Monday, November 25, 2013

Bin Laden, Libya, Iran: Obama's Master Strokes

English: President Barack Obama listens during...
English: President Barack Obama listens during one in a series of meetings discussing the mission against Osama bin Laden, in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Even since 9/11 I have thought of this whole "war" as something of the magnitude of the Cold War. And three of the major moves have happened on Barack Obama's watch. Getting Bin Laden was a master stroke. Going into Libya was another big one. Quiet diplomacy does not hit the sexy meter like getting Bin Laden does. But what has just been achieved on Iran is of the same magnitude as the Bin Laden achievement. Kudos the president. He promised on Bin Laden in 2007, he delivered. He also promised on Iran, and he has now delivered.

Tough talk accompanied by inaction or stupid actions is not superior to quiet diplomacy that brings forth meaningful, measurable desired change. I take weapons of mass destruction seriously. And if engaging is the safer thing to do, engage one must, as Obama did. Tough was the sanctions he put into place. Tough is to engage in the quiet diplomacy when the tough talk crowd wants you to anything but.

The chessboard in that part of the world has been rearranged in one swift stroke. We now have a base from which more progress can be possible.
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Friday, November 15, 2013

Bill de Blasio And The Democrats Of New York City

Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio (Photo credit: Kevdiaphoto)
(written for Vishwa Sandesh)

Bill de Blasio And The Democrats Of New York City
By Paramendra Bhagat (

For a city that is so dominantly Democratic, it has had non Democrats for Mayor a long, long time. Rudy Giuliani did two terms, Mike Bloomberg did three terms. Primaries tend to be so fragmented, and the winners of the past were so torn apart by the various groups that helped them and now needed favors done, the electorate has been just fine electing the likes of Bloomberg. Point to be noted, Bloomberg was a Democrat before he decided to run for Mayor. When he did decide to run, he figured ploughing through the mud of a Democratic primary was just not worth it, and so he switched parties, just because.

This city is like an ATM that Democrats across the country use. They come, they raise money, and they go wherever it is they have to go.

Bill de Blasio was not the early lead. But once he gained momentum, he really gained momentum. His decisive primary victory and an even more decisive general election victory is a liberal city going back to its liberal roots with gusto. It is to be seen how he will govern. Will he prove to be a good manager? You can accuse Bloomberg of having had somewhat of a class bias, but there is no doubting the guy was a good manager of the city.

The turning point in the de Blasio campaign was an ad featuring his teenage son from his inter-racial marriage. His wife is African American. For the most diverse city on earth that sometimes can tear along racial and ethnic lines, an inter-racial family at the helm is a soothing message, sure. And, sure, progressivism is good in a city that is decidedly progressive. Both Giuliani and Bloomberg were social liberals that Republicans elsewhere could not relate to.

Bill de Blasio will govern “a city government with some 300,000 employees, a $70 billion budget and a dizzying web of intersecting interests.” He might have campaigned with a theme captured in the phrase a tale of two cities. But it is one city you govern.

It will be an experiment to watch. Could he bring about the changes he says he will? Will inequality be lessened as a result? Could he narrow the gap without alienating the business interests? Could he take labor along? Could he win re-election? Because if de Blasio bombs, the city might then again look for another non-Democrat in four years.

A stand that caught much attention on the campaign trail was the “stop and frisk,” a signature Bloomberg initiative. I experienced it once when I was living in Ridgewood. I had a pen in my trouser pocket. The police from afar thought it might have been a knife. The lady officer looked straight at me while reaching out for the pocket.

During his young days de Blasio apparently was a raging liberal activist. He made trips to Nicaragua and the then Soviet Union. As Public Advocate he once got arrested: that was the plan of the protest. But then he also ran a Hillary Clinton campaign at one point.

I once attended a debate at a church in Brooklyn when de Blasio was running in the primary for Public Advocate years ago. He was composed, but not outstanding, and that might be a good thing. That demeanor is good for governance.

The same electorate also is served by a state government and a federal government. And so a city Mayor’s reach has its limits. On the other hand there is a Rahm Immanuel in Chicago who claims some of the most interesting public policy headways are being made at the city level.

And, of course, should he do well in the office there might be national level speculations.

