Thursday, June 30, 2011

Greek Pastries and Bitter Herbs

Socrates would have rattled on regardless "those fools spent that which they did not have" !! Plato would have swore the state and balked at the profligate lending that led this historic nation to the brink of collapse while holding the future of the European Union at worlds end.

Yes!! The Greeks should never have over-leveraged themselves with debt. The post-mortem is always easier to listen to or write about, especially since analysts pop out of nowhere onto the screens with their expert opinions.

While Riots flare up in Greece and the common man readies himself to feel the pinch of the proposed austerity measures, it is almost necessary to take a long hard look at the system itself. Capitalism riding alongside democracy is often touted as the only system that would lead to a better world. A world where what you sow is exactly what you reap (give and take a few weeds), where the market has no favorites and merit is all pervading.

In my opinion that probably still is the case. It is often observed that peoples love for capitalism reaches its zenith when the economy is at its crest. The US Economy is a typical case in point. Free markets do allow Financial Institutions to over-leverage themselves since at the end of the day it is "profit" that everyone looks for. The US is still pulling back from their second biggest recession, but it is indeed unbelievable that their citizens still repose faith in the system. Elsewhere in the world too, in Britain, the new coalition Government is pushing through their toughest known austerity measures since they once ruled India. 

However, it is also noticed that peoples wrath against the system is normally vented in times like these, when the economy is dancing on a tightrope above a deep recessionary gorge. More so in Greece, especially since the public sector workers now feel that they are being shortchanged for no fault of their own. Much of the criticism is also due to the fat paychecks that Wall Street fat cats are still taking home despite the US Economy being in a Limbo

What people (or the mob) do not understand is that no political system is free from human exploitation. Greed is the hidden nature in all of humanity, whether Socialist, Communist, Theocratic or Monarchic. All forms of government bestow power upon a selected group of individuals (or maybe even one) to rule and more often than not, exploitation driven by greed gradually seeps into the system.

So the Greeks have 2 options before them. Having feasted on their Baklava for the last decade or so, they must now eat bitter herbs. They would just love to respond to the crisis in the manner that America has (to borrow its way out), but unfortunately the dollar is still the words reserve currency and that gives America the kind of leverage that no other country presently has.

They can, like Britain be convinced into eating bitter herbs (implementing tough austerity measures), but too much austerity in a limping economy would not do the trick unless it is followed up by regulations that untangle restrictions in Greece for Private businesses to operate/thrive. 

Instead, they have chosen to blackmail the EU into leaving the Euro if harsh austerity measures are forced upon them. They seem to be forgetting the adage "there ain’t no free lunch". Decoupling from the Euro will serve them no purpose whatsoever. They would then be forced to return to their original currency, the "Drachma", and given the state of things, the Greeks will never be able to raise money on its own via bonds, which would be relegated upon listing to junk status.

Not to mention of course that leaving the Euro would be tantamount to "kicking the can down the road". To put it in a nutshell, whichever option the Greeks choose, their days of sweet shopping are over, and a long cold winter is about to set in, one accompanied by the steaming smell of bitter herbs. 

Initially posted on 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Manmohan Singh: Just A Nice Man To Know

"Threats posed by terrorism and other challenges like poverty eradication, sustainable development and inequitable international order were issues on which India and Africa should work together" -
- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (India-Africa Summit 2011)

"I welcome it as a significant step forward and hope that it will deal a decisive blow to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups ... The international community and Pakistan in particular must work comprehensively to end the activities of all such groups who threaten civilised behaviour and kill innocent men, women and children".
- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (hours after US President Barack Obama addressed the nation after Osama's Capture)

We have the opportunity to give concrete meaning to the concept of sustainable and balanced development, and produce innovative models of development.                                                                                                      - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the BRIC Summit after the Japaneese Nuclear Tragedy.

When he was first given the mantle from Sonia Gandhi after the 2004 General elections unexpectedly, Manmohan Singh rose to the occasion. That time though, with the leftists constantly needling all his policy moves, there was little that could be accomplished on the economic reforms front.

It would be fair to say that the first term of Manmohan's Premiership had to be sacrificed at the altar of the ruffled millions that had cheered the party to power in the first place. At halfway point, the advent of the controversial Indo-American Nuclear Deal edged out the communists and gifted Manmohan Singh and his team the mandate they had always yearned for.

Two years ago when Manmohan Singh was re-elected for his second term by a comfortable majority things seemed to be set for the long haul. However, upon retrospect, that seems to have been the pinnacle of his innings in power. For since then, his image, his party and the nation have been in a slow and steady decline!! 

Ironically, 7 years down the line, India's Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh has gone from being the acclaimed architecht of India's reforms to a mere nonchalant (and at times speechless) observer. Every now and then, when the public outcry gets louder, he simply raises his mild voice and makes the same old usual expected statements.

Surprisingly, unlike his predecessors, this Prime Minister has an obsession with maintaining his clean image. Scandal after scandal has rocked the nation and apart from his usual political promises of "cleaning up the system", what has stunned the many political observers was the ample amount of scribbling that lined the walls leading up to the crisis. Whistleblowers from high places were just brushed aside with sheer apathy.

A recent piece of video footage of the Prime Minister in parliament amidst the uproar over the scandals depicted a stern-faced chief who seemed unable to produce any kind of magic and has just simply run out of ideas. All the speeches he delivers, are at most,  predictable in nature and the quotes (listed atop) he intersperses to drive home his message are nothing more than lackluster.

This leaves one to wonder, whether we really have the best man for the job, on the job!!

It was PM Manmohan Singh who after all, ably steered the nation out of the Balance of Payments crisis in 1991, and alongside the then PM Narasimha Rao ushered in the reforms that brought India where it is today. At quick glance, his list of educational qualifications would leave most of the other world leaders gasping in shock and awe!! 

But then, education alone maketh not a consummate politician in this largely connected Greenhouse we inhabit today, where a ravaging tsunami halfway across the world could edge food inflation in the wrong direction elsewhere. What flabbergasts most analysts is that a person of the stature of our PM would probably be the best fit to steer our country out of its present economic over-heating.

Yet - There is a silence. Nothing - but a deafening silence!!

Its quite difficult to believe that very the man who took India out of its Economic Isolation in 1991, now remains a mute spectator as his sub-ordinates run themselves aground,  pulling his government down with them.

2 possible reasons for this are of course rather obvious even to the man-on-the-street. The first being that the Prime Minister gets his orders straight from the Party President, Sonia Gandhi. Successive years of constantly yielding to her whims (even when he didn’t like them) may have left him weary and depleted of energy.

The second reason is closely linked to the first. When there is a power behind the throne, the head of state psychologically loses whatever authority he has, or thought he ever had. A glance at the political stalemate today gives one enough evidence to substantiate this. Cabinet Ministers are trampling on each others feet while important economic reforms are getting stalled.

Scandal Management is completely out of control. Corruption has reared its ugly head for far too long now and social activists have now taken to starving themselves amidst 
a frustrated electorate in order to force the governments hand.

Oh - and just where is the Prime Minister in all this chaos!!

Well - The answer has already been stated!! - either making some usual statements or .. as expected .. Silent. We somehow really need a grand awakening to get out of this stupor. India was once quoted to be a land of great Ideas with rotten implementers. One can only hope and wish that this quote remains relevant to an age gone by.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Next Invasion

With Bin Laden eliminated, Abbotabad is now recent yet painful history. Wounds of a relationship that continue to fester and refuse to heal even in the immediate future have now been exposed for all and sundry to behold.

Abbotabads Secret
It was Leon Panetta, the CIA Director who initially decided to blow the cover on the famous American-Pakistani-I-fund-you-to-eliminate-them strategy. The fact that Pakistan can no longer be trusted as an ally on the war on terror is now in black and white ink for all to see!!

Surprisingly, this American rage was soon to be followed by behind-closed-doors parleys to repair the seemingly unworkable relationship. The underlying assumption is that engagement with Pakistan is the only viable path ahead for the US and its allies (voluntary/involuntary) to consider as it is the road of least collateral damage.

However, there is yet another alternative course of action, not presently on the table on the merits of its sheer implausibility - but one that would seize the bull (terrorism) by its horns with the potential to blunt it permanently!! This can only be The American Invasion of Pakistan!!

Consider this, an American Invasion would give the CIA/its cohorts the means to seek and wipe-out, (if not inflict severe damage upon) the Haqqani Network of tribals in the Wazirstan belt (NWFP) which have been claiming countless NATO lives in the war on terror in Afghanistan. Secondly, with the Amerivcans in Islamabad, the ISI would be under the microscope and their operations closely monitored. It would hence be impossible for them operate with impunity (as they presenly are) and continue their covert operations of harbouring terrorists. 

Finally, Pakistan has been accelerating its nuclear weaponization programme for quite sometime now and much of the funding for this has come from the billions of dollars in aid that an overdebted US has given it to purportedly fight terror. With Americans in the house, misuse of such funds can easily be tracked.

However, as beneficial as this option may seem, is too fissile even for discussion. 

One of the biggest reasons this option would not be considered is that at this particular juncture, any American invasion of a Muslim country (especially if it were Pakistan), would isolate America from the majority of muslims worldwide, just at the time when things seem to be thawing. Worse still, an invasion would serve to polarize Pakistanis even further and may even drive the contracting liberal base in Pakistan towards the lunatic fringe turning it into a nation of extremists. The Americans may end up staying longer than they intend too.

