Monday, December 26, 2011

Imperfect Democracies

Vasu Reddy From Chicago

Throughout the documented history of mankind democratically governed countries have prospered and found ways to reinvent themselves when in danger of extremist governance.  Communist rulers, dictators and oppressive regimes come to abrupt or violent end when people in these regimes begin to feel the need for freedom of actions and speech.  However difficult it is to endure a democratic government, it is still only as good as the current term and people can vote the elected government out if the governance doesn’t meet the demands of the general public.

History repeatedly points to the success of democracies where people decide on the elected government and its leaders for a definite period of time and when the elected officials don’t deliver to their promises they typically get voted out with a new team of government.  Each government in its term typically sticks to its election promises and with proper planning, support from the economy and industry and good weather and good harvests, typically can deliver to their election agenda and promises.  It is cyclical to have natural and manmade disasters that greatly impact the delivery of election promises by any government.  Great governance comes with proper planning along with cooperation from the general market conditions and also nature’s cooperation, along with stable international markets and conditions.
We know that much of the global indicators point to overall stability with the international communities with trade and governance, both internal to each of the countries, but also to the overall global communities.  Many of the global recessions that we can trace account for rogue regimes inflicting undue burden on the rest of the international communities.  Although individual countries might function with proper planning and governance, the impact they have because of the other countries’ economies and governance is felt irrespective of the individual good governance.

India is going through a phase where it has a fairly uncomplicated prime minister who has the reputation of a clean politician, but his entire stable of functionaries and the major departments continue to foster great scams that are unprecedented.  At the same time we have a gandhian who is pushing for ombudsman to contain and eliminate the graft in the country.  The prime minister has taken steps for deploying the ombudsman which is a first step towards meeting the demands of general public not just Anna Hazare or his team.  The entire Indian population is in support of the ombudsman and wants the politicians to adhere to a non graft system, and will encourage the elected officials and also bureaucrats to agree to conditions that will lead the society away from graft and punish the individuals that ask for favors while delivering to their prescribed jobs.
Anna is not the first person to voice against graft and will not be the last person to do so.  He is instrumental in encouraging the entire country to rally for a graft free society.  There is nothing more commendable than the awareness he has brought to the ombudsman in India, and his proposals are well tabled with the general public and the elected politicians.

Now it is time for the public to first start accepting the various forms of ombudsman so there is a beginning to the end of graft as we now know in India.  The very acceptance by the government and the opposition parties that graft exists and it needs to be dealt with immediately is a great step to begin the process of eliminating the entrenched attitudes of the politicians that they deserve to take money and favors for what they are supposed to be delivering to the people who elected them.
While delivering an all encompassing ombudsman in one session is practically dictatorial in a democracy, it is appropriate to first accept that there is a general issue of graft which is growing larger and larger each day, and the government at all levels is willing to adhere to anti graft regulations is the start of tackling the issues from where it arises.

Be it top down or bottom up, making graft a crime is absolutely necessary for the well being of the country and its meager resources.  Whatever we have left as national resources should be best used for the people of the country and not for the benefit of a select few, and legislation and appropriate regulation against graft is essential for good governance and democracy of India.  To drive the process at a speed with which the elected officials and surrounding bureaucracy is unyielding may not result in cooperation of the system that needs to move away from demanding and accepting graft as a normal conduct.  We must allow for debate and determination among the elected officials and then their support structures for ombudsman to be successfully implemented in a democracy where everyone has their handout for the least amount of work they deliver to the general public.
While we need a comprehensive ombudsman, it needs to be delivered through a democratic process and should involve the people’s opinions at large and make the elected and appointed officials accountable for their actions, while being available for common man to be able to reach out to the law to take its course when there is a handout to do work that is a right of every citizen.  If it takes multiple revisions so be it as long as the process of anti graft movement is in full force.  That is what democracies are supposed to work with, and have been successful in choosing elected leaders those who promise to deliver and the office bearers will only get reelected if they deliver to their promises.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Where Are The Blockbusters?

Vasu Reddy From Chicago

The days when the movies ran for 100 days, 200 days and some as many as 365 days or more in the same theater to packed houses have been long gone. Just about every language films had a long run at the box office and drew crowd’s day in and day out, and people enjoyed the time at the theater despite and glitz or pomp associated with today’s marketing of the movies. There was no television, internet nor aggressive marketing of a movie, except huge cutouts, radio advertisements, wall posters and news paper advertisements.

