Monday, July 30, 2012

Hint of an India labour time bomb; Journalism as the new villain; India power sector a joke

1 Hint of an India labour time bomb (Siddharth Philip in San Francisco Chronicle) Police have been seeking to detain workers at Maruti’s idled Manesar factory, which according to the company’s website accounts for about 40% of total production capacity, since a brawl between an employee and supervisor escalated into a riot on July 18. That day, workers attacked managers, ransacked and set fire to company property, according to Maruti. Permanent workers take home about 18,000 rupees a month, triple as much as a contract worker, according to seven workers interviewed by Bloomberg News.

Indian law entitles contract workers to be paid as much as permanent workers should their jobs be similar, said Anoop Kumar Satpathy, a fellow at the VV Giri National Labour Institute in Noida, near New Delhi. Most contract workers aren’t aware of that right, allowing employers to pay less to temporary workers, Satpathy said. The number of licensed contract workers across India almost doubled to about 1.5 million last year from 773,849 in 2000, according to the Labor Ministry’s latest annual report.

In the past few years, workers at factories belonging to Rico, Honda and Hero have gone on strike demanding higher pay and permanent employee status for contract employees. In 2008, the managing director of Graziano Trasmissioni India Ltd. was beaten to death after a group of dismissed employees turned violent, police said then. Indian police are narrowing their search after arrest warrants were issued for 11 union leaders, including Ram Meher, president of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, for their roles in starting this month’s deadly riot, a police official said last week. The company and Indian police have denied allegations about the hiring of bouncers.

2 Journalism as the new villain (The New York Times) It sounds improbable. Last week seven former executives at News International, the British newspaper division of News Corporation, including Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, were charged in connection with the phone hacking investigation, after years of denials. If this happened in any other industry — the banking sector during the financial crisis, the oil companies after the BP spill, or Blackwater during the Iraq war — you would expect to see a full-court press by journalists seeking to shine a light on a corrupt culture allowed to run amok.

Now would seem to be journalism’s big moment to turn that light on itself, with deeply reported investigative articles about how things went so wrong: the failures of leadership, the skewed values and the willingness of an industry to treat the public with such contempt. But because it is the news business and the company in the sights is News Corporation, the offenders are seen as outliers. The hacking scandal has mostly been treated as a malady confined to an island, rather than a signature event in a rugged stretch for journalism worldwide.

But journalism’s ills don’t live exclusively on Fleet Street or stop at British shores. While American newspapers don’t publish in the hypercompetitive landscape that played a role in the tabloid excesses in Britain, the growing ecosystem of Web and cable news shares many of the same characteristics and, all too often, its failings. Economic pressures have increased the urgency to make news and drive traffic, even as budgets have been cut and experienced news professionals tossed overboard.

The news media often fail to turn the X-ray machine on themselves because, in part, journalists assign a nobility to the profession that obscures the flaws within it. We think of ourselves as doing the People’s work, and write off lapses in ethics and practices as potholes on the way to a Greater Truth. The public isn’t buying. According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, in 1985, 34% of the respondents thought stories contained inaccuracies. As of 2011, that figure had almost doubled to 66%.
Part of the reason the public has lost confidence in our product is that it sometimes does not merit it. If journalism is losing its way, that’s a story that needs to be told over and over.

3 India power sector a joke (The Guardian) The worst blackout to hit India in more than a decade left 350 million people in seven northern states without power for more than eight hours on Monday. The capital, Delhi, as well as the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir were all affected. "Spiderman found drunk and unconscious on Delhi pavement. Why? With no power comes no responsibility," said one tweet.

For India's middle classes, the first they knew of the power cut was when they awoke drenched in sweat as their air conditioning units failed. But for the hundreds of millions of Indians who live below the poverty line, regular electricity is a far-off dream.

In 2011, 289 million people – 25% of India's population – had no access to electricity. In rural areas that figure rises to 33%, according to a report from the Indian government in 2011. India's power supply is so insecure that even a stray pet can plunge millions into darkness. On Saturday, a cat leapt into a Delhi grid station and was electrocuted, causing a fire that left parts of east Delhi without power for 24 hours.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why America can't end poverty; Retail bankruptcies on the rise; Putting an end to being a wage slave; Discovering rural inventions in India

1 Why America can't end poverty (The New York Times) Ronald Reagan famously said, "We fought a war on poverty and poverty won." With 46 million Americans — 15% of the population — now counted as poor, it’s tempting to think he may have been right. The first thing needed if we’re to get people out of poverty is more jobs that pay decent wages. There aren’t enough of these in our current economy. Half the jobs in the nation pay less than $34,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. A quarter pay below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually.

The realization that 99% of us have been left in the dust by the 1% at the top came far later than it should have. It took the Great Recession to get people’s attention, but the facts had been accumulating for a long time. If we’ve awakened, we can act. At the other end of the low-income spectrum we have a different problem. The safety net for single mothers and their children has developed a gaping hole over the past dozen years. This is a major cause of the dramatic increase in extreme poverty during those years.

When people decide they have had enough and there are candidates who stand for what they want, they will vote accordingly. I have seen days of promise and days of darkness, and I’ve seen them more than once. All history is like that. The people have the power if they will use it, but they have to see that it is in their interest to do so.

2 Retail bankruptcies continue (The Guardian) Retail insolvencies are accelerating as wet weather and dampened consumer confidence contributed to a 10% rise in bankruptcies over the past three months. PricewaterhouseCoopers said retail had been the only blight on bankruptcy figures that showed a reduction for the private sector between April and June. The retail sector had 426 businesses go to the wall in the second quarter, the accountancy said, up from 386 a year ago. However, the total number of corporate insolvencies fell by 3% year-on-year to just under 4,000.

