Friday, December 19, 2008



Guest Post by Raheel Raza

The month of December holds a special meaning for our family. Twenty years ago, we landed at Toronto airport on a snowy, wintry, freezing December night. Alone, scared and cold, we were welcomed by the warmth of Christmas cheer so this time of the year is very poignant. This year December heralds Eid, Hanukkah and Christmas so we wanted to do something special to celebrate 2 decades of living in this multi-faith mosaic we call home.

For many years, especially after having performed the Haj we had a passionate desire to visit Jerusalem. For me, it became all the more urgent because in my interfaith work, I used to speak about Judaism, Christianity and Islam being from the same source and that despite our differences and challenges, we are the children of Abraham. That is for believers of course.

As well, I believe that when we ask, God answers so all of sudden there was a window of opportunity to visit Jerusalem. We were thrilled but there was no time to prepare in detail. I shot off quick emails to all my Jewish friends and each one came back with ideas, suggestions and contacts. (BTW this trip was a personal and spiritual journey funded by us with no political agenda other than to refresh and revive our weary souls!).

We decided that a visit to the Holy Land must be shared with those who have similar dreams. So we invited our dear friends Jim Evans, a United Church Minister and his wife Karen to come along and I can say in retrospect, that their presence made this trip far richer than we expected.

There was caution and concern. People who had traveled previously told us that there is a lot of security and red tape and we must be prepared to wait at the airport for hours. Well, when one goes on a spiritual journey, doors open in amazing ways. We took a direct flight to Tel Aviv and were out of the airport in less than 10 minutes! Tel Aviv is a vibrant, bustling metropolis on the shores of the Mediterranean, full of international tourists and beautiful hotels.


In Tel Aviv we were met by our companion and guide for the visit – Sam an Orthodox Jew from Montreal. Our friends stopped of at Caesarea, while we went to Haifa where the University had invited us to come for a visit to the only Jewish Arab Center there. It was inspiring to see Jewish and Arab students working, walking, talking, sharing and eating side by side. Dr. Faisal Azaiza, who heads the JAC welcomed us and showed us the campus. He shared with us the various programs to try and build peace and have conflict resolution between the two communities. I was particularly impressed by the program on Women’s Empowerment and noted that the library housed more books on Islam and Women, than anywhere I have seen so far. The University addresses issues beyond the fluff stuff i.e. models for co-existence, conflict resolution, economic disparity, bilingualism and more grass roots concerns like social interaction.

Physically Haifa is a beautiful city with the largest Baha’i Temple perched on a hill with hanging gardens. We were recommended to stay at the Haddad guesthouse on the main street and it turned out that the owner’s cousin works in Air Canada! We stayed overnight enjoying the food in outdoor cafe's – the coffee was an aroma I have never tasted before and the Mediterranean cuisine yumlicious.

Spiritually, many important events in the life of the Prophet Elijah (9th century BC) are said to have happened in a revered cave in Haifa. The cave is sacred to Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze, all of whom venerate the prophet Elijah. There was a mosque here until 1948. Tradition also has it that the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph and Jesus) found shelter in this cave for a night on their return from Egypt. We were also told that Prophet Elijah ascended to the skies from this cave. It was interesting to note that all three traditions have faith in some form of ascension and all of them took place in the Holy Land.


When God created beauty, he created 10 parts of it and gave 9 to Jerusalem. He created knowledge and did the same and the same thing when He created suffering. Ancient Hebrew saying

From Haifa we took a bus to Jerusalem because there is such beauty on the way. I could see small villages dotted with minarets, olive groves and gardens of fruit. Traveling towards Jerusalem was a moving experience because we felt we were going back in time to experience moments of miracles, sacrifice and tolerance (something we seem to have forgotten today), and our first view of the old city was heartwarming. Our friends had fortuitously arranged for our stay at a Scottish Church guest house overlooking the walled city. From our room we could see the Dome of the Rock and it was an incredible synergy. We understood why the city of Jerusalem is known in Arabic as Al-Quds or Baitul-Maqadis ("The Noble, Sacred Place"). Jerusalem is perhaps the only city in the world that is considered historically and spiritually significant to all three monotheistic faiths.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. According to the Bible, the Talmud, and other sources of Jewish tradition, several important events in the history of Judaism took place on the Temple Mount. Here God gathered the earth from which he formed Adam. Here Adam, Cain, Abel and Noah offered sacrifices to God. Here Abraham passed God's test by showing his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. Here Jacob dreamt about angels ascending and descending a ladder while sleeping on a stone (the stone in the Dome of the Rock is believed to be the very stone). Here King Solomon built the Temple in 950 BC, which stood for 410 years until King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it in 586 BC. Here the Second Temple was built after the Babylonian Exile, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. During Maimonides' residence in Jerusalem, a synagogue stood on the Temple Mount alongside other structures and Maimonides prayed there.

For Christians, it is the site of Christ's crucifixion, burial and resurrection The Temple Mount is believed to contain the "pinnacle of the Temple" from which Satan tempted Jesus to jump to prove his status as the Messiah (near Al Aqsa Mosque). The courtyard by the mosques provides an excellent view of surrounding Christian sites, including the Dome of the Ascension (marking the site from which where Jesus ascended into heaven) and the church of Dominus Flevit (commemorating the spot where Jesus wept as he saw a vision of Jerusalem in ruins).

For Muslims it is important because Muhammad originally established Jerusalem as the qibla (direction of prayer) before changing it to Mecca. As well Islam respects Abraham, David and Solomon as prophets, and regards the Temple as one of the earliest and most noteworthy places of worship of God. Verse 17:1 of the Qur'an speaks of the Prophet's night journey to the "farthest Mosque" (al-masjid al-Aqsa). This is traditionally interpreted to be the site at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on which the mosque of that name now stands.

Jim and Karen had already toured the area and since it was close to sunset, they suggested we could go to the masjid to pray. They took us directly to the Chain gate where we could go to Masjid al Aqsa. Our path took us by the Western Wall and it was amazing that what we had seen only on TV, was now a reality. It was in the courtyard here that we saw observant Jews hurrying to pray at the wall, religious Muslim going to the masjid and practicing Christians going to see their sacred spaces – each one careful not to step on each others toes. It was incredible to note that Catholic, Jewish and Muslim women all covered themselves and it was completely natural. The diversity was interesting and insightful.

The first sight of Dome of the Rock and Masjid al Aqsa was like a dream come true. Sohail had been literally dreaming of praying at Al-Aqsa for many months now and here we were with our souls melted in the form of tears rolling down our faces unashamedly as we stood in humility and awe in front of our first Qibla. Inside the Dome we touched the Rock which is as big as a room. Steps leading to a room under the Rock, took us to a tiny chamber where it’s believed that Prophet Mohammad prayed with other Prophets including Abraham. The entire room is soaked in fragrance and we wanted to just sit there and reflect on this miracle of God.

Fact that our Christian friends guided us to our places of worship is no surprise and suddenly my visions of seeing crosses for the past two years, became a reality. We were meant to come here with our Christian Brother and sister and feel the connection.

A young lad attached himself to us as a guide and took us to the key spots at the Haram es Shariff where there were schools, libraries, the spot where Buraq was tethered and fountains. I think what hit me most was how little we know of our history but of course as with all history, there are many versions. Here is what we understood.


Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhrah) can be seen from all over Jerusalem. It is the crowning glory of the Haram es-Sharif ("Noble Sanctuary"), or Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock is not a mosque, but a Muslim shrine. Like the Ka'ba in Mecca, it is built over a sacred stone. This stone is believed to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven during his Night Journey to heaven. The Dome of the Rock is the oldest Islamic monument that stands today and certainly one of the most beautiful. It also boasts the oldest surviving mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca) in the world. By the 11th century, several legends had developed concerning the Dome of the Rock and its sacred stone, including the following:

They say that on the night of his Ascension into Heaven the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, prayed first at the Dome of the Rock, laying his hand upon the Rock. As he went out, the Rock, to do him honor, rose up, but he laid his hand on it to keep it in its place and firmly fixed it there. But by reason of this rising up, it is even to this present day partly detached from the ground beneath.

In the Middle Ages, Christians and Muslims both believed the dome to be the biblical Temple of Solomon. The Knights Templar made their headquarters there during the Crusades and later patterned their churches after its design.

The exterior mosaics that once adorned the Dome of the Rock suffered from exposure to Jerusalem winters. They were repaired in the Mamluk period, and then completely replaced with tiles by Sulieman the Magnificent in 1545. At the same time, he created the parapet wall with its intricate inscription by filling up the thirteen small arches that originally topped each facade. The windows of the Dome of the Rock date from this period as well. The tiling was completely replaced in the last major restoration in 1956-62.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque (Arabic Masjid Al-Aqsa, "Distant Mosque" - is part of the complex of religious buildings known as the Haram esh-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews, and is the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. The first Al-Aqsa Mosque was constructed of wood by the Umayyads in 710 AD, only a few decades after the Dome of the Rock. The structure has been rebuilt at least five times; it was entirely destroyed at least once by earthquakes. The last major rebuild was in 1035. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, Al-Aqsa became the headquarters of the Templars. Their legacy remains in the three central bays of the main facade. In the mid-14th century the Mamelukes added an extra two on either side, resulting in the seven bays that stand today.

Currently, the Temple Mount / Haram Es Sharif is governed by the Waqf, the Supreme Muslim Religious Council. The site has been under Muslim control since the Muslim reconquest of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in the 12th century.

Needless to say, we visited the Harem ash Shariif as often as we could during our stay in Al-Quds but more importantly, we were able to visit other holy sites with Jim and Karen who became our spiritual guides because they had done extensive homework and had books of history which we learnt from. Our biggest surprise and delight was that every step we took showed us the incredible bonds that link us together with our brothers and sisters in creation.


The Church of the Holy Sepulcher has been an important pilgrimage destination since the 4th century, and it remains the holiest Christian site in the world. It stands on a site that is believed to house the tomb and burial slab where Jesus' body was placed before his resurrection.

In my interfaith dialogue, there is a story I tell my audience about when Jerusalem was conquered by Muslims. Omar came to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is a revered Christian site and it was time to pray. The patriarch offered the church but Omar said no. If he prayed there, Muslims might one day build a mosque so he went and prayed across the street. Today there is a Mosque of Omar in that spot across the street.

We went with Jim and Karen inside the church where you can feel the agony of Mary as she stood on the stairs and watched her son’s body being anointed on a slab. The walls of the sanctuary tell the heartrending story and I could sense the sadness. It’s powerful and moving and everywhere we went, there was light – even in the darkness. We lit candles for all the people we know who would be there but could not – yet. Then we went across the street to the masjid and prayed there with Jim and Karen. The realization that we are connected is very strong for those who can sense the fragile ties that bind us together.

We were told that fierce disputes, lasting centuries, between Christian creeds over ownership of the church were largely resolved by an Ottoman decree issued in 1852. Still in force and known as the Status Quo, it divides custody among Armenians, Greeks, Copts, Roman Catholics, Ethiopians and Syrians. Some areas are administered communally. Every day, the church is unlocked by a Muslim keyholder acting as a "neutral" intermediary. This ceremonial task has been performed by a member of the same family for several generations and Jim and Karen woke up at 4am to witness this ceremony.
We walked to the Mount of Olives which has many sacred sites. To add to our amazement, the place where Jesus is believed to have ascended to the heavens is inside a mosque. The Chapel of the Ascension on Mount of Olives is a Christian and Muslim holy site that is believed to mark the place where Jesus ascended into heaven. The small round church/mosque contains a stone imprinted with the footprints of Jesus. Outside the Chapel is an unmarked tomb believed by many to be the grave of Rabia al-Adawiyya, the first Sufi saint of Islam. We were blessed and honored to offer a prayer there.
The Garden of Gethsemane is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, within the walled grounds of the Church of all Nations (also known as the Church of the Agony). It’s a peaceful garden among a grove of ancient olive trees, looking back at the eastern wall of the City of Jerusalem. A modern Franciscan church marks the spot where Jesus wept over his vision of the future destruction of Jerusalem. There are 12 Olive trees and a stone statue of Jesus weeping which would turn the hardest heart to tears. The number 12 – as in 12 disciples and the belief in 12 Imams is not a co-incidence. In addition, Caliph Umar prayed at Gethsemane in 638.

We then visited the Church of Mary Magdalene which has stunning gold domes, Church of John the Baptist and the Convent of the Pater Noster where it is believed Jesus taught The Lords Prayer. This is a serene green sanctuary where the Lords prayer is listed in 60 languages on huge tiled walls. Having learnt The Lords Prayer in convent school and being a fervent supporter of it in Canada, I was moved by the spot. We also prayed at The Tombs of the Prophets which is a site on the Mount of Olives that a medieval Jewish tradition identifies as the tombs of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, who lived in the 6th-5th centuries BC. Both Jews and Christians venerate the site as the tombs of these prophets of the last three books of the Old Testament.

From Mount of Olives we saw the Gate of Mercy, the Gate of Gold, the Gate of Eternal Life, Sha'ar Harahamim. This appears in the legends of all three religions. An early Jewish tradition holds that it is through that gate that the Messiah will enter Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition, Jesus made his last entry to Jerusalem through the Mercy Gate. The Muslims refer to it as the Gate of Mercy and believe it to be the gate referred to in the Koran, through which the just will pass on the Day of Judgment.

At the base of the Mount of Olives is a church said to mark the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Centered around a quarried-out tomb that may well date from the 1st century, the Tomb of the Virgin is venerated by Muslims because, during his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, the Prophet Muhammad saw a light over Mary's tomb. Our tears flowed freely and with no hesitation because this is a place where you can feel the blessed presence of a revered mother.


One of the most delightful parts of the visit was walking the cobbled stone streets of the Jewish quarter and seeing some of the most unusual architecture. We stopped for coffee and an authentic bagel and went to the Burnt house. We visited the Wohl Archeological Museum which is extremely educational. Located under a modern Jewish seminary in the Jewish Quarter, the Museum contains remains of Jewish dwellings from the era of Herod the Great (37-4 BC). In the time of Herod, the area of the modern-day Jewish Quarter was was part of a luxurious "Upper City," occupied primarily by the families of important Jewish Temple priests. Excavations after the 1967 war exposed the remains of several mansions dating to this period. This rediscovered Herodian quarter now lies from 3 to 7 meters below street level, preserved in the Wohl Archaeological Museum. It’s mind boggling how the intricate work has been done so effectively. The Tomb of David is a much-revered site on Mount Zion in Jerusalem that has been variously owned and jealously guarded by Christians, Muslims and Jews throughout its history. Today it is a Jewish holy site.

The Citadel of Jerusalem is better known as the Tower of David. Nowadays the fort is distinguished by its Islamic towers and entrance porch, but the Citadel's history goes back way before that. The Jewish historian Josephus first called the fortress the "Citadel of King David." The name "David's Tower" now refers to the minaret on the South side. To make things confusing the term "David's Tower" used to be reserved in the past for the north-east tower, whose origin is Herodian.


A visit to Jerusalem is not complete or possible without marketing at the souq. The winding cobbled stone streets of the inner city are a shop-a-holics delight! Jim and I soon discovered that our spouses are serious shoppers but there was only one haggler amongst all of us – Sohail. After the three of us naïve in our Canadian ways had paid the asked-for price more than once, Sohail jumped into the fray with full attention. We stood outside the shop while the bargaining built up for hand carved olive wood pieces. The Arab shopkeepers didn’t know what hit them with this experienced Pakistani shopper who’s just returned from China! Voices got louder and reinforcements were called in. At one point Jim and Karen looked like they were going to run away and asked me if Sohail and the shopkeepers might come to blows! Hah I said – just watch. It’s only just begun. So we sat and were offered tea and juice and we waited. Sohail came out to smoke a cigar for strength but by this time, they were calling each other “brother”. Good sign. Bad sign when we threatened to go to the next shop and discovered that they were all related. I’m used to this but Jim and Karen were wide eyed and a bit concerned until they saw that the bill was down to one fourth the original price. They never stepped inside a shop the entire trip without the amazing haggler. One souvenir that speaks to my heart is the palm of the hand called “khamsa” which is considered by everyone there to be the protective hand of God supported by an eye to ward off evil.


A friend’s daughter who lives in Bethlehem came to pick us up and took us on a tour of the West Bank and her home. While we were in the rest of Israel, we saw progress, education and wealth. In Bethlehem we saw knowledge, beauty and pain intertwined in the writings on the wall that divides the two communities. Bethlehem is the birth place of Jesus which is a thing of beauty. There is great knowledge in the history of the cobbled streets and in the minds and hearts of the Palestinian elders sitting on the corner café sipping coffee. One old man has sat there for 20 years sharing his wisdom. We understood their passionate need for a homeland and at the same time, the desire to be recognized.

We’ve come back from the Holy Land with renewed respect and admiration for both sides, realizing that there is a turbulent history of the past and present here, but also with a sense that there is hope for peace if there is a desire to make it happen.

I have heard that many eons ago Jerusalem was considered to the fountain of wisdom because of the shared knowledge of our three traditions. I hope and pray that we will one day learn to share that knowledge again, and use it for peace with each other.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Over the last few days the world watched in horror the mindless and criminal carnage in Mumbai. Nearly 200 dead, many more injured and prime real estate like The Taj up in flames. The terror operation seemed well planned and executed which must have required months of preparation and ground surveillance.

Even more shocking for me personally was the fact that I spent a whole week in Mumbai in January this year staying with my good friends Rano & Kamal Singh who live only a couple of blocks away from The Oberoi, where I had all my social and business meetings almost on a daily basis. The horrific pictures on TV screen seemed like a cloud over my wonderful visit earlier in the year.

At this time plenty of finger pointing is going on. The Indian Prime Minister initially talked about a linkage to Karachi, then news came that some of the terrorists were British born and some had Mauritian passports. Also, that some had credit cards issued by various Indian banks. The latest report from India seems to suggest that the lone survivor of the terror group comes from a village near Multan, Pakistan. BBC's Barbara Plett reported from that village this morning and no one has heard of this young man in that small village where everyone know everyone else.

The Indian Government and some foreign agencies are suggesting this was a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LET) operation - a terrorist group initially sponsored by Pakistan's ISI and later banned and abandoned and since moved to Indian Kashmir. It is highly doubtful that this was an LET operation. This fanatical group believes that a Muslim without a beard is not a Muslim at all, whereas the terrorists were clean shaven young men.

The Pakistan Government has denied any involvement. In fact for the last several years, operations against India have seized and more recently ISI has been harnessed by the new Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kiyani, who has been working hard to rid the army and intelligence services of rogue elements. Also, Pakistan Government with the full backing of Pakistani public has been making serious efforts to kick start the slow dialogue with India in order to improve trade, tourism and cooperation in a number of areas. Each time the two countries come close to putting the past behind, something like this happens. It seems, certain forces on both sides of the border are not interested in the rapprochement.

The blame game by the Indian Government may partly be due to their long held suspicions and also perhaps for political reasons due to upcoming State elections where the opposition BJP is trying to make political capital against the ruling Congress party. The fact is that no one is really sure of who is behind this operation. A full investigation has not taken place yet and many aspects of this terror attacks still need to be examined. There is no doubt that the terrorists had local support not just on the day of the operation but for sometime before. Also, they seemed to roam around Mumbai streets as if they were fully familiar with the landscape, people just coming off the boats would not have had that kind of knowledge of the city.

A number of questions remain unanswered and need to be investigated. Some of these are:
  1. Who stands to gain from this carnage, politically as well as otherwise.
  2. What local help did the terrorists have and who are their local contacts and what is their agenda and have they escaped by simply melting into the crowds.
  3. Who is the Mastermind behind this operation
  4. Why did the Indian intelligence not know anything about it and who is responsible for this massive failure.
  5. Why did the Indian Navy and coast Guard not intercept the merchant vessels or the dinghies and why did they not have surveillance along the coast.
  6. If the person or persons behind it are based in Pakistan, who are these people. Rather than the blame game, this is where Indian and Pakistani intelligence need to work together to put such individuals/groups out of business for good.
  7. If indeed individuals/groups from Pakistan were involved then why did the Pakistani intelligence not know about their activities and who is responsible for this massive intelligence failure.
  8. Who are the elements that do not want India and Pakistan to have close relationship and want to drive a wedge.

This is a matter of great importance for the future 1.4 billion people in India and Pakistan. It is extremely important to get to the bottom of all this. An impartial and fair investigation needs to takes place to determine responsibility and to identify field operatives and Principals on both sides of the border. That task is large and complicated. India needs to engage the services of a neutral foreign intelligence agency which will have access on both sides of the border. Britain's Scotland Yard is ideal for getting to the root of such problems and is equally respected in India and Pakistan. Also, the findings of Scotland Yard will be considered free of political motives and blame game. However, both countries must agree in advance to accept their final report and commit to work jointly to identify and eliminate terrorists and their backers.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


With Barack Obama's election as President, United States of America has once again taken a great leap forward and regenerated itself as a nation that changes with time and adapts to new conditions. A nation despite all its faults and checkered history is ready to stand up and correct itself again- a sign of a great nation.

Another great moment in history was when Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860. Despite all opposition, he abolished slavery through Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th constitutional amendment. This caused the pro slavery South to rebel, forming the 'Confederate States of America' which led to a bloody civil war. Ultimately, Lincoln and the American people succeeded and that was a historic time when America regenerated itself.

November 4, 2008 was another historic day. Who could have imagined a mere sixty years ago that America where African Americans were not allowed to share the same bench, the same seat on a bus or a drink from the same fountain with their white country men and women, would elect an African American as their President.

Only in America is it possible for any citizen to rise to such heights. Europe steeped in its history of class system and Asia with its dynastic history can only marvel and admire America for its leap forward. No wonder the whole world celebrates Barack Obama's victory, which in fact is America's victory. This is possible ONLY IN AMERICA.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Check out CNN's electoral map today at:

This currently gives Obama 277 delegates to McCain's 122 with 87 Toss Ups. They way current polling trend is going, Obama is likely to win from the toss up column, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Ohio & North Carolina and McCain Montana. That gives Obama 353 delegates to McCain's 185.

Some McCain states are becoming doubtful of late i.e. Indiana & Montana, but I am inclined to leave these in McCain's column. The popular vote gap may not be so wide, probably between 4 to 6 %.

Barack Obama should win at least 353 delegates if not more and that is a margin of 65:35.

Political Critic: is giving Obama 378:160 margin

Monday, October 20, 2008

Henry Paulson's Blunder

The financial crisis the world is currently experiencing was exacerbated by a single event - the collapse of Lehman Brothers. By allowing this to happen, Paulson caused chaos in the world markets creating the necessity for billions of dollars of tax payers money to be pumped into banks and financial markets.

Henry Paulson will be remembered for this single largest blunder of his life. Had he acted swiftly and not decided to let Lehman collapse, the inter-bank lending freeze that followed could have been averted. For fear of total loss, banks around the world stopped lending money to each other and that halted the entire financial system.

Banks and financial institutions suffering from sub-prime crisis would still have needed capital, but the extent and urgency to act virtually overnight would not have been there. Governments around the world are now risking trillions of dollars of tax payers money.

Henry Paulson was probably a good CEO of Goldman Sachs under the system that has since collapsed and is discredited. But for him to manage the $700 billion bailout with a handful of his former Goldman colleagues is a serious conflict of interest. These funds should be managed by an independent agency comprised of people with no vested interests.

I still believe that Bush Administration should have availed the services of Mr. Warren Buffet to manage the bailout and he probably would have even made some money for the taxpayers. Some may say that Mr. Buffett too has vested interest as he invested in Goldman's recently. I believe that is small change for Mr. Buffett and he is above all this anyway.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let Warren Buffett Manage the Financial Bailout

Congress is rightly concerned about how and who will manage the bailout. There is no doubt that banks should not be given blank checks at arbitrary pricing for their toxic assets. Also, the Senior Executives of banks benefiting from the bailout must also agree to forgo bonuses for a number of years.

The markets need a quick positive signal from Congress, delays could bring down the entire financial world. Congress should pass a simple bailout package without getting bogged down into the hows and whys. They should request Warren Buffett to manage the entire bailout package. He is the shrewdest investor and will drive hard bargains with banks before giving them a dime. Let him impose conditions as he deems fit. He is already of the opinion that bankers will have to give up bonuses for a while.

Going by Warren's track record, an investment of $700 billion of tax payers money will probably come back to the treasury as $1 trillion. All he needs is a handful of good people to help him manage this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Financial Bailout and its Implications

Enough has been said already about greed, big salary and bonus payouts to senior executives of banks. The situation is where it is - precarious and needs to be addressed urgently. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has been running around for the last couple of weeks trying to avoid a 1929/30 style financial meltdown and all credit to him for his deft handling of the situation so far.

The current proposal before the Congress is to approve an emergency fund of $800 billion (with no apparent upper limit) to be managed by Treasury Department to buy toxic mortgages and exotic paper from banks for cash in order to provide liquidity to financial institutions. Despite the loud protests of Congress, almost everyone knows that this bill will pass and funds will be made available.

Congress may wish to place an upper limit, so this does not become an open ended commitment. Paulson himself suggested in the weekend talk show interviews that amount needed could exceed $1 trillion. This is almost equal to the amount spent on Iraq war to date. So wither plans of ending the war to save money to spend on social programs.

The Congress should also consider putting a mechanism in place that any bank benefiting from this fund will agree to freeze the salaries and bonuses of top 5% executives until such time as the treasury holds their toxic paper. Once the paper is sold, the restriction is lifted. Also, Congress should consider setting up a three member committee of reputable citizens with financial experience who will approve any bonus payments to top 5% executives of banks and financial institutions benefiting from this fund. This may seem draconian, but it is important to give a sense to tax payers that bankers will not start paying themselves huge bonuses until such time as their money is tied up in toxic assets.

The wider implications of the bailout are much greater. The national debt already ballooning out of control will exceed $11 trillion. No one knows how this will ever be paid down or how many decades it will take to bring it down to the level it was eight years ago. Treasury will probably end up printing more money and that could cause serious inflation, erosion in value of dollar and a possible shift from Dollar to Euro as the world currency. High inflation will result in high wage demands by unions, resulting in even greater inflation, mortgage foreclosures and credit card debt defaults.

I hope Paulson and Bernanke are considering all those eventualities and are ready to tackle what is to follow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

From Cold War to Detente to Cold War

Ronald Reagan had so skillfully broken up the Soviet Union by calling them an evil empire. He asked Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall and succeeded. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has restored Russia's position to pre-Detente level through its failed, impractical, and aggressive foreign policy.

By pushing nuclear missiles in Russia's back yard Bush Administration has woken up the sleeping giant. This act is akin to Soviet Union installing missiles in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs crisis. President Medvedev is now openly talking about the re-start of a cold war. President Bush and Condi Rice are totally clueless about world politics. They aggressively push their agendas on other nations without realizing consequences. They go about like a bull in a china shop. They need lessons in diplomacy from the Chinese, who have so deftly handled North Korea situation to disarm that nation's nuclear weapons.

The Russian invasion of Georgia could have been averted. Instead Bush Administration became paralyzed in its own propaganda. It is now clear that Georgian President launched a devastating attack on South Ossetia. President Bush should have immediately acknowledged that Georgia was wrong and should have called Russian to leaders to assure them that it will stop immediately. Instead Bush and Condi lived in denial while Russia invaded, resulting in a humiliating defeat for Georgia and now it seems the loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazai.

The evil empire that was so skillfully demolished by Reagan has been rebuilt on the shoulders of an incompetent Bush Administration. Perhaps this is George W. Bush's legacy - an abysmal failure of foreign policy.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Guantanamo Disgrace

The shocking video of 16 year old Omar Khadr under interrogation by Canadian intelligence agents in violation of his child status and in complete violation of UN's convention on child soldiers is a shame for humanity. Some of Khadr's wounds were still raw and seeping even though he was captured several months prior to this interrogation. The unconscionable comment by a Canadian interrogator that "you are receiving pretty good medical treatment" has shocked most Canadians. In fact the entire world is shocked as can be gauged from the linked article:,2144,3489205,00.html

The Canadian interrogation was chilling enough but it was probably a great deal more civilized than what American interrogators would have subjected Khadr and others inmates to. Thank God for Canadians courts giving us an insight to this hell hole called Guantanamo. Stephen Harper needs to step up to his responsibility and have Khadr brought back to Canadian judicial system.

Guantanamo is George Bush's shame and this is his legacy. It is time to shut it down. The military tribunals are a farce. If the inmates are guilty of terrorist acts, try them under criminal law and if innocent, let them go.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Democracy Returns to Pakistan

After nine years of President Musharraf's dictatorial rule in Pakistan democracy is on the threshold of returning to Pakistan once again. On February 18, 2008 the people of Pakistan voted to elect secular and popular political parties opposed to President Musharraf.

President Bush got his foreign policy bet wrong again. He supported Musharraf during and after the elections even though the people of his country had rejected him. Bush's blind support for Musharraf during Pakistan's blackest days when he illegally suspended the constitution, deposed and arrested the Chief Justice and sixty other judges of the Supreme and High Courts. The resulted the lawyers community starting a massive anti-Musharraf campaign in the country. Even those horrific pictures on our television screens showing black suited lawyers being beaten up and mishandled did not cause the Bush Administration to re-examine its policy. This has certainly not endeared the US to many in Pakistan. Only if they knew that nothing much Bush does that endears him to his own people.

A new National Assembly has been sworn in and a Prime Minister will be elected on Monday and a new democratically elected government will be in place on Tuesday March 25, 2008. The Government elect has decided to make it their priority to restore the Chief Justice and all other Judges removed by Musharraf.

Thus Musharraf era has come to an end. In his earlier years he did some good work for his country but because of his actions in the last twelve months, people of Pakistan cannot wait to see the back of him.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Barack Obama likely to Win Texas

Things may not be as bad for Obama as they seemed Tuesday night. In the Texas primary Hillary Clinton leads in primary delegates by 65 to 61. But Obama is leading by a whopping 12% in the Caucus count. So far only 40% caucus results have come in and he is greadually increasing his lead. Even if the ultimate caucus result remains the same i.e. Obama's 56% to Clinton's 44%, Obama will win Texas overall (not counting the Super delegates). This is how the math works out:

Delegate Allocation:
Primary (99% results in) Clinton 65 Obama 61
Caucus (40% results in so far
Obama 56% Clinton 44%
assuming total 67 delegates
allocated on this basis) Clinton 29 Obama 38

Total Delegates Clinton 94 Obama99

Once all the caucus results are in, Obama should claim victory in Texas.

Also he needs to fire his advisor Goolsbee who damaged him tremendously in the Ohio primary by telling a Canadian Consulate employee in Chicago that Obama does not mean what he says about NAFTA. Obama should also address this issue in his next speech and take it head on to put this controversy to rest.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Obama Rocks

Barack Obama's string of eight consecutive victories over the last week with increasing margins seems to suggest that Obama's message is beginning to resonate with all Americans. The breakdown of voters last night was fascinating. He increased his vote amongst women, white males and Latinos. All three categories will play a major part in Texas & Ohio primaries.

Obama's speech last night in Wisconsin was his best so far. It seems he is just getting going and now there is a possibility that the 'Obama Movement' will capture the hearts of Wisconsin voters where Hillary had unassailable lead until recently. Which begs the question, why is Hillary in Texas and not in Wisconsin, shouldn't she focus on Wisconsin first where the primary is on Tuesday? Some more people in her campaign team need to be fired!

The Americans are taking a good look at Barack and they like what they see. Last night CNN showed Senator McCain's speech immediately after Barack's and what a comparison. McCain seemed tired, unenthusiastic and spent.

If John Edwards is considering endorsing Obama, he better do it soon or he will be irrelevant.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Colin Powell Endorsement for Obama!

Is it possible that the former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican could endorse Barack Obama for President?

Colin Powell was very candid in his interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN. He made it very clear that he will vote for the best candidate and not necessarily a nominee of his party. He also talked about Obama rather fondly.

Colin Powell may be reminiscing about the time when he was asked to run for President and he declined. I guess he feels Obama is competent, charming and fresh and could the take the country to a new direction so why not support him. Though not a done deal yet, but it seems very likely.

Colin Powell also has to wash off his own embarrassment of that Iraq war speech that he made in the UN and this may be the perfect opportunity to do the right thing. Despite that UN debacle, Colin Powell is still one of the most respected individulas in the United States and around the world. His endorsement will mean a lot for Obama. Imagine the experience he could bring to Obama's team as Secretary of Defence, charged to put an end to the war that he started.