Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why We Must Say No to Anthony Weiner

“Shame on us…”
Andrew Cuomo,

Those were Governor Cuomo’s words when asked about the possibility of Anthony Weiner being elected Mayor of New York City. I completely agree with Mr. Cuomo because it will be a sad reflection on how low our standards have dropped (even when it comes to a politician) more than it will say about Weiner’s shamelessness to run in the first place.

Many argue that in instances of personal indiscretions it should be left to the spouse to determine the fate of the transgressor, and not for constituents to judge or condemn. Some people further argue that having extra-marital sex has little to do with one’s abilities to govern. I say BULLSHIT because ultimately one’s behaviour and actions determine one’s character and integrity. 

Just because you put on a business suit does not mean you become a different person. 

Let’s start with a fact that cheating on your spouse is a conscious decision one makes. It is not something that happens unconsciously when one consumes a lot of alcohol or uncontrollably because a woman is repeatedly throwing herself at a man. Think about it this way: if the same man who cheats on his wife were offered an opportunity to sleep with the most desirable woman in the world, but told that he had to jump off the top of the Empire State Building right after – would he still do it; even if he was inebriated? 

Men cheat because they believe they can get away with it. Most of the time they are drunk on power and feel invincible and believe that if they get caught they will grovel, beg and get their wives and constituents to forgive, and these days most of them do. 

Everyone has opportunities to cheat and everyone can make a mistake, but men who have a pattern of cheating do so knowing full well they are doing wrong and still go ahead with it. What it boils down to once you clear away all the psychobabble excuses about personal issues, childhood experiences and personality types, is quite simply the difference between men with ethics, morals and depth of character, and those without.

In Mr. Weiner’s case, it is true that he did not sleep with anyone and there was no physical relationship. He was caught sexting and tweeting lewd messages and naked photos of himself to college girls and porn stars. At the time the allegations surfaced he had been married less than a year and his wife was three months pregnant. 

Frankly, for the most part his actions were in line with that of just about every other male politician today, who is drunk on power, self-obsessed and blind to the rules of social decorum that the rest of us mortals abide by. Without a doubt his behaviour was inexcusable. In my book, it shows poor judgement and a complete lack of character.  But even if we were to forgive his lewd tweets for a minute, the fundamental issue remains that when the story first broke, he went on a media blitz denying everything. He had the gall to actually look us all in the eye and claim that his account was hacked, that he had been pranked and was the victim in this whole affair. He lied to us.


See Weiner’s interview with Nightline:



Mr. Weiner decided that saving his job was more important than being honest with the people who elected him. Furthermore, he only came clean when it became abundantly clear that the blogger, who originally broke the story, had far more incriminating photographic evidence; including statements from women who had been Mr. Weiner’s victims. 

Mr. Weiner waited till he had absolutely no other way out, cornered by the media and under pressure from his party leadership. It would be one thing if his first instinct had had been to come clean; to admit the facts, apologise and be ready to face the full consequences of his actions. While I would still have expected him to resign, at least he would have won my respect for the fact that he faced the fire for his own foolhardiness. But his only instinct was to lie; to obfuscate the truth and deny all responsibility for his actions. This goes directly to the character and integrity of the man, and he is clearly lacking both.

Fundamentally, this is what it boils down to for me; it is not about whether his extra-marital affairs can be separated from good governance as a public servant or if one has any bearing on the other but that when trouble comes, how does one react? 

Do you lie and save yourself or face the fire and suffer the consequences for your actions, no matter how harsh or career-ending they may be. That is what defines the true character of a person. 

On this front Mr. Weiner failed miserably. So the bottom line, for me, is not if he broke any laws or if his wife forgave him, but the simple fact that he lied to protect himself. We put our trust and faith in Mr. Weiner to make important decisions about our daily lives and future and he broke that trust. He not only demonstrated extremely poor judgment but also showed weakness of character and therefore he is no longer fit to represent us again. 

This is the message we need to send to Mr. Weiner this September. If we do then we will put all politicians on notice; letting them know that we are going to hold them to a higher standard. And perhaps, over time we will we be able to attract people of stronger character and greater integrity.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Snowden and The American Tragedy


“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” 
Patrick Henry 

Snowden has become a big embarrassment for America. It is not so much his information leaks about America’s post 9/11 spying mechanisms that have been awkward, but the US’s increasingly humiliating global chase to capture this one man. 