3 Putting an end to being a wage slave (Nicole Sparrow in Khaleej Times) Job security is a mirage. What I see clearly now is that work security may not lie, as it did for our parents, in a permanent position with an established corporate. Instead, it is the person who chooses what many refer to as portfolio working — working in several different capacities, for themselves or for different people, simultaneously — who is best equipped to ride out employment downturns. Security lies in self-determination.

Innovation guru Bruce Nussbaum calls the trend to independence and entrepreneurship "indie capitalism", and declares that on a global level it "may prove to be the economic and social antidote to the failed financial capitalism and crony capitalism that no longer delivers economic value in terms of jobs, income, and taxes…" It’s all very exciting for anyone who fancies going out on their own, but how do ordinary people with mortgages and children’s education to plan for make the big transition from being wage slaves?

In my case, I took a degree which gave me the language to articulate what I knew — a degree that changed my perception of how and where I could add value to others’ businesses. For many people, that’s the first point: not studying, but changing self-limiting thinking. On LinkedIn, join relevant groups and ask well-thought-through questions: you’ll be amazed at how many are open to sharing knowledge and helping to solve problems.

4 Discovering rural inventions in India (Dawn) Indian professor Anil Gupta has spent decades scouring the Indian countryside searching for unsung inventors in rural villages. He works in the belief that the most powerful ideas for relieving poverty and hardship in the country won’t come from corporate research labs but from those struggling to survive. He has documented 25,000 innovations from the bicycle-mounted crop sprayer to the bulletproof vest made of herbs. Here’s a look at some other innovations he’s found:

Cotton harvester: Nattubhai Vader, a farmer from the state of Gujarat, invented a special cotton harvester that fits over a tractor after watching women and children performing the slow grueling work of harvesting an especially troublesome variety of cotton. Coconut Plucker: The late farmer MJ Joseph, also known as Appachan, had only a fourth grade education but was still able to create a device for climbing coconut trees to harvest the fruit. Water walkers: Dwarka Prasad had heard about a fraudster holy man who claimed he could walk on water. Intrigued, he decided to design special water walking shoes that would allow the wearer to walk or skate across a lake.

Perpetual paintbrush: Jahangir Ahmad devised an electric paintbrush that pumps paint from a hose directly to the brush and never needs to be dipped into a can. Leg-powered washing machine: High school student Remya Jose was forced to do laundry by hand when her mother got sick because her family had no washing machine. So she invented a washing machine/exercise bike that is cheap to make and requires no electricity.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Apocalypse fear for China economy; Ebbing fortunes for India banks; Worst US drought in 50 years; India's presidency today; 'India railway is world's largest open toilet'

1 Apocalypse fear for China economy (The New York Times) Talk of an economic slowdown in China has become so loud and persistent that it now has its own slang: ghost cities, ghost fleets, rocket eggs, naked officials. The downturn has even led to the invention of a new financial algorithm, something called the China Stress Index — and the index remains high. Housing construction has nearly stopped. Work sites that had recently been going round the clock seven days a week are now down to one shift — and just on weekdays.Analysts and government planners are now resigned to the fact that the growth rate in 2012 will slip under the once-magic figure of 8%.
 2 Skipping the architect (The New York Times) In recent years, a spate of computer software programs has made it possible for homeowners to skip the architect altogether and do the design work themselves. While some people use software like Floorplanner to create a plan they can take to an architect or builder, or to daydream, others are using it to be their own architect. Owen Kennerly, a San Francisco architect, said he doesn’t think design programs can replace an architect, but he has found them "useful in conveying a client’s intent," he said. "And also giving them an appreciation for the challenges of space planning, thereby aiding their design savviness."
  is proposing projects worth $130m to rid India of open defecation and clean up a rail system he describes as the world's "largest open toilet". He told a meeting in New Delhi on Thursday that India, where 130 million households are without a latrine, accounted for 60% of the global volume of open defecation. "This is a matter of great shame, anguish, sorrow, and actually anger," Ramesh, who is also responsible for the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, was quoted as saying by the Times of India.
3 Ebbing fortunes for India banks (The Financial Times) Some months ago, Temasek, Singapore’s state investment agency, sold down its stake in Indian bank ICICI. Privately, Temasek officials concede they have turned bearish on financial groups in the country. They are not the only ones. One of the big consensus trades among credit hedge funds in Asia is to buy protection in the credit default swap market on Indian banks. The thesis isn’t that banks such as State Bank of India or ICICI will default or go under but that the spreads at which their own debt trades will widen as credit concerns in India generally mount.

It is increasingly hard to be optimistic about India’s prospects. The banks’ growing weakness is one more reason for pessimism. Vulnerable banks mean a vulnerable economy and poorer growth prospects. In the past, banks in emerging markets were considered the best option on economic growth. No longer. Today, as Temasek’s shift out of banks shows, the tide is turning. Inflation, a falling rupee, a current account in deficit (thanks in part to that imported gold) and a fiscal deficit all mean that the cost of borrowed money is rising, putting corporate India’s ability to service its debt at risk. Foreign banks also have less appetite for India. Last year, for example, India was the only geography where Standard Chartered failed to see positive income growth.

4 Worst US drought in 50 years (Sydney Morning Herald) The worst drought in the US in a half-century has spread, and 76 counties in six Midwestern states have been declared disaster areas as the Obama administration added them to the more than 1,300 counties already on the list. At least two-thirds of the area of the mainland US is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought, says the US Department of Agriculture's Drought Monitor. Corn and soybean crop ratings have worsened for seven weeks in a row, and are the lowest recorded since 1988, it said. Fifty-five per cent of the nation's pastures and rangeland areas are rated poor or very poor. More than half of corn traded worldwide is usually exported from the US, but this year, livestock farmers, squeezed by drought, are turning to other nations for corn.

5 India's presidency today (AG Noorani in Dawn) On the death of former India president Dr Zakir Hussain in 1969 the Congress party split. Indira Gandhi would take no chances. One rubber-stamp president was elected after another. Article 74(1) was amended in 1976 to make it clear that the president "shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with" the advice of his ministers. In 1978 this was qualified by a proviso which enabled him to ask the council of ministers to "reconsider" its advice, but "the president shall act in accordance with the advice tendered after such reconsideration."

Elected in 1992, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma accepted the curbs as proper but wielded the limited discretionary power which belongs to the British crown — to advise, to encourage and to warn. He asserted his independence on Dec 6, 1992, the day the Babri mosque at Ayodhya was demolished, by a statement which raised the president’s stature: "The president, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, has strongly deplored vandalism that has caused damage to the masjid in Ayodhya … has requested the prime minister to initiate appropriate expeditious steps to uphold the rule of law."

He rendered high service in restoring the balance. In 2012, the president is neither a rubber stamp nor a power centre; he is a monitor, a custodian of constitutional values. It only remains to be added that since 1955 the Supreme Court of India has repeatedly cited British conventions and laid down beyond dispute that it is a proper parliamentary system which the constitution of India establishes.

6 'India railway is world's largest open toilet' (Johannesburg Times) India Rural Development minister Jairam Ramesh

In making its case for apocalypse now, or soon, an article in Foreign Policy says, "Businesses are taking fewer loans. Manufacturing output has tanked. Interest rates have unexpectedly been cut. Imports are flat. GDP growth projections are down, with some arguing that China might already be in recession."
Sales of luxury goods in China are slowing. Wealthy mainlanders, including government and party officials, are feverishly offshoring their cash by buying properties abroad. Hedging against possible political or economic upheavals, they are keeping so few (seizable) assets in China that they’re being called luo guan — "naked officials."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Factory unrest hits India's reputation; Steel giant Mittal scales back; Quest for six-packs in India; Facebook stock at all-time low; The age of civil society

1 Factory unrest batters India's reputation (Harsh Joshi in The Wall Street Journal) Maruti Suzuki will recover from last week's deadly factory riot, but the unrest strikes another blow to India's reputation. The factory is shut down while investigators troll the wreckage -- that's costing Maruti about $9 million a day. Lost production and the cost to repair damaged facilities are going to hurt in the short term. But Maruti, India's leading passenger car maker by sales, already has plans to raise production elsewhere.

For India though, labor unrest is a bigger concern. Since 2009, industrial action has stalled output at Honda Motor, Hyundai Motor and several auto parts makers. In aviation, Air India and Kingfisher Airlines have both grounded dozens of flights recently because of strike action. Jewelers closed their shops for 20 days earlier this year to protest higher taxes on gold imports. There has been significant, lengthy and costly industrial action in the past two years by coal miners, bank staff, and workers at plants owned by Bosch and drug maker Dr. Reddy's, for instance.

One factor may be India's difficult economic predicament that's squeezing ordinary workers. The economy's slowing down while inflation is stubbornly high -- consumer prices have been rising at more than 10% for the last two years, driven by shortages and inefficient supply chains for food and essential commodities, rather than by wage increases. Unsurprisingly, the gap between rich and poor is worsening. The difference between the wages of India's top 10% of earners and those in the bottom 10% has doubled in the last two decades, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says. There is a huge underclass that has not benefited from India's economic growth -- 42% of the population still earns less than $1.25 a day.

2 Steel giant Mittal scales back (The New York Times) Steel is a notoriously volatile industry. But four years ago, Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian-born tycoon, appeared to have mastered the business. He was still aglow from his 2006 victory in an epic takeover battle for his nearest rival, Arcelor of Luxembourg, which made the merged company, ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel maker by far. With a fast-growing world economy hungry for steel, ArcelorMittal reported operating income of nearly $12 billion for 2008.

Things are different now, with Europe in a deep economic funk and once-roaring construction markets like India and China also slowing. Last year, the company had operating income of $4.9 billion. And on Wednesday, it reported second-quarter operating income of $1.1 billion, on sales of $22.48 billion. While the sales were down 10% from a year earlier, income was down more than 50% as the cost of the industry’s raw material, iron ore, rose even as steel prices slumped. The company has already started curtailing production in Europe to match reduced demand.

3 Quest for six-packs in India (The New York Times) India has long defined national well-being by the stomachs of its people. Hunger was once such a national crisis that during the 1970s the Indian government set minimum standards for daily calorie intake that are still used to measure poverty. Bollywood, of course, is India’s dream factory, more interested in fantasy than reality. Beginning in the 1990s, actors like Sanjay Dutt and, most famously, Salman Khan began muscling up, mimicking their peers in Hollywood, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Men across India were soon mimicking the Indian stars. Fitness centers, once almost nonexistent in India, quickly spread.

Rachel Dwyer, a leading scholar of Indian cinema, said early male stars like Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand never took off their shirts or drew attention to their bodies. Now Indian actors are waxing their legs or chests and posing for suggestive photographs. A fit body, Ms. Dwyer said, has become a status symbol. "The muscular body is very much a class thing," she said. "The whole fitness cult in India is a marker of upward mobility."

4 Facebook stock at all-time low (San Francisco Chronicle) Facebook's stock got hammered in extended trading on Thursday after it reported second-quarter earnings. Facebook just barely beat consensus estimates for revenue from Wall Street, and was in-line on earnings. But the stock is cratering anyway, now floating at around $24.

5 Alcatel Lucent to shed 5,000 jobs (BBC) Telecoms equipment maker Alcatel Lucent has said it plans to slash 5,000 jobs in order to save costs as it reported a net loss in the second quarter.Cutting 6.4% of the workforce would allow the group to save 750m euros ($910m), the firm said. The French-US group posted a loss between April and June of 254m euros against a 43m-euro profit a year ago. Revenue fell 7.1% to 3.5bn euros. The company currently employs 78,000 staff worldwide. Rival Nokia-Siemens Networks recently said it would cut 17,000 jobs - 25% of its staff - in order to streamline its operations.

6 The age of civil society (Dawn) For all of the flaws of leftist politics in the Cold War era, those movements did produce a large number of people who sacrificed much in their personal lives, put their heart and soul into fighting the status quo, and tried to build the society that they had read about in their little red books. With the emergence of civil society, we are also witness to a new kind of ‘development worker’ distinct from the political worker of the past. This is not to shed doubt on the commitment of those who do involve themselves in collective causes, but only to point out how much of an anachronism the idea and practice of revolutionary social change have become.

It could be that progressives in Pakistan, like those who are consciously supporting externally sponsored regime change in the Middle East, truly do believe that pro-people social transformation is now only possible through the patronage offered by powerful liberal-democratic regimes in the Western world.

UK double-dip recession deepens; India factory strike reveals socio-economic strain; Zynga stock takes a plunge; Lower outlook for 17 German banks; A comic approach to India's problems

1 UK double-dip recession deepens (The Guardian) Britain's economic output collapsed by 0.7% in the second quarter of 2012 as the country's double-dip recession extended into a third quarter. Across-the-board weakness in manufacturing and construction coupled with the loss of output caused by the extra bank holiday to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee were responsible for the setback, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Analysts had expected a 0.2% drop in gross domestic product in the three months to June and were stunned by the scale of the fall in activity. The decline followed the 0.3% fall in the first three months of 2012 and a 0.4% decline in the final quarter of 2011.

2 India factory strike reveals socio-economic issues (Amrit Raj & Shally Seth Mohile in Mint) While the identity of the individuals who brutalized a general manager in the Maruti plant and left him to die in a burning room isn’t known, what is becoming clear is a picture of a hard-nosed and cost-focused management; legions of temporary workers without the benefits enjoyed by their tenured colleagues who sometimes did the same work; low wages that couldn’t keep pace with soaring inflation; a trade union movement gone wrong; an ecosystem in which nearly everyone other than the temporary workers had a stake; and, of course, that usual suspect, India's antiquated labour laws.

The starting average salary for a so-called permanent worker at Maruti’s Manesar plant is Rs. 17,000 a month, according to the company (those at the Gurgaon plant earn around Rs. 20,000). A temporary worker earns a starting average salary of between Rs. 6,500 and Rs. 7,000 a month. India’s manufacturing engine is driven by these temporary workers. Maruti has 4,000 of them; its rival, Chennai-based South Korean car maker Hyundai Motor India Ltd has 5,000; and French-Japanese combine RenaultNissan’s Indian arm, 8,000. These workers do pretty much the same work as their "permanent" peers, but are paid a much lower salary.

The ideal use of temporary or contract workers is to manage spikes in demand, but manufacturing companies in India use them for an entirely different reason, said former labour secretary Chaturvedi. "Companies hire contract workers for exploitation rather than bringing any flexibility to their production just because they come cheap," he said. "By not giving them social security and proper working conditions, how do you expect them to be loyal to you?"

3 Unfamiliar problem in China: Unsold cars (The New York Times) Unsold cars are piling up on Chinese dealers’ lots as demand slows in the country’s car market, forcing companies that once commanded premium prices to offer discounts instead. A sharp slowdown in sales growth since last year has left a supply glut, hurting luxury brands as well as mainstream nameplates, both foreign and Chinese. Economic growth in China cooled to a three-year low of 7.6% in the second quarter.

4 'Social media could add $1.3tn to economy' (The New York Times) McKinsey Global Institute has just published a lengthy study on "unleashing value and productivity through social technologies." The short version is that things like improved communication and collaboration from social media in four major business sectors could add $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in value to the economy.

The value is mostly through added productivity. Improved consumer focus as well as better-functioning teams are two other benefits. "The industries with the highest percentage of interactions workers have the highest spread of profits per employee," said Michael Chui, one of the authors of the report. "It’s low in mining, but can vary by nine times in banking. If you can make these people more effective, you can make the biggest difference."

"These technologies are successful when influential people are role models, using them and explaining them," Mr. Chui said. Uh-oh: once again, no matter how good the machines, people still have to be good, too. And that remains no simple matter.

5 FarmVille maker Zynga's stock plunges (The New York Times) The social games developer Zynga is withering faster than neglected corn on its signature hit FarmVille. Weak second-quarter financial results and worse expectations for the rest of the year sent Zynga’s already faltering stock down by more than a third, to $3.18 a share. The unexpected news was seen as boding ill for Facebook, which is closely tied to Zynga.
Most Zynga games are free. The company makes money from a small core of dedicated users who buy virtual goods like tractors in FarmVille. Over the last year, the average daily amount of money Zynga took in from these core users dropped 10% even as the overall number of users expanded.

6 Toyota on top in first half (San Francisco Chronicle) Toyota Motor, rebounding from lost production from last year's natural disasters in Asia, sold the most cars and trucks worldwide for the year's first half, extending its lead over General Motors and Volkswagen. Toyota global sales rose to 4.97 million during the first half, said spokesman Javier Moreno. GM said it sold 4.67 million vehicles during the first six months. VW sold 4.45 million vehicles in 2012's first half, according to the company.

7 Newsweek's print future in doubt (San Francisco Chronicle) The head of the company that owns Newsweek says the publication is examining its future as a weekly print magazine. During a conference call with analysts, IAC/InterActiveCorp Chairman Barry Diller said that while Newsweek's "brand is good" around the world, producing a weekly news magazine in print form isn't easy. Diller said IAC is examining all options for Newsweek and will have a plan in the coming months. He said little about what those options were. Short of going Internet only, Newsweek could publish its print editions less frequently.

8 Lower outlook for 17 German banks (Straits Times) Moody's on Wednesday downgraded the outlook for 17 German banks after a similar move against the government's credit rating earlier this week. Moody's cut the outlook on a swathe of state-backed regional banks, known in Germany as landesbank, but also included IKB Deutsche Industriebank and Deutsche Postbank. Many of the landesbank have struggled since the 2008 financial crisis and amid Europe's ongoing economic crisis, which has seen growth slow. Moody's noted that several of the banks held debt that was guaranteed by the German central or regional governments.

9 A comic approach to India's problems (The Wall Street Journal) Children in the town of Muzaffarpur in the northeastern Indian state of Bihar were always taught a simple, age-old lesson: be seen, not heard. But that didn’t silence some of them on issues like child marriage, water shortages, and the relentless noise from construction sites.

Encouraged by a workshop run by an organization called World Comics India, the children took to drawing comic strips to highlight their concerns. Nothing changed overnight, but eventually the head of the community sanctioned two hand pumps to help address a water supply problem. This was in part prompted by the illustrations the children had drawn, says Sharad Sharma, the founder of WCI.

For Mr. Sharma, this was a fine example of the "comic" journalism he advocates through WCI. Founded in 1994, WCI describes itself as a grassroots comics campaign that promotes work not by professional artists but by the very people who want to bring about change to improve their lives.

10 International Herald Tribune cartoon on the Libor scandal, showing ordinary folks telling bankers, "You manipulated! You lied! You profited!", and bankers murmuring to each other, "People are beginning to better understand finance".

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

US or China, who will own the future?; How Finland keeps its head above euro crisis; Sexting a dating ritual for youth; The jobless won't forget your help; Roadside barbers v/s Maruti workers

1 US v/s China: Who will own the future? (The Guardian) People often look at America and see a global super-power literally living on borrowed time - much of it borrowed, incidentally from China, which for all these years has been buying US bonds to soak up its massive cash reserves (now an astonishing $3 trillion). For the first time in the post-war era, there are fewer jobs in the private sector than 10 years ago. Real wages for the average US worker are no higher than in the 1970s. And the share of total income taken by the top 1% of taxpayers has risen from 10% to 21% between the 1970s and 2008. And yet there are signs that America's private sector is even now reinventing itself, yet again - just as it has so many times before.

The current account deficit is down, exports are up, and productivity has taken off. That could help sustain America's place in the global economy long-term, even if it produces a miserable jobs market right now. When macroeconomists get together to talk about China and America, there's always a risk it will end up in a brawl over who has the biggest structural imbalances. (Piece of advice: never go to the pub with a macroeconomist who's not interested in sport.)

There are also doubts whether any of China's official statistics bear any relation to reality. There's a line going around the City that "China's GDP is the next Libor" - a crucial number for the world economy that turns out to be, er, somewhat fictional. Economist Paul Ormerod is long-term optimistic about America, partly because the US does seem a lot better at innovating and creating powerful networks. But not without sizeable reservations. He even thinks countries such as Greece and Spain could be facing an era of almost unprecedented "de-development", with the crisis and its aftermath reversing decades of economic progress.

2 How Finland keeps its head above euro crisis (The Guardian) Finland – home of reindeer, pickled fish and Nokia – is now the only eurozone country with a stable triple-A credit rating, according to Moody's. What is it about Finland? It is a big country, almost as large as Germany, but with a population of just 5.3 million – or just 16 people for every square kilometre. The economy is not all mobile phones and forestry. Finland is also known for its metals, engineering and electronics industries, and exports account for a third of GDP. Income per capita is among the highest in western Europe and the country is celebrated for its generous welfare state.

Moody's said that while Finland would not be immune to the eurozone crisis, it had "strong buffers which differentiate it from the other AAAs". Among these were the fact it has no debt on a net basis. The IMF estimates Helsinki will collect taxes and other revenues of €105bn this year, compared with €101bn of government debt. Finland has a small banking system focused on domestic customers, as well as "limited exposure to, and therefore relative insulation from, the euro area in terms of trade", notes Moody's.

3 Sexting now a dating ritual for youth (San Francisco Chronicle) Sexting — texting naked or sexually suggestive photos of yourself – "is rapidly becoming part of the dating process" for young adults, according to a report by University of Michigan researchers. The rapid spread of smart phones has increased the overall number of photos being sent by text or e-mail. But that technological advance has also increased the number of sexts, researchers said. The Michigan study involving 3,447 men and women aged 18 to 24 found that 30% had sent a sext and 41% had received one.

4 The jobless won't forget your help (The New York Times) Unemployment is a time of stress, uncertainty and worry. When you’re in a position of such vulnerability, and someone extends a hand to you, it’s a moment you never forget. It stirs emotion, cements relationships and creates a debt of gratitude that would make any marketer or networker envious. And that debt of gratitude translates into real business value. For companies that hire the unemployed, it means bringing people aboard who are already motivated to give back. These workers truly appreciate the value of a job and are committed to performing for the business that throws them a lifeline.

For people who assist the unemployed, it means forging a business relationship that’s far stronger, more genuine and lasting than the superficial connections that comprise most people’s professional networks. These contacts can prove beneficial to you in the future — for gaining access to new business opportunities, for overcoming your own possible bout with unemployment or for other challenges that you may encounter.

5 Songs and shame to restore India's gender balance (Dawn) The no-frills maternity ward in Nawanshahr district public hospital offers a rare sight in India; parents cooing over newborn girls — lots of them. In 2004, Nawanshahr in the northern state of Punjab was notorious for its abysmal sex ratio, recording just 795 female births for every 1,000 male births annually. The last eight years have witnessed a radical turnaround with Nawanshahr recording 949 female births for every 1,000 male births in 2011, just shy of the naturally occurring rate of 952:1,000.

The striking success in restoring the gender balance has been built on a twin-pronged strategy of strict — and, some critics argue, intrusive — monitoring of pregnancies and a colourful, grassroots awareness-raising campaign. Jaspal Singh Gidda, who heads the Upkar Coordination Society, a local NGO which works with the district administration, says there is an attempt to publicly shame couples who opt for abortions on gender grounds. Nawanshahr’s success has brought it national attention, but some activists are unsure that the means justify the end.

6 Roadside barbers v/s Maruti workers (The Wall Street Journal) Munnilal Sharma, a roadside barber in Mumbai, earns about 6,000 rupees to 8,000 rupees a month. Compare this to workers’ wages at Maruti Suzuki India’s troubled auto plant in Manesar in the state of Haryana. A week ago, one manager died after violence broke out at the plant, which is now under lockdown. One of the main grievances of the workers’ union is reportedly the use of contract labor, which the union believes takes away well-paying jobs from its members. A unionized worker on the factory floor reportedly makes 17,000 rupees to 18,000 rupees, while a contract worker makes 7,000 rupees to 8,000 rupees,say reports.

But what do the problems in Manesar have to do with a local barber? They are two sides of the same coin, which is the dysfunctional Indian labor market. The underlying reason for the friction between union and management at the Maruti plant stems from the need to hire contract workers. And the reason for that is rigid labor laws, a hangover from the period of central planning and the License Permit Raj. These laws make it essentially illegal to fire a worker once hired, which makes it virtually impossible for manufacturing units such as an auto plant to adjust its workforce seasonally in response to changing market conditions.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Decline of middle class; Why India is so bad for women; Cisco cuts 1,300 jobs; When trust is dust; Germany outlook 'negative'; India gives Oprah thumbs down

1 Decline of the middle class (The New York Times) For the first time since the Great Depression, middle-class families have been losing ground for more than a decade. They, and the poor, have struggled particularly badly since the financial crisis led to a global recession in 2008. The idea that living standards inevitably improve from one generation to the next is under threat. Many of the bedrock assumptions of American culture — about work, progress, fairness and optimism — are being shaken. Arguably no question is more central to the country’s global standing than whether the economy will perform better in the future than it has in the recent past.

There are these broad outlines: Since median inflation-adjusted family income peaked in 2000 at $64,232, it has fallen roughly 6%. You won’t find another 12-year period with an income decline since the aftermath of the Depression. This unhappy phenomenon has two major sources. First, economic growth in this country has been relatively slow in recent years, which means the total bounty that the American economy produces, to be shared by all of its citizens, has not been growing very rapidly. Then of course came a deep recession that caused the economy to shrink.

In addition to the slow growth in overall size of the pie, the share that has been going to anyone but the richest Americans has been declining. The top-earning 1% of households now bring home about 20% of total income, up from less than 10% 40 years ago. The top-earning 1/10,000th of households — each earning at least $7.8 million a year, many of them working in finance — bring home almost 5% of income, up from 1% 40 years ago.

2 Why India is so bad for women (The Guardian) One evening two weeks ago, a young student left a bar and was set upon by a gang of at least 18 men in Guwahati, Assam. They dragged her into the road by her hair, tried to rip off her clothes and smiled at the cameras that filmed it all. For at least 20 minutes, no one called the police. They easily could have. Many of those present had phones: they were using them to film the scene as the men yanked up the girl's vest and tugged at her bra and groped her breasts as she begged for help from passing cars. We know this because a cameraman from the local TV channel was there too, capturing the attack for his viewers' enjoyment. The woman was abused for 45 minutes before the police arrived.

A preference for sons and fear of having to pay a dowry has resulted in 12 million girls being aborted over the past three decades, according to a 2011 study by the Lancet. Many women agree the response from the Guwahati authorities shows they are blind to the root cause: a society that does not truly respect women. Instead, a knee-jerk reaction was taken to force all bars to shut by 9.30pm. Club Mint, the bar outside which the young woman was molested, had its licence revoked. Parents were urged to keep a close eye on their daughters.

The fact that India has a female president – Pratibha Patil – and Sonia Gandhi in control of the ruling Congress party means very little, insists Monisha Behal, "chairperson" of the North East Network. "In the UK, you have had Margaret Thatcher – if you are being harassed by a hoodlum in the street there, do ask: 'How can this be when we have had a woman prime minister?'" she says. Every Indian woman the Guardian spoke to for this article agreed that harassment was part of their everyday lives.

3 Cisco cuts 1,300 jobs (San Francisco Chronicle) Cisco Systems said it's eliminating about 1,300 jobs, or 2% of the workforce, part of an effort to eliminate costs and streamline decision making. "We routinely review our business to determine where we need to align investment based on growth opportunities," the San Jose company said. The cuts follow last year's decision to eliminate about 6,500 jobs, or 9% of the full-time workforce, to help trim $1 billion in annual costs and step up profit growth.

4 Morgan Stanley revenues tumble (BBC) Morgan Stanley's revenues in the three months to the end of June fell sharply, dragged down by weak results from its investment banking division. Shares in the bank fell more than 3% in early trading as it reported a 24% fall in revenues to $6.95bn, with a 37% fall from investment banking. Profits of $563m compared with a $558m loss last year which was caused by a one-off $1.7bn charge.Chief executive James Gorman said investors remained cautious.

5 At times, trust is dust (Pinky Daniels in Khaleej Times) Who do we not trust anymore? Relatives, friends, bosses, colleagues, the supermarket cashier, the neighbour, our politicians, our own family? My work colleagues are always telling me things in confidence and add the caveat please don’t mention this to anyone. The bigger picture, however, is that we really don’t trust anyone anymore. The banks are beastly. You can’t go online without being afraid you’ll be hacked. Your credit cards need protection, because it’s scary having your ID compromised. Trust is dust, it’s flown away into the thinning ozone. Whoosh. Gone.

