Friday, March 30, 2012

When IBM has a female CEO; India's rich look beyond Mercs; When employers seek FB password; UK back to recession; Pleasing Hu by all means

1 When IBM has a female CEO (San Francisco Chronicle) The appointment of a new chief executive at IBM has revived the debate over Augusta National's all-male membership just one week before the Masters. IBM hired Virginia Rometty as its CEO this year, which could mean a break in recent tradition if Augusta sticks to its history of never having a woman as one of its roughly 300 members. The last four CEOs of IBM all belonged to the club. However, a woman has never worn an Augusta green jacket since it opened in 1933.

"I think they're both in a bind," Martha Burk said Thursday evening from Washington. It was Burk who led an unsuccessful campaign 10 years ago for Augusta to admit a female member, demanding that four companies drop their television sponsorship because of the discrimination. Hootie Johnson, club chairman at the time, said Augusta would not be pressured to take a female member "at the point of a bayonet." "IBM is in a bigger bind than the club," Burk said. "The club trashed their image years ago. IBM is a corporation. They ought to care about the brand, and they ought to care about what people think. And if they're not careful, they might undermine their new CEO." Augusta National declined comment, keeping with its policy of not discussing membership.

2 India’s rich look beyond Mercs, BMWs (San Francisco Chronicle) Bentley Motors and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars are preparing to be occupied by India's 0.01 percent. Volkswagen AG's Bentley will announce this year plans to increase dealerships in the country, its second most important Asian market after China, said Amy Arora, brand director at distributor Exclusive Motors Pvt. Rolls-Royce said the BMW AG unit may triple its number of showrooms this year to six in India, home to the youngest person to ever buy a Ghost sedan, which starts at $570,000 (about Rs 29 million).

Their expansion illustrates the growing affluence of the burgeoning rich in India, where super-luxury vehicle sales are expected to quadruple by the end of the decade. While the World Bank estimates the majority of Indians live below the poverty line, CLSA Asia-Pacific estimates the number of millionaires will surge to 403,000 by 2015 from 173,000 in 2010. "India's new rich are looking to get a car that's different from the now-common Mercedes and BMW," said Deepesh Rathore, the managing director for IHS Automotive in India. "Growth at the top of the pyramid is much faster than at the bottom, and so we'll see many more millionaires rising in India, by hook or by crook."

The number of super-luxury cars - including Ferrari, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls-Royce models - sold in India will jump to about 800 by 2020, compared with 180 last year, according to IHS Automotive.

3 When an employer seeks Facebook password (San Francisco Chronicle) Here are some suggestions to consider when discussing your social media use with an employer: If an employer asks for information you deem personal — outside of reference and background checks — ask for clarification and convey your sense of discomfort with asking such information. You have the right to decline not only from a personal perspective and because you may be violating Facebook terms of service by complying.

Be careful who you “friend” on social networking sites, and that includes your colleagues or employer. While you may receive numerous invitations and requests, use good judgment when accepting offers. Change your privacy settings and keep them updated. Weigh the pros and cons of accepting a job if an employer asks for such access, even if you really need a job. Their request can give you a glimpse of the company culture.

4 UK back to recession (The Guardian) The UK is heading back into recession and will be among the slowest of the world's largest economies to recover in the first half of this year, according to a study by the Paris-based thinktank, the OECD. Only Italy will struggle over a longer period to return to growth, highlighting the difficult situation confronting the British government as it battles to boost confidence and get the economy back on track. The OECD, which produces quarterly figures showing year-on-year growth, said UK output declined at an annual rate of 1.2% in the final quarter of 2011 and will decline at an annual rate of 0.4% in the first three months of 2012. The OECD also warned that the eurozone remained in a fragile state and would struggle to grow for the rest of the year. Germany and France will race ahead of the UK in the first half of the year but are forecast to slow down as the year ends.

5 To please Hu, India suspends Tibetans’ freedom (The Wall Street Journal) In an effort to shield Chinese President Hu Jintao from Tibetan protests, the Indian government placed extreme restrictions on exiled Tibetans, raising questions on the extent to which New Delhi is willing to compromise its democratic credentials for the sake of its ties with Beijing. For the past several days, many Tibetans living in New Delhi have been denied basic democratic freedoms, including the right to assemble and to protest peacefully. Law enforcement authorities have prevented many of them from leaving their homes or neighbourhoods for days, effectively placing them under house arrest. The measures were implemented following the dramatic act of a young Tibetan man, who on Monday set himself on fire in New Delhi to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan regions.

6 Corporates find India risky (The Wall Street Journal) If businesses like certainty, then India has been a big turnoff for foreign companies. A series of recent developments have greatly increased the perception that the country has a risky business environment where policies suddenly can turn hostile. Tax proposals in the national budget unveiled in March stunned foreign firms. They could create significant retroactive tax liabilities for international mergers stretching back a half-century and eliminate a tax exemption many investors now have, wreaking havoc on corporate deal making, legal experts say.

The government also singled out a UK-based oil producer for a multibillion-dollar levy that the company calls discriminatory. Internet executives from Google and Facebook are facing criminal prosecution for not removing Web content that some consider objectionable even though the companies have said they followed the letter of the law. And long-promised efforts to liberalize foreign investment in the retail, defense and insurance sectors have stalled. Foreign companies long have braved the risks of corruption and a stifling bureaucracy in the hopes of capitalizing on the fast-growing emerging Indian market. But the tax proposals, which are set for an April vote in Parliament and designed to reduce a yawning budget deficit, have helped heighten anxiety about doing business here.

7 When ‘Like’ button hurts planet (Dawn) Green groups around the world are turning to social networking to drive their campaign for Earth Hour on Saturday, when lights are turned off for an hour to signal concern about global warming. But here’s the irony. With every email, every tweet, every appeal watched on YouTube or “liked” on Facebook, environmentalists are stoking the very problem they want to resolve. Each time we network, we emit carbon dioxide (CO2) through the fossil fuels which are burned to power our computers and the servers and databanks that store or relay our message. In emails alone, the typical office worker is responsible for 13.6 tonnes of CO2 or its equivalent per year, a French government agency for energy efficiency, Ademe, calculated last year. The more people you cc and the bigger the mail, the greater the carbon emissions, Ademe said.

8 China tells Apple to care for workers (Straits Times) Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang has told Apple's new chief that foreign firms should protect workers, as the US giant fends off criticism over factory conditions in China. International labour watchdog groups have said workers in Chinese plants run by major Apple supplier Foxconn of Taiwan are poorly treated, and have blamed a string of apparent suicides on the conditions. Mr Li, who is widely tipped to be the country's next premier, met Tim Cook while the new Apple chief executive was visiting Beijing.

9 High price of honesty (Mint) If there is one thing that India has paid a high price for in the last five years, it is the personal honesty of its leaders. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, honest to the core, is unable to fix the country’s broken governance. Now, defence minister AK Antony – another honest minister – has proved incapable of providing high-level politico-military leadership. A few days ago, a letter written by the controversial chief of the army staff, General VK Singh to the PM, was leaked. The content makes for scary reading. The army chief states that India’s air defences are obsolete; the infantry lacks night-fighting capabilities and is handicapped with “deficiencies of crew-served weapons”; the army’s tank fleet is devoid of critical ammunition required to defeat enemy tanks.

The blame for the situation falls squarely on the defence minister. As the minister charged with the country’s security, Antony has shown woeful lack of understanding in this matter. His notion of honesty is quaint. To prevent any malfeasance in contracts, his solution is not to sign any contracts. This policy will work wonders in the horticulture department of the government; in the ministry of defence it has a different by-product: serious erosion in the country’s war-fighting ability.

The year 2012 is not a happy year for these controversies to break out. It is the 50th anniversary of India’s defeat by China. It is a coincidence that the then defence minister – who also hailed from Antony’s state – ignored calls for modernizing the Indian army in the face of serious threats from China. The present defence minister is, of course, very different from VK Krishna Menon. But the end product of his policies – a whimsical notion of honesty and somnolence at the helm – is yielding the same result: an under-prepared army facing a hostile geopolitical environment.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bad politics and India's future; Feuds roil Asia's family businesses; Social media on Middle East fingertips; Expats endangered species in Asia

1 Bad politics and India’s future (Soutik Biswas, BBC) The quality of India's politicians, many argue, has declined drastically, as in many parts of the world. Most of them seem to be out of sync with modern day realities - expectations have fallen so ridiculously low that an iPad carrying politician is described by the media as a modern one! Most are also seen as greedy, corrupt and disinterested in serious reform. The increasing number of politicians with criminal records and the brazen use of money to buy party tickets and bribe voters erodes India's ailing democratic process.

It is not a happy picture. "Today the Centre is corrupt and corroded," historian Ramachandra Guha wrote recently. "There are allegedly 'democratic' politicians who abuse their oath of office and work only to enrich themselves; as well as self-described 'revolutionaries' who seek to settle arguments by the point of the gun." Only serious electoral reform can ensure a better breed of politician. But to believe that less politics is good economics is a bit fey. There is little evidence to argue that political instability has been bad for India's economy.

India's first flush of economic reforms was launched by a minority government headed by PV Narasimha Rao of the Congress party in the early 1990s. The reforms spluttered to a halt when the government secured a majority. Later, a rag-tag 13-party coalition United Front government helmed by two prime ministers in 18 months in the mid-1990s undertook significant reforms, slashing taxes, deregulating interest rates and moving towards capital account convertibility. Economist Surjit Bhalla has argued that political instability is actually good for economic reforms. “If political stability is present, the politicians are unlikely to make an effort because of their inherent short sightedness or complacence”, he said.

2 Feuds roil Asia family businesses (BBC) From Samsung in South Korea and India's Reliance Industries to Hon Hai, the Taiwanese maker of the iPad, family businesses dominate Asia's, and increasingly the world's, corporate landscape. But these corporate dynasties, most founded in the aftermath of World War II, are facing new challenges as their elderly founders hand over the reins to the next generation.