People flocked to the theaters and had great fun watching the movies four or five shows a day and if the movie was good it continued the house full boards for a long time. Some of the Indian classics ran for a year or more to packed houses, and people saw the same movie again and again and never got tired of the repeat performances. The actors worked on multiple movies at a time, some as many as six or more a year and delivered entertainment movie after movie and year after year to please the senses of the public. When they delivered a dud, people simply avoided the movie, and when the movie was well made it did not need aggressive publicity to keep running to packed houses. The days where people were showering flowers and whistles all through the movie are long gone.

If a movie runs into the second week with same number of theaters or shows it is a definite hit in today’s market. You no longer the see the movie run in a lot of theaters as long as four weeks, let alone 100 days or more. Gone are the days where movies ran 100 days or more in 100 centers. Nothing is generating and keeping the interest of the public at large on any movie as they come and go so quickly, it is difficult to remember what is playing next week.

Given the huge promotional activities actors and movie makers undertake these days, it will be near impossible for them to promote any more than one movie at a time and perhaps a year. They have to plan it, script it, make it promote it and release it and then only work on the next project, unlike the olden days where actors worked on multiple projects at a time, and effortlessly engaged in multiple characters simultaneously, and with great ease and dedication.

These days so much hype and hoopla surround a movie prior to its release and the fate of most of them is disastrous. There is no guarantee that a particular actor in any language is truly capable of delivering a crowd pleasing and money making movie at the same time. Gone are the days where bankable stars had the ability to act in multiple movies at the same time, choose quality scripts, work with hard tasking directors and deliver multiple hits each year. All we have these days is a lot of pomp and circumstance leading to the frosty reception at the theater, and people not responding to any kind of low quality product irrespective of the money invested in the movie.

Granted that we have instant access to critics reviewing and programming our thought process on what to expect from any given movie, it is likely that the general public have been getting smarter and savvier in spending their money on quality of the movie rather than hype. With the influence of the internet and piracy adding to owes of the films, only high quality films will draw continued crowds. People are still looking for entertainment that not only pleases their senses but will draw them repeatedly to the theaters, and when such film arrives it draws the crowds.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Relishing The Diversity

Many diverse people and their tastes, traditions and their way of life make India a great country which embraces just about every aspect of life and its greatness. Every place has a Panjabi dhba, irani chai (although it is not from Iran), Dosa and idli, Biryani and samosa, pav bhaji, vada pav and a million other delicacies we fondly remember and chase down at every opportunity. It is not my intention to forget mentioning any of the delicacies as we have so many of them, which I may not list in my short essay. All of us Indians and non-Indians devour the fantastic delicacies irrespective of their origin or nature, and enjoy them day in and day out. Some of the foodies at midnight as some of the places cater to the taste buds at midnight feasts. Whatever region of the country we come from the food seems to transcend the regional boundaries, and just taste draws full praises while washing the delicacies down with a lassi or goli soda. Never in your mind has it crossed that the origin of the food going down has any bearing on the regional nature of the delicacy, rather the meeting of taste and culinary satisfaction. The Indian Buffet we so much enjoy is a culmination of the entire Indian nation’s delicacies that satisfy the palate of all Indians, but for some reason the regional differences seem to play a big part in creating major political and philosophical differences in policy making. There is one nation for all Indians, which is India and the internal geographical boundaries are no more than our own post independence histrionics that were created for political purposes along the regional language patterns. Granted that India has many different languages and dialects which essentially draw state lines in most instances, but is not necessarily the criteria for separate states. Neither the Indian population is so divided by religion that they form states based on religion. By and large the Indian states are divided on the language and lingo based divisions rather than religion. There might be economic issues that might form time to time become a bone of contention, and sometimes water is also contentious among the states. Indians by and large like each other and live in harmony despite the many language and traditional intricacies. The wonder of the population so diverse and so large living together and in unison is greatness of its democracy and tolerance. No other population as large and as diverse lives together in such harmony and enjoys the brotherhood of each other. Indians love to be together and enjoy the many diverse activities of the great population with so many variations in language, culture, religion and definitely culinary pleasures. We are one nation with a great fabric stitched together with every vibrant ingredient that god has created and man can think of, and nothing can be better together.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Twelve Trillion or Twelve Zeros

The current US debt is at 12 trillion dollars and counting up. Each minute the ticker goes up and continues to climb each day. It is mind boggling to even count 12 zeros after a number, let alone 12. Every year we hear of congress and the president working on debt reduction, and lots of debate on what steps to be taken to reduce the deficit. In years and years of piling up the debt, the money set aside for interest on servicing the debt is larger than the budgets of many a countries in the world. Every couple of years there will be a big debate between congress and the president and talk of government shut down, and they always work out ways to compromise and make the deficit bigger and bigger. Not since the days of President Clinton, annual budgets have been revenue positive. Many years have gone by with the annual deficits getting larger and larger, and debt servicing getting to be a bigger and bigger part of the annual budgeting process. Years of multiple wars, natural and manmade disasters, poor planning, unemployment and other unplanned and unprepared activities have haunted the national budgets with excessive spending beyond what is expected from the economy to generate revenues to sustain the spending process. Individuals have been facing increased unemployment and reemployment has been challenging. High wages, benefits and perks are a thing of the past in the US economy nowadays and just holding on to a job has been more than magical. Daily stories of young people moving back with their families are very common, and putting perspective on the economic system is all but impossible. Thinking of the twelve trillion debt and servicing the debt is humanly incomprehensive, and will require a stomach with iron lining. By simply calculating the individual burden of the enormous debt will make one wonder the possibility of someday making interest on debt the largest item on the US budget process. If really planning to eliminate the debt burden is discussed by the congress, it may never have a beginning or ending to the discussion, as there will never be a real debate on how to solve the debt crisis, as no one has an answer to how to address the debt burden now and its ever increasing number. No one is willing to make concessions on their current benefits and will only use the budget deficit as an election ploy to point out that the president and the party in power has done nothing to cut it down or take long term steps to eliminate it. The biggest congressional battles are to increase the debt limits rather than cut them. There are always plans to cut spending but never get implemented as the individual congressmen and congresswoman will always pitch to preserve their own vested interests. The economy is independent of the congressional decision making in pushing prices higher and individuals working hard to make ends meet. There is crisis in European countries and many of them in need of bailouts from the EU or other major global players. Their situation is as bad if not worse than the US budget deficits. There is an enormous amount of impact on the global trade with countries suffering massive budget deficits, and not doing enough business with each other. To help the US economy the other trading partners should be strong and be able to pay their bills, and at this stage every country seems to be struggling to keep their own economies together. Even the Chinese have slowed down in growth to help with trade with USA, although they also run massive trade surpluses with the USA. There is no quick fix to the massive debt burden, but immediate steps are necessary to stop the increased burden on the US balance sheet. More innovation, cost cutting that may not be appealing to the public, tax structure that may help with increasing revenues and across the board spending decreases will help decrease the debt burden, and will start to help reduce the trillions owed and additional trillions in interest payments. It will be a long road to debt free budgets, which may not be possible if continued congressional dilly dallying on compromises that make no fiscal sense.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Political Yatras

Vasu Reddy from Chicago

One of the oldest forms of political canvassing is conducting walking tours of the constituencies. Every day we hear politicians undertaking tours of their respective constituencies to promote their agenda, and mostly show up to the people's door step to make sure they are personally representing the agenda being promoted on respective tours. Even before India's Independence Gandhiji made walking very popular form of addressing the issues of people and making them a part of the formal protests he undertook. In those day except radio and new papers there was no 24/7/365 coverage of the events. They were strictly by word of mouth and telegram, and eventually on radio and news papers. They were very effective in involving people to participate and support the causes which were noble and represented the common good of the common man.

The country welcomed the walking tours with open arms and at every step waited to embrace the cause and support the movement. For decades the tours of Indian leaders gamely going from place to place and meeting people has been widely accepted as a fantastic forum for communicating directly with people and interacting with them on localized issues to understand the future agenda of the political parties. It has been a very effective platform for reaching out to various sections of the general population and hearing their concerns and what they would like as the agenda for the party in power.

Walking tours are an opportunity to meet people in person and people will see if you are a real person. There is nothing better than shaking hands and embracing people as personal touch is the best form of communication. Granted that with so many millions of people in each state it will be impossible to shake every hand, but even a few hands in each village or town will help build direct communication with that particular community. Each person you touch or speak to will be the medium to transfer the personal interaction to everyone he or she knows thereby putting a human angle to the interaction. It helps to identify the person and that the existence of the normalcy of an individual you have actually interacted with.