There was a time when the world and almost every country within it shook with trepidation or at the very least publicly showed a great deal of respect, when America roared about anything at all. Today, the picture we are seeing is vastly different. Forget respect. Country after country is also showing no fear, even when being threatened. And we are not talking about Iran or Venezuela here, but places like Hong Kong, with whom the US has great relations, strong diplomatic ties and even an extradition treaty. Russia, with whom the US shares a love-hate relationship, usually ends up co-operating in such matters, but not today. Even tiny countries like Ecuador and Iceland are showing the US the middle finger by entertaining Snowden’s asylum request and refusing to kow tow to US demands and threats of withdrawing trade benefits.

Seeing the world react this way, most Americans will be quick to blame Obama for being a weak leader who has been soft on Iran, Syria and on terror. They will claim that he has made America look feeble. Perhaps it is true that he has tried to show a softer side of America in order to counteract the shoot from the hip years of Bush-Cheney. His words might have done this, but if you look purely at his actions around his national security decisions, they tell a different story. Consider his vastly expanded use of drones, a unilateral raid on the soil of a sovereign democratic nation (to kill Bin Laden) and his expansion of the NSA domestic spying program; all show him to be as hawkish as his predecessors. But it is too easy to put the blame squarely on Obama’s shoulders, even though he does share part of the blame for America’s growing impotence in the world today.

The reality is that America’s response and particularly her actions in the years following the attacks on 9/11 are entirely responsible for her lack of standing and respect today. On the 11th of September 2001, the majority of the world shared in America’s pain and stood shoulder to shoulder with her. There was unanimous global support for American retaliation in going after the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for providing safe haven to Al Qaeda. Nobody questioned the justification for this war; in fact most nations supported it, and it was sanctioned by the UN barely a few months after the first American and British boots were on the ground. But it was Cheney and Bush’s obsession with Saddam and their subsequent unilateral actions for their War on Terror, many in violation of International Law and the Geneva Convention, that led to America losing the moral high ground and respect it had earned for more than a century. Under Bush’s leadership the world witnessed a great superpower turn into a powerful bully that turned a deaf ear to everyone, including steadfast and lifelong allies. Now, a little over a decade later, America is witnessing the realities and outcomes that have resulted from Cheney’s knee-jerk reactions and secret government decisions made in those fear filled months and fear-mongering years after 9/11.

If I were to describe a country that operated a detention center that is located on foreign soil, simply to allow it to be outside the jurisdiction of their courts and legal processes. A place where anyone can be held indefinitely and without charges filed against them. A country that allowed warrantless wiretapping on its own citizens. One that set up detention centers across the globe for the purposes of using torture and other interrogation techniques, like water boarding. A country that believes it can use drones to hunt down and kill anyone, on any sovereign soil, without burden of proof. A country that passed opaque and far reaching laws that allow secret courts to make secret decisions that will never see light of democratic process. A country that was willing to allow its domestic surveillance programs to collect unlimited amounts of communication data on its own people, without any probable cause; and one that claimed to do all this in the name of protecting its citizens - what country would come to your mind? Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, Burma, China, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen…

Only through a combination of press leaks, public outrage, some congressional oversight and whistleblowers have we been able to piece together the extent of the secret decisions and frightening overreach made by our government in the name of security, in the years after 9/11. Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA’s massive domestic spying program are just the latest revelation to come to light. It is now abundantly clear that the vast majority of the decisions our government has made do not uphold America’s ideals, beliefs and democratic principles. The most distressing part is that each new disclosure serves to further weaken and erode America’s already diminished moral standing in the world, because her actions continue to be consistently incongruous with her stated character and ideals. I think someone once said that we see a person’s true character in times of adversity. This is not cause for celebration or an opportunity to point fingers; in fact quite the opposite. America for all her bad has been a responsible global citizen, and the most compassionate superpower in history, doing more to help the world than any other nation. Nobody is perfect but in the grand scheme of things America has always overwhelmingly stood for good, for democracy, for transparency and for rule of law and helped promote this cause across the globe. Today, it is hard for America to claim that China and Russia are thwarting the rule of law when lawyers in the White House have spent years writing-up legal arguments to defend US invasions of foreign lands, without any threat or provocation or UN backing. Creating new legal frameworks to justify drone strikes in any country, against anyone that the US deems a terrorist and without the burden of proof. Even justifying the murder of their citizens without any due process.