The business - and gossip - pages of Asia's magazines and newspapers are rife with examples of corporate families locked in bitter court battles over the family fortune: Last month, Lee Kun-hee, the 70-year-old the chairman of electronics giant Samsung, was sued by both his brother and sister over company shares left by their late father. In December, Winston Wong, eldest son of the late Taiwanese tycoon Wang Yung-ching, sued to recover $4bn worth of disputed assets that he claimed were siphoned off by members of his father's third family.

India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, became embroiled in a five-year dispute with his brother Anil over their father's vast Reliance empire. And in Hong Kong last year, a bizarre row erupted over the future of billionaire Stanley Ho's Macau casino business, that pitted Mr Ho against some of his own children. Given that many of Asia's tycoons are now in their 80s and 90s, the next decade will probably see a number of leadership successions.

3 Social Media on Middle East fingertips (Khaleej Times) On March 6, micro-blogging service Twitter announced the launch of its Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and Urdu versions. It all started with the grassroots ‘Lets Tweet In Arabic’ campaign by a handful of users who wanted Twitter to be available in more languages. With these four new additions, Twitter is available in a total of 28 languages. On its blog, Twitter representatives said that right-to-left languages posed a ‘unique’ technical challenge that was overcome by its engineers. The translation itself was made possible thanks to the participation of over 13,000 volunteers who helped translate Twitter’s menu options and support pages.

The company explained that those who donated their time and skills are a diverse group including a Saudi blogger, Egyptian college students, Lebanese teenagers, IT professionals in Iran and Pakistan as well as an Israeli schoolteacher. Social networks were arguably important for successfully mobilising recent movements in the Arab world. The 13,000 volunteers’ efforts to make social media available in new languages are a testament to the desire and the need to make the Internet-democracy dream a reality. As online networks open up to more people around the world, access to online tools will slowly cease to be the privilege of an educated multilingual middle-class.

4 Leaked letter discomfits India Army (The Wall Street Journal) The battle between the India army chief and the government escalated yet again when a letter written by General VK Singh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the army’s lack of preparedness was leaked to the media. The contents of the leaked letter confirm what has been said repeatedly in the past by defense experts: India’s army faces many shortcomings as a fighting force. Gen. Singh reportedly said in his letter that the army’s tanks were “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks. The letter also said the infantry is “crippled with deficiencies of crew served weapon” and lacks “night fighting” capabilities.

This week, two months before he was due to retire, Gen. Singh told The Hindu that he was offered a bribe to clear the purchase of military vehicles, which he claimed were substandard. He had also claimed that he informed Defense Minister AK Antony of the incident and nothing was done. A day later, Mr Antony fired back, saying when he addressed Parliament that he had asked Gen. Singh to take action but the general “didn’t want to push this matter.”

5 Expats are endangered species in Asia (The Wall Street Journal) Forget expats. Western companies doing business in Asia are now looking to locals to fill the most important jobs in the region. Behind the switch, experts say, are several factors, including a leveled playing field in which Western companies must approach newly empowered Asian companies and consumers as equals and clients—not just manufacturing partners.

Three out of four senior executives hired in Asia by multinationals were Asian natives already living in the region, according to a Spencer Stuart analysis of 1,500 placements made from 2005 to 2010. Just 6% were non-citizens from outside of Asia. A failed expatriate hire can be a costly mistake and slow a firm's progress in the region, said Phil Johnston, a managing director at recruiter Spencer Stuart.

6 South Africa downgraded thrice in 4 months (Johannesburg Times) The government and analysts have criticised as "harsh" the latest downgrading of South Africa's economic outlook, its third in four months. This week, Standard and Poor's downgraded the nation's economic outlook from stable to negative, citing social unrest and continuing political debate as concerns. The US-based agency said the outlook was bleak because high unemployment and a bloated government wages bill were likely to be part of the 2014 national election debate and could push the ANC into a shift in policies.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mozambique and Africa are no basket cases; Reason for superstition; Why sitting can kill you; UK riots: Blame it on upbringing

1 Mozambique and Africa are no basket cases (The Guardian) The shells of stylish colonial-era buildings, like shipwrecks on the ocean floor, still give Maputo a distinct character. But the capital of Mozambique no longer feels like an urban museum. Amid the crumbling grandeur rumble cranes and mechanical diggers, carving out a different skyline. A construction boom is under way here, concrete proof of the economic revolution in Mozambique. Growth hit 7.1% last year, accelerating to 8.1% in the final quarter. The country, riven by civil war for 15 years, is poised to become the world's biggest coal exporter within the next decade, while the recent discovery of two massive gas fields in its waters has turned the region into an energy hotspot, promising a £250bn bonanza.

From Cape Town to Cairo, there are signs of a continent on the move: giant infrastructure projects, an expanding middle class, foreign equity scrambling for opportunities in telecoms, financial services and products aimed at a billion consumers. Growth is no magic bullet for reducing inequality or fostering democracy, but the stubborn truth that it is still the world's poorest continent has done little to dull the confidence and hype about the African renaissance.

Africa has 16 billionaires, topped by Nigerian cement tycoon Aliko Dangote with an estimated fortune of $10.1bn, according to Forbes magazine. Economic growth across the continent will be 5.3% this year and 5.6% in 2013, the World Bank predicts, with some countries hitting double digits. "Africa could be on the brink of an economic take-off, much like China was 30 years ago and India 20 years ago," the bank says. Many of the African lions are already outpacing the Asian tigers.

2 Reason for superstition (BBC) Even pigeons can develop superstitious habits, as psychologist BF Skinner famously showed in an experiment. Skinner would begin a lecture by placing a pigeon in a cage with an automatic feeder that delivered a food pellet every 15 seconds. At the start of the lecture Skinner would let the audience observe the ordinary, passive behaviour of the pigeon, before covering the box. After fifty minutes he would uncover the box and show that different pigeons developed different behaviours. One bird would be turning counter clockwise three times before looking in the food basket, another would be thrusting its head into the top left corner. In other words, all pigeons struck upon some particular ritual that they would do over and over again.

Skinner's explanation for this strange behaviour is as straightforward as it is ingenious. Although we know the food is delivered regardless of the pigeon's behaviour, the pigeon doesn't know this. So imagine yourself in the position of the pigeon; your brain knows very little about the world of men, or cages, or automatic food dispensers. You strut around your cage for a while, you decide to turn counter clockwise three times, and right at that moment some food appears. What should you do to make that happen again? The obvious answer is that you should repeat what you have just been doing. You repeat that action and – lo! – it works, food arrives.

From this seed, argued Skinner, superstition develops. Superstitions take over behaviour because our brains try and repeat whatever actions precede success, even if we cannot see how they have had their influence. Faced with the choice of figuring out how the world works and calculating the best outcome (which is the sensible rational thing to do), or repeating whatever you did last time before something good happened, we are far more likely to choose the latter. Or to put it another way: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, regardless of the cause.

3 Why sitting can kill you (Sydney Morning Herald) Not only do we need to get more exercise but we also need to spend less of our time sitting down, Australian researchers say. Their study of more than 220,000 NSW residents found the longer you spend sitting down the greater your risk of dying early, even if you otherwise do regular exercise. Sitting can be detrimental for our health because when we sit down there is an absence of muscle contractions, explains Professor P David Dunstan. These contractions are required for the body to clear blood glucose and blood fats from the blood stream.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found adults who sat for more than 11 hours a day had a 40% increased risk of dying within three years, compared with those who sat for fewer than four hours a day. Half a century ago, a British study also showed that workers who were required to sit for long periods of time, such as bus drivers, had higher incidences of cardiovascular disease compared with workers who were required to stand, such as postal workers

4 UK riots: Blame it on upbringing (Al Jazeera) Poor parenting and a lack of support for disenfranchised young people played a major role in sparking last year's British riots, an independent panel reported. The report by Riots Communities and Victims Panel identified a series of problems facing inner cities, ranging from poor parenting and education to high joblessness that left many people with no stake in society and nothing to lose if they joined the riots. It urged the government to develop a strategy for helping half a million "forgotten families" who "bump along the bottom" of society. "When people don't feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating - as we saw last August," panel chair Darra Singh said.

The panel said that up to 15,000 people took part in the riots, which broke out in north London but spread to other major cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol, leaving a trail of torched buildings and looted shops in their wake. More than 3,800 people have been arrested in London alone in connection with the riots and cases are still being heard by the courts. Youth unemployment is at a record high of more than one million in Britain, or 22 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds.

5 When a parking lot is so much more (The New York Times) It’s estimated that there are three non-residential parking spaces for every car in the United States. That adds up to almost 800 million parking spaces, covering about 4,360 square miles — an area larger than Puerto Rico. Such coverage comes with environmental costs. The large, impervious surfaces of parking lots increase storm-water runoff, which damages watersheds. The exposed pavement increases the heat-island effect, by which urban regions are made warmer than surrounding rural areas. A better parking lot might be covered with solar canopies so that it could produce energy while lowering heat. Or perhaps it would be surfaced with a permeable material like porous asphalt and planted with trees in rows like an apple orchard, so that it could sequester carbon and clean contaminated runoff.

Architects and designers often discuss the importance of “the approach” as establishing the tone for a place, as the setting for the architecture itself. The parking lot at the Dia art museum in Beacon, NY, created by the artist Robert Irwin and the architecture firm OpenOffice, was planned as an integral element of the visitor’s arrival experience, with an aesthetically deft progression from the entry road to the parking lot to an allée that leads to the museum’s lobby. For something that occupies such a vast amount of land and is used on a daily basis by so many people, the parking lot should receive more attention than it has. We need to ask: what can a parking lot be?

6 India power distribution cos lose Rs 800bn (Press Trust of India) Power distribution companies are projected to have incurred a whopping loss of Rs 800bn, before accounting for government subsidies, in the current fiscal, according to rating agency, ICRA report. The agency projected the losses for discoms— before accounting for government subsidy— in the country at Rs 800bn in FY 2012, much higher than Rs 635bn seen in FY 2010. About 70% of the estimated loss was on account of discoms in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, the report said. The mounting losses of discoms, a major problem for the Indian power sector, has also raised concerns of default in the banking system.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

India impact on global health; Most visible of India's invisible class; An MA in English who did it in Hindi; Bank balance sheets to shrink by $1tn

1 India impact on global health (The Wall Street Journal) It’s difficult to overestimate the impact India’s private sector has had on global health. That was one of the messages of a new report on emerging economies and healthcare. In fact, India’s private sector arguably has played a bigger role in reshaping global health than has financial assistance from national governments, argued David Gold, head of Global Health Strategies initiatives, a New York-based non-profit that launched the report in New Delhi on Monday.

“The impact that the Indian pharmaceutical industry and India’s vaccine industry have on driving access to lifesaving drugs and vaccines has been extraordinary,” Mr. Gold said. In recent years, India’s pharmaceutical companies have revolutionized the industry by offering drugs and vaccines at low prices, dramatically increasing access for people around the world. A turning point was when, in 2001, Cipla introduced high quality HIV/AIDS treatments at a fraction of the existing market price. Other Indian firms, including Ranbaxy Laboratories, followed Cipla’s model and today India supplies 80% of HIV/AIDS medicines used by patients in developing countries, according to Médicins Sans Frontières, a humanitarian aid organization. Indian companies have also produced cheaper vaccines, including one for meningitis, designed mainly for African patients.

For all its achievements, India still faces important challenges at home. The country’s healthcare infrastructure is poor and many, especially children, suffer from malnutrition. India’s healthcare services are unlikely to significantly improve any time soon. Although malnutrition was one of the focus areas of the recent federal budget, the country spends just 1% of its gross domestic product on healthcare, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

2 Most visible of India’s invisible class (The Wall Street Journal) India’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has been thrust into the spotlight lately due to the Supreme Court’s ongoing case regarding the decriminalization of homosexuality. Hijras are somewhat unaccustomed to this scrutiny. Despite having existed in India for thousands of years within a unique subculture, the group has remained deeply marginalized by mainstream Indian society. As one activist said, “Hijras are the most visible of the invisible class.”

The term “hijra,” is the commonly accepted name for male to female transgendered people. They belong to a special caste, and their group dynamics and defined roles within Hindu culture differentiate them from Western male to female transgendered people. Once committed to the way of life, younger hijras typically have three ways of earning money, each with diminishing degrees of social acceptability: 1) Bhadai: providing blessings on auspicious occasions such as the birth of newborn babies. 2) Mangti: Begging at street signals, and other public spaces. 3) Pun: another word for sex-work.

3 An MA in English who did it in Hindi (Financial Chronicle) India’s higher education gross enrolment ratio is 11%, which is merely half of the world average and way behind developed countries (54%). A TeamLease labour report highlights the three tragedies in Indian higher education of low enrolments in colleges, lack of physical access to educational institutions and pursuing degree for social signalling value that don’t lead to employability or jobs. It suggests that India is in a higher education emergency because of the challenges of enrolment, physical access, and employability.

Mohit Gupta, senior VP of TeamLease, says: “The higher education situation in the country is pathetic. We once interviewed a candidate from one of the smaller towns in North India. He was an MA in English but could speak only Hindi. When asked why, he replied, ‘I am an MA in English but did it in Hindi!’”

4 Bank balance sheets to shrink by $1tn (The Financial Times) Investment banks are to shrink their balance sheets by another $1tn or up to 7% globally within the next two years, says a report that foresees a shake-up of market share in the industry. Higher funding costs and increased regulatory pressure to bolster capital will force wholesale banks also to cut 15%, or up to $0.9tn, of assets that are weighted by risk, a joint report by Morgan Stanley and consultants Oliver Wyman predicts. In addition, banks are expected take out $10bn to $12bn in costs by reducing pay, firing employees and paring back investments in areas that are no longer considered core. The report says investment banks have taken out about 7% of capacity last year and will cut up to another 10th in the next two years.

5 Executions as a tool to deter Arab Spring (The Guardian) Middle Eastern countries have stepped up their use of capital punishment, executing hundreds of people as rulers across the region seek to deter the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab countries. Despite a significant reduction in the number of countries that used the death penalty worldwide last year, there was a sharp rise in executions in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen, according to Amnesty International’s annual capital punishment survey. China remained at the top of the list of the countries with the worst record of executions last year. Authorities in China maintained their policy of refusing to release precise figures on the death penalty in the country, which they consider a state secret.

Amnesty said it had stopped publishing figures on China, available from public sources, because they were likely to "grossly underestimate" the true number, but reported that the country had executed thousands of people, more than the rest of the world put together. According to Amnesty, at least 676 judicial executions are known to have been carried out in 2011 globally, excluding China, up from 527 in 2010. More than half took place in Iran, which executed at least 360 people. But reports about the regime's campaign of secret and mass hangings of prisoners have made it impossible for Amnesty to publish the true figures there too.

6 Father of the e-mail attachment (The Guardian) Twenty years ago this month, 100 American web geeks opened their inbox to find a bizarre email. Inside the message were two attachments. The first was a photograph of the Telephone Chords, and a capella quartet comprising four hirsute IT researchers. The second: the Chords’ recording of an old barbershop favourite, Let Me Call You Sweetheart.

But the attached content wasn't the weirdest thing. It was the attachment itself. This was the first functional attachment ever, or at least the first one most people could actually open. People had sent attachments before, but they were mostly useless because recipients couldn't open them unless they shared the sender's email system. This was the first time someone had sent something that was compatible across most email programs. Two decades and a day later, Nathaniel Borenstein's cardigan is now grey. But his eyebrows are as bushy as ever, and he sits cross-legged on a sofa next to London's Regent's Canal, scratching his ankle, and laughing about his brainchild. Each day in 2012, we send around a trillion Mime attachments (the technical term for the standardisation system invented by Borenstein and his collaborator Ned Freed) but in 1992, Borenstein says, it was a niche sport.

7 Dumbest criminal (Johannesburg Times) A man has been arrested after he asked for work from the owners of a house he had earlier robbed - pitching up wearing the same clothing he allegedly stole. According to the owner of the house in Nahoon Valley Place, East London, the man knocked on his front door asking for gardening work on Sunday at about 11am. He was decked out in the resident's shoes, socks, belt, a pair of trousers and one of his fiance's blouses. "When I opened the door I was surprised because he was wearing our clothing," said the resident. The man said he immediately went to the back garden and noticed their storeroom had been looted.

"My fiance and I were busy packing to move into a new house and most of our clothing and new linen were being kept there," he said. "I could not believe the audacity of this guy. I detained him after that and called the police but they did not pitch after 45 minutes," the resident said. The man then escaped but was later caught by security guards.

8 Extra Strong horns for India drivers (Dawn) German carmaker Audi makes special horns for its vehicles sold in India where local drivers hoot so much as they fight their way through chaotic traffic, the firm’s country director has revealed. “Obviously for India, the horn is a category in itself,” Michael Perschke, director at Audi India, told Mint newspaper. “You take a European horn and it will be gone in a week or two. With the amount of honking in Mumbai, we do on a daily basis what an average German does on an annual basis.”
Roads in India are often in poor repair, ranging from pot-holed major highways to dirt tracks in cities, while bullock carts, cows, rickshaws and bicycles often compete with cars and trucks for space. More than 133,938 people died on India’s roads in 2010, according to the National Crime Records Bureau – a rate of 366 deaths a day.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Europe's American cushion; North India and South Pakistan; Cameron descends to ocean depth; Repeat divorces rise; Messi v/s Pele; Mob and the minister

1 Europe’s American cushion (Khaleej Times) When US President Barack Obama spent 10 days in Asia last November to publicise the new US pivot to that region, the move was met with concern, not just in Beijing, but in Brussels as well. NATO members have reasons to worry about the new Asian focus of their principal North Atlantic partner. With the developed world drowning in debt and shrinking budgets, the American shift could mean trouble for the Western alliance unless properly managed. In rolling out the Pentagon’s new Defence Strategic Guidance, Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta explicitly stated that Europe has become a lower defence priority compared with Asia.. There is a risk that Europe will become increasingly irrelevant and unable to promote stability even in nearby regions.

2 North India and South Pakistan (Khaleej Times) The two regions of the sub-continent, Uttar Pradesh in India and Sindh in Pakistan to be precise, have a unique bond, and a disconnect too. First, the bond: A huge number of Muslims from Uttar Pradesh migrated in 1947 to Sindh in Pakistan. Every fifth inhabitant of Sindh belongs to third or second generation of migrants from India at large and UP in particular. They all had migrated in pursuit of a peaceful society and prosperous family lives and their children’s text books kept on reminding them over the next many decades that the cherished dream could never be realised with Hindus roaming around all over and dominating every thing.

The same Uttar Pradesh recently elected members for its 403-seat state (provincial) assembly. Muslims still live in that Indian state that is bigger than Pakistan in population. UP’s population according to a 2011 census is 199.6 million and 19.8% of these are Muslims. Or every fifth inhabitant of the present-day UP is a Muslim. Muslim candidates were serious contenders for around half of the general seats of the state. In fact 68 of them won to become a member legislative assembly (MLA) and another 64 stood second in contests.

This is not to say that everything is hunky dory in India. A massive number of Hindus migrated from Sindh to India in 1947. But a few hundred thousand did not migrate. Non-Muslims in Sindh are around 9% of the total population or half the percentage of Muslims in UP. Have you ever heard of a non-Muslim contesting elections on a general seat and winning too? That’s the disconnect between the two regions and the two states. It is not that Hindus in Pakistan consider politics haram, but political parties think that Hindu candidates are not halal enough for their pious voters.

3 Surge in church foreclosures (San Francisco Chronicle) A growing number of religious fellowships around the US may lose its house of worship to foreclosure. "More and more churches are facing this problem," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition civil rights advocacy group. "Churches are full of members who lost jobs, who face home foreclosures themselves," Jackson said. "Church is their place of refuge. If the refuge closes, they have no place to go." Financial issues span denominations but often are most acute for small to mid-size evangelical churches that are relatively new and are located in areas hard hit by the economic downturn. They are not unlike struggling homeowners: When the economy was booming, some churches took on extra debt to expand, rehabilitate or move to larger spaces. Risky lending fueled the situation.

4 James Cameron touches deepest ocean point (BBC) Hollywood director James Cameron has returned to the surface after plunging nearly 11km (seven miles) down to the deepest place in the ocean, the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific. He made the solo descent in a submarine called "Deepsea Challenger", taking over two hours to reach the bottom. He spent more than three hours exploring the ocean floor, before a speedy ascent back to the surface. His craft was kitted out with cameras and lights so he could film the deep. This is only the second manned expedition to the ocean's deepest depths - the first took place in 1960.

The earlier descent was made by US Navy Lt Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard. They spent about 20 minutes on the ocean floor but their landing kicked up silt, meaning their view was obscured. Cameron spent the last few years working in secret with his team of engineers to design and build the craft, which weighs 11 tonnes and is more than 7m (23ft) long. He describes it as a "vertical torpedo" that slices through the water allowing him a speedy descent.

5 Repeat divorces on the rise (Straits Times) A small but rising number of Singapore couples are seeing their marriages crumble repeatedly. The number of men and women who have been divorced at least twice has quadrupled over a 20-year period, and experts expect this rising trend to continue. In 2010, 213 men in civil divorces had been divorced before - almost four times more than the 59 such men in 1990. These men made up 3.9% of all men in civil divorces in 2010, up from 2.7% in 1990. The number of women divorced at least twice is not far behind, going by Department of Statistics data.

6 Siddis: Karnataka’s Indian-African tribe (The Wall Street Journal) Siddis descend from a group believed to have migrated from Africa to India about 400 years ago. Many of them live in forests, on which they depend for their livelihoods. Although theories vary, with some anthropologists saying Siddis have been in India since ancient times, most agree they were brought to India from coastal Africa by Portuguese merchants, who sold them as slaves and servants to Indian rulers, along with horses and cattle.

7 Messi v/s Pele (The Wall Street Journal) Every couple of weeks, it seems, Lionel Messi does something stupendous. Last week it was his hat trick against Granada that made him Barcelona's all-time leading scorer. Earlier this month, it was his unprecedented five-goal Champions League game. But how does he compare to the greatest players ever?
The principal argument against Messi is his—and his team's—performance in international play. With Messi, the Argentine national team has never been past the quarterfinal in the World Cup or Copa América. The Brazilian legend Pelé, by contrast, won the World Cup three times, while Diego Maradona—Messi's countryman and former national-team coach—almost single-handedly led Argentina to a world title in 1986.

Pele Maradona Messi
Games 1,362 583 385
Goals 1,281 292 257
Scoring rate 0.94 0.50 0.67

8 Mob and the minister (The Times of India) Manoje Nath, one of Bihar's senior-most Indian Police Service officers, explains how it makes sense for the mafia and the politician to coexist. And why the mob boss is often rewarded with a party ticket: We just cannot wish away the mafia. And there are so many of them. The resource mafia -- illegally exploiting coal, timber, sand and even wild life -- depredates our environment. The development mafia -- bagging contracts for roads, bridges, railway lines -- takes away from us the fruits of planned growth. Then there's the land mafia, education mafia, health mafia, electricity mafia, cooperative mafia -- one could go on and on. These decentralised dictatorships mediate a host of functions of the state.

We do not find anything unnatural about it. Because we have come to accept the political culture wherein a politician is expected to provide avenues for his caste men and cronies for looting the state. Why are we reaping such a bountiful harvest of mafias? The answer must lead us to the nature of our politics which has now completely rid itself of its ideological baggage. In the absence of passion in the field of politics the pursuit of political power is less about mobilisation and more about managerial enterprise. In an environment where the political tenure is short and uncertain, a brutish and nasty mafia is the obvious mode of entrepreneurship. After all, has it not been said that the mafia is illegal capitalism, capitalism is legal mafia.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Woes of Gen Debt; 4-year high in UK empty shops; India boycotts EU carbon charge; Young and 'lazy' in UAE; Water victory in Phnom Penh

1 Woes of Gen Debt (The Guardian) Next week the Office for National Statistics is expected to confirm the economy shrank in the last three months of 2011. It will issue its last review of survey evidence for the period and what it says about the state of retailing, manufacturing, construction and the rest. Most of the benefits of housing have been hoarded by older households, and bigger mortgages have been taken on by young families. Young families are the lifeblood of the economy and they remain up to their necks in debt. The budget did nothing to help young families. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said it did the opposite and punished them more than any other group. With tax credit and housing benefit cuts to come this year and next, families are likely to carry on delaying big ticket purchases and spending will remain subdued.

2 Empty shops in UK highest in four years (The Guardian) Britain's high streets have more empty shops than at any time in four years after retailers suffered a bout of post-Christmas closures, according to a survey. The Local Data Company reported its monthly barometer of shop vacancies had jumped to 14.6% in February after steadying last year at 14.3%. The figures paint a gloomy picture of high streets hit hard by shop closures and combine with official figures that show a fall in retail sales last month. A report by Deloitte this week added to the sense of unease, concluding that the longer-term outlook for Britain's high streets remains uncertain and warning that four out of 10 shops will have to shut in the next five years as consumers turn their backs on traditional stores in favour of online shopping. The Office for National Statistics said retail sales volumes fell twice as fast as expected last month.

3 India boycotts EU carbon charge (BBC) Indian airlines will not comply with the European Union's carbon charging scheme, according to civil aviation minister Ajit Singh. The EU has directed Indian carriers to submit the emissions details of their aircraft by 31 March. But Mr Singh told parliament that "no Indian carrier is submitting them in view of the position of the government". Last month, China said its airlines would not pay the EU charge. Many other countries, including Russia and the US, have also objected to the scheme, under which airlines that exceed tight emission limits must buy carbon credits.

They see this as a tax on CO2 emissions from aircraft flying to or from destinations outside Europe and say it fails to comply with international law. In December 2011, the European Court of Justice ruled that the EU charge was legal. The charge, which the EU says could make long-haul flights up to $16 more expensive, was introduced in January, though airlines will not have to start paying it until next year.

4 Young and ‘lazy’ in UAE (Khaleej Times) Residents of the UAE, especially youngsters, are continuing to eat more and move less despite the calls by policy-makers to adopt healthy lifestyles. Besides increasing tobacco consumption, watching TV and playing video games for more than three hours daily have emerged as a worrying trend among the youth, according to the 2010-2011 report issued by the health ministry. Obesity has also increased by up to four per cent in the past five years due to poor food choices and an inactive lifestyle.

A survey among school students in the UAE showed that in 2005, 38% of males and females between 13 and 15 years spent three hours or more watching TV or playing games. The numbers increased to 45% among males and 56% among females in 2010. The World Health Organisation and US Disease Control Centre recommend that TV must not be watched for more than two hours daily. According to the World Health Organisation estimates, the obesity rate will reach 44.6% among women by 2015.

5 Water victory in Phnom Penh (Khaleej Times) How many people in the world’s towns and cities can drink the water in their tap without risking their health? The 2012 update of the World Health Organisation’s report Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation estimates that at least 96% of urban dwellers in emerging economies like China, India, Thailand, and Mexico have access to “improved” sources of water. And yet a study carried out by the Asian Institute of Technology found that less than three per cent of Bangkok’s residents drink water directly from the tap, because they do not trust its quality.

It doesn’t have to be like this. When Ek Sonn Chan became Director-General of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority in Cambodia nearly 20 years ago, the city had a dismal water supply, with nearly 83% lost to leakages and unauthorised connections. With a low-key but firm management style, Chan began to turn things around. Fifteen years after he took over, annual water production had increased by more than 400%, the water distribution network had grown by more than 450%, and the customer base had increased by more than 650%.

Today, the Authority says that there are no unauthorised connections in Phnom Penh. Losses from the water system are just over five per cent, similar to what one would find in Singapore or Tokyo, two of the best water-supply systems in the world. Thames Water, a utility in Britain, reported losses in 2010 that were five times that rate. By most performance indicators, Phnom Penh now has a better water-supply system than London or Washington, DC.

6 Kerala co apologises for using slain US girl’s pic (The Wall Street Journal) A common Indian practice of using material without thinking about copyright or privacy rights recently had dramatic consequences for an Indian company. Jubeerich Consultancy, a company in the southern Indian state of Kerala, was reportedly using the picture of a dead American woman on billboards advertising its study-abroad consulting services. The News & Observer newspaper of Raleigh, North Carolina, said the picture was of Eve Carson, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was abducted, robbed and killed four years ago.

The story quoted a staffer at the University saying that Jubeerich’s use of Ms. Carson’s image doesn’t honour her memory and her family would want the company to stop it. On Friday, Jubeerich said it has taken steps to do so. “I’ve already given the directions to take off those billboards,” Justy Mathews, a director of the company said. Mr. Mathews said the billboards had been prepared by a contractor and that he was not aware of how the contractor got the picture. He said he had no idea where the contractor was now. Mr. Mathew has published an apology to Ms. Carson’s family and other people on his website. Still, the incident underscores the pervasive lack of awareness of copyright laws within India.

Friday, March 23, 2012

When the young lose interest in cars; Why India is world's top arms buyer; India outrage over 'Coalgate'; Parallel universe in Pakistan; Mumbai dreams

1 When the young lose interest in cars (The New York Times) Ross Martin, 37, is a published poet and a former drummer in an alternative rock band. He and his team are trying to help General Motors solve one of the most vexing problems facing the car industry: many young consumers today just do not care that much about cars. That is a major shift from the days when the car stood at the center of youth culture and wheels served as the ultimate gateway to freedom and independence. Today Facebook, Twitter and text messaging allow teenagers and 20-somethings to connect without wheels. High gas prices and environmental concerns don’t help matters. “They think of a car as a giant bummer,” said Mr. Martin. “Think about your dashboard. It’s filled with nothing but bad news.”

There is data to support Mr. Martin’s observations. In 2008, 46.3% of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers’ licenses, compared with 64.4% in 1998, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and drivers ages 21 to 30 drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 1995. Forty-six percent of drivers aged 18 to 24 said they would choose Internet access over owning a car, according to the research firm Gartner. Automobiles have fallen in the public estimation of younger people. In a survey of 3,000 consumers born from 1981 to 2000 — a generation marketers call “millennials”— Scratch asked which of 31 brands they preferred. Not one car brand ranked in the top 10, lagging far behind companies like Google and Nike.

2 Why India has become world’s top arms buyer (The New York Times) India has replaced China as the world’s largest arms buyer, accounting for 10% of all arms purchases during the past five years, a Swedish research group said. India purchased some $12.7 billion in arms, 80% of that from Russia, during 2007-2011, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. China’s arms purchases during that time were $6.3 billion, 78% of which came from Russia.

India has tried, but failed, to create a sizable domestic manufacturing industry for weapons or even basic military goods, while China has increased production of defense supplies. About 75% of India’s weapons purchases came from imports during 2007-11, said Laxman Kumar Behra of the Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis, a government-funded research organization. Some analysts in India attribute the failure to create a domestic defense industry to government involvement. “India’s public sector is very inefficient and the private sector is by and large kept out of arms production,” Mr. Behra said.

3 Outrage over India coal scam (BBC) There was outrage in India's parliament after a draft report by government auditors estimated India lost $210bn by selling coalfields too cheaply. Opposition politicians accused the government of "looting the country" by selling coalfields to companies without competitive bidding. Private and state companies benefited from the allocations between 2004 and 2010, says a Times of India report. But the auditor says the leaked draft is "exceedingly misleading". The Times of India, quoting the CAG draft, says the $210bn figure is a "conservative estimate, since it takes into account prices for the lowest grade of coal and not the median grade". India is one of the largest producers of coal in the world.

This is just the latest in a series of financial scandals to hit the Congress-led government. India has been hit by a number of mining scandals in recent months. Last August the chief minister of Karnataka state, BS Yeddyurappa, quit after he was implicated in an illegal mining scandal that an ombudsman said cost the state $400m - he denies the charges. And in November a report claimed that nearly half the iron ore exported from the western state of Goa is illegally mined. It was a CAG report that exposed the country's biggest corruption case to date, the so-called 2G scandal, in which mobile phone licenses were sold at a fraction of their value at an estimated cost to the exchequer of nearly $40bn in lost revenue.

4 Asia big three close to deal (BBC) Japan, China and South Korea have moved closer to signing a trilateral investment agreement that could pave the way for a free-trade deal. If signed it would be the first economic agreement that is backed by law between three of Asia's largest economies. The countries have been working on an agreement since 2008. Many Asian nations have been trying to improve ties as growth has slowed in markets such as the US and Europe. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said the three countries agreed to the terms of the investment pact at a meeting in Beijing earlier this week. The ministry did not provide details on the agreement but it is expected to protect the intellectual property rights of Japanese and South Korean companies currently running businesses in China.

5 Those were the books (Kyle Jarrard in Khaleej Times) That’s it, the world is truly coming to an end. Encyclopedia Britannica is going online only, after 244 years of print publication. A sadness comes over me, as when I see a book, any paper book, tossed into the maw of the Internet. We didn’t have Britannica in our house when I was growing up. It was a bit high-brow for our family. In our home we had World Book, which is still around in the actual real publishing world. I don’t recall exactly when it showed up, or how, but I think a man wearing a hat appeared at our doorstep in Texas in the 1960s offering them for sale. Deeply concerned about our education, Mom figured out how to pay for the books out of her meager piano-lesson earnings. Thank you.

They were great volumes. Ivory white, slick pages, colourful, full of things that could take you from here to there and back again. My sister and I competed reading each lettered volume, but she gave up first and I kept going. World Book put out a yearly supplement. It was even more exciting sometimes than the main set. Every year was a banner year for World Book because it was a banner world back then. Our humble home would have been a seriously lesser place without those venerable volumes. I don’t know where those World Books got off to after we all left home for institutions of higher education. They may be at my sister’s. I’ll have to ask. And tell her about Britannica.

6 Parallel universes in Pakistan (Dawn) Beyond the usual headlines on Pakistan, what many outsiders are missing is another story: an unprecedented consumption boom has been under way in Pakistan since the mid-2000s. How does one reconcile this reality that the economy is tanking, and has never before posted a worse set of yearly economic data in its history? Or, that too many Pakistanis are falling through the cracks? The data from household surveys is revealing, and points to two parallel universes existing side by side in Pakistan: an expanding middle class with a voracious appetite for consumption, and a large swathe of population that is increasingly food-insecure, let alone facing rising deprivation on other measures.

The estimates of the size of Pakistan’s middle class are truly astounding. The adjusted figure for the middle class is a staggering 70 million people, or 40% of the population. In absolute terms, it is the fourth largest middle class cohort in Asia, behind China, India and Indonesia. Affluent, educated, urbanised, and increasingly ‘globalised’, Pakistan’s middle class is not only growing, but is already a voracious consumer. The ADB report estimated total consumption spending by this group at $75bn. Nonetheless, the growth in incomes and opportunities will continue to increasingly be skewed towards the more affluent segments of the population, with inequality rising ever more sharply.

7 Life and death on India’s slow train to prosperity (Reuters) As the Kalka Mail train pulls into Delhi railway station at dawn, it is every man, woman and child for themselves. Before the train has stopped, crowds elbow and jostle into packed compartments destined for Kolkata, 1,500 km and 25 hours away on one of the largest, most decrepit and dangerous rail networks in the world. Another day on Indian Railways has begun – another day on which the nation’s aspirations to become a wealthy economy risk being derailed by a neglected asset whose potential remains to be unlocked by bold political leadership and fresh capital. Indeed, if that potential was unleashed, estimates suggest it could add as much as two per cent to India’s flagging economic growth.

By the end of the day, about 40 people on average will have died somewhere on the network of 64,000 km of track. Many will be slum-dwellers and poor villagers who live near the lines and use them as places to wash and as open toilets. Of the 20 million people who travel daily on the network, many will arrive hours, even a day, behind schedule, having clattered along tracks and been guided by signalling systems built before India gained independence from Britain in 1947.

For many Indians, who have seen their nation develop rapidly since the late 1990s to become Asia’s third-largest econom, the ramshackle state of Indian Railways has become an embarrassment. That is felt especially keenly when comparisons are made with neighbouring China, where bullet trains zip across the country at around 300 km per hour. By contrast, India’s fastest train runs – on just one stretch – at a top speed of 161 km per hour. Critics regard Indian Railways as emblematic of the nation’s problems overall: stifling bureaucracy, inefficiency and most importantly a lack of public funding and a political unwillingness to open up to abundant private capital.

A train returning from Kolkata is running five hours late. “The inconvenience caused is deeply regretted,” announces a voice from loudspeakers.

8 The Mumbai of our dreams (The Wall Street Journal) The Mumbai of our dreams is here, currently on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art Mumbai. It’s a city of palm-lined walkways, sparkling waters, wooden jetties and emerald greenery as far as the eye can see. The beaches are clean, the pavements smooth and slum-free and the forests pristine. It’s a Mumbai of an alternate reality, a city we deserve, dammit, but somehow just can’t seem to make happen.
And just in case you get carried away the vast architectural renderings and statistics offer a sobering perspective. The city’s open spaces (encroached land thrown in) amounts to about 19 kilometers of our total land area or, in other words, about 1.58 square meters per person. Under current development plans, that figure would shrink to 0.87. In contrast, London offers up its residents nearly 32 square meters per person, New York, 26. The price tag for this spiffy-looking Mumbai is 23.9 billion rupees ($477 million). In short, the Mumbai of our dreams may stay just that: a dream.

9 The UN versus Sri Lanka (The Wall Street Journal) The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted in favor of a US-backed resolution on alleged war crimes and rights abuses in Sri Lanka's 25-year civil war, which ended in 2009. The resolution innocuously urges Sri Lanka to carry out the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. But it also calls for an investigation into allegations not covered by the commission, which only risks reopening sectarian divisions. The UN and foreign governments would do more good by focusing on current policies, leaving a thorough accounting of the war years for when there is a solid consensus for such a process within the country.

Sri Lanka's civil war killed more than 70,000 people and left hundreds of thousands displaced. The Buddhist Sinhalese majority, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, eventually defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and other militant groups fighting for an independent homeland for the largely Hindu Tamil minority in the north and east of the country. The LTTE was among the world's most vicious terrorist organizations. It pioneered modern suicide bombing as a war tactic. It also forcibly recruited thousands of child soldiers and used human shields to escape army shelling. Sri Lanka isn't ready for a blame game over a long war in which both sides were accused of abuses. The country's most pressing need is not a UN resolution, it is to win the post-war peace. Only once Mr. Rajapaksa or his successor begins to take seriously the task of reconciling with the Tamils and establishing an inclusive democracy can Sri Lanka conduct a thorough accounting of its past, in peace.

10 End of street for 6,000 India sub-brokers (The Financial Express) A lacklustre equity market, characterised by dwindling volumes, has seen a record 6,000 sub-brokers shut shop this year. This is also the first time that the number of sub-brokers has actually shrunk in any financial year. According to data available with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), the total number of sub-brokers in the cash segment has fallen from 83,808 as on March 31, 2011, to 78,045 by the end of January 2012. In other words, 5,763 sub-brokers have moved out of the business in just 10 months.

The sub-broking business has been under pressure ever since the primary and secondary market went through the doldrums in 2011. Prior to that, the number of sub-brokers went up significantly every fiscal. In FY11, the number of sub-brokers rose by nearly 8,500 or over 11%. Sub-brokers who have shut shop may have moved completely out of the capital market as there has been no corresponding rise in the number of brokers in the cash or derivatives segments.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

No one asked their names; Arab world's youth bulge; Africa's rise is no myth; Crime of wasting water; Manmohan 'Yes' Singh and Mamata 'No' Banerjee

1 No one asked their names (Qais Azimy in Al Jazeera) In the days following the rogue US soldier’s shooting spree in Kandahar, most of the media, us included, focused on the “backlash” and how it might further strain the relations with the US. Many mainstream media outlets channelled significant energy into uncovering the slightest detail about the accused soldier – now identified as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. We even know where his wife wanted to go for vacation, or what she said on her personal blog. But the victims became a footnote, an anonymous footnote. Just the number 16. No one bothered to ask their ages, their hobbies, their aspirations. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask their names.

In honoring their memory, I write their names below, and the little we know about them: that nine of them were children, three were women.

The dead:
Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Nazar Mohamed
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali

The wounded:
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim

2 Arab world’s youth bulge (Khaleej Times) The Arab world today is home to millions of young people with hopes, plans and the desire to work. With more than 100 million young people between 15 and 29, representing 30% of the total population, the region is facing an unprecedented ‘youth bulge’. This has led to many challenges when it comes to youth employment, but it can also be seen as an opportunity to foster youth-powered positive change, using social networks and technology to create much-needed impact.

Even though young Arabs may still be looking for work, they definitely have found their voice. The advent of technologies such as the Internet, mobile phones and social media has provided young people with tools to help them make change happen. One way to drive change is to fund, engage and celebrate young people who are trying to make a living on their own, and show how we as individuals around the world can help foster change. Sustainable giving models such as ‘revolving loan funds’, or ‘social investments’, provide an opportunity to use these technology platforms to enable more impactful giving.

3 Africa’s rise is no myth (Khaleej Times) Approximately half the people of Africa own a mobile phone. In many African countries phone technology is ahead of Europe and North America. Money can be transferred from the city to an upcountry village. Bills can be paid. In Ghana farmers can receive text messages reporting the price of yams and corn two towns away and thus find the best market without a middleman. In parts of West Africa nurses are storing patients’ data on phones. Black Africa has come late to the party but a majority of its 48 countries is leaping ahead. One advantage of being late is that one can leapfrog over old concepts and tools and get today’s version at cheaper prices than the old.

Welcome to the new Africa. Lions roar and poverty drops. All over infant mortality rates are falling, literacy is improving, longevity is rising and infectious diseases including Aids are falling steadily, as is malaria. For the first time a middle class is emerging in significant numbers. Only about one third of Africa’s recent growth is due to commodity exports. Ten years ago ‘The Economist’ labelled Africa as “The hopeless continent”. Much has changed. But don’t go out in the bush unaccompanied. The lions are roaring!

4 The crime of wasting water (Bikram Vohra in Khaleej Times) Prince or pauper, wasting water is a crime. By the same token so what if we keep the tap running on full when we brush our teeth or shave, what’s it to you? And if my wife wants to have a twenty minute shower or soak in the tub, get off my case, it’s not as if I was asking you to share the cost. How many of us save 20% of a flush by placing a bottle in the tank despite a whole campaign on the concept. Even fewer of us are freighted with any sense of responsibility when it comes to conservation despite an avalanche of advice designed to underscore our flirtation with danger. And danger it is, for the world is drying up and potable water is now dramatically in short supply.

The grand irony is that if you, as an individual, could change three daily habits with regard to how you use water you could save 1,000 litres a month and imagine a family of five doing that and saving 5,000 litres and then the building’s residents, then the neighbourhood, then the emirate, in ever increasing circles of common sense making a liquid asset in more ways than one. There is no argument that we all understand the problem and much of the commentary is stating the obvious. The hard part is coming to terms with our indifference and the misplaced pride inherent in the fact that we can afford to waste.

5 Class divides and hypocrisy (Dawn) Class divides exist. Everywhere. There will be shoe shiners sitting on the street waiting for you to come and get your expensive leather boots shined so that they can make a quick buck to feed themselves. There will be waiters clearing bits of your salad from a restaurant table so that by the time your main course arrives, your tables are clean and sparkly again. Your whole meal may even cost more than what their monthly salary is. But that’s fine because that’s how it is… right? But show us a mirror being party to that ‘system’ and we all get outraged? Hypocrisy at its finest.

The recent hullabaloo caused over a designer lawn’s advert has people going insane and international media has picked up on it, too. People are taking their Facebook likes back from the brand’s page! The horror, the horror. To deserve this damnation from the Pakistani masses, the brand had featured their model displaying her fancy clothes and designer luggage while sitting with a group of porters at a railway station. This setting probably didn’t sit well with one or perhaps five (that’s how many it takes) Facebook users and before you know it, there is a full-on debate going on, accusing the brand of exploiting the working class and using poverty as an accessory for their image.

Basically, this hype about pretending to be so sensitive about poverty is getting old. Will people stop driving their fancy cars on the same roads as staggering rickshaws? No. Will you stop eating at cafes where poor waiters linger around your table to satisfy your eating experience? No. Maybe once you start actively trying to eliminate the menace of poverty, your conscience will feel more at ease – but until you don’t start doing that, I don’t think any of us have a right to complain.

6 Asians fastest-growing race in US (Straits Times) Asians are the fastest growing race group in the US, reflecting a surge in immigration from the entire region over a decade, the US Census Bureau has said. The federal agency said those who identified themselves as Asian alone, and not mixed race, grew by 43.3% from a decade earlier. That was more than four times faster than the rate of growth for the overall US population, which grew 9.7% in the same period to 308,745,538. Some 14.7 million people, or 4.8% of the total population, identified themselves as Asian alone. Another 2.6 million, or 0.9%, said they were Asian in combination with another race group, most commonly white.

7 Yes Prime Minister (The Wall Street Journal) The only consensus in Indian politics these days is that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can't control his own government. Further proof came on Sunday when Railways Minister Dinesh Trivedi was forced to resign because of a coalition partner's fit of pique. Mr. Trivedi's offense was hiking fares, the first time in nine years that passengers on India's public railway network were asked to pay more.

Indians long ago ceased being surprised by these internal power struggles. Mr. Singh first applauded the plan as "forward looking," but stayed quiet as Mr Trivedi’s party chief Mamata Banerjee forced his government to oust Mr. Trivedi and now probably roll back his plan. Mr. Singh now says he "regrets" Mr. Trivedi's departure, but that he was powerless to prevent it. He repeats the same excuse he offered when critics blamed him for letting another coalition ally allegedly perpetrate a 2008 telecom scam: "we are a coalition government and we have to...maintain a consensus."

Managing a parliamentary coalition is never easy, but the leader of the world's largest democracy seems to have given up. True, part of the problem is that real power resides with the Gandhi family. Nevertheless, Mr. Singh has made matters worse with his failure to stand up for his decisions and his ministers. Ms. Banerjee is now called "Ms. No" for her de facto veto power over government decisions, but that's only because Mr. Singh always says "yes" the moment someone objects.

8 Who are the poor in India? (Soutik Biswas on BBC) Who are the poor in India? The fact is nobody quite knows. There are various estimates on the exact number of poor in India, and the counts have been mired in controversy. This week the Planning Commission said 29.8% of India's 1.21bn people live below the poverty line, a sharp drop from 37.2% in 2004-2005. (This means means around 360 million people currently live in poverty.) But one estimate suggests this figure could be as high as 77%. The problem, believe many, is that the new count is based on fixing the poverty line for a person living on 28.65 rupees (56 cents/35p) a day in cities and 22.42 rupees (44 cents/33p) a day in villages.

Whatever the figure is, the number of poor in India remains staggeringly high. And, what is more worrisome, demographics and the social character of the poor do not appear to be changing. Labourers (farm workers in villages, casual workers in cities), tribespeople, Dalits (formerly called low caste untouchables) and Muslims remain the poorest Indians. Almost 60% of the poor continue to reside in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Significantly, 85% of India's tribespeople and Dalits live in these states.

9 India’s porn-watching legislators (Johannesburg Times) Legislators in India's western state of Gujarat allegedly watched porn during assembly, in the second sleaze scandal to hit the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in recent months, officials say. Shankar Choudhary and Jetha Dharwad, both members of the BJP, which rules at state level, watched obscene clips on a tablet computer during a state assembly, local newspaper journalist Janakbhai Purohit said.

Purohit shot a video of the lawmakers looking at porn and lodged a complaint with assembly Speaker Ganpat Vasava. Choudhary said the accusation was "a baseless and fabricated allegation just to defame us. No such incident took place." The controversy comes weeks after three BJP ministers in the southern state of Karnataka were forced to resign after a similar scene.

10 India B Schools shut by the dozen (The Financial Express) Around 130 management institutes or 4% of all B-schools in India are expected to close shop this year, twice as many as last year, thanks to faculty shortage, lack of students, substandard curriculum and poor infrastructure. Topping the list of states whose business schools have applied to wind up is Andhra Pradesh with 36 such institutes, followed by Rajasthan with 25 and Uttar Pradesh with 18. Recently, the Mumbai Business School wound up after three years of operation due to lack of students.

Experts said many B-schools were unable to fill all seats while some were unable to meet the criteria of the technical education council. “Most of these institutes are in rural areas, without any relation with the industry and have poor admissions. There are no jobs in such remote areas and hence, they lose out on students,” said AICTE chairman SS Mantha. India has nearly 4,000 B-schools with a capacity of 3,50,000 seats. Every year, around 60-70 institutes get added to the list.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

High street faces online threat; Death of funerals; Your password or your job; Africa's next menace; Shoebox flats a hit; Growing up with sparrows

1 Online threat to high street (The Guardian) Four out of 10 shops will have to shut in the next five years as consumers turn their backs on traditional stores in favour of online shopping, according to a report which casts more doubt on the future of the beleaguered British high street. A report from Deloitte highlights how the boundaries between physical and virtual space are becoming blurred with thousands of shops likely to face closure in coming years. To remain competitive, retailers may have to reduce their property portfolios by 30–40% in the next five years and adapt what remains to meet the changing demands of consumers, Deloitte said. The growing trend in the US for large warehouse-style retail outlets to have free in-store Wi-Fi to help customers shop online is expected to spread around the world.

The days of rapid expansion, hypermarkets and warehouse-style stores seem to be over, with even Tesco indicating it would not open any more of its huge Extra stores. Music and film retailers have seen the most dramatic shift, with more than half of CDs and DVDs now sold online, excluding downloads, according to retail consultancy Verdict Research. Many retailers are in trouble: HMV plans 60 store closures while others such as Zavvi and Borders have gone bust.

2 European woes hit Metro profits (BBC) German retail giant Metro has reported a sharp fall in profits, as European shoppers cut back spending in the midst of the economic crisis. Net profits fell 26% to $833m in 2011. No improvement was expected this year, Metro said. Metro had earlier hoped to sell its department store chain, Galeria-Kaufhof, but adverse market conditions made it suspend that plan in January. "We hoped that we would see improvement in 2011, which did not happen," chief executive Olaf Koch, who took over at the start of the year, said. "Things got much worse." Mr Koch also warned of further cost cutting under his leadership.

3 The death of funerals (Johannesburg Times) When does a family mourn the death of a loved one? There is little or no respect shown to those who are grieving. Even before the bereaved family has returned to its cars, the "mourners" have left the cemetery so that they will be first in line for their meal. The result is that the older generation, who still afford the bereaved the dignity of allowing them to bury their loved ones in solemnity, are the last ones to return to the family home where the food is being served. The young and strong, who spend the entire funeral leaning on their fancy cars or in the shade of trees, eat first, before the men and women who sang to comfort the bereaved.

Gone are the days when mourners wore dark colours to funerals, when hearses were black, when coffins were modest, when mourners came back to a small serving of samp, gravy and meat, and when we treated those in mourning with dignity and we served them instead of expecting to be served by them.

4 Job seekers asked for Facebook passwords (San Francisco Chronicle) In their efforts to vet applicants, some companies and government agencies are going beyond merely glancing at a person's social-networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to have a look around. "It's akin to requiring someone's house keys," said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor who calls it "an egregious privacy violation."

Questions have been raised about the legality of the practice. Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publicly available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates. But many users, especially on Facebook, have their profiles set to private, making them available only to selected people or certain networks. Companies that don't ask for passwords have taken other steps - such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview.

5 Africa’s next menace (Khaleej Times) Since emerging as Africa’s first narco-state in the mid 2000s, Guinea Bissau’s slide toward instability has been swift and precipitous. The homicide rate has spiked by 25% and is now nearly three times the global average. Cocaine traffickers, mostly from South America, first visited this sleepy West African country almost a decade ago. Narco-corruption quickly penetrated the highest levels of power, including the office of former President Joao Bernardo Vieira, who was assassinated in March 2009. Leading military officers have since been designated “drug kingpins” by the US government. As a result of such corruption, the narcotics trade flourished and may now surpass the entire value of the national economy.

Were Guinea Bissau an isolated case, these events would be sad but strategically insignificant. Unfortunately, the country may be but Africa’s first narco-state. In recent years, traffic in heroin, amphetamines and cocaine has expanded dramatically across Africa, growing into a roughly $6 billion to $7 billion illicit industry on the continent, according to conservative estimates.

6 Yangon’s version of liberalism (Matthew F Smith in Khaleej Times) International optimism toward Myanmar is at a fever pitch. The government is allowing the democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run in parliamentary by-elections in less than two weeks, hundreds of former political prisoners now walk the streets, and media censorship has been relaxed. Governments and policy makers around the world are rightly impressed. But how far has the Burmese government really progressed on human rights?

In the remote, rugged mountains of the northern Kachin State, the Burmese Army has been engaged in a brutal war with the Kachin Independence Army, KIA, since last June, breaking a 17-year ceasefire agreement. In its renewed military operations against the KIA — Myanmar’s second-largest armed rebel group, which has existed for 51 years — the army has attacked ethnic Kachin civilians and villages, pillaged properties, and committed severe abuses. I have traveled twice to the conflict areas, spending more than six weeks interviewing more than 100 people. Burmese soldiers have raped Kachin women, tortured civilians, used forced labour on the front lines, and opened fire on villagers with small arms and mortars, causing tens of thousands to flee.

7 Shoebox flats a hit (Straits Times) About one in seven homes sold by developers in Singapore last year was a shoebox apartment, signalling that the trend of shrinking homes is here to stay. These units - they are up to 500 sq ft in size - tend to cost under $1 million, a factor that has made them a big component of the local market. Buyers snapped up a record 2,037 new ones last year.

8 Singapore world’s 5th biggest arms importer (Straits Times) Singapore has emerged as the world's fifth-biggest weapons importer in the last five years, says the latest report of a Swedish security and military think-tank. With its imports accounting for 4% of the world's total spend on arms imports, Singapore trails only four countries - India (10%), South Korea (6%), and Pakistan and China (tied at 5%). Defence specialists said they were not surprised by Singapore's ranking as it has, in the last few years, acquired 110 Leopard main battle tanks, 24 F-15SG fighter jets, 18 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System trucks and six S-70B Sikorsky Seahawk naval helicopters - all big-ticket items.

9 No silver bullets for Chinese realty (The Wall Street Journal) Despite five months in a row of falling housing prices and other ominous signs in China’s property sector, the country’s real estate practitioners have nevertheless managed to maintain a surprising level of optimism. But considering how many Chinese investors and developers failed to anticipate the extent of the current slowdown in the domestic property market, Tsinghua University economist Patrick Chovanec said the time has come to dispel a couple myths about certain silver bullet solutions for the sector.

Myth No. 1: If only Beijing would loosen its grip on the reins, the horses would start galloping again. “I’m skeptical. There’s a changed psychology among buyers,” said Mr. Chovanec. He argues that investors used to take on stretched mortgages to buy homes as a counter to inflation, assuming that the property would retain value better than holding cash, but they are now hesitant because of declining prices. Myth 2: Affordable housing to the rescue. China is in the midst of an ambitious program to build 36 million subsidized apartments by the end of 2015, and construction started on more than 10 million units last year. While that sounds good, Mr. Chovanec argues there might not enough money to finance all of the planned affordable housing.

10 Growing up with sparrows (B Kolappan inThe Hindu) No bird fascinates me more than a house sparrow. There was no dearth of sparrows in my village — near Kanyakumari — which was sandwiched between three lakes and paddy fields on one side and coconut groves and paddy fields on the other. The birds thrived as there was constant supply of grasshoppers, dragonflies and other insects, besides plenty of grains. As a boy I had kept sparrow chicks as pets, but they never survived beyond a few days. The maximum they lived was a week.

There was a well in every house and the sparrows would nest in the crevices in the outer ring of the well wall. The bird would normally build its nest a couple of feet below the surface. We would poke our hands into the holes and feel the nest inside. The cry of the parents, as we would emerge out of the well with the chicks in our pockets, continue to haunt me even today. Sometimes we would wait for the birds to enter the well and rush towards it with a blanket and cover the mouth of the well. The poor birds thus would become an easy prey and we would keep both the parents and the chicks as pets. Unmindful of the tragedy, we would start our hunt again.

In Chennai, I have been living in a house with typical Madras roofing, an ideal place for sparrows to nest. When I arrived here seventeen years ago, there were a lot of them. But soon there was a slump in their population, the culprit being a cat who could pounce on a vulnerable chick now and then. Until a few months ago, there was only one pair living in a nest under the air-conditioner. I placed a box in the gap between the bathroom wall and corrugated roof. The birds quickly adopted it as their home. Today there are seven birds including two fledglings that have their mouths open when the parents bring food. It is my way of atoning for the death of so many sparrows I’ve caused as a child.

Friday, March 16, 2012

New gen is broke; London stays top investment centre; Fuel poverty in England; Zimbabwe jobless at 80%; India intimidates NGOs; Putin's predicament

1 New gen is broke (San Francisco Chronicle) Weighed down by higher-than-average unemployment, student-loan debt and concerns that the economy will continue to struggle, Americans 18 to 34 years old are increasingly reluctant to shop, according to researcher WSL Strategic Retail. Almost a quarter of 18- to 34-year-olds don't make enough money to cover basic needs such as rent, car payments and food, WSL said. These shoppers don't have much to spend and seek promotions instead of desirable brands. Advertisers, television networks and retailers have long chased the youth market, traditionally a group with the time and desire to stay current and fashionable. Companies tried to hook customers in their 20s, hoping to gain a loyal customer for decades to come. That may no longer work for retailers.

2 London stays top investment centre (BBC) London remains the top city in the world for foreign investment, according to a report that reflects the rise of emerging economies. The next two cities are Shanghai and Hong Kong, China's financial capitals, consulting firm KPMG and Greater Paris Investment Agency said. Brazil's Sao Paulo had the biggest leap, to fourth, increasing investment by 160% over the past two years. Other cities in the Bric group of nations also rose strongly. Brazil, Russia, India and China are all growing at a blistering pace, while Europe has been in a slump and Europe hard-hit by a sovereign debt crisis. The five cities at the top - including New York - took 50% of the total investment to the biggest 22 cities.

3 Fuel poverty in England (BBC) Fuel poverty in England is likely to worsen, despite measures to try to eradicate it, a government-commissioned report has warned. Some 7.8 million people could not afford their energy bills in 2009, its author, Prof John Hills said. This is due to rise to 8.5 million by 2016. The government has said it is committed to tackling the problem which has been linked to 2,700 deaths a year. Prof Hills' interim report last year said almost 3,000 people died each year from problems linked to fuel poverty such as respiratory or cardiovascular disease. It said the problem was getting worse as energy costs rose. "People who find their homes hard to heat are pumping out carbon into the atmosphere which is blocking some of the efforts to reduce carbon emissions."

4 Zimbabwe unemployment at 80% (BBC) Zimbabwe's government could "close" unless projected diamond revenues start to flow into the treasury, Finance Minister Tendai Biti has warned. He said the mines ministry had informed him that no diamond auctions had been held this year. Ministries in the unity government are split between President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the MDC party. Analysts say it has achieved stability in Zimbabwe, and after a decade of steep decline the economy is slowly recovering, but it remains fragile and tensions are rising again. With unemployment at 80%, the country's tax and revenue base remains extremely low. The finance minister said 70% of government revenue was spent on wages - leaving little else for anything else, without the diamond money.

5 India intimidates NGOs (Khaleej Times) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remarks that foreign-funded non-governmental organisations are pushing alien agendas to scupper nuclear enterprises has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Apart from piquing many organisations, which are doing commendable work in the areas of social uplift, health and poverty alleviation, the comment has also spotlighted the fraught debate over foreign funding for NGOs. In all, about 125,000 organisations classified as “development NGOs” which receive foreign funding, have been slapped with notices of scrutiny.

In an inter-connected world, this paranoia seems misplaced, as governments need to accommodate global activists and their contrarian voices. Rather than trying to control civil society groups and movements by force, the government would do well to regulate them just as it regulates foreign investment or companies by monitoring their fund usage. NGO activists point out, they will happily accept domestic funding rather than foreign except that the former is hard to come by.

