Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tears, Fears and Smears; The GOP Story

“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalised and cruelly mocked, but it cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered.”
Morton Kondrake

I have never been a big soap opera fan but it’s hard not to get drawn into the almost daily drama unfolding in the ranks of the highest profile members of the Grand Old Party. They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and I would argue that this already transpired during the Bush era. The price they paid was losing Congress, the Senate, the majority of Governorships and the Presidency. So having paid a heavy price for their wanderings in the Bush years, one would think the Republicans would be regrouping, and coalescing far away from the public eye trying to formulate a new strategy for 2012 – so what is going on with the endless trials and tribulations of their leading cast members?

Let’s start by taking a look at their brightest star from 2008, Sarah Palin. In the last few months, Ms. Palin has most definitely been in the forefront of the news. She has been firing missives back at her critics with alarming regularity but sadly none have anything remotely to do with the challenges facing the nation or with matters concerning public policy. And they have not been debated in the pages of The New York Times or The National Review but played out in People Magazine and the National Enquirer. The Palin and Levi family feud started with the very public breakup of her 17 year old daughter and Johnston Levi, the father of her child. Then, instead of learning her lesson Ms. Palin continued on to another public spat with David Letterman, a late night comedy show host. Granted Mr. Letterman’s comments were in poor taste but, even after he apologized the Governor of Alaska continued to drag herself into the mud and humor him. Not funny. As for becoming Queen of the White House in 2012, I am not so sure she has won any confidence from her few supporters leave alone her many detractors, but 2009 Queen of the Tabloids – Ms. Palin wins hands down.

Then there’s the crying Governor from South Carolina, another promising GOP Presidential candidate for 2012. Mark Sanford says he is an honest, God-fearing, bottom-line kind of guy. He also happens to be the guy who has been cheating on his wife for the past year and lied to his aides and staff, almost creating a crisis of leadership in his state with his five day disappearance. He actually said, “What I did was wrong, period. I spent the last five days crying in Argentina.” Perhaps it would have been more fitting if, instead of shedding tears while coming clean, he had sung a farewell tribute to all of his constituents:
“Don’t cry for me South Carolina. The truth is I never left you,
All through my wild hikes, and my mad disappearance;
I kept my promise, but had to keep my distance…”

I really hope for his sake that the road to the White House is paved with good intentions. But then again this is America and maybe all he needed to say was: “I did have sexual relations with that woman.”

Up next, the great brown hope of the GOP, Piyush Jindal or Bobby as we now know him. The man Rush Limbaugh has touted as ‘the next Ronald Reagan’. The Republican Party proudly advertises him as the first Indian-American Governor and hopes he will begin to attract a less white crowd to its base, even as he publicly decries his brown roots. Identity crisis aside, I must admit that I liked what I heard from him last year before he came out, in a manner of speaking, as a Republican up-and-comer. He sounded like a balanced and pragmatic man, even if he is socially conservative. However, in his first real test of leadership in the national eye, as the opposition’s rebuttal to Obama’s first address to Congress, his performance left a lot to be desired. It was not just awkward, but made Sarah Palin’s performance with Katie Couric look masterful in comparison. However, the bigger issue I had was with what he said. He had lost all the things that I liked about his perspective and viewpoint and sounded like a tired, superficial, contrived and insincere old Republican lapdog.

Finally, let’s talk about Eric Cantor, the Minority Whip, who is being touted as one of their next generation of leaders. Forget that this man was front and center supporting Cheney’s claims on Sunday news shows in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. He said of Iraq and Al Qaeda that, “really they're one and the same.” The issue I have with this man dates back to September, 2008 when the Bush-Paulson $700billion financial bailout package failed in the House because the majority of Republicans voted against it. Instead of simply accepting responsibility for the failure to garner the required votes within his party, as the Minority Whip, he blamed Nancy Pelosi and the speech she made a few minutes before the votes were cast. He said: "There is a reason that this vote failed - and that is Speaker Pelosi's speech.” Suggesting that he had the votes needed, but a dozen grown men from his party all changed their minds after hearing pathetic Pelosi's words. Leaders are made of sterner stuff in my book, and real men accept responsibility and move forward. Erik Cantor is clearly neither; and if he is the GOP’s idea of a new leadership, then God help them.

The sad truth is that the only loud voices you really hear from within the Republican Party today are from their players from yester-year, the ones like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney who just refuse to go away and continue their reckless fear mongering. They have nothing worthwhile to say and no new perspective to add to the national debate, other than offering the same old tired rhetoric of Obama’s drive toward Socialism. Frankly, the only breath of fresh air is the man who had to publicly apologise to Rush Limbaugh; the Chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. While by no means an intellectual heavy-weight, he has at least been trying to inject some flavor and freshness to the party’s tired old white image, and has succeeded only in becoming a laughing stock within his own party’s base faster than Karl Rove can creep out Meghan McCain on Twitter. Sadly, I have no clue what the Republican Party stands for today. They are allowing themselves to be defined by the Democrats, who clearly have a spring in their step and bounce in their stride, thanks to Mr. Obama. Meanwhile, the Republicans seem only to have a tremble in their voice and a limp in their walk, thanks to Mr. Bush.

