Tuesday, December 30, 2008

China or the USA?

Will 2009 be the year of China or the USA?

ND Batra
From The Statesman
This may be a defining year for both China and the US. Both are in trouble. The US is in recession. China’s export-driven economy has slowed down significantly. How each one comes out of the trouble will determine its future. The US cannot keep borrowing money from China to buy its cheap goods or resume subprime lending to finance its housing and real estate market. If China cannot export what it manufactures, what will it do? Furthermore, if China has no place for investment or depository for its billions of annual trade surpluses, what will it do?

Consider for a moment the following facts. China has been growing at the rate of more than 9-10 per cent for the past two decades and rightfully expects to become a great economic and military power in the next decade or so. Since the one-party authoritarian rule has not hampered China from growing at an extraordinary rate, it is reasonable to ask: How could China accomplish so much in such a short time without political freedom?China is one of the US’s biggest foreign lenders but it earns no gratitude; instead it creates fear. Mr Gao Xiking, president of the China Investment Corporation, which manages an about $200-billion sovereign fund, told Mr James Fallows in a recent issue of the Atlantic, “Be nice to the countries that lend you money.” In other words, don’t talk about human rights, Tibet, piracy, currency manipulation, bad toys, or milk products that kill children. Many American politicians including Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been great critics of China’s violation of human rights and unfair trade practices. But their rhetoric of idealism is compromised by international realities of Chinese economic power. When China says it might diversify its foreign exchange holdings, the dollar shudders. China holds about $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves (a substantial portion in US Treasury notes) thanks to its export-driven economy and controlled currency value. Japan too has massive foreign currency reserves, more than $1 trillion, but the US has never felt threatened by it.

Between the US and pro-American Muslim-Arab countries human rights and freedom have seldom been an issue. As a global power, the US cannot give up dealing with authoritarian regimes regardless of its zeal to spread freedom universally. But China is different because it wants to be a superpower. The rhetoric of freedom and liberty is a tool of public diplomacy that China cannot match.Nonetheless, many Americans believe that the US will remain vulnerable to terrorism so long as authoritarianism and hate ideology prevail abroad; and to beat it there’s no other solution except to expand freedom and openness.

But again China is doing well without democratic freedom. Day and night China’s disciplined and hard working people make goods for the entire world without much thought about freedom. Many countries in the developing world look to China not only for aid and trade but also as a wonderful working model. The biggest challenge for US diplomacy today is to ask China to open up and loosen its authoritarian control over society. But look what loosened controls have done to the US and global financial markets!

Before the global financial crisis hit China, the country was full of great expectations about its future, while the rest of the world struggled to manage with bad debts, spiralling prices and random outbursts of terrorism. China’s peaceful transformation from communism to state-controlled, export-driven capitalism is in fact a great tribute to China’s pragmatism, creating the perception of China’s relentless and inevitable rise as a global superpower. China has been attracting foreign direct investment with its managed narratives of boundless opportunities; and more so with the power of its ruling party’s ruthless collective will that rules 1.3 billion hardworking, entrepreneurial and yet obedient masses.

Until recently China believed that since the world could not do without its inexpensive goods and talents, there’s not much to worry about intellectual property, currency manipulation to boost exports, massive trade surpluses, and rising foreign exchange reserves that end up as US Treasury notes. Rising prosperity did not encourage China’s rulers to loosen their control over power and become less authoritarian. China felt that it could compete with the best without facing problems that an open society like the US confronts.Beijing, with the help of US telecommunication companies, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Cisco, has expanded its control into cyberspace. Some social scientists say that large centralised political systems crumble due to internal pressures created by communications technology unless they have built-in shock absorbing capabilities. But it is not happening in China in spite of the Internet, satellites, cell phones and hosts of other wireless devices that are becoming available to masses.

Some US corporations think that by offering selective partnership to Chinese businesses they will be able to draft in China’s brainpower.In 2005, IBM alerted the public about the inevitability of China’s rise and the need to harness its strength for corporate America. “The future is a dragon. Do you hear it coming?” barked an IBM adman. IBM boasted of access to a global pool of thousands of scientists, engineers and technologists to solve complex problems. But that was a different time. The incoming Obama administration has already concluded that borrowing money and brainpower from China to sustain US global power is not an option any longer.

The Japanese too have been watching the dance of the dragon. In 2005, the Chinese claimed that their feelings had been hurt because some Japanese school textbooks showed no regrets about the atrocities the Japanese troops had committed against them during World War II. There were other grievances. Japan had begun to explore undersea oil and gas deposits in a disputed region of East China Sea. When Japan asked for an apology and compensation for vandalism and damage to its diplomatic and commercial property, China said there was nothing to apologise about. Before street protests, the Chinese government had allowed an online petition drive by millions of Chinese against Japan’s effort to seek permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The unprecedented online phenomenon showed how China could mobilise its masses.

A few years ago, China stunned the world when it destroyed one of its own ageing weather satellites by hitting it with a ballistic missile five hundred miles into space, thus, signalling its intentions to master space. The US cannot ignore such intentionality even though China has ceased to be an imminent threat since its economic growth has become increasingly tied up with search for energy and raw materials, foreign direct investment, and exports.

Through its growing trade surplus and currency reserves it seemed until recently that China had established an iron grip on the US.

But the financial crisis and recession, contrary to the general impression, have energised the US. The new kid on the block, President-elect Barack Obama, stands tiptoe, determined to rebuild the $15-trillion economy through innovative strategies for economic self-reliance (not protectionism).In 2009 as China scrambles to put its $3.25-trillion export-based economy in order, it will face a new United States of America ~ bolder, smarter, and more imaginative. The beat of the American drum will be heard around the globe for decades to come.

(ND Batra is professor of communicationsat Norwich University)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Shesher Kabita

Shesher Kabita
(The Last Poem)
A novel by Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1913 AD, Nobel Laureate of 1913)

(Forwarding note and poems in Bengali by Tagore translated by RAJAT DAS GUPTA, KOLKATA, rajatdasgupta@yahoo.com & rajarch@cal3.vsnl.net.in )

Tagore had no dearth of his critics who had to beat a retreat for the time being after the Poet had the accolade of Nobel Laureate. However, in the mid-twenties of the last century they surfaced again and some young scribes ‘revolted’ against Tagore’s hegemony in Bengali literature and tried a ‘coup’ to dislodge the Poet from his supreme position. They declared that Tagore’s time had ended and that it was their turn to hold the rein of the Bengali literature to re-vitalize it with their ‘new’ contributions. Tagore foiled their move simply with a big laughter and affection towards this young group through his brilliant novel ‘Shesher Kabita’ (=The Last Poem). I read this novel in early fifties in my college life as it became essential for a Bengali young man at that time to be ranked ‘intelligentsia’ which all of them aspired. Later I read its wonderful English translation by Krishna Kripalani captioned ‘Farewell my Friend’. I do not know if Kripalani’s book is still available in the market but, I believe, some translation of ‘Shesher Kabita’ must be available. I would suggest any Tagorephile not knowing Bengali to read translation of ‘Shesher Kabita’. Seemingly, it is a story of triangular love, the theme on which numerous novels/stories have been written all over the world in all major languages. However, I daresay, this is the only novel/story of its kind on earth which marvelously echoes the contrast between ‘Finite’ and ‘Infinite’ as conceptualized in Upanishad (nearly 4500 year old Indian scripture) The story may be outlined as – Amit Ray, an accomplished Barrister, met Labanya in Shillong (the hill station in the easternmost part of India with superb natural beauty) and amnesiac of his first love Ketaki, fell in love with Labanya. Eventually, Labanya opted out of Amit’s life and he gets married to Ketaki. Amit was an ardent ‘modernist’ and would never miss a chance to downplay Tagore in the literary gatherings. One such example, Amit trashed Tagore’s widely celebrated poem ‘Shah Jehan’ [of the book ‘Balaka’ (=Crane) written in Allahabad in 1914], where the Poet compared ‘Taj Mahal’ with a ‘Drop of tear- on the cheek of Time, bright white’- ‘as a memento for Shah Jehan’s pathos’ for his wife Mamataj. However, the long poem concludes with the perception that ‘Taj Mahal’ is only a museum piece and that the ‘traveler’ (i.e. Shah Jehan) who had conceptualized this, had transcended this mundane ‘Taj Mahal’ for his eternal journey free from any earthly bondage. Amit discards this view with his antithesis of ‘Shah Jehan’ by offering ‘Basarghar’ (=Bridal Chamber) which is eternally vibrant with the perpetual visits of the married couple, giving a truer view of life, as Amit upheld. The poem is as follows –

Poem: Basarghar (Bridal Chamber)- of Tagore’s book Mahua (name of a flower) written at Bangalore in 1928.excerpted in the novel ‘Shesher Kabita’

[Translator’s note: It is a universal ritual that the couple spend their nuptial night ceremoniously in their Bridal Chamber which is gorgeously decorated for that night. But the euphoria is momentary as soon the couple will have to vacate the Bridal Chamber for their journey on the rugged road of their life. Yet, the eternal function of Bridal Chamber remains which welcomes the new couples every day to baptize them for their life’s new journey.

