Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

The morning of November 5th (election eve in the US) found me up at 5:30am, glued to the BBC and CNN IN in rural Orissa, while my friends massed in groups of multiple hundreds throughout India to watch the returns. By 8:30am, when Ohio was called for Obama, the race was over and a rush of excitement left me cheering and crying in my room. The TV commentary highlighted for me the incredible significance of Obama’s election for India. The nightly news (and that morning’s news) has been flooded with minute analysis of every way in which an Obama presidency may impact India.

Interspersed with this commentary were glowing reviews of the “only in America” story of Obama’s election, given his biography. This we have all heard, but I can assure you these emotions are very real here in India. There is a genuine, new admiration for Americans, spurred by his election, and India is not a “US-hating” country, in general. This is particularly poignant, as India is readying for federal elections and there is a strong desire to reduce the influence of corrupt, criminal politicians (literally. A dismayingly large percentage of Indian politicians, both aspiring and empowered, are criminals, whether convicted or not). So, Indian stations were already asking who would be India’s Barack Obama. No answer to this query, yet, but I hope that India finds a similar, inspirational leader.

A few days after the election, I headed back to Hyderabad, buoyed by that sense of optimism that was painfully absent on November 5th, 2004. I had spent some time, while awaiting a rescheduling of my flight, befriending a few folks from the Deccan Chronicle cricket team. Our flight eventually gets called and I part ways with Hyderabad’s cricket gods.

I trundle towards Indian airport security. The only excitement in this line is how daring a game of chicken the CSF officer (India’s TSA, though these guys have guns) will play with me during the thorough frisking required to pass unto the pre-boarding, waiting area #2. Fortunately, his are unadventurous hands, so my plastic explosives and switch blade get through.

As I step up to his pat-down platform, CSF officer Raj Kumar asks, “what country?” Being habituated to regular recognition of my foreigner status by these friendly sleuths, I am ready with a clearly enunciated “USA.” I leave out my usual proof of “Real American” citizenship through the traditional patriotic blusters: “Don’t mess with Tejas,” “I’ll invade your backwater country,” and “Did you know that we invented your freedom?”

He completes a cursory molestation and, just as I am about to step off the platform, Officer Kumar leans forward displaying a slightly concealed mustached smile and says, “Best wishes to President Obama. I am proud.” I react with at least half of the excitement of a “My Super Sweet 16”-star receiving a gold-plated Porsche. In contrast, my enthusiasm is genuine, though lacking the energetic expletives of “OMG” and “I’m the richest girl ever.” Raj is a bit surprised that his two sentences elicit such a reaction. I respond, “Thank you, sir. I’m happy you are happy. He will be a great president for the US and better to the rest of the world.” This is probably a bit much, but Raj smiles, nods, and reciprocates my handshake. I head off to collect my bags. As my smile widens while reflecting on the exchange, I decide to return to Officer Kumar. Tapping him on the shoulder, to his evident surprise, I expand, “Thank you so much for your well wishes, sir,” perhaps ignoring that he sent his best wishes to Obama and not me.


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…a serious run for their money in the category of distressing, hair graying news, repeated day after day.

This NYT piece lays out a startling overview of the global economic disarray that we face. And the parochial nature of the current responses.

“With Europe and the United States deep in crisis, economists said, the rest of the world could not help but suffer. Robert B. Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, warned that the crisis could be a “tipping point” for the developing world.

“A drop in exports, as well as capital inflow, will trigger a falloff in investments,” Mr. Zoellick said in a speech on Monday. “Deceleration of growth and deteriorating financial conditions, combined with monetary tightening, will trigger business failures and possibly banking emergencies.”

The immediate danger, economists say, are countries in Eastern and Central Europe, like Bulgaria and Estonia, which run steep trade deficits and are vulnerable to a sudden flight of foreign capital.

Iceland, with an overheated economy and suffocating foreign debt, may prove to be the first national casualty of the crisis. On Monday, threatened by a wholesale financial collapse, the government in Reykjavik assumed sweeping powers to intervene in its banking industry.”

