Monday, March 31, 2014


In few days we will come to know whether enrollment number crossed 7 million or not. But definitely it upped the earlier low ball estimate of 6 million which even many folks felt harder to achieve considering the botched roll out. In factual terms this is a positive turn for President Obama (not to so bad after a reasonable foreign tour); but one will have to wait to know whether it pays any political dividends to President and Democrats

We will have to wait till early summer for any positive impact on individuals to make way in political circles. Of course, Republicans are not going to be quiet till then and that is when President and Democrats need to vehemently argue that 'because of these incessant obstacles Republicans have created over years' health insurances offered by ObamaCare are denied for many deserving Americans. Such an argument would at least consolidate Dem vote bank where possibly the tide is turning. In the end, Democrats will have to defend this law and continue to make efforts to move the needle on reform of American Health Care System. Republicans still do not have any positive agenda for American's health.

Monday, March 24, 2014

India - Broken Democracy?

As many aspirants for political position in India ventilate in this season as 'mother of democracy' gears up for 16th Loksabha election next month, one wonders what is going on. People threatening 'suicide' if a political party denies them 'party nomination' while every major party threatened by disgruntled party leaders who are denied coveted party nomination. Meanwhile a seasoned politician goes openly in advocating a 'voting fraud'.

The root cause of all this non-sense is that the process or politics of making someone party nomination has not settled down in India. When there are no primaries, this becomes a huge issue. Party nomination becomes an exercise in favoritism with no objective basis of evaluating 'wining potential' of any particular candidate. On top of it, India does not have proportional voting system; so someone with only 30% voters backing winning the constituency is a normal phenomenon.

Can anything change? Nothing unless a major party starts intra-party primaries (AAP?).

Update - I did not expect Rahul Gandhi showing the foresight in pointing the importance of 'party primaries'. That is a pleasant surprise. It is good that Rahul Gandhi shows that at least his ideas are right (like focusing on lower middle class, exactly the strata Congress Party needs to attend too). Of course, having right set of policies and ideas is only the first step, translating those by actual execution is a harder problem; especially when you are slated to loose big time in coming elections.

The pitch for Rahul Gandhi needs to be "we made mistakes, we will not tolerate Corruption, and these are steps we would take". The basic contradiction of Congress is hard to reconcile for average Indians - you claim you want clean polity, then why did you allow so many scams after scams all along? You cannot wake at the last minute and 'talk good game'. Unless Congress accepts what has gone wrong and takes demonstrative steps on hustings (like making income open for all its candidates, making party contributions transparent like AAP and making it open what election expenses it incurs). It is too late of an hour, but 'right politics and right policies' are never late for citizens in the long run for a democratic state.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Russian Theoretician and Other Biggies of Knowledge

Which Russian we would like - of course not the new Czar Putin; but likes of Andrei Linde whose video went viral.

No idea which of these physicists will claim their Nobel Prize soon - Linde, Guth or Kovac or his colleagues who did the experiment in Antarctica. Clearly all these are qualified since validation of Gravitational waves is such an epoch making event in Human Knowledge.

Talking of Human Knowledge, I was impressed by the simplicity and clarity of Leslie Lamport's Paxos approach for distributed computing problems, techniques as a programmer I come across in my profession. He won his Turing Award yesterday. 5th Turing Award of Microsoft Research, no wonder Bill Gates was happy.

And soon will come Fields Medal of Mathematics - rumors are flying high about these surreal brain powers. Will France overtake USA? Or will Princeton retain its edge? Those will be some fun facts to watch as in most cases works of these geneuises is beyond comprehension for common people like me.

Monday, March 17, 2014

West - Still Coming to Grips

As the Market would open this new week with a full realization of 'annexation' of Crimea by Putin, Western Capitals may announce sleuth of sanctions. But there are still doubts whether Western Leaders would be able to put forward an emphatic response. 

