Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai Under Attack - Pakistan's Failure and India's Misery

TIME magazine is probably going to press, as I write this, with a cover story 'India's Muslim's in Crisis'. TIME reports -

[The disembodied voice was chilling in its rage. A gunman, holed up in Mumbai's Oberoi Trident hotel where some 40 people had been taken hostage, told an Indian news channel that the attacks were revenge for the persecution of Muslims in India. "We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?" he asked via telephone. No answer came. But then he probably wasn't expecting one.]

Article continues - [The roots of Muslim rage run deep in India, nourished by a long-held sense of injustice over what many Indian Muslims believe is institutionalized discrimination against the country's largest minority group. The disparities between Muslims, which make up 13.4% of the population, and India's Hindu population, which hovers around 80%, are striking. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking Muslim Indians have shorter life spans, worse health, lower literacy levels, and lower-paying jobs.]

It is a huge mistake to call this an act perpetrated by Muslims in Crisis in India, to say the least. The facts are facts. If Muslims in India are unable to join the progress India made since Independence, it is a National Shame. But to suggest that Islamic Terrorism in India is the offshoot of economic underclass status of millions of Muslims in India is being dishonest to extremist's long harbored wounds from the decline of Islamic prominence since its golden years. To suggest that Islamic Terrorism in India is the child of perceived 'institutionalized discrimination' and persecution of Muslim minority in India is being ignorant of extremist Islamist's long harbored desire to return to golden age of Islam that ruled most of Indian Subcontinent, Middle East, Northern Africa and Persia.

[We (Muslims) were the legal rulers of India, and in 1857 the British took that away from us," says Tarik Jan, a gentle-mannered scholar at Islamabad's Institute of Policy Studies. "In 1947 they should have given that back to the Muslims."] - The Article narrates.

For extremists, the world history starts and ends with Islamic Golden Age. There were emperors and empires that ruled the world before and after Islamic supremacy. Asoka conquered and established Indian Subcontinent as we see today. Moguls conquered the subcontinent. Akbar took Mogul Empire to greater heights until subsequent rulers loosing to British. British lost the war of the subcontinent to Gandhi and his people. How far back one wants to look? For extremists, its as far back as it suits them. British lost its colonies where sun never set. But they don't harbor any desire to go back to their golden days. British fought,ungracefully, to keep their colonies. But once they lost it, they became graceful losers. Content with a Queen and a Common Wealth. The root cause of Islamic Terrorism in the world will take us to extremist's inability to loose gracefully.

The days of emperors and colonialists are over. The world will never go back to the days of Alexander, Asoka, Genghis Khan, Moguls and Emir of Timur. The world will not repeat British, Spanish and Portuguese colonies. After Afghanistan and Iraq, world may never see an American invasion of another country as seen in the past. So most moderate Muslims no longer harbor any thoughts of territorial supremacy on some other land. But extremists ability to steer young moderate Muslim men away from bright and promising future into sheer self destruction to achieve mass destruction of innocent people is helped largely by some of the most volatile unresolved issues of post colonial rule.

What seems to be burning the Muslim psyche all over the world is not only their lost supremacy of the bygone past but also a perceived denial of Islamic existence. In modern days, it starts with nonexistent Palestinian home land. It includes Kashmir's lack of independence. It includes Chechnya. It includes demolished Babri Masjid and thousands of their mothers and sisters lost in Gujarat. It includes Afghanistan where they once thought established the first true Islamic State in the modern era.

As I write this, the terrorists are beginning to be identified as Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals came via sea from Karachi to Mumbai. If this is proved to be accurate, TIME's notion that these attacks are some how the result of India's Muslim's in Crisis doesn't hold much weight. If at all this has anything to do with Muslim, its failed Islamic Republic of Pakistan. When the subcontinent was divided to form Pakistan, the Muslims hoped to create a "modern, moderate and very enlightened Pakistan,". Indian Muslims, with all its perceived and real crisis of confidence in Indian State, have the opportunity to become APJ Abdul Kalam, Azim Premji, Khans of Bollywood and much more. But the Muslims in Pakistan continue to slide into hopelessness and despair that beget young men willing to give up their precious lives to kill hundreds of innocent people why were living a normal life. Unfortunately that is what Pakistan failed to provide Muslims in their country, a Normal Life!