Thou hast to be left behind
As the dawn’s chariot wheel will grind
The night’s slumber,
O Bridal Chamber!
There the vast external
Is a separating demon terrible!
Yet, more it’ll massacre,
The Exchange Garland (*) in pieces will tear, (*)
Thou art there without decay
Night and day;
Thy gift ever festive
Won’t mute or strip.
The couple, who said,
Have vacated Thy bed?
They haven’t, no they haven’t,
Amidst new passengers to Thee is their bent –
At Thy call,
To Thy noble gate, they return all.
O Bridal Chamber,
Love is immortal, so Thou art.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(*) In Indian marriages the couple exchange their garland.

It may be safely observed, Tagore’s rival Amit was only Tagore’s brainchild, which never achieved a separate flesh and blood entity in Bengal, nay, in the whole world ever. Several more poems transposed to the novel from the book ‘Mahua’ of the Poet to capture the passions/realizations of the concerned characters at different times are as follows.

Poem: Achena (=Unknown) of the book Mahua (name of a flower) written at Bangalore in August 1928 excerpted in the novel ‘Shahser Kabita’

O Unknown, how Thou’ll elude me
Ere I’ve known Thee?
In which blind hour
Betwixt wake and slumber
As dawned the night
Thy face I did sight;
With my eyes on Thine
Asked, “What escape Thou pine
Amidst amnesia of self,
In the inane taking Thy delve?
Acquaintance with Thee
Will not be easy;
Not in Thy ear
By soft whisper;
But conquer Thee shall I
From Thy inhibition high
With all my vigour
From Thy shame, indecision and fear;
Lift Thee up into light merciless
Thy tears Thou to bless
To wake into self-knowledge
Thus to snap Thy bondage;
Liberation of Thine
Will be mine.

O Unknown,
Days pass, time will be flown;
A great mishap
Let all bondage snap;
Let that flamboyant be
For knowledge of Thee,
There my life to surrender
With perception of Thee serene for ever.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Poem: Daymochan (Absolving from onus) of the book ‘Mahua’ written at Bangalore on 23 August 1928 excerpted in the novel ‘Shahser Kabita’

[Translator’s note: We should not scramble for whatever precious we pine for in our life as that only blights the sanctity of our claim. Our glory is more to find accomplishment in life’s rewards with which we are blest in due course rather than lament those which we miss.]
You’ll remain beggar
Of my love ‘for ever’,
If you’ll say so –
This small moment let go
As that ‘forever’,
If you forget thereafter,
I won’t remind your oath,
Entry and exit doors both
Will remain open,
So, as time will pass, go then
And if you crave, be back again,
But if you are dubious
It’s no harm enormous;
Love me if you will
If you so desire still.

Friend, I know your journey is ahead,
Behind I lag, but tears I won’t shed
Neither curse my fate
To block your way desperate.
Your life’s aim I’m not,
If so from your mind I’ll blot
Your gift will remain green
In my memoir of tears unseen.
And my gift too
In your amnesia will leave its clue.

On your way if you’ll sojourn
And your eyes backward turn,
You may find my lost vision –
My eyes, tears moisten.
If you pity
My tears will never empty.

Let remain with me
The bare truth only
Out of your gift –
But shame will leave me bereft
If you offer anything beyond –
As, if grief I’ll abscond,
Its price I’ll miss
Which might be my supreme bliss.

The feeble weakens own right
With the reception garland’s slight;
One who takes it at ease
One’s competence for it doesn’t cease;
To beg he’ll care not
His claim to blot.
I’ll not blend the counterfeit
Love’s shortfall to meet;
But my border
I’ll honour.
Whatever I got is my treasure
Without decay for ever;
To me is not great
Whatever I didn’t fate.

· * * * * * * * * * * *

Poem: Asru (Tears) of the book ‘Mahua’ (name of a flower) written at Bangalore in July, 1929.

O Beautiful,
Thou appear with eyes tearful!
Convey in Thy heart flame fierce
Mine to pierce.
So is sorrow resplendent
Life’s charming spells snap blatant;
In the breathe of that fire
Blossoms the separating lotus dire.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Poem: Antardhan (=Disappearance) of the book ‘Mahua’ written at Santiniketan in July 1928 excerpted in the novel ‘Shesher Kabita’

On the canvas of your extinction
I see your eternal configuration.
Within my heart unseen
Your ultimate visit has been –
The un-decaying touchstone
As my gain I’ve known.
Your vacuum that I sense
You yourself recompense.

As darkened the life, in my heart’s temple I had the clue
The evening lamp there was gifted by you.
In its separating flame -
Grief’s brilliance that from it came,
Love shaped up into worship
With its solemnity deep.

· * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Rather than an encounter with the enormity of Tagore, if not to excel him, Amit eventually had his accomplishment in deeper perceptions through his life’s experiences. He realized that his love both with Ketaki and Labanya were equally true. Love with Ketaki was like ‘water drawn in pitcher from the pond for daily use’ representing our mundane life. On the other hand his love with Labanya was like a vast ocean, akin to Infinity, where he will swim never to find its shore where to anchor.
So, all roads lead to Upanishad!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Saving India from the corrupt

Corruption in India is a form of terrorism


From The Statesman

Economic growth averaging 8.5 per cent during the last five years made us forget about corruption and crime in India. So it was very refreshing to read what former President APJ Abdul Kalam said recently. “My message to you is this: A corruption-free constituency (means a) corruption-free Karnataka. A corruption-free India is possible. Will MLAs of Karnataka lead the way?” he said, while addressing Karnataka’s legislators.

Ordinary Indians, the hoi polloi, pay bribes of about $5 billion (Rs 21,068 crore) a year in order to avail of “one or more of the 11 public services in a year” according to a 2005 Centre for Media Studies/Transparency India Report. Can you imagine how much “extra-ordinary Indians”, those who breakfast in New York, lunch in London and dine in Mumbai, must be paying to speed up their business deals? Corruption is endemic both in the Indian polity and the bureaucracy. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranks India 72 out of 179 countries.

Asking the lawmakers to be “a friend, philosopher and guide to every family in their constituency”, Mr Kalam said, “Your mission should be to free your constituency from poverty and crime and ensure the dignity of every human being.” The message, though aimed at Karnataka’s new ruling party, the BJP, some of whose members are associated with the Hindu right, is the need of the moment, especially when Indians have become pre-occupied with terrorism. Internal terrorism is called insurgency, whether it is by Northeast separatists or by faux Maoists, and it has a strong correlation with corruption and crime. Corruption, crime and insurgency go together. “Criminals as lawmakers” is unique to Indian democracy.

India’s pace of globalisation from economic growth and foreign trade to piracy, terrorism and even movies like Slumdog Millionaire has raised expectations, revealing India’s strength as well as its weaknesses. So it is not surprising when I come across a person asking a question such as: If Indian economists are so smart ~ look at Professor Amartya Sen, Union Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, et al ~ can they help India get out of the global financial trouble? My quick answer is that corruption has bogged India down. Of course, some blame the socialist political economists of the post-independence generation who believed that a bad car made in India was a sign of self-reliance.
It is true to some extent that protectionism and buddy capitalism of the socialist era proved a poor substitute for the challenge and response of the competition of the marketplace.Initially, as the legend goes, the foreign exchange crisis of the early 1990s forced India to open up its doors to market economy.

But India was pushed into globalisation by the information revolution that had begun to sweep the world. The other India, its diaspora, especially in the IT field, began to show its unusual ingenuity for developing new products and services as well as for solving complicated problems, including killing the millennium bug.

Bangalore was able to lift off in spite of its poor infrastructure and in the process transformed itself into a cyberspace module that expertly docked with the emerging digital universe, partly thanks to Indian satellite technology, which was paradoxically developed during the era of self-reliance.While the spectacular success of Bangalore and IT showed how much the Indian tinkerer could do for the world, at the same time it exposed India’s vulnerabilities ~ its sluggish rural economy, massive shortfalls in investment for infrastructure development, more than 300 million illiterate people, and a high rate of underemployed and unemployed people.

The world began to look at India’s underside, miles of slums and millions of malnourished children, and the exposure has challenged Indian scruples and sensibilities. Indian policymakers and intellectuals began to grapple with the problem of economic growth, but they did not pay attention to the culture of corruption, the yoke on the poor.

The optimism created by IT and other industries cannot be sustained unless India develops the political will to clean its stables. What will make politicians and bureaucrats more accountable and responsive to public needs? Individuals who exercise political power should be made answerable for not only the way they use the power vested in them but also whether they achieve their goals with clean hands. Perhaps India needs a minister of corruption, who should build a network of whistleblowers. Sadly, the news media has not been playing the watchdog role essential for a healthy democracy.

Of course some problems are systemic and need structural changes. Poverty reduction depends on the rate of economic growth and how widespread and decentralised economic opportunities are. The system as a whole has to be geared for growth, which means the development of a grand national strategy that covers every region. Blooming Gujarat and gloomy Bihar (and the Northeast) cannot be part of the same country.The burden of corruption is ultimately borne by the poor in India.