American companies doing business in Russia are going to get impacted and it is not clear all those chest-thumping Republicans will be able to withstand Business pressures when losses of billions of dollars come to due for few American Corporations. Same with Germany. Chancellor's upbringing in East Germany and her highly credible conservative instincts make it possible that finally she will cross the line and make ready her country for the business loss with Russia. But it has not happened yet. Weakest link is UK PM Cameron. Neither does he have much political latitude in being strong in the event of London losing business of Russian oligarchy, nor is he a political visionary. That is where what Garry Kasparov says rings the bell. (Politico did an excellent job in publishing this article, first time I saw Politico getting out of the 'beltway-politics-as-sports' mentality and attempting to take an authentic position on an important issue, albeit implicitly.)

The other question is, it is still not clear whether West is ready for a long game, which is clearly needed here. In a year or so Obama will be a lame duck President (some can credibly argue that he is already a lame duck President incapable of pushing anything worthwhile through American Politics) while Cameron would be facing the music from Scottish People in few months followed by slaughtering at UK General Elections. Contrary to what many experts argue that it should be America who needs to lead here, I agree with Senate Majority Leader's instincts in this case  - it is Europeans, especially Germany, which has to set the course because 'for them the stakes are maximum'. Listening to Sen. Rand, one can hear perennial 'isolationists' arguments of America. Still President Obama has to play his 'leading from behind Merkel' policy and keep urging Europeans to stay united and effective. Least what he can do is keep reminding Europeans what Kasparov so painfully reminded in his article. 

There still does not seem to be any longer term political consensus, both in Europe and America, about how to remove Europe's dependency on Russian Energy supplies. Though America has bountiful of Natural Gas, it is possible that Asian customers pay more than Europeans. But can both Europe and USA see the strategic advantage in using Norther American energy sources (or else huge Solar Plants in Morocco and Algeria with electricity transferred to Europe, but nah, European Environmentalism would never allow any such ambitious projects)? Do tax payers dollars have a room to play here, like Marshall Plan after WWII,  since it could be a much more effective way of buying security in Europe rather than simply installing more maddening nukes. The way American Politics is argued these days - anything purchased or financed by tax dollars is condemned - it is hard to see how any such strategic thinking and execution is possible with American and European politicians. 

This is the same Congress which does not get the elemental tactics like letting China play a bigger role at IMF so as it becomes considerate to West's concerns about Russia, by way of USA backing IMF reforms. These Republicans are so blind to national interests due to their unending political desire of pulling down Obama that they have been opposing for years legitimate request of the Administration to move around $63 Billions from emergency account to general poll so as USA can pay its increased quota of IMF and make the way for reforms at IMF. CBO estimates the actual cost of IMF reforms little bit over 300 Million dollars! Administration had to resort to the hard tactic of attaching this request to Ukrainian 1 Billion Load guarantees and no surprise even such a paltry aid package to Ukraine has stalled in Congress! 

Putin has exploited these weaknesses of Western countries and he will continue to reap fruits of it until Western leaders finally come to grips of what is drawn in front of them. Effectively it is Cold War, their wishing otherwise do not change the reality.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Uphill for Dems?

Does anyone remember blaming Republicans for Government Shutdown just few months back? Does anyone blame GOP for that? Political reality is no one holds GOP accountable for that.

So few months is a long period in Politics. One Dem Loss in early March might not make their case hopeless. But what is true is that ObamaCare is turning into 'politically radio-active' item - when political supporters / creators of the law start to go away one by one, things are not same. That is bad and it is disastrous for America. But who cares for national interests? What matters is Ted Cruz thumping his chest for ObamaCare Repeal

Dems will start going away from Obama Admin. at even faster rate. Clearly at this point, this president is a politically liability with no aptitude for making big on his 'core thesis' - that Government can be harnessed for the good of people when proper Administrative Competence is in place. That is, he needs to win the political argument with Americans at large so that GOP in Congress is forced to work with Obama; that is his own pickle of making for which he has become a president to solve. It is not like Barack Obama is Jerry Brown.

If the current trajectory is continued for next couple of months, despite long term politically favorable winds for Democrats; Dems, especially Obama Dems, are in some serious trouble. What can change that trajectory?

- ObamaCare gets 6 Million Plus enrollments and it finally starts flushing out good and positive stories about individuals benefited by it.
- Economy continues to pick up.
- On Foreign Policy terrain either President Obama gets an opportunity to brandish his testosterone effectively or one of his big ticket 'peace deals' (Iran, Syria, Israel-Palestine and  Sino-Japan dispute) advances decisively. 

Absence of that and Dems are going to have blues come November. Possibly time has come for Democrats and Progressives to shed Obama and start coalesceing around Democratic Leaders who have demonstrated the Administrative Competence to deliver on basic Democratic ethos - government for the larger good of People and that 'it can be done'. 

(Obviously that means Dem Governors like Andrew Cuomo, or NY Mayor De Blasio if he can deliver any of his ultra-left promises and why not even Jerry Brown? Hillary - though she is the presumptive / putative Dem nominee at this point, as John Kerry advances or even fails in his endeavors of high risks, it is easy to portray her as not accomplishment leader. People can easily argue that she did not even try as hard like Kerry. What might work though for her is - if overall Economy does well: vote Democrats to preserve the prosperity; last time her husband brought the prosperity, GOP squandered it. That can be a potent argument, but it is to be seen; otherwise Hillary may not be the leader who Dems can bank on.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Finnish Way is the ticket for Ukraine?

"The losers will be those simpletons of international politics — including the United States — who mistook the clashes of some Ukrainian neo-Nazis with Mr. Yanukovych’s police force for the dawning of democracy and the beginning of a Ukrainian Spring."

This is non-sense. Mr. Pukhov argues that essentially West should have given up on all those demonstrators in Kiev. His advice is same as those who criticize USA (guess who - Saudi Arabia) for backing protesters who threw Mubarak in Egypt. If Mr. Pukhov wants to join Saudi Arabia and rabid Israeli Lobby which loves dictators in Egypt; then I guess one does not have to tax oneself enough to argue with Mr. Pukhov. Mr. Pukhov does not see anything wrong with Ukrainian President Yunokovich who murdered protesters in Maidan. He does not see ample opportunities which Yunokovich had to work with protesters early on to address their grievances and stop the 'looting' of already impoverished Ukraine. Well, if America is going to be called 'guiliable / sucker of freedom talk'; I suppose any American Leader and in the end American Public can live with those epithets. That is because History has shown time and again that countries who are on the side of 'freedom of an individual' are in the end with keys of living in harmony. Putin's path is no way of reaching harmony.

"Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them...For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one....Ukraine should not join NATO, a position I [Kissinger] took seven years ago, when it last came up....Internationally, they [Ukraine] should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland. That nation leaves no doubt about its fierce independence and cooperates with the West in most fields but carefully avoids institutional hostility toward Russia."

I think Henry Kissinger has got it right more or less in this case. The only reason I would support Ukraine joining NATO is when Putin's Russia would invade Ukraine to gobble the Eastern Russian speaking part. At that point benality of Putin's aggression would be so obivious that for the remaining Ukrainian states to survive (and for Poland to survive as well); Western Ukraine will have no option other than join NATO. If at all, that is the criticism with Kissinger's analysis - he did not indicate military ways for West and NATO to be on defense so that the dire situation of rump Ukraine knocking on NATO doors is avoided in the first place. In other words, there is a language of 'force' which Putin understands very well and what specific things West can do so as Putin knows that West as well can talk the language of testosterone; all that needs to be articulated.

"Meanwhile, NATO forces, consistent with the organization’s contingency planning, should be put on alert. High readiness for some immediate airlift to Europe of U.S. airborne units would be politically and militarily meaningful. If the West wants to avoid a conflict, there should be no ambiguity in the Kremlin as to what might be precipitated by further adventurist use of force in the middle of Europe."