It is easy for Indian's to direct outrage against its neighbor cousin. It is easy for the world to lament Pakistan for not being able to stop extremists operating in their country. But it is not productive. Pakistan doesn't need an earful. They need help. They need help in providing HOPE to its people. They need help in giving decent jobs and dream of living a normal life to its people. The kind of opportunity they see in an India that is increasingly going global. When people loose hope, their ability to think diminish. When they shut their doors to the world, they become disillusioned. They become impressionable to the point of destroying the gift of love :(

Behind the Mumbai Massacre: India's Muslims in Crisis

Monday, September 29, 2008

'Credit crunch, what credit crunch?'

Listening to the car dealer on TV reporting massive reduction in sales due to lack of credit and Arnold seeking 2 billion loan from Fed does not support this sentiment. But is it all that bad? Is the sky really going to fall lacking a 700 billion bonus from tax payer to the bankers? Probably not. What is the basis for me to say this? I am no expert in the complex matters of finance and do not have any credibility to question the financial acumen of the best and brightest like Paulson and Bernanke. But hey, this is a free country and every one can have their opinion. In my opinion, the present credit freeze is the result of bankers trying to over correct their excesses of last 5 years. It is like the cat refusing to drink cold milk after burned once while sipping it hot. For years, they lend to any warm body and now they don't want to lend to any one who is "sub prime". They are hoarding cash fearing that there are few safe hands these days they can trust. Aren't they lending to their "prime" customers? How are they able to do that if there is truly a cash shortage?

I wanted to test out my opinion with a real world credit exercise. I tried to get banks to lend to me in this "credit-freeze" environment. Like many of you, I still keep getting balance transfer or cash advance check in the mails from my credit card companies. I almost always shred them but decided to cash out some money before the cash completely "dried up". I decided to cash out a large sum from JP Morgan Chase. I got immediate approval and pulled money into my checking account with 0% APR for nine months. During the height of 700 billion bail out plan negotiation in the capitol hills, I pulled out another sum from BofA credit card with 0% APR for a year!!! Now that we established that banks still lend to credit worthy customers (I have a FICO score north of 700 but I am an average middle class person who is among 95% of Americans who will get tax cut under president Obama), let us explore what is happening at the home mortgage business which is the root cause of the current mess. My friend in LA just got funding for home purchase with less than 20% down payment and a 30-year fixed loan at 6.5%. Not bad in the days of credit freeze. He too probably has a good FICO score. What about small business owners? I know a gas station owner who got a large loan albeit large amount of paper work. But the point is that banks do have cash and they are still lending to credit worthy customers. They are not lending to each other probably because they are protecting their cash from one another just like the kids protecting their favorite toys from their friends afraid that they might break it! But when the price is right, they will lend again. How long they can hunker down with the cash without doing their primary business of lending?

Now that bailout plan got a second life in Congress, you would think Banks will start lending more freely? Absolutely not, at least for next few years. Once bitten, twice shy! They will hoard all that cash until next batch of whiz kids from HBS (Harward Business School) come up with innovative things they can trade. It will neither be dot com nor CDOs. But it will be some thing quite mind bending stuff. More complex and logic defying than CDOs and CDSs. According to some reports, the wealth of world's High Net Worth Individuals is in excess of 40 trillion dollars! They not only need a place to park their cash but investments that they can buy and sell for a profit. An American, even with a FICO score below 600, is a better borrower than any one else in the world. Because only in America, you will see a bailout package of this scope and ramification gets introduced to the law makers, gets debated, gets defeated after angry calls to Congressman's office and then finally getting passed after local business owners call and plead and president signs into law within hours of House adopting the motion. All in a matter of a fortnight! Americans have the audacity to do mind bending, logic defying stuff. Be it dot com or it Subprime or borrowing almost a trillion dollar more to pay off some bad loans. That too when the treasury is running half a trillion deficit already. And the world wonder in amazement in her triumphs and tribulations and buy her treasury bills like a clock work. I love this country :)

The Credit Cruch:Where Is It Happening? TIME article

My previous post on 'Defending Subprime lending - case for democratic economy'

Monday, September 8, 2008

What is common between Thai Yellow Curry and North Kerala Yellow Curry?

