President Obama’s Media Blitz

President Obama stormed the major networks over the weekend appearing on as many as five of them. Critics promptly termed it as over exposure.  There has been way too much “over the board rhetoric”, fear mongering and false propaganda (“Obama lies, grandma dies” among other outrageously false campaigns) on the right. President Obama and his team have done their best to go in for a campaign style run around the country to try and minimize the negative effects of their opponents’ campaign. But it appears that they figured it was best to have the President directly take his message to the people though the major networks. Given the President’s inherent ability to handle such interviews well it was a timely and well thought out strategy.

In this day and age, it is so easy to slip up in the media. President Obama did a phenomenal job of staying on message right through all the interviews. His ability to be clear and precise without ever once coming across as being evasive is truly commendable. On the downside these interviews quickly got boring and repetitive. As for the interviewers, none of them really came through with deeply insightful or particularly memorable questions (I think Letterman will do a better job).  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Racism, Afghanistan, and Healthcare are the hot current topics of interest.  Surely these media pundits could have devised something more creative to ask the President instead of the predictable questions. George Stephanopoulos I thought got a little too cute with a definition of the word “tax”.

President Obama certainly helped his cause by re-affirming his commitment to healthcare reform but its very unlikely that these interviews did little to convince any of his opponents. He could perhaps have been more forceful in calling out the negative propaganda like he did in his joint session of Congress. The Republican leadership has done little to squash the outrageous accusations from the right.  President Obama could have seized the moment to take a few shot at them. But he chose not to, but instead remain above the fray.

Despite President Obama’s sincere efforts, at this juncture it does appears as though he has to kiss goodbye to bi-partisanship and get his party fully on board to pass the healthcare bill, if he ever hopes to have one passed.

Robert Reich argues against Sen. Snowe’s Trigger

Check out this piece by Robert Reich, former labor Secretary (under President Clinton). He argues in favor of the public option without the need for any triggers.

The beauty of Snowe’s proposal is that it seems to offer Blue Dogs a way out and liberal Democrats a way in. Nobody has to vote for or against a public option. The public option just happens automatically if its purposes — wider coverage and lower costs — aren’t achieved. And the trigger idea seems so, well, centrist.

The problem is twofold. First, it’s impossible to design airtight goals for coverage and cost reductions that won’t be picked over by five thousand lobbyists and as many lawyers and litigators even if, at the end of the grace period, it’s apparent to everyone else that the goals aren’t met. Washington is a vast cesspool of well-paid specialists who know how to stop anything resembling a “trigger.” Believe me, they will.

Second, any controversial proposal with some powerful support behind it that gets delayed — for five years or three years or whenever — is politically dead. Supporters lose interest. Public attention wanders. The media are on to other issues. Right now the public option is very much alive because so many Democrats care deeply about it, with good reason. But put it off for years, and assign it to the lawyers and lobbyists I just mentioned, and you can kiss it goodbye for ever.

Blogging, Twitter, and now Lifelogging!

First it was blogging. Then it was Twitter. Now it lifelogging — logging every step of your life!

Don’t miss the last part of the article.

Of late, Bell has eased back on lifelogging. Microsoft opted not to develop its own suite of commercial lifelogging products given other priorities, so he and Gemmell moved on to other projects, such as building databases for cancer research.

That’s a relief! ūüôā

Book Review: The Three Mistakes of my Life

3 MistakesTitle: The Three Mistakes of my Life

Author: Chetan Bhagat

Chetan Bhagat seems to be churning out novels on an assembly line. Everytime I visit India and browse through an airport bookstore I seem to run into one of his novels. His novels are made for travel — relatively short, nominally priced, and perfect for on flight reading. It appears that he has found his sweet spot so to speak in the world of fiction writing! I found his first book to be an enjoyable read, while the second was a complete waste of time. The Three Mistakes of my Life is easily the best of the three books.

Once again, the author sticks to a “made for Bollywood” formula. He makes sure that there is a dramatic beginning that creates a sense of suspense and maintains it till the end (like a flash back at the start of a film). Then there is cricket, romance, intrigue, friendship (the common theme in all his books), entrepreneurship, communal tensions, sex,¬†exposure (!)¬†etc. The good news is that the author has done a fine job weaving these into a nice fast paced “masala”. A Bollywood production based on this book has all the ingredients for a super hit!