The America that Bush and Cheney created and Obama has failed to dismantle has clearly lost its way. Bush and Cheney’s America trembled and succumbed to fear in the face of great adversity; taking the easier and more slippery path to safeguarding national interests. They chose the path travelled by nations that feign democracy and do undemocratic things to protect their people and beliefs, justifying it in the name of greater good. The America I knew and have respected was made of sterner stuff. She would have resolved to defeat terrorism by further upholding liberty and justice, while protecting her fierce democratic ideals and freedoms, above all else. By choosing this path Bush, Cheney and Obama have achieved the opposite. They have weakened America and thereby made an already dangerous world a far less safe place.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Open Letter to Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo

“This above all, to thine own self be true.”
William Shakespeare

Dear Ms. Nooyi,

Among corporate leaders today, I believe you are among only a handful that have had the courage to stand up to both shareholders and Wall Street. Rather than bow to quarterly results pressures you have orchestrated a corporate strategy that embraces a long-term vision for your company. One that will no doubt help Pepsi become a more responsible corporate citizen as it re-balances its products and portfolio to have a greater focus on health. Rather than push for short-term profits, you have taken the harder road and the one less travelled. For this I have a great deal of respect for you and it is in large part the reason I am sending this open letter to you.

I believe integrity, honour and doing the right things are important to you, and that these are values you hold more dearly than those of simply pursuing and delivering bottom-line results, at all costs. Under your stewardship, PepsiCo’s corporate philosophy seems to be more than words on your website: “we believe acting ethically and responsibly is not only the right thing to do, but also the right thing to do for our business.” 

PepsiCo recently became the main sponsor of the Indian Premier League (IPL), reportedly signing a Rupees 396.8 crore deal for a five year sponsorship of the IPL (source: Wikipedia). The IPL and its owners, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) are currently engulfed in a massive illegal betting and match fixing scandal that has tainted this tournament, the sport and distressed its loyal fan base. Worse than the unfolding scandal has been the spineless response to the crisis from its governing body, the BCCI. The President has refused to resign unconditionally, even though his son-in-law (CEO of one of the main IPL teams) has been directly implicated. The farce that is currently being orchestrated is not only shameful but blatantly unethical. And it is now clear that there will be no “real” attempt made by the BCCI to get to the bottom of the scandal or cleanse this great sport. Instead, they seem to believe that by trying to pull the wool over our eyes they will be able to keep their purse strings intact and continue to fill their coffers. This without any consideration for the reputation of the sport they are charged with stewarding or any shred of respect for the fans that fill those coffers.

This is why I am reaching out to you, to implore you to do the right thing and disassociate your company and this great brand and sever all ties with Indian cricket. PepsiCo should terminate its IPL sponsorship immediately and unconditionally; until such time as there is has been an unbiased, fully transparent and ethically conducted investigation into the improprieties and an effort made to rid the sport of this cancer. Show us that PepsiCo is willing to stand by its stated corporate values, ethics, and integrity and do the socially responsible thing in India. Show us that even when the financial stakes are high for the company that you will follow your own guiding principle that states: “Speak with truth and candor: We tell the whole story, not just what's convenient to our individual goals.” 

Like most Indians, cricket has been a religion for me also. Ever since I could walk I have adored the game, revered its players and most of all admired the gentlemanly values that the game embodies. Today, I ask you to help me save this game from the powerful few who have hijacked it and turned it into a corrupt racket. To save it from those who believe they can run it like a personal fiefdom with scant regard for the sport or for the one billion people who cherish it.

You have the power to send a message to the BCCI and IPL in the only way that will matter to them. Today, I ask you to help us take the first step in giving cricket back to the people of India and the world.

Sincerely,
Mr. Vaish 

NOTE: Here is the text of the response I got from PepsiCo. Sadly, it feels like standard form letter. However, I am still hopeful we will see some action by their senior management.

Dear Mr. Vaish,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us at PepsiCo. Your letter to Ms. Nooyi was shared with me for response.

We appreciate the time you took to share your sincere feelings regarding this topic and for the constructive spirit in which they were offered.

Please know that I've shared your concerns with our senior management team to be sure that they fully understand your position.

Sincerely,
Consumer Relations Associate Supervisor 
  

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Can cricket save India?

“The price of greatness is responsibility. 
Winston Churchill

Cricket is still considered a gentleman’s game. It is one of the oldest and largest global sports still steeped in tradition and old fashioned sporting values; derived from its 16th century origins in Southern England (source: Wikipedia). Ironically, cricket’s dominance and governing power structure have also mirrored the shifting balance of global economic power from the West to the East. Today, India’s Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the most powerful cricket governing body in the world based on its financial clout. It is single-handedly able to make the rules about how and where the game is played.  Much like India vies to become a Superpower on the world stage, the BCCI in many ways already has become one. However, with great power comes great responsibility and this is a lesson that like India, the BCCI have yet to learn.

