OSCARS 2017 – A night of high drama, controversy and a shocking climax

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Damien Chazelle Best Director – Oscar

It was a stunning twist in the tale. And right at the end, mind you. The kind that Indian descent director M. Night Shyamalan would have been proud of. When veteran actor & filmmaker Warren Beatty announced that the musical ‘La La Land’ had taken home the most coveted #Oscar of the evening, for Best Picture and even as the makers of the Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling starrer were halfway through their acceptance speech, came the shocker. The award was given then to the poignant ‘Moonlight’ and you could literally hear the collective gasps of all folks gathered in the #DolbyTheatre for the glittering ceremony. Beatty had supposedly been given the wrong cue cards. Really?! In many ways it was a climax that went very well with the narrative of the evening. An evening mired in protests & controversies that had little to do with cinema itself.

The tone for what was to follow was set at the outset itself. Popular talk show host and comedian #JimmyKimmel in his opening salvo took generous potshots at controversial US President #DonaldTrump and even mouthed the ‘Meryl Streep is overrated’ bit for dramatic effect. It was an #OscarAwards night that many expected to be dominated by everybody’s favorite musical #LaLaLand but though the film did quite well for itself (Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography) with 6 nods in all it was not exactly a sweep. The first major award of the night was quite historic with black actor Mahershala Ali winning the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of a drug peddler in ‘Moonlight’ This made Ali (born Eric Gilmore) the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar award. Coming after 88 Oscar Award ceremonies, this one was long overdue. Very long. And coming a day after a kin of the more famous ‘M.Ali’ (boxing legend Ali’s son) was harangued at US airports, it made for truly powerful symbolism.

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Best Actors and Supporting Actors – Oscar

Black Americans clearly held sway in this year’s Oscar Awards with three time nominated actress Viola Davis finally snaring her first Oscar for her gutwrenching performance in ‘Fences’ To add a bit of trivia this award makes Viola the first black woman to win the ‘Holy Trinity’ of awards with the Oscars, the Emmys and the Tony awards all in her kitty. Though critics suggest that the award to Viola this year was less for the performance in Fences and more for her consistent performances in the last few years. The other controversial moment of the night was when the Iranian film ‘The Salesman’ walked off with the Oscar for Best #ForeignLanguage film. Seen in light of the recent blanket ban on entry of immigrants of certain Muslim countries (that includes Iran) into the US it makes for some very absorbing discussion. The director of the film, who was boycotting the awards ceremony in a symbolic gesture made sure to send a video recording across. No surprises for guessing who he lambasted. Equally interesting was the fact that #AnoushehAnsari, an Iranian American accepted the award on the filmmaker’s behalf. Ansari incidentally is the first woman space explorer to do it with her own money.

If you thought that was all, there was more. In what is a dramatic turn of events for the actor, Casey Affleck won the Best Actor award for his bravura performance in the little seen/heard ‘Manchester by the Sea’ And unlike last year when everyone was rooting for DiCaprio there were not many expecting that Casey (brother of the more famous Affleck) would romp home. For this good looking, undeniably talented actor whose on screen exploits have thus been overshadowed by a dark past with serious accusation of inappropriate behavior with his female colleagues on set this is perhaps redemption time.

Goan Carnivals – An experience to behold

  It is that time of the year again. When flight and bus prices hit the roof, hotels and resorts are packed to the hilt and virtually the whole world seems to descend to celebrate. In Goa. No prizes for guessing that one is talking about the Carnival that will take places in different cities of the state over the next week or so. As things stand Goa is already a favoured tourist destination where festivals, parties and revelries are de rigueur. The annual event that is the #Carnival is what one would term the proverbial icing on the cake. And this is how it has been for past many centuries now. The Carnival was of course a gift or perhaps a legacy that was inherited from the colonial masters of the state, the #Portuguese. And though it has been half a century and more since the state attained independence, the locals have wholeheartedly embraced the Carnival. Today it is without a shred of doubt, the biggest festival of Goa.

