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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Cuba, The Castro Clan's Fiefdom

Fidel Castro is dead. The 90-year old communist dictator ruled Cuba like a personal fiefdom between 1959 and 2008 when ill-health forced him to hand over power to his brother, Raul Castro.

In 1959, Castro threw out the cruel and absolute despotism of the then ruling dispensation and took over Cuba. He turned the country into a socialist state and nationalised all industry and brought
almost all economic activities under state control.

On 3 May 2008, I wrote the following on an old blog site. Amidst all the hagiography of how great Fidel Castro was, here's a lowdown on his pursuit of a society free from nepotism and cronyism.

Politics is a cesspool in which opportunists wallow in a slime of corruption and nepotism. While this is old news in our part of the world, I found that this was pretty much the way of life even in the Communist Utopia of Cuba.

“During the past few years family members of both Fidel and Raul Castro have come to occupy important positions in Cuba's government. This Castro clan represents in addition to the military, the security apparatus and the Communist Party, a significant force in Cuba's political and economic structures.”

The list below is in the order of Name, Relationship, and Position held.

Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart
Fidel Castro's son
Advisor, Ministry of Basic Industry

Col. Alejandro Raul Castro Espin
Raul Castro's son
Chief, Intelligence Information Services, Ministry of the Interior; Coordinator, Intelligence Exchange with China

Ramon Castro Ruz
Fidel's and Raul's oldest brother
Advisor, Ministry of Sugar

Dr. Antonio Castro Soto
Fidel Castro's son
Investment Chief, Frank Pais Hospital. Doctor for Cuba's baseball team

Col. Luís Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja
Raul Castro's son-in-law
Chief Executive Officer of Grupo GAESA (Grupo de Administración de Empresas, S.A.) which supervises military enterprises

Major Raul Alejandro Rodríguez Castro
Raul Castro's grandson
Raul Castro's military guard in charge of his personal security

Deborah Castro Espin
Raul Castro's daughter
Advisor, Ministry of Education

Mariela Castro Espin
Raul Castro's daughter
Head, Center for Sexual Education

Marcos Portal Leon
Married to Raul Castro's niece
In charge of nickel industry, member of the Central Committee of Cuba's Communist Party

Alfonsito Fraga
Related to Raul Castro
Ministry of Foreign Relations

I would not worry about this kind of naked nepotism but for the fact that the Commies always accuse their ideological opponents of succumbing to the follies of power politics.

The Commies with a capital ‘C’ are the same everywhere: opportunists, frauds, and blood-suckers. A life of sweat and toil is for the masses while perks and luxuries are for the Red Hued.

In the light of the above list, I can say that Fidel Castro was certainly NOT the Last Man Standing (with apologies to David Baldacci).

Long Live the Revolution! The Revolution to Deprive People of their Freedom and Happiness!

So much for equality.

Friday, November 11, 2016

My Thoughts on Barack Obama's Foreign Policy


I am not a fan of Barack Obama's foreign policy. 

When the announcement of awarding the Nobel Prize for Peace to Obama was made even before he took office of the President of the United States, I squirmed at the stupidity (I know it is a strong word) of the prize committee -- how can they give away the most prestigious prize just based on Obama’s poll promises of ushering a more peaceful world? Obama promised to close down the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison (Camp Delta; where America locks away dangerous terrorists/folks suspected of terrorism), bring back American soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq, and focus on the Asia Pivot, including a constructive relationship with China (something like G2).

Now, let us look at his ‘achievements’.

The Guantanamo Bay prison is still operating; there are still thousands of American soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan and the country is in a bad shape with militant groups, like the Afghan Taliban, controlling large swathes of the country. The withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq (though there is still a substantial presence in Baghdad) without putting in place a robust non-sectarian military and administrative system, has left the country singed by multiple fires (The emergence of the Islamic State is a case in point.)

China continues to be a belligerent on all fronts economic, military and political. Gathered by stealth or espionage or indigenous development, its technological advancement, in business, space, and military, is there for all to see. It has cocked a snook at the U.S. and its allies in the Far East (Japan) and South East Asia (Indonesia). Even in the face of intense American pressure, China is building airstrips and military installations in the South China Sea; in fact, Beijing has threatened the U.S. and its allies of serious consequences if the latter meddled in its sovereign issues. (I will keep China’s tough and lop-sided economic relationship with the U.S. out of this note.)