The BBCI is currently embroiled in a massive image tarnishing illegal betting scandal that involves spot and match fixing where players were paid to underperform to produce outcomes in Indian Premier League (IPL) matches. That there is illegal gambling in cricket is not a surprise to anyone, but the extent and sheer audacity of this latest scandal is greater and farther reaching than any we have witnessed in the past. International and Indian cricket players have been caught, fined and banned in the past, but beyond that absolutely nothing has been done to cleanse the sport of this plague. In fact, since the last time there was evidence of illegal activities, instead of becoming more transparent and creating a zero-tolerance policy for ridding the sport of this cancer, it feels like the BCCI closed ranks, brought more politicians onto their board and created a smaller circle of elite Indians to protect their nexus and corruption. Thus far the fans have been content to look the other way as long as they were entertained and a few heads rolled, every time there was a scandal. This time it feels very different and the public outrage seems to be growing.

The IPL betting scandal not only involves top Indian players but also movie stars, bookies, the underworld, business and cricketing officials, and politicians; Bollywood could not have come up with a richer cast of characters or more intriguing storyline. To fully understand the far reaching ramifications of this current scandal, let’s start with the fact that the current head of the BCCI is a businessman named N. Srinivasan who also happens to be the owner one of the most successful teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL) - Chennai Super Kings. That alone should have been sufficient ground to disqualify him from holding the posts he does as President of BCCI and the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, anywhere else in the world. But this type of cronyism is nothing new in India. That fact aside, one of the revelations from the still unfolding scandal is that Mr. Srinivasan’s son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, (supposedly CEO of the Chennai Super Kings franchise) has been implicated in the illegal betting, by one of the prime accused. Naturally, this makes Mr. Srinivasan’s position untenable and one would expect him to immediately tender his resignation. It would not only be the honourable thing to do as head of the tainted sport, but also necessary because of the clear impropriety involved in any BCCI investigation into the matter, as it involves his family member. Instead of resigning, Mr. Srinivasan has chosen to go on the offensive. He says he did nothing wrong, and has even suggested that it is the media who is responsible for sullying his reputation and integrity. So drunk on power and deluded is Mr. Srinivasan that he has the tenacity to claim that he can proceed in an unbiased manner. So he has personally appointed a panel (consisting also of two BCCI board members) to investigate the matter and bring all the culprits to justice. It is a sad testament to what those in power have reduced honour and responsibility to in India. 

Cricket is a religion in India. We hold cricketers in higher esteem than movie stars and Gods. So while the stakes are high with this scandal at home, because the BCCI is a $200 million business, it now has global tentacles and an image that goes well beyond domestic cricket. So I believe that the way we handle this latest scandal will have far reaching consequences that will define how India is seen and respected on the world stage. This time we cannot hide from or pretend that it will be swept under the rug like every other political scandal that the world could not care less about. Not only are the eyes of the cricketing world fixed on this scandal, but given the vast sums of money and global commercial interests, it will be the cynosure of all eyes. The BCCI also mirrors all that is wrong with India; the business-political nexus with two of its board members being a senior member from each of the main political parties. Even one of the most controversial and vociferous future prime ministerial candidates, Narendra Modi (Gujarat’s Chief Minister) who happens to head the Gujarat Cricket Association has stayed uncharacteristically silent on the issue thus far. So far the BCCI board has also shown no signs of developing a spine and calling for Mr. Srinivasan’s removal. Nor have any senior well-respected cricketers, who are on BCCI’s payroll.

The future of India hangs in the balance because we have a real chance to show the world that we can be taken seriously by stepping up to the plate and cleaning up cricket. We should introduce transparency, fairness and rules that apply to all, just like on the cricket field. We can break both the underworld and business nexus with politics that is also prevalent in guiding every aspect of decision-making in commerce and public policy in India, today. And we can show the world that there are still gentlemen left in Indian cricket; who have honour, integrity and the courage to stand up and do the right thing for the good of the sport, its adoring fans and an entire nation and world that reveres cricket. India can lead and set the example, and the moral standard, for the world to follow; the way a Superpower should. Or we can once again all look the other way, as an investigation drags on for years and finally exonerates all those involved and we remain a banana republic where anyone can be bought for a price. I hope we choose wisely.

UPDATE: Read my Open Letter to PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi


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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The American Idea

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
United States of America Declaration of Independence 

Why was America not completely outraged by the charades that were played out at both political conventions in this last election cycle? Why are the American people not taking to the streets and demanding their country back from these feckless, disingenuous and negligent politicians. Kick all the bastards out is what I say, because there is no difference between them. They are both equally content making hay while taking the country on a reckless joyride off a dangerous moral and fiscal cliff. 