The story revolves around three friends who join together to start a sports equipment¬†store. One of them is an ardent cricket fan/player and fancies himself to be a coach. The other is deeply interested in business while the third has some strong right wing political connections in his family. The one who is the brain behind the business also happens to be a Math whiz. He tutors his collegue’s sister and ends up in love with her (discreetly of course), thereby complicating and ruining¬†their friendship and business relationship. The cricket fan ends up coaching a Muslim kid, and this adds to some dramatic scenes during concocted communal riots. The story is set in Gujarat and the earthquake that happened there (in Bhuj 2001) is also cleverly weaved into the story. There is plenty for cricket fans as you might have guessed and there is fairly contrived jaunt to Australia(!) (this serves the purpose of a song sequence and skin show followed by some long distance romance¬†for the Bollywood version)

This book is an easy, entertaining read. If you are looking for fancy prose and brilliance in language, this book is not for you.

Movie Review: Luck By Chance

Title: Luck by Chance

Starring: Farhan Akthar, Konkana Sen Sharma, Isha Shravani (who is who of Bollywood play guest roles)

Language: Hindi

Watched another Hindi film. Once again, I opted for something out of the mainstream. This is a film about the Hindi film industry itself much like earlier films on similar topic, Page 3 and Fashion. The storyline highlights the role luck plays in success while exposing the workings of the industry as whole — gossip, affairs, financing, double standards, distrust, insecurity, false promises, casting couch, love, betrayal, you name it.

The film is very well made. The deubutant director (Zoya Akhtar, whose brother Farhan Akthar plays the lead role) does a fine job of bringing out the best in all the characters. The Akthar siblings appear to have worked their Bollywood connections to the maximum by parading a bevy of Bollywood stars essaying brief cameos (Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Abhishek Bacchan, John Abraham, Akshay Kumar, Boman Irani, Juhi Chawla etc.) to more extended roles (Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Kapoor) all through the film. The Director deserves credit for weaving these appearance very astutely into the story-line. None of these appearances appear forced and blend extremely well with the story of the film.

Konkana Sen Sharma and Farhan Akthar play the roles of aspiring¬†actors in Mumbai. While she struggles¬†to get a big break she essays small insignificant roles over a three year period. Meanwhile, Farhan’s character moves to Mumbai from¬†Delhi in search of break in the fim industry.¬†The two meet through common friends (who are also tied to the film industry) and a develop and friendship which later develops into a romance. The Director does a fine job of not overdoing this part and keeping it “suttle”. By sheer circumstance (or luck!), Farhan’s character gets a break as a lead role in a¬†film after Hrithik Roshan backs out mid-way through the film. The series of coincidences that pitchfork Farhan’s character to land the lead role is extremely well captured highlighting the importance of “time and place” when it comes to success. Dimple plays the role of an obsessive former movie star desperately seeking a big break for her daughter (played by Isha Shravani). Rishi Kapoor plays the film’s producer (never sen him in a role like this before!) and Sanjay Kapoor its Director.

The biggest drawback of the film is probably its title.¬† Until you watch the film the title makes little sense whatsoever. It is ironical that Javed Akthar’s kids had to come up with a (poorly worded)¬† all English title for a Hindi film! Another drawback of the film is its hero – Farhan Akthar.¬† While his acting is excellent, he doesn’t exactly fit the role of aspiring Hindi film hero (his muscles not withstanding!) who goes on to becomes immensely popular! Given the negative shades of the role it was probably difficult to find any of the mainstream stars to accept the role. On the other hand, it might have been a perfect fit for a good-looking,¬† new or up and coming star (a la SRK in Baazigar, Darr).

This film is probably not a commercial success because its not a mainstream “masala”. Nevertheless, the Director is certainly very talented as is evident in the quality of the overall film –film making, editing, the dialogues, the camera work, the background score, acting, etc. If you are in the mood for something other than the traditional Bollywood masala, this film is definitely a good choice.

President Obama’s High-stakes Speech

The healthcare debate across America seems to be reaching a crescendo. Angry town hall meetings and brilliant, pithy sound bites from the opposition (“Death panels”, “Kill Grandma” etc.) appears to have cornered President Obama. He could very well have refrained from stirring a public debate and stream rolled his plans relatively drama-free through the largely Democratic Congress (with some serious challenges in the Senate). But an inherent community organizer that he is, he chose to seek¬† bi-partisanship. His team did their homework and tred their best to avoid the mistakes of the Clinton administration. Rather than drive the plan (like Bill Clinton tried), they issued some broad guidelines and let Congress iron out the details. An interesting and different approach. Yet, today, the health care reform plans are in a state of crisis. If it fails to go through, the chances are that healthcare reform will never see the light of day for years to come.