I did not follow the election closely enough nor do I have a deep enough knowledge of the city’s government to be able to forecast how well de Blasio will actually end up doing. But one hopes he does well. If he governs as well as he campaigned, the city should be fine. But if the numerous Democratic interests end up tearing him up, the party will have itself to blame. For a Democratic city to have a progressive Mayor is a good match. If the job is done right, the reverberations will be heard around the world. Surprisingly there is a foreign policy angle to the job. If he performs well, his youth spent as a leftist activist (Obama never was the Socialist he gets accused of being by those on the right, but de Blasio was quite a leftist when young) will gain validation. And de Blasio will help soothe America’s image around the world. Dog eat dog capitalism can also be home to pragmatic leftist moves like expanded pre-kindergarten. I don’t know about you, but that is just common sense to me. That and after school programs the Mayor elect has talked about.

Those two alone will not diminish inequality in the city, but they will be steps in the right direction. The number one thing that will diminish inequality in the city would be citywide free wifi. But I did not hear that talked about on the campaign trail. Maybe there was too much shame about Anthony Weiner’s tweets. So not bringing up the Internet thing just made sense.

Here’s to wishing all the best to the new Mayor.
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Elizabeth Warren And 2016

An interesting article popped up in New Republic last week. It basically says Senator Elizabeth Warren might upend Hillary Clinton for the 2016 race. It is convincing. But the big question for me with Elizabeth Warren, as with Hillary Clinton, is: will she even run? Some argue she does not know much foreign policy. You could have said the same thing about Bill Clinton in 1991.

A heartwarming theme in the talk for me is that looks like the top two contenders for 2016 are both women. After a black president it is time America got itself a woman president.

New Republic: Hillary's Nightmare? A Democratic Party That Realizes Its Soul Lies With Elizabeth Warren
Think of the Republican Party after George W. Bush. Or, you know, Yugoslavia. ..... any candidate who challenged Clinton would need several key assets. The candidate would almost certainly have to be a woman, given Democrats’ desire to make history again. She would have to amass huge piles of money with relatively little effort. Above all, she would have to awaken in Democratic voters an almost evangelical passion. As it happens, there is precisely such a person. Her name is Elizabeth Warren. ..... Treasury officials joked that if she were “Ambassador to the Middle Class,” it would make them “Ambassadors to the Plutocrats.” ..... During her Senate campaign, Warren traveled with at least three staffers: Her body man and press secretary, as is the case for most candidates, but also a digital director, whose job it was to capture Warren’s choicest words on video, then upload the clips to YouTube and circulate them via social media. “She’s engaged in videos, e-mails, everything,” says an aide. “She plays an integral role in the content we send out.” ..... Warren has been preoccupied with the plight of the middle class since her childhood, when her father suffered a heart attack and her mother took a job in the catalog department of Sears to keep four kids clothed and fed. “I watched Obama get completely obsessed by health care reform . . . and realized it was all about his mother on her death bed,” says a longtime Warren friend. “For her, it was her father.” .....

“My first choice is a strong consumer agency. My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.”

