration to prove its 'chops' on Managerial Competence. 

All this does not mean Obama Administration should not try 'pen, phone and end run around Congress' approach. What it means is, the same political acumen, which is otherwise missing; is required here in ample quantities too. Obama Presidency has a clear 'danger of turning into lame duck' Bush Second Term due to lack of political smartness; though it has not slipped irreversibly in that mode yet. Clearly it makes sense for President Obama to try something different since he is no longer in the capacity to bring consequential legislative changes with this Congress. In a way he has lost that battle, Republicans have won there. 

What is left for him is try executive route, keep Democratic political road map filled with protecting what he has achieved so far (ObamaCare could be very easily gutted with Republican Senate and a GOP President in 2016), share the political benefits with Republicans in passing Immigration Reform and warn Americans about what happens when Republicans get Control of Washington: that Democrats land up cleaning the fiscal mess created by GOP. For all their talk of reducing debt; GOP squanders Federal finances to give tax cuts for rich every time it controls Washington.

When all your 'blue sky' grandiose plans are gone and time is ticking, it is much more prudent to pick up solvable concrete problems rather than squandering fast depleting political capital account. No easy challenges for President Obama.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Perkins is out of his mind

Renowned VC Tom Perkins is out of his mind when he compares political environment in USA to Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany systematically and totally captured wealth and lives of Jews in Germany as well as in rest of Europe. No one is talking any such treatment to 'rich' in USA. Many fortunate continue to mint money nor Federal and State Governments are confiscating anyone's monies in this country. Taxes on rich generally should increase, but we all know any such political reform is impossible in the current Congress. And who's life has been threatened in this country? Gun lovers continue to hold their guns, NRA continues to block any sensible reforms in gun control regardless of kids getting slaughtered and hence the only ones who are killed in this country are those by indiscriminate shooting incidences. But clearly nothing is perturbing mighty rich and powerful. Can Tom Perkins name any 'banker' who has been jailed for bringing the crash of 2008? So then what non-sense Perkins is talking about? Tom Perkins created 'wealth' successfully again and again and in the process helped many Americans to realize their dreams. That is all admirable and good. But that does not give him any license to make outrageous statements. By doing that he is joining the club of Glenn Beck - those who vitiate America's Politics for worse.

What we need from folks like Perkins is to understand limitations of Capitalism, at the least the way it is practiced on Wall Street and in USA, in failing to 'lift all boats'. Why is more and more number of Americans are left behind while most gains are getting concentrated into smaller and smaller set of people? Why does 'trickle down' Economics not work? Does Tom have any answers for that? If not, least he can do is 'shut up'. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Brutality Continues

"Villagers told TOI on Thursday that after the kangaroo court ordered her to be sexually savaged, the woman was placed on a raised bamboo platform so that the gang-rape was viewed by the entire village, children included. 
Some villagers told TOI that the woman's cries rent the air all night but no one stepped forward to help her. Even her family, who lives 50 metres away, could not rescue her. "

And continues the brutality in India and in the land of Mamata Banerjee. Sitting in Kolkatta, it would not be feasible for Mamata to stop every rape which goes in West Bengal. But what she can do is to ensure that all District Police Departments are vigilant, prompt in filling cases of violence against women and she ensures personally that each of these cases are concluded speedily to a logical end. In the end enforcement of rule of law is the only solution in bringing savage Indian Men to senses. 

Good to see that Indian Supreme Court has take the suo motu cognizance of this brutality. 

Unless Mamata and India's rulers are forced to pay steep political price for allowing such brutality to take place, we will not see much change in behavior of substantial percentage of Indian men.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Is AAP joining the Gang?

"[Delhi CM Kejriwal] sees absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that his minister marched into someone's residence and threatened the inhabitants with no warrant ..."