The source of corruption is unaccounted exercise of power, and of course, a sleepy kowtowing press. Elected officials can be removed, though one might say disdainfully, only to be replaced by another crop of corrupt people. But democracies do have methods of dealing with corrupt people in high places if the rule of law is enforced.

Public accountability through news media exposes and merciless investigative reporting, especially through Internet blogging and television, as the American experience shows, is a strong antidote to corruption. Secondly, well-regulated and carefully crafted privatisation might reduce corruption because it takes power away from bureaucrats and gives it to entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. But they too can, as happens in the US, abuse power.

But if laws are enforced rigorously, the corrupt will find their well-deserved place in jails as many American chief executive officers have discovered.India will need more than Mr Kalam’s exhortation to eliminate corruption in public life. Corruption is a terrible form of terrorism; it is always there.

(ND Batra is professor of communicationsat Norwich University)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Not for girlie-men

Fighting terror is not for wimps

From The Statesman

Mr KPS Gill, a most highly regarded former policeman, told the Ladies Study Group in Kolkata last Thursday (11 December): “If 10 terrorists can hold the entire city of Mumbai to ransom for three whole days, I must admit that whoever is training these boys, handpicking them and motivating them, is definitely doing a good job.”

Not only have the Pakistanis done an excellent job in turning out superb commando-style terrorists but also they have used some of the most modern means of communication including GPS surveillance, Google Earth, satellite phones and voice-over-Internet-Protocol phone services.

Imagine a virtual war-room somewhere in Pakistan where every movement of “these boys” are being monitored in real time, as if the Houston ground control was monitoring a space shuttle flight. In comparison Operation Blue Star ~ pardon me Mr Gill ~ must have been child’s play, however tragic.

Do not underestimate the Pakistanis. They have created the indestructible Taliban and a ruthless secret service, the ISI, which through lethal, self-multiplying cells and self-sustaining charities rules Pakistan and casts its deadly shadow beyond its borders ~ what UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on his recent visit to Pakistan called “the chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of the UK and other countries around the world”.

Sometimes I feel that Indians simply live in India but do not care much for India. For example, in 2007 when there was a terrorist attack in Hyderabad, an Indian minister said something unforgettable and unforgivable, “Do you want us to keep vigil on all the chaat-eating people? How many chaatwallahs can we guard?” If these girlie-men surrounded by 24/7 bodyguards had taken care of the rakeriwallahs, rikshawallahs and chaatwallahs, they would not have to fight this day to protect the poor rich people who throng the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi Trident; and the unfortunate Jewish visitors who simply love India.

Only by protecting the lowly can you protect the mighty.

Terrorism has to be fought with anticipation, intelligence and persistence as the Europeans and Americans have been doing. Every now and then the US Homeland Security authorities revisit and update their plans to meet new contingencies. In 2006, for example, authorities had discovered a plot to blast and cripple the underground tunnel system that connects New Jersey with New York City. The discovery was not accidental. The security forces were on the lookout for terrorists in order to pre-empt any attack. Apart from the federal homeland security department, every state has contingency plans. The federal government and state governments work closely to fight crime and terrorism.

Do you remember what happened in India in 2006?

Indians forget and they pay for their forgetfulness. Americans don’t forget anything, whether it is Pearl Harbour or the 9/11. Americans commemorate and learn from history.

In the US and increasingly in Europe, there has been a big shift in thinking about terrorism. The policy has been to eliminate terrorism at the neonatal stage by establishing an early awareness system. The working principle is: what is anticipated can be prevented. Preventing terrorism at the inspirational and “aspirational” stages is the goal. Following the pre-emptive policy of dealing with terrorists, US Attorney David E Nahmias says, “We no longer wait until a bomb is built and ready to explode.” For example, the plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago was at a stage “more aspirational than operational”, according to the FBI, when the terrorists were nailed down in June 2007. Europeans are doing the same thing.

Consider what happened in Brussels last Thursday, when, according to the International Herald Tribune (IHT), the Belgian police arrested 14 people on the mere suspicion of suspected terrorist links. Six of them were charged with being member of a Belgian branch of Al-Qaida. What prompted the pre-emptive measure was a two-day European Union meeting, which could have been the target. The IHT quoted the federal prosecutor in Brussels, Mr Johan Delmulle, as saying, “We don’t know where the suicide attack was to take place. It could have been an operation in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but it can’t be ruled out that Belgium or Europe could have been the target.”

Instead of waiting for an uncertain event becoming certain and then taking action, Europeans are now following the American strategy of preemption. On the contrary, Indians do not do anything even when they know terrorists are going to attack.

In a remarkable piece, replete with irrefutable evidence, published in IBN-Live, Mr Arun Shourie, a former editor-in-chief of the Indian Express and BJP Rajya Sabha MP, said the government knew about the threats and did nothing. Mr. Shourie understands that India need not be throttled by its enlightened doctrines when law-enforcement authorities try to locate and destroy terrorist cells functioning openly or clandestinely in their own backyards. Mr Shourie, I am sure, will make a terrific terrorism czar.

The security doctrine is simple: eliminate terrorism at the “aspirational” level, as the Belgian police did. The US security laws allow intelligence and law-enforcement authorities to monitor places of worship, activities of charities, communications of suspected militants, and even their shopping patterns.

Superb intelligence-gathering, preemptive and preventive measures and anticipatory disaster plans could go a long way in eliminating terrorism, if India wants to take terrorism as seriously as Europeans and Americans do.

The 2007 US National Strategy for Homeland Security emphasised that “we cannot simply rely on defensive approaches and well-planned response and recovery measures. We recognize that our efforts also must involve offense at home and abroad”. The US strategy “provides a common framework” through which not only do the federal, state and local governments work together, “the private and non-profit sectors, communities, and individual citizens” are also actively included in homeland security operations. Like the US, India should create a culture of preparedness that permeates all levels of society ~ from individual citizens, businesses, and non-profit organisations to federal, state, local and tribal government officials and authorities.

Post script. By saving the country from terrorism, India would lift millions of its Muslims from fear, which would let them give their best as some of them are doing in Bollywood, sports, and myriad other productive enterprises.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Securing India day and night


India Above All
Cyber Age The Statesman
ND Batra
As soon as he assumed his new role as a terrorist czar, Mr Palaniappan Chidambaram, India’s new home minister, assured the people that “we will respond with determination and resolve to the grave threat posed to the Indian nation”. We have heard such bluster, such clenched-fist promises of dealing with the enemy myriad times before.
The painful truth is that India has no well-thought-out and planned strategy for apprehending terrorists and pre-empting them before they strike. Unlike the US and several European countries, which have learned from their own lapses and tragedies, India has failed to establish a dynamic national structure that responds not only to knowable threats but is also capable of anticipating the unknowable. For example, it was a lackadaisical attitude that prevented the authorities from apprehending the possibility that a terrorist attack could be launched from the Arabian Sea. Only a few days before the terrorists struck Mumbai, the Indian Navy had boasted of destroying a Somali pirate mother ship off the Gulf of Aden. Yet no one knew what was happening near India’s own coastal waters.

Where will the next attack come from? That is an unknowable at present but an early awareness system could show emerging possibilities before they become actualities. India has to establish a powerful central agency on the lines of US Homeland Security buttressed by a powerful tool such as Patriot Act and recruit and train a new kind of police force of well educated and intelligent people.It is shocking that the attacks on the famous Taj Mahal Palace, Oberoi-Trident and the Jewish centre that killed more than 190 people lasted so long ~ three days of running battles between India’s elite commandos and the gunmen before the sites were brought under control. Nothing of this kind has happened anywhere; in other places terrorists simply blow up their targets and themselves. In Mumbai they came to kill, kill, kill, as long as they could. Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said his country “would itself take action against the miscreants if there is any evidence against a Pakistani national”, warning at the same time that a “blame game should be avoided at all costs”.
Because otherwise the growing relations between the two countries could be adversely affected.If pushed to a corner, Pakistan will divert troops from its frontier badlands to the India-Pak border, an apparent blackmailing tactic against the US.Pakistan has the backing of its all-weather friend China, after all.

Syed Irfan Raza wrote in Dawn: “China has also assured Pakistan of moral, financial and material support in tackling the Mumbai fallout. In a message, the Chinese government said that it would assist Pakistan in any situation to overcome problems and challenges...(the) Chinese leadership was in constant touch with Pakistan to know the nature of assistance the latter requires and ensure its immediate availability.”Unlike the US, China is not persuading Pakistan to cooperate with India. Pakistan won’t hand over Dawood Ibrahim, the boss of the Mumbai underworld reputed to have networked with Bollywood bigwigs to Islamic militants; and Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of the banned Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, who was once jailed in India, and let out after the 2000 December hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu.

How the relationship between India and Pakistan will change because of terrorist acts after a few years of positive development is difficult to say because at present there is tremendous anger in India and official denial in Pakistan. What the new US administration should be looking at is to see that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons do not fall into terrorists’ hands.
If rogue elements in the ISI and other state and non-state actors, who do not want India and Pakistan settling down as peaceful neighbours and solving their problems, including Kashmir, get access either to nuclear weapons or technology, there could be a serious problem.