Or you could ask why the gorgeous looking air hostesses of Malaysian and Singapore airlines wear colorful Lungis. Ever since I ate Thai yellow curry from a neighborhood Thai house for the first time in 1999, I was perplexed by its likeness to North Kerala Thenga Curry and Thanjavur Kulambu (vegetables or sea foods cooked with coconut milk and spices to thick yellow or red gravy). I knew there was some material connection between the lungi clad waitress at the Thai house and the Lungi clad waitress at the local Tea shop in my home town in Northern Kerala, but couldn’t figure out what. After years of sitting on this, I finally decided to dig deep. The boring lessons from school on Chola, Chera and Pandya dynasties of ancient India started resurfacing.

Well, the answer to the mystery might be King Rajendra Chola of Chola dynasty who expanded the Chola kingdom’s influence to include most of South India, part of North India (Bihar and Bengal), Sri Lanka, Maldives, Malay Archipelago (Malay Archipelago constitutes the territories of Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, East Timor, and most of Papua New Guinea) and part of Burma and Thailand. Around 1130 AD (or CE to be politically correct), all these geographic entities were ruled by or under the subordination of the great expansionist and navigator Rajendra Chola.

After this new found information, I stopped wondering why people in Bangladesh wear colorful Lungis just like south Indians. I don’t wonder how Kerala Porotta (bread made of flour and forms circular flakes) is almost the same as the Malaysian porotta stacked next to it in an Indian store. Who would have thought of putting fish in Sambar? Well, I had the opportunity of trying it out during a Malaysian stop over! It is hard to guess if Malay people decided to put fish in Sambar or south Indians decided to replace fish with Brinjal and Okra!

Rajendra Chola expanded the trade route between South India all the way to China. Iron utensils were imported from China almost 1000 years before Walmart did it! Cheena Chatti (deep skillet made of iron) was used by my mother till it was replaced by the non-stick craze of the last 15 years. Trust me; the cheena chatti was the best non-stick ever after it aged a little. Cheena vala (shore operated lift net used for fishing) is part and parcel of every day portraits of Kochi, Kerala. Cheena/Cheeni means China if you don’t know that already. World has always been flat I guess! But the modernity didn’t know until Friedman told it that way. Well, never too late.

The map of Rajendra Chola ruled or subordinated territories. He had established active trade with Mainland China through Malay Archipelago.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Koshi and Katrina – The sorrow of Bihar and New Orleans

Two million people in New Orleans were displaced after strong surge from Hurricane Katrina stormed through the levees and drowned most of New Orleans. Exactly three years later, in another August catastrophe on the other side of the globe, another two million people are displaced after the monsoon flood broke the embankment (levee) for almost a mile! The river furiously broke the manmade shackles of embankment s, made to curtail her meandering tendencies, and started flowing in a new path which it abandoned 100 years prior.

Why do these things happen? Could these be prevented at all? Well, the answer lies in understanding how river systems work to create new landscape through which it flows and how we interfere with this natural process. Water flows from higher altitude points in the mountain to the lowest point in the sea. How does it get there is the story of how civilization is made and destroyed. As the river flows from the mountains to the valleys and eventually to the sea, it transports and deposits soil in the channel bottom and at bends. As the deposit at the bottom of the river piles up, the channel depth reduces and water starts overflowing the banks and creates new channels. As the deposit around the bend increases, the water starts shifting sideways to find new path. It is like when you squeeze a gel pack and you see gel finding it ways to go against the direction of your squeeze.

When a river makes a new path, the path abandoned by the river is so fertile that it attracts large immigration of farmers and associated civilization. They live there for generations oblivious of the fact that the river might come back to the path she abandoned decades or centuries ago. As her current path gets loaded with soil sedimentation under her belly and around the bends, the river gets lifted up so much so that the place around her is much lower than the river itself. It is like an overhead river! After a while, the river goes back to its first principle and flows to low again.

When she does this, millions of people who settled in the low lying land get in her way. Lives lost and property damaged and everything is under water. So what do we do to prevent this? Well, we use our engineering and technological knowledge and advancement and try to tame the Mighty Rivers. We tell the river not to flow freely. We tell her to stay her course regardless of what happens to her morphology. We build massive levee system around the banks to prevent the river from changing its course. We spent billions to create and maintain very complex levee/embankment system. As the river gets choked and can’t find a place to deposit the silt and soil it brings from upstream, the river level rises. When the river level rises, we increase the levee height by few meters. This catch-up game goes on for decades or even centuries before the river swells really big and devastate everything in her way to flow freely again. When that happens, we get Katrina and Koshi disasters and millions are left to suffer the fury of the Mother Nature.