I read about the ghastly corruption rampant in India where I was born. Where my ayah was my best friend and people who saw me walking alone from the school bus to home kept an eye on me for my safety. Or London, where the cabbie returned a 20 pound note to me because I gave him too much money for the ride home from the airport. Or the New York cabbie who would not leave me at my drop off point because he said it was not safe and he’d wait till I’d finish my work and take me back to my hotel and wouldn’t keep the meter running.

We’re all in the trap. Money hungry, haunted by mortgages, worried about getting older and not knowing what’s in store. I say stop worrying and start trusting. Our creator first, He got us this far, and gave us the ability to deal with it all.

6 Moody's sees Germany outlook 'negative' (Straits Times) Moody's lowered its assessment of the German economy, taking a first step toward a full credit rating downgrade for Europe's largest and most pivotal market. The agency lowered the outlook for the German economy to 'negative' from 'stable' - along with a similar move for the Netherlands and Luxembourg - sending a stark warning that no economy is immune from the euro zone crisis. Moody's said that the three AAA-rated countries faced risks from the increased prospect of Greece leaving the euro zone and from the possible need to bail out Spain and Italy.

7 India gives Oprah thumbs down (The Wall Street Journal) Oprah Winfrey charmed her Indian audience when she came to the country earlier this year. But now the show she was working on has aired, the spell appears to have broken. The smell of incense (tick), the sari fitting (tick), the aspirations of slum dwellers (tick), and the glitz of Bollywood (tick). Let’s not forget arranged marriages and the fact that Indians, even rich ones, "still" eat with their hands (tick, tick). India as Westerners imagine it, one stereotype at a time.

This is how many in India responded to the two India-focused episodes of her primetime series "Oprah's Next Chapter," which aired over the weekend. In India, the people she interacted with ranged from a family of five living in a 10-foot-by-10-foot room in a Mumbai slum, to Bollywood aristocracy, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan.While her show mainly targets a mainstream American audience, many criticized Ms. Winfrey for choosing to project such a caricaturized image of India to the world. "The avg American thinking of India as a place with snake charmers and elephants as main mode of transport, I can understand. But Oprah???" said user Nandita Iyer on Twitter. "Honestly, this Oprah winfrey has made such a royal fool of herself with this," she added.

'Silicon Valley needs missionaries, not mercenaries'; The couch potato goes global; Super-rich 'hiding' $21tn; When customers won't be cattle; India's pampered pooches

1 'Silicon Valley needs missionaries nor mercenaries' (Vinod Khosla in The New York Times) Some people seem to think that getting acquired should be the highest aspiration for an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. I disagree vehemently. I think that mindset does a disservice to the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and around the world. This is exactly the wrong way to think about building a start-up not only because it develops the wrong company culture, but on a large scale it can poison the unique and innovative ecosystem that has developed in Silicon Valley over the past 40 years.

You want missionaries, not mercenaries – passionate, maniacally-focused founders who believe in a vision. There are of course mercenaries and people setting up for "acqui-hires" in the valley as well, but that is not what Silicon Valley’s special sauce is about. Having a vision does not prevent you from being acquired, but starting a company to "do a deal" is not what Silicon Valley culture is about even if most companies that have a successful exit are acquired.

2 The couch potato goes global (The New York Times) Last month, researchers affiliated with the World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported that, worldwide, people's waistlines are expanding, with the total combined weight of human beings on Earth now exceeding 287 million tons. About 3.5 million tons of that global human biomass is due to obesity, a third of which exists in North America, although we account for only 6% of the world’s population. The study, however, did not address possible underlying causes of the ever-growing weight of nations.

The latest figures suggest that the world’s population has become disturbingly inactive. According to the researchers’ calculations, 31.1% of the world’s adults, or about 1.5 billion people, are almost completely sedentary, meaning that they do not meet the minimum recommendation of 150 minutes of walking or other moderate activity per week, or about 20 minutes a day. Teenagers are faring even worse. More than 80% of young people ages 13 to 15 worldwide are not getting the hour a day of vigorous exercise recommended for their age group.

3 Super-rich 'hiding' $21tn (BBC) A global super-rich elite had at least $21 trillion hidden in secret tax havens by the end of 2010, according to a major study. The figure is equivalent to the size of the US and Japanese economies combined. The Price of Offshore Revisited was written by James Henry, a former chief economist at the consultancy McKinsey, for the Tax Justice Network. Tax expert and UK government adviser John Whiting said he was sceptical that the amount hidden was so large.

Mr Henry said his $21tn is actually a conservative figure and the true scale could be $32tn. A trillion is 1,000 billion. The report comes amid growing public and political concern about tax avoidance and evasion. Some authorities, including in Germany, have even paid for information on alleged tax evaders stolen from banks. Mr Henry said that the super-rich move money around the globe through an "industrious bevy of professional enablers in private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries".

4 When customers won't be cattle (The Wall Street Journal) Since the Industrial Revolution, the only way a company could scale up in productivity and profit was by treating customers as populations rather than as individuals — and by treating employees as positions on an organization chart rather than as unique sources of talent and ideas. The Internet has challenged that system by giving individuals the same power. Any of us can now communicate with anybody else, anywhere in the world, at costs close to zero.

But the Internet is young, and most development work has been done to improve the supply side of the marketplace. Individual customers have benefited, but improving their own native technical capacities has attracted relatively little interest from developers or investors. As a result, big business continues to believe that a free market is one in which customers get to choose their captors. Choosing among AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon for your new smartphone is like choosing where you'd like to live under house arrest. It's why marketers still talk about customers as "targets" they can "acquire," "control," "manage" and "lock in," as if they were cattle.