Russia is cold and distant; Washington continues to treat Moscow as if it were still a Cold War threat. Of course, Moscow has not done anything extraordinary to earn the friendship of the world’s lone superpower. On the contrary, Moscow’s dubious role in Ukraine (including the annexation of Crimea) and Syria (siding with Bashar al-Assad) has riled the West (including the European Union). The U.S.-Russia game of one-upmanship is also playing out in Syria, mostly with disastrous results.

The Israel-Palestine relationship is fractious as ever. Obama’s perceived/real hostility toward Israel’s unilateral actions (like building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank) has earned him the wrath of the Israeli Establishment (cutting across the political spectrum). The Israelis have treated Obama with greater contempt than they have ever treated any American president.

The Arab Spring, a name synonymous with the popular movements against dictatorships in Muslim countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, lies in a shambles. Almost all of these popular movements were backed by the U.S. President Barack Obama. Let me give you a bird’s eye view of what’s the current status in these countries:

  • Yemen major sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims; Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Wahabi nation, has, for the last several months, carried out air attacks against Houthi rebels (who practice Shia Islam and are supported by Iran, the biggest and powerful Shia Muslim nation).
  • Libya  various radical Islamist groups are vying for control of the country’s polity and abundant oil wealth.
  • Bahrain Sunni monarchy (Sunnis are in minority), backed by the Wahabi Ibn Saud ruling house of Saudi Arabia, is taking it out on the Shia majority (allegedly backed by Iran) who rebelled against the administration.
  • Egypt a popular movement dethroned the dictatorship of the pro-U.S. Hosni Mubarak; elections were held which brought a political wing of the ultra-radical Muslim Brotherhood to power; few months later the military grabbed power in a coup (of course, it legitimised power grab through a farcical election), ousted a popularly elected (radical) president, tried him in a military court and sentenced him to death.
  • Syria the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a Shia and backed by Iran and Iraq (along with Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Shia militant group), is battling for its survival (with major help from Russia) against the ultra-extremist Islamic State and moderate rebel forces.

The hypocrisy of the U.S. and by extension its chief proponent of democracy, President Obama, is there for all to see: they have done precious little to restore democracy in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Egypt. Well, because it suits the American interests, they ran into Syria to fight against Bashar (who is hated by the wider Arab World for being a Shia). Under pressure from its allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the U.S. has spearheaded its oust-Bashar campaign even though it knows there is no leader/group to fill in the power vacuum in Syria. The last time the Americans did this -- in Iraq where they removed Saddam Hussein from power -- they left the country in tatters and bloodied.

As you can see, Barack Obama might preach the virtues of democracy and peace to the world but when it comes to practice, he falls way short.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Barack Obama knows that it is not enough to have good intentions; it is equally important to have the courage to make them true. Obama’s lack of gumption is myopic and he leaves a world which is more violent today than it was when he moved into the White House eight years back.

Please share your views in the comments space.

(I have deliberately left his relationships with the EU, India and personal equations with Prime Ministers Dr Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi out of this short piece; will write later, maybe.)



Sunday, August 7, 2016

Vertical Ambition, GST & China



  • What is 'vertical ambition'? (BBC
  • Kevin Roberts, chairman of the global advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi, resigned after saying women lacked "vertical ambition" and that is why so few made it to the top. Financial analyst Louise Cooper has her thoughts.
  • Interactive feature on GST (Hindu)
  • Can China save the Olympics? (Bloomberg)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Reads



  • The West's decline would hurt China. (Project Syndicate)
  • Why you can't switch off at the weekend. (BBC Capital)
  • India lifts veil on Army as Narendra Modi prepares to spend U.S.$150 billion (Bloomberg)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Reads


"It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit. It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room in it for others." Read Justin Fox's brilliant piece on how "meritocracy is just another way of bringing you down" (Bloomberg). 