..... the banking industry and its Republican allies (as well as internal opponents like Geithner) didn’t fully appreciate when they effectively killed Warren’s hopes of permanently heading the consumer agency in 2011. ..... It’s hard to look at the Democratic Party these days and not feel as if all the energy is behind Warren. Before she was even elected, her fund-raising e-mails would net the party more cash than any Democrat’s besides Obama or Hillary Clinton. ....... From the Howard Dean campaign in 2004 to the Occupy Movement in 2011, the last decade in Democratic politics has been rife with heady declarations of grassroots rebellion, only to see the insiders assert control each time. Even the one insurgency that did succeed, the Obama campaign, was quickly absorbed into the party establishment, from which Obama was never so far removed in the first place. ..... the disillusionment surrounding Dodd-Frank, which ushered in a range of new regulations but left the details to regulators, who promptly caved. ..... government per se isn’t the problem; the problem is a government taken over by “big-money interests.” ..... “I think it’s mutually exclusive to be a real hero for reform and accountability and to have a [fund-raising] strategy that relies on Wall Street.” A financial reform activist is more blunt: “Unless there is some major public break by Hillary Clinton with this disreputable crowd, then everybody will have to think long and hard before they support her as president. We do not need yet another administration packed full of Wall Street–friendly politicians.” ....... When I recently asked a top Clinton campaign operative from 2008 if there’s any Democrat who Hillary should fear in 2016, he immediately named the Massachusetts senator. ..... “I don’t think there’s anyone out there who can break out of just that left coalition like Warren could,” says the operative, who hopes to work for Hillary again. “She’s got a real message tailored to the middle-class and working-class people.” ..... “But in Obamaworld, there is not deep loyalty to Hillary Clinton.” ..... With Obama, it was all about hope and change. With Warren, it would be about a distinct worldview. But as different as their sources of appeal are, both allow donors to feel as if they’re part of a larger crusade. By contrast, the long-standing knock on the Clintons in these circles (unfair in many ways) is that they primarily represent the cause of themselves. ....... Clinton, on the other hand, would probably embrace a two-pronged strategy. First, she would move left on as many issues as possible. Since leaving the State Department, she has already staked out liberal ground on gay rights and voting rights, and she recently used the word “progressive” so many times in a single speech it was tempting to describe her condition as “severe.” ...... Phase two would be to attack ruthlessly, casting Warren as an untested novice with little expertise outside financial issues. Unlike Obama, who at least had Iraq and a tour on the Foreign Relations Committee to neutralize charges of naïveté, Warren would be exceedingly vulnerable. ..... would quietly work to disqualify Warren as a crazed, countercultural liberal. A former Obama campaign aide recalls Clintonites planting stories in foreign newspapers, then watching them enter the domestic bloodstream through outlets like The Drudge Report. ..... Warren has been boning up on a variety of policy areas in periodic dinners with experts—she told me there are several issues beyond Wall Street “we need to have frank conversations” about without naming specifics—she remains a work in progress as a politician. She is still pedestrian in front of a crowd despite her strengths as a questioner and debater ..... If Clinton took a pass, on the other hand, many believe Warren would be difficult to beat, and the pressure to run could be irresistible. .... While her ambitions are considerable, they have always been focused on advancing her economic agenda. Everything from her public denunciations of Clinton to her lobbying to lead the CFBP to her eventual Senate run was motivated by a zealous attachment to the cause that has preoccupied her since childhood, not necessarily an interest in holding office. ..... An opponent who doesn’t heed political incentives is like a militant who doesn’t fear death. “Yeah, Hillary is running. And she’ll probably win,” says the former aide. “But Elizabeth doesn’t care about winning. She doesn’t care whose turn it is.”

Elizabeth Warren Can Shape the 2016 Race Even if She Can't Beat Hillary: The liberal icon and the future of the Democratic Party
The New Yorker: Clinton Vs. Warren?
Daily News: Democrats quietly throwing presidential support behind Elizabeth Warren: report

2008 is proof Hillary can be beat. Barack Obama also was a first term Senator. Fundraising has gone decidedly grassroots. In this age of social media it helps when your videos go as viral as Elizabeth Warren's YouTube videos tend to. That is how I first got introduced to her. And I remember getting excited.

Barack Obama was a Deaniac in 2004 like I was. And in many ways I saw Obama 2008 as a successor to Dean 2004. But in terms of meatier progressivism, Elizabeth Warren might be the true heir.

Both belong to the same generation and are over a decade older than Obama. Only someone like Bobby Jindal would be a generation changer. But he is not being talked about much.

One sign Obama might run was he was the most sought person by Democrats across America during the 2006 congressional elections. He was giving speeches all over the country. It is to be watched if Warren will emerge that person next year and how welcoming she is of the prospect.

The message for Warren might be: Lean In.

But then you have Angela Merkel in Germany. She has been a strong leader, looking very normal at the top. And you have had woman after woman become head of state in South Asia, one of the most sexist parts of the planet.

She has been a Harvard Law professor. That means to me she is a good student. She is an informed person. I can’t imagine she has not been reading up on all sorts of policy issues over the years and over the decades. I can’t imagine her not having a deep knowledge of history. Her sound bites make her look a little one dimensional on policy, but that is because her jobs so far have been specific. If you sit on the banking committee, you are not going to mouth off on Syria, are you? And word is she regularly meets up with experts on a wide variety of topics. People less smart than Warren have called the shots in the Oval Office before.

Whoever runs and wins in 2016, I for one want a two woman team. If Warren is the person, I would want her to team up with someone like Kamala Harris of California. President Obama got into a little bit of trouble for calling Harris “the most good looking Attorney General in America.” I don’t see how that comment is sexist. I am putting all men Attorneys General on that list as well. Show me some pictures if you dispute.

