20-Feb-2012

Memo To WSJ


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

And The Brick Finally Drops


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

16-Feb-2012

Infrastructure That Everyone Can Help Build


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

Stop the honking.  Please.


The Arab Spring, Bahraini Autumn and the US


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

14-Feb-2012

Let's Raise a Toast To Excise Tax

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



Why Is The West So Hypocritical?


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

10-Feb-2012

Private/Corporatised Healthcare in India


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

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

Remorseless Progress


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Car Manufacterers Pushback Against Diesel Car Tax


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

Not All Doom and Gloom in Karnataka


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

BJP In Karnataka: Got To Catch 'Em Young


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

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

09-Feb-2012

Gordian Knot of Petrol/Diesel Subsidies


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

BJP - A Party With "Shady Shades"

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

New Sign of Racism In The US

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

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

Dump Water Privatisation

Dump the idea says Deccan Herald.  

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

08-Feb-2012

Devas Goes To The US


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

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

07-Feb-2012

New Delhi Power Privatisation And How It Has Worked Out


Nigeria is reportedly so impressed with India's - and more specifically, Delhi's - model of privatisation of power distribution that it wants to adopt the Delhi model while selling off its own state-owned power generation and distribution businesses. 
... One wonders whether the Nigerian authorities have had a chance to actually interact with the beneficiaries of power reforms - Delhi's electricity consumers - before coming to the conclusion that the Delhi model was the best one to follow. 
...One also wonders whether Nigerian Regulatory Commission and the Bureau of Public Enterprises of Nigeria, the two government bodies which will be involved with the African nation's power privatisation process, have had a chance to go through the latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), which has lambasted the Delhi government for rising power shortages and a mounting power deficit, subsequent to privatisation. 
There have been many demands raised by consumer groups, the latest by the Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs) of the capital, for an independent and neutral audit of the accounts of the power distribution companies. The apex association of RWAs has even moved a division bench of the Delhi High Court seeking a court order for an outside audit.
The reason for this level of outrage and disbelief of claims by the government and the distribution companies are not far to seek.
Far from seeing a palpable improvement in service quality and delivery and a reduction in costs - the main promises made while justifying the power business - they have seen a sharp increase in power tariffs, falling service quality and growing outages and shortages. In other words, privatisation - as far as consumers are concerned - have made things worse, not better.
...In Mumbai, for instance, the stateowned - BEST is actually owned by the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation - sells power at a lower cost to its consumers than its privately owned rival, has a comparable or better record across most service delivery parameters, and manages to meet the government's 'social obligation' of providing power to economically weaker sections of society

Growth? What Growth?


If food, primary education and primary healthcare are the issues which go unanswered, what ‘growth’ are we talking about?
For the past several years Indian economy has been growing at about 8.5 per cent. Even the current projected rate of growth for 2012, despite global recessionary trends, has been put at over 7 per cent. Businessmen and elite have flourished. More businesses have blossomed and more opportunities have opened up for the elite. Frankly, even for several of the working ‘middle’ class population, the last decade and a half -- post-liberalisation -- has been economically beneficial. For all those of us who are on this gravy train, it has been good enough to put us in a slumber and therefore not see the ominous signs. Has it been good for those of our citizens who are at the lower end of the economic spectrum? Has the so-called growth touched the poor? The answer is a clear ‘no’. 
More than a quarter of the entire world’s hungry people are in India. We have 230 million hungry people. 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI) Report places India at a high 15th rank in ‘hunger’. It is also significant to note that between years 1996 and 2011, the hunger index actually went up for only India, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. So, the ‘hunger’ has increased over the last 15 years – years which have seen rapid economic ‘growth’. The World Bank estimates that the percentage of underweight children in sub-Saharan Africa is 24 per cent, while India has almost twice the amount at 47 per cent. About 72 per cent of our infants are anaemic. While this news should really be alarming, we seem to be gloating over our economic marvel. 

UK to India: Please Take Our Money

From the too funny-to-be-true department, the how-the-might-have-fallen department, and the bathos department:

India tells Britain: We don't want your aid
India’s Finance Minister has said that his country “does not require” British aid, describing it as “peanuts”.
Pranab Mukherjee and other Indian ministers tried to terminate Britain’s aid to their booming country last year - but relented after the British begged them to keep taking the money, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
Bathos because the mighty idealism of aid to fight poverty may be rooted in the pure quid pro quo of modern  government-mediated commerce.

Cameron leads the attack on Indian decision on Rafale
Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday led an attack on India for selecting French firm Dassault Rafale for a mega deal to supply fighter jets ignoring British claims as MPs and the media accused New Delhi of “ingratitude,” arguing that Britain gave millions of pounds in aid to India.

06-Feb-2012

India Faking It


Each year, since then, India has had a major visual presence at Davos through cleverly pitched campaigns designed by highly creative advertising agencies.
The India visible in the branding images primarily exists in the consciousness of the elite. It is a world of neat shopping malls, expensive branded products, happy, prosperous consumers, skilled scientists and engineers, white coats, headphones, smooth highways, high rise buildings, glass facades and green grass that paves one's vision. The images could be from anywhere in the world, while the Indian setting is presented through cultural icons such as bindis, colourfully decorated elephants, Gandhiji's spectacles and Taj Mahal. In short, India is transformed into a global place while still retaining its cultural authenticity and ethnic appeal.
While this vision is a powerful tool to attract investors and tourists, it is also its biggest weakness. The images conjure a world that does not really exist outside the limits of the visual frames. Absent from the frames is the “other” India — the poor, the untouchables, the minorities, and all that is un-beautiful — the ruptured body of the nation that has not only failed to “catch up” with the progress, but in fact is seen as holding the nation back in its journey towards prosperity and global power.
It is not uncommon to hear stories of shock and disappointment upon arrival from the very members of the privileged global class that the Indian state so wants to attract. 
...
As the novelty of dazzling image campaigns levels out, India might need to rework its agenda — to focus on the actual production of a prosperous and equitable nation, rather than producing merely images of it.

On Corporate Power


The decay of Canada illustrates two things. Corporate power is global, and resistance to it cannot be restricted by national boundaries. Corporations have no regard for nation-states. They assert their power to exploit the land and the people everywhere. They play worker off of worker and nation off of nation. They control the political elites in Ottawa as they do in London, Paris and Washington. 


Coming Soon To A Paper Near You


They do not question the utopian faith in globalization. They support preemptive war, at least before it goes horribly wrong. And they accept unfettered capitalism, despite what it has done to the nation, as a kind of natural law. The reigning corporate ideology has infected the Times as it has most other liberal institutions. Because this ideology does not challenge the status quo it is defended by these editors as evidence of the paper’s impartiality, balance and neutrality. ExxonMobil, Citibank and Goldman Sachs are treated with deference and respect. The inability to see that major centers of corporate power are criminal enterprises that are plundering the nation and destroying the ecosystem is evidence not of objectivity but moral bankruptcy. 
Or maybe it has already come?

"Playing 'God' with Spectrum"


The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the former Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in power then, never really thought it would lose the Parliamentary elections in 2004. But if it had had some inkling of the impending defeat and wanted another tilt at power, it couldn't have thought of a better ‘Trojan Horse' for the successor government to fiddle around with than the much criticised ‘first come first served' (FCFS) policy of handing out additional ‘spectrum' to mobile telecom operators.
Sounds far fetched? Not really. Consider the evidence. Up until then, it had been a well-settled principle of administrative law that the State cannot dole out any largesse to any section of society, except under the most objective or equitable principles.
...
Yet, here was a conscious policy decision taken to give out radio frequency spectrum to mobile telephony operators when even canteen contracts in obscure railway stations are awarded through open tender.
Good overall summary  of the telecom saga.

04-Feb-2012

Fighting Corruption On The Demand Side

The founder of Lok Satta party has a spectrum of solutions for corruption, all of which pertain to the corporate world.  Competitive bidding for national resources and the following three: 
What other steps should we take to curb collusive corruption and to protect public revenues? Three specific steps are needed now. First, a law should be enacted by Parliament making all contracts involving corruption, or a loss to the Exchequer, void and unenforceable. This will remove all incentives for corporates to bribe any public official to get a favour. A company that loses the bribe amount as well as the business or benefit or favour received through corruption is unlikely to resort to bribery. Only then can we demand corporate integrity and create a level playing field.
Second, a windfall profit tax should be imposed on all those who secured a license or mining lease or other natural resource, and made huge profit without value addition. This will ensure that excess profits made out of a vital public resource are retained with the Exchequer, and aren't appropriated by private interests. Mere private monopoly of public assets shouldn't be a source of unusual profits, even if there is no corruption in the transfer of asset. Such a windfall profit tax was imposed in the UK in 1997, in respect of North Sea Oil, and the monopolies in electricity, telecom, airports, gas, water, and railway sectors.
Third, a law similar to the False Claims Act in the US should be enacted in India. This law allows imposition of a civil penalty five times the loss sustained by the Exchequer in any public procurement or transfer of natural resource.
Makes sense.

Spectrum Auctions Not The Way To Go


By far the most interesting take on the 2G decision by the Supreme Court comes from a pink paper:

The Court posits auctions as the only acceptable method for fair and transparent allocation of national assets. Why ignore a draw of lots among financially and technically qualified aspirants? It equates national enrichment with the proceeds of auction.  
This is a simplistic assumption devoid of economic analysis. Low-cost telecom spreads fast, increasing, with each additional connection, the utility of being connected for everyone on the network. The result is efficiency and productivity gains across the board, leading to faster economic growth. Crores of lives improve and the government nets superior tax receipts, far in excess, over the years, of auction proceeds. Auctioned spectrum jacks up the telecom industry's capital costs, which will either raise tariffs or delay further expansion and upgradation. 
In any case, what sense does it make to transfer huge investible resources from industry to the government? 
So auctions are not the bestest methods of all?  And they tell us only now?  So sad.  But the pink one need not worry.  Our telecom guys have a neat trick through which huge auction prices can be whittled down to manageable amounts:  just take the money from our public sector banks, discussed in The 3G Scam?

Profiting From Water


As a finite, life-giving resource, access to water must remain a fundamental right. The state, as custodian under the public trust doctrine, should uphold the right of the citizen to clean, safe drinking water. It is such a strong, rights-based approach that should underpin official policy on water in India. Many areas in the country are water-stressed, and there are simmering inter-State disputes on sharing river waters. The National Water Policy 2012, now published in draft for public comments, should ultimately take a holistic view of the issue. The draft text makes some references to the importance of water for people and Nature, but is disproportionately focussed on treating water as an economic good. Such an approach predicated on realising the costs that go into the supply of water can only distort access and prices in the long run, affecting less affluent citizens. To suggest, for instance, that the state should exit the service-provider role and become a regulator is only a step away from abandoning the equity objective. Private sector water services have clearly failed in many countries, including those in the global North, and local governments have taken over again. In the current year, for-profit private water companies in England are raising tariffs, while the publicly-owned service in Scotland is not. Just over a decade ago, water wars in Bolivia reversed privatisation moves. Evidently, private partnership imposes the burden of extra costs.
...if there is any one factor that renders much of India's water unusable, it is industrial pollution. This issue calls for urgent action, and the policy can cover major ground if it lays greater emphasis on making the ‘polluter pays' principle work. A clean-up can make a lot more of India's water bodies and groundwater available for use by people.
 Makes perfect sense.  Also, get rid of the corporate subsidies implied in letting industries pollute untrammelled by the environmental costs.

01-Feb-2012

Weak PM? Maybe It's Those Blinkers You're Wearing


B S Raghavan addresses the 'weak PM' issue:

He has been called the weakest PM, the one who is presiding over the most corrupt government, the mouni baba and what have you. We even find that nowadays at the start of meetings and seminars all over India, the comperes have taken to asking the members of the audience to put their mobiles on the MMS mode!
And yet, Dr Singh has lasted eight years in his post, and looks very much like completing his full term. Some of the storms he has weathered have been more unnerving than those his predecessors had gone through. There has been not one whiff of a disparaging remark or sentiment from his Ministerial colleagues, the entire Congress Party and its allies even in their unguarded moments. They are all pulling together, and willingly and loyally.
...No, Dr Singh must have been doing many things right to have lasted this long. I have not a scintilla of doubt that, no matter who chose him, he has been his own person. Behind the scenes, his sense of direction and judgment must have been found to be so compelling as to make others fall in line. He seems to me to be the quintessential strong and silent man, who without any fuss and flamboyance, leaves no one in any doubt as to what he wants done and how.

Corporate Subsidies Anyone?


NEW DELHI, JAN 31: 
Buckling under consumer pressure, Coal India Ltd has rolled back the price hike proposed under its new Gross Calorific Value-based pricing mechanism effective January 1.
Coal India will delink the rates from international parity prices, said Mr N. C. Jha, Chairman. This would eventually reduce the prices for different grades of coal. However, the GCV-based grading of coal will continue and the anomalies in the pricing structure will be set right, he added.
Coal India switched to the GCV-based pricing mechanism in line with the international norms and had proposed an average of 12.5 per cent hike in prices.
This had evoked strong protest from consumers in sectors such as power, cement, steel and aluminium. In the earlier Useful Heat Value (UHV) method, the pricing was decided on the ash and the moisture content in coal. 

31-Jan-2012

Energy Crisis: ‘Replace, Improve, and Reduce'


However, in some other cases, moderating the extravagant lifestyles of the rich is essential, because certain activities consume much greater energy than others. A two-way flight from Delhi to Washington, once a year, consumes as much energy as 35 km of daily car driving round the year! And one 35-km journey by car consumes as much energy as running an LED tube-light for four hours every day for an entire year!
TOUGHER CHALLENGE
The Indian economy faces tougher energy challenges than some other large economies because a majority of the population has started using modern energy only recently, and their need for energy to lead a dignified life is bound to increase the demand substantially. However, our domestic energy resources are limited, and we are already importing 85 per cent of our oil and 15 per cent of our coal requirements.
These energy imports amount to 8 per cent of the national income, and are poised to claim a share beyond 10 per cent soon. This percentage is twice that of China, the US, and the EU. For every rupee of tax paid to the government, we give half a rupee to other countries which goes out of our economy — this certainly isn't a happy situation. If energy imports are reduced by half, 4 per cent of GDP would remain within our economy, increasing GDP growth by 1 per cent.
The failure to understand this phenomenon is a primary cause for concern. The sale of air-conditioners and air travel is doubling every four to five years, while the sale of cars is doubling every seven to eight years. This rapid increase in energy-guzzling activities by a small section of the elite is unsustainable and cannot be simply seen as a sign of development.

30-Jan-2012

India Will Continue Gas Ties With Iran


Nice to see that we've finally grown up.  

India intends to keep importing oil from Iran and it appears that Indians, and even Chinese, will explore paying Tehran ''with gold, the Japanese yen or even in part with their own national currencies'', said a Pakistani daily.
An editorial in the News International Monday said that the US wants Pakistan to drop the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project altogether. 
"It has stepped up efforts to lobby Pakistan to abandon not only the IP gas pipeline project but also liquefied natural gas purchases from its western neighbour in return for cheaper gas from the US," the editorial added.
India, which imports 12 per cent of its oil from Iran, will not scale down its petroleum imports from Tehran despite US and European sanctions against the Islamic republic, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said.
"It is not possible for India to take any decision to reduce the imports from Iran drastically, because among the countries which can provide the requirement of the emerging economies, Iran is an important country amongst them," Mukherjee told reporters here.
Speaking at the end of a two-day visit aimed at wooing US investment, Mukherjee yesterday said: "Some other countries, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, the other Gulf countries they also contribute but Iran contributes substantially."
"We (India) imports 110 million tonnes of crude per year. We will not decrease imports from Iran. Iran is an important country for India despite US and European sanctions on Iran," the finance minister said.

"Wildlife laws ignored for religious event at Bandipur"


Ex-CMs, ministers, legislators to take part in jatra at tiger reserve.   
Lakhs of devotees are expected to throng the tiger reserve at the Bandipur National Park during the 108 shiv ling pratishtapana mahotsava and jathra on Monday at Mahadeshwara temple in Beladakuppe. 
Former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa is scheduled to inaugurate the foundation-laying ceremony for the shiv ling temple which is being constructed in the prohibited area. District in-charge minister S A Ramdas will lay foundation stone for the Mahadeshwara Swami temple, which is a violation of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Forest Minister C P Yogeeshwar, former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy, MLA Chikkanna, Opposition Leader Siddaramaiah, Housing Minister V Somanna, pontiffs of various mutts are expected to witness the “illegal” act.
The safe haven for the big cats is facing a threat due to religious programmes which begin in the ‘karthik masa’ in November. 
Over a lakh people from various parts of Chamarajnagar district visited the forest in November last year to make their offerings to Beladakuppe Mahadeshwara. 
Hundreds of trees were felled to make way for vehicles, through Aralahalli, Bankahalli, Marigudi and Baragi - all prohibited areas. 
Though trespassing the reserve forest is prohibited under Section 27 of the Act, hundreds of vehicles plied during the religious events. 
Tranquility disturbed
Two blaring generators, entertainment programmes like ‘harikatha’ and bhajans, disturbed the tranquillity of the forest, though they are prohibited by the Wildlife Protection Act. 
The Bandipur National Park, which has also the best tiger density in the country, and a good number of elephants, has been encroached upon by over 10 temples. Local elected representatives supporting the events to mobilise votes turn the area into a hub of commercial activities during religious programmes every year. Stalls and hotels crowd the forest area where agriculture implements are displayed and cattle are sold.  
No arguing with faith and all that, but why cut down trees and break laws?

27-Jan-2012

"In U-turn, RIL wants say in gas pricing"


Less than three years after Reliance Industries Ltd. told the Supreme Court that the Krishna-Godavari basin gas is a “national resource” over which it had “no unfettered rights” in terms of price or quantity, and that it was “bound by the terms of the production sharing contract [PSC] and the policies and directions issued by the government from time to time,” the Mukesh Ambani-owned company has done a U-turn — serving a 90-day ultimatum on the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry to “amicably settle” a new gas price revising formula.
In 2009, when RIL did not want to supply gas at a previously agreed low price to NTPC and the Anil Ambani group, it took the plea that only the government had the right to decide at what price a “national resource” like natural gas could be sold. In the ‘Radia tapes' — recordings made by the IT Department of Niira Radia's conversations with journalists during that period — this is the line the former PR representative of RIL is heard pushing. But with that battle behind it and global gas prices spurting, the company now wants a say in the price-setting process.
Nice.  Also,
Interestingly, Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Tapan Sen has charged RIL with deliberately scaling down production from the KG D6 gas blocks in order to force prices up. “It is expected of the contractor [RIL] handling the natural gas reserve to scale down the production of gas in KG D6 as pressure tactics for achieving premature price rise from the government,” he had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this month.
That sudden mysterious drop in production is a bit less mysterious now.  

24-Jan-2012

"Rights groups fronting for Maoists, says IB"

Rights groups fronting for Maoists, says IB
Indian intelligence agencies have suggested that the Union government take steps to limit activities of leading human rights organisations.
In their advice to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the agencies have alleged that some rights organisations are “actively helping spread the Maoist ideology.”
... 
The activities of rights groups raising issues of illegal detentions, custodial tortures and death, and fake encounters have extended their reach to those areas which help spread Maoists ideology, intelligence agencies preparing a fresh dossier on the issue said.
Can't they see it?  A lot of people who are against "illegal detentions, custodial tortures and death, and fake encounters" may be in "those areas" to stop those things from happening there.

And this is interesting too:
The IB has prepared a database of individuals and organisations. The database has been submitted to the Home Ministry.
The IB data base has some known names, which, according to the intelligence agency, not only helped “the ideological spread to spread but also functioning as the points persons for Maoists”. This allegation is similar to that been made against noted rights activist Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh.
Big brother watches.

23-Jan-2012

Law-Making In The Richest Democracy


I quickly learned that our elected officials are not demigods solely focused on the collective good — they’re just people. To inflate them into anything else trivializes their real accomplishments at best, and blinds us from the reality of Congress at worst. Lawmakers may have their own parochial interests or lofty causes, but first and foremost they're always looking for votes. To get votes, they need attention and money -- something that corporate lobbyists can dish out in abundance. The end product of this system is lawmaking that's less about making good public policy and more about appeasing the hands that feed — as a result, powerful corporations with deep pockets gain unparalleled access to members of Congress, and they help set the agenda. That agenda is why bills like SOPA and PIPA gain such traction — they were delivered to Congress in return for money and votes.
You don't even have to dig deep into the history of SOPA and PIPA to find blatant conflicts of interest: According to Politico, Allison Halatei, former Deputy Chief of Staff to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, and Lauren Pastarnack, a Senate Judiciary Committee Senior Aide, just accepted jobs with two of the lobbying firms backing SOPA and PIPA. Halatei and Pastarnack helped write the bills. Halataei is now the National Music Publisher's Association chief liaison to Congress, and Pasternak is now the director of government relations for the MPAA.
It gets worse: Chris Dodd, who served as a senator for thirty years, is now the Chairman and CEO of the MPAA. As a senator, Dodd swore he'd never take money from lobbyists, but he now reaps a $1.5 million base salary and a $100 million lobbying budget. Lobbying is one art form the entertainment industry doesn’t mind investing heavily in: SOPA’s 32 co-sponsors received four times more in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry than from the tech industry. We shouldn’t be surprised that SOPA is as bad as it is; we should be surprised it’s not worse.
No wonder policy/law-making is likened to sausage-making - you really don't want to know how it is done.

21-Jan-2012

BJP: Do As I Say, Not As I Do


In an extraordinary judgment that must count among the sharpest indictments ever handed out to any State government, the Gujarat High Court has upheld Governor Kamla Beniwal's appointment of Justice R.A. Mehta as the Lokayukta over objections by Narendra Modi and his Council of Ministers. The single judge bench of Justice V.M. Sahai ruled that, although the Governor was otherwise required to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, she had become obliged to exercise her discretionary powers in this case, because it fell in the rarest of rare category where a “spiteful” Chief Minister and his “brazen” and “irrational” Council of Ministers had put democracy in peril by obstructing the appointment of the Lokayukta. The Gujarat government has expectedly moved the Supreme Court against the judgment. Regardless of the final outcome, what clearly emerges is the divergence between the Bharatiya Janata Party's strongly argued theoretical position in favour of a powerful and independent anti-corruption ombudsman, and the wilful disrespect shown to the same institution by one of its own Chief Ministers — a man showcased as a model chief executive at that.
The Gujarat Lokayukta has been headless since 2003, thanks to a protracted battle over the choice of nominee that saw Mr. Modi ranged against the Governor and the Chief Justice of the High Court. Mr. Modi not only insistently contested the primacy of opinion implicitly granted to the Chief Justice by the Gujarat Lokayukta Act, 1986, but remained stuck on a single name: Justice J.R. Vora, who figured in the panel initially proposed by the Chief Justice, but who subsequently rendered himself ineligible by virtue of his May 2010 appointment as a director of the Gujarat State Judicial Academy. The Chief Minister's intransigence unavoidably led to a situation of confrontation with the Chief Justice, who, after factoring in the State government's objections to Justice Mehta, concluded that he was a better choice for the office. 

18-Jan-2012

This Too Is Grassroots Democracy

http://www.craigslist.org/about/SOPA.  No fasting involved.

India No To US' Iran Sanctions - Why So Late?

After kow-towing to the US for the better part of UPA-I and II terms, we seem to have suddenly decided to go against its wishes.  India rejects US embargo, to import oil from Iran
NEW DELHI: Even as China cuts down drastically its oil imports from Iran, which is soon likely to run into fresh sanctions from the US and the EU, India on Tuesday declared it will continue to import crude oil from the country. 
Brushing aside US sanctions that prevent financial institutions from doing business with Tehran and its central bank, foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai stated that India will only accept sanctions imposed by the UN. 
Refreshing, but what took us so long?  And can we get going on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline while we still have the gumption?

Oh, Bring Back The Elite


In short, the IAS, which today can in no way be compared with the elite ICS of the British period, will have to be reformed substantially from within and without, before it comes to be identified publicly as the main wrecker of the vision of a vibrant India.
Italics mine.  So many wishes in that small sentence - policy-making by the elite, nostalgia for the British period, 'reforms', a deregulated 'vibrant' India.

17-Jan-2012

Where Are The Indian Innovations?

Why seek retail FDI for cold storage?
The region is home to a third of Nigeria's population of over 150 million people. The people are mostly small farmers and cattle-rearers. The area suffers from poor roads and power shortage, making cold storage difficult (a description that applies to vast tracts of India).
Consequently, farmers had to sell their produce at low prices, since they could not hold the produce.After studying the problem in depth, Mohammed Bah Abba, an enterprising lecturer at the Jigawa State Polytechnic, Dutse, came up with a unique solution. Hailing from a family of potters, he invented the pot-in-pot system of cooling (calledzeerin local language).
The pot-in-pot technology consists of two earthenware pots of different diameters, one placed inside the other. The space between the two pots is filled with wet sand that is kept constantly moist, thereby keeping both pots damp. Fruit and vegetables are put in the inner pot, which is covered with a damp cloth. The phenomenon that occurs is based on a simple principle of physics: the water contained in the sand between the two pots evaporates towards the outer surface of the larger pot where the drier air is circulating.
The evaporation automatically produces cooling, causing a drop in temperature of several degrees in the inner container, extending the life of the perishable foods inside. In tests conducted, the temperature in the inner pot was reduced by 6-8 degrees C in 12 hours, and could be maintained by keeping the sand moist.
The shelf life of the produce improved significantly, as shown in the table.
The impact of the pot-in-pot was a reduction in the wastage of fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmers could hold the produce longer and sell on demand at higher prices. The cost of a pot-in-pot unit is around $5 (less than Rs 300).
So where are the innovations in India?  What are our hug business conglomerates doing to help the common people?

16-Jan-2012

India Burning


They walked in a single file. Some were bare-chested, their shirts used to tie their hands behind their back; many nursing bruises from fibreglass batons wielded by policemen. All 36 men were picked up on January 7 and marched six km to a police station on the outskirts of the coal mining town of Korba in northern Chhattisgarh after a public hearing, held to assess the environmental impact of a thermal power plant, turned violent.
...
Large projects in predominantly tribal areas (called Scheduled Areas) must comply with a two-step process of public consultation: a public hearing to assess the environmental impact of the project and a crucial village-level consultation – called a Gram Sabha – where villagers and government representatives agree on the terms and conditions of land acquisition.
Yet, documents obtained by The Hindu reveal how officials in Chhattisgarh treat the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification of 2007and the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) of 1996 as mere formalities and routinely overrule gram sabhas to acquire lands on behalf of industry, prompting a withdrawal of the ‘public' from public hearings. In the past, the Planning Commission and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh identified the non-implementation of PESA as a factor in increasing tribal disaffection and the rise of the CPI (Maoist).
In Korba, the villagers were protesting against the planned expansion of a 1,320 MW power plant set up by Lanco Amarkantak. “Earlier, we gave our land willingly on the condition that the company would provide us with jobs,” said Laharam Murao, a village leader from Imilibhata. Mr. Murao said the company had acquired 1.5 acres of his land in 2005, but he had neither received any compensation and nor had anyone in his family gained permanent employment at the plant. “This time we said ‘we will not give any land, no public hearing shall take place,'” Mr. Murao said.
...
District Collector R.P.S Tyagi arrived at about 3 p.m. and, according to the villagers and policemen interviewed, set up a table 50 metres from the crowd and announced that the public hearing had begun.
“We refused to approach the table,” said Shyam Kumar Chauhan, a villager, “but a few people allied with the administration gave their opinions.” Twenty minutes later, Mr. Tyagi said that the hearing was complete and tried to leave when the crowd grew agitated and sought to stop him.
“All the legal formalities of the public hearing were complete. If even one project affected person gives his opinion…the legal requirements are fulfilled,” said Mr. Tyagi in an interview, adding that 24 people had participated in the hearing.

Of UPA-I and II and Coalitions of The Willing

D Raja of the CPI analyses the workings of UPA-I and UPA-II

“The biggest weakness of the present coalition, according to him, is the lack of a co-ordination committee and a Common Minimum Programme (CMP). Nobody knows how and why allies joined hands with Congress to form the government without either of these.
UPA I had both. The Left parties decided to support it on the basis of the CMP, which led to formation of a co-ordination committee.
Then, policy matters used to be sorted out within the parameters of CMP. The Left criticised the government when it deviated from the CMP, as in the case of its decision to disinvest from BHEL. We stayed away from meetings. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi finally took up the hive-off issue and it was put in abeyance. Again, when the government took up other issues such as FDI in retail, opening up of insurance, banking sectors etc, we opposed. But then all these were first discussed at the meeting of co-ordination committee. Importantly, we opposed them because they were not part of CMP.
Many good things too happened. Many progressive legislation such as rural job scheme, Forest Rights Act, Prevention of domestic violence bill were framed during UPA I. Even the Women's reservation bill was passed in one House of Parliament.
We quit UPA when the government took up the nuclear deal with US. Still we discussed, there were several meetings. Finally, there was no meeting ground and we decided to move out. 
The committee used to hold dignified , serious discussions. We never indulged in one-upmanship.  Thats why ÚPA-I was stable. It could enact positive legislation. 
As for today’s major scams dating back to UPA-I, I would like to say we did not interfere in the day to day work of the government. We discussed only policy matters. We were not part of the government. Towards the end, Congress wanted to have its own agenda. There were signs of drift from CMP. Scams started during this period. We became critical of the drift of UPA. When the committee fell, the government fell morally too.
What I remember is the Left being blamed for bunging a spanner in the works of 'reforms' constantly during UPA-I.  Authority without responsibility.  Also, the glee when the Left was routed in the 2009 elections.  Hurray for 'reforms'!  No more millstone around the UPA's neck!   

But that didn't quite work out for our pro-reform chattering classes and business houses, did it?

14-Jan-2012

Is Modern Medicine Really Rock Solid?


Hume realized that, although people talk about causes as if they are real facts—tangible things that can be discovered—they’re actually not at all factual. Instead, Hume said, every cause is just a slippery story, a catchy conjecture, a “lively conception produced by habit.” When an apple falls from a tree, the cause is obvious: gravity. Hume’s skeptical insight was that we don’t see gravity—we see only an object tugged toward the earth. We look at X and then at Y, and invent a story about what happened in between. We can measure facts, but a cause is not a fact—it’s a fiction that helps us make sense of facts.
The truth is, our stories about causation are shadowed by all sorts of mental shortcuts. Most of the time, these shortcuts work well enough. They allow us to hit fastballs, discover the law of gravity, and design wondrous technologies. However, when it comes to reasoning about complex systems—say, the human body—these shortcuts go from being slickly efficient to outright misleading.
...
Over the next few decades, [the] hands-off approach to back pain remained the standard medical treatment. That all changed, however, with the introduction of magnetic resonance imaging in the late 1970s. These diagnostic machines use powerful magnets to generate stunningly detailed images of the body’s interior. Within a few years, the MRI machine became a crucial diagnostic tool.
The view afforded by MRI led to a new causal story: Back pain was the result of abnormalities in the spinal discs, those supple buffers between the vertebrae. The MRIs certainly supplied bleak evidence: Back pain was strongly correlated with seriously degenerated discs, which were in turn thought to cause inflammation of the local nerves. Consequently, doctors began administering epidurals to quiet the pain, and if it persisted they would surgically remove the damaged disc tissue.
But the vivid images were misleading. It turns out that disc abnormalities are typically not the cause of chronic back pain. The presence of such abnormalities is just as likely to be correlated with the absence of back problems, as a 1994 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed. The researchers imaged the spinal regions of 98 people with no back pain. The results were shocking: Two-thirds of normal patients exhibited “serious problems” like bulging or protruding tissue. In 38 percent of these patients, the MRI revealed multiple damaged discs. Nevertheless, none of these people were in pain. The study concluded that, in most cases, “the discovery of a bulge or protrusion on an MRI scan in a patient with low back pain may frequently be coincidental.”
 Remembering how close a cousin came to going under the overeager surgeon's knife for back-pain as recently as a year or so ago, it makes one really worry about doctors and modern medicine.  Of course, more and more doctors are coming out and saying that there is much uncertainty about modern medicine and its treatments for a variety of diseases.  

13-Jan-2012

The Profit Motive


Over in the US, an utility in the private sector commits hanky-panky.  PG&E diverted safety money for profit, bonuses
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. diverted more than $100 million in gas safety and operations money collected from customers over a 15-year period and spent it for other purposes, including profit for stockholders and bonuses for executives, according to a pair of state-ordered reports released Thursday.
An independent audit and a staff report issued by the California Public Utilities Commission depicted a poorly led company well-heeled in its gas operations and more concerned with profit than safety.
The documents link a deficient PG&E safety culture - with its "focus on financial performance" - to the pipeline explosion in San Bruno on Sept. 9, 2010, that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
 But privatisation will always work.  Yes.

Should Journalists Do Their Jobs?

NYT's Public Editor wants to know.  Arthur Brisbane and selective stenography
The New York Times‘ Public Editor Arthur Brisbane unwittingly sparked an intense and likely enduring controversy yesterday when he pondered — as though it were some agonizing, complex dilemma — whether news reporters “should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” That’s basically the equivalent of pondering in a medical journal whether doctors should treat diseases, or asking in a law review article whether lawyers should defend the legal interests of their clients, etc.: reporting facts that conflict with public claims (what Brisbane tellingly demeaned as being “truth vigilantes”) is one of the defining functions of journalism, at least in theory.

11-Jan-2012

Why Not Restructure Farmers Loans Too?


Pretty damning coming from a banker.  Why no ‘CDR’ for farm loans?
But as our public policy discourse and chat-shows are predominantly urban and corporate-oriented, these [farmer] suicides have neither shocked nor shamed the policy-making establishment. That includes even the banking sector. Anybody with anything to do with this sector ought to feel vicariously culpable in the withering away of so many lives on this issue.
CORPORATES FAVOURED
This casual indifference is in marked contrast to the way corporate indebtedness is grabbing all the attention and focus, what with the travails of sectors such as aviation being played up in the media. The humdrum farm sector does not have the same glamour quotient and is, therefore, condemned to be the poor country-cousin in any national-level discussion.
The media, including the financial dailies, is no less guilty here, as there is little attempt on its part to go into the details of individual farmer suicides or see it as a reflection of the state of our agriculture.
The lopsidedness of our policy priorities comes out clearly when one looks at the kind of efforts being made at addressing financial distress in the corporate sector.
According to reports, the first half of the current fiscal alone (April to September) has seen restructuring of corporate loans totalling some Rs 34,560 crore under the Corporate Debt Restructuring (CDR) mechanism. And this does not include the mega liabilities owed by the big airline companies. 
The important thing here is that there is an established Reserve Bank of India-approved mechanism when it comes to dealing with issues of corporate loan delinquencies.
These involve extended moratoriums (during which no repayments at all need to be made), elongation of the repayment period itself up to 10 years, reduced rates of interest, provision of ‘funded' interest term loans to those unable to service even the interest component, conversion of cash losses on working capital into term loans, additional finance, and even conversion of debt to equity.
It is quite the opposite in respect of agricultural debt relief. Although there are serious systemic issues plaguing the farm sector, problems of indebtedness meet with sporadic or knee-jerk response at best. And whenever a relief package is announced, it tends to go to the other extreme of fostering or encouraging a culture of non-repayment, that too, among people with a credit morality much higher than those in the corporate sector. We have seen this happen even in the course of the Agriculture Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme of 2008.
What the agriculture sector actually requires is not one-time waivers and write-offs as much as an institutionalised structure similar to the CDR mechanism, so that lenders have a regulator-approved route map ready when they deal with the problem of a farmer unable to service debt. 

06-Jan-2012

The Kingfisher Scam?

I wrote about public sector banks shoveling money to the telecom operators in this post:  The 3G Scam?.  Now we read this:  Kingfisher Airlines is NPA for us, says SBI chief.
New Delhi, Jan. 5:  
The State Bank of India said Mr Vijay Mallya-promoted Kingfisher Airlines has turned a non-performing asset (NPA).
“Kingfisher is an NPA for us. They are in default,” Mr Pratip Chaudhuri, SBI Chairman, told reporters here on Thursday.
SBI is the lead bank in the consortium that has funded this private airline. The country's largest commercial bank has an exposure of Rs 1,458 crore to Kingfisher Airlines, which is in a weak financial position and struggling to service its loans.
The other banks with significant exposure to Kingfisher Airlines are IDBI Bank at Rs 727 crore, Punjab National Bank (Rs 710 crore), Bank of India (Rs 575 crore) and Bank of Baroda (Rs 537 crore).
Just add up those numbers:  Rs 4000 crores has been given by our public sector banks to one private company which has blown it away.  The biggest bank has already declared its loan as an NPA.  Is this any different from a scam?

When will RBI make it mandatory for banks to reveal the full details of their NPAs and who owes them the money?

05-Jan-2012

Winning Presidential Elections in the Richest Democracy

Takes a lot of money, obviously.  In fact, the guy who raises most, nearly always wins.  That, and other minor facets of American presidential elections in this piece Iowa: The Meaningless Sideshow Begins
Those numbers tell us that both parties rely upon the same core of major donors among the top law firms, the Wall Street companies, and business leaders – basically, the 1%. Those one-percenters always give generously to both parties and both presidential candidates, although they sometimes will hedge their bets significantly when they think one side or the other has a lopsided chance at victory. That’s clearly what happened in 2008, when Wall Street correctly called Obama as a 2-1 (or maybe a 7-3) favorite to beat McCain.
The 1% donors are remarkably tolerant. They’ll give to just about anyone who polls well, provided they fall within certain parameters. What they won’t do is give to anyone who is even a remote threat to make significant structural changes, i.e. a Dennis Kucinich, an Elizabeth Warren, or a Ron Paul (hell will freeze over before Wall Street gives heavily to a candidate in favor of abolishing their piggy bank, the Fed). So basically what that means is that voters are free to choose anyone they want, provided it isn’t Dennis Kucinich, or Ron Paul, or some other such unacceptable personage.
If the voters insist on supporting such a person in defiance of these donors – this might even happen tonight, with a Paul win in Iowa – what you inevitably end up seeing is a monstrous amount of money quickly dumped into the cause of derailing that candidate. This takes overt forms, like giving heavily to his primary opponents, and more covert forms, like manufacturing opinions through donor-subsidized think tanks and the heavy use of lapdog media figures to push establishment complaints.
And what ends up happening there is that the candidate with the big stack of donor money always somehow manages to survive the inevitable scandals and tawdry revelations, while the one who’s depending on checks from grandma and $25 internet donations from college students always winds up mysteriously wiped out.
Emphasis mine.