20-Feb-2012

Memo To WSJ


And so, understand this before you colour victims as perpetrators, and perpetrators as the saviours of India’s forests: it is not indigenous communities that are razing India’s canopy to the ground. That is happening, instead, because the Indian government refuses to recognise/continues to violate customary rights and every progressive law in the book to favour an economic policy that puts profit over people and their environment.

And The Brick Finally Drops


STATE CAPITALISM WORKS
Only one of the four BRIC economies could be considered free: India. The other three are deeply capitalist, sure -- finding success on international markets has been a big part of their rise -- but their version of capitalism includes the strong guidance of the government. State capitalism means state-owned firms like the massive China National Petroleum Corporation or Gazprom, but it also means heavy regulation, frequent intervention, and sometimes a degree of state control over markets and firms that doesn't look so capitalist. But this a statist means to a capitalist ends, designed to maximize long-term growth and encourage development. It doesn't always work out that way, but their success is hard to ignore, especially as the great free market stalwarts -- the U.S., Europe, Japan -- fall on increasingly hard times.  
The state capitalist model will be an attractive one for other developing economies. Rising neighbors in Asia, Africa, and Latin America may seek to engage with the global markets but, rather than opening everything overnight and letting Westerners conquer their entire economies, protect and grow domestic firms that can compete internationally and will funnel money back into development. But the West can learn as well. As free markets -- especially financial markets -- fail and fluctuate, free marketeers in Washington and London and elsewhere may want to ask if a bit more state intervention and regulation is worth considering.

16-Feb-2012

Infrastructure That Everyone Can Help Build


It is less costly to build too.  It can make a tremendous difference.  Attitude, our biggest infrastructure hurdle.

Stop the honking.  Please.


The Arab Spring, Bahraini Autumn and the US


 How do the US officials keep a straight face when they preach democracy?
The Crackdown
How the United States looked the other way while Bahrain crushed the Arab Spring’s most ill-fated uprising.
... 
After massive protests shook the tiny Gulf state last February and March, Bahraini authorities swept in with the backing of foreign troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, clearing the streets of demonstrators and imposing martial law. Since then, government forces have engaged in a long and ruthless crackdown, effectively burying hopes of real reform. If any Arab Spring revolt can be pronounced a failure thus far, this is it.
Not coincidentally, Bahrain’s ill-fated uprising stands out in another way, too. The United States, which took a forceful stance on other Arab revolts, remained relatively passive in the face of the kingdom’s unrest and crackdown. To many who are familiar with the region, this came as no surprise: of all the Arab states that saw revolts last year, Bahrain is arguably the most closely tied to American strategic interests. The country hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, a key watchdog in some of the world’s busiest oil-shipping lanes, waters that also border Iran. In the past five years, the U.S. has sent close to $100 million in military aide to Bahrain—a hefty amount for such a small country—much of it earmarked for “stabilization operations” that include training and equipping police and paramilitary forces. And Bahrain’s leadership is intimately linked to that of Saudi Arabia, America’s greatest ally in the region.
...
“If there is a place globally where there is not just distance but a huge gap between American interests and American values, it’s in the Persian Gulf. And its epicenter is in Bahrain,” says Toby Jones of Rutgers University.
Distance, hug gap, gaping void.  How does it matter?

14-Feb-2012

Let's Raise a Toast To Excise Tax

A very interesting comparison of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu from the angle of taxation of alcohol: Liquor levies and their social uses.  And this table was a bit of a revelation as to how similar in size TN and Gujarat's economies are, which is not surprising since I don't really follow these things too carefully.



Why Is The West So Hypocritical?


Actually, the question asked is:  
Why is the West silent about Algeria?
Johan Galtung, Feb 13,2012, IPS:
Since the military seized power, a quarter million people have been killed in Algeria.
The killing of nonviolent demonstrators and civilian bystanders is escalating in Syria. Assad should resign immediately, a coalition government should be formed, and hundreds of mediators should hold dialogues with the many parties, to try and form a federation.
But the situation in Algeria is even worse. Since the military seized power and cancelled the second round of elections in January 1992 — with Western consent — when the Islamic Salvation Front was headed for a victory, a quarter million people have been killed.
Why is there no Algerian Spring?  Maybe because the repression is too atrocious. Why have there been no protest from the West? 
The answer is not pretty.  From the same article:
Maybe because the Algerian government did what the West wanted: granted access to oil and gas, to bases, and a made a promise of possible recognition of Israel. Syria did none of this.
Thus, the real question is:  Why Is The West So Hypocritical?  Especially the US which never stops going on about supporting democracy and opposing repression against the citizenry when it suits it.

10-Feb-2012

Private/Corporatised Healthcare in India


Devastating fires are only one part of the management of private/corporate hospitals. Thanks to the self-promoting glitz and chutzpah surrounding them, they are, in fact, the blind spot of both the governments and the people, as regards accountability and transparency. Occasionally, someone somewhere who has been the victim of their blunders or exactions, bursts out in exasperation as, for instance, in the following blog by a distinguished professor:
“The corporate hospitals scare the life out of a patient as part of the milking process. Most of the drama of treatment that goes on is just to empty your pockets and to fill theirs….We've given them power they don't deserve and respect they haven't earned.”
...
Here is an extract from an article by Dr Sumanth C.Raman, published in The Hindu of January 15:
“….no one really knows if the quality of care in these hospitals is as good as claimed as there is simply no organisation or body, government or private, that is measuring it. Almost none of these ‘centres of excellence' are willing to publish their outcomes or put up the results they get (with the patient risk stratification) on their websites as is done abroad. Browse through many major hospital websites in the developed world and you can check for yourself what their risk adjusted mortality rates are, their readmission rates, their infection rates, their quality indicators and attainment percentages for specific conditions like a heart attack, stroke and the like, their patient safety indicators, etc. Almost none of our corporate hospitals provide this information. Many do not even have the systems in place to measure these.
“All we have to go by is the assertion by these hospitals themselves through the glitzy ads we see in the media with an emphasis on the certifications they have received….(from) JCI Certified (Joint Commission International) or NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals).….However, what these quality organisations evaluate is predominantly the capability of these hospitals to deliver quality care and not the actual delivery of quality care…”
And I thought this was really amusing, in a fiendish sort of way: 
I was actually present during the visit of JCI to a much hyped hospital for renewal of its accreditation. Normally, this hospital swarms with milling crowds making for unconscionable delays in attending to patients by doctors and the laboratory staff.
Just to dress it up for the JCI visit, the Chairman himself led his senior aides to drive the patients out and empty the corridors, so that everything looked swanky and picture-perfect.
But I believe health tourism is doing wonders for these hospitals.  So much so that practitioners are pressurised to take up the tourists on priority basis.

I always say - hand over everything to the private sector.  They will always do the best job.  Yes.

Remorseless Progress


Kerala's traditional snacks industry, dominated by banana and tapioca chips, is losing market share to the invasion by outside varieties, according to Mr Alex Thomas, Managing Director, Tierra Food India Pvt Ltd.
Multinational as well as large Indian companies have lured customers to the potato chips and corn-based extruded snacks sold by them, he said here on Thursday.
Banana and tapioca are two major crops cultivated in Kerala by small and medium farmers, and a fair share of the produce earlier went towards chips production. Owing to falling demand, the produce is now largely consumed as fresh fruit, which is subject to volatile prices compared to the fair and consistent prices fetched by the processed product.
MISSING ‘COOL' FACTOR
Increasingly restricted to festivals such as Onam and other functions such as marriages, potato and tapioca chips are no longer seen as ‘cool' by the younger generation, which prefers the potato chips or extruded snacks available in small and trendy packages, he said. 
 One really doesn't mind old habits dying and new habits being formed, but in this case two things:

  1. The extruded snacks are the closest to poison for the kids.  High-sodium, high-salt, and I believe totally lacking in any nutrition whatsoever.  When kids eat these frequently, they develop a taste for such high-salt/sodium food junk food.  Not good.
  2. The small trendy packages.  They are choking the environment.
So, can someone turn back the clock please?

Mr Tata, How To Buy Myself An Aquifer in the Himalayas?

For he must surely know the procedure, owning one himself.  How cool is that - an aquifer all to oneself in the Himalayas, the water from which can be sold for the same price as diesel without all the hassle that the latter entails.  I believe diesel can be a bit more difficult to source and all, though I may be mistaken.  

These big industrialists hold all the aces, don't they?  

Hear it from the man in charge, R. K. Krishna Kumar, a Director in Tata Sons: 
We want to partner PepsiCo to distribute Himalayan widely. They have the liquid bottle distribution strength. We don't have that. We can tap that strength to take Himalayan to international markets. Hopefully soon, we will take it to one or two countries. A product like Evian is a source product. Given the uniqueness of the water sources, there is no reason why Himalayan can't be taken to other markets and compete with brands such as Evian. The source, our aquifer in the Himalayas, is a unique source. We have vast reserves. We can tap it, bottle it and make it a global brand.
(Emphasis mine)    So how do I get hold of an Himalayan aquifer?  Once I do that, the next steps are so simple: tap it, bottle it and sell it for a song after entering into a Joint Venture with a global giant:

Tata Global Beverages and PepsiCo India have joined hands to make a foray into nutritious beverages space.
The two have already floated a new company by the name and style of NourishCo.
The joint venture rolled out its first product, Tata Water Plus, on Thursday here at a press conference. Claimed to be the country's first nutrient water, Tata Water Plus is priced at Rs.16 for a 750 ml Pet bottle.
...
“It is taste neutral. It looks and tastes like normal water but with added goodness of nutrients that are bio-available,” says a release.
It had also brought the top-end natural mineral water brand Himalayan (priced at Rs.40 a litre) into the NourishCo fold.

Note the Rs.40 a litre in the last line.  Now, about that nutrient water.  Bio-available doesn't mean what it sounds like.  It does not mean that it comes naturally in the water.  It basically refers to how much of the nutrient can be absorbed by the body.  So I now get a sneaking suspicion that the water is "taste neutral" and "tastes like normal water" because that is what it is - normal water.  Swindle anyone?

Anyway, it is nice to know that our largest industrial conglomerates are on the job of lifting the country out of poverty.  Rs 1L+ nano and Rs.40/litre water and so on.  Hang on, a more affordable tractor would have helped more, you say?  I think you're just jealous of the Tatas.

Car Manufacterers Pushback Against Diesel Car Tax


Terming the calls for imposing additional tax on diesel vehicles as “retrograde”, homegrown auto major Mahindra & Mahindra today said such a move will only further impede growth of the industry which has had a difficult year in 2011.
Reacting to issues raised from various quarters over usage of subsidised diesel fuel for “luxury” and seeking imposition of additional tax to the tune of Rs 80,000 on diesel cars, the company said use of diesel fuel for luxury personal vehicles is less than 0.2 per cent.
“In my opinion to consider an additional tax on diesel vehicles is a retrograde step...” Mahindra & Mahindra President (Automotive and Farm Equipment Sectors), Mr Pawan Goenka, said.
Urging the government not to consider such a move, he said: “In the upcoming Union Budget, this is perhaps the most critical item for the automotive industry which will have a significant impact on the growth of the industry in the upcoming fiscal year.’’
Explaining why such a move would prove counter-productive, Mr Goenka said: “A tax on diesel vehicles will further impede growth of the industry which has had a difficult year in 2011.’’
Of course, the industry estimate of the percentage of diesel used by diesel cars is flawed :Press Release: CSE trashes contention that diesel use by cars is very low.  Got to keep those profits rolling in.

Not All Doom and Gloom in Karnataka


Bangalore, Feb 9, 2012, DHNS:
The State’s forest cover has increased by only 3.72 lakh hectares between 1999 and 2009, though the State government planted 52 crore saplings covering 6.39 lakh hectares under the afforestation programme during the period.
In a reply to BJP’s Manohar Maski and the Congress’ R V Venkatesh on the afforestation programme in the Legislative Council, Forest Minister C P Yogeeshwara said the State’s forest cover has increased from 32.46 lakh hectares in 1999 to 36.19 lakh hectares in 2009 –  amounting to an increase of 3.72 lakh hectares in one decade. 
The figures only reveal that the success rate of the programme is about 50 per cent, thus exposing the failure of the Forest Department in effectively implementing the afforestation programme despite spending a mammoth amount of Rs 1,530.52 crore in 10 years, noted the official sources.
Although the minister claimed that an average 70 per cent of saplings planted under the programme have survived between 1998-99 and 2006-07 (evaluation of 2007-08 programme is now underway), the overall increase in forest cover in the State is only 50 per cent.
50% or 70%, it is still heartening that the forest cover is actually increasing.  Of course, the Forest Department should do more.  And definitely stop such things: "Wildlife laws ignored for religious event at Bandipur".

BJP In Karnataka: Got To Catch 'Em Young


Former chairman of the Backward Class Commission, Dr C S Dwarkanath, freedom fighter H S Doreswamy, and former MLA A K Subbaiah, addressing the media here on Thursday, said the State government was “indoctrinating young minds by “Hinduising” textbooks along the lines of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideology.
Citing examples as proof for their claim, they said the draft Social Studies textbooks of standards five and eight contained a map of the undivided India showing only Hindu temples and shrines, apart from the various mutts in Karnataka.
Reading excerpts from the textbooks, Dwarkanath said: “Describing the battle between Rani Chennamma and Muslim ruler Hyder Ali, the Class V textbook suggests that the ‘Shatru’ (enemy) won the battle against Chennamma. It could have as well been ‘Hyder Ali won the war’. Is it just an error in the use of appropriate words?”
Once the kids are certified, true-blue Hindus, 100 years of BJP-raj will ensue.  Or something like that. 

Meanwhile, the Times of India is practising its usual style of hard-hitting journalism: Porngate: High demand for Karnataka ministers' MMS
BANGALORE: It's the most sought after porn clip in the market. But the video that reduced three BJP ministers into legislators is not available with any porn DVD /film dealer in the city.
These dealers from areas like Burma Bazaar and National Market in Majestic area said on Tuesday that people were coming in large numbers asking for the "ministers' MMS masala" video but they didn't have it in DVD format. Not yet at least.
Sex scandals that make the headlines generally end up earning them huge profits, they said. Some dealers said they were accepting orders to provide this video. "We're trying to get hold of the video as soon as possible. The last time we had such a demand for a blue film was during the alleged scandal involving Swami Nityananda and a Tamil movie actress. It was a blockbuster of sorts in this industry," said a dealer in National Market.
So not to worry parents.  An all-round education is virtually guaranteed for your tiny-tots by these two entities.  Good religion at school courtesy the BJP government, and healthy sex education after school courtesy Times of India, which will guide the kids to the nearest bazaar where they can obtain the hot CDs.

09-Feb-2012

Gordian Knot of Petrol/Diesel Subsidies


It is high time that people, who can afford to buy cars and two-wheelers, realise that fuel won't come in cheap. None of them complains when they have to pay for expensive airline or movie tickets. Is petrol such a measly commodity that it has to be sold cheap? There is just no alternative unless state governments decide to do away with sales tax on petrol, clearly an inconceivable option from the viewpoint of revenue generation. Dealing with diesel pricing won't be as straightforward, since it is used in the commercial vehicle segment which carries food products across the country. Higher operating costs will do little to curtail inflation, and diesel prices just cannot be tinkered with, at least for now.
Yet, it is only logical that users of cars and SUVs pay the market price for the fuel. The auto industry believes this is a better alternative to taxing diesel vehicles. Now, how does one ensure that diesel-driven cars are charged higher at retail outlets while vans and trucks pay less? Certainly not the easiest of tasks, especially in a system where cross-subsidies only spawn fuel adulteration. Clearly, finding a solution to this huge mess is almost impossible. There have been any number of expert committees which have come up with suggestions, but the reality at the ground level is something quite different. Till then, sleepless nights are only inevitable for the Government and the entire oil sector.
The auto industry is entirely based on fuel subsidies, hence they would not like the government to further tax diesel vehicles.  They are all shifting to making diesel vehicles since they see people opting for those.  But I don't understand why it is difficult to tax diesel-driven cars at a higher rate without penalising commercial diesel vehicles.  Surely there should be some way of differentiating between car and truck sales?

BJP - A Party With "Shady Shades"

For which nice turn of phrase, credit goes to the Deccan Herald editorial team: BJP’s porngate
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) liked to boast itself as a ‘party with a difference.’ The BJP, which was voted to power in Karnataka in 2008, is proving to be not only ‘different,’ but a party with many shady shades. 
...
For all the high moral pitch the BJP and its fountainhead, the RSS adopt publicly, the quality of legislators the party has got elected this time, is indeed shocking. If excise minister Renukacharya’s name figured in a sex scandal before he became a minister, another minister Hartal Halappa was forced to quit after rape charges were levelled against him. 
Then there is this - the other strong wicket on which the BJP likes to bowl, corruption: Citing BJP pressure in Jayalalithaa case, Karnataka AG quits
The BJP government in Karnataka suffered another setback on Wednesday, with Advocate-General B.V. Acharya preferring to resign from his post rather than give in to “pressure” from the State government to quit as Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) in the disproportionate assets case against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
Talking to The Hindu, he said: “For some time, there has been terrible pressure on me to resign from the position of SPP, and I have been resisting it.”
Ms. Jayalalithaa's AIADMK is not part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, but senior BJP leader L.K. Advani described her, at a function in Chennai last month, as a “natural ally” of his party.

New Sign of Racism In The US

I admit this comes as a shock:
The number of those who approve of the drone strikes drops nearly 20 percent when respondents are told that the targets are American citizens. But that 65 percent is still a very big number, given that these policies really should be controversial.
I used to think that the American government is the sole culprit in all the misdeeds done in America's name all round the world, while retaining a warm feeling towards at least half of the Americans (assuming they are divided 50-50 between liberals and conservatives).  No longer.  

I use the word 'racism' since I believe that the 20% are OK with the drone attacks on non-Americans because they (the targets) are 'brown people'.

Dump Water Privatisation

Dump the idea says Deccan Herald.  

The idea of privatising water has been assiduously peddled by the World Bank, NGOs that receive funding to implement its agenda, business corporations, consultants and so on. Profits motivate their marketing of this idea but these proponents of privatisation have sought to sell their agenda on the principle of efficiency. They have held out privatisation of water as the solution to India’s shrinking water resources and mounting needs.  
It is a pity that the government has bought into this specious argument. The new water policy envisages the government’s withdrawal from acting as a service provider in the water sector. The government’s voluntary abdication of its responsibilities in a sector as crucial to life as water is shocking. 
Proponents of privatisation argue as if this is a magic bullet, a cure-all for all our water woes. 
Nothing is further from the truth. Privatisation will not only fail to address our existing water problems but also it will trigger new ones.

08-Feb-2012

Devas Goes To The US


Strange news of the day:  Devas Multimedia lobbying with the US lawmakers.  

Devas Multimedia, whose satellite communications contract with the Indian government-owned Antrix was scrapped after a controversy, has been lobbying here to push forward its case before the US President and other lawmakers and has paid USD 140,000 so far for the same.
As per the disclosure reports filed with the US Senate, lobbyist firm Hogan Lovells US LLP began lobbying on behalf of Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia before the American lawmakers in June 2011.
Hogan Lovells said in its latest quarterly disclosure report that it was paid USD 60,000 during the fourth quarter of 2011 (October-December period) for lobbying on behalf of Devas.
Prior to this, Hogan Lovells had earned USD 60,000 in the third quarter and another USD 20,000 in the second quarter of 2011 as lobbying-related income from Devas, its disclosure filings with the US Senate showed.
Hogan Lovells has been registered as a lobbyist of Devas Multimedia in the US since June 6, 2011.