Historically speaking, the Carnival has been celebrated for many centuries in western civilisations and be it Germany, Italy, England or far away Goa it always takes place in the period between the last week of February and the first week of March. It is said to take inspiration from the festival of #MardiGras. Talking from the local point of view, in Goa the Carnival began as an event that was specifically meant for the Catholic community . It is considered as a time for four days complete with unabashed music, dance, drinking and making merry before the month of Lent begins. And traditionally #Lent is a period of 40 days where the practice is to refrain from consuming meat and alcohol. What makes Lent significant is also that this month precedes Easter that is considered one of the important festivals as it celebrates the resurrection of Christ. Over the years the Carnival has grown into a festival that all Goans irrespective of caste, creed and religion come together and proudly celebrate. After all, it is this very vibrant culture that includes elements of all faiths that makes #Goa such a unique place.

Today the biggest Carnivals take place in Colombia, London and of course, everyone’s favorite Carnival destination# Brazil. The Goan Carnival is held on a very lavish scale with no costs spared and there is even a lot of prep work that takes place much before the D-day itself. Hundreds of floats (colourfully decorated stage that is usually built on a moving vehicle) exploring myriad themes are built and made ready a couple of months in advance. On top of these floats, you have thousands of performers, singers, dancers and artists taking part in a procession that is all immersive. Then you have some elements of circus with various men & women dressed in weird coloured costumes as well as some wearing funny & grotesque masks on their faces.The procession that takes place usually in one city every day passes through the heart of the city and moves slowly while onlookers and tourists gathered on both sides of the street to watch the Carnival jump in sometimes to be part of the whole dance and song and join the celebrations.

As mentioned at the outset, travelling and lodging options are likely to be expensive at the time of the Goan Carnival. So it is prudent to confirm dates for the event and book your tickets a little before in advance. The good part is that the event goes on for a good four days and in certain instances for a day or two extra. Now that is a lot of partying time. Best part is there is no entrance fee to go watch and be a part of the entire Carnival. Just get there early to get best vantage points for sitting & viewing. As this piece is being published, the first day of #GoaCarnival2017 took place in the capital city of Panaji. With over 50000 people attending (conservative estimate) the response clearly was rapturous.

RANGOON – Movie Review

 

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 Here’s looking at you, kid – Humphrey Bogart in CASABLANCA

INTRO

In Hollywood, some of the greatest directors have all made outstanding war films. Stanley #Kubrick (FULL METAL JACKET) Francis Ford Coppola (APOCALYPSE NOW) #StevenSpielberg (SCHINDLER’S LIST) Oliver Stone (PLATOON) Quentin Tarantino (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS)…the list goes on. In comparison our #Bollywood is surprisingly bereft of quality war films. Forget #WarFilms, there are none even with the war as a backdrop (If you were to discount the jingoistic, Pak bashing BORDER and Farhan Akhtar’s average LAKSHYA) In that sense there is NO comparison. So when avant garde filmmaker #VishalBhardwaj bases his most ambitious film (that Sajid ‘Moneybags’ Nadiadwala is producing it is a dead giveaway) #RANGOON on the Second World War, that in itself is reason enough to watch the film.

WARNING : SPOILERS AHEAD

STORY

Eminent historians view the Japanese invasion of Rangoon (and Burma) as a turning point in the Second World War, even more than that of the Nazi attack on Stalingrad (the infamous war where the Russians used ‘human fodder’ to wear out the Germans) Had the Japs not lost out, a militarized India ruled by Bose was a distinct possibility. This was also perhaps the only war in which the Indian army fought against itself (INA supporting the Japs while the British Army here was made up of Indian soldiers) It is in this turbulent backdrop that Bhardwaj ‘brews’ the characters of his many splendoured love triangle RANGOON. On one end you have the almost aristocratic and suave Rustom Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan) whose artificial hand speaks of a tragic past. And on the other hand there is Nawaz Malik(Shahid Kapoor) who like all soldiers in bloody wars is fighting his own demons. Sandwiched between them is small time starlet Miss Julia (Kangana ‘Queen’ Ranaut) famous more for her daredevilry on the silver screen than her acting prowess.

