The Obama Presidency and Some Question marks

(Excerpts from an excellent crtique in The Hindu by Aijaz Ahmed)

Barack Obama won as a progressive populist. However, his campaign also raised far, far more money than any other U.S. presidential candidate in history. His camp likes to claim that most of the money came from small donors. The fact is that while fewer than 2,600 contributors to Mr. McCain list their occupation as “chief executive,” nearly 6,000 of Mr. Obama’s contributors are chief executive officers. Huge sums came from Washington lobbyists and lawyers, the communication industry and the electronics industry, healthcare-related private interests, nuclear and pharmaceutical industries, and so on. When lobbyists alone have given $37 million, it is naïve to believe that they would not be rewarded. The same applies to all the big corporate donors.

Mr. Obama’s voting record is not inspiring either. That he made a speech opposing the impending Iraq war in 2002, before he came even into the Illinois Senate, has been cited ad nauseum. Since becoming a U.S. Senator in 2005, however, he has voted in favour of every war appropriation bill that the Bush administration brought forth. He was the Editor of the Harvard Law Review, taught law at Chicago University, and was a civil rights lawyer before coming into politics. However, as a Senator he had no difficulty in voting for the Patriot Act 2, possibly the most sweeping attack on civil liberties in recent U.S. history. Together with Mr. McCain, he voted in favour of the recent bailout plan which gifts hundreds of billions of dollars to the very financial institutions which caused the recent meltdown. And now as President-elect he has urged the Bush administration to bail out General Motors as well.

That past is a mere prologue. As President-elect, Mr. Obama awarded the seniormost White House position to Rahm Emanuel who holds American as well as Israeli citizenships and is associated with the most conservative wing of the Democratic Party. In 2006, he co-authored a book with Bruce Reid titled The Plan: Big Ideas for America. The authors write there: “We need to fortify the military’s ‘thin green line’ around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and Marines, and by expanding the U.S. Army… we must protect our homeland by creating a new domestic counterterrorism force like Britain’s M15.” Mr. Obama has adopted the plan for just such an expansion and it is possible that Mr. Bush’s Department of Homeland Security was inspired by the thinking of men like Mr. Emanuel.

No other senior appointment has been made as yet. However, the names in circulation — of men such as Richard Holbrook and Dennis Ross for Secretary of State, and Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers for Treasury — are not reassuring. Mr. Obama’s Brain Trust and Transition Team are studded with such names. Paul Volcker, the legendary chairman of the Federal Reserve, has made a comeback as Mr. Obama’s key adviser on the economy. This caused the Wall Street Journal to quote a ‘Republican supply-side economist,’ John Tamny, as saying that “Volcker whispering in Mr. Obama’s ear will make even Republicans comfortable, because he is a hero of the Right.” So are Mr. Rubin and Mr. Summers, who were Treasury Secretaries under Bill Clinton.

The enormity of the ongoing economic crisis may yet force Mr. Obama to scrap this whole trajectory and re-make himself into a latter-day FDR, as many are hoping. This is all the more likely if the electoral mass that put him in the White House becomes a mass militant movement from below. What is clear, though, is that the kind of military policies Mr. Obama is advocating are incompatible with the kind of investments he proposes to re-build America’s failing physical and social infrastructure. Something will have to give.

Roger And Out

Obama – Hossanah?

By Roger Alexander

As much as I’m relieved Sarah Palin will not become president in the near future, I’m alarmed Barack Obama is now the new messiah.

Take it from me, he’s only a guy with dark skin practicing the white man’s politics (see my blog).

Consider the wimpish Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times today (Nov 9): “Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.

Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life. Smart and educated leadership is no panacea, but we’ve seen recently that the converse — a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance — doesn’t get very far either.”

Do I say more?

Roger And Out

Protecting India from the Global Economic Crisis

(This is the Communist Party of India (Marxist) view on how to meet the global economic meltdown challenge)

Introduction

It is clear by now that the global financial crisis has graduated into a global economic crisis of serious proportions. The advanced economies are set to experience a protracted recession and the developing countries across the world, including the Indian economy, will also be adversely affected.