Regarding any possible involvement of the Pakistani government, including its intelligence services, India should not depend upon mere intuition but on solid evidence. At present India has evidence of only one terrorist who disclosed that Lashkar-e-Toiba-trained terrorists were involved. But they could not have been done without the support of the ISI and the D-Company, the crime and smuggling syndicate run by Dawood Ibrahim from Karachi.

At the conclusion of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said, “We are looking at this as an opportunity and I intend to do everything in my power.” But how much power does he have? Who listens to him?
The Pakistani Army is the most powerful institution, which controls the ISI, which in turn controls the shadow jihadi organisations that train terrorists. Most Pakistanis trust the army rather than politicians who have little credibility. The army is more or less an absolute syndicate with criminal and terrorist proxy organisations, and one might say, of which Mr Zardari is a nothing but an apologist. He knows who killed his wife Benazir Bhutto, doesn’t he?
Mr Michael Moran, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations has told Newsweek: “So what you have in Pakistan is, in relative terms, a strong and dominant national institution in the army and a relatively weaker civilian political leadership that is only in the very early stages of trying to balance out the influence and sort of come to any kind of command relationship over the military.” I am very sceptical that the army will ever relinquish its political and cultural dominance in Pakistan; nor its historical enmity against India, for which it will always need the ISI and its lethal proxies with variable names.

So what is India’s choice? India must strike a new balance between civil liberties and national security. Within the framework of optimum civil liberties and the rule of law, India should establish a total surveillance system, a vast and comprehensive human and technological intelligence system that is capable of capturing unheard sounds of unborn events. But intelligence without action is meaningless.You cannot save India unless you love India totally and absolutely with all your heart ~ India above all.

(ND Batra is professor of communicationsat Norwich University)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Yes, India Can

Give India weapons of self-protection

From The Statesman

India needs weapons of mass self-protection, not the false sense of security of regionalism as is being proposed in some quarters.

Mr Ahmed Rashid, the renowned Pakistani journalist and author, dumps the entire region extending from India through Pakistan and Afghanistan to the Central Asian states into one giant problematic region and laments that the US has failed in its duty of stopping the region from sliding into anarchy. In his latest book, Descent into Chaos, he reprimands the US for not doing enough, and advocates that saving the region is in the US national interest.

Mr Rashid is perhaps one of the very few Pakistanis who believe that the US invasion of Afghanistan “created enormous expectations of change and hope for a more sustained Western commitment to the region that would lift it out of poverty and underdevelopment”. After 9/11, the US wanted to get rid of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaida and the Taliban. No nation can lift another nation or a whole region out of poverty and degradation caused by the blind hatred of others based on religious obscurantism. Instead of giving us an intelligent analysis of why Pakistan sank into progressive misery during six decades of independence, Mr Rashid blames the West for not waking up “to the realities and responsibilities of injustice, poverty, lack of education, and unresolved conflicts such as those in Kashmir and Afghanistan, which it had ignored for too long and which could no longer be allowed to fester”. Mr Rashid forgets that since the 1980s when Zia-ul-Haq seized power, Pakistan has been deliberating and turning into a nation with a fundamentalist mindset. In varying degrees, every institution, including the Pakistani armed forces and the ISI, has been infused with the fundamentalist virus, which spread from Saudi-financed Wahabi madrassas and abundant infusion of cash by Arab petrodollar charities.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Pakistan-backed Islamic fundamentalists and the US-financed Afghanistan armed resistance ultimately drove the Soviets out and might have played a significant role in the final collapse of the Soviet Union. When the US withdrew from Afghanistan leaving behind battle-scarred guerrillas, the ISI in collusion with Al-Qaida and helped by Arab money raised the Taliban, which in a short time overpowered the country, imposing a brutal fundamentalist order on the helpless, war-ravaged nation.

The ISI-Taliban control of Afghanistan seemed an unprecedented strategic achievement of the Pakistani armed forces, but it has become an endless nightmare. No less significant has been the role of China in helping Pakistan develop nuclear weapons, which turned a bankrupt country into the most dangerous place in the world, which could not be left alone.Instead of looking deep into the flawed foundation on which Pakistan was founded, Mr Rashid continues to blame the US for every ill of the region. He states the obvious that “Afghanistan is once again staring down the abyss of state collapse, despite billions of dollars in aid, forty-five thousand Western troops, and the deaths of thousands of people”.

This would not have happened if the Pakistan military and especially the ISI, which he calls “a state within a state”, had not collaborated with and sheltered Al-Qaida. Instead he says the resurgent Taliban have been “getting a boost from the explosion in heroin production that has helped fund their movement”. He also jumps to the facile conclusion, which sounds like propaganda, that, “At stake are the futures of the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), the European Union, and of course America’s own power and prestige.”

He conveniently forgets to mention the role of China, Pakistan’s most reliable all-weather friend, in the country’s collapse. All we know is that when President Asif Ali Zardari went to Beijing to borrow a handful of dollars from China’s massive foreign exchange reserves, he returned with plenty of good wishes and re-affirmation of eternal friendship but nothing else.As expected, Mr Rashid indirectly places the responsibility of political disarray in Pakistan on India’s shoulders.

Pakistan’s obsession with Afghanistan is due to the fear generated by the increasing influence of India in the country, he says. It is true that India has poured massive development funds, as much as $1.2 billion, into the rebuilding of Afghanistan’s educational system and social-political institutions as well as infrastructure projects including the building of the Zaranj-Delaram highway that connects Afghanistan’s highway system to the Iranian port of Chabahar, which will eventually become India’s port of entry to central Asia. The purpose is not to surround Pakistan but find an alternative route to Central Asia to share its natural resources as China is doing.

When General Pervez Musharraf seized power in 2002, he had the opportunity to pursue his grand vision of making Pakistan a modern progressive Muslim nation. But like others before him, he got more interested in holding on to power than rebuilding Pakistan in spite of the billions of dollars in aid from the US. Mr Musharraf left the country bankrupt and in a worse shape than before. But he initiated some fresh thinking on India-Pakistan relations especially in regard to Kashmir and the confidence-building measures that he started have been taken up by Mr Zardari, whose recent pronouncements have raised great interest.

In an October interview with Wall Street Journal, Mr Zardari said India had never been a threat to Pakistan and he called Kashmir militants terrorists. In a recent leadership videoconference he suggested a no-first strike nuclear deal with India and envisaged the possibility of a South Asian economic union.

But the difficulty is that whenever India begins to believe that there is a genuine change in Pakistan, an ugly reality strikes brutally into India’s heart as it did last week in Mumbai when terrorists brazenly emerged out of the darkness of Arabian Sea to destroy everything India values and seeks: building peace with the rest of the world through economic growth, trade and commerce.India cannot stop Pakistan’s descent into chaos. But India can certainly protect itself by erecting a dynamic system of total homeland security as the US has done.

The US is safer today because of the US Patriot Act, which was renewed by the US Congress in 2006. Consider the acronym: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act.

The US Patriot Act is a weapon of mass protection that has worked. That is what India needs. By protecting itself, India will protect the region and contribute to world peace.

(ND Batra is professor of communicationsat Norwich University)

A Tagore's Poem

A poem by Rabindranath Tagore, (1861 AD to 1941 AD) Nobel Laureate of 1913.

Translator: RAJAT DAS GUPTA, Calcutta
rajatdasgupta@yahoo.com & rajarch@cal3.vsnl.net.in

Poem No:1 of the book Patraput (Folded leaf) written on 4 May, 1935.

[Translator’s note: The poem is based on the association of the Poet once with a party who went for a trek on the mountain. There was a lot of reveling with the Poet’s participation, as is usual in such excursions, which the poem indicates. At the end, the spell of the ineffable natural beauty on the mountain captured all, and drowned the Poet into its fathomless ecstasy. Tagore’s mobility between the mundane, including very refined practical jokes, to the supreme aesthetic and spiritual intuitions was indeed amazing. I am tempted to refer here quite elaborately to Maitrayee Devi’s book ‘Tagore By Fireside’ (a translation by herself of her original book in Bengali ‘Mangpute Rabindranath’ i.e. Rabindranath at Mangpu, a hill station near Darjeeling which was the workplace of her husband) based on her diary she maintained while Tagore was her guest intermittently between 1938 to 1940. Her book is a unique literature of its kind. In no other writing one gets Tagore so closely as in this book, through the eyes of Maitrayee Devi. Following incidents/quotes from this book will hopefully be found relevant to this poem..

Once at Mangpu, Tagore conspired with a few of his associates to play a practical joke on a female relative of Maitrayee, whom all of them (including Tagore) addressed as Mashi (which in Bengali is the address for one’s mother’s sister, but may be applied to any woman around their age. For jest it is applied to much younger girls also, as in this case). Mashi was terribly afraid of insects which were then abundant while it was monsoon time. In the morning the Poet predicted the girl that it would be a bad day for her, pretending that it was his astrological reading. On persistence of the girl for more details of the impending mishap, the Poet replied that it might be of any kind which could not be precisely foreseen. Then in the words of Maitrayee Devi:]

“Early in the evening, at about dinner-time, I was waiting to give the Poet some medicine, when I suddenly heard a piercing shriek and a loud crash of falling crockery. I ran into the dining room to find Mashi standing on a chair, thoroughly distraught, with the dining table in complete disorder, while the others, whom the Poet used to call his three lords, were eating a huge beetle with much gusto. Then it came out that the beetle was made of chocolate. The great lord ordered it from a confectioner’s in Darjeeling, and then by previous unanimous agreement it was placed ready on Mashi’s plate neatly covered with a serviette. I came back to the Poet’s room and found him laughing to himself to his heart’s content.

