Over The Barrel: Democrat’s dilemma

Subrata Dhar Subrata Dhar

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “a government big enough to give you everything you want is also strong enough to take away everything you have “. Seen through a contemporary India-centric lens , this statement could read, “people want a strong government for development and stability but not so strong as to compromise their civil liberties”. They want a government that will invigorate the economy and clear the tangled undergrowth of corruption, petty bureaucracy and institutional decay but not one that will threaten their constitutional rights. Their democratic dilemma is how to get the former without risking the likelihood of the latter. Two recent events made me reflect on this dilemma. One, the UP elections and two the passage of the enemy property bill. I have a personal interest in the latter which I will explain below.

The UP elections have given the public what they want. A strong leader, PM Modi bestrides the Indian polity like a colossus. He owes much, of course, to the organisational genius and political acumen of Amit Shah but it is because of the clarity of his message, the charisma of his oratory and the perceived strength of his leadership, more so than any other factor, including the ideology of the party, that the BJP is in power in the Centre and in 14 of the 28 states accounting for almost 60 per cent of the population. It is because of him that no bookmaker will bet against a BJP-led victory in 2019.

The PM is in a rare position today. He has the mandate to implement the raft of economic policies required to achieve what Vijay Joshi in his excellent book, India’s Long Road: The Search for Prosperity has called “high quality growth” but which hitherto have gathered dust because of “tit for tat” coalition politics and vested interests: Policies such as administrative overhaul to strengthen the government’s delivery system particularly with regard to health and education services; second generation reforms of the “factor” (that is, land , labour and capital), markets to enhance investment and employment and disinvestment from loss-making public sector enterprises. He also has the opportunity to bring India into pole economic position by exploiting the uncertainties of Donald Trump’s economic nationalism, Brexit, the French and German elections and the relative slowdown of the Chinese economy. The PM can, in short, afford to look beyond the five-year electoral cycle and take decisions that eight years hence in the final year of his second term or 13 years on as he contemplates retirement, he can reflect upon and say “these were the right things to have done . India is better for them.” He can afford to be a statesman .

That said, hubris can and does lead to nemesis. Indira Gandhi paid a heavy price for ignoring this forewarning. She did not accept the verdict of the high court invalidating her election in June 1975 and imposed instead a state of Emergency. Two years on, an unforgiving electorate summarily turfed her out of power. Analogies should not be overstretched but I was reminded of that decision during the passage of the Enemy Property Act a few weeks back . Here, I need to make my disclaimer . The person most affected by this act is my brother-in-law (my sister’s husband) Sulaiman Khan, son of the erstwhile Raja of Mahmudabad.

Sulaiman’s father was a Pakistan national when the India-Pak war broke out in 1965 . His property in India was accordingly sequestered under the Defence of India act 1962 and thereafter under the Enemy Property Act 1968. In 1973, Sulaiman’s father died and Sulaiman , his only son and an Indian citizen , asked for the return of his property. The government demurred and Sulaiman went to court . His claim was upheld first by the civil court, then by the Bombay High Court and finally in 2005 by the Supreme Court. All courts accepted that the act under which the property was acquired was transient in application; that Sulaiman was the rightful heir and that he was entitled to his property. The SC wrote “the respondent who was born in India and his Indian citizenship not being in question cannot by any stretch of imagination be held to be enemy or enemy subject.” .

Early last year , the government issued an ordinance nullifying, retroactively, the Supreme Court decision . The ordinance was not ratified by Parliament and lapsed. Over the next 12 months , the government issued the ordinance an unprecedented four times. So unprecedented that the President of India himself commented that executive ordinances must not be used to bypass legislative sanction. Last month through a parliamentary sleight of hand and just a few days before the ordinance was due to lapse for the fifth time, the government managed to pass the bill. It did so by tabling the bill unexpectedly and at a time the opposition MPs were sparsely present in the House.

I will not comment on the legality of the government’s actions — I presume the courts will consider it in due course — but I will say three things. One, as a family member, it was painful to hear the government ministers imply in the public forum of Parliament that Sulaiman and his nuclear family were deemed “enemies” of the state in perpetuity because Sulaiman’s father had in 1957, 10 years after Independence, gone to Pakistan. They were saying this about someone who has been forever an Indian citizen; who was twice elected to the UP assembly with electoral majorities that few have secured, who has a masterful knowledge of the Vedas and Hindu philosophy and whose claims have been upheld by every level of the judiciary over 30 years of litigation . Second, the government has , in enacting the bill, taken away all that Sulaiman has and here I am not talking about only property. It has taken away his patrimony of citizenship. Third ,the bill has been passed in a manner that brings into sharp relief the prescience of Jefferson’s forewarning and the acuteness of the democrat’s dilemma .

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Courtesy: http://indianexpress.com

Source: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/over-the-barrel-democrats-dilemma-prime-minister-narendra-modi-uttar-pradesh-assembly-election-4596878/

Poll: Merkel’s conservatives in dead heat with challenger

A regular poll of German voters shows the nationalist Alternative for Germany party slipping further amid infighting in its ranks, while Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and its main challenger, the Social Democrats, remain in a dead heat.