So what is wrong with restraining a river that meander all the time? Can’t she make up her mind? Isn’t taming of natural forces that made humans what we are? Isn’t that fighting trait made civilization possible? Yes it is. But he is the difference. Good judgment is to know when to stop fighting. Good judgment is to know which fight to pick.

British knew when to stop fighting when they demolished the embankments around Damodar river (Sorrow of Bengal) in 1850s. Learning from Damodar experience, they refrained from building embankments for Koshi River (Sorrow of Bihar). But since independent, armed with the vision of engineering and technology serving to help eradicate poverty and human sufferings, the governments started building complex levee systems. This mirrored US’s initiative to build series of complex levee and pumping system in New Orleans since it bought Louisiana from the French. The government and people in both countries (India and US), doesn’t quite realize the futility of this fight. New Orleans is sinking every day and according to some predictions, it will become a sunken Atlantis by 2100.

Image from Wikipedia – Ever sinking New Orleans, Vertical cross-section of New Orleans, showing maximum levee height of 23 feet (7 m) at the Mississippi River on the left and 17.5 feet (5 m) at Lake Pontachartrain on the right.

According to the latest reports, government of India is working to repair the breached embankment and redirect the river into the confinement again. Koshi River is now flowing approximately 60 km (38 mile) east of its last path. Looking at the picture below and realizing the magnitude of the shift, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to bring the river back again. Not to mention about the amount of money that will need to be pumped in to reconstruct the breached embankments.

Even if we assume that the government of India and its engineers will be able to redirect the river into confinement again, is this is a sustainable solution? Should we mess with Mother Nature once again only to be punished harshly yet gain in next 50 years! According to Hindu Legends, King Bhagiratha had to spend 1000 years praying in the wilderness to bring river Ganges from heaven to flow on earth. These girls are not easy to tame. Even when they are tamed, they are tamed to flow from heavens to earth not the other way around. That’s the lesson 101 for all the governments and their brilliant engineers. Water flows from high to low and the prudence is in letting her flow that way!

Satellite View of Koshi River in Bihar before the river changed course by approximately 60 km east during the August, 2008 flooding. See the barrage (looks like a bottleneck near the India-Nepal border) that diverts water from the river into two separate canals one to Nepal and other to India. The embankment leading upto the barrage is breached by almost a mile long and created a new flowpath cutting through the valley to join river Ganges at the bottom.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

French Public Health Insurance System (PHIS) – An insider story of the reality.

According to World Health Organization’s ranking of health care systems in 191 countries, France came first. The ranking was based on things like the number of years people lived in good health and whether everyone had access to good health care. The United States ranked 37th. Also two researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine measured something called the "amenable mortality”, a measure of deaths that could have been prevented with good health care. France came first among the 19 industrialized nations and United States was last.

So looks like French system is the best public health system in the world to me. But since I know of someone with firsthand experience of French Health System, I decided to hear from horse’s mouth. Christine is a French citizen, working in the US, and enjoys the benefits of French health care system. Although she is currently in the US, she is eligible for health care benefits under French System since she contributed to this system while she was working in France. I asked her which system she likes better, US or French system. She said, she likes the US system better. Her reason; she spends € 30 when she visits a primary doctor in France where as she pays $15 copayment in the US. It is cheaper for her to go to her primary doctor in the US.


It is no secret that copayments are high for many out-patient services in France. For example, patients must pay 30% of Social security's tariff for a physician's visit; moreover, roughly 40% of specialists and 15% of GPs are allowed to charge more than the tariff. Copayments are also high for dental prostheses and eye-ware.

So if Christine had visited a specialist, she would have paid a copayment of more than € 30 versus still $15 in the US. So I can understand why she wants to do her annual physical exams in the US before taking off for a vacation to join her mom in France.

What if she were working for an employer in France? The story would have been different. Half of her copayment of € 30 would have been picked up by a supplementary private insurance (employer pays for most of the private insurance premium) and would still have € 15 out of pocket expense. These numbers will be higher for specialists while in the US, it remains the same as long as it is an office visit.