‘Mashi, didn’t I predict that the day would end badly for you?’
‘Extraordinary! You were also in this conspiracy?’ ‘Really, I am also in it, am I? That is too bad, it really has gone too far – please do not release the news to the Associated Press, for the Poet Emperor (the Poet is referred in India as the Poet Emperor, the World Poet, The Great Poet etc.) would lose his prestige altogether, specially in our Guru-ridden country! Had I sat on a high pedestal, behaving like a proper preceptor and now and then showered sermons from on high, who would have been the loser? Those who fix themselves on the top of the ladder do not realize how much they lose.’

Words, that are limited by fixed meanings, seem inadequate to express how all the fine and sensitive touches of his personality revealed themselves to us, how we found him at once detached and absorbed. Even when absorbed in deep thought, engrossed in serious writing, he would return to us in a moment. He was interested in our smallest pleasures and pains, the trivial problems of our everybody life, watching over us with affection and anxiety. He did not stand like an onlooker on the bank, but came right into the middle of our life stream and felt its flow. Yet, in a moment he would be off on a voyage to some far away region. At one moment he would talk on the ordinary topics and regale everyone with humorous conversation, but the next moment he would relapse into a silence that would change the whole aspect of his personality, as if a door had closed, leaving us outside it, to gaze into a mystery we never could aspire to reach. Sometimes, in moments like this, we have felt, at least I have felt, that I should not speak at all, even if there should be something urgent to say. The tranquility that emanated from him at such times cannot be transmitted to my readers through the medium of language. Sometimes he would sit for hours without moving a hair, a hush would descend over the trees, over the dark masses of the bushes; at such times all noise, even the voices inside the house, would disappear from consciousness, something would reach out to me from an absolute stillness. I longed to sit at the feet of my Guru at those tranquil hours, but it was not an easy thing at the beginning; for ordinary persons like us to be able to sit in perfect stillness for a while needs training. One’s back would start itching, or toe would go to slip, something or other would tickle somewhere, making it absolutely necessary to change position. In the beginning, I was amazed to see him sit in the same position for hours, forgetting the existence of a body. Sometimes in the early hours of dawn, I have found him sitting thus, quite unmindful of the centipedes that were crawling up and down his arm. And then I would be confronted with a problem, not knowing whether to brush them away or leave them undisturbed. I found it impossible to express not only what he was, but also how I saw him. I can take down a little of his conversation, but how can I explain that eloquence of his silence, which was deeper expression of his personality, as I felt sitting there in an ineffable companionship, filled with a glow of well-being that baffles all description?”

Amidst the muddle of all weal and woe
That does with the stream of life flow,
Sudden encounter there has been
With moments of fulfillment hardly seen –
As in a mass of pebbles, a rare
Pick of a glistening sapphire.
So many times I thought
In Bharati’s (*) garland have those caught, (*)
But dared not,
Lest my poesy would fall short;
My artistic zeal
Their innate beauty would kill.

At Darjeeling we went for a trot
Stayed in a concealed cot
Down the main road –
On the porter’s back our load
Of all stores to keep our revel,
Like Esraj (**), food chests et al, we set for Sinchel (**)
To spend the night on that peak
Our enjoyment to seek.
On the mendicant mount,
Our mirth wouldn’t count.
Shaky Nabagopal rode a pony
And was indeed funny –
More he feared,
More the boys jeered.
Of that clime they were the lord,
All the way echoed their laughter and discord.
The vacuum of the hill
We few would fill
With our wits
And delighting feats –
With our ingenuity high
The solemnity to defy;
Such was our conviction
As we trekked on.

At last when our up climb ended
The afternoon Sun had descended,
Hoping amusement profuse,
Our unguarded cacophony we did muse
Would overflow our night
With nectarous delight.

At the peak under the sky infinite,
The Sun right on the horizon to prelude the night
Down the wide valley there
Zigzags the silvery river,
At the Western sky lines
The angels’ playfield shines
With the golden pot’s outpour,
Its ecstasy to capture the Earth to its core.
Reticence fell on the revelers,
All stood in amazed peers;
The Esraj lay aground silent
Earth’s din held to perceive that supreme moment.

Not born in the Vedic age
None could gage
A solemn hymn to the gale
Down that superb dale.
Right then we looked behind
The full Moon to find;
With friend’s beaming smile –
Heaven’s Poet Laureate to beguile
With his mystic literal
Just composed with its ineffable spell.

Daily the maestro plays his lute,
Unwitting, perceives the absolute,
One day all of a sudden,
The silver string resonates with the golden
When none is around,
That never before he found.
The music that day thrived
In eternal silence it dived
That very day;
His lute, the maestro scraps away.

When the ineffable tune did play,
On this Earth was my stay –
“Wonderful” – to say.


(*) Bharati is the Goddess of Learning, also referred as Saraswati, whose worship is performed particularly by the student community in Bengal, the time for is generally in the month of February.
(**) Esraj- a stringed musical instrument, like violin.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The re-Education of a businessman

What business schools need to do

From The Statesman


Business schools emphasise quantitative analysis and sophisticated computer modelling as if real life in the street could be enclosed in a Gaussian Bell Curve and events could be predicted within margins of error. But modern tools of business and economics cannot capture outliers, for example, the rare and extreme event such as the global financial crisis that is crushing us today.

While one cannot prevent a tsunami from hitting a country, one can certainly imagine such an extreme event occurring and build enough reserve resources to reorganise and restructure.Nor do business schools teach how to resurrect and rebuild the most invaluable human asset: trust and confidence. How do you restore people’s faith in a system that has failed them?

When the CEOs of Detroit’s big three automakers went to Congress for a $25-billion bailout to avoid bankruptcy, member after member asked them why they should trust them for doing the right thing for taxpayers and consumers. Show us your business plans before we give you the money, they said, after scolding them for flying in in their private jets. The best argument the trio could muster was that bankruptcy would put millions of people out of job, which was not only unpersuasive but also a dangerous half-truth.

The foreign automakers ~ Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, BMW and Mercedes ~ who run non-union auto plants in the South are after all doing not that badly in these bad times. No one wants Detroit to disappear as an important auto-manufacturing hub that radiates its energy through every walk of American life and directly and indirectly affects the lives of 2.5 million people.

But Detroit is an exemplar of failure in persuasion. It has failed to persuade the American consumer that its cars are better than those made by Germans, Japanese and South Koreans. It has failed to persuade Congress that it is capable of making better cars ~ fuel-efficient and green. Business schools claim that they create future business leaders but they don’t teach the fine art of how to become influential in a democratic society. They train technocrats who feel more comfortable with their BlackBerrys and talking into Bluetooths rather than sitting across a hostile group of people such as a congressional subcommittee and turning them into friends.

In the ultimate analysis doing business is about persuasion. Therefore, what business schools need to do is to develop a new concentration of courses that prepares MBA students for creating and exercising soft power. For want of a better term, some people call it lobbying, though I believe advocacy is a better word. Mr Richard Hall and Mr Alan Deardorff of the University of Michigan wrote in the American Political Science Review (2006) that, “Professional lobbyists are among the most experienced, knowledgeable, and strategic actors one can find in the everyday practice of politics.” But lobbyists are sometime reviled as unethical because most people think of lobbying as greasing, golfing, wining and dining ~ an unfortunately negative attitude about a socially useful activity.

Lobbying is a multimillion-dollar global service industry. China, India, Israel, the EU and Arab countries, for example, have hired some of the best lobbyists to look after their interests in the US. The US-India nuclear deal would have never been passed by Congress but for the excellent work done by some very talented groups of people who changed perceptions about India even though the country did not sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Chinese lobbyists want to ensure that Americans do not turn protectionist.

American lobbyists abroad (call them by whatever name you like) prowl and trawl throughout the world wherever decision-making power is concentrated. They know how to negotiate with the powers that be and use the news media and other resources to protect their national interest. Lobbying substitutes the power of the gun with the power of the tongue. In the US, lobbying is a legitimate activity protected by the First Amendment. In other democracies too, lobbying is considered a rightful and justifiable activity.

One of the most arduous tasks for anyone is to unravel and understand the labyrinthine activities of the US Congress ~ how it works and wields power through its committees, subcommittees and public hearings. How issues emerge in the public consciousness and how they are transformed into bills that become laws.

It is important for us to understand and appreciate the role of lobbyists in the halls of power and how they facilitate legislative processes both at Capitol Hill and in state capitals. If you take away lobbyists from Washington, Congress might turn into a permanent lame-duck institution. In fact, the failure to help the Detroit automakers is as much a reflection on Congress’s disarray as it is of the big three automaker CEOs’ inability to change the perception that they can do better.