It may very well be the case when there is a political will, any State Police in India can enter into any private property and arrest a person without warrant. But precisely that 'goonda-raj' is what AAP wanted to fight against. Then why is AAP doing same things? AAP's argument about having People's Back is no more true than Congress or BJP claiming they are acting with People's Mandate. AAP does not have any special 'mandate given' by Indian People than what mandate Indian voters have given to 31 BJP and 8 Congress MLA's in Delhi Assembly. 

Mamata Banerjee played such emotive politics - claiming that her 'votes' are more valuable than others. That did not go any far looking at her governance all these years. Any such 'arrogance' and 'superiority complex' will undo AAP very quickly.

Next, what is with this active disobedience of Delhi Police orders? If the ruling party itself is going to throw out 'rule of law' and actively get involved in 'law and order' break down; how far are we from a rule of goons then? Does AAP realize that, that is where it is going with this 'gutter politics'? Keeping the pot of Public expectations boiling all the time may seem like a good political strategy in short term; but Public quickly sees through it when results start stop flowing.

One can understand that Congress Party at the Center obviously wants to control Delhi Police to the chagrin of AAP so those police can torment AAP. But that is all given in the politics. What that does not mean however is Delhi CM and his MLA's should actively go about braking laws. Granted, we all know noncooperation and protests are ways of standard Politics in the land of MK Gandhi. But once you are in government, you are supposed to find solutions and not just get engaged in 'protest' for every single political objective. Whatever protest AAP in Delhi wants to undertake against Central Government, it should campaign on those political goals to garner votes in coming general election. Let us be clear, AAP did not contest last Delhi election saying it would want Delhi Police under the control of Delhi State Government; at least it did not campaign so actively and prominently for this issue like it did for water supply and electricity rates. So going forward AAP should garner votes of Indian People in coming General Election saying that by winning maximum Loksabha seats it wants to influence the future Central Government to pass laws so that Delhi Police comes under the legal control of Delhi Government (which also means Delhi tax payers pay for services it consumes of this Police force). 

Clearly, at this point there is lot of naivety in AAP Governance. But it is also the case of 'not thinking' through. Comparatively it matters less about how well AAP does in coming Loksabha elections; but for the long term political future of AAP it is critical that it provides good, effective and sustainable governance in Delhi. After all that is where AAP revolution started first. So far it seems Kejriwal and AAP are completely overwhelmed and are not showing 'clarity of thought and strategy' without which it is hard to imagine how their revolution would sustain. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hard To Believe

World Economic Forum warns of dangers in growing inequality

"Suddenly the whole world is talking about income inequality."

-- David Brooks, NYT

And then David Brooks continues his Op-Ed with incredulity. Fact is in-spite of the whole world talking about inequality and rich people club like Davos World Economic Forum bemoaning global inequality in front of folks who get special treatment like Yahoo COO Golden Parachute; nothing is done. Davos meet is such a pretentious affair.

That is why despite Politico claiming that Washington won the war against Wall Street, no common American thinks that anything has changed in the world of High Capitalism. In Wall Street style Capitalism, these executives will be on company payroll for less than couple of years, will not make any difference to the long term of the company, will get kicked out and still reap windfall. Why is SEC not taking any action here? Why would Congress / SEC not make rules that such windfall gains are linked to actually improving fortunes of the company and gains spread over longer duration? For President Obama, rather than only giving speeches about this issue; could his Administration not do anything to stop this thriving culture of 'looting public corporations' in the name of executive pay outs and their golden parachutes? For Democrats, highlighting such travails of Capitalism; why is it not a poll winning issue? 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Egypt and its Neighborhood

Seems like last few years of failed democracy experiments have exhausted Egyptian people and all they want is stability of Mubarak Era military rule. No wonder Egyptian people ignored gaping holes in the proposed constitution. With all this turmoil, what it indicates is the business of 'democracy and sustained people's representation in government' is a hard path. Egypt seems to be tired of these attempts and want to move on.