Guess I’ll have to rework my backup plan of retreating to Iceland, if McCain/Palin, through screaming enough incendiary, racist, fear-mongering absurdities, scare the reductionist everypersons – Mrs. Hockey Mom and 6-beer-a-day Joe – into voting against their interests and the world’s.

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Palin, McCain, Bailout, AIG, Oil, Dow … Each day presents another stunning event, which then jump starts the process of grappling with these issues. This has laid waste to my productivity, which is only compounded by the asynchronous, anti-melodic orchestra that begins playing in our office at 10am and doesn’t stop until 6pm, when the musicians/my co-workers pack up to go home. Ah, the pleasures of putting 30 people into one room and asking them to share 5 desks.

Bear with me for a rather elaborate explanation for why I haven’t posted in too long (13 days to be exact) and why I need to cut myself off from the ” ‘nets” / news. I didn’t want this blog to be about my feelings / emotions, but I’ve got a “cold” and I can’t shake it.

I’ve created one massive trap door that I cannot avoid by waking up to Real Clear Politics, Andrew Golis‘ company’s phenomenal election coverage, and that bastion of liberal, elite opinion. While Bill Murray learned his lessons in Groundhog Day, I have not. I’m the guy who creates the gapers block. I just can’t pull my eyes away from this massive pile up that has developed over the past two months (at least most acutely). With the arrival of each morning, my short-term memory is wiped clean and I renew yesterday’s process of trying to discern what logic and explanations underpin the simultaneous collapse of our economic and political systems. The collapse of our economic system is easier to comprehend. What is nearly impenetrable to me is the total collapse of our political system – both the abdication of national leadership by our current president and Congress and the failure of the American electorate.

The issue that I am most bothered by is not the economic crisis. Instead, I am struggling to understand how 43-47% of Americans can support McCain/Palin. I’ve been trying to escape from the nightmare that Nov 4 could see their election and focus more on India and getting solar lights into Orissa. To no avail. Sure, Obama is up a few percentage points in the polls, but he should be leading by 15-20%. Of the roughly 200 million Americans that are eligible to vote, 90 million (going with 45% here) would place the keys to 1600 Penn Ave in McCain/Palin’s hands.

My concerns focus on one set of characteristics that both McCain and Palin display, though I cannot support them for numerous other reasons. McCain (“The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should”) /Palin (“You can’t blink”) demonstrate little intellectual curiosity or inquisitiveness about the subjects that will dominate their administration, if voters chain us to a McCain/Palin administration for what will be four interminable years. Even worse, they do not display uncertainty about their positions. I want Palin to blink. That type of certainty terrifies me and that mentality has contributed to grave errors over these past eight years. I want her to question her assumptions and vigorously debate policies, though not just in an attempt to determine which policy will be the most effective wedge issue. These three character deficiencies that they demonstrate are even more concerning because McCain and Palin have shown that they are willing to lie and mislead people on any issue that might help their poll numbers (I recognize that both campaigns have engaged in distortions, though I think McCain’s are worse, more frequent, and more vicious).

McCain has admitted to a lack of knowledge about economics. A point about which he did not seem concerned or abashed. WHAT? That should be unconscionable. You don’t need to be a Nobel Laureate in economics, but I’d hope that flippantly referencing Greenspan’s book makes you embarrassed, particularly if you don’t seem to recognize Greenspan’s complicity in the generation of the housing bubble and fiscal recklessness of the Bush administration. That’s almost as vexing as the notion that someone, who ran a small town of 6,000 people into $20 million of debt, on a $9 million dollar annual budget, is viewed as an acceptable second in command, by 94 million voting Americans, to guide a $2.8 trillion federal budget.

I believe it is irresponsible for someone to support two candidates who have demonstrated such a painful lack of awareness and knowledge of the dense thicket of economic issues through which they will have to guide us over the next four years. You can’t abdicate responsibility to Hank Paulson to figure this out. Moreover, it will take the moral imagination and the intellectual courage to reject the comforts of ideology or political expediency to develop practical solutions to constructing a path out of recession, credit market collapse, and massive indebtedness. I do not believe that McCain or Palin (too easy to prove with this one) have shown any appetite for this. I recognize that some policy choices could clearly represent an honest disagreement over efficacy. I just don’t believe that their disagreement would be honest.

At an emotional level, I am terrified by how uncomfortable many Americans are with those snobby academic elites and policy wonks, and the candidates who have those characteristics. This is exemplified by the “othering” that politicians, voters, and commentators do when they reject those “academic”, “elite” types who aspire to use their knowledge and experience to guide our policies. After all, who cares about economic knowledge and intellectual curiosity, when you have a surly, straight-talking band of gun slinging mavericks ready to levy their six-shooters at those maurading CDOs, depreciated currencies, and federal deficits? When they’re done with putting those exotic “financial words” six feet under, they’ll riddle those damn earmarks so full of lead that no one will dare pander to their electoral base by bringing home the pork.

Put another way, I don’t want my president or vice-president to be like me or my drinking buddies. I want them to be well versed on the hundreds of issues that we will encounter. I want them to feel uncomfortable until they have exposed most sides of an issue and consulted with credible, non-partisan experts. I want them to know what they don’t know and how to change that. Finally, I want our electorate to celebrate these qualities, as opposed to closing themselves off to the people who might not fit in at the local diner or be found at the checkout counter next to them at the Piggly Wiggly (It’s a real grocery chain. Thank you, Wisconsin. Illinois doesn’t appreciate the Piggly enough to play host).

On the positive side, I am glad that reporters have been focused on the terrible judgment McCain displayed in picking Governor Palin and the failure of the House Republicans to support the bailout bill. At least these are more important issues than moose hunting, Ayers, or McCain’s fleet of cars.

Most excitedly, Senator Obama is connecting with voters all over the world. 55 people turned out this Friday night to a debate watching party that the Democrats Abroad – Hyderabad sponsored, while 120 people gathered in Delhi. I met Indians, Brits, and Ugandans, who, along with my fellow ex-pat Americans, hoped to inform their judgments and “see what this is all about,” in the words of Cynthia, a sixty-five year old British woman. There was no notice that went out for a Republicans Abroad – Hyderabad event.

Finally, I understand that voter decision-making is not often driven by the issues I highlight here. I also know that most supporters of Obama/Biden have not made their decision on an explicit calculation of intelligence or intellectual curiosity. I recognize that my strong support of Obama colors my judgment and that I’m very narrowly defining the parameters on which people ought to decide their vote. So, please permit me these acknowledged shortcomings. Finally, I don’t mean to suggest that people who support McCain/Palin are not intelligent, because they aren’t focused on the same issues that I am. I simply wanted to explain what I think is important. Disagreement is welcome.

Thanks for bearing with me. I had intended this to be a couple paragraphs long. That didn’t work! I’ll have a couple of posts up soon about schooling in India and the fascinating areas of Pondicherry/Auroville.

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I’ve just arrived at my hotel in Bhubaneshwar in Orissa, after a few days spent investigating the feasibility of introducing solar lighting products to our customers there. I thought I would catch up on my posts with an overview of the monolithic obstacle to enjoying a fruitful, extended stay in Hyderabad. This post is a bit light on analysis and context, as it’s been a long week. I’ll plan on adding more detail when I get back to Hyderabad.

While the US INS is decidedly less welcoming when it comes to bringing qualified workers into the US, the Indian government presents few obstacles in applying for a work visa. In fact, in a rather ironic twist, the Indian government has chosen to outsource the provision of visa applications through a group called Travisa. I always included their offices in a walking tour of NYC. Mainly because the office was next door to my apartment, but also because few tourist stops offer such a taste of irony.

The real challenge lurks at the begnin sounding “Foreigner’s Registration Office” (FRO) at the Hyderabad Police Commissioner’s offices.  I was steeled for this experience by many of my friends who spent between three and five days trying to navigate the forty feet between the assistant commissioner’s office and the FRO waiting room. People have literally broken down in the waiting room due to the mental anguish of attempting to comprehend the absurdity of the system. I saw a couple recently arrived from England welling up in tears as their son bounced off the wall after the first five hours passed.

And so, I decided to entertain myself by finishing an account, Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, of the more colorful personalities of Bombay. When that provded insufficient to tide me over during the six-hour wait, I took to using my blackberry as my method of blogging my FRO odyessey. The whole experience was a study in the creation of work to justify jobs to create more paperwork, and so the wheel of life turns.