  • The Feds brought down the world's biggest file-sharing website. (Foreign Policy)
  • Educated terrorists and victimhood. (New IE)

And in the end...
Before bowling to (the visibly healthy) Mike Gatting in a test match, Aussie fast bowler Dennis Lille said, ”Hell Gatt, move out of the way... I can’t see the stumps”.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Reads


  • Why Turkey's stability matters (BBC
  • China's South China Sea arguments only prove its own perverse logic of history (FirstPost)
  • Why you need to read and how to do it efficiently (Medium)
Also read: Man in New Zealand quits his job to play Pokemon Go full-time (BBC)



Thursday, July 7, 2016

Things You Should Know - Episode XX


  • Google has a pet T-rex, named Stan, which lives at their California headquarters. Founders bought it to remind the employees to not let Google go extinct.
  • Tuvalu is the world's smallest national economy with a GDP of about U.S.$33 million because of its very small population, a lack of natural resources, reliance on foreign aid, negligible capital investment, demographic problems, and low average incomes.
  • Saudi Arabia is the world's only country to forbid women from driving. While it is not technically illegal for women to drive, only men are awarded driving licences - and women who drive in public risk being fined and arrested by the police.

  • At U.S.$2.46 trillion in GDP, California is now the sixth-largest economy in the world, surpassing France, thanks to a robust state economy and strong U.S. dollar. California was the world’s eighth-largest economy in 2014. France is the world’s seventh-largest economy with a growth domestic product of U.S.$2.42 trillion, and India is the eighth-largest with U.S.$2.09 trillion, according to the latest International Monetary Fund data. Read more here.

  • ABBA is a Swedish pop group formed in Stockholm in 1972 by members Agnetha Fältskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. They became one of the most commercially successful acts in the history of popular music, topping the charts worldwide from 1974 to 1982. 
    (from left) Benny Andersson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Fältskog, & Bjorn Ulvaeus 


    During the band's active years, Fältskog & Ulvaeus and Lyngstad & Andersson were married. At the height of their popularity, both relationships were suffering strain which ultimately resulted in the collapse of the Ulvaeus–Fältskog marriage in 1979 and the Andersson–Lyngstad marriage in 1981. These relationship changes were reflected in the group's music, with later compositions featuring more introspective and dark lyrics in contrast to their usual pure-pop sound. (Source for text & picture: Wikipedia) 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sunday Reads



  • Newslaundry, your fact-check on the PM's interview has been fact-checked. (OPIndia)
  • The political resonance of the 'Game of Thrones'. (New Yorker)
  • Bangladesh at crossroads. (BBC)
  • Indian Muslim women fight to overturn Triple Talaq. (AlJazeera)

Check out this infographic on Job Interview Cautions here.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Reads: All about Brexit


Check out this Brexit omnibus edition.

  • Brinsanity (FP)
  • A Brexit Post-Mortem (FA)
  • Why Brexit made sense to voters (CNN)
  • 'I hope I don't live to regret this.' (Guardian)
  • A British Tragedy in One Act. (PS)

BBC
has an explanatory infographic on steps to UK leaving the EU.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Explainer: Interest Rates


The RBI Governor, Dr Raghuram Govind Rajan, is on his way out. He deserves a lot of credit for bringing inflation under control and focusing on the massive non-performing assets (NPAs) of public sector banks.

Various quarters (like the finance ministry, industry, home-owners) have pilloried him for ignoring their demands to cut interest rates. In fact, this particular action has drawn the ire of many (like Dr Subramanian Swamy) who accuse him of sabotaging the Indian economy by deliberately keeping the interest rates at a higher level.

In this context, this short Explainer will focus on Interest Rates. 

What is Bank Rate?
This is the rate of interest charged by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on long term loans made to the commercial banks (like State Bank of India).

What is Repo Rate?
This is the rate of interest charged by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on short term loans made to the commercial banks.

What is Reverse Repo Rate?
This is the rate of interest charged by the commercial banks on short term loans made to the RBI. 

The Central Government has been nudging the RBI, albeit unsuccessfully, to cut interest rates. In this context, it should be understood the Central Government wants the Repo Rate to be reduced. Why?
A reduction in Repo Rate would mean that the commercial banks would have to pay a lower rate of interest on money borrowed from the RBI. The commercial banks could pass on this benefit to commercial borrowers (like us); this would lead to a fall in the rate of interest paid by us to banks (on loans). Thus loans become cheaper, meaning borrowing becomes less burdensome and thus more attractive. 

