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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Saturday Afternoon Uplifting Thought

Posted by chakrabarti on September 28, 2013

Following politics back home can often get depressing. Luckily, I live and work in a country where the opposition party would rather shut down the government than let a program providing healthcare to the uninsured take effect. Fabulous!

Posted in India, Politics, United States | Leave a Comment »

Of Weddings and Economic Power

Posted by chakrabarti on March 4, 2011

Some friends of mine are outraged over an astronomical 14 million pound figure that was quoted in a British newspaper as the amount spent by a Congress politician at his son’s wedding. The article cites Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, a renowned socialist, as saying such ostentatious behavior should be avoided by party members. Indeed, notwithstanding the rising inflation in the Indian economy of recent years, the amount allegedly spent by a public figure is quite obscene.

But I think a lot of us are missing the point by simply criticizing the spending behavior, whereas the most pernicious aspect of this whole affair is that a representative of the people [at least an aspiring one] would have accumulated such vast sums of money. Human beings often behave differently depending on their circumstances and consciences, so it is only natural that some wealthy people would like to flaunt their riches at a joyous occasion like their offspring’s wedding. But would the distribution of economic (and implicitly, political) power be much different if the person in question had thrown a more austere party?

To generalize this a bit more, Forbes’ list of India’s filthy-rich contains examples of the most ostentatious  [your Vijay Mallyas], as well as more modest ones [Narayana Murthy comes to mind]. But it is undeniable that their overall net worth provides them with disproportionate influence on corporate and public policies. Our marginal tax rates of 30%, along with major holes in the revenue collection process, do nothing to lessen the political power held by such figures in a society that has an average annual income of US$1,200, and a human development index rank of 119.

So let’s rail against lavish spending by political figures tied to the incumbent governing party by all means, but also let’s recognize the underlying systemic issue, aside from the ostentatious behavior.

Posted in Corruption, Delhi, Politics | 2 Comments »

Revelations Inside “Inside Job”

Posted by chakrabarti on December 13, 2010

Walked into a movie theater after quite some time last night to catch a screening of “Inside Job“, a documentary about the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. The narration was by Matt Damon, presumably to put more people in seats (also might be a logical move given Damon’s identification with Democrats and liberals in general).

A lot of the stuff in the documentary has been out in the public domain for a long time now: deregulation of financial markets starting with Reagan, the dot-com and housing bubbles, the power exerted by a handful of investment banks on the political scene, securitization of mortgages, derivatives trading, repeal of Glass-Steagall under the Larry Summers-Robert Rubin-Alan Greenspan regime (“The Committee to Save World”, as I recall from a Time Magazine cover of that period), the collapse of Lehmann Brothers that triggered the epic financial crisis of 2008, et cetera, et cetera. Relatively little of this was new information, though presented nicely in a coherent format. The contrast with Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” was fascinating. Although Moore’s work is a lot more humorous and on a different level in terms of cinematic excellence, “Inside Job” avoids the question of profit-versus-welfare motive altogether, focusing instead on the role of the financial industry, legislators, the Federal Reserve and the role of the Clinton and Bush administrations in bringing about the debacle of September 2008 and the resulting worldwide recession, from which we are recovering painfully to this day.

Something new that I learned from the screening: the role of Economics professors in lending respectability and a certain legitimacy to the financial industry, be it while writing papers about the (in)stability of Iceland’s banking sector in conjunction with Goldman Sachs [Frederic Mishkin], or advocating for deregulatory legislation as Treasury Secretary and subsequently cashing in while giving speeches to Wall Street executives following a stint as President of Harvard [Larry Summer], or advocating supply-side tax policies that increase the personal wealth of the top 0.1% of the population, many of whom happen to be employed in the financial services sector [Glenn Hubbard].

Another take-away was the commentary on the kid-gloves treatment provided to the big banks by the Obama administration, that has been a major sore point for liberals who expected things to change at least slightly in the past couple of years. Notably, the movie points out that many of the players who were central to bringing about the crisis (Bernanke, Geithner, Summers, the list goes on) are still running the show. Of course, those who were paying close attention to the Obama primary campaign would have recognized that economic populism was not one of the strongpoints of the campaign [their differences were mainly in the foreign policy domain].

To sum up, “Inside Job” is a good primer on the events leading up to the financial “Armageddon”, and its lingering aftereffects. However, the documentary does make you leave the theater feeling a little pessimistic..

Posted in Film, Finance, Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Global War on Terrorism: Cricket Edition

Posted by chakrabarti on January 25, 2010

I haven’t really cared for the carnival that is 20/20 ever since its inception (it became popular among South Asians pretty much by accident, following the 2007 edition of the World Twenty20), and haven’t really followed the shutout of Pakistani players from the next edition of IPL in any great detail. A friend posted his thoughts about the whole situation/debacle. A brief response in in order, I believe:

  • Obviously, merely facilitating cricket series between India and Pakistan is not going to untangle political disputes between the 2 countries, any more than organizing Israeli-Palestinian peace camps is going to hasten a latter-day Camp David. This is not to say that people-to-people contacts have no positive benefits at all, merely that these are long-term efforts  that have to be sustained over generations so as to reduce mistrust among both the societies, and get us to see the other as complex human beings, not just second-hand caricatures.
  • It’s pretty outlandish to scapegoat people who merely play cricket for a living, as casualties of the latest round of conflict between the two neighbors. Not the first time it’s happened, surely, but pretty silly nonetheless. Does anyone seriously believe denying Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan the ability to play in India, we are going to make radical Islamic groups and their many benefactors realize their folly and stop promoting violence against civilians across the border?
  • If the standard were banning players because of all the damage inflicted by a particular nation or government, then I don’t think the Men In Blue should ever set foot on the Premadasa Stadium, considering what the island nation to the south of India has been through for about the last 30 years, events which were in large part facilitated by successive governments of ours back in the ’80s. Nor should we even invite or ever play with English teams, given all the havoc wreaked on the entire subcontinent with colonization, de-industrialization and an assorted mix  of disastrous policies. Of course, it would be silly to hold Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen responsible for all that, so why this picking on Pakistanis? [Awkward silence]…
  • I think there is some justification in not drafting any Pakistanis because of issues related to security and profitability. Sport franchises are corporations looking to turn a quick buck and not offend anyone’s sensibilities in particular, so one can’t really blame them that much for the state of affairs, a view echoed by some. However, we would all be better off if no one pretended this to be the result of a principled decision to “not engage the enemy”. It is instead of not engaging grandstanding Shiv Sena thugs, combined with a center-left government eager to demonstrate it’s “anti-terrorism credentials” and unwilling to acknowledge the reality that inducting Pakistani players into a cricket tournament has little or no bearing on relations between the two South Asian neighbors.

Posted in India, Pakistan, Politics | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

A note of dissent on IBN..

Posted by chakrabarti on October 27, 2009

Transcript of IBN interview with Arundhati Roy (conducted by Karan Thapar). As expected, Roy gets badgered as “crazy” and “nuts” by a lot of people I know. Nothing new about that, since epithets are thrown around every time it’s hard to argue on substantive grounds (similar to how creating a milquetoast public health insurance option in the US gets you labeled simultaneously “socialist” and “Nazi”).

Notice the lame questions the interview directs at her anyway (E.g. “Sixty years after Indian democracy came into being, do you believe that India’s poor and dispossessed have benefited?”) Most of them fall back on the unquestioned premise of India being  the largest democracy in the world, a tiresome phrase that has lost much of its luster with its invocations ad nauseam. The point that she and dissenters like her are trying to get across, namely that there is a lot wrong with our curious mix of democratic politics and partially “free-market” economy systems and we should be willing to admit the failures, is pretty much lost on Thapar. His fallback on Sonia Gandhi & Manmohan Singh apologizing for the Sikh riots was pretty pathetic, I thought.

Posted in Civil Liberties, India, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Big brother comes to India

Posted by chakrabarti on January 5, 2008

If the story in the Times of India is to be believed, then the average citizen of Delhi is in for some harrowing times. Soon, each and every Delhiite would be required to carry some form of identification, be it a driver’s license, a ration card, a voter’s ID card or something else. The authorities have been generous enough to allow school, college and office IDs in the list.

The reason for creating such a requirement, reminiscent of totalitarian dictatorships? Why, terrorism, stupid! This is the excuse being offered by the Delhi police chief, who added “the ripples [of terrorism]… are always felt in Delhi”. So never mind improving intelligence gathering capabilities, coordination with law enforcement authorities in other states or providing better security in vulnerable areas. The most important step towards reducing terrorist violence is forcing every single Delhiite to carry their papers with them.

Mercifully, there have been some murmurs of protest after the measure was announced by the lieutenant governor. Some have even gone so far as to call such a step “dangerous, draconian and autocratic”. Others have pointed out the real purpose of such edicts, which has nothing to do with stopping terrorist violence, and everything to do with creating new ways by which the state can harass and intimidate individuals, especially those who have little or no voice in society.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Delhi, India, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thank God for Partition!

Posted by chakrabarti on September 29, 2007

That’s the gist of what this guy is trying to say

If I were him, I would also say Thank God for the following events:

  • Thank God for the accompanying mass migration and slaughter that accompanied this decision
  • Thank the Almighty for perpetual war (at least a state of fragile, very cold peace) between 2 nations, now both of whom possess nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles
  • Thank heavens for the ethnic cleansing in East Pakistan/Bangladesh in ’70-’71.
  • Thank Jehovah for the disastrous forward policy of supporting Afghan (and plenty of non-Afghans) mujahedins against the Soviets in the ’80s, a policy enabled by an overeager Pakistani General (and oh, what a splendid sequel that conflict has spawned in the world today!!!)
  • Thank the Creator for the support/benign neglect of the US which has been providing armaments to our enemies and turned a blind eye to the Pakistani nuclear program.

The author says he is devoid of north Indian sentimentality when it comes to the subject of dealing with Pakistan, given that he is from the “deep south” as he terms it. I didn’t being a “deep Southerner” meant you didn’t have the capacity to think thru what you are saying as well!

Posted in Foreign Policy, India, Pakistan, Partition, Politics | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

And it escalates…

Posted by chakrabarti on September 23, 2007

Predictable reaction, as DMK workers ransack some BJP outposts in Tamil Nadu. And all of this ‘coz some Govt. official was foolish (follish I tell you!) enough to go by scientific evidence (or lack thereof) and disavow Ram’s existence. This whole episode takes your breath away.

Did somebody just say we were an emerging superpower?

Posted in Communalism, Politics, Religion | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Off with their heads!

Posted by chakrabarti on September 23, 2007

This is how bad things have become. No longer the preserve of Islamic radicals, fatwas or edicts are now being issued by self-promoting Hindu to execute people who speak words about gods of whom they disapprove. I don’t know if this is to be laughed at and brushed aside, or be taken seriously as the harbinger of things to come in a future, Talibanized (the talibs here being Hindu, not Muslim nuts) India…

Posted in Communalism, Politics, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »