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«CHANGING TIMES:The concept of planning has changed: while in the 1950s, it was the most appropriate tool for ushering in faster economic growth, ...»

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Pre-2002, The New York Times (NYT)characterised it as torture in 81.5 per cent of the articles and theLos Angeles Times, in 96.3 per cent of the articles; yet after that year, the usage dropped to 1.4 per cent and 4.8 per cent respectively.

In this context, the recent comment by NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet that his newspaper would “from now on… use the word ‘torture’ to describe incidents in which we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information,” — as if they had no inkling over the past decade that the CIA was brutalising “folks” all over the world — sounds hollow, as indeed Mr. Obama’s belated admission does.

narayan@thehindu.co.in The inability to shut down Guantánamo Bay will remain one of Mr. Obama's biggest failures Kerala’s challenge Kerala has moved expeditiously to curb the availability of Indian Made Foreign Liquor and get on to the road to total prohibition. Whether the decision is the outcome of intra-party manoeuvres in the Congress, or of a genuine quest for the public good, it bodes well for the State from the social standpoint. Indeed, the State could serve as a testing ground on this front for the rest of the country.

Kerala has one of the highest per capita consumption rates for hard liquor among Indian States, and there is a predominant sentiment against it given its deleterious effects. Yet, there really was no known proclivity, or demand, in favour of prohibition among the two dominant political formations in the State. There has been no organised temperance movement of note in recent times — but for occasional pleas by certain cultural leaders and the Church. The likes of the Gandhian, M.P.

Manmadhan, who led an anti-liquor movement, albeit a feeble and largely symbolic one, in the 1970s and 1980s, have been all but forgotten. This background does give a certain unreal quality to the sudden decision. However, the fact that shutting out liquor could bring significant electoral dividends, given the large constituency of voters, including women, who are affected by and feel strongly against it, would not have been lost on Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. This will also staunch the flow of money from liquor contractors into the kitty of political parties, come electiontime.

It remains to be seen if the government is able to sustain the decision in the face of the loss of revenue and expected opposition from the powerful lobby that thrives on gains made from the business. A range of political and administrative and even legal challenges lie ahead of it in the implementation of the policy. A principal challenge will come from the loss of excise revenue.

Hopefully, the health dividends that will accrue will set off the losses, even if not in the account books in the short term. The enforcement challenges in terms of stopping bootlegging and smuggling from neighbouring States, and the whole business going underground, will be stiff. The oft-heard argument that curtailing availability seldom serves the purpose, does not take into account the fact that a significant segment of new drinkers would be dissuaded by the curbs. The government should meanwhile come clean on the question of toddy as well; its continued sale would surely contradict the declared policy. Livelihood issues of toddy-tappers should be addressed. Measures for the rehabilitation of large numbers of alcohol-addicts will be no mean task. It will become clear soon if the Kerala experiment is sustainable, given its impact on the exchequer and given the problems of enforcement as well.

Obama’s back-to-work challenge It’s “back to school” week for President Obama, after what a CNN analyst called “the vacation from Hell.” So perhaps it’s a good time to examine what’s been going wrong for Mr. Obama recently and whether he can fix it.

The common complaint of late is that Mr. Obama is “disengaged.” This has always been somewhat of an issue, given his reticent public style, but the criticism intensified during his Martha’s Vineyard holiday. It’s an odd critique: Mr. Obama works at least as diligently as George W. Bush did during his frequent trips to Texas. Even during this golf-besotted vacation, Mr. Obama seemed to spend a good part of most days dealing with crises, foreign and domestic.

Mr. Obama could have saved himself some political trouble by scuttling the vacation altogether, but I’m not sure that would have benefited the country, to say nothing of his family.

It’s often suggested that Mr. Obama should invite more politicians, such as House Speaker John Boehner, to join his famous golf outings. But would that really help? Even if the two became BFFs on the links, it’s doubtful that Boehner could forge bipartisanship among a House Republican caucus terrified by the tea party.

Certainly Mr. Obama could communicate better. But as he has learned, giving speeches and more frequent news conferences doesn’t necessarily move the needle of public support. Six years into his presidency, Mr. Obama turns a lot of people off. Even a fine speech (such as his remarks after the beheading of journalist James Foley) can set the stage for a paroxysm about his insensitivity in playing golf afterward. Mr. Obama probably thought he was doing the right thing in showing that the President couldn’t be brutalised into changing his routine. It was an understandable decision, but a wrong one.