There is little expense involved with walking tours as the locals are willing to host you and your entourage. Food and shelter and refreshments are organized with much care and affection by the locals you visit and very likely they will promote your agenda as well once you visit with them. It is also a great way to meet small groups of people and understand their concerns and listen to their issues. Each home visited becomes a great medium to promote personal relationships and further implanting the personal touch to political canvassing.

Walking for long stretches daily keeps a person fit as it is a great form of daily exercise. Most politicians are disciplined and maintain healthy eating and exercise habits. The benefits of walking are often disregarded with the walking tours, and perhaps should be more promoted for their general health benefits. Walking a mile or two daily will help everyone, and perhaps the politicians adopting the walking tours should promote the benefits of regular walking to everyone.

Walking tours are also one of the best possible ways to communicate with small crowds. Large gatherings and rallies do attract massive crowds but keeps the speakers away from personally reaching out to the people. There is no room for personal interaction with a large crowd, and often the large gatherings are in place to hear you speak of your political promotions, rather than personal attention to local issues. Often politicians promise just about everything that locals wish for and people know that it is unlikely that every idea being put forward to the touring politician will not become reality. But we still ask, and they still promise to deliver and we continue with the cycle every season counts votes.

The political yatras will continue with national and regional politicians for time to come or as long as politics are around. Even with the proliferation of television and internet, it is still good to press hands and walk the local roads to communicate directly with the people. Granted that the media coverage will follow you through the walking tours, and they are kept busy with local idioms and festivities. The politicians remain fit with the exercise, and get to taste the local response for a few moments.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Method To The Madness

Vasu Reddy from Chicago

As bad as the reputation of political leaders is today, there is some history to where the current crop of politicians in power have been up to and why many of them are in jail. When Nehru was the leader and followed by Lal Bahadur Shastri for a short stint as the Prime Ministers of India, there was no need for them to raise money for canvassing around the country, and be in front of the media 24/7. The leadership of the country relied on principals of democratic India and only had to express their desire to have India continue to be democratic and remove poverty.

Even when Indira Gandhi became prime minister after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the big slogan was Garibi Hatao and removing poverty was the main slogan that people heard on the radio, prior to the days of the advent of television. There was never scandal related to the politicians and squandering national wealth in form of kickbacks. Only when the television and communications have been introduced into the country the money matters have become a staple of the societal owes in India.

To a large degree when BJP first came into power after the emergency rule declared by Mrs. Gandhi, the money matters were still bare budgeted campaigns and did not foster massive kickbacks. Politicians campaigned hard and visited all their constituents and power packed speeches which were long in rhetoric to huge audiences and promised to deliver to the poor almost in every speech. They were all predictable and spoke the language of the central politicians, and people were divided according to their party lines and voting and campaigns were all predictable.

Only when mobile communications and television were introduced across the country and with multiple licensees in the market big money being demanded and changing hands has become a common practice between the politicians and the business aspirants. Somewhere in the time the technology being introduced and common man having the ability to reach out to each other, the greed factor of politicians in demanding massive kickbacks has come into being a common practice. Instead of using the communications to promote the agendas of the political parties the politicians have been blatantly demanding and receiving massive amounts of money to line their pockets.

Tracing the money is fairly simple, and there is no need to expound on the intricacies of how the money is given, taken and sent to international destinations or into massive public investments. Every industry has been subjected to massive demands for money, and this directly impacts the national wealth system. It drives the price of licenses to levels that are impossible to sustain until the people of subjected to the massive greed factor of the politician in charge of making the decision. Real estate, communications, technology and whatsoever is involved with the markets and infrastructure automatically have to add the value of the kickbacks paid in building the networks and infrastructure and automatically adding to the cost of the end user. Every action taken to give out the country’s resources should have been done with obtaining the maximum value for the citizens of the country, but the reverse is being done while lining the pockets of the politicians. The old political slogan of Garibi Hatao would have been absolutely true if the resources were sold at market prices and the money used to meet the needs of the common man. India would not only be the largest democracy on earth, but also the wealthiest democracy on earth. Jai Hind.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Story Telling At Its Best

CBS 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney died at the age of 92 on November 5, 2011. He has been on radio and television all of his life and just weeks ago did his commentary on 60 minutes. Many years I watched 60 minutes every Sunday evening and special focus to Andy Rooney’s segment at the end of the hour. He only spoke for a minute or two and picked on everyday subjects to comment or critique on, and always was to the point and even with humor. The humor was dry and to the point but ha always made it look like it is simple and true and to the point.