TECHNICAL CREDITS

It must have taken a brave man to work again with a team of failed writers consisting of Matthew Robbins and Sabrina Dhawan (the writer of Oscar award nominated MONSOON WEDDING) Or is it a case of ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ Mr Bhardwaj?! The writing in RANGOON is again patchy, glorious but only in parts. There is the whole ‘Fearless Nadia’ thing , the Azad Hindu Fauj (of Subhash Chandra Bose) angle with the national anthem belted out at least twice, the Bapu-Bose idealogical conflict, the tempestuous love triangle and the whole Rangoon war. Clearly they had a lot on their plate and consequently fail to do justice to every subtext that there is. At 167 minutes minutes the film feels excruciatingly long especially the first half that could have been tighter. The DOP Pankaj Kumar (repeated from the director’s HAIDER) is one of the stars of RANGOON. One cannot remember the last Hindi film that had so exquisitely shot war sequences. Credit must also go to Bhardwaj for RANGOON is his most accomplished work, technically.

The same cannot be said of the lacklustre soundtrack which is perhaps the worst of all that one has heard from the Bhardwaj-Gulzar composer & wordsmith combo. Which is a shame because backed by a better OST, RANGOON had enough firepower to sail through at the box office. Since this is a period drama set in 1943 mention must be made of the marvellous costume designing by a certain Dolly Ahluwalia. Though the film boasts of an international cast of sorts with a Japanese actor(who perhaps was unrequired) and a British actor Richard McCabe (this hammy bloke could have edited out of the film) Finally, the film squarely rest on the shoulders of it’s three lead actors and to be fair to them, they give it their all.

#ShahidKapoor has given two of his career best performances in Bhardwaj films(HAIDER & KAMINEY) which have made him the star & actor that he is today. As Nawaz Malik his is a quiet and restrained performance where you can always sense the simmering underneath waiting to explode. Of the three roles, it is also the most one dimensional one. Worryingly the chemistry between him and Kangana never really takes off (inspite of all the mud rolling and dirty kissing) Kangana playing a role supposedly inspired by Mary Ann Evans aka the Hunterwali aka Fearless Nadia of the 1940s Hindi films blows hot and blows cold throughout. Though it is too inconsistent to be called a great performance, Kangana as Miss Julia has her moments. The soliloquy where she holds forth on love is superb as is the scene in which Saif asks her to sit on his lap.

Quite unexpectedly the star of RANGOON is Saif Ali Khan as Russi the stunt artist turned brash producer and the relationship that he shares with Miss Julia is strange, intriguing and fascinating all at the same while. Rather than the Shahid-Kangana scenes it is their scenes that keep one riveted. Particularly memorable are two. One where Saif is trying to balance himself on a tightrope is fraught with irony but the best is the one where he comes to know of Kangana’s betrayal. The sea of emotions that he conveys without saying much is quite brilliant. Strange coincidence that two of his most memorable roles having been playing character with a physical handicap (then it was ‘Langda Tyagi’ )

Finally RANGOON with warts and all belongs to the director #VishalBhardwaj. Like in all his films, there is too much happening in RANGOON all the time. #Story within story, layers within a character, sub text in dialogues…all typical of a Bhardwaj film. When this ‘orchestrated chaos’ comes off it becomes a gem like MAQBOOL, HAIDER & OMKARA. When it doesn’t you get duds like MATRU KI BIJLEE KA MANDOLA and SAAT KHOON MAAF. This one is neither. This one’s somewhere in between. But whether you like it or hate it, you cannot but agree. This is invigorating stuff!!

JOLLY LLB 2 – Movie Review

Justice delayed is justice denied – William E.Gladstone

INTRO

A few weeks back, a man in North India got arrested on alleged charges of kidnapping and rape filed by the girl’s father. The only hitch – That man and the ‘kidnapped’ girl had got married, had two children and even got divorced. For the record, the case was filed 24 years ago and even the girl’s father who had filed the complaint had passed away in the interim. This is the sad state of affairs of the Indian judiciary. As of last year, there was a mind-boggling 3 crore cases pending in Indian courts. Forget the higher courts, the smaller ones are looking at a shortage of over 5000 judges. Director Subhash Kapoor helmed THE STATE vs JOLLY LLB 2 could not have released at a more opportune time.