His support for the “public option” will be the part of his speech that will be of most¬†interest to anyone who has been closely following the debate. It is next to impossible for him to mollify all the sections of his party and still achieve bi-partisanship.¬† If he settles for Sen. Snowe‘s plan of a “trigger-based” public option, the left wing of the Democratic party is going to be deeply disappointed. On the other hand, this approach ensures that he and his team have their best shot of getting health care reform (for whatever its worth) passed with token Republican support, and ultimately claiming victory.

One speech can’t fix the healthcare woes of America. But it will be a good test of President Obama’s ability to forge consensus to whatever extent possible, and will provide some deeper insights into his political acumen. Clearly, the stakes are high for his party, for himself and the country as a whole. When in trouble (or when you are desperate as his critics would like to infer) you draw on your best skills. This explains why President Obama has chosen to do what he does best — give a good speech!

The BJP at Crossroads

A stable opposition is critical to the functioning of any democracy.¬† Like it or not, the BJP is the face of India’s opposition today. The left is in complete disarray and what remains of it appears to be self-destructing (as in the case of Kerala). The regional parties for the most part have all been cut down to size in the recent election. In short, as of today, India has no credible opposition to speak off. So the sooner the BJP gets its act together the better for India’s democracy as a whole.

The BJP appears to have a leadership vaccum at present and little in terms of bench strength for credible future leadership to counter the steady rise of Mr. Rahul Gandhi. For all the criticism that has been leveled against Mr. Advani, the fact remains that he made the best attempt by far to move the BJP to the center of the political spectrum by making a conscious attempt to soften the party’s hard line image starting with his own.¬† While it might have been an opportunistic move, there is little doubt that it was the best strategic move the party has made in recent times. Unfortunately, for him he failed to carry the base of the party with him on this journey. Moreover, he lost a golden opportunity to further soften the party’s image by not taking a firm stand on the Varun Gandhi issue (Maneka Gandhi is now in the Jaswant Singh camp!), among other strategic blunders (personally attacking the PM, for instance).

To make matters worse, the loss in the recent election appears to have triggered public feuds between the visible faces of the party. There have been calls for the “RSS to take charge” and bring some order to the party. There is nothing worse that can happen to the BJP than to be faced with an open “RSS coup”. As India continues to crank out impressive growth rates, hard line right wing rhetoric is likely to resonate less and less with the masses. Even a blatant attack by terrorists on Mumbai failed to galvanize the BJP to a victory. In quieter, relatively prosperous times, the BJP has little hope of staging a comeback with an endemic hard line image. On the other hand,¬† some extreme events could¬† drive public sentiments to the far right and give the BJP some hope of a revival.¬† But counting out that would be like hoping for a miracle.

Where does the party go from here?¬† The BJP in its current avatar needs the RSS in order to survive.¬† At the same time, as things stand today there is little chance of ever returning to power without shedding its hard line “Hindutva” image and broadening its appeal to moderates and minorities.¬† The hard liners in the party are unlikely to ever shed their extreme positions on hot button issues. There is open infighting within the party.¬† Lastly, at 80+ Advani isn’t getting any younger .

Ironically, one avenue for the party might be to adopt a Congress-like split leadership with a younger, credible, centrist-leaning person with a mass base and acceptable to the party (especially the trouble-makers) as the face of the party with Advani playing a Sonia-like role! However, this is hard to imagine given Mr. Advani’s dominant role in the party over the years.¬† Besides, unfortunately, for the BJP, at present it does not look like such an individual exists among their ranks.

The other alternative of course, is to opt for the status quo i.e.  do nothing, hope that the noise dies down, and take things as they come. It will be interesting to see which of these paths the party chooses. With no presence to speak off in keys states, and two successive defeats in the Lok Sabha elections, and a deeply divided party, the BJP is clearly at a crossroads. At present, it appears that if the party does not seize this opportunity to re-invent itself it runs the serious risk of further marginalizing itself over the years.