Apart from being extremely knowledgeable and strategic thinkers, lobbyists put to use an indispensable tool of persuasion, which is negotiation. While it is said that most things in life are negotiable, the art of negotiation does not come easy whether one is dealing with friends or foes.Another important aspect of lobbying is to build and manage public campaigns, which include political (presidential), corporate (as the big three are doing now), and global (environmental, human rights) campaigns.

Besides teaching negotiation and campaigning skills, business schools should teach students how to work with the news media and use the Internet and social networking sites for grassroots community building.The learning focus could vary from the outstanding success of Mr Barack Obama’s presidential campaign to the ongoing international bailout efforts to save the international financial system. Advocacy, negotiation and campaigning should be central to every management programme.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thanksgiving in downtown America

Downtown America is downturning

Fraom The Statesman
ND Batra

We are heading toward a long weekend of vacation when millions of Americans will travel by trains, planes and automobiles to share with family and friends the joys of a Thanksgiving meal of roasted turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, apple cider and wine, and much more.

The day after Thanksgiving, stores will open for early bird door-buster sales, the traditional beginning of the holiday shopping season that lasts through Christmas and beyond, and is a firm indicator of how the economy is doing. But this Thanksgiving Day, as Americans mumble their prayers before the big meal and dig into their grandma pies and exchange neighbourhood gossip, the most pressing concern on their minds will be their jobs, some lost, and others threatened. Some have already lost their homes to foreclosures.

You have heard the cliché that in a market economy like the US’s, the consumer is king with a credit card, but unfortunately during the last two years the ground has been collapsing underneath him. The king feels like a pauper now. In spite of the fact that stores are offering huge discounts, even up to 75 per cent on some goods, it is uncertain whether the consumer will bring his credit card out of his wallet ~ so much is the fear of tomorrow. When your neighbour loses his job, you don’t know what might happen to you.

In some respects, it is the worst of times since 11 September 2001, when the US was attacked by terrorists. The downturn is becoming a recession and it is hitting the entire country. Nest eggs are dwindling and disappearing.

Last week the US Labor Department reported that jobless claims have risen to 516,000, which means more than a half million families, including some with children, won’t be heading to the stores with a smile on their faces. The total unemployment rate of 6.5 per cent is the highest in 14 years, according to the Labor Department. You might say that since the rest of the 93.5 per cent of people do have jobs, why worry? But that’s not how you measure misery. Unemployment of course can never be zero per cent but when it is below 5 per cent it is deemed tolerable, albeit grudgingly.

You might regard national unemployment as a revolving door through which people come and go. While some people get jobs, others lose and file for jobless claims; nonetheless, according to some economists when jobless claims, which provide a few weeks’ financial relief, touch 500,000, the situation is considered a recession. Eventually we will bottom out of the recession, though it is difficult to say when that will happen. Will it get worse? Some fear the coming of a depression. During the 1929-1930 Great Depression, 20 per cent Americans were out of jobs. We are far from that.

So the question is how the massive stimulus package of $700 billion, which was originally meant to buy out bad assets of banks and financial institutions so that they regain health and confidence and start lending again, will help Joe Sixpack who might be on the verge of getting a pink slip. In an about turn from the original plan, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson recently announced that he would now use a part of the stimulus package to encourage consumer spending via student loans, credit cards and automobile loans so that the wheels of the economy don’t grind to a halt. But the Big Three Detroit automakers ~ Ford, General Motors and Chrysler ~ say they need a cash infusion of $25 billion or more to stay afloat.

If Detroit shuts down, millions of jobs including the entire supply chain from automobile dealers to auto part manufactures will be lost, leading to a deeper recession. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is asking the government to spend $24 billion to back up mortgages so that 1.5 million threatened homeowners can stay in their homes rather than losing them to foreclosures. Many states, towns and cities are clamouring for their share of the pie. University and college endowments have slumped.A few weeks ago, I wrote “recession is worse than terrorism”.

Terrorism is man-made and can be limited and controlled. It can even be eliminated as has been done in Indonesia. But global recession ~ though its genesis indubitably lies in criminally negligent US bank lending practices in the housing market that let Joe Sixpack buy a house when he could not afford to pay the mortgage ~ is out of control and dragging every country down. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was heard saying at the G-20 meeting, “Emerging market countries were not the cause of this crisis, but they are amongst its most affected victims.”

It might sound rather flippant, nonetheless, let me ask a question. If Pakistan goes bankrupt, who would you blame: Taliban or Joe Sixpack? Consider this. When terrorists’ attacks hit the US seven years ago, there was no gathering of the G-20 nations (developed and emerging economies that today account for 85per cent of the world economy) to save the world. The Saturday gathering of the G-20 in Washington DC aimed to erect a dynamic global financial system that would reflect the new emerging world order by restructuring the creaky post-war Breton Woods (the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) system.

But on close reading you find that it was primarily meant to unfreeze the global credit pipeline through various national stimulus packages so that Joe Sixpack can go on his buying spree again; and Joe Chan in Guangdong and Joe Slumdog in Bangalore can get back their jobs in the factory and the outsourcing cubicle.And thereby hangs the global tale of miners in Africa, shoe and toy manufacturers in China, chicken feeders in Australia, outsourcers across India, oil sheikhs in the Arab world and diamond merchants in Amsterdam, all in the same boat, the Titanic, with Joe Sixpack. Do you see the iceberg?

(ND Batra is professor of communicationsat Norwich University)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The flight of the black swan

From The Statesman
ND Batra

The whole world is waiting for President-elect Barack Obama, one of the most inspiring orators of modern times, to hear what he will say to the American people, now in deep economic distress, as he enters the White House on 20 January 2009. Perhaps no one could have been more gracious than President George W Bush, who said, “It will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House.”

I see him hugging and folding his wife and children in his huge embrace with a broad smile, waving to the milling, swaying crowd, as if to say, “Thanks for the company, we have arrived, at last.”
A generation ago, it would have been unthinkable that the American-born son of an African immigrant married to a White woman would have the courage, “the audacity of hope”, to dream of sitting in the Oval Office. By winning the presidency, Mr Obama has elevated the White House and uplifted the American people. He might transform the US into a moral force, once again a great power for good.From the White House the Obama family will survey the past, from the coming of Kunta Kinte (Arthur Haley’s fictional-historical character from Roots) to the US in a slave ship to work in the cotton fields of the South to his liberation after the Civil War, which soon mutated into the utter degradation of segregation through the Jim Crow laws; his slow march through judicial and legislative processes, for example, the1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown versus Board of Education declaring segregation as inherently wrong and the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawing racial segregation; and his final assertion as a human being and the dreaming about a new US where one’s character and merit, as the non-violent civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King, Jr. prophesied, would matter more than the pigment of one’s skin.

In a manner of speaking, the history of the US is the history of the Black man rising and being accepted as a fellow American by the White man. Now that Kunta Kinte is entering the White House, it’s the end of history. And a new dawn of possibilities, as Mr Obama said.It is the beginning of new possibilities at home for regenerating the US through innovation, invention and entrepreneurship, of establishing a new system of universal healthcare and financial security, of re-democratising and re-dedicating the American dream so that there will always be a second chance and failure is no stigma, and yes, you can do it.
Mr Obama built a remarkable grassroots Internet-based meta-party political machine to win the hearts and minds of the young and the old, of the entire racial and ideological spectrum, and almost got a mandate to bring about transformation in American society. But as the ravaging global financial crisis shows, Americans are so densely interconnected with the rest of the world that no meaningful change can occur unless the rest of the world is willing to cooperate, a lesson the US should have learned after the 9/11 terrorists attacks. The US cannot go it alone even in its attempt to set its own house in order without help from others, whether it is the Chinese moneylender or the Pakistani badlander.
So the question is how Mr Obama will transform his campaign slogan, “Yes, we can”, into reality.On Friday, Mr Obama, surrounded by some of the best and the brightest economists and financial experts, gave his first post-election press conference. He was cool and measured in his remarks about the state of economy and sounded much less exuberant about the prospects of turning things around than when he was stumping for the election. “I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead,” he said. “Some of the choices that we make are going to be difficult. And I have said before and I will repeat again: it is not going to be quick and it is not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in.”
He urged Congress and the Bush administration to pass a stimulus package, which, apart from the $700 bailout already approved for reviving financial markets, would cost anything between $150 billion to $300 billion and would help families with tax-relief, extended unemployment insurance benefits and food stamps. It would also bolster the crumbling budgets of cities and states, without which some of the essential services would be adversely affected.

A similar stimulus package of $107 billion was given in the beginning of the year to mostly lower- and middle-class families but it worked more like a small drink of brandy for a depressed man than an energiser of economic activity.The most sobering lesson a US President has to learn is that he can’t do much about global markets. Being the leader of the free world can create a dangerous delusion. Whether there will be an opportunity for finding a new leadership role for the US in an interdependent world of rapidly emerging economic powers ~ China, Japan, the EU, Russia, and, perhaps, India ~ no one knows.

But when a reporter asked how Mr Obama would respond to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad’s letter of congratulations, he said with a determined finality that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were absolutely “unacceptable”. I hope Mr Obama will also have the courage to say, “The decline and fall of the US is utterly ‘unacceptable’.”

But look! What a cornucopia lies in wait for Kunta Kinte in the White House: a global financial meltdown; the Israel-Palestine decades-long deadly dance; Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear ambitions; the Afghanistan-Pakistan implosion; and let’s not forget the dessert: China’s mountain of a $2-trillion foreign exchange reserve. All served up by your favourite waiter, Joe the Plumber.

(ND Batra is professor of communicationat Norwich University)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bailing out Joe the Plumber

Everyman America too needs a bailout


From The Statesman

Joe the Plumber, America’s Everyman fictionalised and popularised by both Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama during their fiercely contested presidential elections, cannot pay his credit card bills. After the elections, he will be forgotten but not his problems. American consumers are defaulting enormously on their credit cards and banks are bleeding red ink coast to coast.

The credit card industry and consumer advocates are asking the Federal regulators to let them write off as much as 40 per cent credit card debts for some consumers, according to Associated Press. Cash-only lifestyle in the United States has long been gone.

Barring a minuscule minority of old-fashioned people who still believe and practice what Polonius said in Hamlet, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” most Americans have become accustomed to living on credit. It was so wonderful when the going was good. Banks were eager to loan money to anyone who had a minimal threshold of credit-worthiness. Before the financial tsunami hit the country, the industry used to mail billions of solicitations to people offering credit cards.

There are more than 650 million credit cards in circulation in the United States for a total population of 300 million plus. American economy depends on consumer spending. Even today in spite of the credit crunch, when you enter a store a pretty girl would greet you with the solicitation: “If you open the credit card account now, you will get 10 per cent discount on all your sales today.” And then she would whisper: “You can cancel it any time.” With very little background check, instant credit would be issued to the customer and thus would begin the spending spree, for which the whole world is paying the price.

A few years ago it was thought that the American model could work for a growing economy like India; so credit cards were issued as generously and foolishly as they were done in the United States. But as they have pursued the American way of life, the rising middle-class Indians too have been sucked into the consumerism tidal wave with unforeseen consequences for the economy.

A middle class Indian would live in perpetual debt, as would Joe the Plumber for many years to come, making monthly payments for the mortgage, home equity loan, car loan, and his children’s college education. And if Joe the Plumber faces divorce, a highly probable domestic future for Everyman America, or if there is a major medical catastrophe uncovered by his health insurance, he would look for a bailout or bankruptcy. There was a time when American consumers used credit cards mostly during a holiday season. Gradually it became an all season credit addiction. When bills began to pour in and borrowers were unable to pay them, they juggled their debts from one credit card to another.

In spite of the fact that the law in the United States now makes personal bankruptcy rather more difficult, on average about a million people filed for bankruptcy every year. Now it is going to be much worse. Bankruptcy of course is no shame in the United States. From Lehman Brothers to Joe the Plumber, everyone does it. It is only a minor embarrassment. Call it a method of re-inventing oneself; or re-structuring.

Americans routinely use the card to make all kinds of payments: medical bills, gas, groceries at the supermarket, college tuition bills; and even dial-a-porn. It is so convenient. In fact consumers are rewarded for using their charge cards. Many card companies offer cash back, frequent flyer miles, or some other horny corny temptation every time the customer uses the card. Without savings, how can a family balance its budget in tough times, except through more borrowing with the credit card? According to Federal Reserve estimates, the total credit card debt carried by the US households in November 2007 was $900 billion.

As long as the good times rolled on, banks did not feel that credit card delinquencies posed a serious threat to the banking system because most card customers were good, so good that their business covered up not only the losses due to bankruptcies but also due to frauds. The cardholder liability in fraud cases is limited to $50 only. Every year thousands of people become victims of card frauds. There have been several reports from major news media whipping foreign hackers for most of the card frauds in the United States. Credit card thieves come in all shapes, colours and nationalities and they have the same working methods: hack into the data bank of a major retailer and once logged on, download customers’ social security, credit status, and addresses.

With stolen ID they can live the other person’s life for a long time and then move on to another victim. The usurer, the debtor, and the gentleman crook were all doing well in the United States, though it had been a continuous challenge: life in perpetual debt, worry about paying the next month’s bill; or jail for fraud. But in hard times like these, the credit card industry cannot survive if the losses reach a point that the credit card system collapses like a house of cards.

So what should India be doing?

Instead of pursuing the American way, India should consider the French way where most people opt for a debit card. This will allow an aspiring Miss Bollywood to spend as much on her Prada collection as she has in her bank account.

(ND Batra teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University. He is working on a new book: This is the American Way, Stranger!)

Friday, October 31, 2008

For the want of a nail...

America ain’t collapsing but…

From The Statesman
ND Batra

'For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for the want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for the want of care about a horseshoe nail.'--Benjamin Franklin

Today we are much more connected with each other than in the good old times of Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, a man of immense genius who invented the lightening rod and the bifocals and published Poor Richard’s Almanack, among his other great deeds of innovations and inventiveness. In fact the whole world, like a massive web, has become so interconnected that a slight tremor ripples through the entire global eco-system. The collapse of a bank in New York might dry up credit flow in South Korea, sink stocks in Russia, or trigger a financial stampede in India, prompting the governments to take extra-ordinary protective measures.

Last week, in the first attempt, when the US House of Representative defeated the $700 billion proposal to bailout the financial system, it was clearly perceived as a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration, Congress leadership and other smarty-pant dealmakers that they had not explained themselves to the American people, most of who now regard Wall Street as a nest of thugs worse than 9/11 terrorists. It’s a terrible failure in communication at a time when the American people need to understand how their daily lives are connected with what happens in Wall Street and how its collapse would spin the global economy out of control and plunge it into an irreversible downward spiral.

Whether you like it or not, global economy is anchored in Wall Street.

Grasping quickly the anger and frustration of the American people and what might happen to the already weakened economy that has been rapidly shedding jobs (159,000 in September alone) if the credit pipelines remained frozen, the Senate revised the bailout proposal to incorporate some of the most popular demands including tax breaks of more than $150 billion for families as well as businesses. The new proposal also included increased Federal protection for bank deposits from $100,000 to $250,000, among other popular though economically less sensible provisions. In other times this kind of wheeling-dealing would have been called pork-barrel politics but this is how American democracy works sometime.

The House members, confused and flabbergasted, followed the Senate lead and passed the bailout package with grim faces and muffled protests, as if a heifer were being led to the slaughter house. It is doubtful nonetheless that these measures would quench the rage of those who are convinced that Wall Street investment bankers and tycoons, those who count their working hours in millions of dollars and have fail-proof golden parachutes, those whose greed and incompetence plunged the country into an unprecedented financial crisis, apart from triggering a global chain reaction that left no country untouched. To calm the mood of vindictiveness that has gripped the entire nation, Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Con) said, “We can take a cut at Wall Street, but Wall Street won’t feel the brunt of the pain.”

The pain is not only being felt by the common man on the Main Street who has become a victim of the opaque financial system over which he has no control. The pain is also being felt by cities, counties, school districts and even states, because due to their limited cash reserves and the non-availability of credit, some of them cannot meet their payroll obligations. Car dealers can’t sell their cars unless customers can get credit, thus, locking up millions of dollars on unsold car lots. Perhaps the most desperate plea to unfreeze credit pipelines came from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California who asked the Federal government last week for an immediate loan of $7 billion to maintain the government operations.

He was quoted in the New York Times for having written to the Treasury Department that “The federal rescue package is not a bailout of Wall Street tycoons — it is a lifeboat for millions of Americans whose life savings, businesses, retirement plans and jobs are at stake.” But how do you explain this to Joe Sixpack or a hockey mom whose son might not get a college loan?

A similar sentiment was expressed by Bill Novelti, president of American Association of Retired People (AARP), one of the biggest and most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, who said, “It is no secret that people are angry about bailing out Wall Street. But Wall Street is us. These are our stocks, our retirement funds and our futures.” Millions of retirees depend upon a healthy functioning Wall Street for a steady flow of income. When a chill wind blows through Wall Street, some retirees wonder what they might have to give up; a prescription medicine, perhaps?
Wall Street cannot die, though you see some Asian investors salivating over the prospects of pecking over the carcass.

Fan Dizhao, an investment manager at Guotai Asset Management in Shanghai, was quoted by Ariana Eunjing Cha of the Washington Post saying, “The United States may be grappling with its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, but these are the go-go days for China.” And because of the “mountains of cash,” which China has built up through export, he said, “It is inevitable that we will take the US’s place as the world leader.” If you believe that China’s “mountains of cash” and America’s “mountains of debts” are not interconnected, pay heed to Ben Franklin, “For the want of a nail…”

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

A New Home For Nano

Nano to Nowhere?

From The Statesman
ND Batra

The Nano is dead and will live happily hereafter in Gujarat.The crisis in Singur, West Bengal, nonetheless, drew global attention especially in comparison with China where a similar project would have been consummated long ago. No one would have heard of the protesters. Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress, who spearheaded the opposition, would have been in jail in China, perhaps, waiting for international humanitarian rescue. Now you understand why foreign direct investors prefer to set up their manufacturing facilities in China rather than anywhere else. The noise and chaos of unruly democracy is not heard in China. Ratan Tata would have received a friendly welcome in China. Perhaps I am exaggerating. Mr. Tata received a warmer reception in Gujarat than he would have gotten in China.