STORY

Subhash Kapoor’s JOLLY LLB that released in 2013 to rave reviews and a clutch of awards was inspired by a real life hit-and-run accident case. It won actor Saurabh Shukla the National Award for Best Supporting Actor as well. Trade experts felt that a more commercially viable actor (read star) could have made the film more money. So out went Arshad Warsi and in came Akshay Kumar. That apart the basic premise of the sequel remains the same. A seemingly clumsy, bumbling small time lawyer takes on the high and mighty in the most important case of his career.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

TECHNICAL CREDITS

As many as three composers share the credits for the music of #JollyLLB2, Meet Bros, Chirantan Bhatt and Manj Musik. Yet apart from the funky Holi song ‘GoPaagal’ none of the songs are upto scratch. The ace lensman Kamaljeet Negi & editor Chandrashekhar Prajapati who have both been regulars in Shoojit Sircar’s films (VICKY DONOR, PIKU, MADRAS CAFE) lend gravitas to JOLLY LLB 2. Where the camerawork by Negi is as always an unobtrusive chronicler the editing leaves a lot to be desired. The first half moves at a sluggish pace and things only get better in the courtroom proceedings post intermission. A big plus is the script and screenplay by the director himself. Be it the romantic scenes between Akshay & Huma, the verbal duel between Akshay & Annu Kapoor or best of all the ‘nok-jhok ‘ betweeen the judge and Akshay, it is all tongue-in-cheek. This ensures that there is hardly a dull moment in JOLLY LLB 2. From terrorism to judicial reforms, JOLLY LLB 2 talks about complex issues without getting too heavy. Or preachy even.

One of the big pluses of #JOLLYLLB2 is the great supporting cast. Inaamul Haq (that marvellous actor from the little watched gem FILMISTAAN) is a treat to watch. Sayani Gupta as the victim who commits suicide which transforms Akshay’s character does what is expected of her. As senior advocate Sachin Mathur, Annu Kapoor provides for some of the film’s better scenes. In the original, Boman Irani played Jolly’s adversary and credit must go to Annu for doing the same in JOLLY LLB 2 with great aplomb. Resuming from where he left off in the first part, Saurabh Shukla as the judge brings the house down with his deadpan style of admonishing Akshay’s character. Huma Qureshi is one of the better actresses we have today and it is a bit of a shame to see her considerable talents go waste in a role that could have been played by any other actress.

Actor #AkshayKumar seems to have hit upon a new formula for success in the last few years. Entertaining film with a strong social message – SPECIAL 26, HOLIDAY, BABY, GABBAR IS BACK, AIRLIFT, RUSTOM and now JOLLY LLB 2. The character of Jagdishwar Mishra aka Jolly is an enigma of sorts. He is bad at law, has questionable morals and will bend rules to make a fast buck or two. But there is another side to him as well. A doting father and a husband who makes a drink for his wife at nights, Jolly has a heart of gold. It is these shades to his character that make Jolly such a compelling watch. Comparisons to Arshad Warsi (who was superb in the first Jolly film) are inevitable. Suffice it to say that Akshay makes the role all his own.Director #SubhashKapoor is one of the better directors today in mainstream Hindi films. Like in all his previous films Kapoor displays a natural flair for comedy. The characters that inhabit his films are far from perfect and are terribly flawed yet are real people like you and me. Sadly he is very underrated perhaps because all his films so far (PHAS GAYA RE OBAMA, JOLLY LLB, GUDDU RANGEELA) have been small in the budget with no stars. JOLLY LLB 2 should change that.

