Monday, April 30, 2012

No revenues and an illusion of value; Poor outlook for Nokia; Further downturn for UK; Spanish jobless at record high; Our gangster state; India: Downgraded and unchanging; Global car design toes Chinese line

1 No revenues and an illusion of value, again (The New York Times) The gears of Silicon Valley continue to mesh and turn because of money, not necessarily technological innovations. And there are certain things about that money machine that denizens of the Valley would rather keep quiet. First, they’ll never acknowledge the possibility of a bubble. An even more bizarre activity in the Valley than shushing the talk of a bubble is how some start-ups are advised by investors not to make money. This concept may sound ridiculous from a business standpoint, but for investors, it fuels the get-richer-quicker mentality that exists here.
“It serves the interest of the investors who can come up with whatever valuation they want when there are no revenues,” explained Paul Kedrosky, a venture investor and entrepreneur. “Once there is no revenue, there is no science, and it all just becomes finger in the wind valuations.” For start-ups, fewer numbers in the equation mean a projected valuation can be plucked out of thin air. Look how well this worked for Instagram, which had zero in revenue and was bought for $1bn.

So why does the lunacy of building companies with no revenue or business model work? Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, used that dirty word that investors scoff at: bubble. “This is 1999 all over again, but this time, it’s gotten worse,” he said, referring to the last technology bubble to burst. “We’re back to companies throwing around funny money. The economic values don’t add up.”

2 Nokia is rated junk (San Francisco Chronicle) Nokia's rating has been lowered to junk by Standard & Poor's, the second debt rating company to strip the Finnish mobile-phone maker of an investment grade after losses at its handset business. The ranking was cut by one step to double-B-plus from triple-B-minus with a negative outlook, meaning Standard & Poor's may further reduce the rating. Fitch Ratings made the same move last week. Moody's Investors Service still rates Nokia's debt the lowest investment grade.

Nokia is burning cash 14 months after linking up with Microsoft to make Lumia smart phones, which run on the Windows operating system. The company reported a first-quarter operating loss for its handset unit this month and said the margins will be similar or worse in the current period. Chief Financial Officer Timo Ihamuotila said the company's financial position, with net cash of 4.9 billion euros as of March 31, "remains strong."

3 Further downturn forecast for UK (The Guardian) Banks and insurers face a rocky 2012 as insolvencies rocket to levels not seen since the 1990s, according to a report by the Ernst & Young Item Club. The economic slowdown will also hamper corporate lending by the banks, the report said, which came after recession became official last week with figures showing the economy contracted 0.2% in the first quarter of the year. Lending to businesses is unlikely to recover to its 2008 peak before 2016, the report predicts.

Britain joined many other EU nations in recession, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, following a sharp fall in construction and poor figures from the financial and business services industries. The Item Club said financial services faced a "worsening outlook as the real effect of sluggish growth continues to impact creditor and consumer behaviour". It said write-offs on corporate loans will increase to 1.9% of loans in the corporate sector, from 1.6% in 2011. "Insolvencies are likely to rise more sharply in the north-east of England and Wales, where economic output is set to contract by 0.1% and 0.3% respectively," it said.

4 India federalism faces strain (Soutik Biswas on BBC)Why are leaders of opposition-ruled states making life difficult for India's federal government? In West Bengal, the feisty Mamata Banerjee has refused to give her consent to Delhi’s water-sharing treaty with Bangladesh, put her foot down on allowing foreign direct investment in supermarkets, and has complained that Delhi is not helping her state, which is drowning in debt. Emboldened by her moves, leaders of other non-Congress ruled states are also speaking up against what is arguably one of the most enfeebled governments India has seen.

These developments have a sense of deja vu around them. For long, states have complained of an overbearing and arrogant centre, which defeats the spirit of federalism. What national parties - specially the Congress - sometimes forget is that federalism has radically changed since the rise of smaller, regional parties and the decline of the Congress. The rise of powerful regional identity-driven parties has virtually altered the nature of federalism. Displaying political nous, these parties support federal governments strategically, extracting concessions, like "lucrative" ministerships, money and projects. For many, this is a triumph of federalism.

5 ILO finds labour market ‘alarming’ (BBC) The International Labour Organization has warned that the global employment situation is "alarming" and unlikely to improve soon. The agency said that austerity measures, especially in advanced economies, were hurting job creation. It said the situation was likely to get worse amid slowing global growth and more people entering the workforce. "It is unlikely that the world economy will grow at a sufficient pace over the next couple of years to both close the existing jobs deficit and provide employment for the more than 80 million people expected to enter the labour market during this period," the agency said in its latest report.

6 Spanish jobless at record high (BBC) The number of unemployed people in Spain reached 5,639,500 at the end of March, with the unemployment rate hitting 24.4%, the national statistics agency said. The figures came hours after rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded Spanish sovereign debt. Last week, the Bank of Spain said the economy contracted by 0.4% in first three months of this year, after shrinking by 0.3% in the final quarter of last year. In the first three months of the year, 365,900 people in Spain lost their jobs. The country has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union and it is expected to rise further this year.

7 Samsung is new Phone No.1 (BBC) Samsung Electronics has overtaken Nokia to become the world's largest maker of mobile phones, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. Nokia took the top spot in 1998 from Motorola, but in the first quarter of 2012 Samsung shipped 93m phones compared to almost 83m by Nokia. Samsung also reported its highest quarterly profit since 2008. Net profit was $4.5bn in the quarter ending 31 March, up 81% from last year. Samsung is also the world's biggest TV and flat screen maker.

8 Our gangster state (Justice Malala in Johannesburg Times) Now that the ANC has managed to get rid of Julius Malema, its troublesome youth league president, the party might want to concentrate on something meatier. It might want to ask its president, Jacob Zuma, what kind of rotten state he is running in its name. The ANC sent Zuma to the Union Buildings. In its name, he governs South Africa. He should be accountable to it if he is not accountable to the rest of us, the citizenry.

He should now account to the ANC about why Richard Mdluli, the head of crime intelligence in the SA Police Service, is back at his desk and not in a court of law or behind bars for corruption. Nothing smacks of corruption in this country as much as the figure of Mdluli, a man who is being mentioned as a possible national police commissioner. Nothing scares me more than the possibility that such a compromised figure stands to assume so much power.

Mdluli was up on charges of murder, kidnapping, assault and intimidation. Where are the voices of Gwede Mantashe, Kgalema Motlanthe, Cyril Ramaphosa, Trevor Manuel and others when this rot is being perpetrated in their name? Where is the ANC of OR Tambo? It is silent, quivering in fear of its own "deployee", Jacob Zuma, a man who is running what is now clearly a gangster state.

9 India: Downgraded and unchanging (Khaleej Times) Last Wednesday, ratings agency S&P cut its outlook on India’s BBB- rating to negative from stable and warned it had a one-in-three chance of losing investment-grade status, sending shockwaves through the ministry. Its decision could raise costs for Indian borrowers and undermine foreign investor confidence in Asia’s third-largest economy. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s first public comment on the cut - “don’t panic” - seemed aimed as much at his own ministry as at the general public.

India has lost some of its shine recently. After growing at an enviable average rate of more than 8% annually for the previous five years, it expanded less than 7% in the last fiscal year, its slowest pace in three years. “S&P’s warning effectively says India’s rating is at risk of slipping to “junk”.  Sceptics say India is politically unable to take major steps to rein in ballooning subsidies, now more than 2% of GDP. Private economists also say the government will struggle to rein in its current account and fiscal deficits and revive GDP growth while world energy prices are high, and with a period of election spending looming.

Officials said India plans to take incremental steps to support projected growth and trim its fiscal deficit to 5.1% in the current year while - as one minister put it - “praying for good rainfalls and stable crude oil prices”. “The real issue in India is not that the problems are unknown or that the solutions are unclear; it is that solutions are not being implemented,” said Rajeev Malik, a senior analyst at CLSA Singapore. “That is unlikely to change substantially.”

10 Global car designs toe Chinese likes (Straits Times) As more and more Chinese buy cars, automakers say consumer tastes in the Asian nation have a growing influence on vehicle design the world over. China emerged as the world's top car market in 2009, and though the sector stalled last year, with sales rising just 2.5% to 18.51 million, carmakers are convinced it is where the industry's future lies. 'We want to have more China elements in our design for global cars,' said Ms Shen Li, spokesman for Nissan China. 'The designers find inspiration in traditional paper cutting, or in Tang (dynasty) paintings representing opulent women. Every model in the future has to have a good potential in China.'

11 India not high on Arcelor investment list (The Wall Street Journal)  ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel producer, is focusing its investments on Canada, Brazil and Liberia, but India, where it has made little headway with three prominent steel projects, doesn't figure high on its list of investment destinations. Chairman Lakshmi Mittal, an Indian steel magnate who is also one of the world's richest people, said three steel plants the company had planned to build in India continue to face regulatory hurdles. "Capital is scarce, and in India for our projects, the process of approvals is still going on," Mr. Mittal said. "I feel bad; I feel a bit concerned" about delays in the steel projects. "There's no way I can ignore India, and I am not giving up on these projects," Mr. Mittal said. But India isn't an investment priority for ArcelorMittal at the moment, he added.

India's bureaucracy and Byzantine regulations have deterred foreign investment in several industries. their enthusiasm toward the country. Mr. Mittal said six years ago that ArcelorMittal would set up two steel plants in eastern India, and in 2010 his company said it would build another steel plant in the south of the country.

These projects have yet to move forward, as ArcelorMittal faces problems experienced by several industrial projects in India: difficulty in acquiring land because of regulatory issues; refusal of landowners to sell, a lengthy process for getting environmental clearances, and delays in the issuance of mining leases.

12 India’s social scientists must take the floor (Rama Bijapurkar in The Economic Times) India has a deeply entrenched knowledge caste system. 'Science' is superior to 'arts', 'quantitative' better than 'qualitative'; oncology and computer science will benefit the country more than sociology or psychology. Economics is superior to other 'arts' because it is quantitative. Consequently even the most pressing problems of national character and society and polity are sought to be solved by technofixes or higher GDP growth rate.

Seriously addressing such problems, however, requires rising above the caste system and getting social science disciplines to urgently work on them, or else they will rot the foundations of the country. Social scientists must be given wider platforms that will amplify their messages. As one prominent business media person said reflectively, "I have had several socialites and socialists on our channel but never really had a sociologist on it".

13 End of road for India service sector (Business Standard) India’s service sector prowess is already under challenge, and will be entirely overshadowed unless our policymakers wake up from their current complacent slumber, and pretty quickly at that. The Economic Survey of India this year finally reported what was a known fact for the past five years — that India is rapidly losing ground to China when it comes to global exports of commercial services.

A cause for worry is that a recent forecast from the US-based Hackett Group is that offshoring of jobs (in finance, IT, and other business services) to India will begin to decline starting 2014, and will reach the end of its life-cycle in eight years. Should that forecast come true, it will have serious implications for sectoral revenues and export earnings, and the last bastion of India’s supremacy in services trade would have been breached.

Friday, April 20, 2012

No power, no boom in India; When men turn to bikini waxing; 35 may be the best age to be; Africa sits on water reservoir; India missile and some flaws

1 No power, no boom in India (Vikas Bajaj in The New York Times) India has long struggled to provide enough electricity to light its homes and power its industry around the clock. In recent years, the government and private sector sought to change that by building scores of new power plants, but that campaign is now running into difficulties because the country cannot get the fuel — principally coal — to run the plants. A complex system of subsidies and price controls has limited investment, particularly in resources like coal and natural gas. It has also created anomalies, like retail electricity prices that are lower than the cost of producing power, which lead to big losses at state-owned utilities. An unsettled debate about how much of its forests India should turn over to mining has also limited coal production.

The power sector’s problems have substantially contributed to a second year of slowing economic growth in India, to an estimated 7% this year, from nearly 10% in 2010. Businesses report that more frequent blackouts have forced them to lower production and spend significantly more on diesel fuel to run backup generators. Analysts say India’s economic woes could have been easily avoided if policy makers had better addressed problems like its electricity shortage, weak infrastructure and restrictive regulations. Instead, policy makers have been distracted by corruption scandals and turf battles.

A major problem is the anemic production of coal, which provides 55% of India’s electricity. Coal production increased just 1% last year while power plant capacity jumped 11%. Some electricity producers have been importing coal, but that option has become more untenable recently because India’s biggest supplier, Indonesia, has doubled coal prices. India has one of the world’s largest reserves of coal but it has not been able to exploit it effectively, largely because a state-owned company, Coal India, controls 80% of production. The company has been hamstrung by political decisions like a policy that requires it to sell coal at a 70% discount to market prices.

2 When men turn to bikini waxing (The New York Times) Years after the word “metrosexual” entered the mainstream, there’s nothing eyebrow-raising about men getting a manicure or a facial. Lately though, guys’ grooming has gone one step further, deep into territory that was previously reserved solely for women: bikini waxing. The below-the-belt treatment — which, just like the women’s version, removes either some or all pubic hair — is becoming increasingly popular, and not just among competitive swimmers or underwear models. “What we’re finding is, it’s everybody,” said Mike Indursky, the president of the Bliss chain of spas, which offers a men’s Brazilian called the Ultimate He-Wax for $125. “It’s the gay community, it’s the straight community, it’s very conservative guys, it’s very liberal guys. All different age groups are coming in. It’s much, much bigger than we ever thought.”

But as women well know, bikini waxes can hurt a lot (though results last four to six weeks, without the stubble that shaving leaves). To deal with the pain, some men take an Advil beforehand (aspirin is not advised because of its blood-thinning properties) or have a glass of wine to relax. At Strip, a Crayola-colored stress ball is left in each treatment room for clients to squeeze as necessary.

3 Thirty five may be the best age to be (The Guardian) What's the best age to be? Carefree 16 or a young-enough-to-have-fun but old-enough-to-leave-home 21? Or maybe a wise and stately 65? No – it's 35, according to research by insurer Aviva. It asked more than 2,000 adults from across the age ranges what they thought the best age was to be, and the average came out as 35. By 35, those questioned said they expected people to have reached milestones like buying a house, finding a partner and having a first child, but have several years to go before reaching the peak of their career at age 39. You can see how having that kind of stability behind you, and the hope of more success ahead of you, might make it an attractive age.

According to the same survey, 35 is also an age when you can be at or around the peak of your earnings. When Aviva asked people about their household income it found that those aged 25-34 had most coming in, earning an average of £27,444 a year after tax, with 35-44 a close second, taking home an average of £25,092 a year.

4 Increased acid attacks on Pak women (BBC) Campaigners in Pakistan say cases of acid attacks are increasing in most areas, even though tougher penalties were introduced last year. An Oscar-winning Pakistani documentary has put the crime under the spotlight, but it is estimated that more than 150 women have acid thrown on them every year - usually by husbands or in-laws - and many never get justice.

A young mother of four, Shama, has just joined the ranks of Pakistani women doused in acid. She is scarred for life, with burns on 15% of her body. Her crime was her beauty. "My husband and I often had arguments in the house," she said, in her hospital bed. "On that day before going to sleep he said 'you take too much pride in your beauty'. Then in the middle of the night he threw acid on me, and ran away." When her husband fled, he took her mobile phone with him, so she could not call for help. "I feel pain at what I was, and what I have become," she said, with tears coursing down her scorched cheeks. "All the colours have gone from my life. I feel like I'm a living corpse, even worse than a living corpse. I think I have no right to live."

Shama now lies in Ward 10a of the burns unit in Nishtar Hospital in Multan in Pakistan's Punjab province. "I can't say anything about the future," she says, "maybe I won't be alive. I will try - for my kids - to get back to how I was. I have to work to build a future for them. "If I can't I'll do what one or two other girls have done. "They killed themselves."

5 Africa sitting on reservoir of water (BBC) Scientists say the notoriously dry continent of Africa is sitting on a vast reservoir of groundwater. They argue that the total volume of water in aquifers underground is 100 times the amount found on the surface. They stress that large scale drilling might not be the best way of increasing water supplies. Across Africa more than 300 million people are said not to have access to safe drinking water. Demand for water is set to grow markedly in coming decades due to population growth and the need for irrigation to grow crops. Scientists have for the first time been able to carry out a continent-wide analysis of the water that is hidden under the surface in aquifers, and mapped in detail the amount and potential yield of this groundwater resource across the continent.

6 Guilty of hurting your kids (Khaleej Times) Schools try to create an environment for sport but only 10% get involved. The other 90% are either not interested or are far too involved in reaching home or getting back to the console, their best non-human friend. Food is the next culprit. Parents, caught in their own spiral, use food as a bribe to keep their children happy or simply allow the wrongly balanced diet to take over because it is more convenient.

So, as children sans exercise regimes bloat in front of their very eyes, parents continue to ignore the pending avalanche of medical problems they are bestowing upon their progeny, packaged in false colours but still potent. When they finally wake up to the fact they either place them on thoughtless diet, rush to the doctor for immediate solutions or just as suddenly become draconian and start confiscating the very toys they gave to the children in the first place.

In far too many cases the child is far too gone down the road of sloth to suddenly start playing soccer. He is also horrified that his precious ‘other world’ has been banned and he seeks solace in more food. Neither mum nor Dad nor the kids know what to do next. If you have read so far, start pulling back now and make your children healthy…don’t condemn them with misplaced affection.

7 Indian missile pride hides flaws (Khaleej Times) India’s pride at the successful test of a long-range, nuclear-capable missile hides weaknesses in strategic military planning that undermine its global power aspirations, analysts say. Thursday’s launch of the Agni V triggered a round of intense, patriotic self-congratulation. But while acknowledging the technological achievement, a number of analysts noted it was just a tiny step towards achieving any military parity with its giant regional rival. “We are still way behind China. In terms of missile numbers, range and quality, they are way ahead of us,” said C Raja Mohan, a security analyst and senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a policy think-tank in Delhi.

Mohan also argued that there was too much focus on “demonstration” launches, which only proved that India’s missile policy was led by the scientific community rather than the government and military bureaucracy. “We can all wrap ourselves in the flag today, but there’s a dearth of real strategy on how to actually deploy missile technology,” he said. The Agni V remains some way from actually being inducted into the armed forces. Experts said it would require four or five more tests to confirm its flight path, accuracy and overall competence, before production could actually begin.

8 India trade gap at record high (The Wall Street Journal) India's trade deficit in the last fiscal year ballooned to its highest ever level, driven by a surge in imports of crude oil and precious metals and despite exports exceeding the full-year target, the Commerce Secretary said. The situation may not improve this year as waning global demand is dimming prospects of export growth, Rahul Khullar said at a news conference. Weak export growth in the key US and European markets is straining India's trade balance, although the federal government's efforts to encourage exports to new markets in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa have helped the situation.

Exports rose 21% from a year earlier to $303.7 billion in the last fiscal year, topping the government's target of $300 billion. However, that figure was dwarfed by a 32.1% expansion in imports to $488.6 billion. This pushed the trade deficit--a key piece of the current account deficit--to $184.9 billion from $118.6 billion in the previous year.

9 Vietnam upstaging India in commodities (PK Krishnakumar in The Economic Times) When the Singapore Mercantile Exchange, the first pan-Asian commodity exchange, opened for business in February, it chose Ho Chi Minh City as the delivery benchmark for its pepper contract, constituting a fresh setback for India in its losing battle against Vietnam for supremacy as South-East Asia's commodity hub. Prices set on the Mumbai-based National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX) have traditionally moved the global pepper market, but now this edge is in danger of being lost.

The annual global pepper market is worth around $2 billion. Singapore Mercantile Exchange's preference for Vietnam as the new market mover is an indication that the global market no longer considers India as an influential player due to its declining volumes. This is the latest in a series of setbacks that India has suffered on the commodities front as a combination of stagnant yields, rising labour costs, tiny farms, low mechanisation and faulty government policies erode the country's competitiveness in comparison with its South-East Asian rival.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gamechanger case for software biz; Solar industry shares dive 75%; IMF's credit-crunch warning; Why is it always Mr Khan?; Cow belt or buffalo nation?

1 Game-changer case for software biz (San Francisco Chronicle) The legal showdown between Silicon Valley giants Oracle and Google could test the very boundaries of copyright protections for software and rewrite the rules for much of the industry. In a case unfolding in San Francisco District Court, Oracle alleges that Google violated its intellectual property in developing the popular Android smart phone. Specifically, it claims the search company used 37 "application programming interface packages," or APIs, for the Java programming language without paying licensing fees.

"Should Oracle be able to convince the court (that the APIs) are fully protected by copyright and were substantially copied by Google, that could potentially turn the industry on its head," said Mark Webbink, executive director of the Center for Patent Innovations at New York Law School, in an e-mail interview. "If Oracle succeeds, it could potentially invite numerous other copyright infringement suits in the software industry with non-productive results." Google acknowledges that the applications created with a programming language can be copyrighted. But it insists that programming languages and API, can't be copyrighted any more than the English language can.

2 Corpses line Sudans’ border (San Francisco Chronicle) The road to Heglig, an oil town that South Sudan and Sudan are fighting over, is lined with discarded furniture, destroyed buses and tanks, and clusters of dead Sudanese soldiers. South Sudan's army, known as the SPLA, moved north into Heglig earlier this month, sparking the bloodiest fighting since South Sudan broke off from Sudan in July and became the world's newest nation. The area around Heglig produces about half of Sudan's oil, but the south lays claim to it and says its ownership is in dispute.

3 Solar industry shares dive 75% (San Francisco Chronicle) There has been a 75% year-over-year decline in the Bloomberg Large Solar Index, which tracks 17 of the biggest solar-energy companies. The plunge shows how much the industry slump has hurt large solar-equipment manufacturers, not just upstarts. First Solar - the top maker of thin-film panels (a type of solar collector) - announced Tuesday that it would cut 30% of its workforce. The problem: Solar subsidies are disappearing, and companies face low-cost competition from China. Most of the 2,000 jobs to be eliminated will be in Germany and in Malaysia, where it's idling four production lines. The company will pay $245 million to $370 million in severance and related costs.

4 Clean tech on the brink (The New York Times) Clean energy technology has grown robustly and come down in price in recent years, driven by hefty government stimulus spending, expectations of future regulation and substantial private investment. But that technology is going to fall off a cliff unless government steps in quickly to revitalize the solar, wind, nuclear, battery and clean vehicle sectors with new spending and federal policy, according to a new study from three research groups.The report says renewable energy generation doubled from 2006 to 2011, the first new nuclear plants in decades are under construction, and prices for solar, wind and other clean energy technologies have fallen while employment in those sectors has risen by 70,000 jobs even during a deep recession. Those gains could all be lost unless the federal government at least temporarily renews and pays for a variety of subsidies and production credits that have supported those industries as they strive to compete with fossil-fuel based energy sources, the report states.

5 Credit-crunch warning from IMF (The Guardian) Europe's banks risk triggering a major credit crunch if they all take drastic action to repair their balance sheets at the same time, the International Monetary Fund has said. The IMF said it expected 58 of the biggest banks in the European Union to slim down by $2.6bn by the end of 2013, or almost 7% of their assets. While 75% of the deleveraging would be as a result of asset sales, credit would also be harder to obtain. In the event governments stalled on reforms or were overwhelmed by fresh shocks to the system, the Global Financial Stability Review warned of a much more severe credit crunch that would see balance sheets reduced by almost $4 trillion and credit supply cut by 4.4%.

6 India test-launches intercontinental missile (BBC) India has successfully launched a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile able to carry a nuclear warhead. The locally-developed Agni-V missile has a range of more than 5,000km, within range of targets in China. Analysts say the Agni (meaning "fire" in Hindi and Sanskrit) missile family is to be the cornerstone of India's missile-based nuclear deterrent. The missiles are among the country's most sophisticated weapons. In 2010, India successfully test-fired Agni-II, an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a range of more than 2,000km. Only China, Russia, France, the US and UK have such long-range missiles. Israel is thought to possess them.

7 Why is it always Mr Khan? (Bikram Vohra in Khaleej Times) By their very nature airports are the most racist and prejudiced places in the world. Let us take the case of Indian film actor Shah Rukh Khan who is in the fortunate position of having the Indian government rush to his rescue. Thousands of other Indians, highly accomplished, unsurprisingly stand in mute submission for much longer in immigration queues. It is one of the ironies of the Indian subcontinent that a film star can provoke outrage and bring the Foreign Minister to speak out, while thousands of hardworking Indians in the largest diaspora in the world placed in such a situation would be hard-placed to get through to their embassy.

Nothing really happened to Mr Khan, with due respect. In the word of Omar Abdullah, it was not such a big deal. No one says it should have happened nor does anyone endorse it, but this is the reality of the world we live in. Africans going to Europe know they will be placed in another line. Muslims going to the US gear themselves for the inevitable double check. Indians do it to Pakistanis and Pakistanis return the compliment.

Mr Khan says he faces the sword because his name is Khan. It is also possible that he has the same name as someone on the wanted list. Maybe they are star struck and keep him there deliberately. The next time he travels he should pre-check his status or call on the US embassy and ask why he is being so profiled. In that world we speak of, where pilots respond to crew sixth senses and offload a passenger because a steward feels he has a beard or is behaving oddly or is dressed funny or speaks some odd language this was not such a major issue.

8 Peace on sale (Jawed Naqvi in Dawn) I’ve searched the broad history of capitalism, and looked up the evolution of global trade. Nowhere could I find a single clue to the mantra for peace between warring nations as flaunted by Messrs Asif Zardari and Manmohan Singh. Both want us to believe that their business elites are best equipped to normalise the dodgy relations between India and Pakistan. If anything, officially sponsored trade — as opposed to the days of the good old Kabuliwallah — has been a source of conflict everywhere. Everywhere. Look it in the eye. The worst-case scenario for a global conflict today exists between the world’s two largest trading partners — China and the US.

The East India Company was about trade, we know. Was it also about peace? Before Saudi Arabia prescribed the death penalty for carrying cannabis (which you can still smoke freely in Amsterdam), colonial Britain and its Indian compradors were pumping opium into China in the name of free trade. The Opium Wars, the Boston Tea Party in America were all aspects of trade for profit with official imprimatur. I hear India, a net importer of oil, will sell petroleum products to Pakistan. The last time there was an oil shock India had to surrender a portion of its gold reserves to stave off defaulting on international loans. The move thrust Dr Manmohan Singh at the centre-stage of Indian politics and the IMF as the country’s economic shepherd.

Two issues need to be understood in their context by the common people in India and Pakistan. The business community anywhere is not known for its sensitivity towards matters of peace. It can and often does make more profit out of war and prevailing tensions between states. I am not revealing a secret in asserting that businessmen by the very nature of their pursuit are prone to shore up right-wing politics. Trade was one of the eight or nine issues between India and Pakistan in their composite dialogue. It would be self-defeating to saddle it with the responsibility of heralding peace. That was never its strength, and it can’t be today.

9 Truly a (gas) pipe dream (Dawn) This is odd, if not outright bizarre. Pakistan, Afghanistan and India talking about the pricing formula of a unit of Turkmen gas to be conveyed by a pipeline across war-torn Afghanistan. Afghanistan will charge Pakistan and India for hosting the pipeline across its mountainous mass, while Islamabad will in turn ask New Delhi to pay it a like amount. Assuming that the three sides will develop a consensus, some pertinent questions deserve to be asked: is peace around the corner in Afghanistan? Will gas start flowing through the TAPI pipeline by December 2016 as hoped for? If all this is in the realm of uncertainty, doesn’t common sense suggest opting for the relatively hassle-free and terrain-wise easy Iran pipeline?

10 Who’s returning to India and why (The Wall Street Journal) Finally, here’s a good news story about India in the international media. It seems that for at least one group of people, India is still the Promised Land. A recent front page article in The New York Times documented the migration of second generation Americans back to their ancestral countries, including India, China, Brazil and Russia. India’s faltering growth may be disappointing, but it’s still much more rapid than the continued stagnation of the US economy.

Labor economists call this kind of migration the “reverse brain drain.” Ironically, the migrants are often the kids or sometimes grandkids of the original “brain drain,” skilled workers and professionals who left India and other developing countries in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s to seek opportunities in the booming US economy. In fact, a more accurate term for the highly mobile skilled workers of today, favored by labor economists, is “brain circulation.” If things don’t work out in India, they might return to the US or try their luck somewhere else. This development is surely good, and a far cry from the days of the brain drain.

There are indeed opportunities in India, but it’s hardly a cake-walk: you need the right package of connections to make them succeed. And, like the rest of us, they need reserves of patience and a good dose of luck. Genuine “prospectors,” with a few bucks and a dream, but without an established network of one kind or another, are less likely to hack it in India. It doesn’t make for a feel-good first page story, but that’s the hard reality of making it here.

11 Start with the last girl (Jennifer & Peter Buffett in The Economic Times) Imagine if someone gave you $1 billion with one condition: use the money to create positive change in the world. What would you do? That’s exactly what happened to us in 2006, when we received a fax that changed our lives. Peter’s father, Warren Buffett, had decided to award our small foundation with a pledge valued at approximately $1 billion with that one, simple, enormous requirement. As we determined where to focus our giving, we were reminded of Warren’s own investment philosophy: invest in companies undervalued in the marketplace but that have great potential for growth.

Adolescent girls — who are profoundly undervalued but have enormous potential — clearly met this standard. Girls worldwide are less educated, less healthy and offered less opportunity than their male peers. But if given a chance, they will improve their own lives — and the lives of those around them. We have just travelled to India to meet such undervalued girls. We saw the realities of poor adolescent girls in Kolkata and rural Bihar. Around the world, we’ve seen what happens when we invest in girls’ dreams. When a girl gains the assets of education, good health and a supportive community before she reaches the crossroads of puberty, her life path changes. If invested in properly, girls can be leaders in building a world where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their highest potential.

12 Killing the Indian farmer softly (TK Arun in The Economic Times) Rural India has been denied access to globalisation, penalising farmers and farm labour. India banned cotton exports on March 5 and sort of lifted the ban a week later. The price of cotton crashed and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi vented fury on the Congress for sacrificing farmers’ interest to please the textile lobby. In panic, the Congress-led central government asked the Cotton Corporation of India to procure cotton from the farmers at nearly twice the support price.

This little episode highlights one method in which India’s policymakers go about killing farmers softly: export restrictions, denying farmers access to the rising demand for food and industrial farm produce across the world. India bans export of wheat, rice, potato, onion, you name it, at the least provocation. This makes India an unreliable supplier, ruling out steady, long-term supply contracts, planned investment in producing the contracted supply, additional output and related incomes.

Why are Indian farmers so competitive in the export market, so much so that Indian policymakers have to ban exports to protect domestic supplies? Subsidy, is the short answer. India subsidises fertilisers, canal water for irrigation, diesel and power for pumping water from wells and tubewells, and, in these days of allowing work under the employment guarantee scheme to be performed on private farms, some bit of labour as well.

13 Cow belt or buffalo nation? (Harish Damodaran in Business Line. This one is my top pick for the day.) Indian farmers traditionally reared cattle for three main purposes. For draught, dung (fertiliser-cum-fuel) and milk. These three purposes made the cow a much-venerated creature not just from a religious standpoint, but even for its practical indispensability to farm and off-farm operations. As the renowned economist, Prof KN Raj put it, the cow was uniquely endowed with a simultaneous capacity as producer of consumer good (milk), intermediate good (dung), capital good (oxen for traction) and ‘mother machine' (for reproducing other cattle).

This exalted position, however, has been considerably undermined since the advent of the Green Revolution. Between 1971-72 and 2009-10, the estimated share of draught animals in total power deployed in Indian farms has fallen from 53% to below nine per cent. The latest 2011 Census results also show only 10.9% of rural households in India to be utilising dung cake as fuel for cooking. All this has, therefore, reduced the utility of cattle to largely being milk-producing machines. But cows account for less than 45% of India's milk output today. More than 55% of the milk that Indians consume now flows from the udders of buffaloes, which are neither born holy nor have holiness thrust upon them. The share of buffaloes in the overall bovine numbers has also steadily gone up since Independence.

For an indication of where farmers' rational choices are leading to, one needn't look beyond Gokul and Vrindavan – the holy sites of Lord Krishna's childhood life centred around cows, milk, butter and gopis. According to the 2007 Livestock Census, Mathura district, of which they are part, had a total cattle population of 141,326, whereas its buffalo numbers were five times higher, at 722,854. So much for the Cow Belt!

Most tormenting news items of the day:

1 A life destroyed by acid attack (Sydney Morning Herald) Fakhra Younus gave a face to the thousands of Pakistani women who are disfigured as a result of acid attacks, typically carried out by husbands who accuse their wives of dishonouring them. Younus was born to a heroin-addicted mother in Karachi's red-light district, probably in 1978. She was 18 and working as a prostitute when she met Bilal Khar, a former member of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab and son of a former Punjab governor, Ghulam Mustafa Khar.

The two married after six months, but, by her account, from the start her husband subjected her to a sustained campaign of sexual, physical and verbal abuse that lasted three years before she eventually escaped and moved back to live with her mother. But her peace did not last long. On May 14, 2000, she was asleep at home when she heard a man yelling at her. ''I jerked as he held me by my hair and opened my mouth. Because I resisted he couldn't get me to swallow. But then he threw something on me. I did not understand what had happened to me.'' She collapsed on the floor, screaming. Her hair had been burned off her head; her lips had fused together; her left ear was obliterated; she was blinded in one eye; and her breasts had melted to the bone. She could breathe only with extreme difficulty. She spent three months in hospital.

After her release from hospital, Younus found she had become a liability to her family. She and her son were taken in by Tehmina Durrani, a stepmother of Bilal's and a women's rights activist who had chronicled ''the Khars's way of treating women'' in her book My Feudal Lord. In 2001, Durrani helped Younus move to Rome where, over 11 years, she underwent 39 major operations. By the 38th operation, last year, she could move her mouth and one eye, and her face, though still badly disfigured, had regained some of its shape. By this time she had co-written a memoir, Il Volto Cancellato (The Erased Face). Fakhra Younus, who committed suicide, is survived by her son, Nauman.

2 When a school calls kids, ‘useless’(Khaleej Times) There are many ways to discipline a child for misbehaving in school, but rarely is an entire class humiliated through a demeaning punishment. This was the case at Indian High School Dubai on Tuesday, where seventh-standard students were told to walk from school wearing badges stating, “useless boy”.On Monday, the same teacher instructed the entire class to stand with their arms raised for 45 minutes. Dr Raymond H Hamden, clinical and forensic psychologist, said the actions could have long-lasting effects on the children. “Negative reinforcement is very destructive. It provides a false image and takes children into a state of no confidence, low self-esteem and causes a person to suffer low self-worth.

3 Gang rape of mentally ill teenager (Johannesburg Times) Yesterday, South Africans awoke to a brutal story: a 17-year-old with the mental ability of a five-year-old had been gang-raped by seven young men who had offered her R2 for their violent pleasure. Exacerbating her humiliation, they had video-taped the brutal attack and the images have since gone viral across the country. Police are investigating the existence of a second video of another rape of the girl. The complicity lies in the fact that the community knew this teenager, a child really, and must have known she had previously disappeared for weeks on end. She had apparently been raped several times since 2009. But no one seems to have found it necessary to report this to the authorities.

4 Man jailed for killing ‘disobedient’ wife in front of 300 (Sydney Morning Herald) A self-absorbed man who stabbed his estranged wife to death in front of 300 people because she disobeyed him will spend at least 26 years behind bars. Zialloh Abrahimzadeh, 57, was sentenced today to life in jail after pleading guilty on day 11 of his murder trial earlier this year to killing Zahra at a Persian function at the Adelaide Convention Centre in March 2010. He was a violent bully to his wife and three children at home and a respected, caring man to the migrant community in Adelaide. All three of his children testified against him, saying they and their mother were frightened of Abrahimzadeh. They said they all moved out in secret after he threatened Zahra with a knife.

5 UK woman watched as lover killed himself in Delhi (The Times of India Page 1) This bizarre deathwatch occurred across continents 11,000km apart over four months back, but few knew about it until now. A British automobile consultant slashed his throat and wrists in his rented flat in South Delhi while his girlfriend watched in horror on Skype from Reading in the UK. The man, Adrian Rowland, 53, was video-chatting with his partner, Julie Zalinski, when he suddenly slashed himself with a broken bottle. Zalinski said she had informed the British police which, in turn, alerted Delhi police via the British High Commission, but at the end of it all her partner could not be saved and she was left watching helplessly for over 10 hours as Rowland bled to death.

Delhi Police said the police had rushed to Rowland's second-floor flat with paramedics on November 27 after being alerted but they could not enter as Rowland did not open the door. The Oxford inquest was told that Indian laws, unlike British laws, prevented police from breaking into the flat. The Delhi Police version is different. It said policemen had reached the flat even before the high commission alert because a neighbour called up to say Rowland was throwing things about inside his house and something seemed wrong. A police officer had knocked on the door but Rowland told him to "go away". (The Times of India story is followed by a query, ‘Do you like this story?’!

6 UP kids tie boy to bike, drag him till he dies (The Times of India) An intermediate student in Aligarh was allegedly thrashed by his batchmates, tied to a motorcycle and then dragged on the road for more than 2km till he died. Even after the victim was unconscious, the accused kept dragging him through the streets. Witnesses said the accused stopped to check if the victim, Gaurav Sharma of Sadamai locality in Aligarh, was still alive. They continued the barbaric act till they were sure that Gaurav was dead. The accused fled the scene. A hundred plus fellow students of Gaurav and passers-by remained mute spectators to the gory murder. Help arrived only after the accused had left the teenager on the road and sped away.
(Do keep newspapers away from children, and also keep a tab on whether they are browsing news websites.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

If economists failed us, where are the fresh voices?; India threatened by Maoists; Sudan v/s South Sudan; India slips on spirituality; Infy's woes

1 If economists have failed us, where are the fresh voices? (The Guardian) At the start of the banking crisis, the air was thick with the sound of lachrymose economists. How did they miss the biggest crash since 1929? Professors at the LSE were asked that very question by the Queen – and were too tongue-tied to reply. So have the non-economists grasped their moment? Have they hell. Look at the academic conferences held over the past few weeks, at which the latest and most promising research in each discipline is presented, and it's as if Lehman Brothers never fell over.

Britain's top political scientists met in Belfast a couple of weeks ago, and you'd have thought there'd be plenty in the crisis for them to discuss. But no: over the course of three days, they held exactly one discussion of Britain's political economy. Perhaps you have more faith in the sociologists. Take a peek at the website for the British Sociological Association. Scroll through the press-released research, and you will not come across anything that deals with the banking crash. Instead in April 2010, amid the biggest sociological event in decades, the BSA put out a notice titled: "Older bodybuilders can change young people's view of the over-60s, research says."

When an entire discipline does what the sociologists did at their conference last week and devotes as much time to discussing the holistic massage industry "using a Foucauldian lens" as to analysing financiers, they're never going to challenge the dominance of mainstream economics. And it's hard to believe they really want to.

2 India threatened by Maoists (BBC) India's internal security remains a major challenge and the threat from Maoist rebels requires constant attention, PM Manmohan Singh has said. He told a key meeting of state chief ministers that "terrorism, religious fundamentalism and ethnic violence" needed to be tackled firmly. "The so-called 'protracted people's war' waged by the left-wing extremists against the state and society continues to target civilians and security forces, and economic infrastructure such as railways, mobile communications and power networks," Mr Singh said. The prime minister also warned that "terrorist groups are today more nimble, more lethal than ever and increasingly networked across frontiers".

Home Minister P Chidambaram, who addressed the meeting before the prime minister, described the left-wing extremism of Maoist rebels as "the most formidable security challenge facing the country" even as the traditional insurgencies in Indian-administered Kashmir and the north-east have declined. Mr Chidambaram said the fight against the Maoists in at least nine states was hampered by a lack of resources. The Maoist insurgency which began in the late 1960s has been described in the past by the prime minister as India's "greatest internal security challenge". The rebels say they are fighting for the poor and landless peasants. They are active across the states of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and also parts of Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. More than 6,000 people have died in the rebels' fight for communist rule in these states.

3 Why Indian Premier (cricket) League is floundering (BBC) Are cricket fans turning their backs on the ongoing fifth edition of the IPL? TV ratings were down 18.7% in the first six games - a time when interest in the tournament traditionally peaks - compared with the same period last year. Why is the thrill gone this year - at least in the early stages of the tournament? After all, this is the tournament which combines the sublime (sledgehammer batting, close finishes) and the ridiculous (Bollywood entertainment, cheerleaders, "strategic time outs" in the middle of the games to facilitate advertising breaks). Indians love tamasha (entertainment), and the IPL is still the best tamasha on offer.

Indian stars are the league's biggest draw, and most of them have been performing indifferently or are absent in the ongoing edition. Tendulkar is hurt after the first game, and Sehwag and Dhoni, two big hitters, haven't fired yet. VVS Laxman isn't playing this season. Yuvraj Singh is recovering from cancer and is out of the game for a while. Saurav Ganguly's batting is past its sell-by date. Rahul Dravid is playing a post-retirement nostalgia gig. Yusuf Pathan, a Twenty20 star, has fizzled out. When the stars are largely down and out, fans stay away.But authorities simply cannot afford to let the IPL crash. Listen to cricket writer Sharda Ugra, and you know why. "The IPL has now become a key component of world cricket's economy. If it falters and fails because it is not alert to the audience climate around it, the domino effect around the cricket world will be damaging. Cricket's superstar status in many parts of its empire will be downgraded from club class to cattle class - all holy cows included."

4 Sudan declares war on South Sudan (Johannesburg Times) Sudan's parliament has voted unanimously to brand the government of South Sudan an enemy after southern troops invaded the north's main oilfield. After the vote, parliamentary speaker Ahmed Ibrahim el-Tahir called for the overthrow of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which rules the South. World powers urged restraint after fighting began with waves of aerial bombardment hitting the South, whose troops last week seized Khartoum's main Heglig oil region from Khartoum's army. It is the most serious clash since South Sudan became independent in July. When the South broke away, Khartoum lost about 75% of its oil production and billions in revenue, leaving the Heglig area as its main oil centre.

5 Remote India state struggles for identity (Dawn) Promoted in official brochures as the “jewel of India’, the tiny state of Manipur seems closed to an ignored family heirloom than a proudly coveted gem. For many Manipuris, the concept of being “of India” in any meaningful sense is one they find difficult to entertain. Its relative isolation is not just geographical, but also ethnic, linguistic, economic and political. One of India’s smallest states with a population of just 2.7 million inhabitants, Manipur borders Myanmar and its people have always tended to look eastwards in their search for cultural links.

“We are virtually cut off from mainland India,” said Shyam Singh, a history professor in Imphal. “Culturally and socially, we identify ourselves more with the countries of Southeast Asia as they are closer to home.” One striking example is the massive popularity in Manipur of Korean movies, soap operas and pop music, which have filled the vacuum caused by a separatist-led boycott of Bollywood films. Manipur was incorporated into the Indian Union on October 15, 1949, two years after the country won independence from British rule. According to political analyst Sharat Chandra, the enormous problems India faced after partition meant its leaders neglected remote states like Manipur which were never properly integrated into the socio-political mainstream.

The disconnect with the rest of the country extends to sport. In the streets of the bazaar, young boys play a game of sepak takraw, or kick volleyball, a sport native to the Malay-Thai Peninsula, as opposed to cricket. The charge that Manipur has been neglected and marginalised by the Indian government has found a powerful symbol in the person of Irom Sharmila — a 40-year-old activist who has been labelled “the world’s longest hunger striker”. For more than 11 years, Sharmila has refused food and water to back her demand for the withdrawal of the special powers wielded by — and according to critics widely abused by — the security forces.

6 Defeating the economic crisis (Jonathan Power in Khaleej Times) What have these eleven countries in common — Finland, Norway, Canada, Japan, Poland, Turkey, Australia and, to a lesser extent, the US, Russia, Sweden and Denmark? They have not put themselves through the economic purge and their economies are growing at a reasonable rate. Not for them savage cuts in social services and public investment combined with lower wages. They have kept their economies purring. They are pro-Keynesian — a policy attributed to John Maynard Keynes, the most brilliant economist of the last century.

They have not given extra favours to the well-to-do at the expense of the lower middle class and the working class. Most of Europe has voluntarily partaken of the hemlock of deflation- cuts followed by more cuts. Yet the cutters are not moving towards their target — ending the purge and resuming economic growth. Spain has now moved into the severe crisis camp with rising bond prices and 50% unemployment among its youth. Keynes argued again and again, cuts that are indiscriminate mean that one is digging the hole even deeper. Cuts mean lower tax revenues, less trade and industrialists as well as foreign investors having less confidence and incentive to invest. Where does that lead? Keynes argued that it merely deepens a recession.

7 India slipping on spirituality (The Wall Street Journal) India is losing the spiritual qualities that enabled the Lotus Temple in Delhi to be built, according to the architect who designed what is now one of the nation’s most visited places of prayer. Fariborz Sahba completed the Lotus Temple, a Baha’i House of Worship near Nehru Place, 25 years ago. But the architect believes that the growth of the competitive economy, a rise in materialism and technological advances in India mean it would be harder to build the iconic temple here now. “I think [the] more we become commercial and competitive and more materialistic, we lose some of the qualities that built this building,” he said.

Diminishing interest in religion and its buildings as places of worship is often cited as the result of an increased reliance on material wealth for well-being and protection. Rampant consumerism, commercialization, and the rapid advance of technology are also blamed for shortened attention spans, an exclusive focus on financial gain, and the loss of traditional skills. Mr. Sahba said that 30 years ago in India he was able to find the attributes and attitudes necessary to build the Lotus Temple.

“Only in India could I get 400 carpenters to work six years with that kind of sincerity, that kind of devotion and respect for the building, because in the West you would have used technology that would have made the building very industrial,” he said. Work carried out by laborers who used “primitive technology” and who were aware of the spiritual significance of the building, made the Lotus Temple what it is, according to its designer. “Because of this spirituality, there is a real elegance in the building, which is so feminine,” Mr. Sahba says.

8 Just what is wrong at Infosys? (The Wall Street Journal) Analysts are debating the cause of malaise at Infosys Ltd. following a run of poor financial results and another weak outlook for revenue growth from the Indian software exporter. Most are convinced that Infosys is struggling to strike the right balance between growth and profitability, causing it to underperform over several quarters. The results and subdued outlook prompted several brokerages to downgrade Infosys. In a note to clients, JP Morgan said Infosys is “fighting for credibility.” The company’s repeated disappointing financial performance tells “the tale of a once-iconic company still losing the plot,” it says.

Some analysts, and Infosys itself, say the company’s struggles reflect a sector-wide slowdown as global economic volatility has undermined the confidence of clients and their ability to commit spending on projects. Many Infosys baiters have cited the guidance given by global technology giant Accenture as a reference point to strong outsourcing demand. But that outlook is now also a subject of debate.
Heart-wrencher of the day:
From Straits Times: Two days into intensive care in National University Hospital, it was clear Amy Nabel'la Juraimy, 13, was not going to make it. She was dying of bone cancer. Her mother, Madam Raba'ah Abdul Ghani, 39, told her in tears that her doctors could not do anything more for her. Amy, struggling to breathe, said to her mother: 'But you always asked me to fight.'

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Out of Africa: More fossil fuels; Swaziland's hunger for democracy; Loss warning from Nokia; People in the wrong places; India's unravelling

1 Out of Africa: More fossil fuels (The New York Times) The world’s largest energy companies have big plans for Mozambique. Until recently, the East African country was better known for its long civil war, and had few energy resources compared with regional heavy-hitters like Nigeria and Angola. But in the last 10 years, companies like Exxon Mobil, the BG Group of Britain and Eni of Italy have used the latest technologies to find new natural gas resources that are turning Mozambique into the center of an energy boom. Countries like Tanzania and Kenya also are attracting billions of dollars in investment from the world’s largest energy companies as they search for new oil and gas reserves.

The quickening pace of exploration in East Africa is part of a wider shake-up in the global energy industry as it scrambles to adapt to a series of major changes. Those range from the nuclear disaster in Japan last year, to slashed subsidies for alternative energy amid Europe’s economic crisis, to a boom in unconventional fossil fuels like shale gas that has spread across continents. The changes have been particularly drastic in fast-growing China, now the world’s largest energy user and emitter of carbon dioxide. It has fast-tracked oil production, as well as newer technologies like shale gas, and hydroelectric and wind power, to maintain its high levels of domestic growth.

With demand from emerging economies continuing apace, the quest for new fossil fuels is opening up unexplored territories for production. That may help to offset the effect of rising oil prices, which have reached almost record highs.

2 Swaziland’s hunger for democracy (The Guardian) Culture and tradition are big selling points for Swaziland. Tourists looking for "the real Africa" are encouraged to see the big five wild animals on safari, visit villages or witness the annual reed dance, in which more than 20,000 bare-breasted young maidens hope to catch the eye of the king, should he wish to add to his present tally of 13 wives.

What few admirers of the mountains, forests and valleys hear are the voices of discontent: those who call King Mswati III a despot and dictator; the allegations of extrajudicial killings and torture; the civil society activists who live in fear of tapped phones and snooped emails; the journalists and judges who toe the line of state control; the suffering of a people, 63% of whom live in poverty and 26% of whom are HIV positive; the protests planned for Thursday, the 39th anniversary of absolute rule; and the whispers of revolt that could emulate the Arab spring by toppling the king.

These voices portray a darker side of Swaziland's "unique and ancient traditions". They call Mswati an African Nero fiddling while his country burns, an arrogant playboy relishing banquets, fast cars and private jets while many of his million subjects go hungry. Swaziland gained independence from Britain in 1968 under Mswati's father, King Sobhuza II, whose nominal reign of almost 83 years was a world record; he had 70 wives and 218 children. On 12 April 1973, he repealed the constitution and banned political parties, making himself absolute ruler. One right the king does not enjoy is the choice of his successor from his plethora of children.

3 Losses warning from Nokia (BBC) Shares in Nokia plunged 17% after the mobile phone giant surprised investors by saying it expected to make losses in the first half of 2012. The Finnish company said competition in the industry had led to lower sales particularly in India, the Middle East, Africa and China. Nokia had previously expected to break even in the first quarter. The statement, issued in the middle of the day, surprised the markets and prompted an immediate sell-off of Nokia shares, pushing their value down to their lowest level since the late 1990s. In February, Nokia announced the details of 4,000 job cuts, two weeks after posting a $1.4bn loss for the three months to the end of December 2011.

4 Another disarmament war (Khaleej Times) On April 13, Iran is scheduled meet with representatives of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – plus Germany (the so-called “P5+1”) in an effort to decide the fate of Iran’s nuclear programme. If the talks fail, and military action against Iran becomes more likely, no one should be surprised. Over the past decade, a new kind of war has been invented: a war designed to stop a country from obtaining nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The first “disarmament war” was the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its goal, spelled out plainly by US President George W Bush’s administration to the Security Council and the US Congress, was to destroy Iraq’s WMD stockpiles and production facilities. Of course, as it turned out, no such stockpiles or facilities were found, and the war proved to be an exercise in bloody futility. This experience illustrates one of the great drawbacks of the use of force as a tool of disarmament. An attack must be timed to perfection, and it must be launched after the WMD programmes are in operation and evident, but before they have produced any weapons. If the attack comes too early – or if, as in Iraq, the programmes are not there at all – people will die for nothing. But if the weapons have already been produced, the attack could prompt their use and, possibly, counter-use by the invading party, leading, conceivably, to the world’s first two-sided nuclear war.

5 People in the wrong places (Rahul Singh in Khaleej Times) There is a demographic paradox in the world that is affecting our lives profoundly: The population of some countries – mostly developed – is declining, whereas in others – mostly developing – it continues to soar. India, for instance, adds around 20 million more people, an entire Australia, to its population every year and by 2050 is expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation. Pakistan’s population growth has been even more dramatic and unsustainable. When it got its independence in 1947, West Pakistan (as it then was) had just 35 million people. Today, there are 185 million Pakistanis, over five times as much!

A recent conference in Brussels brought together delegates from Eastern Europe and from what had been the Soviet Union, but were now independent republics. The countries represented varied from large ones like Poland (38 million) and Kazakhstan (16 million), to much smaller ones, such as Moldova (3.5 million) and Lithuania (3.2 million). But they had one factor in common: A declining population, either through natural decrease, or from migration to other countries where there were more opportunities. This decline has become a matter of great concern, as they have been unable to find a solution to it. Werner Fornos, recipient of the prestigious United Nations Population Award, cited some telling statistics: “It took all of recorded history for us to reach one billion by 1832; in another 100 years, we doubled to two billion; in 1960, three billion; then, five billion, in 1986. If we continue growing at the current rate, we’ll reach 9.5 billion by 2050 – all competing for the same resources needed to sustain life.” One billion to almost ten billion in just two centuries! No wonder the ecology is in such bad shape and sustainable development just a nice sounding phrase, not a reality.

6 The other India that eats toxic roots to survive (The Wall Street Journal) One afternoon last November, 10 people in Hindiyankalan – a drought-stricken village in Chatra district in India’s Jharkhand state – sat in a circle on a dirt road and told us about their fight against hunger. We wanted to know: What would drive a person to eat a poisoned root? Hindiyankalan, which has no electricity and is six miles from the nearest paved road, was a good place to examine how the weakest communities in Indian society, the indigenous tribes, are confronting chronic hunger.
Families described how difficult it was to get government-subsidized grains and how poorly other government welfare programs were functioning. They told us that children only receive government-mandated mid-day meals in school four or five days per month. (The village school is closed on the remaining days, partly because of a lack of staff.) They told us how family members were forced to migrate to far-away states in search of work as contracted laborers because there were no local jobs.

Sahria Devi, a 65-year-old widow, recollected the days of October 2008. Ms. Devi’s family’s only source of income in 2008 was from selling soops. The rate then was seven rupees (14 cents). She, her three sons – Lalan, Anil, and Sunil – and two daughters-in-law could make two or three per day. It was never enough to feed the household’s eight people, including her grandsons, Kuldeep and Korhiya, who were two and four years old at the time. Sometimes, the family would trade in soops for one kilogram of rice.

Ms. Devi’s family, like the rest of the Hindiyankalan Birhors, survived on next to nothing: a bit of rice, which they would eat once daily with chakora, a local spinach, and a wild root known as gethi. Gethi is poisonous. The toxins are drained by steeping the root in water for 24 to 40 hours. On the night of Oct. 1, 2008 villagers were so hungry they could not wait to detoxify the gethi, so 20 to 25 people ate the raw root and fell ill. They vomited and suffered bouts of diarrhea. The nearest hospital was just 13 kilometers away, but villagers couldn’t get the sick people there. None of the Birhors in Hindiyankalan have a motorized vehicle. They generally carry patients to the hospital manually on a cot, but the journey, which involves navigating unpaved roads with deep ditches and sharp rocks, is too dangerous to do at night. Eight people died in the village that night. Among them were Ms. Devi’s two grandchildren and her daughter-in-law, Jethi Devi.

7 India’s bizarre tsunami warning systems (The Wall Street Journal) The least you would expect in coastal areas hit by the deadly tsunami of 2004 is for people to stay clear of the beaches. Not so in the southern Indian city of Chennai. Even after police called on people to evacuate the area, television footage showed fishermen busy untangling their nets and crowds of people, unperturbed, staring at the camera crew. And this was happening hours after India’s National Center for Ocean Information Services, the body in charge of issuing tsunami warnings, placed the city under tsunami alert following an 8.6 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, on Wednesday. It’s clear that many people are still dangerously unaware of how to behave when a tsunami warning is in place. When asked why he wasn’t fleeing the coastline, one of the onlookers in Chennai told reporters that he wasn’t worried because he knew “the Indian government is taking the right safety measures.”

In the Andaman capital, Port Blair, the siren that is supposed to alert people to a potential tsunami is three kilometers from the coast, meaning fishermen can’t hear it, according to Denis Giles, the editor of the Andaman Chronicle newspaper. We noticed a few more flaws in the warning system. The website of the ocean information center, which posts the official tsunami bulletin, was often down in the hours immediately following Wednesday’s quake, making it very difficult for people to figure out whether there was a tsunami risk in their area. It was also difficult to reach officials on the phone. No one from Tamil Nadu’s disaster management department picked up the phone and we got through to staff at the ocean information center only after several attempts.

8 India’s unravelling (Shankar Acharya in Business Standard) India's progress has fallen victim to multiple ministerial fiefdoms and an ineffectual Cabinet. The disarray in policy and performance is not limited to the economic domain. After the prolonged and bizarre legal tussle over the army chief’s birth date, last month saw disclosures of attempted bribing of the chief by a recently retired general over a defence contract and the puzzling decision by the chief and the defence minister not to pursue the matter.

Many strands of history, politics and economics have led to today’s sorry state of national affairs. An important one must surely be the novel and peculiar structure of post-2003 governance where the prime minister has been appointed by the head of the dominant party in the ruling coalition and has little, if any, authority over his Cabinet colleagues. The Westminster model of parliamentary democracy depends critically on the prime minister’s power to appoint and sack his ministers. Manmohan Singh has clearly lacked that crucial authority, which has been wielded by the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi. So, as many have noted, he has the formal responsibility for the government’s actions but is bereft of real political power. She has the power but not the responsibility.

After eight long years, it is painfully evident that this peculiar form of diarchy has served India ill. It has utterly undermined the principle of Cabinet responsibility. Ministers have felt free to run their ministries as autonomous fiefdoms. The less scrupulous have exploited such freedom to extort huge rents from governmental decisions in their domain. And let the devil take the hindmost, in this case the people of India and their collective national interest. So where do go from here? There is no silver bullet. Ultimately, in a democracy, people get the government they elect. Some say they get the one they deserve! I hope we Indians deserve better…

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

3 reasons why US gets stronger; Rapid growth, rising inequality in Asia; Dying lonely in a megacity; Race still divides US; Oil bill challenges India

1 Three reasons why the US is getting stronger (David Brooks in The New York Times) The creative dynamism of American business is astounding and a little terrifying. Over the past five years, amid turmoil and uncertainty, American businesses have shed employees, becoming more efficient and more productive. According to The Wall Street Journal on Monday, the revenue per employee at S&P 500 companies increased from $378,000 in 2007 to $420,000 in 2011.Tyler Cowen in his article in The American Interest, points to three trends that will boost the nation’s economic performance. First, smart machines. China and other low-wage countries have a huge advantage when factory floors are crowded with workers. But we are moving to an age of quiet factories, with more robots and better software. That reduces the importance of wage rates. It boosts American companies that make software and smart machines.

Then there is the shale oil and gas revolution. In the past year, fracking, a technology pioneered in the US, has given the nation access to vast amounts of energy that can be sold abroad. Finally, there is the growth of the global middle class. When China, India and such places were first climbing the income ladder, they imported a lot of raw materials from places like Canada, Australia and Chile to fuel the early stages of their economic growth. But, in the coming decades, as their consumers get richer, they will be importing more pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, planes and entertainment, important American products.

2 ADB says rapid growth fuels Asian inequality (BBC) Asia's rapid economic growth may undermine stability because the gap between the rich and poor is widening, the Asia Development Bank has warned. Releasing its annual report, the bank said a key inequality measure increased to an average reading of 38 in Asia. And while that is less than the average found in Latin America and Africa, Asia's figure is climbing as it declines in the other regions. China, India and Indonesia have seen significant growth in inequality.

“People are asking for more. Not only are they asking for bread, but they are asking for a more even distribution of bread”, says Changyong Rhee of ADB. During the 1960s and 1970s, Asia was better at ensuring that growth did not marginalise large chunks of the region's population and was actually reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. However, over the past decade the sudden explosion of growth and rapid enrichment of many people has seen the rich-poor divide grow. The ADB estimates that currently in most Asian countries the wealthiest 5% of the population now account for 20% of total expenditure.

3 Making $1bn in two years, the Instagram way (The Guardian) Only in Silicon Valley can a couple of 20-somethings turn less than two years of work into a $1bn fortune. Kevin Systrom, 28, joined the long line of technocrats turned plutocrats on Monday when he sold Instagram, a profitless photo sharing app that’s less than two years old, for $1bn. He sold it to that other wunderkind, Mark Zuckerberg, 27, the Facebook founder whose social network is now worth an estimated $100bn. Systrom, a former Google employee, is understood to own about 40% of Instagram, which is now worth $400m. His co-founder Mike Krieger, 25, is believed to have about 10%. The rest will be shared with investors and the company's other employees – all 11 of them. Even by Silicon Valley standards, it's a remarkable haul for a company that's been around for less than two years.

Instagram wasn't the first, or the only, mobile app offering people a way to share their photos on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr. Nor was its use of filters to add visual effects to those shots a new idea. But what made it stand out was its success. Instagram might not make a cent but it is the hottest mobile app in the world and Facebook is preparing for the biggest IPO in tech history.

Launched in October 2010, Instagram was an instant hit. Over 30m people have downloaded the app now. When the firm launched an Android version earlier this month, it attracted 1m downloads in 12 hours. People love sharing their photos online and making them look like their Dad took them in 1980 with a camera he borrowed from his dad. And the app they want to do it with is Instagram.

4 Dying lonely in a megacity (Kumiko Makihara in Khaleej Times) My friends in New York City laugh at me when I tell them of my latest fear: dying alone and not being discovered for weeks. It doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched possibility to me. I have high-blood pressure and thus a greater chance than normal of having a stroke. I live alone in a large high-rise and don’t know my neighbours. What got my anxiety levels up were some widely reported instances of such deaths in Japan that I heard about during a recent visit home. There’s even a term for the phenomenon there: “kodokushi,” which literally translates as “lonely death.”

Of course, not every death alone should be classified as “lonely.” In fact, Japanese government and academic papers tend to use a more emotionally neutral term, “koritsu shi,” which means isolated death. The media frenzy likely reflects the country’s ongoing struggle to fill the void in the safety net left by the breakdown of once-strong family and neighbourhood ties. There is also confusion about how to get a population that often wants to keep personal difficulties private to reach out to social services.On a recent morning when I was trying to get some sleep while battling jet lag, my 13-year-old son, who was home from boarding school, kept coming into my room and disrupting my periodic slumber. I finally asked him sharply why he was bothering me. “I didn’t want you to be dead or anything,” he said. It was a precious moment when someone was looking over me.

5 Race still divides US (Khaleej Times) Once upon a time, millions of people seemed to believe that electing Barack Obama as president would automatically improve race relations in America. But nearly four years into the ‘Age of Obama’, many Americans are coming to the conclusion that choosing a black man as commander in chief has done little to speed up racial progress or soothe racial tensions. A new Newsweek poll puts this remarkable shift in stark relief. Back in 2008, 52% of Americans told Pew Research Center that they expected race relations to get better as a result of Obama’s election; only nine per cent anticipated a decline. But today , according to the Newsweek survey, only 32% of Americans think that race relations have improved since the president’s inauguration; roughly the same number (30%) believe they have gotten worse. Factor in those who say nothing has changed and the result is staggering: nearly 60% of Americans are now convinced that race relations have either deteriorated or stagnated under Obama.

The question now is why. The reason for this divide is simple but often overlooked: most blacks know how it feels to experience racism; most whites do not. This is the dilemma Obama inherited: a white America eager to be convinced that racism is a thing of the past and a black America still painfully aware that it is not.

6 India helmet law that takes female lives (Dawn) Priya Mahindroo, 25, zips through New Delhi traffic on the back of a motorbike every day to get to work. While the law mandates a helmet for her male driver, as a woman she can legally go without. Some see this as a sad reflection on patriarchal Indian values: that women are men’s inferiors, their lives simply worth less in a country with a culture of celebrating sons over daughters. For women such as Mahindroo, however, the considerations are mostly aesthetic and unless she is forced to wear a helmet by law, she’ll continue to ride some of the world’s most dangerous streets with her head unprotected. “It ruins my hair,” she told AFP as she arrived for work at her newspaper’s office in the busy central area of the city.

India’s federal Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 stated that every person driving or riding a two-wheeler had to wear a helmet, but this sparked an uproar from the Sikh community which raised religious objections. Sikh men were later exempted, largely because of the religious demand for them to wear turbans. The local New Delhi government decided it was impossible to tell a Sikh woman from a non-Sikh and so made helmets optional for all female motorcycle riders. About 133,938 people or 366 a day died on India’s roads in 2010, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, more than any other country.

7 Oil bill is economic challenge for India (The Wall Street Journal) Indian oil and gas minister Jaipal Reddy said the nation's soaring energy import bill is becoming a growing economic challenge. He said India has seen its oil costs increase drastically in the past year amid a jump in global prices, creating an unprecedented strain on the government at a time when economic growth is stoking energy demand. "The world experienced oil shocks before. India did not experience it to this degree as it is today," Mr. Reddy said.

India imports about three-quarters of its oil, most from countries in the Gulf region. The country spent $128 billion on crude imports through the first 11 months of the fiscal year that ended on March 31, a roughly 40% increase over the period in the previous fiscal year. Annual Indian subsidies of about $30 billion that keep fuel prices low for consumers are a drag on the exchequer. India has begun reducing gasoline subsidies but hasn't yet touched diesel. "India has a very distorted system of subsidies," Mr. Reddy said. "But how in a vibrant democracy like India do you change the system suddenly?"

8 Despite sops, MNCs leave Indian bourses (Financial Chronicle) In the past decade, as many as 32 of India’s ‘foreign’ companies have gone off stock market listing in this country. On Thursday, this number will go up by one, when yet another multinational company, Sweden’s Alfa Laval, will stop trading on both BSE and NSE. Together, they are estimated to have taken away over Rs 350bn of market capitalisation from Indian bourses. Contrast this with the following: in the past decade, just one foreign company has got listed, Standard Chartered bank.

Clearly, the government’s efforts to get more and more MNCs to list in India, even if it is in the form of Indian depository receipt (IDR), has not worked. To be sure, the companies have not left India. They are very much here and continue to invest big time in their Indian businesses. Some of the big names that have exited the Indian stock market are Cadbury, Wartsila, Philips, Panasonic, GE Cap, Otis, Yokogawa, e-Serve (originally a Citigroup’s BPO, before being acquired by TCS), Atlas Copco, Sulzer, Micro Inks, Lotte India, Bosch Chasis and Electrolux. “MNCs are delisting because it helps them evade compliance under the listing rules,” said Hinesh Doshi, vice-president of Investors Grievance Forum, a Sebi-registered investor body, which is fighting what it says “unfair tactics” by management of delisted Micro Inks to force out minority investors.

Most tormenting read of Tuesday:

1 Ethiopian migrant suicide: 'I can't tell my daughter that her mother is dead' (The Guardian) Alem Dechasa, an Ethiopian migrant, was beaten in the streets of Beirut by men who allegedly worked for the company that recruited her in Lebanon. Later she was found dead in hospital, having apparently killed herself. Alem's partner, Lemesa Ejeta, explains why he cannot bring himself to tell their two children that she is dead. Ethiopia is lobbying Lebanon to investigate fully the death of the housemaid who killed herself after being beaten on the street in Beirut. Video footage of Alem Dechasa being attacked outside the Ethiopian consulate in Beirut was broadcast on Lebanese television two weeks ago, causing outrage in the country about the mistreatment of the thousands of migrant workers in the country. In the video, Dechasa is seen being violently dragged along the street by a man and forced into a car. One man screams at her, "Get into the car" while another is seen helping to force Dechasa into the back of the vehicle. She was taken to the Pyschiatrique de la Croix hospital after the incident, and was found dead there last Wednesday morning, apparently having hanged herself using strips torn from her bed sheets.

2 Another one that comes close is from the Sydney Morning Herald about a 10-year-old mother from Colombia.

3 And a third one from The Hindu: Angered at their friend being caught cheating in an exam, two Indian youths ran their car over a 37-year-old teacher in Haryana’s Sonepat district.

4 Sorry – a fourth one, too, from The Hindu: In a suspected female infanticide in Bangalore a 3-month-old is battling for her life after being beaten up, allegedly by her father. The infant was brought to hospital with severe head injury as well as deep bite marks on the thigh and buttocks, and is in a coma. The father of the child confessed to police he wanted a boy and not a girl child. The baby, Neha Afreen, died at a Bangalore hospital today (Wednesday).

Moral: News can be chilling. Ensure that kids are not exposed to news.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Facebook pays $1bn for Instagram; Sony sheds 10,000 jobs; App to spot friends nearby; Two-fifths of Brit teachers cyberbullied; Obama's Bank blunder

1 Facebook pays a billion dollars for Instagram (San Francisco Chronicle) Facebook has taken steps to bolster its mobile strategy, acquiring popular photo-sharing application Instagram for about $1 billion in cash and stock. The purchase, the social network's largest and the most expensive by far for a smart phone app, gives Facebook a company that's adept at producing mobile apps as well as a passionate community of more than 30 million users. It also neutralizes a potential competitive threat from the San Francisco startup, whose 28-year-old co-founder has talked about building a large global business. The move comes on the eve of an expected initial public offering from Facebook that could value the company at $100 billion.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that the deal was unusual for a company that traditionally has bought startups primarily for their engineering talent. The price tag makes it one of the priciest startup acquisitions ever, in the same league as Google's purchase of YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006.The acquisition came before Instagram began generating any significant revenue.

2 As TV biz sinks, Sony sheds 10,000 jobs (San Francisco Chronicle) Sony is cutting 10,000 jobs, an amount that represents 6% of its workforce, according to Japan's Nikkei newspaper. The Tokyo company, once the king of consumer electronics, is reeling from three consecutive annual losses and mounting competition from Apple and Samsung. "The job cuts are just a temporary fix for Sony," says Mitsuo Shimizu, an analyst at Cosmo Securities. "This wouldn't help address the company's real problems, like the slumping TV business."

3 An app to spot friends nearby (San Francisco Chronicle) As nearly half of all US adults own a smart phone and the number of Facebook users surpasses 845 million, the message is that more and more people are walking around with their social network in their pocket. An app, Highlight, is beginning to take advantage of that. Unlike Foursquare or other apps that require users to check in to a particular location, Highlight works by running in the background and continually sensing the place and people nearby. It taps into Facebook to know the person's network of friends, background and interests. "You're literally giving people a sixth sense," said Paul Davison, who founded Highlight with Benjamin Garrett.

The trouble comes when people don't realize just how much information they may be sending out and how much personal data the app may be tracking about them and where they've been. The apps may have all sorts of privacy settings, but are people aware of them and how best to use them? Davison has heard the questions, criticisms and more. For one, he responded, it's not possible for one person to track or stalk another person, because their profiles don't appear unless they're already near each other. They can also limit who sees their profiles, such as just friends of friends. And if they're in a place where they want to be anonymous, they can "pause" the app.

4 As sole resident moves on, Wyoming town is sold (The New York Times) For years, Don Sammons was the biggest shot in Buford. He owned everything. The gas station, the trading post, the cafe. In fact, he was the only man you could talk to, being the sole resident of Buford, all 10 acres of it, a windswept Wyoming outpost. Billing itself as the nation’s smallest town, unincorporated Buford went to auction last week after Mr. Sammons decided to move on after two decades of living here. The sale drew interest from people around the world who dreamed of owning a bucolic American town on the edge of the frontier.

The auction itself lasted less than 15 minutes before a mysterious Vietnamese man offered a winning bid of $900,000 for Buford, which has been around since the mid-1800s and was once a railroad town with a population of about 2,000. Mr. Sammons, 61, moved here from Newport Beach, Calif., in the ’80s along with his wife, searching for someplace quieter. After his wife died, he bought Buford in 1992 for $155,000 from a family who hailed from New Jersey. “People always ask me, ‘Didn’t you get lonely?’ ” he said. “But there’s a big difference between being lonely and being alone. There are people in New York City, who have millions of people around them, and they might feel very lonely.” In reality, Buford was not so lonely. More than a thousand people would stop by each day. The pumps stayed open 24 hours, but by nightfall the traffic died down.

Recently, though, Mr. Sammons had started feeling his work here was done. “I was kind of hoping my son might want to carry it on,” he said. “But he explained to me that it just isn’t his thing. And I certainly understand that.”

5 Why affairs are tough in internet age (The Guardian) There are those who mourn the art of letter-writing or the fax machine, but Joan Bakewell has suggested a more serious casualty of the internet age: the discreet extra-marital affair. Between 1962 and 1969, despite both being married and famous, Bakewell and the playwright Harold Pinter spent seven "wonderful" years as one another's secret bits on the side. "You couldn't do it today," she said in an interview. "People presumably still have affairs … But how do they manage it with [emails] and mobile phones and with spouses and partners asking: 'Where are you?'"

Now, I have no special knowledge on the subject but I'm sure that people have not lost their ability to lie. Camera-phones make it harder for famous adulterers to escape attention, but if you stay indoors, isn't anything still possible? Indeed, aren't there now more ways to contact your lover, without relying on the kitchen telephone? And, when you tire of one, there has surely never been an easier time to find a replacement. Bakewell or Pinter might have to be more crafty these days, but when the mood struck them I'm sure they'd find an internet full of volunteers.

6 Two-fifths Brit teachers cyberbullied (The Guardian) Teachers have been issued with death threats, accused of serious crimes including paedophilia and rape, and subjected to sexist and racist abuse, according to a poll revealing widespread cyberbullying by pupils – including some still at primary school – as well as parents.

The scale of bullying by pupils on social networking sites against those trying to educate them is suggested in an online survey due to be released by the teaching union. While the majority (60%) of pupils involved was between 11 and 16, others were younger – with one reported incident involving a five-year-old. Parents were also using social networks to comment about them, according to 16% of teachers. Of those who took part in the survey, more than two-fifths (42%) said they had been a victim of cyberbullying.

7 Pak kids have laptops, no textbooks (Dawn) As the Punjab government distributes some 1,25,000 commissioned laptops among qualified students, and another 3,00,000 are said to be in the pipeline, students in the province face a shortage of textbooks, following many snags. While the government is at pains to explain that the laptops’ distribution is a trans-parent affair, no such explanation is offered regarding the commissioning, printing and distribution of the more basic provision of textbooks. The result is that hundreds of thousands of students fear having to go through the academic year without the prescribed books. The fiasco leads one to question the priorities of the Punjab government. What should come first, the provision of textbooks or the laptops? It is true that computer literacy centres have been set up in a large number of public schools across Punjab, but the drive to further IT education should not come at the cost of neglecting the provision of basic education of which textbooks are an indispensable tool.

8 Jagdish Bhagwati: Obama’s blunder at the Bank (Straits Times) The selection of a successor to Robert Zoellick as President of the World Bank was supposed to initiate a new era of open meritocratic competition, breaking the traditional hold that the US has had on the job. Indeed, Zoellick's own appointment was widely regarded as 'illegitimate' from that perspective. But US President Barack Obama has let the world down even more distressingly with his nomination of Jim Yong Kim for the post.

To begin with, it should have been clear that a most remarkable candidate - Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala - was already at hand. She had impressive credentials: degrees in economics from Harvard and MIT, experience working on a wide variety of development issues as a managing director of the World Bank, and stints as Finance Minister and Foreign Minister of Nigeria. What, then, does Obama's choice tell us about the sincerity of his feminist rhetoric? Does he draw the line wherever it suits him? Perhaps Obama believed that picking Kim, a Korean-American and public-health specialist who is currently President of Dartmouth College, would advance his immediate security agenda in Seoul (where he arrived immediately after announcing the nomination), as well as America's medium-term economic agenda in Asia.

9 Why the Indian soft state is losing the war to Maoists (First Post) For days now, Maoists in Odisha have been keeping the state government on tenterhooks with their demands for the release of their comrades in return for the two hostages they hold. And just when the Naveen Patnaik government appeared to have completely capitulated to the ‘ransom’ demand, the Maoists have gone ahead and raised the stakes, with demands for yet more releases.

On most occasions that the Indian state has found itself in hostage situations, it has buckled under pressure, and shown itself up to be a soft state. There are instances when even the most relentlessly uncompromising governments yield ground in hostage situations. Last year, the Israeli government negotiated the release of one of its soldiers who had been held hostage by Palestinian militants for five years. In return it released over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were involved in vile terrorist attacks on Israel. But what such terrorists-per-hostage calculations overlook is that Israel relentlessly goes after the released prisoners and in most cases recaptures them.

In India, however, governments at both the Central and state levels have failed abysmally to project that hard power that puts the fear of retribution in those who wage war on the state. The notable exception happened in 1984, when Kashmiri separatists in Birmingham abducted Ravindra Mhatre, an Indian diplomat in the UK, and sought the release of their leader Maqbool Butt, who was awaiting execution in Delhi. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi refused to negotiate with the terrorists; Mhatre was killed, upon which Butt was promptly hanged. Since then, no government has had the spine to stand up to terrorists and Maoist abductors, although the attacks and abductions have only escalated in intensity.

10 Assam rhino population up (The Indian Express) Poachers may have been on the prowl and killing a number of rhinos, especially at Kaziranga National Park in Upper Assam. However, the population of the one-horned rhinoceros has shot up in the state very encouragingly, with the just-concluded census putting it at 2,505, over 300 more than what it was three years ago. In Kaziranga, which has the highest concentration of the one-horned rhinoceros, the figure has gone up from 2,048 in 2009 to 2,290 now, despite the death of roughly 120 rhinos between 2009 and 2011.

11When Justice Markandey Katju believes 90% of Indians are fools (The Wall Street Journal) Justice Markandey Katju, a former Supreme Court Justice turned chairman of the Press Council of India, has done it again, stating in an Indian Express op-ed that he was presenting us with an “unpleasant truth: 90% of Indians are fools.” He was humble enough to attribute a “great defect” to himself, too, though it was one couched in virtue: “I cannot remain silent when I see my country going downhill. Even if others are deaf and dumb, I am not. So I will speak out.”

His first example for reaching his controversial conclusion: “When our people go to vote in elections, 90% vote on the basis of caste or community, not the merits of the candidate. Example no. 2: “90% Indians believe in astrology, which is pure superstition and humbug. TV channels showing astrology have high TRP ratings.” Example no. 3: “Cricket has been turned into a religion by our corporatised media. Example no. 4: “I had criticised the media hype around Dev Anand’s death at a time when 47 farmers in India were committing suicide on an average every day for the last 15 years… In my opinion, Dev Anand’s films transported the minds of poor people to a world of make-believe, like a hill station where Dev Anand was romancing some girl.” Example no. 5: “During the recent Anna Hazare agitation in Delhi, the media hyped the event as a solution to the problem of corruption. In reality it was, as Shakespeare said in Macbeth, “…a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”

We reached Mr. Katju, 65 years old, by phone to ask whether his 90% estimate was derived from scientific thinking. He said: “It’s not a mathematical figure. It just means that a large proportion of Indians are mentally backward.”

12 The Everest then and now (The Economic Times) When Tenzing Norgay climbed Everest, he left a small cloth at the South Col. When his son Jamling Norgay reached the peak in 1996, the spot was littered with over a thousand used oxygen bottles and a tonne of rubbish.