At this rate, a Limbaugh/Cheney ticket might turn out to be their only in option 2012, or then again maybe the Republicans have it right after all - to just sit back and continue doing what they are not doing and wait for the Democrats to screw it all up and hand it back on a platter; just like the Republicans did before them…

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Open Letter to Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Photo by – / KHAMENEI.IR / AFP)

"Allah has revealed to me, that you must be humble. No one should boast over one another, and no one should oppress another."
Prophet Mohammad

To His Excellency Ayatollah Khamenei,

Your demise seems inevitable; the only thing that remains to be seen is how you will respond to the clear and unyielding will of your people. I realise that you are a product of the Islamic revolution, one that was designed to overthrow the corrupt and tyrannical Shah, liberate your people from the West, giving them back their country. Yet your liberation gave them everything but liberty. In the end it bestowed a tyranny of a different order, one in the name not of the Shah but of Allah.

On Friday, when you spoke at the weekly prayers, we could see the fear in your eyes, hear it in your voice and words. Now we have all seen it even more clearly in your actions. If your only means of holding onto power is through the thuggery of the Basij and Revolutionary Guard, then you have already lost everything.

Every journalist you silence will only make the voices of peaceful dissent grow louder. You can jail and torture every liberal leader but new ones will emerge faster than you can jail them, many more than your prisons will have room to hold. You are sorely mistaken if you believe that you will succeed in crushing the will of the people through brute force and the threat of death; you will only serve to make their will grow stronger.

For every man, woman or child you kill, twenty more will rise up to fight your tyranny and injustice. Every drop of blood that is spilled will blot your conscience for an eternity. And every last breath you take away from another innocent soul will remind you that your end also draws near. No longer will the people of Iran silently tolerate atrocity and oppression in the name of Allah or any other.

The baton cannot crush anymore than a bullet can impede the path of freedom.

You still have a choice. You can forge a new revolution; one that upholds democratic ideals and not theocratic ones and you can truly return Iran to her people. The time has come to free a new generation, one that does not know of the Shah’s tyranny or of the injustices of your revolution. It is time to give them their birthright – a free and open society. This is the time to choose your place in history – as the father of a great nation or as the deposed despot of a revolution whose time came and has long gone.

Do not forget that the entire world is watching. We can see all you do and see through all that you claim you do not. You cannot hide, nor pass this off as some evil Zionist or Anglo-American plot to destroy Iran. The truth continues to flow through the cell cams of your people, and through every Internet gateway to the watching eyes of the world. Choose wisely.

In the end even Allah will not be able to save you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran and Obama

“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.”
Rabindranath Tagore

As recently as 2007, George Bush announced that the US was going to set aside $40 million to help support democracy in Iran, a noble cause but one that should have been done silently. It was immediately used as an excuse by Ahmadinejad to crack down on students and “dissidents” labeled agents of America and to vilify the US as an evil empire that interferes with the domestic affairs of countries to suit its own regional, economic and security needs. Of course, this was also preceded by years of the Bush administration naming Iran a part of the so called ‘axis of evil’ and a terrorist state; all of which served only to add fire and lend support to the madman Ahmadinejad’s argument while stifling the moderate voices within Iran.

Now, contrast all of the above with Obama’s outstretched hand and lack of pre-judgment, where he is willing to initiate dialogue with whoever is chosen by Iran to represent its people on the world stage. If you look beneath the surface of the rhetoric of Ahmanidejad and the Khamemei there has been a rapidly growing moderate and pro democratic movement within Iran for some years now. Largely among the youth, who number 30% of the total population, and have no memories of the Shah, America’s interference or the revolution and thus no baggage other than what is espoused by their leaders and American Presidents. Additionally, they have been hugely dissatisfied with Ahmadinejad’s handling of the economy, and most upset with his repeated assertions of denial of the Holocaust, which has served only to further isolate Iran. So from their perspective Obama’s outstretched hand further invigorates their cause by re-enforcing their belief that it is their own government which is the impediment to meaningful dialogue that could lead to peace in the region and prosperity for all Iranians.