The Emnid Sunday poll for the Bild newspaper showed both major parties’ support unchanged at 33 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The Social Democrats have been boosted in the polls since nominating Martin Schulz in January as Merkel’s rival for the chancellery in the September election. That failed to translate to electoral success, however, in a state vote in Saarland last week, which Merkel’s conservative party easily won.

The nationalist AfD fell one point to 8 percent, its lowest level in more than a year.
Courtesy: https://news.yahoo.com/health/

Source: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/poll-merkels-conservatives-dead-heat-challenger-46522974

Democrats urge Donald Trump to veto bill blocking online privacy rule

US President Donald Trump. (Source: AP) US President Donald Trump. (Source: AP)

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer is urging President Donald Trump to veto a resolution that would kill an online privacy regulation, a move that could allow internet providers to sell information about their customers’ browsing habits. The New York senator and 46 other Senate Democrats signed a letter calling on Trump to “tell us whose side he’s really on.”

The Federal Communications Commission rule issued in October was designed to give consumers greater control over how internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon share information. But critics said the rule would have stifled innovation and picked winners and losers among internet companies.

Both the House and the Senate voted this week to pass the resolution, sending it to Trump.

“If President Trump clicks his pen and signs this resolution, consumers will be stripped of critical privacy protections in a New York minute,” Schumer said. “Signing this rollback into law would mean private data from our laptops, iPads, and even our cellphones would be fair game for internet companies to sell and make a fast buck.”

The Trump-appointed chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a critic of the broadband privacy rules and has said he wants to roll them back. He and other Republicans want a different federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to police privacy for both broadband companies like AT&T and internet companies like Google, which do not have to ask users’ permission before tracking what websites they visit.

Trump is expected to make his decision soon.

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Courtesy: http://indianexpress.com

Source: http://indianexpress.com/article/world/democrats-urge-donald-trump-to-veto-bill-blocking-online-privacy-rule-4596589/

Why the Republican health care bill is doomed to fail — even if it passes

House Speaker Paul Ryan, on March 7, uses charts and graphs to make his case for the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite)

The old Superman comic books used to feature a character named Bizarro, who looked exactly like the Man of Steel, except for his blocky, Frankenstein-like features and the fact that everything about him was reversed. Whereas Superman could burn things with his eyes, the lumbering Bizarro could freeze them; while Superman’s X-ray vision couldn’t handle lead, Bizarro’s could penetrate only lead. You get the idea.

That’s the image that kept popping into my head this week as I watched Republicans hurtle their way toward an ill-conceived overhaul of the health care system. In a sense, what Republican leaders are frantically trying to push through Congress is the Bizarro health care plan — a mirror image of the law it would replace, patched together from spare parts and castoff ideas.

They now seem bent on making exactly the same mistakes Democrats did in 2009, but in exactly the inverse way.

At about this time eight years ago, I was hanging around Capitol Hill and the White House, putting together a preview of the looming health care fight for the New York Times Magazine. (The piece holds up pretty well, I think, but judge for yourself.)

The pivotal Democrat on the Hill then was Max Baucus, the Montana senator — and later President Obama’s ambassador to China — who chaired the Senate Finance Committee. Like Obama, Baucus thought CEOs, health care providers and politicians who had once opposed reform could now be persuaded to support it, as long as the plan promised to get soaring costs and federal spending under control.

And Baucus told me that any new law had to have at least some measure of bipartisan support, even if that required painful compromises. That’s because no piece of massive social legislation had ever been perfect from the start, and in order to preserve and fix it, you needed at least a few members of the minority to be invested in its success.

A transformational law of this size, Baucus said, would be “unsustainable” if one party decided to enact it alone.

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The problem for Baucus was that most Democrats, especially in the House, didn’t care at all about corporate competitiveness and public debt. They cared about bringing down the number of poorer Americans who couldn’t afford insurance, and they weren’t open to painful fiscal choices in order to get that done.

So while Obama and his congressional allies sold their plan to industry and the public as an economically necessary reform that would “bend the cost curve,” the law they ultimately passed was really more a wealth transfer program that birthed new regulations and taxes in exchange for expanded coverage for the poor and some middle-class protections — a program very much in the tradition of the Great Society.

The most difficult decisions involving public spending were pushed off years into the future, for some other group of politicians to worry about. And of course, as it turned out, Democrats ended up passing the law along strictly partisan lines, using a budgetary gimmick known as “reconciliation” to help it along.

This wasn’t their call, to be fair; they really weren’t given a whole lot of choice. But what all of this meant, practically speaking, is that Baucus was right — the law was probably politically unsustainable from the start.

What came to be known as “Obamacare” was wildly successful in reducing the number of uninsured Americans by more than 20 million, but the public saw little of the economic benefit it was promised. (Although in truth, health care costs have risen more slowly than they might have otherwise.) Democrats couldn’t make necessary fixes in the sprawling law, because no one on the Republican side had any interest in seeing the law fixed.

Jump ahead now to where congressional Republicans are this week with their American Health Care Act — which is precisely the upside-down version of where Democrats were eight years ago. Whereas Democrats took a bill that was principally about expanding health care and dressed it up as an economic measure, Republicans are taking a plan that’s almost entirely about economics and pretending it has something to do with health care.
Courtesy: https://news.yahoo.com/health/

Source: https://news.yahoo.com/news/why-the-republican-health-care-bill-is-doomed-to-fail-even-if-it-passes-090012938.html