The UPA Government’s responses to this evolving situation, however, have been extremely disappointing. Ever since the Government has come out of its initial state of denial, the measures adopted by it reflect on the one hand a sheer lack of comprehension of the causes behind and the proportions of the current crisis and on the other hand a proclivity towards appeasing myriad financial interests and corporate lobbies. The fact that the UPA Government is relying upon only one policy instrument, namely the interest rate, to both control inflation as well as reverse the growth slowdown betrays the illogic behind its policy paradigm. It is a rudimentary lesson in economic theory that two policy goals cannot be achieved using a single policy instrument.

The UPA Government has so far chosen to meet only the corporate bigwigs and bankers in order to discuss policy responses; neither have the State Governments nor other political parties, trade unions, farmers’ organisations and other organisations representing crucial stakeholders been consulted. It is indeed strange that at a time when the neoliberal vision of putting corporate profits over peoples’ interest and relying upon ‘trickle down economics’ is getting discredited across the world, the economic managers of the UPA Government are clinging on to it. In this backdrop, the CPI (M) is putting forward a set of concrete suggestions in order to tackle the adverse impact of the global recession on the Indian economy and protect the interests of the people.

Broad-based Growth through Fiscal Stimulus

* A special fiscal package should be announced by the Central Government directed at increasing public expenditure in ways which increases the income and consumption of the working people, especially the vulnerable sections, and ensure broad-based growth.

* This is an appropriate time to expand the fiscal deficit not only by the Central Government, but also the State Governments. The FRBM Act should be scrapped and a comprehensive debt relief scheme for the State Governments adopted to encourage them to adopt expansionary fiscal stances.

Protecting Existing Jobs

* Protection of domestic jobs must be the priority of the Government in the backdrop of the global recession.

* The Government should announce a moratorium on job or wage cuts in the organised sector, in the interest of the national economy, since such job or wage cuts would further depress demand and aggravate the situation. The extant labour laws should be duly invoked by the State Governments to prevent retrenchments and lay offs.

* The burden of cost adjustment should first fall on profits and executive pay, which have ballooned during the recent period. India requires an Inco3mes Policy whereby executive pay is linked to prices and the minimum wage earned by workers.

Specific Measures to Boost the Real Economy

* The Government has to undertake massive public investment directed at sectors which are employment intensive and capable of creating employment demand for those likely to lose jobs in the export-oriented sectors.

* Employment Guarantee: The NREGA should be strengthened and extended to the urban areas. Extending the period of guaranteed employment beyond 100 days should also be considered.

* Agriculture: Foodgrains production has to be encouraged and public procurement operations expanded for all major crops across the country. The allocations for the Food Security Mission and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana should be enhanced substantially. Public investment in irrigation also needs to be stepped up substantially. For cash crops like cotton and oilseeds, import protection should be accorded through higher tariffs. Protection should also be extended to cash crops like rubber, cashew etc. to prevent sharp falls in prices.

* Food and Fuel Prices: The hikes in the prices of diesel and petrol by Rs.4 and Rs.2 respectively, must be withdrawn without further delay, in view of the sharp fall in international oil prices (which have fallen below $60 per barrel). The PDS needs to be universalized and strengthened drastically by reducing the issue price so that subsidised foodgrains can reach every settlement in the country. This is essential for boosting consumption demand in the economy.

* Retail Trade: With slower growth in consumption, the businesses of small and unorganised retailers are bound to be hit, affecting their livelihood. In this backdrop, allowing big organised retailers to expand their businesses and capture greater market shares would only aggravate the situation. A policy to strictly regulate the operations of domestic corporate retailers and restrict their unbridled expansion is urgently required.

* Small-Scale Industries: Crisis affecting the small-scale industries would cause massive job losses and affect livelihoods on a massive scale. The Government needs to devise sector specific relief packages, especially for export-oriented and labour intensive sectors like garments and leather, keeping the interests of the small-scale industries and their workers in mind. The relief packages should include rescheduling of bank credit as well as direct subsidies and should also incentivise job protection.

* Tariff Protection: In order to ensure that the demand injected into the economy through public investment does not leak out through increased imports, increasing customs duties should be considered. Further tariff concessions under NAMA or entering into structurally unequal trade agreements like the proposed EU-India FTA should be ruled out.

Tightening Financial Regulation and Reviving Development Finance

* Regulation should be strengthened in the financial sector and state control over finance need to be reasserted in order to revive development finance. While curbing reckless flow of credit to fuel elite consumption and asset price bubbles, credit should be directed towards employment intensive sectors like agriculture and small-scale industries.