Cost of Insurance:

So how much does it to cost this type of insurance? Since she is getting a lower benefit and higher out of pocket expense, you would think she would be paying a lower premium in France. About 21 percent of an employee’s income is deducted through payroll towards the national health care system. Employers pick up a little more than half of that. In addition to this, employees may be able to join group private insurance sponsored by employer to cover much of the gap between what is covered by the national plan and the actual medical expense. Or they can buy a private insurance at an additional 3-4% of their income. Between the employer and employee, the total health care cost in France per employee is around 25% of the individual income. In the US, according to Department of Labor March 2008 report, the health care cost to the employer stands around 7.2% of the total compensation. Assuming another 3-5% is passed onto employees, the health care premium in the US stands at around half of what French are paying in percentage terms. In absolute currency terms, US might be spending more on health care per person, and that’s because of the higher wage and cost structure in the US.

Universal Healthcare Insurance (CMU):

What if you are among the 10% unemployed in France? Since you don’t have a job, you don’t have a supplementary insurance and then you are stuck with high out of pocket expenses. Most of them stayed away from seeking care. In January 2000, public supplementary insurance program called CMU (Couverture maladie universelle) was implemented to ensure the poor access to health care. For those whose income is below a certain threshold, this insurance covers all public copayments and offers lumps-sum reimbursements for glasses and dental prostheses.

Does this sound too good to be true? According to published articles, in a city like Paris, only a 20% of specialists are willing to take CMU patients. This confirms what Christine told me, “The provider may not give an appointment when they know the patient is on CMU program. They may say we don’t have an appointment for next six months!” Essentially, CMU created a two tier class system of health care which it sought to alleviate in the first place. Have you heard of “HMO Bounce” lately?

There must be something right about French:

This is what is right about the French system. In France, for people with one of 30 long-term and expensive illnesses — such as diabetes, mental illness and cancer — the government picks up 100 percent of their health care costs, including surgeries, therapies and drugs. This is probably the most important lesson from French system. In the US, since the insurance is tied to employment, long term sickness can lead to job loss and subsequent loss of insurance.

Why shouldn’t we go down French Lane:

It is expensive and it has higher out of pocket expenses. Nobody in the US wants to see 25% of their income going into health care insurance. The cost doesn’t end there. To fund the new universal health care (CMU), French government is channeling funds from other welfare programs. France funds their welfare system by taxing the employer and employee to very high levels that is uncommon in the US. According to a CATO institute Article, “The top marginal income tax rate (in France) is 48 percent. When payroll taxes are included, the French can pay as much as 65 percent of their income in taxes. The top corporate tax rate is 34 percent. There is also a 19.6 percent value-added tax (VAT). Overall, taxes consume nearly 44 percent of France's GDP. And even this isn't enough to pay for the French welfare state. France's national debt tops 68 percent of GDP, quite aside from the unfunded liabilities of the French Social Security system -- a debt some estimate to exceed 200 percent of GDP.”

You think CATO is too much libertarian? You can believe Christine’s pay checks. For every 100 FRF paid to her, employer paid another 100 FRF to the government. From her share of FRF 100, government took away another FRF 50. So government kept roughly three times of what she got to keep!

Even after spending all these tax payers’ money, there is no guarantee of government efficiently running business. Think 10% unemployment. Think poor and shut away youths in their dismal neighborhood projects, rioting in the suburbs of France for weeks to protest the lack of educational and economic opportunity. Think Katrina. Think FEMA.

Governments give hopes to people. That’s all it can give and that’s all it should ever dare to give.

Here are some ideas that might work in the US:

1. Make it mandatory for everyone to carry health insurance. The logic of insurance is shared risk and when we have so many people outside of the pool, the risk is magnified. When more people join the insured pool, the cost of insurance comes down for everyone. Enforce this through payroll deduction or employer group insurance
2. If the employee cannot afford health insurance premium due to low wages (when cost of insurance eclipse the wage and employer does not want to pick up part of the insurance cost), the minimum wage should be adjusted upwards to cover cost of insurance (e.g. increase minimum wage by 7.2% to reflect the US Department of Labor average employer cost of health insurance)
3. Let employee buy their own insurance. Employees should be given an opt-out to skip employer sponsored group plan and buy insurance directly from insurance companies. The studies are already suggesting that the rate of private insurance premium is much lower than the employer sponsored group plan and it grows much slower than group plan. Employee should be able to keep this insurance indefinitely regardless of the employment status. The rate of increase in premium should be less than or equal to the rate change by the same insurance provider for an employer sponsored group plan for any given year. In the event of a company defaulting, due to insolvency, individual health insurance can be protected under an insurance guarantee like California Life & Health Insurance Guarantee Association.
4. Under COBRA, the employer is required to provide continued health care coverage for 18 months of termination. But if the employee could not take up a new job due to health reasons, he/she will lapse the coverage and mounting hospital bills will lead to bankruptcy. A possible solution might be to change the COBRA rules to allow employee to continue with health coverage and pay the group rate, regardless of his/her health condition, until the person takes up a new job. The coverage does not have to continue through the employer (due to administrative reasons) and can continue with the insurance company. If the person is unable to take up a full time job due to health reasons, the coverage shall continue indefinitely. During such period of extended coverage, the same out of pocket maximum limit would apply and will put a cap on medical expenses (couple of thousand dollars per year) especially when it is needed the most. Government can give tax credit to offset some of the medical premium paid during the illness period.
5. Just like in the Y2K days, bring lots of overseas programmers and IT Engineers into the US and build a national Electronic Medical Records system. This will be the best investment US can make since Y2K and Internet.
6. Allow Health Care providers to import drugs and medical supplies from less expensive countries. FDA can use some of the savings to beef up inspection of imported drugs and supplies.
7. Allow Health Care providers to bring in MD doctors from overseas and start practicing as Nurse Practitioners/Physician Assistant for a year and then allow them to practice as MD Doctors. It is absurd to make them go through a 3-5 year residency again. Doctors are not among the top 10 overpaid professionals in the US and hence I am not proposing to reduce their wages. But there is a severe shortage of qualified doctors which in turn manifest as shortage in qualified health care facility. With more doctors, there will be more health care facilities and there will be more competition among them. This will result in a tighter and efficient management of health care facilities and establish as a lean and business units. How about a Costco drive through clinic? How about buy one lipid profile test and get one free for the partner!

Health Care Lessons from France - NPR Article

The French Health Care System - Medical News Today Article

Employer Costs for Employee Compensation Summary - US Department of Labor

Universal Healthcare Insurance introduced - EIRO Article

Welfare Lessons from France - CATO Institute Article

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Will he or Won’t he? Why Obama will not pick Hillary for Veep

Lincoln took all of his chief rivals into his Cabinet. Lyndon Johnson put this subject in less noble fashion, "better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."

Obama himself said, “And, you know, one of my, one of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln. And a while back there was a wonderful book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin called "Team of Rivals," in which she talked about how Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet because whatever, you know, personal feelings there were, the issue was how can we get this country through this time of crisis? And I think that has to be the approach that one takes”.

So why am I saying that he won’t pick her for the dream team? There are three reasons.

Reason # 1: Only a victor can be magnanimous not a warrior. The fight is not over yet. It is one thing to pick a cabinet after you win but totally another to pick a running mate. Obama is in the trenches, digging in, to take aim at McCain. He can’t afford the distraction of Hillary’s ice woman image; leave alone the 200 pound big Bill that comes with the package. One just can’t imagine Hillary next to Obama when standing under a larger than life banner that shouts “Change You Can Believe In”. Can you believe that Change?

Reason # 2: “Running Mate” word means a lot in presidential politics. One of the definitions of running mate, according to Webster, is “a horse entered in a race to set the pace for a horse of the same owner or stable”. Can you imagine Hillary setting the pace for Obama? If the elections were held before the invention of TV, people may not find much difference between the two. But in the days of presidential elections first won on the TV screens and ‘sound bites dominating the TV stories’, one can’t help notice Hillary’s inability to produce decent sound bites. One also can’t help notice the profound differences in their body language. Obama is like a kid in a candy store. Hillary is like a mom telling her child to behave. She is experienced to run the house but he is enthusiastic about changing the neighborhood. She is boring in her pant suits and he is crisp in Michelle picked attire. She is clean and he is smelly (by Michelle's own accounts). She is a predictable lanline and he is Voice Over IP (VOIP). She is still useful and dependable VHS and he is fancy but scratch able Blu-ray. She is old school and he is new age. She is we-tube generation and he is you-tube generation. She is the mom and he is the cool kid. Ask any kid if they wanted to be spotted with his mom outside of the soccer ground.