At the same time the establishment in Iran, made up of the Supreme Leader, Supreme Council and Revolutionary Guard, realized that a friendly America would very quickly pull the rug out from under the feet of their revolution, because it has quite frankly been the only glue holding this passé ideology together in the 21st century. And the reality is that these ideologues no longer have any relevance or meaning to a new generation of Iranians. Granted, I do not have the benefit of NIE’s or CIA briefings each morning but in my estimation this fraudulent election result is a panicked miscalculation by the establishment to consolidate power and protect them from a friendly America. They believed that the only way to ensure their success was to make sure that their loyal horse Ahmadinejad (who was handpicked from obscurity by the Supreme Leader Khamenei a few years ago) won the election, and by a large majority so it would also seem to represent the will of the people. While this was a defensive reaction, to Obama’s overtures, they totally underestimated the spirit and resolve of their own people, not just the youth but also the majority of women - who clearly yearn for a more open, moderate and friendly Iran and are no longer willing to tolerate having the hijab pulled over their eyes.

So by publicly not taking a side, Obama has spoken volumes and helped the Iranian people in the greatest way that America can or ever has before. I can hear the voices on the right saying that his seemingly laissez faire attitude is a sign of weakness and one journalist even likened it to Obama voting “present.” But here’s the thing, if you have been listening, Obama has made it clear that US foreign policy is changing course. Unlike in 1953 when the United States and Great Britain orchestrated a coup, to overthrow the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mosaddeq and install the Shah of Iran; a tyrant who was more amenable to signing long term oil contracts with US and UK, instead of Russia. America under Obama has no interest in determining or charting the course of Iran. By making this clear, in both his speech to the Arab world in Egypt, and again re-iterating it this week, along with the promise of dialogue with whomever is chosen to represent Iran, by its people, he has taken away the most powerful tool that the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad have used to hold on to their repressive regime – evil America.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Greatest Democracy on Earth

"Democracy is a device that ensures that we will be governed no better than we deserve.”
George Bernard Shaw

At over 10,000 years old, she is one of the oldest civilizations in the history of the world and yet today is considered one of its youngest nations. She gave the world Chess, Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus, the number system and developed the decimal system in 100 BC. She established the world’s first university in 700 BC, had a physician performing complicated surgeries like cataract, artificial limbs, cesareans, fractures, urinary stones and also plastic surgery and brain surgeries about 2,600 years ago. She also gave us the art of navigation and navigating, the value of “pi” and the time taken for the earth to orbit the sun, hundreds of years before anyone in Europe did. She is also the birthplace of two of the world’s major religions, Hinduism (the world’s oldest religion) and Buddhism and a place where Christianity has existed for over 2,000 years and where the oldest Jewish synagogues and Jewish communities have resided since the Romans burnt their 2nd temple.

Today, India has no official language or religion but has 30 official languages (and 2,000+ dialects) and has people of every religion in the world, including the second largest Muslim population. It is only in India that you will find the Dalai Lama (and the Tibetan government in exile); a Sikh Prime Minister, a female President who was preceded by three Muslim Presidents and where the head of the ruling party is a Catholic Italian woman. Perhaps, India also faces the greatest geopolitical challenges of any nation with Pakistan bordering her on the West and Bangladesh, China and Myanmar to the East; it is a wonder that she is not just surviving but thriving and a testament not only to the grit and tenacity of her diverse peoples but also an ode to the success of Democratic ideals.

Last month Indians went to the polls to elect a new government. With 675,000,000 registered voters, 220 political parties and 5,398 candidates all vying for 545 parliament seats. The entire process took one month and required almost 1 million polling stations across the country. In the end 450,000,000 people had casts their votes and made their voices heard making this the greatest exercise in democracy the world has ever witnessed!

However, what I find most fascinating about this great show was how the people chose to vote:
India has long been divided by communalism, and parties intent on creating greater segregation through caste politics. As a result she has seen governments formed out of multiple and factious coalitions, with no one party really being given a clear mandate, by the voters, to lead. The main opposition party also went to town about the last coalition governments weak response to the Mumbai terror attacks because they showed a great deal of restraint in not taking the terrorist bait and attacking Pakistan; which would have destabilised an already sensitive region and quite possibly led to a nuclear armed conflict. This restraint was not a sign of weakness but of great strength, in my eyes, but one doubted if the vast majority of the voting population would be able to see through the opposition's smoke. And given that India has one of world’s poorest and least educated electorates it seemed that she was destined to stay divided and a slave to crappy coalitions that led from the status quo of the most compromised center. The fact that the electorate chose to look beyond what was presented to them and vote intelligently with their minds and rise above the communal divides, created by individual political parties, shows that the democracy and this great, young nation have begun to come of age.

