Posted on 19-01-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

There will be enough postmortems about the Coakley loss in Massachusetts.  Wonder how many of them will actually bother to mention that Massachusetts voters had the least cause to be upset about Obamacare, since they passed Romneycare in 2006 which is pretty much the same thing and they are perfectly happy with it.  It is a distinction that Senator-elect Brown (who helped craft Romneycare) has twisted himself into knots about in trying to clarify why he conceptually opposes extending what his state has (and it is a benefit he explicitly supports) to the national level.  See link.   While this hypocrisy has been highlighted often enough on various blogs, the inept Coakley campaign failed to properly utilize this manna from heaven.

Andrew Sullivan’s rant (link here) on the subject captures my feelings on Republican nihilism and the newly found advocates of fiscal prudence who are unwilling to implement it in a meaningful way and is quoted in full below:

Since so much of the energy behind the Brown candidacy seems to be driven by anti-government sentiment, why is someone like me – who actually criticized Bush for being big government long before these late-comers – so dismayed?

Here’s why. The rage is adolescent. It did not exist when the Republicans were in power and exploded government during years of economic growth. Fox News backed Bush to the hilt through it all, as he added mounds of unfunded entitlements to the next generation’s debt, and then brought Beck in as soon as Obama inherited the mess. Scott Brown, moreover, has no plans to cut the debt or control government: none. He is running in defense of every cent in Medicare. He wants to increase the deficit by more tax cuts. He favors an all-powerful executive branch that can suspend habeas corpus and torture people. He has no intention of cutting defense. His position on the uninsured is: get your own states to help. His position on soaring healthcare costs is: stop the first attempt to control them.

We hear Karl Rove lamenting big government! We hear Dick Cheney worrying about deficits! The cynicism here is gob-smacking. And the libertarian right is just happy to go along.

There is, moreover, the incredible lie that somehow all the debt that lies ahead was created by Obama in twelve months, in a recession, when austerity would be fatal. This was a lie propagated mercilessly by the FNC/RNC and by partisan bloggers like Glenn Reynolds. And it has stuck, as Obama has pressed for centrist reform between the screamers on the left and the haters on the right.

I’m sorry but this is not an anti-government vote. It’s a hissy fit because reality has finally hit and the conservative bromides of the 1980s work as poorly as the liberal bromides of the 1970s. If Brown were urging big, structural cuts in entitlements, if he were proposing junking health insurance reform because he has a plan to balance the budget in five years, if he were pledging to vote against the wars for the deficit’s sake, if he were proposing ways to restrain private healthcare costs and Medicare’s GOP-passed Medicare D – whose fiscal impact makes the current reform look like a tightwad’s – it would be one thing. But he isn’t and they aren’t.

They merely want to kill a reform presidency. They have no alternative. They have no policy that could restrain health insurance costs and the desperate plight of the uninsured. They have no plans for tackling climate change, when they can bring themselves to admit it exists. They have no plans to win or end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that Obama himself isn’t trying. They have no idea how to balance the budget – except more tax cuts!


There is the no substance (other than tax cuts in all scenarios) in the strategy that is supposed to revive the Republican party.    The intellectual dishonesty and the willful blindness of their recent record is also breathtaking.  Sometimes a country does deserve the people it elects.  But in the meantime blue-dog Democrats led by Evan Bayh are already preparing to run for the hills.

One question has always puzzled me.  If the blue dogs are so intent on being Republican-lite (Bayh, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, etc. and the ever present narcissist Joe Liberman) how does it really help them against a charge that their state might as well elect the real thing.  There is a line between sensible moderation to reflect the values of your base and craven surrender at the first hint of Republican opposition, which the blue-dogs specialize in lately.  While the Democrats should not start weeding out moderates, it is past time for them to take a stand, grow a pair and identify what values are worth fighting (and if it comes to it, risking losing elections) for.  Otherwise they will by default return to their rudderless existence under George W. Bush, with a profoundly dispirited base.  It is also time for them to aggressively challenge the alternative set of facts that the Republicans have been peddling since inauguration, instead of relying on the media (which is wedded to the idea of balance for its own sake with no fact checking).

I will close with a clip by Jon Stewart a couple of days back, whose monologue directed at the Democrats at the end of the clip is very much on point.

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Posted on 19-01-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Economics) by Rashtrakut

It is not a pleasant start to the new year for Venezuela’s populist strongman Hugo Chavez.  With oil prices in decline there simply is not enough money for him to toss around for his pet domestic projects and to fund his rogues gallery abroad.  Economic trouble at home and rising crime are denting his popularity.

Then he commenced the year with a devaluation of the currency.   One suggested rationale was that it gave him more money to spend domestically to buy goodwill before the Presidential election (something his buddy Iran’s Ahmadinejad tried to do before rigging the elections).

But there are natural effects to such a move.  As Venezuelans worried that imports would double in price (and Venezuela is heavily reliant on them) they started shopping furiously.  So the next diktat went out to store owners warning them not to raise prices.  Now inevitably comes the next phase of nationalizing banks and supermarkets.

Venezuela is yet another country to be cursed with natural resources.  It makes it too easy for corrupt leaders to siphon off the money (Nigeria, Indonesia, Chad) or to blow it on populist largess (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela).  It is easy to sympathize with Chavez’s assertion that the oil wealth has been used to enrich a few, because it is true.  But rather than using the wealth to create sustainable avenues for growth in the future, he has squandered it on populist subsidies and quixotic support to Cuba and other dictatorships to tweak Uncle Sam’s nose.  Venezuela is now facing the effects of his mismanagement.  But with no viable opponent to his regime in sight yet, Venezuela’s caudillo is likely to be re-elected in the elections this fall.

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Jyoti Basu died this Sunday.  The nonagenarian had been ailing for some time.  The usual round of obituaries, paeans and critiques have poured in.  See here, here, here, here, here and here.  In 1977, the English educated Basu initiated the longest running elected rule by communists (which likely will draw to a close next year).  The common theme in the articles on Basu since his death generally refer to the following:

  • His unusual length of tenure,
  • The land reforms initiated in Bengal that broke the feudal hold on society,
  • His secular outlook that saw few religious riots on his watch,
  • And finally the historic moment in 1996 when he bowed to the command of his party’s politburo and turned down the prime minster’s job.

The more critical articles also refer to the industrial stagnation, if not regression, that occurred on his watch.

Basu in many ways is an overrated figure.  His importance is inflated by the collapse of all opposition parties in West Bengal, aided by the general unwillingness of the Congress party to challenge the reds on their home turf and the communists ruthless utilization of the instruments of state to quash dissent.  This is in stark contrast to the other communist bastion in Kerala, where Communist and Congress led coalitions alternate power with mind numbing regularity.

However, the untrammeled power Basu and his communist colleagues had locally, ultimately showcased the ideological bankruptcy and incompetence of the communist movement in India.

Land reform in Bengal was long overdue, and that early accomplishment marks the high water mark of communist rule in West Bengal.  Unlike Kerala, the other social indicators remain average.  The Bengali peasant is still poverty stricken, businesses have fled the state and Kolkata’s status as the cultural capital of India has long since been taken over by Mumbai.  The violent collapse of the communist party’s attempt to entice the Tata Motor Company to build a plant at Nandigram, symbolizes why businesses are not keen to enter Bengal.

The impact Basu would have had in the rejected prime ministership (he later cryptically referred to the rejection as a historic blunder) is also overrated.  Basu would have headed a ramshackle coalition united by the pursuit of power and a loathing of the Hindu nationalist Bharaitya Janata Party (subsequent events would show that many of the constituents of the coalitions valued power over their loathing of the BJP).  The coalition was supported from the outside by the just deposed Congress party which was smarting from its electoral humiliation and itching for the opportunity to force a new election.  It is hard to see how Basu’s tenure as prime minister would have been markedly different or longer than what actually transpired.  The BJP would have still made the necessary electoral adjustments and Basu’s mismanagement of West Bengal’s economy hardly supports the theory that any good governance on his part would have prevented the BJP’s ultimate rise to power.

The humbling of Bengal’s communists in India’s parliamentary elections last year has given rise to hope that their  33 year old grip on power may come to a close in the next state elections.  However, with the successor likely to be the mercurial populist Mamata Banerjee, it is hard to see West Bengal’s lot improving anytime soon.

Meanwhile, one of the last of India’s “gentlemanly” politicians of a bygone era has passed on, fortunate that he will not see the collapse of the creaky edifice he nurtured in West Bengal for so many years.

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