Yet another long drawn out war may be indeed difficult to justify to Congress, especially at a time when America is borrowing its way out of insolvency. Its true, one can always justify the invasion of Pakistan, from the American standpoint on the grounds of halting once and for all the unlimited briefcases of aid that are needed to keep the regime from collapsing. If this is not enough, the closest ally of Pakistan from across its eastern border, China, will not be expected to sit twiddling its thumbs while American GI-Joe's stream into Pakistan.

The impact of such a move could be far-reaching, and the outcome, sometimes mind boggling. However, the fact remains that a Pakistani Invasion makes more sense than an Iranian Invasion or even a North Korean Invasion. All these 3 countries are developing nuclear weapons, and have the means to use them, but in 2 of the 3 cases, the decision to GO NUCLEAR would be an executive one.

America spends Billions of dollars in Aid annually financing a government in Islamabad that keeps biting the hand that feeds it. On the other hand Pakistan doesn't shy away from throwing up its hands every now and then and claiming that they too are victims of terrorism.

With Billions of dollars in aid gone down the drain and more in the pipeline heading the same way, an over-armed Pakistan where extremists have a free-run is a frightening prospect for the entire region. The American Invasion of Pakistan does indeed seem to be that unspoken option which is sitting quietly on the tip of everyone's lips waiting for its right moment!!

Article first published as The Next American Invasion on Technorati.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sowing The Whirlwind

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind
- Hosea 8:7

A very interesting passage from the Old Testament that pretty much sums up the looming fate that the land of the Rising Sun is slowly coming to accept. Expats have started to slowly move out of Japan in tiny droves. The very thought of radiation being carried south into Tokyo and its other cities alongside the memories of the horrific images of the fallout of the Chernobyl disaster in 1989 could give anyone the goose bumps.

However many Japanese are still staying put, hoping against hope that their Government would eventually issue a statement despite reasonable doubt, that things have been brought under control in Fukushima and that they can go on with their lives like before as if nothing ever happened. In fact, when the
earthquake followed by the tsunami first hit Japan on the 11th of March, the stability of the nuclear plant was a mere blimp on the scale of the tsunami disaster. It took a few days to blow its top off.

As the whole world decides to take stock of the safety of their Nuclear Plants, India wobbles in the middle of nowhere. After the landmark India-US Nuclear Deal in October 2008 that pulled India out of Nuclear Isolation and gave her access to the world market, things were indeed supposed to look up. Giant US Companies like Westinghouse and GE were lining up to get a large chunk of the Indian Nuclear pie where power generation is presently tagged at 4,800MW and projected to increase to 20,000MW by 2020.

For a country starved of energy where periodic power cuts are part of the norm, nuclear energy seemed like a Godsend. Its reputation for being both clean and reliable has not been tarnished even after both the Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island disasters. Moreover when one sees developed nations such as the US having more than 100 Nuclear power plants and France getting more than 50% of its power from Nuclear energy, one can only feel reassured.

However a rethink has already been initiated worldwide. Germany and Switzerland have already announced moratoriums on any new nuclear power plants in the offing while lobbyists were sleepless in Capitol Hill last week trying to prove to congressmen how safe Nuclear Power actually is. 

As much as the newly-emerged-from-nowhere antagonists would want to push their agenda of extreme caution, one must remember that nuclear fuel is by an large clean and does not pollute the environment as much as Fossil Fuels do. It also has the ability to drive an entire economy, as it does in France. Most importantly it does not contribute to global warming.

On the other hand protagonists should realize that it just takes one big tragedy (like the one in Japan to occur) to destroy its entire perception and nullify the benefits it has provided till now.The lasting after-effects of nuclear radiation upon our species could become a much trumpeted up charge used to freeze the use of Nuclear energy until we have more security structures in place.

However the very fact that nuclear radiation is harmful to humans should not be seen as the sole reason for putting nuclear energy on the backburner, for conventional sources of energy are already causing as much damage to the already fragile environment albeit at a much slower and less noticeable rate.

The IAEA should move fast to ensure that the structures that it has till date enforced to ensure security of nuclear plants are strictly adhered too. It also now has the arduous task at hand of designing disaster containment systems that would be able to sustain any possible incident of this magnitude or even greater that may occur in the future.

In all this hustle and bustle of repeated telecasts of floating houses, smoking power plants, a population shaken with facemasks and newsmakers who just want to get as close to the source of radiation as possible to make a story break, is the howling sound of a mighty whirlwind and an Industry who's entire future could depend upon the Control Rods in several of the defunct Nuclear reactors.

First on Technorati