That is where I think Brezinski answered my criticism of Kissinger. For Obama Administration, the real workable path lies in combination of what Kissinger advised and what Brezinski laid down.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Putin's Ambitions and His Costs

With Crimea effectively under his control, the question is - is Putin content or is he not satiated yet. No effective reaction from Western Countries, no conciliatory noises from western leaning Ukrainian Leaders in nodding to Russian interests (purported visit by former Ukrainian Leader Tymoshenko may be one way to sooth Putin) and open rebellion by Russian speaking Ukrainian population in southern and eastern Ukraine; all that will prompt Putin to be more adventures and invade Ukraine to bring all that Ukraine area as one more vassal state of Russia. His original intention, Plan A,  was to get the entire Ukraine as a Russian vassal state, circa Soviet Union. Since his agent - uprooted former president Yanukovych - failed as well as Ukrainian population,especially western side folks, is in no mood to stay under Russian sphere of influence; Putin might think forceful separation of a large part of Ukraine is the second best option.

It is obvious that Putin has calculated that West would not be in any position to put troops in Ukraine and Ukraine itself being bankrupt; so now is the good time to go the Plan B. Trouble is outside of Crimea, any presence of Russian Troops would incite already arose population in Western parts of Ukraine and quite possibly we are likely to see an armed resistance by Ukrainian forces. Such a bloody and prolonged engagement would not be easy for Russia even though they would have an upper hand to start with.

If an armed conflict starts in mainland Ukraine, NATO would find it easier to beef up its help to Western inclined Ukrainian forces. Division of Ukraine will be a clear consequence then. That is where 'costs' for Putin and Russia would start biting - starting with getting kicked out of G8, sanctions would follow, Russian companies would lose in Europe and many other markets. Putin will threaten Germany by its supply of Natural Gas, but once outright war starts; Europeans will be more accommodating to other energy choices as well as politically it will be reasonable for European Leaders to rally the public away from Russian Gas. (Too bad that American Gas Bounty would not help Europeans.)  

However, the biggest loss for Putin will be remaining parts of Ukraine - Western Ukraine - will firmly come into NATO sphere. Western countries would have seen Russia's return to Cold War geopolitics. Public in Europe and America will be more receptive to new NATO members and consequent obligations to defend those new members. (Otherwise also USA and UK seem to be obligated to defend Ukraine.) In effect, at that stage Putin would have achieved trade and economic isolation of Russia to the extent of Cold-War era as well as would have brought NATO further near to his doorstep. 

For America and Europe to play this long game, they will have to show the nerve in backing Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders are asking UN to intervene here. UN will not be able to do anything as Russia is the veto member of UNSC. As Putin becomes more adventurous, Ukraine needs to ask for help from NATO. With a request to NATO, European and American interventions are possible. If there is no de-escalation by the time new government is in Ukraine, it can promptly apply for NATO membership.

Indeed this is a moment for President Barack Obama to show his mantle. He has been conciliatory for long. If America does not work through NATO to halt ambitious Putin, President Obama is unlikely to make any headway in Syrian conflict and Iran Nuke deal might not come as well. In all these negotiations and conflicts, Russia is the main backer of trouble makers. Emboldened Putin would practically make it impossible to get these conflicts resolved. America which has shown some 'spine and grit' in stopping Putin, would find it much more amenable geo-political situation from Afghanistan to Syria. 

President Obama might not be interested in Cold War Chess; but that is what Putin wants and if left unchallenged, Barack Obama will be the leader who would have allowed post-Cold War Western consensus of global politics to go ashtray. Yes, we are talking here Munich 1939 in some respect, unless America acts. Luckily American Public will be more receptive for an assertive foreign policy with regards to Russia since more Americans know - effectively clapping Russian ambitions is a necessary condition to retain stable Europe. Americans would not like to go back to the 19th century politics where dictators decide how to carve out large swaths of world population. Time has come for President Obama to start putting in place a bit strong armed and deterrent foreign policy.