Indians staying abroad : The road ahead

A study on international migration trends conducted last year by the UN Department for Social and Economic Affairs revealed that India has more people staying overseas than any other country. That Mexico came right after India in terms of sheer numbers would probably not surprise many, especially the Americans. Talking about the Americans, the number of Indians residing in the United States   is second only to those staying in India itself. Also Indians living in the United Kingdom constitute the largest ethnic minority there. Apart from this there is a huge Indian #Diaspora settled in the middle east,Australia and spread as far &wide as the Caribbean. It is estimated that currently there are about 16 million Indian living all over the world. Bear in mind that this includes #NRIs (Non Resident Indians) and PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin) both.
For the record NRIs and PIOs are not one and the same though quite a few folks tend to mix up both. Where a non resident #Indian is a citizen of India who usually holds a valid passport of the country, a person of Indian origin need not really be a citizen of India. Nor does a #PIO require a visa to visit India. Also this migration is not really what one would call a recent phenomenon. Far from. Many centuries ago kingdoms of past Indian rulers extended to other parts of South, South East and even parts of central Asia. Which is why there is a sizeable presence of Indians in many of these countries like Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Having stayed in these places for centuries together, Indians have integrated remarkably well with the local populace. Then there are Indians who were taken by their colonial masters to various parts of Africa and Europe to serve as cheap labour.
From science & technology to business & literature, #IndiansAbroad have literally gone places. These working professionals and entrepreneurs who are making an invaluable contribution to the countries where they reside also lead the field when it comes to sending money back which is why India gets a staggering 12% of all remittances the world over. As of last year Indians sent almost 70 billion dollars to the country where their roots are. If you do the math, it is about 4% of India’s GDP. As the world around us grapples with an unprecedented refugee and immigrant crisis, it might be worthwhile to ponder over what effect this might have on this large Indian diaspora. According to figures available with the Indian Ministry for External Affairs, there have been 276 attacks on Indians abroad in the last three years. Cause for worry?

Not really, say the experts. For the Indian community staying abroad has a record of being largely peaceful and there are hardly any incidents of terror attacks by Indians abroad. What is more cause for concern is the change in immigration policy by countries where Indians are residing. In the United States, the new President Donald Trump has voiced concerns about the huge number of students coming year after year to the country. Not just for higher education but also with an eye on better job prospects. Which is why one of the first things that #Trump initiated once he was sworn in was tighter norms for Visa programs allowing Indians entry into the country. But experts from the industry say that getting skilled workers at affordable costs is a benefit that no American firm, big or small can lose out on. For them this is just a temporary hitch. Only time will tell if they are right. Watch this space for more.

Vertical farming – What is good and what isn’t

   WHAT IS GOOD

. In traditional farming that takes place horizontally, acres and acres of land goes waste if the  produce fails. On the other hand, with Vertical Farming land is not an issue at all. As crops expand upward, land needed is much lesser. What if there is no land to spare at all? Not to worry. If you have an extra room inside your home that will do just fine. Like the landscape architect from Seattle who put his spare garage to good use by starting Vertical Farming.

. In #TraditionalFarming we hear woes of how a drought or floods caused misery in farmers. With vertical farming all the action takes place in a controlled environment, indoors. So inclement weather will never be a factor here. A lack of or excess rains will not hamper your produce. With vertical farming, large-scale production takes place. And all year round at that.

. #VerticalFarming is done without making use of any chemicals. No pesticides or fertilizer even. Thus the food that is produced in this manner is fresh and good for health as well. The worry of contaminated  manure is also taken out of the picture as Vertical farming can be done as well using techniques like #Hydroponics. No soil used in the process, no polluted irrigation water even.

. Vertical farming has the potential to reduce the effects of #GlobalWarming to a very large extent. Farms inside buildings in urban places will surely negate the harm of poisonous gases released by fossil fuels.Deforestation that is turning our green spaces into concrete jungles to sustain ever growing populations will come down.

. Maximum utilisation of available resources is one of the great attributes of Vertical farming. Abandoned buildings, warehouses, godowns and all such structures in urban settings can be converted  into efficient Vertical farms. Considerable time and money spent in transporting food thousands of
miles is saved.

. Water is a precious resource of our planet that is slowly but surely becoming scarce and it is not  out of the realm of possibility that one day there will be very little left. Vertical farming helps  recycle and reuse black water that would have otherwise have gone waste. Frugal consumption of water for farming is another big plus. Also sewage is converted to top soil that can then be processed   and used as drinking water.

WHAT ISN’T

. Depending on the kind of setup that is there in place, some forms of Vertical farming can require manual monitoring and are likely to be labour intensive. Vertical farming ensures there are no insects around a produce so pollination might be a bit worrisome. Things are moving gradually to a   mechanised form with vertical farming where you can be in a different location and yet use an App to keep an eye on your vertical farm. But not every farm is that advanced.