* Capital Account Convertibility: Measures undertaken to liberalize the capital account as per the Tarapore Committee recommendations need to be reversed and strict controls reimposed on the outflow and inflow of capital.

* Participatory Notes: PNs, which are non-transparent derivative instruments used by the FIIs to invest money in the Indian capital market on behalf of undisclosed entities and individuals, should be prohibited. Allowing speculative hedge funds and other dubious entities to invest in Indian markets without any adherence to disclosure norms is the antithesis of prudential regulation.

* Banking and Insurance Sector Deregulation: The Government should abandon the moves to further deregulate the banking and insurance sectors through legislation like the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, the State Bank of India (Amendment) Bill and increasing the FDI cap in the insurance sector from the present 26% to 49%.

* Pension Reforms: Pension reforms should be abandoned by the UPA Government and the PFRDA Bill scrapped. The Pension Scheme for Government employees should be reworked to ensure minimum guaranteed pension.

Roger And Out

Obama’s Victory: A Marxist Viewpoint

By Sitaram Yechury/ The Indian Express

The remarkable ascendancy of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America brings to mind an ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”. When my generation was growing up, Hollywood, in late 1960s, captured the conflicts of American society in the film ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’, the dilemma of an all white family whose daughter invites her African-American boyfriend to dinner. Sidney Poitier poignantly conveyed the insecurities of racial prejudices. This film strengthened the resolve amongst many of us to fight discrimination of all sorts. On my first visit to New York in the early Seventies, it was common place to find an African American on the streets asking for change. Today, one has walked into the White House on a popular mandate for Change. In this sense, history is, indeed, being made.
Fidel Castro had described Obama as “the most progressive candidate for US Presidency” from the “social and human points of view”, but warned that it would be an illusion to presume that the character of US imperialism would undergo any decisive progressive shifts. Marx had once said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past”.

Obama inherits a past: US imperialism’s hegemonic drive to impose a global unipolarity under its tutelage; US strategic doctrine of ‘preemptive strike’ against any sovereign independent country in the world; the US’s self-declared right to militarily attack and occupy any country in the name of the‘global war against terrorism’. He inherits the notorious history of ‘state terrorism’ practiced by successive US governments. He has declared to continue the criminal economic blockade against Cuba. He inherits the presidential sanction for torture in Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo.

US support to Israel has denied the Palestinians their ‘home land’ all through the 20th century. Will this change now? Pertinent to us, in India, is that, with this unprecedented Democratic sweep in the US Congress and Senate as well, the pressures for resurrecting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will mount. With the Indo-US nuclear deal’s attendant pressures on India, this has serious implications. Further, Obama has already displayed keen interest in resolving the Kashmir dispute when India has consistently maintained that there is no scope for any third party intervention in this Indo-Pak bilateral issue. Obama has declared this as a priority in order to have Pakistan’s undistracted attention in helping the US militarily to combat the Taliban.

Surely, on these and many other important issues, the official US position will be known once Obama assumes the reins of office. So also will the world know how the US administration, under him, intends to tackle the current crisis of global capitalism. A recession has already begun in the US and fast spreading to other industrialised countries. Definitive positions can only be taken subsequently.

The moot question, therefore, is: will any of this change? While there are expectations, the track record of US imperialism renders all such hopes illusiory. US imperialism’s earlier preoccupation with its ‘war on communism’ led to the unilateral aggression against Vietnam, will the pressures of the current ‘war against terrorism’ propel the Obama administration into more horrendous acts of ‘state terrorism’?

Obama concludes his book, The Audacity of Hope, by dedicating himself to the process that built the US: “those like Lincoln and King, who ultimately laid down their lives in the service of perfecting an imperfect union. And all the faceless, nameless men and women, slaves and soldiers and tailors and butchers, constructing lives for themselves and their children and grandchildren, brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hand by calloused hand, to fill in the landscape of our collective dreams…It is that process I wish to be a part of.”

Indeed laudable. But will this process be confined to some 300 million people that account for less than 5 per cent of the world population? The fate of the remaining 95 per cent of humanity, war or peace, air that may be fit to breathe or not, their quality of life, as Fidel Castro said, will depend to a great extent on the decisions of the Empire’s institutional leader.

