Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Turbulence in the skies over Kingfisher Airlines

One of my first posts on this blog was my review of Kingfisher Airlines. At the time, I suggested that the airline was more talk than substance. This week's earnings shortfall, reported by my friend Vikas Bajaj in the New York Times, suggests that the clouds over KF have grown darker.

Kingfisher, in my opinion, has been long on promise but short on delivery for years. I don't need a model helping me to my seat, I need someone who can manage the process efficiently (though the fact she isn't a tank may be preferable). The government should let the market rationalize supply by letting this poorly executed venture fail. Fly away Kingfisher, far away. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Without Crossing Oceans

‎"I have dreamt of returning home... Then again, this is my home." 

I wanted to share a beautiful new film created for my cousin Arun Paul's company, Priya Living, by Tanuj Chopra, a rising South Asian filmmaker whose first feature film was an official selection at Sundance. Camera work was by Bradford Young, winner of Best Cinematography at Sundance this year. I encourage you to check it out by clicking here.

Congrats and much love Arun!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011

RIP Steve. You lived a truly inspired and inspirational life. Reading the account of your life -- and its healthy dose of both adversity and triumph -- gave me and I'm quite sure millions of others, motivation to think and do as if this day is our last.

Click here for the NY Times article on the passing of Steve Jobs.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11...

Remembering my dear friend and fellow Middlebury Symposium editor Jeffrey D. Bittner, who fell on September 11th ten years ago today.

You, along with all the other victims of that awful day, paid the ultimate price simply living the lives we all cherish. We have not forgotten you.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Neither snow nor rain... nor default? The Postal Service faces a new hurdle

As if we haven't received enough bad news from the U.S. over the past few years, the United States Postal Service, in many ways the most approachable and frequent access point for most Americans to their federal government, is in dire condition. As reported by the New York Times  (Postal Service Is Nearing Default as Losses Mount), the USPS is near default. Saddled by a bloated employee base, federally mandated service standards that may not be relevant in today's electronic world, and declining revenues, the USPS appears to be another once proud part of the federal machinery that is simply broken.

It is hard to suggest there are easy answers. For one, postal employees and their unions will need to be flexible if there is to be a credible plan to rescue the USPS. Congress should also look at creative ways to allowing the USPS to enter fields that it has by statute been barred from in the past. That is not to suggest that we should allow the postal service to become a competitor to private businesses in a large sphere of commerce (though, based on their competitiveness vs. FedEx and UPS, other businesses in other fields have little to fear).  Creative ways to cut costs, as proposed, such as co-locating smaller post offices in supermarkets, are important, but won't create a lasting solution. Slightly lower costs with significantly lower revenues still creates a deficit.

Today's trends suggest that fewer and fewer pieces will be mailed every year going into the future. That trajectory seems clear. Clearly, there are times of the year like Christmas when the mail service sees a spike in volume.  Unlike at the Christmas Tree Shops, it isn't Christmas yearlong in the real world. With the electronic age, paper communication is a dying format. The newspaper business in the Americas faces the same decline, as do paperback books (NYT: The Dog-Eared Paperback, Newly Endangered in an E-Book Age).  As the most visible outpost of the federal government, the USPS could fashion itself as a complete portal to government affairs and communications, which it does not do very well today. Yet, even with increased purpose and renewed efficiency (assuming that is possible in such a bloated system), the postal service delivers mail and services to the vast outer reaches of the Union and many of the routes and tasks carried out by the USPS are inherently unprofitable and unlikely to ever be otherwise. 

Providing a federally subsidized mail service to Tin City, Alaska (from where former Alaska Gov. Palin might actually have been able to see Russia - see Slate's article) may simply not be of enough strategic importance to us anymore. At the heart of the matter, therefore, we need to come to a consensus on whether a federal mail service is important in this day; the electronic age -- and competition from private goods carriers -- have cast considerable doubt upon the answer. Unlike the proverbial check, the solution may just not be in the mail.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Debt Ceiling Irresponsibility

The looming crisis over the United States federal debt ceiling, which involves the amount of borrowing the United States government is allowed to undertake under the Public Debt Acts and subsequent legislation, is a crisis being perpetrated by the House of Representatives that has the potential to destabilize the global economy and permanently disfigure the credibility of the United States of America.  The Congress should immediately back away from this standoff by passing a resolution immediately raising the debt ceiling to a number that is reasonable for the next several months of federal operation until a final budget can be negotiated that sets the debt ceiling for the next year ahead.

I take further note of the incredibly irresponsible and un-statesmanlike conduct by House Speaker John A. Boehner, whose refusal to answer President Obama's phone calls yesterday is not only unbelievable but irresponsible given how constitutionally close the Speaker is to the President. It is the duty of every elected federal official to treat the office of the President with respect, regardless of policy disputes that may legitimately remain. Boehner's actions should not be condoned and are reminiscent of the breach in protocol by Rep. Joe Wilson who yelled "you lie" while President Obama was addressing a joint session of Congress in 2009.

NY Times: Debt Ceiling Talks Collapse as Boehner Walks Out, July 22, 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Thoughts on the Awful Carnage in Norway

The people of Norway have just experienced unbelievable carnage. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their relatives and friends at this time of great loss. It now appears that the acts of terrorism are those of a lone right-wing lunatic with anti-Islamic beliefs and domestic in nature, not the work of Islamic terrorist as first believed. That said, violence is violence; terror has no nationality or ideology. An awful day for Norway and peace loving people everywhere.

NY Times: At Least 80 Are Dead in Norway Shooting, July 23, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Another heavily guarded Karzai aide killed in Afghanistan

J. M. Khan in 2002
A question all politically aware thinking people must ask themselves is what our plan for Afghanistan will and should be going forward. Last month, we saw the brazen attack on the Intercontinental hotel, one of Kabul's nicest and most fortified. Earlier this week, President Hamid Karzai's brother was gunned down at home by his own guard. Today, we get news that one of Karzai's closest aides, Jan Mohammed Khan, was killed a few hours ago.  As outsiders, we cannot know if the money, effort, and blood that the international community has committed to "fixing" or "containing" Afghanistan is actually doing anything close to what we hope or need. However, if we are to use these events as proxies for what is happening in the country, the story may indeed be bleaker than any of us fear to imagine. If Karzai's own brother and top aides are not safe, who in the country is and what has all our investment in creating order out of lawlessness actually done?

NY Times: Karzai Adviser Is Killed at Kabul Home, July 17, 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The United States, China and the Dalai Lama

The risks of running up huge foreign debt as a nation is that your moral compass as a people gets unduly influenced by the magnetic field of money.

NY Times: Dalai Lama and Obama Meet to Talk About Tibet, July 16, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thoughts on yet another Mumbai terrorist attack

The citizens of Mumbai have seen this before.  Bombs, Bombay, and terrorism against this big bustling city that just takes it and moves on has become a recurrent theme. While the year 2003 was an especially bad year for explosions in the city, terrorism has hit with alarming frequency and with little or no opposition from India's military or intelligence operation. Just over five years ago to the day, on July 11, more than 1,000 people were killed or injured from seven coordinated bombs in the city. Who can forget the terrorist attacks of the 26th of November, 2008? Surely not Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the 2008 attack, who celebrated his birthday today. Did anyone in the intelligence apparatus of India know it was Kasab's birthday today? Did anyone have even one conversation about whether someone might use the date to plan attack? Did anyone care? Probably not.

So what do we do about all this terror, death and destruction? What can we do? While there is no one answer to solving terrorism, one thing is quite clear: India's government, politicians and public institutions have failed their people. Government is instituted by people to ensure, at a minimum, the common peace.  India's government, with rather striking universality across its many states and cities, has failed to deliver clean water, roads, and air. But those are relative luxuries, it would appear. India has also failed in its basic duty to protect its citizens against attacks, both foreign and domestic. Whether it is a completely failed response to terrorism that happens nearly weekly in the northeast states, or the internationally publicized attacks in Mumbai like those of earlier today, India's politicians are more interested in pointing their many fingers at Pakistan than in trying to make their people safer.

Zaveri Bazar, which has been hit before by terrorist blasts, had no improved infrastructure, no CCTV monitoring, no bomb detection or prevention methods. In fact, with the exception of the haphazard approach taken by hotels in Mumbai, nowhere in the city will you find any coordinated approach implemented by the government to prevent, deter, monitor, or detect the type of terrorism that the city regularly now faces.

The politicians will make bold and impassioned speeches tomorrow. They will point fingers. They will appeal for the public's strength, unity and determination. The next day, they will return to business as usual, as will the amazingly forgiving and tolerant public that elevates these politicians to power every year. Bribes will be paid, favors will be handed out. Scams will be hatched, public tax revenue will be squandered. Yet, sadly, nobody will do anything to make it even a touch less likely that today's attacks won't be the same as tomorrow's ones.

The brave citizens behind the Public Concern for Governance Trust have long advocated for better governance in India. It is time to head their calls. It is indeed time for the people to stand up, not just to the debased humans that perpetrate these acts of violence, but also to the politicians that allow them to continue to feast on an unfettered buffet of terrorist opportunity.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What do Ron Paul, Jimmy Carter and Barney Frank have in common? Drugs!

In the days of divided American politics in which we find ourselves living, it is a rare issue that brings politicians on opposite ends of the political spectrum together to co-sponsor legislation. Somewhat surprisingly, federal control over marijuana happens to be just such an issue.

Last week, former President Jimmy Carter wrote a insightful Op-Ed piece in the New York Times urging the administration to call off the American led war on drugs launched under the the Nixon administration and reaffirmed by President Reagan. President Carter made reference to the "courageous and profoundly important recommendations" made by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes as its members former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, entrepreneur and Virgin founder Richard Branson, and former Presidents Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico), César Gaviria (Colombia), and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil). At its core, the Commission concluded that the "global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world." While the finding is harsh, it is indeed hard to conclude otherwise.

The principal recommendation made by the Commission is that governments "end the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others." This is a sensible recommendation that should be adopted. The escalation in rates of incarceration for non violent drug offenders is absurd. When President Carter left office in 1980, about a half million prisoners inhabited American jails. Today, nearly five times as many people are incarcerated and according to President Carter, the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses has increasing more than twelvefold since he left office.

I recall a conversation I had with my judge, the Hon. Benson Everett Legg, United States District Judge for the District of Maryland, about a few policy issues related to drug sentencing. Judge Legg, who had seen many federal drug cases by the time I clerked with him in 2000 and has undoubtedly seen many more, shared his frustrations regarding the effectiveness of federal drug prosecutions. According to the judge, as soon as federal or state prosecutors cleared one Baltimore street corner of a drug dealer, another would surely pop up nearby. The inner city simply lacked opportunities for the young (and predominantly African American) men who were being convicted of selling drugs to the suburban (and predominantly white) consumers of those drugs. Supply and Demand 101: where there is demand, a supply will be available. These were not the musings of a liberal Democrat but rather a moderate to conservative jurist who had once been prominent in the Maryland Republican party. Judge Legg's views are hardly unique, however. Many federal judges are frustrated with drug policy and sentencing in the United States. (See generally articles in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Sentencing Project and

Judge Legg's observations about Federal drug prosecutions on the streets of Baltimore back in 2000 are mirrored in the Commission's findings that "apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers." The futility of the war on drugs on the streets of the US and the amazing surge in the number of people in U.S. prisons and the phenomenal incarceration costs thereof represent the tip of the drug policy iceberg. As President Carter and the Commission note, a growing number of Latin American countries have witnessed an appalling surge in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights as a result of the US led and funded war on drugs.

Against this backdrop, Reps. Barney Frank (D), a Massachusetts liberal, and Ron Paul (R), a Texas libertarian, who are often not on the same page on policy matters, will introduce a bill in the House today that would effectively end most federal control over marijuana by deferring to individual states on such matters and only invoking federal authority in cases involving cross-border or inter-state smuggling. If passed, the bill would allow individuals to grow, use or sell marijuana in states where it is legal. While the bill is not a legalization measure, it represents a solid and wise first step in the rationalization of federal drug policy.

I have long endorsed liberalization of drug policy, especially with regard to cannabis, and I welcome this most recent, even if long-shot attempt to do just that. To sign a petition to your member of Congress urging his or her support for the Frank/Paul legislation, please click here.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, 1928 - 2011

Dr. Jack Kevorkian Dies at 83; A Doctor Who Helped End Lives
(NY Times)

I met Dr. Kevorkian through one of my closest friends at Michigan Law School, Nick Holmes, who along with his mother and sister were close friends of Dr. Kevorkian. Nick's mother and sister were integral parts of Dr. Kevorkian's legal team and were important in his several acquittals. I only met Dr. Kevorkian twice, once on the campus of the University of Michigan and once for Thanksgiving dinner at the Holmes residence. He was a brilliant man whose compassion and love for human dignity are made even more ironic by the "Dr. Death" title that the media gave him. I weeped for him the day of his conviction (though we all agreed that he had made several strategic and tactical errors in the positioning and defense of the Youk case) and felt such joy the day he was finally released.

Until I met Jack, I was unsure of how I felt about medically assisted suicide. My professor in law school, Yale Kamisar, is a leading advocate against the right to die. And while I think there are compelling arguments on both sides, I have come to conclude that the right to die with dignity is as fundamental as the right to live. If my difficulties with doctors and the medical system, as an able bodied middle-age man is any example, I can't imagine being afflicted with a terminal disease and in constant pain and at the mercy of an uncaring doctor and medical system. Dr. Kevorkian, was right.

Jack, the world never understood you but is better as a result of your brave and tireless work on behalf of those who were too weak to advocate for dignity, even in death. May you live in eternal peace.

For the NY Times obituary, please click here.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Loyalty Programs for Small and Boutique Properties (NYT)

Loyalty programs are the drugs that keep frequent travelers addicted to large hotel companies and brand systems. Whether for points or recognition, frequent travelers as a class have repeatedly demonstrated that they will pay more and be more loyal to a company if it belongs to a program that offers them benefits and/or points that become more valuable or accrue more rapidly as frequency of use increases. Best depicted in the recent George Clooney movie Up in the Air, loyalty programs have become an end, not merely a means, for the frequent hotel consumer

Big hotel companies such as Marriott, Hilton, and Starwood have built and are able to maintain a critical mass of hotels in their systems and therefore gain nearly automatic distribution for their rooms. With the exception of Starwood's W (which may not really be an exception), there has not been much in the way of loyalty programs for lifestyle and independent hotels. For the most part, having a loyalty program and running a boutique hotel have been mutually exclusive activities. With the growth in the importance of loyalty programs and the continued interest in the boutique or lifestyle segment, a new trend has emerged: the creation of consortium of independent assets tied to a common rewards system (see NY Times article). That development will most certainly aid in the development of innovative and independent properties, something we should all note.

As the larger hotel brands soften their sometimes stodgy images and products and open their own lifestyle and luxury hotels, it is important to note that loyalty and rewards programs, once viewed as a feature reserved for big chains, are fast becoming quite ubiquitous. Such programs, if available to boutique and independent properties, may no longer shield poorer branded products and services, like they have in years past. Branded products have long offered the promise of consistency and rewards. Creativity, passion, and excitement -- things we associate with lifestyle products -- have not been features we expect from the bigger brands. The availability of rewards and loyalty programs to consumers of those products may very well change the landscape of the industry by (a) further leveling the playing field between the independents and the brands and (b) altering the hotels that the large brand companies decide to build as a result. Stay tuned.

Click here for an article from the New York Times on loyalty programs being launched by small and independent hotel,.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Kelli Schaefer - Better Idea (Live at Ripcord)

This video is a great example of the transformative power of YouTube: upstart artist, strong video performance, ability to bypass the traditional recording studios/labels. Has changed the music business and its revenue model forever.

To watch the video on YouTube, click here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

It's time for sensible drug legislation

The movement in the Netherlands to reverse its leadership in the area of sensible drug laws compels me to again support drug legislation reform in the United States. I hope some of you will join me on the Founders Wall at the CCPR.

To contribute to the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, please click here.
For news updates on the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, please click here.

For an NY times article on the most recent movement in the Netherlands, click here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Observer and the Observed

In his interesting blog post, The Producers: Are Pictures Detaching Us From Life?, UC Berkeley Prof. Alva Noƫ writes of the creeping wedding-ization of experience. The proliferation of technology, especially digital imaging technology, is making us all detached producers rather than active participants in everyday life, he suggests. While the point is well taken, I wonder if we can't make a broader point about observation and the observer. In quantum physics, the observer and the observed are linked; the observed is affected by the observer. The video of Osama watching himself on TV, remote in hand, offers a stark recursive example of this phenomenon. The technology that is available today has no doubt democratized the producer function and with that created a new need for composers and editors as well as a realization that participatory detachment from the activity has its own impact. Yet, with or without technology, observation has the power to alter the observed. Our awareness of this law of nature and our knowledge thereof offers us our only real method to control how and to what extent we observer-participants impact that which we seek to merely observe.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

India Calling (Little India Magazine)

Click here for Naomi Abraham's article on Indian Americans moving to India for opportunities, which has a mention of my own experience here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hangla's, the taste of Kolkata

Linking Road, Opposite Amarson's
Linking Road, Bandra (W), Mumbai 400 050 (non-operational when posted, but is the site they publicize)
Bandra: +91 7738-364225 and 91 7738-3364235

Located inside a newspaper stand-like street front stand alone structure on a corner of Linking Road in Bandra, Hangla's most recent outlet is a welcome addition to the Bandra culinary almanac. Nobody I spoke to when ordering could speak Bengali (odd for a restaurant which produces the "taste of Kolkata"). That, combined with the quality of my Hindi (and the quality of his English) made for a bit of a challenging ordering process. The food was Bengali enough to satisfy this Bengali's cravings, despite the initial language barrier.

I ordered three items to test Hangla's capabilities: a chicken kathi roll with egg, a mutton biryani and mutton kasha (essentially a Bengali mutton curry with a thick, relatively dry gravy). The chicken kathi roll with egg was delicious, as many online reviewers had suggested. The Kolkata style biryani was quite good as well, though chicken would have been less oily than the mutton, which couldn't quite free itself from a touch of red meat grease (though much less than most Hyderabadi style biryanis I've had in Mumbai). The kosha mutton was acceptable, though a touch sweet. The mutton, while tender and flavorful, did not fully satisfy me from an aromatic perspective.

The serving sizes were generous and the service quite fast. This was the first Bengali food I've been able to purchase in Bandra in my four years here.
While the place is a street corner dive, and the quality wasn't stellar, it was Bengali enough, tasty enough, and clean enough to garner a return visit someday soon.