How does that help me as an individual? 
As an individual, the interest you pay on a loan (of any kind) will come down; consequently, you will save more and may use that (saved) money in either further savings or buy some stuff (like consumer durables). This in turn will spur demand for goods and services. 
Does this help business? Now, if you are a businessperson, you could borrow more (at a lower rate of interest) and invest more in the business. As you invest in higher production capacity, you employ more people - this leads to higher job generation - translating into higher demand for goods and services, which in turn pushes up industrial production. As you see, this is a virtuous cycle.

In short, lower interest rates push up economic output, leading to higher economic growth. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Reads


General Reads
  • India's ISRO challenge Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos with record launch (Bloomberg)
  • Why not Trexit? Texas Nationalists look to the Brexit vote for inspiration. (Guardian)

Tech Read
  • What is banned on Facebook (CNN)

Funny Read
  • Suddenly holy - A Pakistani celebrity's spiritual awakening (Dawn

Friday, June 17, 2016

Book Excerpt: The Dollar Trap


The American Dollar is the international currency of reserve. It is the most accepted global currency and the most sought after investment, especially in times of global economic downturn. 

How did the American Dollar come to occupy such an exalted position? 

The Dollar Trap, written by Eswar S. Prasad, seeks to answer this important question. It is a fascinating account of the the pivotal role played by the American Dollar in the global economy and how it has tightened its grip on global finance.

Title: The Dollar Trap

Author: Eswar S. Prasad
Publisher: Portfolio Penguin
Pages featured here: 16-21

Note: All copyrights/trademarks belong to the owners of the publication/author(s). It is not my intention to profit from their work. In fact, I just wish that the readers of this blog are encouraged to buy/read the works represented here.









 Happy Reading!


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday Reads


General Reads
  • How British let One Million Indians die in Famine (BBC)
  • India's Central Bank Chief is an Economic Asset (Bloomberg) Hat tip: Mohan Ramiah

Controversial Read

Video
  • Inside the world of China's Super Rich (AlJazeera

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday Reads


General Reads
  • What happens in a university run by IS? (BBC)
  • India cannot afford to lose the Chahabar test (New IE)

Controversial Read
  • Like Ali, how many of our icons will take a punch for what they believe in? (Telegraph India)

et cetera
  • Ramadan for non-Muslims: A etiquette guide (CNN)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Reads


General Reads
  • The real reason why American controls its nukes with ancient floppy disks (WaPo)
  • The man who revived Renault and Nissan wants to save Mitsubishi (Bloomberg)

Controversial Read
  • Gujarat Lies: A collection of personal vendetta (Nirwa Mehta)

Fun Read
  • Can you identify these cars from film and TV? (BBC Auto)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday Reads


General Reads
  • Mamata keeps word: cops jolted out of 'golden crown dream' (Telegraph India)
  • Ideas-mukt Congress scripts its own electoral eclipse (New IE)

Controversial Read
  • The importance of being Subramanian Swamy (Swarajya)

Anecdote

It was a county match in England between Somerset and Glamorgan. An unknown batsman with unknown talent, named Vivian Richards was at the crease. Greg Thomas, the Glamorgan fast bowler thundered in and beat the great man's bat.
'It's red and it's round. Can't you see it?', the bowler taunted Richards.
The next ball was an action replay. The ball pitched three quarters of length on middle and off, seamed away, and once again Richards was all at sea and comprehensively beaten.
'It's red and it's round and it weighs four-and-a-half ounces. Can't you see it?', Greg Thomas quipped.
Richards took a stroll, summoned his powers of concentration, swung his arms around, took a fresh guard and got ready for the next ball.
Greg Thomas came running in. The delivery was right in the slot, and Viv launched into one of his trademark shots and smashed the ball out of the ground and straight into the river that flowed around it.
The maestro told the hapless bowler who almost died watching the ball go, 'You know what it looks like... now go and get it!'