Mr. Obama has also drawn flak for what were seen as dispassionate remarks after the slaying of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Mo. Here again, I suspect Mr. Obama was doing what he thought was presidential — trying to speak for all the country. But Ferguson showed how precarious that middle ground can be.

The truth about the disengaged Mr. Obama is that he has probably stopped caring what most critics say about his performance. A few months ago, during his Asia trip, he mused aloud during a news conference about complaints that his foreign policy was weak, asking critics such as Sen. John McCain and hawkish editorial writers: What do you want me to do? Repeat the mistakes of the past?

Ignoring detractors

Mr. Obama today seems to ignore what his detractors think. Part of his detached style comes from the fact that he’s stubborn. He doesn’t like to be jammed, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned when he tried to push Mr. Obama on the Iran policy during a vulnerable period in September 2012, shortly before the presidential election.Mr. Obama listens to criticism and then, at a certain point, the switch flips off. He stops shadowboxing with critics.

Mr. Obama appears to have reached this tipping point of disinterest in his dealings with Congress.

He’s sick of their whining and feuding. As The New York Times reported, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pleaded in June for help in clearing ambassadorial nominations. Mr. Obama reportedly dumped the problem back in the lap of Reid and his Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell, saying: “You and Mitch work it out.” I suspect Mr. Obama is so sick of congressional inaction — and of the bad blood between Mr. Reid and Mr. McConnell that helped cripple his legislative agenda — that he wants to wash his hands of

the mess. Unfortunately, that isn’t really an option for Mr. Obama’s remaining two years in office:

Disdain isn’t a governing strategy.

Aloofness works for European leaders. Think of Charles de Gaulle or Francois Mitterrand in France, or Angela Merkel in Germany. But America, with its democratic ethos, likes warmer politicians. Even genuine aristocrats such as Franklin D. Roosevelt had to pretend to be common men.

What’s Mr. Obama’s plan as he returns to school for fall? Recently, he has seemed to adopt the strategy of a student who’s tired of being bullied: Work hard; make decisions; ignore criticism to the extent possible; hope for new friends and a change of luck.

This careful, passive strategy might be acceptable in a world that was benign and forgiving of mistakes. But to recover in the remaining years of his crisis-plagued presidency, Mr. Obama will need to take a riskier, more aggressive approach. — © 2014. The Washington Post Mr. Obama has seemed to adopt the strategy of a student who’s tired of being bullied: Work hard; make decisions; ignore criticism to the extent possible; hope for new friends and a change of luck Framework to boost exports The new NDA government’s first annual Foreign Trade Policy (FTP) statement will be unveiled soon.

Normally presented after the Union Budget, the FTP has usually concentrated on measures to boost exports and reduce transaction costs. It cannot explicitly reduce import or export duties — which are in the domain of the budget. However, the incentives for exporters have indirect implications for the exchequer. Employment generation in India through exports of manufactured goods has been a key objective of the FTP, which remains despite the change in nomenclature from the previous Exim Policy that was focussed on exports. A proactive policy on imports is equally necessary in a scenario where India is integrating with the rest of the world. Within the country there are minimal import restraints. A consistent policy framework is necessary to deal with items such as imports of gold and petroleum. Recently, the FTP has outlined ambitious plans for the diversification of exports, both in terms of the range of products and the destination countries. These commendable efforts have, however, not improved India’s export performance which, like world trade itself, remains below par.

The new government’s orientation to trade cannot be really different from that of its predecessor.

The Prime Minister, while inaugurating a port-based special economic zone, urged manufacturers to join in export promotion. In his Independence Day speech he called for a “make in India” movement, which has the potential to turn India into a global manufacturing hub. The emphasis in the FTP will naturally vary depending on current circumstances. Multilateral trade as embodied by the WTO received a setback with India holding out against a previously agreed Trade Facilitation Agreement.

While India has its own reasons — preserving the norms for domestic food security — the fact is that the failure in Geneva has spurred moves towards free trade agreements (FTAs), regional pacts, bilateral agreements and so on. These are inferior to rule-based multilateral trade, irrespective of any short-term gains they might confer. The Commerce Minister’s call for a comprehensive review of the performance of all FTAs is noteworthy. India already has 14 agreements in force, including one with the ASEAN grouping of 10 countries, and is negotiating several others. Both India and China have free trade agreements with ASEAN, and unless cumbersome procedures relating to country of origin are scrupulously followed, India might face a flood of duty-free Chinese goods. Besides, FTAs have not exactly delivered on their promise of larger trade between signatories. These factors will surely weigh, even as India prepares to renegotiate stalled issues of the Doha round.


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