Return to the Chinese curse. It contains a belief that in every crisis situation, there is also the path for hope. Will this be used for creating a better world? The past experience of US imperialism, however, has shown that the leopard never changes its spots. If so, then the struggle shall continue for the triumph of hope over experience.

(The writer is Rajya Sabha MP and member of the CPM politburo)

Roger And Out

A Scary Halloween With Sarah Palin

(“Spreading Wealth?” See how scared even impoverished Yanks view socialism. – RR)

In central Pennsylvania, the Republican base is afraid of Obama, and lost in fever dreams of a neo-Soviet nightmare. But it’s all in God’s hands.

Roger And Out

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Fawning & Uncritical Media Boosts Obama Campaign

By Harold Evans/The Guardian

What’s troubling to anyone old-fashioned enough to care about standards in journalism is the news coverage in mainstream media. Forget the old notions of objectivity, fairness, thoroughness, and so on. The nastiest rumours on both sides haven’t been published, but the coverage has been slavishly on the side of “the one”.

Read the excellent piece from the former editor of the London Times at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/01/elections-obama-press-bias-mccain

Roger And Out

BJP denies tickets to quarter of MP MLAs

Nov 1, 2008

The BJP has denied tickets to nearly a fourth of MLAs in Madhya Pradesh, in its first list of candidates, reports The Economic Times. The list, announced on Friday, comprises 115 candidates, accounting for half of 230-member assembly. As many as 28 sitting MLAs, including one minister have been dropped.

Minister in the public works department, Narayan Prasad Kabirpanthi, has been dropped. He had contested from Naryaoli in the last elections and will be replaced by Pradeep Lariya. Of these 115 seats, the BJP had won 75 in the last assembly elections; 47 of the sitting MLAs have been given a ticket.

This exercise of letting go of MLAs to counter the adverse effects of incumbency proved to be succesful in Gujarat. The party has stuck to this formula in Chhattisgarh as well. It is expected that a similar exercise will be undertaken for Rajasthan.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the three poll-bound states where the BJP has been in power for the past five years. The BJP brass, in consultation with the local units, has decided to neutralise the damage by denying tickets to candidates whose report cards as sitting MLAs in the past five years were not found up to the mark.

In its first list the party has fielded 14 women candidates, 19 OBCs, 20 Scheduled Caste and 33 Scheduled Tribe candidates. Ram Pal Singh, who represents the Vidisha parliamentary seat, which he contested in a bypoll after he vacated his Budni seat in favour of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, is marking a return to state politics.

He will be contesting from the newly formed constituency of Shilvani. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan will contest from his home constituency of Budni. other notables who have been given a ticket are Sundarlal Patwa’s nephew Surendra Patwa from the Bhojpur seat, which he lost to Congress candidate Rajesh patel in the last elections.

Assembly speaker Ishwar Das Rohani will be contesting from the Jabalpur Cant seat.

Meanwhile, the Congress stuck to the quota script and awarded nominations to loyalists of powerful state leaders in Madhya Pradesh. While backers of Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr Kamal Nath walked away with a major share, the party took care to guard political interests of Mr Arjun Singh, Mr Suresh Pachouri and Mr Jyotiraditya Scindia.

The first list of 117 candidates released by the Congress clearly indicated the party was adhering to the ‘quota system’ although there was talk of abandoning it.

Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr Pachouri will not contest the assembly poll. Raghogarh, which is being represented by Mr Singh, has gone to his associate Mool Singh. Mr Singh was chief minister of the state for 10 years.

The list released by the party for the next month’s poll includes several former ministers and senior leaders including leader of opposition Jamuna Devi and former deputy chief minister Subhash Yadav.

While Ms Jamuna Devi has been renominated from Kukshi, Mr Yadav will contest from Kasrawad. Mr Ajay Singh, son of Mr Arjun Singh, has been renominated from Churhat. Former assembly speaker Sninivas Tiwari is the party nominee from Sirmour.

Hazarilal Raghuvanshi, who is the deputy speaker, has been nominated from Seoni-Malwa. Among former ministers who have been given tickets include Satyadev Katare, Mahindra Bodh, Raghavendra Singh, Parvatlal Ahirwar and Radnesh Solomon, brother-in-law of former chief minister of Chhattisgarh Ajit Jogi.

Roger And Out