27-Oct-2008

Udayan Asks For $10 Bn

He wants the government to spare this amount and buy up what the FIIs are selling. Let's see. The government buys up all those shares in all those private firms. I'm guessing that it then becomes a major shareholder in said firms. So, it can decide what they should do and not do. Like keeping cement prices low.

I say, just do it.

24-Oct-2008

Free Markets 0, Greenspan 0

...in a tense exchange with Representative Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who is chairman of the committee, Mr. Greenspan conceded a more serious flaw in his own philosophy that unfettered free markets sit at the root of a superior economy.

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said.

Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” Mr. Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

OK, that's that then.

11-Sep-2008

Welcome To The USSRA!

Man is this guy angry! Nouriel Roubini (who's he, eh? Let's just say, The Man Who Saw The Future, or since we are already in it, The Man Who Saw The Present Before Almost Anyone Else. More info here, and here, and indeed here):
For the last twenty years after the collapse of the USSR, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the economic reforms in China and other emerging market economies the world economy has moved away from state ownership of the economy and towards privatization of previously stated owned enterprises. This trend was aggressively supported the United States that preached right and left the benefits of free markets and free private enterprise.

Today instead the US has performed the greatest nationalization in the history of humanity. By nationalizing Fannie and Freddie the US has increased its public assets by almost $6 trillion and has increased its public debt/liabilities by another $6 trillion. The US has also turned itself into the largest government-owned hedge fund in the world: by injecting a likely $200 billion of capital into Fannie and Freddie and taking on almost $6 trillion of liabilities of such GSEs the US has also undertaken the biggest and most levered LBO (“leveraged buy-out”) in human history that has a debt to equity ratio of 30 ($6,000 billion of debt against $200 billion of equity).

So now Comrades Bush, Paulson and Bernanke (as originally nicknamed by Willem Buiter) have now turned the USA into the USSRA (the United Socialist State Republic of America). Socialism is indeed alive and well in America; but this is socialism for the rich, the well connected and Wall Street. A socialism where profits are privatized and losses are socialized with the US tax-payer being charged the bill of $300 billion.

Read it all.

21-Apr-2008

Convincing The Great Unwashed

And how the US government does it. From the New York Times.
In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.
Yawn. So who didn't know that?

15-Apr-2008

A Nation Of Hypocrites

Ramesh Ramanathan writing in Mint (no link):

A Nation of Hypocrites
I read a news report a few weeks ago of a terrible incident that took place in Delhi: a 12-year old boy whose bicycle was damaged by a car that was part of a wedding reception.  When he asked for compensation so that he could repair his cycle, the people in the party took offence, beat him up and burned him to death in a nearby field.  The story was buried in the regional pages, and generated hardly any public outcry.
A few days later, there was a story of a 2-year old child who had been trapped in a borewell – a common occurrence across the country.  Incidents like these capture the public imagination, and the media obligingly provides a minute-by-minute report of the rescue efforts.

I wondered at these two occurences and reached an uncomfortable conclusion.  We Indians are a nation of hypocrites.  Our inconsistencies are not always in such stark and horrific terms, but in thousands of other ways, small and big.
Let me begin with a list of my own inconsistencies: I got my MBA from a prestigious American University, whose founder made his money by profiting from India's colonisation.  I fly business class, even though I profess to work on issues concering the urban poor.  I guiltily let the water run when I shave because I find the sound of running water comforting – small trickle, but still.  I talk about power sharing in the work that I do, but at home, I struggle to share power with my children.
There are more examples, but this isn't a therapy session.  The point is that I don't want to sound like a sermonising moral high-grounder; I just want to talk frankly about the challenges we have as Indians. Hypocrisy is a big issue in most societies, but it's a particularly problematic one in India.  We believe that "mamatha" - a mother's affection - is a sacred emotion, and yet unflinchingly inflict horrors upon our women.  We take bribes, and then hope to wash away our sins by thrusting thousands down the slit-eyed hundis of our temples.  We speak of compassion, but show little for the household help who toil away in our homes.  We study "moral science" in our schools – whoever coined that phrase – and are tested to see if we got the spelling right when we have the essence wrong. 

We learn about civics and citizenship, and yet are often asked – and ask ourselves – why we have such a strong sense of family, but such a poor sense of a larger community: how can our homes be so clean, and our streets so littered with garbage?  Clearly, I am generalising here - there are thousands of Indians who would justifiably take offense at being called hypocrites, and for good reason.  But they are a minority in today's India.
Every day, in every sphere – business, politics, social work or sports - across the length and breadth of this country, millions of Indians indulge in acts of hypocrisy that collectively add up to an epidemic.
And yet, it seems that there was some noble past, a link between thought and action, where values were cherished.  The signs are there: in the sublime music, in our dance forms, in the incredibly sophisticated material about human spirituality, and so on.  So how can a country with so much collective wisdom and spirituality be broken in so apparent a fashion?
It feels that we got massively unhinged somewhere along the way.   What is left today is only a frustrating graffitti of greatness: each artefact by itself a tantalising glimpse into a life that was, but somehow dismembered, leaving more questions than answers. 
We have lost a sense of individual agency in our thoughts and actions.  Like children of over-achieving parents, we seem overwhelmed by the legacy of great ideas in our society.  It's almost like we need to exfoliate these oppressive layers of crusted wisdom that have settled upon our consciousness, and discover our own morality for ourselves.  To see the relationship between values, thoughts and actions, and agitate over the inconsistencies that we see in ourselves. To acknowledge that words like "honesty" and "caring" and "respect" are most powerful when displayed in action, not recited by rote.
Getting rid of these layers takes an enormous amount of introspection, a ruthless sense of honesty, and the courage to act upon the schisms when we encounter them.  These will be painful.  But if we had the perspective to consider our actions, and the courage to correct ourselves, we could rekindle the greatness that our society seems to have once had.  And maybe rediscover our moral compass, one person at a time.

28-Feb-2008

Systemic Banking Crisis In The US?

(via CalculatedRisk): All claws, teeth, and fur (head out to the last paragraph of the PDF)
What will be the consequence of losses of over $1 trillion and, possibly, as high as $2 trillion? That would wipe out most of the capital of most of the US banking system and lead most of US banks and mortgage lenders – that are massively exposed to real estate – to go belly up. You would then have a systemic banking crisis of proportions that would be several orders of magnitude larger than the S&L crisis, a crisis that ended up with a fiscal bailout cost of over $120 billion dollars. And the worrisome part of this scenario is that – with home prices likely to fall by 20% or more – this scenario of systemic banking crisis is becoming increasingly likely.
What impact would that have on Udayan's long bull run?

Drug Companies Rigging The Markets?

From The Hindu:
...the real story goes way beyond the question of Prozac. This new study — published, paradoxically, in an open-access journal — tells a fascinating story of buried data and of our collective failure, as a society, over half a century, to adequately regulate the colossal global $550b pharmaceutical industry.

The key issue is simple. In any situation, to make any kind of sensible decision about which treatment is best, a doctor must be able to take into account all of the available information. But drug companies have repeatedly been shown to bury unflattering data.

Sometimes they bury data that shows drugs to be actively harmful. This happened in the case of Vioxx and heart attacks, and SSRIs and suicidal thoughts. Such stories feel, intuitively, like cover-ups. But there are also more subtle issues at stake in the burying of results showing minimal efficacy, and these have only been revealed through the investigative work of medical academics.

One example came just last month (January). As I reported at the time, a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine dug out a list of all trials on SSRIs that had ever been registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and then went to look for those same trials in the academic literature. There were 37 studies which were assessed by the FDA as positive and, with a single exception, every one of those positive trials was written up, proudly, and published in full. But there were also 33 studies which had negative or iffy results and, of those, 22 were simply not published at all — they were buried — while 11 were written up and published in a way that portrayed them as having a positive outcome.
But I thought the markets were sifting the wheat from the chaff, rewarding the good companies and punishing the bad. But what do I know.

25-Feb-2008

Pesky Questions

From The Hindu:

The Americans hate to admit that they were wrong - nobody does, for that matter. But few have taken so many undemocratic and illegal actions in world policy as they have. In the United States, those guilty of such actions may face life imprisonment, if not a lethal injection, electrocution or gas chamber (how can democracy be preached by a country where 35 states allow capital punishment by such revolting methods?). Erosion of international law started with Serbia - the bombing of Belgrade in 1999. Iraq followed.

Robbery and murder
In terms of criminal law, these global actions qualify as robbery and murder. In Arkansas and Texas, these crimes are punishable by death penalty. These are home states of the last two Presidents that started wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq in violation of international law. But at home, U.S. Presidents do not behave like this - they are decent gentlemen playing the sax and riding a bike. But once they go outside, everyone had better scatter.
The last two Presidents liked to talk about the U.S. mission before the start of a war: "The United States is called upon to guarantee...." Depending on the situation, they would continue with such phrases as "Kosovo's freedom," "peace and prosperity," or "democracy all over the world." None of them has specified who imbued the United States with this mission and what rights they had for that.
But these are details that ordinary Americans should not go into until someone in their family is killed in action. For the time being, Americans are not dying in Kosovo like they do in Iraq; and for this reason they don't ask who has urged America to help the Kosovars and whether the Kosovars had the right to do so.
Have the Kosovars appealed to the Americans? What if the Basques, Catalans, or Corsicans appeal to them? Quebec has a hard life as part of Canada, and is closer to the United States. Does the United States want to help the Turkish Kurds? Probably not, separatism is a bad word in Turkey.

23-Feb-2008

Making Up For The Missing Posts

Was unable to post for some days due to various reasons. I'm back and hope to be more regular - 'hope' is the the keyword. Anyway, wanted to highlight some stories that I did not post about but wanted to.

This killing comment from The Hindu's editor about the Kosovo seccession and Bush's comment on it was priceless:
Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence has thrown the fragile Balkan peace into question again and caused much disquiet elsewhere in the world. The reactions of other states will be crucial. U.S. President George W Bush, with his characteristic grasp of international affairs, initially said: “The Kosovoans are now independent”;
Then there was the Rice testimony on the nuclear deal to the US Congress which justifies one of the criticisms put forward by the Left against the deal:
Washington: The Bush administration has said an agreement between India and the Nuclear Suppliers Group which will allow New Delhi to engage in nuclear trade will be supported by the U.S. only if it is “consistent” with the Hyde Act.
“We will support nothing with India in the NSG that is in contradiction to the Hyde Act. It will have to be completely consistent with the obligations of the Hyde Act,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the House Foreign Affairs Panel.
Ms. Rice said if the Bush administration did not adhere to the Hyde Act — which, according to opposition parties in India, takes away the country’s nuclear sovereignty — U.S. lawmakers will eventually refuse to pass the India-U.S. civilian nuclear deal if and when it comes up in the Congress.
“We’ll have to be consistent with the Hyde Act or I don’t believe we can count on the Congress to make the next step,” Ms. Rice said in response to a query from the Chairman of the panel, Howard Berman.
Another thing, that was actually good to see, was the Congress giving back to the BJP on the issue of terrorism, over two days. Here and here. That's right - say it loudly and clearly and very publicly. After all, the last thing we need is another right-wing party coming to power on the basis of being 'strong' on terror.

Another story which I saw on cnet.com reinforces that the Internet has made so many things possible. And a lot of them are a force for the good. Like exposing Swiss Banks that apparently help launder money among other shady activities:

A federal judge in California has pulled the plug on Wikileaks.org, a Web site that specializes in posting leaked documents often provided by whistleblowers.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White on Friday ordered that the domain name be disabled at the behest of a group of Swiss bankers who filed a lawsuit alleging that confidential information appeared on Wikileaks.org.
... Wikileaks' summary of the leaked documents centers on Rudolf Elmer, the former chief operating officer of Bank Julius Baer in the Cayman Islands. The summary alleges the bank supports "ultra-rich's (sic) offshore tax avoidance, tax evasion, asset hiding and money laundering." The bank has refused to comment.

Privatise Profits, Socialise Losses

From Calculated Risk:
Over the last two decades, few industries have lobbied more ferociously or effectively than banks to get the government out of its business and to obtain freer rein for “financial innovation.”

But as losses from bad mortgages and mortgage-backed securities climb past $200 billion, talk among banking executives for an epic government rescue plan is suddenly coming into fashion.

A confidential proposal that Bank of America circulated to members of Congress this month provides a stunning glimpse of how quickly the industry has reversed its laissez-faire disdain for second-guessing by the government — now that it is in trouble.
The line from the title is borrowed from countless commenters on the above blog and many other blogs. Says it well.
Another instance of the same, here.

02-Feb-2008

American Primaries : Democracy In Action Or...

Ramesh Thakur in The Hindu:
... let us pay homage to America and the American dream more generally. Later this year, the Democratic Party will have either a black or a woman as its presidential standard bearer. The party’s field of candidates is already America at its most glorious best: Barack Obama, son of a white Christian woman from Kansas and a black Muslim father from Kenya who grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia, victorious in 96 per cent white Iowa; Hillary Clinton, a woman; and Bill Richardson, a Hispanic-American, among others.

America matters, what America does and does not do matters, and so the choice of who leads America matters to the rest of us. ... it is impossible for outsiders not to celebrate when America presents its most attractive face to the world which no other country, still, can match.

After that rhapsody he has gone on to endorse Mr Obama:
“A president like my father,” Caroline Kennedy wrote that in Mr. Obama she saw an echo of the force of inspiration that people told her they had felt with her father but she herself had never experienced. She was supporting Mr. Obama for a mix of “patriotic, political and personal” reasons that are intertwined. Touchingly, it was her children who first made her realise that Mr. Obama “is the president we need”.
...
Mr. Obama’s victory speech was another rousing oration that dipped deep into the wellsprings of hope, optimism and unity. There were also flashes of hard-edged anger, condemning those who will say and do anything to win, denouncing those who are so partisan that they will demonise any crediting of ideas to a Republican, and rejecting all attempts to file candidates and voters into ethnic and gender boxes.
But he has completely skipped over Mr Edwards - "the most progressive candidate on issues and the most electable on paper" - ignored him, made him invisible - as the American media has. And there in lies the real story of the American system - media and big-money dictates who gets a chance and who doesn't.

Paul Krugman on Edwards contribution to the race:
So John Edwards has dropped out of the race for the presidency. By normal political standards, his campaign fell short.

But Mr. Edwards, far more than is usual in modern politics, ran a campaign based on ideas. And even as his personal quest for the White House faltered, his ideas triumphed: both candidates left standing are, to a large extent, running on the platform Mr. Edwards built.

If 2008 is different, it will be largely thanks to Mr. Edwards. He made a habit of introducing bold policy proposals — and they were met with such enthusiasm among Democrats that his rivals were more or less forced to follow suit.

Unfortunately for Mr. Edwards, the willingness of his rivals to emulate his policy proposals made it hard for him to differentiate himself as a candidate; meanwhile, those rivals had far larger financial resources and received vastly more media attention. Even The Times’s own public editor chided the paper for giving Mr. Edwards so little coverage.

Eric Alterman on how the media marginalised Edwards :
The Edwards campaign was a surreal experience that should inspire a doctoral dissertation or two. He was both the most progressive candidate on issues and the most electable on paper, and yet he did not get the support of most progressives or most professionals. This despite the fact that he actually ran a terrific campaign and, more than Obama and Hillary, defined it in a positive direction. That he forced the other candidates to respond did not end up mattering as much as the media’s fascination with all things Clintonian, Obamian, and the egregiously awful coverage of Edwards. The Washington Post deserves special mention for its idiotic 1,300-word piece on his haircut and an even longer one on his house. Richard Cohen and Michael Dobbs both called him a liar and presented no evidence. The editorial board attacked him constantly. The New York Times also went in for the “How can you care about poor people when you’re so rich?” line of questioning, which implies that poor people are unentitled to representation in the American political system, since it allows for only wealthy people to run. And Maureen Dowd was her usual awful, substanceless self, helping to set the tone for the rest, to the shame of all of us.
More from :
The 28% of the American adult population with college degrees defines the country's values, its policies, its laws, what is stylish and how you get to the top, including the White House. And what it has defined has exacted no small price from the remaining 72%. For example, just in the past eight years, the following have gotten significantly worse:

Median income
Number of manufacturing jobs
Number of new private jobs
Percent of workers with company based health insurance
Poverty
Consumer credit debt
Number of housing foreclosures
Cost of heating oil & gas
Number without health insurance
Wages in manufacturing
Income gap between rich and poor
Wealth of the bottom 40% of Americans
Number of older families with pensions
Number of workers covered by defined benefit pensions
Hunger
Use of soup kitchens
Personal bankruptcies
Median rent

Yet when John Edwards tried to build a campaign around these issues he was subjected not only to the opposition of the establishment and its media but a notable tone of ridicule whose subtext was: why would anyone want to bother with such things? Especially a guy as rich as Edwards?

And when he pulled out of the race, Edwards was treated to more of the same, especially from such faux hip websites as Gawker, Radar and Fark:

Radar: The pretty-boy presidential candidate scored just 14 percent of the vote in yesterday's Florida primaries. . .

Fark: John Edwards announces he will drop out of race today to spend more time with his hair.

Gawker: John Edwards will end his 49th run for president Wednesday after failing to capitalize on his angry hobo-under-the-bridge message.

These sites, like much of elite America, are led by spoiled offspring of generations who had to struggle with just the sort of issues Edwards was trying to raise, but from which they now consider themselves immune by their education, status and cleverness.
...

Edwards' problem was that he made the smug set of American liberalism extremely uncomfortable. He showed them what they should really be thinking about and what they might do about it. And they didn't like it. Far better to relax in the self-righteousness of choosing between a Harvard Law School black and a Yale Law School woman.

And so, once again, the Democratic Party drifts further away from what once made it worth bragging about.
One of the comments to the above post:
Both Obama and Clinton have elite megabucks backing them. The Kerry and Kennedy endorsement of Obama represent billions in famlity net worth, in addition to the billions - for example, from the heiress to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, Karen Pritzker - already backing him. There is, to my thinking, no "democracy" in this "Democratic" party two-fold choice.
So that is what is happening in the American primary contest.

01-Feb-2008

Spreading Democracy

Via Digby:
An Iraqi MP preferred to remain anonymous told the newspaper that highly confidential negotiations took place by representatives from American oil companies, offering $5 million to each MP who votes in favor of the Oil and Gas law.

The amount that could be paid to pass the votes do not exceed $150 million dollars in the case of $5 million to each MP, pointing out that the Oil law requires 138 votes to pass, which the Americans want to guarantee in many ways, including vote-buying, intimidation and threats!

31-Jan-2008

Says Who?

From TOI (epaper link, the article is on page 10):
Correcting his father’s scandalous assessment made when he was prime minister that of every rupee spent on rural uplift and poverty alleviation only 16 paise reached the target recipients, Rahul Gandhi recently scaled that figure down to between five and six paise. A report has shown that the much-hyped rural employment guarantee scheme has managed to reach less than 4% of the households it is aimed at.
'A report'? Which report would that be? Small-sized sound bites like this, without any backing up from authoritative sources, chip away steadily at creditable government actions like the NREGA.

Brain Dead Cartoon

From TOI:



Update: Adding that ad hominem attacks don't cut it, and nor does deliberately missing the main point. Like those in this counter view. The main point is that kids and youngsters are the ones at most risk - not those who have minds of their own. True, there are other problems with health care, but accept it, this is also a biggish problem.

We Learn

At least, that's the message I take away from this news:
Hopes revive on pipeline deal
Sujay Mehdudia

NEW DELHI: In a major initiative that could culminate in the clinching of the 2,300 km. trans-border Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora is likely to visit Pakistan in February first week to sort out issues relating to the transit fee.

Highly placed sources on Tuesday said Pakistan’s Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Amanullah Khan Jadoon invited Mr. Deora to pay a visit for sorting out issues pertaining to the project during their meeting in London late last week.

The Pakistan Minister told Mr. Deora that Islamabad was ready for talks some time in the first week of February. Both discussed the possibility of settling the transit fee issue and also the price revision clause sought to be introduced in the contract by Iran.

In a related development, Iran has suggested February 12 or 13 as dates for holding talks with India and Pakistan in Tehran to settle the $7 billion deal.

The U.S. is pressuring India not to go ahead with the project.

Two Worlds

From Churumuri:
“Ironically, the era of the free market has led to the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in India—the secession of the middle and upper classes to a country of their own, somewhere up in the stratosphere where they merge with the rest of the world’s elite. This Kingdom in the Sky is a complete universe in itself, hermetically sealed from the rest of India.

“It has its own newspapers, films, television programmes, morality plays, transport systems, malls and intellectuals. And in case you are beginning to think it’s all joy-joy, you’re wrong.

“It also has its own tragedies, its own environmental issues (parking problems, urban air pollution); its own class struggles. An organisation called Youth for Equality, for example, has taken up the issue of Reservations, because it feels upper castes are discriminated against by India’s pulverised lower castes.

“It has its own people’s movements and candle-light vigils (Justice for Jessica, the model who was shot in a bar) and even its own People’s Car (the Wagon for the Volks launched by the Tata Group recently). It even has its own dreams that take the form of TV advertisements in which Indian CEOs (smeared with Fair & Lovely Face Cream, Men’s) buy over international corporations, including an imaginary East India Company.

“They are ushered into their plush new offices by fawning white women (who look as though they’re longing to be laid, the final prize of conquest) and applauding white men, ready to make way for the new kings. Meanwhile, the crowd in the stadium roars to its feet (with credit cards in its pockets) chanting ‘India! India!’”
That's Arundhati Roy describing one of the two worlds. Here's The Hindu (30 Jan 2008) describing part of the other (the entire page is missing from the online edition, so no link):
Cholera seems to have revisited the city with detection of five cases in a private hospital and 24 samples suspected for cholera sent to Public Health Institute (PHI) for confirmation. On Tuesday, 281 fresh cases of gastroenteritis were also reported, taking the total to 819 since the first case was reported in Bharathinagar on Sunday.
...
The BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply & Seweraage Board) release said: "Some contamination has been detected from 15 houses on Thimmaiah Road Cross. These houses had directly taken water supply connections from the public tap through a GI pipe across a manhole filled with sewage. The water supply to these households was contaminated as the GI pipe was corroded."
...
In many populated areas where roads are very narrow, sewage lines and drinking water pipelines have been laid side by side, which could lead to contamination, sources said.

"This is a repeated experience in Bangalore. Besides the issue of adjacent pipes leading to contamination, there is also that of open drainage. Most urban slum areas bordering storm water drains are contaminated with sewage which even seeps into the groud water," says Thelma Narayanan of Community Health Cell.
And this:
From Ground Zero: Neelsandra and Bharatinagar
As if scraping together a living were not enough, residents have to cope with medical expenses due to contaminated water
You can barely manage to fit in a two-wheeler on many roads in Neelsandra, hardly a couple of kilometres from the upmarket Koramangala. The other streets are hardly motorable, grappling as they do for space with mounds of black slush and bone-rattling potholes. The narrow roads mean that water and sanitary lines are placed close to each other, a situation pregnant with potential for disaster.

A disaster that has unravelled over the past three days as scores of people continue to fall ill afflicted with suspected gastroenteritis. Mohammed Hussain from R.K. Gardens laughs sardonically when you ask him why gastroenteritis has struck now if conditions in the area had always been so appalling. "We are in the news only now. But come here in the evening and you will see that the ones doing brisk business are private doctors who have long queues outside their clinics."
More:
'The poor are the worst victims'
"Drinking water is not safe for the poor in Bangalore. This is the fundamental issue and the outbreak of gastroenteritis at Bharathinagar is only the symptom of a larger malaise," says Isaac Arul Selva of Jan Sahayog, an organisation that works on urban infrastructure issues.

"Cases of cholera and gastroenteritis regularly occur in slums and lower-middle class localities. They become news only when the numbers are big," he says. Nayandanahalli, Badarayanapura, Koramangala Slum and Andhra Colony are areas where this is an "annual feature," he says.

Jan Sahayog did a study at 35 slums in Bangalore in 2005 that revealed that 75 per cent of water samples were not potable owing to chemical and biological contamination.

The Land Where No One Dies

Ramesh Ramanathan's latest in Mint (no link):
Elections and Voters’ Lists – the DNA of our Democracy

“It seems that nobody dies in Karnataka”, said N. Gopalaswami, Chief Election Commissioner of India. He had just completed a review of the electoral rolls – more commonly known as the voters’ list – in the state. There were an astonishing number of errors, leading the Election Commission (EC) to declare that they would be deleting over 34 lakh entries, and adding close to 10 lakh entries over the coming weeks, in an operation that looks more like a disaster relief activity than a maintenance job on a database – 30,000 government servants deployed at every polling booth, twelve senior level officers at the state level, and four observers from other states.

That’s a huge number. It’s a wake-up call to recognise that this isn’t about bureacratic neglect or administrative incompetence, it’s a fundamental long-running legacy problem. If we don’t address this the right way, we run the risk of putting band-aids when the patient has a deep disease. The disaster relief has to give way to systemic change.

In the short run, the EC’s public announcement has added another dimension to an already twisted political situation in the state. Karnataka is being run under President’s rule, after the tattered coalition government of the JDS-BJP collapsed under the weight of its own bickerings. Right now, all political parties are working furiously to estimate their share of the vote in a possible May election, which might even get postponed. Every caste and community configuration is being parsed – split into sub-castes and further subdivided so that electoral victory can be squeezed out.

This is acceptable electoral politics in India. But the troubling part is the role that weak voter rolls will play in determining political fortunes. Because elections these days hinge on small slivers of margins, which make the difference between fading into oblivion and being victorious.

In the last Karnataka elections, 170 of the 224 candidates – over 75% - won without getting a clear majority of the votes. 116 seats were won with a margin of victory of less than 10,000 votes, and 70 with less than 5,000 votes. If half these votes – less than 2,500 – had swung the other way, the results would have been different. Suddenly, the 35 lakh false entries assumes importance – an average of 15,000 names wrong in each constituency.

All political parties know these errors. There is a flourishing market for these fake names. Its easier to “buy” a fake voter than a real voter, whose loyalty is unpredictable, price is market-driven, and presence at the polling booth on election day is uncertain.

Unfortunately, little can be done to solve this problem, certainly not in the next few months. Contrary to public imagination, the Election Commission of India is a tiny organisation with a small handful of senior Commissioners and support staff. They depend heavily on state and local government machinery to manage their work. This army of grassroot soldiers is a motley group of teachers and revenue officers who double up for this unsavoury job. Ramaseshan, the Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka said, “There is a human dimension here that we overlook. Women teachers often have to visit voters’ houses late at night, after work hours when they are sure that people will be at home.” And the ripple effects in the major clean-up operation in Karnataka are massive: close to 10,000 teachers are double-timing during exam days, busy toiling away knocking on people’s doors, getting turned away like unwanted salespeople. The instructions are for teachers to do this after school hours, with no additional income. Boy, the price that democracy extracts!

The lessons go beyond Karnataka. The Election Commission is a credible Constitutional authority, and it needs support. It needs financial and human resources to undertake fundamental business process re-engineering in every aspect of electoral roll management: change the entire database of the voters list from a patchwork of excel sheets that resides only with vendors to a secure, single location; revamp roll management to a continuous process rather than a stop-and-start activity; create transparency and opportunities for citizens to engage at a neighbourhood level; use GIS to map polling station boundaries; pay for booth-level officers from the government and post-office machinery; and beef up the technical and administrative support for the EC. All this will cost no more than Rs 1,000 crore a year nationally. It’s peanuts compared to the hundreds of thousands of crores of public resources that corrupt politicians gain access to with the seal of legitimacy that elections confer upon them, dead voters included.
I'm not entirely sure it is just a legacy issue. One of the poor teachers turned up at my house two weeks ago. Sure my name was on the list. But so were the names of three people who I absolutely do not know. How could they be registered to vote from my house? I have never rented out the house ever, the house is just five years old, it was an empty site before that. Who put their names in? And the names were very plausible local names. It must've been deliberately done.

Of course, the larger issue of how the voter list is maintained is a huge problem too. The teachers who this have to be pitied. The poor lady who was 50+ had come once before and since no one was at home, she had come again. And it was pure coincidence that she caught me. All this on foot, and on top of other duties. That's not right at all.

Money Talks

Yeah:
Melbourne: Cricket Australia (CA) bore a scathing attack from its furious players and local media for bowing to the BCCI’s “money power” and letting Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh off the hook with minimal punishment.
...
“It shows how much power India has. The Aussie guys aren’t going to make it up. The players are frustrated because this shows how much influence India has, because of the wealth they generate. Money talks,” an unnamed Australian player was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald.

‘Cricket’s Day of Shame’ cried a headline in the paper and the report said the players were dismayed to hear “Harbhajan had avoided any meaningful punishment”.

The report also said that CA caved in to India’s muscle flexing as it was anxious to save the tri-series because it feared to be sued for a figure understood to be about $60 million if India quit the tour.
Hey, stop cribbing, that's what superpowers do. Yes, we are the superpower of cricket :
"World cricket authorities have caved in to the game's financial superpower, India, and Cricket Australia has incurred the wrath of its own test players by pressuring them to drop a racial slur charge against Harbhajan Singh," the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

"The Board of Control for Cricket in India had even chartered a plane to take its players home tomorrow if the Indian player's three-test suspension -- for calling Australia's Andrew Symonds a monkey during the Sydney test -- had not been overturned at yesterday's appeal in the Federal Court in Adelaide."

Former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck, writing in the same newspaper, said the Indian cricket board should be condemned for their abuse of power.

"If this is the way the Indian board intends to conduct its affairs hereafter, then God help cricket," Roebuck wrote.

"Brinkmanship or not, threatening to take their bat and ball home in the event of a resented verdict being allowed to stand was an abomination. It sets a dreadful precedent. What price justice now?" Peter Lalor, writing in the national broadsheet The Australian, said the decision was further proof of India's ability to wield their financial power to win events off the field.
And what about Roebuck's comment? His call for Ponting to be sacked and his 'pack of wild dogs' charge were widely reported. But this 'God help cricket' charge languishes in some hidden hole.

There has been a rebuttal by the Indian team:
The Indian cricket team today denied reports that they had chartered a plane to fly its players home on Thursday if bowler Harbhajan Singh was not cleared of racially taunting Australian player Andrew Symonds.

Arriving at Melbourne Airport this afternoon with the team in preparation for Friday's Twenty20 match with Australia at the MCG, the team's media spokesman Dr M.V. Sridhar said the team had not made any such plans.

''I don't know where that came from.There was no thinking like that at all. After what happened yesterday, we're going forward so that the game goes on,'' the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Sridhar, as saying.
A lie of course:
Mumbai: The Board of Control for Cricket in India on Monday reiterated its stand on the Harbhajan Singh ban issue and threatened to call of the remainder of the tour of Australia unless the alleged racial abuse charge against the Indian off-spinner was withdrawn in the two-day appeals hearing starting on Tuesday.

“Our stand remains the same as was the case earlier. We want the racial slur (against Harbhajan Singh) to be lifted. Otherwise the BCCI will recall the team from Australia,” said its Vice-President Lalit Modi on Monday.
My break with cricket is almost complete. Money power, the media circus, accusations of match fixing that keep surfacing, transformation of half-baked cricketers into national heroes overnight - who wants all of that? And of course, the Greg Chappell saga that started the downhill slide for me. I still follow results and the ever new controversies tepidly but indifferently move on to something else. And to think that not very long ago, I considered anyone who didn't watch and follow cricket a bit strange and exotic and a bit difficult to connect with.
Update: Human error led to Bhajji not being banned:
ICC appeals commissioner, New Zealand High Court judge John Hansen, blamed administrative error for the spinner escaping a possible ban.

Hansen said the ICC informed him of one prior offence of the spinner but discovered after handing down his verdict that Harbhajan had been penalised on four previous occasions.

"At the end of the day Mr Singh can feel himself fortunate that he has reaped the benefit of these database and human errors," he wrote in his judgment.

Speed said: "It is very unfortunate that human error led to Justice Hansen not having the full history of Harbhajan's previous Code of Conduct breaches and the ICC accepts responsibility for this mistake."
Human error. Yeah, tell it to the fricking birds.

25-Jan-2008

Gloom & Doom

Aplenty (registration required):
The US has already entered into a recession and this recession will be much uglier than the mild recessions of 1990-91 and 2001 as a shopped out, saving less and debt burdened consumer is on the ropes and faltering.

The world will not decouple from the US hard landing; there will be significant recoupling and a sharp global economic slowdown. When the US sneezes the rest of the world catches the cold; and today the US will not experience just a simple common cold but rather a protracted and severe case of pneumonia; thus, the real and financial contagion to other economies will be severe.

Whatever the Fed does now is too little too late; the Fed had a wrong diagnosis of the economy and was behind the curve for over a year. The Fed claimed that the housing slump would bottom out a year ago; instead we have the worst housing recession in US history still getting much worse now. The Fed claimed that the subprime would be a niche and contained problem; instead we have had massive contagion to the entire financial system as a credit bubble and excessive debt and leverage occurred throughout the economy and the financial system. The Fed claimed that the housing problems would not spread to the rest of the economy; instead we had had real and financial spillovers and now a fall of most components of aggregate demand: housing, capex spending, commerical real estate investment and now, ominously, private consumption that represents 70% of demand.

The US stock market is now entering in a seriously bearish territory and will fall much more sharply throughout the year as earnings sharply drop in the recession; the Bernanke put and the aggressive Fed easing will not rescue the stock market or the financial markets as a severe recession is unavoidable regardless of what the Fed does. Fed easing cannot resolve severe insolvency problems among consumers, mortgage lenders, home builders, highly leveraged financial institutions and, soon, enough among over indebted corporate firms.

Equity markets around the world are now plunging and will plunge much more as investors are realizing that a severe US recession will lead to a sharp global economic slowdown and a significant fall in profits across the world. In an integrated global economy both economic growth rates and markets are highly correlated.

Many risky assets will face downward pressure in 2008, not just US and global equities: junk bond yield spreads will widen as bankruptcies spread; corporations will default in great number; housing bubbles will pop in many countries and lead to falls in home prices; securitized products - in housing, real estate and otherwise, will experience further massive losses.

Losses in the financial system will be greater than $1 trillion; thus there is a serious risk of a systemic banking and financial crisis. The credit crunch will become much more severe as capital of financial institutions is eroded and reintermediation of financial flows into the banking system occurs.

Udayan Mukherjee a few days ago:
These may be tough days but it may well turn out to be the best buying opportunity of 2008. Do not panic, accumulate slowly, there is still a long bull market ahead of us. Maybe not in the US but in India for sure.

22-Jan-2008

The Chicks

Have come home to roost (via Atrios):
I don't think it's an exaggeration. It's an understatement. You've heard me say here I think we are facing the worst financial crunch and crisis since the Great Depression. You have the entire banking system now that is virtually frozen and there are not just the sub-prime mortgage thing. There are other things called credit default swaps where they're going to lose as much money, 250 billion dollars on. The banks are frozen. They're not making loans because they have such huge debts that they have to take onto their balance sheets and nobody knows how to deal with that because you had a dramatic...you had two bubbles that have burst at the same time. The housing bubble which has collapsed in this country. The first time since the Great Depression that housing values have gone down for a year since the depression and it's going to go down even more next year. The credit crunch, you've just exploded the whole credit system in this country. We were way over leveraged. The banking system was over-leveraged. People didn't even know about it. The bankers didn't know about it. They didn't access the risk. Now that risk is piling in and every body's going to pay the price. Uh it's going to stimulate nothing other, I mean it's going to destimulate the economy. Nobody has money to lend. They're saving all their money to pay off their debts. They're borrowing money or looking at uh the rest of the world to enhance their capital and it's still not going to solve their problems.
This too!

Update: And it's all related:
Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, hit by mortgage-related losses in the US, were aggressive sellers during the day.
I bet these sellers are not selling at a loss. A note to the India Rising folks: the foreign money pours in, and pours out, India Rising or not.

20-Jan-2008

Outsourcing To India

The President of Intel Russia:
“The policy we have at Intel is simple. If we can, we commit difficult problems to engineers in the U.S. If the task is very labour-intensive, we assign it to Indian specialists. If the problem cannot be solved, we offer it to Russians.”
That's not a very nice thing to say sir.

Leaders Bollywood Style

Nothing less, is what we'll get courtesy TOI. Santosh Desai in Tehelka:
...the TOI’s Lead India campaign is going strong. Among the eminent people who will judge the suitability of candidates for the onerous task of nation building in These Exciting Times are people who have toiled tirelessly for the downtrodden and showed us new ways of punching, kicking and riding motorcycles on screen. Yes, I am talking about Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgan, the intrepid reformers who we all owe so much to.

Nicholas Burns

Retires. He will take up a private job. Intriguingly he'll still be looking at the 'Indian file'. How so? Well, apparently:
"There are special provisions within the law that allow people for discrete periods or limited periods of time, not necessarily measured by the calendar year but by the number of days you spend doing something, that allow people who are not part of the government to work on specific functions."

Money Talks

And it may even sing and dance, in Britain:
LONDON: In a classic case of money speaking louder than merit, anyone with £1 million in the bank and willing to invest some of their “dosh” in Britain can now hope to literally buy their way into this country even if English language sounds Greek to them.

Under new immigration plans, ostensibly designed to ensure greater integration of prospective immigrants into British society, it will be compulsory for anyone who wants to come and live in Britain to pass an English language test even before their application is considered.

But an exception is proposed to be made in case of rich businessmen on grounds that the money they would bring into this country outweighs the little difficulty of their lack of sufficient knowledge of English.

Apparently, the move follows representations by foreign millionaires, notably Russians and Japanese, who are willing to invest pots of money in Britain but don’t know enough English and are reluctant to be lumped with lesser mortals on this issue.

18-Jan-2008

Anchors On CNBC

What's wrong with the anchors on CNBC? When the markets tank royally as they are doing now they go all gloomy faces and talk about 'It's been a very very bad day today' and so on. What the #&@! is so bad about the markets dropping like a rock? Conversely what is so good about the markets going up like a gas-filled balloon even when there are small and not so small warnings all around? Markets go up and down - that's what they do.

Questions, Questions

P Sainath:
How many upper caste men have had their eyes gouged out for marrying outside their caste? Ask young Chandrakant in Sategaon village of Nanded in Maharashtra why he thinks it happened to him last week. How many higher caste bastis have been torched and razed in land or other disputes? How many upper caste folk lose a limb or even their lives for daring to enter a temple? How many Brahmins or Thakurs get beaten up, even burnt alive, for drawing water from the village well? How many from those whose “privileges are dwindling” have to walk four kilometres to fetch water? How many upper caste groups are forced to live on the outskirts of the village, locked into an eternal form of indigenous apartheid? Now that’s discrimination.
How about 'none'?

17-Jan-2008

God's Gift

Now here's a fatwa for the times we live in:
Clerics at Deoband have come out with a new fatwa, dispelling notions that Islam is against family planning.

Contrary to the belief that contraceptives are not allowed in Islam, Deoband has ruled that their use is necessary.

Darull-Uloom says contraceptives are permissible under Islamic laws so that the children are properly nourished.

Another prominent Muslim body Jamia-Ulema-e-Hind has supported the Fatwa. However, the Islamic body called permanent methods of contraception like vasectomy or tubectomy haram (unlawful).

Several Muslim nations like Turkey and Iran encourage their citizen to adopt contraceptives, a move to check the growing population in those countries
.
It makes the Deoband clerics, Turkey and Iran more liberal in this very important respect than the Catholic church and the Pope:
Now we’re ready for the hard part of the evening: why does the Church forbid contraception? Artificial contraception is wrong because it violates the "gift of self" which ought to be at the center of every act of physical love. When you take the pill or use a foam, diaphragm, condom or whatever, you are, in effect, saying to your spouse, "In this, the most intimate act of our marriage, I am going to give myself to you, but only up to a point." Or, conversely, you are saying, "I want you in this act to make a total gift to me of yourself, except that part of you which so deeply defines you as a sexual being, your fertility." The body has its own deep language, and when we add chemicals or latex to the act of love, when we deliberately destroy its potential for making new life, we falsify the nuptial meaning of its actions. We hold back the full "gift of self" which during the wife’s fertile period must include an openness to new life.
I still remember a scathing documentary on BBC which examined the impact of this ban on extremely poor communities of Catholics in countries like Phillipines and many African countries. It was so hard to understand how this ban could continue in the face of all the suffering.

I'm expecting our media to swarm over the news of this fatwa once they are through with jallikattu and other pressing topics - it must be the die-hard optimist hidden in some corner of myself.

16-Jan-2008

More Nano Please

Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha/JNURM in Mint (no link):
The Nano Inspiration

I am inspired by the story of the Nano. Beyond its cute look or frugal engineering-driven price tag, I find it remarkable how Team Tata pulled it off in just four years.

I've watched and read the rumblings – on congestion, traffic, the environment. Confession: I own a car. This makes it hard for me to criticise the Nano: people-in-glass-houses constraint. There is an Indian equivalent of this – the "unreserved compartment syndrome". All those inside the compartment do everything to keep outsiders at bay; but once someone gets in - bravely beating the odds - he becomes an insider, repeating the same behaviour, so nothing changes. We need to understand the sentiments of the outsiders - how many people who don't own cars criticise the Nano on the grounds of traffic congestion and environmental concerns.

But the larger point is the inspirational lamp that the Nano story lights. There are hundreds of challenges in India where the lessons of the Nano can be applied – design innovation, scale efficiency, vendor networking and so on. I want to talk about three illustrative examples.

Healthcare

Dr Devi Shetty, one of the country's leading heart surgeons is also focused on bringing affordable health services to the poor. He talked of the need for innovation and scale in healthcare, based on our unique challenges in India .

Using the example of a CT scan, which costs Rs 5,000 - 10,000 per patient, he said, "We have a few hundred CT scan machines in India, each doing 3-4 scans a day, although the capacity is over 100/day. These machines are like planes that earn money only when they fly. We need to increase the flow of patients through these centres. But this is related to other issues like hospital bed capacity and inpatient/outpatient ratios. Today, most hospitals make their money from inpatients. We need to reverse this relationship where thousands of outpatients who each pay a few hundred rupees for tests can subsidize the operating costs of the hospital."

Imagine if we could get a CT scan cost down to Rs 500, offer a heart surgery for a few thousand rupees or a gall bladder surgery for under a thousand. This requires a fundamental redesign of all the parts of the healthcare delivery system - from re-engineering individual components like the CT scan, to embedding these into scaled health "cities" that can get a critical mass of 10,000 outpatients a day.

Housing

In urban India alone, we need to build over 26 million homes to meet projected demand until 2012, and over 95% of this is for the poor. If we ignore government subsidised programmes, and focus on market-driven solutions, we need to build homes with an all-in cost of Rs 2 - Rs 2.5 lakhs for land and building, so that the EMI is around Rs 2,500. Given current land costs and fsi/far ratios in urban India , this translates to a construction cost of about Rs 300- 400 per square foot for a 400 sft dwelling. Imagine the kind of demand that can open up if we can change the engineering specifications, reduce the cost-per-unit by scale economies, improve the construction process, and deliver a product that might not have marble floors, but doesn't compromise on quality.

Public transport

The Design Museum of London ( www.designmuseum.org) says this about the famous London double-decker bus, "Developed over nine years from 1947 to 1956 by a team led by industrial designer Douglas Scott, the Routemaster was designed with mass-production in mind. By constructing a bus from the maximum number of interchangeable parts, they cut the cost not only of the initial tooling and manufacturing, but of repairs and maintenance too. They also equipped it with the latest automotive engineering innovations such as power steering, an automatic gearbox, hydraulic brakes, independent springs and heating controls."

I think of the public bus system in our cities. If the experience is bad for passengers, it's worse for the bus drivers, having to navigate these Noah's arks through the narrow Indian streets. We need buses designed for Indian conditions: our roads, our traffic, our people. With environmental challenges thrown in, we are looking at a fundamental redesign of the Indian bus. Can we create an icon like the London Routemaster?

These challenges – and the hundreds more that India faces – would normally result in little more than wishful thinking or simplistic dead-end pilot projects. The Nano story inspires us to say, "Why not?" with a clear-headed acknowledgement of the complexities. To me, this itself is worth the applause it is receiving.

15-Jan-2008

Nuclear Deal

I see headlines like this everywhere today:
India, China pledge to strike N-dosti
India, China to cooperate in civil nuclear energy
But I thought the accepted wisdom was that China was trying to scuttle the nuclear deal and our nuclear ambitions and that the Left was acting more or less as an agent of China in opposing the deal.

13-Jan-2008

Imposing Progress

From The Hindu:
Survival International has just released its hard-hitting report, ‘Progress can kill.’ If you think the title is challenging, the contents are even more shocking: the report clearly shows that forcing our ideas of ‘progress’ on tribal peoples destroys their mental and physical health.

Even after working on the report for three years, I’m still shocked, choked and outraged by what it lays bare: ‘progress’ forced on tribal peoples leads to desperate suffering and, all too often, to the total destruction of whole tribes.

India’s Great Andamanese are one tragic example. The British brought ‘progress’ to them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by forcing them out of their forest and into a ‘home’ in Port Blair, where 150 babies were born and every single one of them died before their third birthday. Overall, 99% of the tribe died, leaving just 53 people alive today.
Relatedly, this. The move for forming CWHs seems to be nothing but a workaround to get around the Forest Rights Act.

12-Jan-2008

Children & Frogs

Juan Cole:
One of the arguments warmongers gave for overthrowing Saddam Hussein was that his regime was responsible for the violent deaths of some 300,000 civilians between 1968 and 2003. That estimate now appears exaggerated, since the number of bodies in mass graves has not borne it out. But what is tragic is that in 4 1/2 short years, a foreign military occupation has unleashed killing on a scale achieved by the murderous Saddam Hussein regime only over decades. Bush did not kill all those people directly, of course, but he did indirectly cause them to be killed, since these are excess deaths beyond what you would have expected if there had been no invasion and occupation.

I am often struck by how clueless the American public is to the vast destruction we have wrought on Iraq and its people, directly or indirectly. It strikes me as a bitter joke that 4 million are displaced, often facing hunger and disease, and the rightwing periodicals and presidential candidates are talking about how the "surge" has "turned things around." For whom? How many orphans have we created? How many widows? How many people who weep and cry every night while trying to fall asleep on straw mats? I estimate on the basis of a UN study of refugees in Syria that as many as 600,000 or 700,000 Baghdadis were ethnically cleansed from the capital under the nose of the American troops implementing the surge. There is an old Chinese proverb, "Children throw stones at frogs in jest, but the frogs die in earnest."

11-Jan-2008

The Nano & Congestion

And Ratan Tata's take on it:
We produce about 7 million two-wheelers a year. Today we must have 60-70 million two-and three-wheelers in the country. Last year we produced about 1.4 million cars and at some point we will exceed two million. Well, nobody says anything about that. It is only this car that is being targeted. You may say, 'Well, the two-wheeler takes less space.' Our car pollutes, if not less, then certainly not more than a two wheeler—not per passenger but as a vehicle. Our engine conforms to Euro IV and Bharat III—all two wheelers are Bharat II today. So, yes you may take a view that this small car will take less space than a large car. It will carry four people instead of the normal two on a scooter and therefore, instead of two scooters, you will have one car on the road.

That criticism also assumes that the small car will not replace a bigger car. You produce two million cars and you produce half a million small cars, so you produce 2.5 million cars. That's not how it is going to work. We will cannibalise some of the existing low-end cars and two-wheelers, and even some of our own cars. The Indica too is going to feel the effects. So it will not be that it will be on top of everything and there won't be a square inch of space on the road.

Second, we are looking at congestion in the top major cities. Have we got affordable family transport in the two tier and three tier cities? Is it their lot not to have a vehicle? The huge potential lies when India gets connected in the rural areas.
Let's wait and watch!

Recession, Recession Everywhere

At least, the UN & Goldman Sachs think so (via this comment thread). More on the Goldman report here.

10-Jan-2008

BJP And Gandhi

Time was when a sure-shot way to identify a closet BJP supporter was by his views on Gandhi. Negative? Most probably a BJP supporter. Positive? Mostly a non-BJP supporter. Alas, that may no longer hold if the leadership goes on like this.

Nanded's Shame

That's the headline on every TV channel and every newspaper that will shut out everything else for the next 24 hours and beyond, now that this has happened. Really. They will get round to it I'm sure, though they were still dealing with Mumbai's Shame, Racism in Golf, the OZs and other equally important things, when I checked just now .

Clinton, Obama... Does It Matter

While Ramesh Thakur goes all dreamy and idealistic here, Siddharth Varadarajan brings us down to earth:
Given the disasters the Bush administration has caused in Iraq and elsewhere, it is only natural that all candidates — Democrats and Republicans — feel obliged to declare they will bring about a substantive change in the way the U.S. deals with the world.

In reality, the change, when it comes, will at best be marginal.
And that's the truth.

PS: If anyone out there is wondering where Siddharth Varadarajan vanished after the nuclear deal fracas, he's here.

06-Jan-2008

Comparing Riots

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar pulls a fast one here. Ticking off various points proving that the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 were worse than Gujarat, he writes
So, on virtually every parameter you can measure, 1984 was worse than 2002. Why then is Modi called a fascist while the Congress is heralded as a secular saviour? Sitaram Yechury of the CPM points out that the Congress ultimately apologised for the 1984 killings, but the BJP has still not done so for 2002.

That is indeed a difference. Modi needs to make a similar gesture. But have the two Communist parties apologised for the millions murdered by their comrades globally?
What does the left parties apologising or not have to do with Gujarat & the anti-Sikh riots?! We're talking about the Congress and the 1984 riots here, aren't we? And why does the left have to apologise for what happened in other countries? As for Nandigram - there is no clear record on what happened there yet and in any case the government there is trying to find a way out and has apologised more than once as far as I can remember. And yes, a sorry makes a big difference.

He also forgets one point: the Gujarat riots are different from the anti-Sikh riots in this respect too: no one can call the Congress anti-Sikh, so the riots can be explained away as a madness of a few days. However, the BJP has always been and perceived to be anti-Muslim - how much ever they try to claim otherwise - hence Gujarat riots acquire a different meaning.

Nitish Kumar Gets A Pat

On the back here, for bringing in a lot of good changes in Bihar.

05-Jan-2008

Bloggers & Their Readers

From here:
now have to explain to my wife why I have had tears running down my cheeks all afternoon.

Try explaining it to coworkers. I have to keep dashing to the washroom to dab and check for blotchiness.


Wife: So, you’re real upset over this person you never actually met?

Me: Yeah.

W: Huh?

Me: Well, I still felt like I knew him. He was decent, and honest, and funny, and sometimes a real pain in the ass. You know, a real person?

W: But this was online? You never met him even once?

Me: Nope. Read him a while, argued with him a bit. Never met him…

W: Huh?

Me: Yeah…

W: So you have this whole other life online I know nothing about?

Me: Well, it’s not like a dating service or anything. It was a blog.

W: What?

Me: Later honey…

04-Jan-2008

More On Benazir Bhutto

More about Benazir Bhutto's policies during her rule, via Huffington Post
Benazir Bhutto was certainly a brave and secular-minded woman. But the obituaries painting her as dying to save democracy distort history. Instead, she was a natural autocrat who did little for human rights, a calculating politician who was complicit in Pakistan’s becoming the region’s principal jihadi paymaster while she also ramped up an insurgency in Kashmir that has brought two nuclear powers to the brink of war.

People Power

This sounds exactly like how it should be:
The government doesn’t hold much land. The land belongs to communities, and this Congress government will not go against the wishes of the people.

03-Jan-2008

Oil Prices Spikes

Crude touches $100 a barrel. Of course, Goldman Sachs had predicted this two years ago. Are they clairvoyant?
Update: Here's someone who was not clairvoyant:
Rupert Murdoch, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq: The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax cut in any country

Puzzled

That's what I am by a NY Times piece in The Hindu (link here via Churmuri). Growing craze for Indian eduction in Japan? Wow. But again, just "roughly" half a dozen Indian schools in the whole of this nation which is so crazy for it? Double wow!

Triumph of hype over reality? I don't know.

Stop The Goa SEZs

Please! Let Goa continue to be the beautiful place it is. Don't mess it up like you've done the rest of the country. And no, don't get all prim and legal about scrapping the ones that have started. Work on a way out of it.

Of Investigations

Scotland Yard to help with the investigation into the Bhutto death. No I will not call it assassination, murder, killing or any of those things. I'm sure it was a natural death. Just like Bob Woolmer's death, the investigation into which Scotland Yard helped too. Update: Scotland Yard was of course brought in 2 months after Woolmer's murder. And it is being brought in now, after the area where Bhutto was killed was hose-cleaned within hours of the murder, most probably destroying crucial evidence.

Also, interesting that the killing of a Rafiq Hariri, allegedly by anti-US Syria, gets an UN investigation and becomes a major international incident, but the death of Bhutto gets a mere Scotland Yard helping hand.