What ruling establishments need to understand is that it is impossible to firewall the voluntary sector in a democracy. The UPA government needs to adopt a middle road, which allows financial regulation for the NGOs and lets them take up developmental projects that benefit both civil society and the establishment. Coercion and harassment would make it seem as if the future of protests itself is under threat in the world’s largest democracy.

6 Putin’s predicament (Khaleej Times) Vladimir Putin faces three new constraints that augur stagnation and increasing turbulence: his relative weakness, the emergence of an opposition and a thin margin of error. Extrapolating from the recent elections, Putin has the support of perhaps 50% of the voting population. Putin’s weakened status will make governance more difficult. Bureaucrats will take a more tentative approach toward implementing Kremlin initiatives, especially ones that might elicit public ire. Governors will not only be looking to Moscow for direction, but also over their shoulders for potential regional unrest, complicating their ability to govern.

The new opposition movement will also constrain Putin. It is diverse, encompassing middle class liberals, leftists and nationalists. The protests will dwindle in coming months, as opposition leaders plot a longer-term strategy. But the middle class will remain committed, especially because their real incomes are stagnating as their expectations rise. And the core complaint – corruption – will keep the movement vibrant.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Newspapers are fastest shrinking industry; US universities the best; Banks as servants of capitalism, not masters of universe; India's dynasts

1 UK youth unemployment at 22.5% (The Guardian) More than 30,000 NHS workers and 71,000 in education were among more than a quarter of a million public sector staff who lost their jobs in 2011 as the government's austerity measures started to bite. Official figures revealed that a total of 270,000 posts were cut from the public sector payroll last year, reducing the workforce by almost 7%, to 5.94 million. Unemployment continued rising in the three months to January to hit its highest rate since 1995, with the number of people out of work on the government's preferred International Labour Organisation measure increasing by 28,000, to 2.67 million. That compared with a 45,000 rise in the three months to December.

The unemployment crisis among Britain's youngest workers has also continued, according to the ONS. The number of 16-to-24 year olds out of work hit 1.04 million, taking Britain's youth unemployment rate to 22.5%, the highest since records began in 1992. Liam Byrne MP, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "Britain's jobs crisis shows no signs of letting up, yet complacent ministers are failing to act. "The surge in women's unemployment is reaching shocking levels but instead of helping more families into work, next month's cuts to tax credits are set to make thousands better off if they quit their jobs and start claiming out of work benefits.

2 Newspapers are fastest shrinking industry (The Guardian) An analysis of industries in the US by the Council of Economic Advisors, the White House agency that advises the president on economic trends, has found that newspapers are America's fastest-shrinking industry. A quick look at the winners and losers can be found on the Linkedin blog. Scroll down the list to the very bottom and there is the newspaper industry, down by 28.4% over five years. It is a depressing statistic, picked up by Robert Niles on his journalism blog and prompting him to ask: "Is any university in America still admitting students as print journalism majors?"

He goes on to register his amazement: "Everyone in the business knew that newspapers were shrinking, but dead last? And dead last in a down economy?" But he turns then to the positive stats. "Take a look at the top three growing industries over the past five years. "There's the internet at number two and online publishing at number three. "That's the future of journalism education right there - fulfilling the growing need for instruction and guidance in profitable and community-building communication in the growing online publishing media."

3 UK AAA rating at risk (The Guardian) George Osborne faced fresh questions about the credibility of his austerity policies just days before the budget, when Fitch became the second of the major credit ratings agencies to warn that the UK's coveted AAA-rating is at risk. Echoing the recent decision by Moody's to place the UK on so-called "negative watch", which signals that it could be stripped of AAA status, Fitch said a weaker than expected recovery in the economy could jeopardise Osborne's chances of tackling the debt burden. The announcement came just a day after the chancellor floated the idea of selling 100-year bonds to take advantage of current high demand for the UK's bonds. It said there was now a "slightly greater than 50% chance" that the UK would be stripped of its AAA-rating over the next two years.

4 US universities the best (BBC) Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are top of a global league table of university reputation - in a top 100 dominated by US institutions. Cambridge and Oxford make the top 10 - but other UK universities have slipped, while Asian institutions have risen. The rankings are based on the perceptions of 17,000 academics. Cambridge was once again the highest ranking UK university in third place, followed by Stanford and University of California, Berkeley. Reflecting the rise of Asian countries as the new education superpowers, there is an increasing presence for countries such as China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. Switzerland is also seen as performing well, relative to its population, with three universities in the top 100

California, where universities have helped to drive digital industries, has four institutions in the top 10. There has been growing economic and political importance attached to developing such "knowledge hubs", with the expectation that such advanced research bases can be the launchpads for hi-tech industries. New York, wanting to compete with the Silicon Valley institutions in California and the research hubs in Boston, is deliberately trying to build its own science campus.

5 Can Goldman be servant of capitalism not master of universe? (Robert Peston on BBC) It was unusual to read an extreme version of the charge that Goldman Sachs is more interested in the fee, commission or trading profit than in customer satisfaction from one of its own middle-ranking executives, Greg Smith. His lament is of an investment banker who joined the firm just under 12 years ago filled with idealistic enthusiasm. I've been watching Goldman for more than 20 years, and I'm not persuaded it was ever the co-op Mr Smith seems to think he joined.

By the way, JK Galbraith's account of the 1929 Wall Street Crash is none too flattering about Goldman Sachs. There's history here. All that said, the spirit of the age is indeed that banks should revert to their role of servants of capitalism rather than masters of the universe. If Goldman fails to learn that lesson, it may well lose the clients that are the source of all those enormous bonuses. The bank's rather lacklustre share-price performance over the past year may imply that perhaps in this vital regard it is something of a slow learner.

6 Healthcare for the world (Khaleej Times) It might seem surprising, but just as the world is recovering from the most serious financial shock since the World War II, governments around the world are engaging in serious discussions on how to expand health coverage. This new wave of universal health coverage, or UHC, has touched nearly 100 countries, all studying how to institute government-funded programmes of health care. This concept is taking off in populous countries and traditionally UHC “blind spots,” such as Indonesia, China, India and South Africa. Combined, these four countries account for 40% of the world’s population.

The first wave came in the 19th century after German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduced comprehensive medical care that covered large segments of blue-collar workers. Germany’s 1883 Health Insurance Bill and other social legislations formed the basis of the modern welfare state. In the post–World War era, most industrialised democracies and many socialist countries established health programmes so that all people had access to affordable health care. According to the International Labour Organisation, nearly 50 countries had attained near universal health coverage by 2008. The next wave is among emerging economies. Population health and well-being are issues of governance. No matter how imperfect many existing UHC schemes may be, they constitute a global movement worth sustaining.

7 100th anniversary of The Titanic (Straits Times) The Artifact Exhibition, an exhibit that is making its way around the world, displays more than 300 artifacts that have been raised from the seabed following the Titanic disaster, some of which have never been seen before. While some of the artifacts saved from the ship have made their way in exhibits around the world, some will be auctioned off during an auction in New York, timed for the 100th anniversary. Some of the artifacts on auction include jewellery recovered from the passengers and a cork-filled life jacket. The RMS Titanic, the world largest ship, sank after colliding with an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. The accident claimed the lives of over 1,500 passengers.

8 India’s dynasts (Sadanand Dhume in The Wall Street Journal) India claims no monopoly on prominent political families. America has the Kennedys and the Bushes, and leading Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is the son of a former governor. But in mature democracies, leadership opportunities are given to talented people from all backgrounds. In the UK, the Conservative Party gave Margaret Thatcher, famously a grocer's daughter, a ladder to the top. In America, a community organizer with a foreign name can credibly dream of winning the presidency.

While the right name could give a politician a leg up in other countries, in India it's more like two legs and an arm. Fifty-odd families effectively run much of the country. But with no system of party primaries and an every-man-for-himself (and his progeny) political culture, Manmohan Singh parachuted into high office when he was made finance minister in 1991. Under former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, Mr. Singh was allowed to pursue economic reforms. Under Congress President Sonia Gandhi's populist dispensation, those instincts have been stifled.

This closed system may also be one of the factors encouraging corruption. As a fix, the middle class needs to shed its traditional apathy toward politics, and either form new parties or join existing ones. More importantly, parties should respond by starting to treat ideas seriously — attracting followers based on what they believe rather than which caste, community or gene pool they claim to represent. If this succeeds, India's dynasts will no longer be able to pass on high office like a family heirloom. If it fails, the country will continue to look less like a modern democracy and more like a patchwork quilt of fiefdoms.

9 Newspaper report on Tipu’s treaty, 1792 (The Hindu) When Tipu Sultan lost the Third Anglo-Mysore War to the allied forces in 1792, the old Mysore region did not have a newspaper to report it. But, thousands of kilometres away, readers of the Philadelphia-based The Mail; or, Claypoole's Daily Advertiser read the details of the war and the treaty that was signed subsequently. A copy of the four-page newspaper, having survived for nearly 220 years in different hands, reached Bangalore-based document collector Sunil Baboo. He bought it from a US dealer last year.

The September 8, 1792 edition of The Mail carries details of the treaty signed between Tipu and allied forces commander Lord Cornwallis. The war came ended on February 6, 1792, and the treaty was signed on February 22, 1792. It was notified in the July 5 issue of London Gazette. The Mail reproduced the contents of the treaty notified in the London Gazette. Following the treaty, Tipu had to cede half of his dominion and pay 3.3 crore sicca rupees in pagodas, or gold mohurs, or its worth in gold or silver bullion. He was forced to hand over two of his sons as hostage till he made the payment.

10 Social networking hits staff output (Business Line) Projects getting delayed? Employee productivity down? Blame it on social-networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. surveyed around 3,200 people visiting its site from February to March to find out which sites they visit the most. Of the people who took the survey, 39% said they spend a mere hour a week or less on non-work related items. That's followed by 29% who spend up to two hours a week wasting time on the computer at work, and 21% who waste up to five hours a week. Only 3% of respondents spend 10 hours or more on personal tasks while at work in a given week.