The GOP and the Democrats have both been effectively operating a convenient revolving door policy, ratcheting up the ideological rhetoric every so often, to keep the country deeply divided and completely distracted, so that we never really pay attention to the real issues anymore – the ones that affect ALL of us and our children; irrespective of gender, race, wealth or religious belief.

I have always thought of America as an idea; an idea born out of the belief that if all men are free (and not beholden to anyone) then they might one day also be equal.  This equality is not about being uniformly rich, poor, male, female, or possessing some God given talent, but one born out of the ability to make something of ourselves, no matter what our starting lot in life may have been. This is an equality built on success that comes from hard work, integrity and determination; and that is something any man or woman can attain. 

This success is not measured by the size of your bank balance or the size of your house, but by how you much you changed the hand you were dealt and the circumstances you were born into and what you managed to accomplish, in your lifetime, both by seizing and building on the opportunities afforded to you by this country. Every son was meant to build on the success of his father and every daughter reach higher than her mother. And yes, it did take a few generations to achieve tremendous success, and not everybody does or will, but the point was that you tried. 

This American ideal was also never just about just me, me and me, but also about my country, my fellow man and most importantly about the greater good. It was rooted in a belief that every American was merely a small part of a much greater and more powerful whole. 

While each of us is encouraged, to individually reach for the stars, we are also meant to help our fellow Americans along the way, especially those who are less capable, less able and less gifted. It was never meant to be a survival of the fittest, fastest and strongest; that philosophy can never lead to a truly great society or a wonderfully prosperous nation. 

However, it was also never about creating a welfare state, where we encouraged those less fortunate and less capable to rely on hand outs for their subsistence. It simply goes back to the old adage of teaching a man how to fish. Keeping with this same analogy, consider that in order to help him learn to fish we may need to extend him a loan to buy equipment and a boat, but that he will repay the loan once he has secured his livelihood.

This is where both Republicans and Democrats have it so completely wrong today. It is not a choice between one and the other. It is very easy to say that everyone should pull himself up by his own bootstraps, get an education and earn an honest and decent living without any help along the way from the government or anyone else. Equally, it is easy to create a system where we encourage people to become dependent on government assistance for life. Poverty does not create laziness; I know many more rich kids who sit around doing nothing. Lack of opportunity and lack of being challenged (or having things come too easily) both create different but equally bad dependencies. 

A key to any nation’s future success is based on two basic fundamentals; a path to a good education or skills and parenting that instills the ethic of honest hard work, in our children. No amount of government, big or small, or legislation can fix these two problems. We all need to start by embracing good old fashioned values and once again take on the great responsibility of parenting much more seriously. 

Fixing the education system is harder, but what we do know is that throwing money at the problem does not work. I would wager that putting every school back in the hands of a great principal, and fully empowering them to hire and fire teachers and determine their own curriculum, will go further than any effort in the last few decades. 

And finally, there is also a role for government and for every individual - only a better and more responsible combination of these two things will guarantee America’s future success. 

This is what once made America the greatest nation on earth; this along with the fact that when it really mattered - Americans of all colours, viewpoints, religious and political affiliations, consistently managed to rise above their differences, and cable news divisions, to unite under one flag in pursuit of a higher purpose. 

However, much of this seems to no longer be true of the America we live in today. The politicians, media and pundits (who masquerade as newsmen) are in large part to blame for the vitriol and divisiveness that exists today. One that has opinion makers taking sides and digging in for sound bites and ratings, rather than working to help offer solutions to some of the big problems this nation faces. 

But it is all too easy to blame the powers that be and forget that we too are all complicit in reducing this to an America of two extremes; depending on which ideology we aspire to. 

There is a successful and rich half that believes everyone should find their own way, without any help from government and without access to the same opportunities they had. The other half seems to have convinced themselves that people born into poverty cannot break the cycle; so it easier to let them resent their luck for being born on the wrong side of the tracks, and live on welfare. This rather than making sure that our government and each of us work to provide them with opportunities that will allow them to one day make their way over to the other America.  

It almost feels as if the poor segments are being told (by both parties) that they are entitled to government assistance in lieu of access to opportunities that will help them improve their lives and enable them to stand on their own two feet. 

Meanwhile, the cumulative effect of all this is that the principles, values and work ethic that were once at the heart of the American Dream are being reduced to a fast disappearing middle class, along with the idea that was once America.