When I first start watching 60 minutes, I was interested in the human interest of the stories and mainly the interviews with the famous figures in the world. Newsmakers, presidents, prime ministers, business heads, dictators, and men and women who influenced the world in some way or the other, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. Many segments covered Africa and Middle East and Asia, and fascinating detail on the subjects and lands in every segment made you wait until next week for more. During winter season 60 minutes followed Sunday afternoon football, and was just after the coffee time to continue watching television Sunday afternoons after football. I still watch 60 minutes on Sundays when I can and still believe the storytelling is as compelling as it was when I first started watching the show years ago.

While the broadcast was compelling view all the time, Andy Rooney’s end piece of each segment was the most charming story of the broadcast. I mean no disrespect to the rest of the crew who capture great stories and tell them quite well but ending with Andy Rooney’s commentary was the icing on the cake for each of the 60 minutes. He told the story quite well and quite simply, and reached out to the sensibilities of all the viewers.

When Andy Rooney announced his retirement a few weeks ago, I was not surprised as he would have known when to stop broadcasting his weekly commentary. There was no replacement for the segment and now that the gentleman has passed away, there will be no other Andy Rooney to shed perspective on common man’s issues every Sunday. No one else will be able to shed such an insightful light on issues as Andy Rooney did every week. Rest in peace Mr. Rooney, and god bless you.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Amitabh Bachchan

Amitabh Bachchan without a doubt is an actor and individual is a true superstar. He is always well mannered, unabated by the personality and fame and every word well chosen in speech and in writing. He has taken to the web lately and frequently shares his daily life with his millions of fans across the world. His taking the time to update his millions of fans on a regular basis is very commendable and brings him closer to his followers and fans. Every update is as elegant and well versed as all things he does. Just recently the Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray wrote in his column that Amitabh should be awarded the Bharath Ratna, which is the highest civilian award by the Indian government. No small recommendation from the chief of Shiv Sena, which can be echoed by millions of others across India on the well deserved commendation to the gentleman and superstar.

For decades his movies provided great action, great dialogues and great performances by all actors who worked along with Mr. Bachchan. Such was his screen persona, all his movies were great entertainers with style and substance along with great screen play and dialogues and song and dance included. Its likely that I may not mention every great movie of his, but Anand, Zangeer, Deewar, Sholay, Trisul, Mukkadar ka Sikandar, Sisila, Majboor, Chupke Chupke, Amar Akbar Anthony, Kabhi Kabhi, Lawaris, Don, Coolie, Dostana, Sharabi, Hum, Kudha Gawa, Cheeni Kum, Mohabatten and many more that have and will continue to enthrall the audiences across the decades of work he has done, and continue to do on the silver screen. His foray into television with Kaun Banega Crorepati is also legendary and continues to draw millions to see him in whatever medium he is willing to take on.

His ability to act out any character is well documented and requires no further dialogue that has not been already delivered. His tone and sometimes song has been enthralling audiences for decades and he seem to reinvent him self every single time he needed to present a different phase of his career and never running out of newness and fresh performances. From a tall and lanky young man to a dignified gentleman to a great looking 69, Amitji has continues to keep us glued to the big and small screen, all the while being a great dad and husband.

When I read about Mr. Thackeray voicing his opinion about Amitji should receive the Bharth Ratna, I felt what better weekly opinion piece that writing about my favorite Indian actor of all time. I still remember my younger brother, many of my friends and myself wearing big bell bottom pants with short shirts and long hair and trying to look cool with the styles of Amitji in those days. Everyone was cool, and looked cool with nice and dapper clothes modeled after the big man. Those were the days of abandon and carelessness outside of school or college trying to imitate the superstar. He still is very stylish and dapper and he is still and icon for today's generation. With his own inimitable style he carries an aura of a great personality with ease and dignity. He deserves the highest civilian award from the Indian government and any other citation or award that can be awarded to any achiever of his stature.

I hope Amtji will continue to entertain us for a long time to come, and he never retires. His body of work both on screen and off will always be in the highest form of entertainment for generations to come as it has been for last several decades. Here is wishing him well and a long and successful life and career moving forward.

Past Perfect

Vasu Reddy from Chicago It has already happened. Past is already on the books, recorded, and can’t be changed.   It ...