. A big drawback is that not all fruits and vegetables respond that well to farming in a controlled environment and some crops need a natural setting for growing purpose. But with agrarian techniques  related to vertical farming improving constantly even this is set to change. Which is why many crops  being grown today in Vertical farms are the very ones considered impossible to grow in artificial conditions.

. The big turnoff for many when it comes to Vertical Farming is the high costs that can be entailed in  the process. From procuring land in urban centers to use of LED lights to compensate for lack of adequate sunlight, if you do not plan your Vertical farm smartly, it can cost quite a bit.

Vertical farming – What’s it all about?

  #What – The rationale is simple really. More people populating our planet day after day means more mouths to feed. Land needed for growing crops is going to become scarce, if it has not already. As the name amply suggests, Vertical farming is all about growing crops, upwards. Though the concept of Vertical farming sounds relatively new it was first used by a writer in a book of the same name more than a century ago. Unlike the traditional methods of farming, it is always done indoors. As long as these are vertically inclined surfaces be it large shipping crates or containers will both do just fine. Typically vertical farms are enclosed in a PVC roofing surrounded by netted walls to ensure that the plants get natural sunlight. The credit for the first when it comes to Vertical farm goes to the country of Armenia where a complex with high rise farms is supposed to have existed as far back as the 1950s. Our #Urban mega cities are lacking in the two basic things needed for #Agriculture – Land and water. And vertical farming is the prudent way forward.

#Where – One option is to grow crops within multi storeyed buildings using artificial conditions. This is why sometimes this method is also referred to as high rise farming. From large warehouses to dilapidated buildings and discarded airport hangars, vertical farms are coming up in the most unlikeliest of places. Last year saw the opening of a massive 69,000 sq.ft vertical farm in New Jersey and it is reputed to be the world’s largest. Then there is the unique case of #Singapore where more than 90% of the food is imported from outside due to dearth of land. Thanks to #VerticalFarming that is catching up in a big way, Singapore is gradually reducing it’s reliance on other nations. In nearby Japan a tsunami in Fukushima led to a nuclear accident leaving large parts of farmland unusable. The only safe alternative – vertical farming. In our very own India it is only certain individual entrepreneurs who are taking the initiative to invest in Vertical farms.

#How –  At the heart of Vertical farming is #Hydroponics. In layman’s terms it is a system where one can grow plants without making use of #Soil. The idea is to give a plant the nutrients that it requires (which is usually a solution of water combined with fertilizer) at the right time and in just the right proportion. Where water and land used in vertical farming is much lesser and the yields are much higher the big spending is likely to be in providing light to growing plants. Then there is the other part of vertical farming that allows one to farm both plants and fish alongside using the technique of #Aquaponics. Here the waste produced by the fish is used as a nutrient for the plants. The plants in turn purify the water in which the fish are farmed. The downside is that it is much more expensive than raising fish in let us say, open water systems like ponds and lakes.

#Why – Vertical farming makes use of lesser amount of land and since the sky is the giddy limit as far as how high one can go, the agricultural produce is likely to be eight to ten times higher. Though not all crops can be grown using vertical farming, the ones that can be are grown all year round. No dependence on favorable climate nor is there a chance of adverse effects in case of droughts or floods. Studies have also shown that not only is less land used but even water consumed during vertical farming is substantially lesser. As the techniques of agriculture in controlled environments get better, LED lights have been able to provide the requisite light to the growing plants. Another big plus of Vertical farming is that the food is grown in close proximity to the consumer meaning that it will be more fresh. Also there is much less money spent on transporting it. Recently vertical farming has been used to farm fish in closed loop systems.

Is the new President elect a man in a hurry ?

 It was about a dozen days ago that Republican candidate Trump formally assumed office and to say that this very short period has been dramatic would not be a hyperbole. Traditionally the first month or so considered being the ‘honeymoon’ period for new occupants of the Oval office. But try telling that to Trump. In fact, try telling anything to him right now.  The blistering pace at which he is going about redefining US policy with regards to a multitude of subjects is unprecedented.For many cynics who felt that a lot many of his promises made during the election campaign were mere rhetoric and too radical to be implemented, these last few days have been a nightmarish wake-up call. To give Trump credit where it is due he is a man of his word. A man who walks all his tall talk, a man who has a plan that he is busy implementing. That too on a war footing. Encapsulated below are some of the measures that he has initiated so far.