Moving the Nano to Sanand, Gujarat, should leave no doubt that industrialization in India too can be hastened but only by consensus and persuasion; and not by decree, as the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government in West Bengal, in spite of its good intentions, tried to do. In a democratic country, a well-organized opposition party can wield tremendous negative political power, the power to frustrate the government, which of course is not the same as the power of creative destruction. But losing a shining icon of progress and modernity, which had stirred global imagination, to Gujarat or any other state, was the last thing on the mind of anyone in West Bengal. I thought everyone would come down from their hobby horses and compromise in the interest of the people of West Bengal. But political brinkmanship of mutual recrimination and humiliation became the endgame. It will be sometime before such a beautiful thing happens again in the state of West Bengal. Many Bengalis must be angry with the government; and they should be. A Kolkata friend, a financial expert and lover of poetry, recently wrote to me in desperation, saying: “Over the last three decades CPI (M) turned West Bengal into a graveyard of industries, which had gone to the top position in industrialization among all the Indian states during the time of Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy. With no nobler object, but to tide over the election round the corner CPI(M) wanted to showcase the Nano even by ruthless destruction of agriculture and dislodgement of the farmers from the most fertile land in the country, a most horrifying recent record of cruelty and human rights violation.” The Nano shouldn’t have become a contest between the sickle and the hammer.

A few years ago I heard a similar cry of pain from a Kolkata industrialist whose chinaware and pottery works factory, which once upon a time was known for its quality all over India, was systematically decimated by the CPI (M) government supported goons. To be fair, I have been in no position to verify the allegation. After all, many industries are doing very well in West Bengal, though, you might say, in spite of the government. Gujarat has not only gained the Nano but has also refurbished its sullied image. Before Gujarat became the new home for the Nano, the state had permanently become associated with the communal riots of 2002 when the fire-bombing of a train carrying the returning Hindu pilgrims had led to widespread riots killing of more than two thousand people, mostly Muslims. One wondered how the gentle Gujarati known derisively as a passive and timid shopkeeper could suddenly turn into a ferocious monster. But when Mr. Tata told his admiring audience in Ahmedabad (Gujarat) last week that bringing the Nano to Sanand was like homecoming, it seemed the gods of industry might forgive Gujarat after all. “We chose Gujarat because of the conducive and industry-friendly environment as well as infrastructure. Also, the location of the land (1100 acres) that was being offered was very attractive,” Mr. Tata said. The Tatas are Gujarati-speaking Parsis, but industrialists are seldom sentimental when they invest their millions. Safety and growth of their investments is their primary concern. “This is Tata Motors’ maiden venture in Gujarat, and will broad-base the company’s manufacturing footprint. We are happy to contribute to Gujarat’s strong industrial progress by creating an auto cluster, which will have a cascading impact on the state’s economy,” Mr. Tata added. But that is exactly what was supposed to have happened in West Bengal if the politicians had not played the Russian roulette with the state’s future.

However, not everyone is so forgiving. Visiting Gujarat recently, historian William Dalrymple, the author of The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857, was quoted in the local media having said, “Chief Minister Narendra Modi might have proved that he is an efficient administrator by bringing the project to state, but the world is still waiting for him to bring justice to riot victims and punish the culprits.” Some people implicate Mr. Modi for being silent too long and not taking aggressive steps in stopping the killing in the 2002 riots.

Perhaps the greatest humiliation for the West Bengal government came when Mr. Modi had the gall to advise Mr. Bhattacharjee and opposition leader Ms. Banerjee to cooperate for the good of state. In an open letter to Bhattacharjee, Mr. Modi said, "The condition for the growth of (the) Nano has not yet developed in West Bengal in view of its present work culture despite your serious efforts.” He did not explain what is wrong with the Bengali work culture when the state is one of the most highly industrialized states in the country. He apologetically said, “People of West Bengal may think I have snatched (the) Nano to Gujarat. But it is not so. There is no scope of misunderstanding." In a similar open letter to Ms. Banerjee, he advised her to "shun ultra-leftism” in outdoing “the Leftists and show West Bengal the rightist way to usher in development." One wonders at the audacity of the man whom the US government has been treating as a pariah, refusing to give him a visa for visiting the United States. Maybe Mr. Modi is not such a bad person. He has many admirers. In any case he has the interest of Gujarat above all. Mr. Modi said that he supports the Nano in the “national spirit,” adding that “After ship-breaking, pharma, petrochemicals and textiles, this project will make Gujarat a force to reckon with in the surface transport sector as well as automobiles.” But who is listening? Chief Minister Bhattacharjee? Ms. Bannerjee? They have their own political axes to grind.

(ND Batra, the author of Digital Freedom, teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University. He is working on a new book, This is the American Way, Stranger.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The New World Order

A world beyond our control

From The Statesman

The idea that markets are always right was a mad idea. ~ President Nickolas Sarkozy of France

It seems the words of comfort or condemnation by world leaders do not mean much to the financial world. The two-day Europe-Asia heads of the state conference held in Beijing last week called for a concerted and coordinated global action to control the global financial crisis and restore confidence. But the meeting did not amount to much because the leaders did not offer any concrete and specific measures to solve the problem, except issuing a call for the need for more rigorous regulations and monitoring of the financial markets. Perhaps they do not know enough.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who participated at the Asia-Europe summit meeting attended by 45 leaders, summed up how helpless global leaders had become in dealing the crisis: “We are not in complete control. There are bigger players and we are victims of that. The crisis is not of our making.” Big or small, every country today has become a victim of the unknowable, which makes one wonder whatever happened to the early warning systems. Few people believe that the coming of the new United States administration, whether led by Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain, would make much difference to the global financial crisis. The financial world with floating currencies, innovations such as margins, credit default swaps and securitisation of debts has become too complicated for any single global leader or a country to handle, even though a dominant economy like the United States might have triggered the butterfly effect that developed into a raging storm.

The raging storm analogy may not be too disconcerting because eventually even the most devastating storm peters out on its own. At present every rescue step taken by governments, for example, the US $700 billion bank bailout package and infusion of another $250 billion for unfreezing bank credit, the U.K.’s $692 billion financial-rescue plan and sundry other steps taken by other European and Asian governments do not seem to have amounted to much in restoring confidence. Wild gyration in the market continued.

Since Wall Street is still the ultimate measure of global finance, whether you like it or not, whatever happens there cannot be ignored. From its record of 14,000 in July 2007, the Dow Jones Index has been mostly moving downward and last Friday it pulled back to 8,378. The die-hard optimists believe that during these wild gyrations the Dow has been going up too and touched 10,000, giving some hope that eventually the market would stabilise and rise again on its own.

n other words, government authorities or politicians, Senator Obama or Senator McCain, French President Nickolas Sarkozy or British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, do not have any decisive impact on financial markets, though they use impressive rhetoric to sum up the situation and make prediction about the future over which they have no control. Mr Sarkozy said a while ago that the era of Anglo-Saxon no-holds barred Darwinian market capitalism, symbolized by Wall Street greed from obscene bonuses to golden parachutes, is dead. But this kind of contemptuous anger against the system that has been responsible for tremendous global economic growth and reduction in poverty is perhaps not fully justified. It is also true that the system cannot be left alone because the marketplace cannot solve all our problems; nonetheless, it must be made to work in the public interest and necessity, which will require state intervention.

Financial market cannot handle so much freedom and need global monitoring because a mishap in one country might cause turbulence in the whole interconnected system, which can spin out of control. But the question is that since the global financial crisis began with irresponsible sub-prime lending in the United States, can the world afford to let the US do what it wants to do with its financial market?

Why should Iceland, Norway, or Pakistan, for example, pay the price for the greed and mismanagement by the tycoons of Wall Street? Does the world have a right to expect better behavior from the US since it has been the primal cause of the trouble? Just consider China-Japan-US financial relations. A substantial portion of the staggering foreign exchange reserves of China ($1.9 trillion) and Japan ($995 billion) are parked in US treasuries, which made cheap credit available to everyone, even to those who could not afford it.

Shouldn’t China and Japan expect some accountability as to what is being done with their funds rather than merely assuring the safety of their capital? What a country does with its resources is a matter of sovereignty about which every nation is very sensitive. For example, Pakistan has been warning the US that its sovereignty should not be violated by the US troops in pursuit of terrorists who take shelter in Pakistan territory. But now that Pakistan is in financial trouble, it rushed to China for help.

Having been rebuffed by its all-weather friend, lately it has asked the US dominated IMF for infusion of capital for which it will have to accept tough conditions, some affecting its sovereignty. What is the difference if a country seeks capital infusion to keep itself alive or let’s foreign troops into its territory to kill terrorists?

In the ultimate analysis, both capital infusion and troop intrusion violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. In the interconnected world of finance and terrorism, national sovereignty has become an unsustainable myth. And what is true of Pakistan is equally true of the United States, which cannot be left alone to mess up with the world.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)