America is redeeming itself Thursday, Nov 6 2008 

World Trade Centre many days before the terrorist attack

World Trade Centre many days before the terrorist attack

As commentators have said, the United States has voted for change in electing Barack Hussein Obama for the top post. However, how far the country will deviate from Bush’s policies once Mr. Obama is in Office is yet to be seen.

Looking back, once finds that if it was not for 9/11 and subsequent developments, Mr. Obama would not have got elected. For the religious, it would look ordained.

The foolhardiness of his predecessor in Office has seen that the terrorists actually win. The very objective of the attack on World Trade Centre was to hit at the economic might and prestige of America. By jumping for costly was, especially in Iraq, President Bush ensured that the economy and prestige of America suffered– much more than what the terrorists would ever have hoped to achieve. And economic collapse was the last nail on the Republicans in the elections. In a way, Osama bin Laden had his revenge.

Now the world is watching how America would change from a democratic country (!) fighting numerous wars in all corners of the World, often in business interest. Will Mr. Obama have a worldview different from his predecessors and even the average American? (The average American, at least most of them, knows little about rest of the world and cares little.)  Surely, he can connect to the world more than any of his predecessors. He has relatives in Kenya. He spent some years of his childhood in Indonesia. He studied law with students from all over the world at Harward Law School, and had a classmate from Kerala (now practicising in Kochi bar). Even culturally, a Hanuman icon has reached him from India and he is said to be carrying that as a talisman. Though not very significant in this context, his name is a mixture of the Jewish, Muslim and the African while being a Christian.

However, these factors would not overcome the compulsions of his Office. After all, he is to be the President of America, a country whose riches had been usurped from the first nations (Native Americans) and built upon using African slaves and neocolonialism. However, the man occupying the Office will be different. In a sense, he is the rightful inheritor— biracial, and his country has always been willing to change.

He will not be as selfish as the Bush administration. We can expect enlightened selfishness from him, an America redeeming itself.

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US, India, China and oil prices Thursday, May 8 2008 

The United States has spawned another debate after the one over food scarcity. It rightly points out that increased fuel consumption in India and China is one of the reasons for increase in crude oil prices. Yes, it is just one of the reasons.

But, the steep rise in oil prices began with American invasion of Iraq (See BBC report), and it is yet to end. Many have opined that the US attacked Iraq for oil and for fear of fall in value of dollar. (Reasons cited by the U. S. itself like presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam’s terrorist links have since been disproved.)

The attack, apparently, only accentuated the problems. Increase in price of oil and fall of dollar is yet to be checked. Crude oil prices have increased from less than 30 dollars a barrel to more than 120 dollars a barrel. (Along with that terrorism shows no let up in Iraq. But the biggest failure of the U. S. in the Middle East is its failure to contain oil prices. The Arabs have beaten Bush in his neoconservative enterprise in the Gulf.)

Some facts should speak for itself (from the CIA Fact Book)
America with less than one third of the population of India consumes 20.8 million barrels of oil a day. This is eight times the consumption of India and one fourth of the world consumption. India consumes only 2.4 million barrels a day. European Union comes next to the U. S. with daily consumption of 14.7 million barrels. China is third with about 6.5 million barrels a day (in 2005).

US president, Indian middle class and food scarcity Monday, May 5 2008 

Statue of LibertyThe U. S. President George Bush’s statement that prosperity of Indian middle class has led to spiraling of global food prices have attracted strong criticism in India. The communists in Kerala were the most vociferous.

However, the critics of Bush’s statement have reacted somewhat superficially, ignoring some hard facts. The first point is that there is some truth in what Bush is saying. Second is that it is not just diversion of good grains for fuel production that is harming the world most, but subsidies for bio fuels.

It would be very difficult to stop a shift from food crops to bio fuel crops if bio fuel is cheaper (and not less efficient) than other fuels. Laws or policy prescriptions would have very little effect on such a shift worldwide. Ultimately, markets would determine the balance. What governments should do is not to subsidize bio fuel crops and subsidize food crops. Subsidy for food is important as survival of many depend on it. The Western nations are doing a grave crime against humanity by subsidizing production of fuel from grains.

However, it is to be noted that countries outside the US and Europe also offer subsidies that harm food production. Let us look at Kerala State for instance. What Bush says had happened here much before. People had gone for tapioca at times of poverty and scarcity. With prosperity and increased availability of rice, they switched back to rice. The State could have retained some of the area under tapioca and gone for fuel production (alcohol) without much effect on rice production. But that did not happen for want of viable technologies and investment.

On the other hand, rice paddies were steadily being converted from the seventies to garden lands with coconut, banana, areacanut, rubber or other crops. The Rubber Board subsidized replanting of rubber. There were subsidies for other crops also. But sufficient subsidies and work culture was not there to ensure the retention of paddy cultivation in many areas. So, the food deficit of the State kept on worsening. Higher prices for rice could make paddy cultivation increasingly profitable and stem the tide of conversion of the paddies. But the poor ought to get rice at affordable prices. So, targeted subsidies are justified. At the same time, there should be mechanisms to check price rise resulting from shortages and prevent the budget of the middle class from going haywire.

All subsidies, whether it is to the farmer or others, ultimately go to the consumer. Subsidy for rubber benefits the tyre manufacturer. Subsidy for biofuel benefits large consumers the most. Subsidy for food benefits all (and somewhat equitably since you cannot eat more than a stomach’s full), but the poor would benefit most.

Americans and most of the Westerners are heavy users of energy. They waste a lot of resources, ranging from energy to toilet papers. So, they are basically responsible for all the shortages in the world. To be more precise, all those who waste resources across the world are responsible.

Incidentally, Keralites have achieved quality of life on par with many Western nations by using comparatively lesser resources. (See Wikipedia article)

For further reading:

US eats 5 times more than India per capita

Global Agricultural Supply and Demand: Factors Contributing to the Recent Increase in Food Commodity Prices (U. S. Economic Research Service; 05/01/08 )

Matters of scale: into the toilet
Toilet paper consumption in US and elsewhere

Food crisis payback for ’20 years of mistakes’: UN expert

UN Says US, EU Biofuel Production Irresponsible

Political parties criticize Bush’s remarks

Kerala Model

Why blame India
Interesting facts about projected increase in food consumption