May be if General Sisi (widely expected to be the next president of Egypt on the back of this flawed constitution) brings some badly needed stability, inflation control and some economic growth; Egyptians can heal pains of last few years. After that Egypt can gradually come back to system of people's governance rather than revolutions. Meanwhile Muslim Brotherhood - they will go back to their familiar role of 'under ground survival'. They survived Mubarak era for decades; so sustaining Sisi years will be no different and they will survive for another day.

With increasing violence in Iraq, Syria mirred in Civil War; surprisingly it is Iran which seems to be on a better trajectory within Middle East and Gulf region. Turkey has been one rising star, but an arrogant PM has inflicted lot of damage to it. All in all not much encouraging news from that part of the world  (same with Kerry peace initiative between Israel and Palestine, it is hitting major road blocks).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Izzat Bach Gai?

(Is the honor restored?)

It is good that America did not drop charges against Devyani Khobragade and she was indicted. It is too bad that the prosecution did not come to any logical conclusion. But I guess that is diplomacy where everyone is left frustrated for incomplete outcome while that is considered a way better option than doing further damage to diplomatic relations between these two nations.

On Indian side, there has been a rational self-criticism. Indian Foreign Service Babudom controlling India's foreign policy has deep historical roots in British Raj and British / European Way of doing foreign policy. No wonder at times tendency of this lobby is to throw around its weight arguing for a needless game of 'who is up and who is down'. In fact bi-lateral relations for these Indian Babu's is nothing but 'schmoozing allowed' for these IFS officers overseas. As Indian inter-dependency with global economy and global system grows, as more Indians start holding their rulers accountable as like what AAP is doing; hopefully Indian System will cut down corrosive clout of IFS folks.

On cultural side it is telling that 

"While Americans reflexively came to the defence of a maid who the authorities said was subjected to abuse, Indians reflexively sympathized with the diplomat."

and this is in Indian Media. Any such willingness on part of Indians to consider why such differences in responses arise would help Indians to align with more broader, globally accepted norms of personal entitlements sense. 

The easy solution to avoid such a row is missed by both governments in questions:

- India should simply stop providing such domestic help (imported from India) to Indian Diplomats. The low income Indian personnel who go as domestic help could be more interested in immigration in many cases and many such cases like Sangeeta Richards would arise. So why actively encourage such legal mess? India is rich enough now to afford some domestic help to its diplomacy corps in foreign countries. Paying for such local help at prevailing rates is much more productive investment in cultivating global relations than getting such needlessly avoidable flaps. (Point #6, in this post.)

- The problem with American State Department is, this is not the first time a foreign country diplomat has run against prevailing laws of USA about domestic help. Then why does not State Department come out with a 'clean, in advance published code of conduct' so that everyone knows what consequences are if any breach occurs? Granted, no one needs to reiterate that local laws will be enforced, but being pro-active in not allowing such situations to arise is the real job of State Department. Sometimes hard work of diplomacy is to be undertaken in your host country first and I think this is the 'mess' Sec. Kerry's State Department should clean.

As far as Indo-USA relations coming back to normalcy, burying this irritant for now at least is good; but real movement will come only when new Indian Government is installed in Delhi in the later half of 2014.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Go Figure Capitalism

Samsung essentially gives 'shaft' to its shareholders by paying hefty bonuses to its boss and all employees.

Boeing Labor falls in line and accepts wisely what is good for them in the longer term.

Big Global Valley Companies do not mind paying a municipality for using its 'public transport bus stops' for public good.

Can anyone make where this Global Capitalism going? How about addition of 'inequality campaign' to it? I simply do not know how far Democrats and Progressives will be able to run here with the ball unless:
- they have 'a handle' on what economic forces are exactly at play,
- Left is able to explain those forces in an articulate manner to common people, and 
- Left has clear idea about what are the remedies and again is able to explain public at large in non-obnoxious ways (not like shoving a white elephant under the throats of Californians by otherwise a successful Democratic Governor who is well advised to ask Californians for additional burden to pay for canals to address 'drought' in the state rather than high speed railway ....otherwise that is simply going to turn a deep Blue State into a Purple State).

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Ice Bowl goes to 49ers

This marquee match of NFL play off season was rightly billed as Ice Bowl of the season; what with horrendous weather pounding North East and Mid-West USA. Green Bay Packers prevailed in the original Ice Bowl, but today in temp. around below zero degree Celsius; boys from the Sunshine Area prevailed. Here in California we are on our third year of drought, no rains whatsoever this season in Bay Area so far. Stunning beautiful sunshine day after day, that is the weather here...and now we get one more reason to enjoy this great weather after San Francisco defeating the masters of Ice Football at their own home town. Possibly one of the high points of this storied 49er franchise at San Francisco. Go Niners, go!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Federal Unemployment Insurance Extension

At the rate of less than $300 dollars per week, for on an average 26 weeks per unemployed; you are talking less than $40 Billion dollars for about 5 million long term unemployed. With around 12% chances for these long term unemployed finding a job (after their state insurance is maxed out at around 26 weeks of unemployment and these folks are in Federal unemployment extension); in a way the justification of extended Federal Unemployment insurance is all on the basis of a humanitarian case. Knowing where political and moral compass of GOP points, it is no surprise that the party of Rep. Paul Ryan would like to remove these folks from 'Federally sponsored welfare hammocks'. What is surprising though is why are Democrats simply clamoring for a blanket extension rather than understand causes of such longer term unemployment. Possible causes are:

- the skill set of these people is not matching to what jobs are demanding, 
- these Americans have no mobility and are not in positions to relocate to places in America where jobs are,
- employers actively discriminate against this group of people,
- social networks which would otherwise help to create 'leads' for these unemployed are dying and
- technology enabled outsourcing and global capitalism have clearly destroyed vast swath of middle class job opportunities for these people.
(Economists might talk about 'prolonged unemployment' because of finance industry driven recession like in 2008 and that might be very well true also; but essentially that is an observation / expectation. What collectively we need to talk about is causes which common people can understand so that as a society we can get mobilized politically to attack these causes together.)

Having forfeited 'government interventionist approach' because of a disastrous roll out of 'mother-of-all government backed program - ObamaCare'; Democrats will have to wait until they regain credibility with American voters in applying their style of mandated programs to address some of these causes. Meanwhile though what Democrats can pursue is, changes in tax laws which tame down uncontrolled force of 'global capitalism' which gives rise to non-sustainable inequality and which contributes significantly to loss of livelihood for large number of Americans. These tax law changes could be along following lines:

- Preserve the 'creator spirit of capitalism' by continuing to keep Capital Gain Taxes at lower levels but protect lower rung of Americans by increased minimum wage and more participation in equity distribution for more number of employees.
- Non-equity compensation of a CEO cannot be at a stratospheric multiple of lowest paid full time employee; whether it is a private company or public company of a sizable revenue. (SEC is forcing public companies to publish 'ratio of CEO compensation to average employee compensation' is a good start; but still it is a long way to go. IRS would have to be involved when dealing with non-public / private companies.)
- We want corporate tax laws such that corporations are minimally taxed (or even not taxed at all so long as those keep generating employment in USA), but individual's income is taxed without loosing revenue to Federal government. Only time we want corporations to be taxed is when CEO defies by exorbitantly expensive pay package to himself. At that time 'tax' the company; then the shareholder pressure would automatically bring CEO compensation package in line.
- As far as equity compensation of CEOs go, it should be aligned with more longer term well being of the company and share holders (like no selling of equity by CEO in the first year and remaining sale spread over multiple years) rather than a short 'wham-bang-thank-you-mam style' tenure of a CEO. Implicit to all this is what restrains the CEO, it would restrain all other executives of a company.

Many constructive proposals have been put forward by experts in this area. What is deafening is the silence of American Political Class to talk about those options and complete unwillingness of national level Democrats, including you President Obama, to stoke appropriate public opinion in this regard to achieve some concrete legislative and executive success.