American Diary: Three Days to Go—A trip to Cincinnati

Can just 18 Electoral College votes decide the outcome of the next US President? How confident are the Republicans of the prospects of Governor Mitt Romney winning in Ohio?

We drive down on a crispy winter day to Cincinnati, a beautiful city on the banks of the Ohio River with parts of the city extending to Kentucky state. The city, situated in Hamilton County, is truly impressive with a mixture of high-rises and old style American buildings. The city is traditionally the reserve of the Republicans.


I get to speak with some operatives at their offices who seemed confident of capturing Ohio. When I tell them of the Democratic operatives’ claim that President Obama is leading, though narrowly in the polls, they tell me that it is a dead heat as President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are virtually tied. In order to become the President, 270 electoral votes are required and so it is certainly possible. However, the Republican operatives do not believe that it will come to that. They are quite confident because the gap has narrowed from the double digit lead Obama had a couple of weeks ago. Moreover, the Republicans are also likely to have more money to spend on advertising and such during the last phase of the election.


Ohio is the workshop of America with a lot of top companies, including Procter & Gamble, headquartered here. Her economy is doing better than other parts of America with unemployment rate less than the national average. President Obama’s bailout of the automotive industry (aka Detroit) has had a direct impact in Ohio as it is the home for a lot of ancillary companies, resulting in return of manufacturing jobs. There is also a rising tide of Indians, Arabs and other immigrants which can help the president’s cause. There is no sense of an economic crisis here as evidenced in other parts of America


Ohio has always been regarded as a bellwether state. There’s a saying—as goes Ohio so goes America. The president won Ohio handily in the last election has to hold on to it now. If Governor Romney wins then it will mean that the president’s ‘firewall’ has been breached. Its 18 Electoral College votes mean more than mere numbers. It might all come down to the turnout that each party is able to muster and the winner could be decided by just a handful of these votes.


(Harsh Desai has done his BA in Political Science from St Xavier's College & Elphinstone College, Bombay and has done his Master's in Law from Columbia University in the city of New York. He is a practicing advocate at the Bombay High Court.)


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Protecting your parisar

Traffic woes are a constant source of discussion and debate. Sujit Patwardhan, founder and trustee of Parisar, tells us how and why urban transport is their focus

Congestion, pollution and accidents are daily travails of the urban population. Huge budgets are being allocated for various transport projects. Yet, cities are reeling from the impact of sharp rise in the number of automobiles and two-wheelers and the lack of planning, infrastructure and urban transport. Isn’t it strange then, that only a few NGOs focus on problems of urban transport?
Parisar, is one such organisation, founded in 1981, in Pune, by a handful of individuals, sharing a growing concern about the deteriorating urban eco-system and livability of the city, constantly under the onslaught of skewed development priorities. 
Parisar opposed cutting of old banyan trees for widening of the iconic Ganeshkhind Road and, as usual, was accused of ‘stopping development’. It is then, that the activists realised a deep flaw in the way they were trying to solve this problem. We understood that wrong and outdated policies were the biggest threat to urban environment. This led Parisar’s to focus on issues of urban transport and advocate sustainable transport policies. 
In 2004, Parisar, along with other NGOs, organised a seminar called “One Right Turn” which, explored the ideas of sustainable transport, challenged the idea of ‘building your way out of congestion’ and proposed public transport, walking and cycling as solutions. These thoughts were vindicated by the National Urban Transport Policy (2006), which espouses nearly similar principles. The seminar changed the way the city thought about transport and led Pune to submit proposals to build a network of over 100km of Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) under the Central government-funded Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. Parisar’s challenge today is to ensure proper implementation of this project.
Parisar publishes reports on its work regularly. One such report is the ‘Report card on the Quality of the City Bus Service’, an assessment of the cycle tracks and analysis of the city’s annual budget. Parisar also contributes in preparing various reports like the Environment Status Report a detailed plan for Public Bicycle scheme. 
Parisar has successfully pushed for adoption of a ‘Street Design Manual’, which will help in improving environment in the city so as to adopt walking as a major mode of transport. Parisar also helps creating a network of similar NGOs in various cities, with the idea of sharing experiences and aggregating forces for advocacy at the national level.
“Explaining what Parisar does is sometimes difficult”, according to Ashok Sreenivas, an IITian who splits his time between Parisar and Prayas, another NGO. “People usually connect more easily with NGOs that help the poor or the needy and where the beneficiary is someone you can visualise,” he adds. That may be one of the reasons why there are only a few NGOs that work in the area of urban transport, where it is more about getting the government to do the right thing than the citizens doing it . Those who work at Parisar come from diverse backgrounds and learn about urban transport on the job.
Gathering greater public support for improving public transport, creating cycling facilities and a better environment to adopt walking while moving away from automobile-centric planning are the ultimate goals of Parisar. These goals, once considered radical, have now, become mainstream. 
As an organisation, Parisar understands that it still has a long way to go. But that does not deter its belief that despite increasing number of vehicles, it can be easier to travel in days to come.
For contributing to its efforts, Parisar welcomes volunteers and offers student internships. Donations are exempt under Section 80(G) of the Income Tax Act.




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