There is also the no small matter of geographic balance. A northeast liberal needs a Left Coast person to team up with.

For me 2014 is going to be the year when I pay close attention to the national elections in India, so easy to do in the age of the Internet. We will soon have the results for Nepal. Then there are the congressional elections in America. And 2016 is not that far. I guess I watch elections like some people watch sports. My sports event to watch would be the World Cup Soccer.

That puts someone like Warren in the same league with the likes of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho.

And a Warren or a Hillary at the helm makes Angela Merkel look even more normal than she already does. Maybe there is even a Sheryl Sandberg presidency in the offing down the line. Meg Whitman of eBay fame did run for Governor.

My political instincts tell me Warren right now is leading the 2016 race.

The economic is central to all other issues, and there she is the one with a compass. Indira Gandhi won wars. A democracy is designed to give the command of the army to whoever the people choose to elect. It is not at all hard to imagine a woman Commander In Chief. A woman sitting on top of the machinery will call the shots as necessary.

It is unfair to Hillary’s considerable talents that the Clinton brand name can work against her as much as for her. There is some Clinton fatigue in the public imagination. Whereas Warren is a fresh face. It is still hard to unearth too many of her life’s details online at this point. That is a political plus.

The old saying goes, a week is a long time in politics. 2016 is still a while away. Warren was not even mentioned as a presidential candidate two years ago. Which means more names might crop up in two years. Never say never. But right now Warren is looking good and strong.

Elizabeth Warren: Not Ready for Presidential Prime Time
Gutsy, smart, and hyper-articulate, Elizabeth Warren is quickly becoming the voice of progressivism in Washington. Along with departing regulator Gary Gensler, Warren probably did more than anyone in Washington to bulk up Dodd-Frank from its rather flimsy beginnings and turn it into a financial-reform law with some weight. She also speaks out eloquently for the beleaguered middle class and on the deeper problem of income inequality. ....... she is basically a one-issue political figure. And that doesn't get you into the White House in this era. (OK, fine, Barack Obama first came to national attention by declaring Iraq a "dumb" war, but more on that later.) ..... A Harvard Law professor who became an expert in mortgage fraud and bankruptcy and later conceived of one of Dodd-Frank's most significant reforms, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she's never done much of anything else in public life, other than chair the TARP oversight committee. And her "issue" has faded in popular imagination. ....... Yes, the banks are huger than ever and over-the-counter derivatives are being traded again in the hundreds of trillions—one reason why Gensler, the outgoing head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, may be one of the great unsung heroes in Washington thanks to his lonely fight to regulate derivatives internationally. But only a handful of people in the entire world truly understand derivatives regulation. "Bash the Bankers" works as a slogan, but when you get down to what really must be done about them you would have to talk about capital and liquidity ratios on the stump. ....... The last two Democratic presidents both had populist inclinations but went straight to the center in order to win two terms. For both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, that apparently also meant going easy on Wall Street. And Bill Clinton, at least, later publicly expressed regret for permitting the Alan Greenspanization of his views on financial reform.
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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Modi Has Momentum

Modi has momentum right now. It is because he is the only person who is running for Prime Minister. Nitish sure is not running. If Modi can bag 20 seats in Bihar and 30 in Uttar Pradesh, he might be able to get the BJP past 200 seats nationally. And if he manages that, a lot of non-Congress, non-BJP parties will feel an immense pull to join his coalition. Several parties in the South don't seem to have issues with Modi.

You can argue a BJP with 200 or 220 seats still creates room for a major non-BJP alliance. True, but that alliance will likely not be a strong one, especially if formed after the elections are over. It might last two years. And then Modi might be able to get the BJP past the 272 mark on its own. And then the BJP is the new Congress.

That is one scenario.

Another scenario is one where the BJP does not cross the 200 mark and is maybe around 160 or 170. And the Congress is below the 150 mark. And there is a post poll formation of a Third Front, and after some fierce contesting Nitish emerges as the PM candidate.

But that is not the best scenario. The best scenario would be for the non-Congress, non-BJP parties to form a Federal Front from scratch. But that is a tall order. People like Mayawati wish to contest all seats in UP on her own. The Congress has potential allies.

Right now it is possible Nitish is betting on the second scenario. But it is a scenario that gives Modi a lot of room to play. He is already gunning for Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and doing well.

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