Here are the blackboards that list all of the documents you need (I had a stack of 75 pages of paper, with duplicates of duplicated forms).

A few things happened that I wouldn’t have expected. I never thought I would be presented with this option on an application form, though I’ve seen other optional fields that have left me queasy, in the past. Play “Guess which field”:


This TV stand seemed like some sort of premise for a Jeff Foxworthy joke.

The live blackberry blog (with photos inserted afterwards):
35min to get there after we ask 12 different people where the Police Comissioner’s office building is.
Check-in, pat down, lounging guards. Get into the FRO by 10am. People come out early to sign us in. Welcome surprise. Call names at 10:30 (on schedule), I scramble for copies. Get there as number 3 and get in by 10:45am, 15min of document perusal. Passport checked 5 people. Documents looked at by 3. Younger folks are better dressed, more helpful and energetic, after twenty years I suspect this will have changed.

The third stage of registrant evaluation and quiet dismissal occurs slowly under the dim lighting of the musty office hall, with sheaves of gradually yellowing paper towering above you, like autumnal leaves gradually decaying. Older men are rotund, gruff, never smiling.

The senior application inspector is a colorless man who is busily harassing a newly arrived Sudanese refugee with broken English and Western clothes. “Why do you come here? You speak no English. So many don’t have jobs already. What will you do?” The man suffers these verbal thrusts with the placid countenance of someone who clearly has suffered worse aggression at the hands of officials throughout his flight to Hyderabad. After executing a proper thwacking the big saheeb, the senior inspector, reclines, pleased with himself, and accepts the Sudanese man’s application. Who knows what bureaucratic hoops he will have to dive through yet to allow himself to struggle to eke something out here. They are only allowing him a 6-month visa, so this is a semi-annual humiliation.

Of the thirty or so supplicants with whom I wait, 20 are Sudanese, the women veiled, and the men displaying too much respect for the Hyderabadi fashion sense – garishly patterened, rough cotton shirts, dark bootcut pants. With the women, there is an elegant grace, matched with a more assertive public character than I have seen with Indian Muslim women, though I know my exposure to both groups has been minimal.

Sitting in front of me: two chinese students, a couple americans, and two young women. Behind me, students, likely, with a fondness for 7up and the occasional flurries of animated discussion, which in the US usually covers the trio of pressing topics on shopping, boys, or gossip.


The waiting room exhibits some of the universals of bureaucratic interior design – discolored tile floors, narrow rows of utilitarian seating, the lazy whirl of fans. thoug these surely fail to provide much comfort when the full weight of the hot and humid monsoon season bears down.

A young English (I could tell before they spoke) couple enters – husband is some sort of consultant, given his computer back; the wife wears the psuedo locale clothing of a frequent international traveler and the token hena tattooes of someone recently returned from an Indian vacation destination or an inclusive wedding, who hops from city to city. The son seems content to seek dad’s attention, while asking probing questions about his father’s open laptop, entranced by the blue screen. His shirt reads, “Look handsome, young man.” This is a rather surprising exhortation to have on one’s shirt, given that those types of shirts usually project something more assured. In the US, I would expect it to read, “Trust Funder” or “Beauty Queen” or “Juicy” or “Your relative lack of wealth makes me uncomfortable, so I wear rhinestone studded clothing and massive watches.”  I am fascinated with the idea of growing up in India. I can’t really imagine how that would shape my perspective. I’m excited for this child. I wonder how he will internalize it. For the time being, he seems intent on exiting the waiting room, even if the barred window is the only escape route.


FRO 08/21/08 Stats:
55 people arrive to register. This is just for Day 1 of the process.

Number of staff: 14
Min docs per peson: 43 pages (mine was 75). Avg: ~60 pages.
Total pages generated for one day of applications – 60 * 55 – 3,300.

Avg hours spent per applicant for their first day – 7. Total time spent by applicants today – 7 * 55 – 385 hours.

Applicants per staffer – 3.9.
Applicantions processed per hour of staff time – .56.

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