Reason # 3: Obama doesn’t fear losing this campaign. He is smart enough not to negotiate under fear. He will not fear to negotiate her out of the ticket. The presidency is his to take with or without Hillary. It is truer without Hillary on ticket than with her. He knows, in politics, that momentum is everything. Simple arithmetic of adding her voters to his side doesn’t work. He will get them; on his own. He won’t trade the opportunity to negotiate with the rust belt for anything in the world. He will not choose Hillary shortcut to get to them; being mindful of history is being made here. He will want to help shape the history. How a white collar black man won over the elderly blue collar white men and women to become the first black president of the most powerful country on earth. It will be a sensational but grainy and shaky you-tube story not a predictable but stable VHS story!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kannur killings - modern day gladiators

Seven men killed in the First week of March, 2008 in Kannur, Kerala. It started off with a group of people chasing and killing a young man from an opposition political party with long Sickles and hammers made to order from broken truck suspension leaves and such. Then the dominos killing one after the other. Young men between the ages of 20-30 mostly from the lower caste 'Thiyya' (ezhava) and living in extreme poverty were slaughtered in broad day light on rural roads, leaving the surviving family to the mercy of compensations provided by the respective party. (I was told that even the compensation is not handed over to the surviving family in full but they get the interest on the fixed deposit made by the party with withdrawal restriction on the the principal amount.)

Political killings in Kannur is not new. According to a report:

'Kannur has been limping from murder to murder since the 1970s, when the RSS began to grow influential in the area. In 1981, RSS and CPM workers were locked in a two week-long bloodbath that claimed 24 lives. Since then the cycle of violence has continued unabated, despite innumerable peace initiatives. In the past five years, some 3,500 incidents of political violence and 36 killings have been officially recorded in Kannur'.

In a state that boasts 100% literacy and near first world human development indexes, what makes one region resort to these extreme medieval violence? Hasn't the civilization made inroads into this part of the world where first Malayalam-English dictionary was written in 1872? Believe it or not, this region had a well established administration as early as 14th century AD under 'Kolathiri' Kingdom. It's history is ornated by 'vadakkan pattukal' (gladiator stories of chekavar men dueling to death to resolve the quarrels of the local rulers) and 'kalari payatu' (an indigenious form of martial art dating back to 12th century AD).

Chekavar is a warrior section of the Thiyya (Ezhava) caste who formed the militia of the local chieftains and kings. These men were skilled assassins and skilled in the deadly art of killing. Women folks sang the glories of the historic chekavars while working in the paddy fields. They do that even today in the fields; whatever is left of it after the Persian gulf remittance fueled massive farm land filling for construction.

Well, that history continues even today. Young men with little means dying for the ruling class. The ruling class is no longer the kings. The kings and chieftains are replaced by politicians who are groomed in a culture of violence starting as early as high school leader elections. But the chekavar's remains the same. In a rural system, aligning with a political party is the easiest way for the poor and aspiring youth to glory and redemption. They don't have the means to go to Persian Gulf to make a living. They dont have the education to get a job in the largest employer in the state, the state itself. They don't have the entrepreneurial skills to do business. The state has the highest unemployment in the country (by some accounts as high as 20%). So most of them work hard in the labor market to make a decent living and mortgage their lives to political leadership who promises salvation through struggle. They have even coined a word 'varga shathru' (Archenemy) to refer to people belongs to a different political party. With Hindu right wing trying to lure the lower caste men into their fold away from class based polarization, there is plenty of fuel for the fire. But both factions exploit the poverty, aspiration and above all the legacy of the chekavars who died killing fellow men for the ruling elite, leaving their family in a cyclic pattern of poverty, helplessness and violence.

Kerala High Court remarked 'Manslaughter is a sport in Kannur. Lucky are the ones who die a natural death in Tellicherry'. The Romans could be forgiven for the blood sport. But should the kannur politicians forgiven for pushing modern day gladiators into this heinous blood sport?

Murder’s On The Manifesto Here - Tehelka artcle"