The TPP Trade Deal – The Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is one that folks usually confuse with the similar sounding TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) but knowing the kind of Animosity that Trump has for trade deal as a whole, the latter could be axed sooner than later. The #TPP involved 12 countries who account for more than a third of the entire world trade. The short term aim of the TPP was to bolster trade relations, economic ties and strive towards creating a common market, not unlike the EU.  The fear was that it could cost Americans jobs. #Trump described the deal in just a word -region. The fear was that it could cost Americans jobs. #Trump described the deal in just a word – Horrible. So out it went. And that was that. So out it went. And that was that.

Obamacare – Here things are a little hazy. The Executive Order has asked the relevant agencies to grant exemptions from fees related to the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) commonly known as #Obamacare. As part of the move, all advertisements asking folks to sign up were stopped. The trouble is that Trump does not really have a Plan B.Also reports that repealing the PPACA could cost more than a million #AmericansJobs is making Trump wary. The grapevine suggests we might see it PPACA in a different ‘Avatar’ Question is – why is affordable health care a matter of debate even?  More controversial is the decision to cut US funding for all global family planning organizations which even broach the topic of abortion let alone facilitate it. Bad this is.

Immigration & refugee issue – Of all the moves undertaken by the President the one that has got everyone worked up is this one. On one hand, Trump put a temporary block of 90 days on #Immigrants from 7 Muslim countries. Plus he has also put on hold #USRefugeeProgram for four months with Syrian refugees being an exception. They are prevented from entering the country ‘indefinitely’ There is also talk of building a wall along the shared border with Mexico but with costs of building such a wall likely to be humongous it might not come through.What will happen after 90 days and what will be the long-term repercussions of this on the American war ‘on terror’ Watch this space for more.P.S. In the midst of all this, Trump actually found time to send an elite team of Navy Seals (Seal Team 6) to Yemen with the explicit aim to take out suspected Al Qaeda militants. The raid resulted in injury to two of these Seals and the unfortunate death of another.

UNION BUDGET 2017 – HIT OR MISS?

A day after Finance Minister #ArunJaitley presented the Union Budget, there is a broad consensus cutting across all sections of the political diaspora, the media and the public in general that it is a balanced budget. Not historic not landmark but a good one. Yes it is historic in the sense that for the first time post independence, the Railway Budget has been merged with the General Budget. It is a landmark budget due to an indirect tax ambit for a few months after which we will have the goods and services (GST) tax coming into effect. With a few states bound for elections in a couple of days, some observers expected the Budget to be more populist and announce a slew of freebies for the common man. Also coming as the Budget was less than three months after a controversial move to demonetise high value currency notes, some felt the budget could be used to win back some disgruntled citizens. So a few brownie points must go to the government for not giving in.

In fact all the drama that took place did so before the Budget was presented. Everyone was on the tenterhooks when a few hours before the schedule of the Union Budget, a senior member of the Parliament from Kerala E Ahamed died of a cardiac arrest. Rule books were hastily taken out and previous precedents of such occurrences were looked at. As the opposition made a feeble protest asking for the budget to be postponed, the ruling party quoted an incident dating back to the time of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when the budget had been presented in a similar situation. The final decision was left to the Speaker who decided that things would go ahead on schedule. The #2017Budget was also one of the shortest what with the twelfth Five Year Plan ending on March 31st this year. As a result plan & non planned was done away with only steps taken in regards to revenue & capital expenditure were announced.

For the year 2017-2018 the total monies allocated under the Budget is 21.47 Lakh crores. And on top ofit the government will borrow close to 5.8 lakh crores adding to the ever growing debt. The good part is that of this, 3.9 lakh crores will go towards infrastructure. Though there was little mention by the FM of details on the net result of #Demonetisation nor of the expected additional income from the ferreting out of black money the after effects of this can be clearly seen in the thrust on small industry and the rural India in Budget 2017. The 5% cut in corporate tax (from 30 to 25) for businesses with annual turnover of up to 50 crores, carry forward of the MAT (minimum alternate tax) and more breathing space for startups to claim the 3 year tax holiday are moves to boost the small industries. For #RuralIndia worst hit by demonetisation allocation under #MNREGA is up to an all time high of 48,000 crores. As is spending on health and education in the hinterlands.

For the salaried class, #Budget2017 has a clear message. The more you earn, the more tax you pay. So for those with annual income of less than 3 lakhs, there is virtually no tax. While if you earn between 10-50 lakhs p.a. you pay a whopping 30% in tax. Service tax non-existent in the 1990s has emerged as the Big Daddy of all taxes. To curb corruption in public life, cash transactions above 3 lakhs have been banned as have all cash donations to political parties that are above Rs 2000. But till corporate funding of elections stops, there will be no respite. As regards to the #RailwayBudget with more focus on railway safety and no mention of the ‘Bullet Train’ seems like the government has finally got it’s priorities right. All in all, Budget 2017 is a small step in the right direction. Nothing more.

PRICES

UP – Clean Drinking water, Smartphones, LED lights, Tobacco based products.
DOWN – Solar panels, E-tickets, LNG, POS machines

The Trump Executive Order – Much ado about nothing?

‘Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States’ That is what the #Executive Order by President-elect #DonaldTrump barring the citizens of seven Muslim nations from entering the United States of America is titled. Unsurprisingly it has stirred a hornet’s nest the world over with opinions being bitterly divided. ” America is a country of immigrants.” These are not the words of ex-President Obama. This is what singer Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen had to say while criticizing the controversial Executive Order at a concert of his the other day. Coming from the man who sang the iconic ‘ Born in the USA’ back in 1984 and is regarded as one of the enduring symbols of modern America, immigration is clearly an emotive issue. There are of course supporters of Trump who are hailing this as a landmark move. And in what must worry naysayers this is perhaps only the first step in realizing the grand vision of Donald Trump. What he likes to fondly call ‘#AmericaFirst’

History tells us that native Americans started settling there as far back as 20000 years ago and it was only around the 15th century that European settlers started coming to the #US lured by the promise of free land, abundant natural resources, and religion freedom. The Spaniards were one of the earliest comes around the 16th century followed closely by the British and the Dutch. It was these early settlers who brought along with them slaves from the far off continent of Africa. At the end of the 17th century when the government of the day conducted it’s the first census the British made up the largest number of ‘immigrants’ to nobody’s surprise. Natives of Africa made up for two-fifths of the population. But the real Americans, the natives who first set foot in this great land were ‘omitted’ from the census. Extinct perhaps?

The Industrial revolution in late 17th century America was a period when the predominantly agrarian country grew to become one of the industrial powerhouses of the world. This was also a time when hundreds of thousands of #Immigrants from all over came to the US in search of greener pastures (read jobs) The invention of the steam engine further reduced the time taken to reach America from faraway shores and this time it was the Irish immigrants who benefited greatly in this period. In fact, it is well documented that after this for fifty years from 1880 more than 25 million immigrants entered the country, the highest in it’s history. The Second World War brought in thousands of Jews escaping persecution from Nazi forces in Europe. The 60s were when the highest influx of immigrants from South East Asia happened. Clearly, immigrants have been arriving in the US for as long as the country has existed. So what is it that Trump is fussing about?

Over the last 50 years, illegal immigration has become the bane of this country. Homeland Security reported that as far back as 2012 there were 11 million living illegally in the US and as of 2015, 46 million people living in the US were born elsewhere. For a country of 300 million people that is a huge number.

Getting in by land, air or sea via Canada and Mexico has become child’s play. In Trump’s defense it must be said that time and again there have been moves undertaken by the government to deal with the immigration ‘problem’ In 1882 the Chinese were barred from entry for 10 years then extended for 10 years and it was only in the 1940s this was eased as China was an ally during World War Two while Jews entering the US restricted to 26000 per year. For the Iranians, it must be deja vu for in 1979 during the Iranian hostage crisis when US Embassy members were held hostage, Iran was denied entry to the US. Perhaps the weirdest order of them all was in the 1980s when President Reagan banned HIV patients from entering the US.

So while we can argue about the merits and demerits of Trump’s new ruling, he is surely not the first #USPresident to do so. And one suspects he will not be the last either.