Jain Hind!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Capitalism RIP…

(Image: Henley Design Studio via Unsplash)

"The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit."
Gordon Gekko

Don’t get me wrong, I am as much of a jingoistic money grubbing capitalist pig as the best of them, and believe me when I say that I don’t intend on ‘sharing my wealth’ anytime soon (well, what little is left of it, anyway!); but I am saying that American Capitalism, the ideology that has been the essence and core of the global capitalist engine, is dead. 

The one that has for the last thirty or so years been filling up on spurious petrol to keep it revving; and much like Detroit, it is too late for an overhaul or an oil change to keep this baby purring – it will need to be replaced with a new and more generationally friendly one.

My conclusion is based on a simple premise. It is not one steeped in financial foresight or wizardry or even based on an innate understanding of derivatives, credit default swaps or the global financial systems’ intricacies or lack of regulatory structure. To my simple and poorly read financial mind there were (and remain) a couple of warning signs that our system of Capitalism was on a path to failure. And I want to clarify that it is not the fundamentals of Capitalist theory, but the people applying them, that have failed; the end result, however, remains the same.

The first warning was a growing lack of accountability coupled with a management culture where captains of industry were no longer being chastised, but routinely rewarded, for failure. And we, society, were saying it was fine that these men take no responsibility for their actions as long as they did not screw us personally. Of course, it also seemed like looking the other way had become easy because we were all in some way feeling a part of the greater wealth creation, by pushing our credit limits beyond our means and deluding ourselves into believing that our first million was probably also just around the next corner.

It seemed that as long as these CEO’s had not broken any laws, all their sins were permissible and they could move to their next big job with a slap on the wrist and a golden parachute, instead of into management oblivion as should have been the case each time and with no exception.

Add to this Wall Street financial firms, hedge funds and Silicon Valley unicorns, creating generational wealth in a year and yet few were creating products or innovating, financial or otherwise (last time I checked CDO’s were not products). They were generating huge profits on a quarterly basis, which often turns out were based on false premises, grossly overstated sales figures or simply hiding big losses. These people were not only building the most dangerous and flimsy house of cards in the history of the world, but gambling recklessly and profiting from it and here’s the kicker – they were using your retirement money and mine to do it.

The second sign was one that was brewing in the world of academia. Colleges, whose critical role is to broaden minds beyond traditional spheres of influence and thinking, and to encourage future generations to discover and pursue dreams they never knew they had, were busy peddling sophisticated and fail proof financial models that would help companies evaluate ‘risk.’

You suddenly had professors everywhere becoming advisers to large corporations, showing up on company boards, and espousing ‘financial and economic’ expertise via regular columns in newspapers or appearances on television and basking under the bright lights of six and seven figure celebrity.

Something is astray in academia when the line between classroom and boardroom starts to disappear in such a relaxed and yet alarming way. There were numerous reports of how talk of becoming a doctor, public servant or teacher had long disappeared from the modern day dorm room. It was now all about how one could make his first million dollars before turning thirty. Dreams consisted of amassing Astor or Rockefeller-like wealth not over a few generations, but through a few bonuses.

The third is what I deem the deterioration in the moral fiber of society; big words, I know, but simple when thought about in the context of the lack of meaningful action in the world of business and life, today.

It is as if the fundamental human values and principles (not written laws or government regulation) that used to govern our inner consciences were being washed away in a tsunami of wealth creation.

It felt like people only cared about creating personal wealth and were no longer willing to give back in real and consequential ways, in terms of donating their time and energy to bettering future generations. As long as everyone was making money, everyone seemed happy. Average people were buying their dream homes, and even less average ones were managing to buy second and third homes, politicians were filling their campaign coffers to the point where some actually stopped accepting any more contributions and we were filling our shopping carts with the latest flat screen televisions and Blue Ray players with money we did not have, and of course India and China were growing at 10% a year; nobody bothered about serious accountability and most of us did not stop and think about personal responsibility.

We were happy to keep looking the other way as long as we and our own felt better off from one year to the next. And it is not altruism that I speak off. My mother always said it was easy to open your cheque book to appease your conscience, but it’s much harder to give up your Saturday to mentor new recruits or give up the tee time to take your children to an all day camp - the issue that I believe lies at the heart of our problems and the failure of Capitalism.

We were looking out for ourselves (in much, much larger numbers than in generations before us) and worried less and less about improving the future of our employees, companies, communities and our world.

So we can simply blame the Bernie Madoffs, the Dick S. Fulds, the
Mark Zuckerbergs for all our woes and push for stricter laws, more stringent financial regulation and more transparent regulators, but I don’t believe this will solve the deeper underlying problem for the far future.

I am all for bringing to book the leaders who misled companies, abused public office, refused to accept responsibility and engaged in criminal wrongdoing (and even have their bonuses and campaign contributions revoked) but I also believe that there is one more thing that we should all think about: ensuring that we set the example and bring up better people, in the generations that follow.