Monday, May 16, 2016

Indiana Joneses & Other Reads


General Reads

  • Calling all Indiana Joneses: Clue to Undiscovered Asokan Inscriptions (Telegraph India)
  • What you need to know about India's missile defence shield. Read the comments also. (Dawn - yes, its a Pakistani newspaper)
  • China's Cultural Revolution: No desire to dwell on the past (BBC)

Photo Gallery

Controversial Read
  • Reconciling three narratives about global growth (Bloomberg)

Anecdote

In a test match between Australia and West Indies, Ramnaresh Sarwan scored a superb century. In that innings, Glenn McGrath bowled an unplayable bouncer that zoomed past Sarwan’s face. McGrath went up to Sarwan and said, "How does Lara’s d%ck taste, mate?”. Sharp came the reply from Sarwan: ”Go and ask your wife.” 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My Note


Today's Sunday Reads will appear tomorrow; am travelling.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Fifth Anniversary of BJ's nocabbages


Today is the fifth birthday of this blog.

Its been great fun to share my not-so-simple perspective on a variety of things with you. I used to write a lot on politics, economics and social aspects in this space. However, in the last fifteen months, not much has come from me.

I have promised myself that I will go to my old ways: write and share more.

A lot in the political, economic and social fields has changed in the last one year. The economy, though not strong, is limping back to a higher growth trajectory; a good monsoon and some sensible economic management from the government, like creating a conducive environment for large-scale manufacturing, will go a long way in boosting growth, providing employment to the unemployed millions, and contribute to better electoral prospects for the central government in the state elections.

Politicians of various hues are trying to outdo each other in raking up nonsensical issues, like freedom of speech and educational qualifications.

Arvind Kejriwal, the original poster boy of the anti-corruption movement, has become the original drama-dharna leader. His politics is plumbing new depths. He is being increasingly seen as playing to the tune of the Indian National Congress - for example, he raised the so-called fake degree issue soon after the Agusta Westland scam broke out. Kejriwal is fast losing credibility, a quality more important than charisma in winning the hearts and minds of the electors.

On the blog's birthday, let me share a few good reads.

Jack Picone shares his most disturbing and poignant memories of war as a photo journalist. (AlJazeera)

Is technology becoming less disruptive? (BBC)

A short piece titled, 'Call it India'. (NYT) Sagarika Ghose and her ilk must be squirming.

By the way, check out the first post on this blog: Start with Farewell.

Thank you for visiting this blog. More to come!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday Reads


General Reads

  • AAPocracy and the cult of K (Open)
  • Barbie challenges the 'White Saviour Complex' (BBC)
  • What is 'May Day'? (CNN)
Photo Gallery
  • Celebrity transformations (CNN)
Controversial Read


Anecdote

Those were the days in the beginning of the eighties when the world Cricket was dominated by the power packed West Indies Cricket Team and the subtlety packed England Cricket Team. Pakistan also played a major part in the domination but not with their skills in the game but with their poor standards in umpiring.

During one of those days, Imran Khan, the captain of the Pakistan Cricket team met Australian captain Allan Border in an informal meeting in Sydney. During a chat, Imran told Allan Border: “AB, give me Sunil Gavaskar and B. S. Chandrashekhar from India,we will beat Australia.”

In a shocking reply, Allan Border said: “Imran, just give me two umpires from Pakistan and we will beat the whole world.” Imran Khan was left speechless. Later, a furious Imran Khan complained to the Australian board. Under pressure from his board, Allan Border tendered apologies to Imran Khan and Pakistan Cricket Board.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Reads


This post comes after more than two months since the last post. 

General Reads
  • Inside the Bubble: Aboard the Air Force One. (BBC)
  • China's Mediterranean Odyssey (Diplomat)
  • Increase your return on failure (Harvard BR)

Photo Gallery 

Controversial Read

  • All the People God Kills in the Bible (Vocativ)

Anecdote

"How's your wife and my kids?" asked Rod Marsh (Australia) from behind the stumps.

"The wife's fine," replied the England batsman, Ian Botham, "but the kids are retarded."


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Complete Explainer Series


The complete collection of my Explainers on matters of politics and economics.







Understanding Budget Terminology 1:

Understanding Budget Terminology 2:


Why a Fiscal Deficit is dangerous?: