27-Feb-2007

Another Nexus

To add to the politician-criminal nexus, police-criminal nexus, now we have the private bank-goonda nexus. The SC does not approve. Difficult to do otherwise.

There is this paragraph in the DH report which sticks out unrelated to anything else in the report:
The court observed that MNBs score over the nationalised banks as they are technically upgraded, efficient and their staff is well-paid. The ‘dead wood’ in the staff can be removed any time unlike government banks, where staff do not have any accountability and fear of being removed from service and therefore their attitude towards the public is pathetic.
(Italics mine.) This, when the whole brouhaha is about private banks using goondas to assault the public!

Press Freedom

The Hindu cheers the events in AP:
It is to the credit of the media and democratic voices both within the State and outside that the assault on democratic values was beaten back, with the Chief Minister taking the plea that the order had been issued without his knowledge.
The euphoria would be a bit more justifiable if the media and democratic voices had risen up equally strongly against the assault on Tehelka. Instead of nitpicking about the methods used.

24-Feb-2007

Just A Marker

Noting this link, purely as a marker if ever I need to find it again. Things don't get much bigger than that : ushering in wonderful democracy in a country which was ruled by a bloodthirsty dictator.

23-Feb-2007

Commuting In Bangalore

The government creates an Electronics City way outside the city. Software firms head out to it. People swarm to software firms. Traffic abounds on the muddy road leading to Electronics City. We (L&T more correctly) build a nice four-lane highway, with open gutters on either side and service roads too. Things improve for sometime. But eventually the gutters fill with garbage, traffic expands to fill the available road, and the service roads are foobar'd. Then we dig up the nice road laid by L&T right in the middle. We lay prefabricated structures for drainage in the aforementioned gutters and cover it all up with concrete slabs. We are going to build a nice little elevated road. But transportation professionals - you know, the ones who are actually qualified - have a maxim : "You can't build your way out of congestion". That isn't going to stop us from trying.

But really, we can't.

20-Feb-2007

Mohabbat Di Gaddi

The Hindu puts the tragedy in perspective:
The attack on the train (technically a special train from which the passengers are transferred at Attari to the India-Pakistan service) has taken place a day before Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri arrives in New Delhi for talks on the ongoing peace process. In a bid to signal their strength, terrorists sometimes choose to time their attacks to coincide with the visit of dignitaries. In 2002, Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone was shot dead in Srinagar a day ahead of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to Kashmir. Two years earlier, 35 Sikhs were massacred in Chattisinghpora in Kashmir on the eve of President Bill Clinton's visit to India. It is more than likely that those who perceive the India-Pakistan peace process as a threat to their survival have perpetrated the Samjhauta Express carnage.
It also notes:
The attack may revive memories of the Mumbai train blasts last year, but there is an important difference. The Samjhauta Express is a highly protected train and the attack on it raises serious questions about gaps in railway security. How did the incendiary material used to set the coaches ablaze get past the security checks at Old Delhi railway station?
Praveen Swami looks to the Pakistani jihadi press for clues to the motives of the perpetrators.

Clash Of Civilisations

I have no idea what to make of this:
India is among the countries where a significant number of people believe that a "violent conflict'' between Islam and the West is "inevitable'' as claimed by the American academic Samuel Huntington in his controversial theory of "clash of civilisations'', according to a BBC worldwide poll on the relationship between Muslims and Western culture.

... there is much greater optimism in the West despite the wave of Islamophobia that swept America and large parts of Europe after the 9/11 attacks, and the Madrid and London bombings.

In Britain, an impressive 77 per cent believe that Islam and the West can find a "common ground'' followed by 69 per cent in France, 64 per cent in America and 49 per cent in Germany. Italians are the most optimistic with 78 per cent saying "no'' to the Huntington theory.

What do we know that the West doesn't?

BBC has more details.

Navratna List Expands

To include HAL, BEL and five others. From The Telegraph:
For navratna status, a PSU needs to be up to the mark on six parameters set by the department of public enterprises.

These include the ratio of manpower cost to cost of production; ratio of net profit to net worth; ratio of profit before interest and tax to turnover; earnings per share; and the performance of the PSU vis-a-vis others in its sector.

The scoring is on 100, and a PSU needs to score at least 60. The highest weight of 25 is given to the net profit to net worth ratio followed by the performance of the PSU in its sector. The parameters will be checked for three consecutive years.
They say government has no business being in business. But these PSUs seem to be doing well enough.

19-Feb-2007

Wanted: Leaders

Ramesh Ramanathan [will update link as and when I find it]:
When asked “What kind of political system would you prefer?”, 90% of Indians plumped for democracy, over-ruling alternatives like army rule by a whopping margin. However, we also want a command-and-control type of leadership: over 60% felt it would be good to have a strong leader who didn’t have to deal with the messy realities of parliament and elections. As far as taking individual ownership is concerned, 60% prefer a society that assures safety and stability through appropriate regulations, compared to only 25% who wanted a deregulated society where people are responsible for their own actions.

It seems that we want strong leaders to take us to the “promised land”, minimal responsibility for ourselves in this process, and the authority to fire the leaders when they fail us. Democracy in India is a bit like cricket – it is a spectator sport.

Walmart And Cheapness

Prem Shankar Jha writes about Walmart entering India in DH. Tucked at the end is this:
Stiglitz has also pointed out greater efficiency is only a small part of the reason for Wal-Mart’s edge in pricing. Most of it comes from squeezing its suppliers, driving down wages and denying social benefits. Someone pays, only not Wal-Mart.
Reminded me of something I read sometime ago about Walmart. It is a neat little trick: longtime employees cost more in terms of wages and benefits. So gently prise their hands off the jobs and replace with part-timers as needed:
In the confidential memo sent to Wal-Mart’s board last year, M. Susan Chambers, who was recently promoted to be Wal-Mart’s executive vice president in charge of human resources, questioned whether it was cost-efficient to employ longtime workers. “Given the impact of tenure on wages and benefits,” she wrote, “the cost of an associate with 7 years of tenure is almost 55 percent more than the cost of an associate with 1 year of tenure, yet there is no difference in his or her productivity.”

The memo said, “the shift to more part-time associates will lower Wal-Mart’s health-care enrollment” even though Wal-Mart was reducing the amount of time to one year, from two, that part-time workers would have to wait to qualify for health insurance.

Workers say there is some evidence that the goals outlined in Ms. Chambers’ memo are being put into practice. At several stores in Florida, employees said, managers have suddenly barred older employees with back or leg problems from sitting on stools after using them for years while working as cashiers, store greeters or fitting-room attendants. Wal-Mart said it had no companywide policy on stool use and did not have enough information to comment.

A bit heartless, but it brings home the bacon for Walmart.

There They Go Again

From The Hindu:
For the nth time in its post-1950 career, the Congress Party is in the process of demonstrating that, Bourbon-like, it can `learn nothing and forget nothing' when it comes to deploying the knife of Article 356 against State governments it intensely dislikes.
Time for some political fun and frolic. The question is: why?

17-Feb-2007

Coercion

We learn that India's vote against Iran was coerced. We also learn through the same US official, that we will continue to be coerced:
As a "first step" towards tightening the screws on Iran, India should withdraw from the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project, the former U.S. official argued. "This would send a strong message to Iran, while not hurting India's economic interests" because the pipeline was unlikely to be economically viable, he claimed. "I am not sure what kind of investor would put up money for a pipeline running from Iran through Pakistan. What happens if there is an incident in Kashmir?"

Walking away from the IPI pipeline project, said Mr. Rademaker, would, therefore, be "a low cost way of India demonstrating its commitment to non-proliferation."

He clarified that the U.S. did not consider the Iran pipeline to be a "litmus test" for India. But scrapping the project "would be a smart thing for India to do." India, he stressed, "needs to stop thinking of itself as a Third World country... and start aligning itself with the First World countries."

Galling, especially from the current US administration. So it is refreshing when someone lays it out like it is:
"One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders and is imposing its legal system on other states," Mr. Putin said. "This is very dangerous. Nobody feels secure anymore because nobody feels protected by international law. This policy fuels the arms race... encourages countries to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

"They keep teaching Russia democracy, but don't want to learn it themselves. Why do they resort to bombings and shellings all the time? Could it be because of a lack of political culture, respect for democracy and law?"

Correction: US Ambassador to India says Rademaker is not an US official, and that his remarks were not accurately reported by The Hindu. As to the first point, he is not an outsider. He's been associated with government in some form or other since 1987, and most importantly he was the Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation till sometime last year and should have intimate knowledge of the Iran vote affair. As the second point, The Hindu says:
The Hindu would like to clarify that Mr. Rademaker spoke before an audience of approximately 20 people and that its Associate Editor, Siddharth Varadarajan, was present and took detailed notes of his remarks, and that the quotes attributed to Mr. Rademaker are wholly accurate.
I'll go with The Hindu.

12-Feb-2007

Are They Mad?

From MSNBC/Newsweek (via Atrios):
At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. "They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for," [he says].
How can they even think of doing such a thing after basically destroying another country? How could it happen in a country that is a vibrant democracy with a free press, 24 hour TV, ubiquitous radio, a big military-industrial complex, legalised lobbying (by, for instance, the Israel lobby), an oil industry hungry for foreign oil, and free markets?

I just can't figure it out.

11-Feb-2007

Corruption Here And There

Corruption, nepotism, incompetence. No not India. That's the US reconstructing Iraq:
Instead of hiring reconstruction experts from NGO's, they hired from the Heritage Foundation [a right wing think tank]'s reject list. People who were ideologically sound were hired over the competant and trained. People like Michael Ledeen [a leading regime-change exponent, who works for another right wing think tank]'s daughter, Simone, were given the task of rebuilding Iraq's economy. Imagine the reaction of highly educated, Harvard, Oxford and Sorbonne trained Iraqi economists, when they could get into the Green Zone, dealing with these idiot children. By sending the pure, loyal and untrained, they told the Iraqis they were not serious people. The neocons were allowed to turn Iraq into their playground, and test their wacky theories. Meanwhile Iraqi oil facilities have been attacked 54 times since the occupation started.

Rumors of overcharging and kickback litter the news on a near daily basis. Halliburton has been accused of running empty trailers to get paid from the US government. Even so, the lack of security which is endemic in Iraq makes reconstruction a nightmare.
From here. "Running empty trailers to get paid"? If you like that, then how about hiring a non-existent audit firm for $1.6 million dollars? Watch it. (That's the head of the CPA in the earlier days of occupation being questioned). Corruption is a world-wide phenomenon, tough it does seem not to exist at the lower levels in the US.

Update: And there is a more subtle kind of corruption too. For example, look at this report from The Hindu:
Washington: An ``alternative intelligence'' unit operating at the Pentagon in the run-up to the war on Iraq was dedicated to establishing a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda, even though the CIA was unconvinced of such a connection, the U.S. Senate was told on Friday.

A report presented to the armed services committee by the Pentagon's Inspector General Thomas Gimble exposes the Bush administration to new charges of manipulating intelligence to make its case for going to war against Saddam nearly four years ago.

The kind of corruption which tries to hoodwink the engine of a democracy - its people. More on this [the intelligence manipulation] here.

09-Feb-2007

Air Show Tickets

I walk in to Canara Bank's Indiranagar branch. Strange. Not a single poster about the Air Show tickets being available. I look around and finally check with a harried looking lady. She says, no, not available. Try the M G Road branch. Thinkng, "not a problem", I get into an autorickshaw. Slow traffic as usual, getting late for work. But have to go get the tickets. Can't disappoint the kid. He's been seeing photographs of the planes for three days now - at breakfast and at dinner. I reach the M G Road branch. Looks like it's closed. No the main door is open. But what's that sign hung on the knob? 'Air Show Tickets sold out'. WHAT? That is not an option at all. Was never! What do I tell the pint-size? Now I realise I should've checked online where else the tickets were supposed to be sold. I remember Forum Mall, but there were others. Not that there is much hope of their being available now. Still, I wouldn't mind scouring Bangalore end to end.

I head out to Forum Mall. Reaching there again the lack of Air Show posters. I ask the security guard. He confirms that they are sold out. He points to a poster on a lampost and suggests I call the phone number listed there. I do. A voice answers and says YES, AVAILABLE! Next to the Ulsoor Gurdwara. Something Mansion, room 404. I thank the voice a lot, feeling euphoric. I don't have to disappoint the pint-sized offshoot. That would have been torture, seeing how eagerly he was waiting to go. My mind conjures up the scene and many internal parts contract, including the heart I think.

I get an auto at the prepaid counter - argue about the charge, but my mind is not really in it. I sit down and we're on our way. Then, slowly, doubts arise. Why in a room in a apartment? Was the voice pulling my leg? Is it a black ticket racket? Not that I was unprepared to pay extra. Anything so I didn't have to break my promise of taking him to the show. I could try to substitute some other thing for the air show, but what really would be a suitable replacement for a Mig 35 shooting by upside down, the Surya Kirans, the Dhruvs, and the various sleek fighter planes? He's been taking them all in in both Deccan Herald and The Hindu for 3 days. And the first thing he said today morning, just after opening his eyes "I'm very happy!". Why? Becuase we'd be going to the air show tomorrow! His first waking thought! Try telling him we couldn't go after all that.

The suspense is killing. The traffic is thick. We're stuck at signal lights every now and then. Finally we reach. The security guy at the apartment waves me on towards the lift as another one tells him, "Didn't he say the tickets are over?" Please, no! I knock on the door of 404. A Punjabi lady, late-middle-aged, is sitting at a dining table right up, and her mother/mother-in-law is sitting on a sofa further down the room. "Do you have tickets for the air show?" The answer is not 'No'. It is "How many do you want sir?". What a nice lady, such a sweet voice. And the old lady, she is nice too. So calm and peaceful. I hand over the money. The dining table lady is confused, I've given her an extra 500 rupee note. I take it back beaming.

Peace and happiness reigns.

Twist Their Arms

Till they do it. But please do provide a route from Indiranagar to Jayanagar. I'm prepared to walk the last-mile[or part thereof] if I can get there in 30 minutes total. And yes, others may want their favourite routes too. Consider how you will provide those. And please do it quickly.

07-Feb-2007

Iran

Military means not a solution to Iran crisis, says Pranab Mukherjee. About time - one was beginning to wonder if the backbone had atrophied due to disuse. Now to repeat it frequently and not only in Iran. Not that it will change the minds of Bush and his crazy vice-president.

04-Feb-2007

Freedom To Default

In which we learn that someone has been very clever in framing the pensions reform bill. Putting it briefly:
1. We want more money to flow into the stock market.
2. It has been seen that a majority of people who opt for pension plans go with the default option when asked to choose an investment option.
3. So we ensure that the default option in our pensions reforms bill, is the one in which the money is invested into the stock market.
4. Voila, our end is achieved!
Read about it in the Freedom paper [ registration required ].
...the government is keen to move forward on it as it faces major problems in sustaining current pension plans that promise certain fixed payments to its employees, irrespective of the actual returns on the amounts collected from employees.

In return for moving to a flexible returns system, contributors will get the option to invest their contributions in riskier investment avenues that could offer better returns.
Delectable. Another way of putting the second line would be:
Contributors' money will be put into inherently risky investments and they could end up losing their pension money.
Again, from the article:
..the move is sure to increase the flow of pension money into stocks, given India’s soaring markets that are generating double-digit annual returns to investors.
True, the Indian stock market is soaring right now, but what about the long term - after all, the young risk-taking guy choosing to park his money there is in it for more than an year or so.

Freedom. Smells nice.

03-Feb-2007

Safeguarding The Citizenry

Looking around on a topic related to the first Mint post, I found this:
Kelo* has several important lessons for all of us. We are witnessing the destruction of any last remnants of the separation of powers doctrine, a doctrine our founders considered critical to freedom. The notion that the judicial branch of government serves as a watchdog to curb legislative and executive abuses has been entirely exposed as an illusion. Judges not only fail to defend our freedoms, they actively infringe upon them by acting as de facto legislators. Thus Kelo serves as a stark reminder that we cannot rely on judges to protect our freedoms.

It is folly to believe we will regain lost freedoms if only the right individuals are appointed to the Supreme Court. ... Even the most promising jurist can change radically over the course of a lifetime appointment. We are supposed to be a nation of laws, not men, and the fixation on individuals as saviors of our freedoms is misplaced. America will regain lost freedoms only when her citizens wake up and reclaim a national sense of self-reliance, individualism, and limited government. A handful of judges cannot save a nation from itself.
*Kelo refers to a judgement passed by the US Supreme Court.

02-Feb-2007

More Mint-flavoured Freedom

Sure enough, here is what you can expect [reg'n required], straight from the horse's mouth:
...we will aim to fill three needs:

• The need for authoritative, credible and timely news and analysis affecting business and finance, primarily in India, one of the fastest-growing economies in the world today, as well as around the world.

• The need to save you time, through careful selection of essentials, to spare you from wading through torrents of unevaluated words each day.

• And, critically, the need for trustworthiness. We believe that the only information that is useful is information that is accurate and unbiased.

We will not dilute our usefulness by attempting to be all things to all people, or be a general newspaper. Nor will our focus be narrowly stock markets oriented: While the numbers are growing, less than 3% of all Indians own shares.

We will concentrate our reporting efforts on the broad world of Indian business and, through select WSJ content, relevant international business and trends; on political and social forces at the intersection of Indian business and politics.

Through such understanding, we hope to help our readers find new business and investment opportunities, avoid costly mistakes and make wiser, informed decisions.
The missing stress on freedom and tribalism etc immediately strikes one. As for 'information that is accurate and unbiased", Fox News' tagline (or whatever it is called) is : "We report. You decide".

Freedom

I read this:
...finally, India has a newspaper that explicitly supports the values of freedom, in all its forms, that I hold so dear.
I head out to the link kindly given. I realize that some people have a very different conception of freedom than mine.

Update:
Mint quote [reg'n required]:
... India continues to have one of the most fettered economic systems in the world. We still live in a country that is technically socialist and where the right to property is not a fundamental right. The state can brazenly take over private land for what it believes to be the public good.
Poor Wall Street Journal (one of the "partners" of the mint-flavoured newspaper). It must have given up on the US, where till this day, the state can brazenly take over private land.

The same Mint columnist also writes:
Caste and gender atrocities leap into prominence every once in a while. Religious pogroms, too. No country can claim to be free when people can be killed because of the accident of birth. We will support the individual against the insanities of tribalism in its various forms.
Color me cynical for not believing that. There will be occasional noises - if at all - but that's all there will be. Polite noises. And 'insanities of tribalism'?!

This is what the it is really all about:
We believe that prosperity is achieved by giving the market a free run.
What else, with the WSJ powering it.