The only way to stop this insanity is for customers to start showing up as human beings and not just as cattle to be herded. In the not-too-distant future, you will be able, for example, to change your contact information with many vendors at once, rather than many times, over and over, at many different websites. You will no longer have to "accept" agreements that aren't worth reading because, as we all know, they cover the other party's butt but expose yours.

5 India's pampered pooches (Straits Times) Oreo marked her birthday this year with a pool party in a posh New Delhi neighbourhood. Nothing unusual - except that the two-year-old is a dog. The Dalmatian celebrated with a cake of flour, cheese and chicken tikkas, garnished with a rib-shaped biscuit on top and spent the day splashing in a swimming pool and chasing her 20 canine friends at a sprawling dog resort. 'It was like I was having my daughter's birthday party,'said Ms Priyamvada Sharma, Oreo's owner, who also has a 2-year-old female Labrador. 'We had every possible type of biscuit and bone any pet shop would have.'

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mankind faces machine domination; Individualism in overdrive; Inactivity seen as another killer; Why rich Indians live in decrepit areas; US drought expanding

1 Skype founder warns of machine domination (Sydney Morning Herald) One of the founding engineers of Skype has a warning to the human race: fasten your seatbelts, as machines are becoming so intelligent that they could pose an existential threat. Jaan Tallinn argues human-driven technological progress has largely replaced evolution as the dominant force shaping our future. Machines are becoming smarter than we are, but Tallinn warns that if we are not careful this could lead to a "sudden global ecological catastrophe".  This sounds like science fiction stuff, but consider the breadth of domains where computers have already caught up to - and then dominated - humans.

 We have already programmed computers to be better than us at classic games like chess, better drivers (Google's driverless car being just one example), better at voice and face recognition and, as IBM's Watson computer proved, even better at the game Jeopardy. The US military is experimenting with robot fighter pilots, while the majority of trading on the stock market is done by computers in what is known as algorithmic trading.

"My core main message is actually that this thing is not science fiction, this thing is not apocalyptic religion - this thing is something that needs serious consideration," said Tallinn, who argues we are witnessing an "intelligence explosion" - with neuroscience advancing in leaps and bounds to the point where scientists could replicate the human brain by the middle of this century. The event when machines surpass human levels of intelligence and ability has been dubbed "the singularity".

2 Individualism in overdrive (The New York Times) Selfishness run amok is a national disease (and, to judge by Greece, Italy and a few other European countries, an international epidemic). Too many people behave as if they live in a civic vacuum, no broader implications to their individual behavior. Sometimes it’s more consequential: perfectly (or at least mostly) healthy people bilking the government. Over the last four decades, the number of Americans drawing Social Security disability insurance has more or less tripled, by some estimates. That well outpaces population growth and reflects not just a liberalization of the requirements to apply for such insurance but the readiness of some people who don’t truly need it to finesse the criteria nonetheless.
I’m ceaselessly surprised by how many older people of means push back against necessary changes to Social Security and Medicare. Some of them are grandparents, maybe even doting ones. And there’s a crucial disconnect between their impulse to safeguard their slice of the American pie and the concern they should feel for the crumbs their grandchildren may be left with. A few of them are surviving members of the “greatest generation,” which we justly lionize for its sacrifices. Where are our sacrifices today? Our investments in the greater good?

A person has advised, not to pay for airport parking if the accrued tickets from leaving your car on the street won’t be as expensive. Sure, you’re unlawfully hogging a space someone else might make legal use of; maybe you’re thwarting street sweepers, too. Not your problem. A conscience is for chumps.

3 Italian town thinks differently (The Guardian) It is not often that a town council resolution cites Socrates and Spinoza. Then again, not many town councils are like that of tiny Corigliano d'Otranto – population 5,889 – tucked away in the heel of Italy. It could have something to do with the fact that Corigliano is in the so-called Grecìa Salentina, a stronghold of Italy's ethnic Greek minority, which has been there since long before Plato put pen to papyrus. It certainly has a lot to do with the town's centre-left mayor, Ada Fiore, being a philosophy teacher. At all events, Corigliano is bent on turning itself into Italy's most philosophical town.

Resolution No 72, which cited the aforementioned thinkers, created the new post of municipal philosopher, stipulating that the first holder of the office, Graziella Lupo, would be available for consultation at the town hall "between 15.00 and 19.00 on Fridays". Under Fiore's mayorship, the council has put up ceramic plaques with quotations from the likes of Saint Augustine. It has given out postcards for distribution in bars and shops that ask existential questions, such as "Why were you born?"

4 ‘Drug kingpins used HSBC’ (BBC) HSBC provided a conduit for "drug kingpins and rogue nations", according to a US Senate committee investigating money laundering claims at the bank. Its report said suspicious funds from countries including Mexico, Iran and Syria had passed through the bank. The president and chief executive of HSBC Bank USA, Irene Dorner, apologised to the committee for the behaviour which she said deeply regretted. Earlier, HSBC's head of compliance, David Bagley, resigned at the hearing. The bank also said it was in the process of closing 20,000 accounts in the Cayman Islands as a result of the investigation.

5 Inactivity seen as another ‘killer’ (BBC) A lack of exercise is now causing as many deaths as smoking across the world, a study suggests. The report, published in the Lancet to coincide with the build-up to the Olympics, estimates that about a third of adults are not doing enough physical activity, causing 5.3m deaths a year. That equates to about one in 10 deaths from diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and breast and colon cancer. Researchers said the problem was now so bad it should be treated as a pandemic.

6 Intel warns of slowing economy (BBC) The world's largest maker of computer chips, Intel, says the weak economy will mean its next profits will miss forecasts. The company's second-quarter net income was $2.83bn, 4.3% below that made in the second quarter of last year. Operating expenses rose faster than its revenue, which rose 3.6% to $13.5bn. The company makes chips for 80% of the world's personal computers but has a far smaller presence in tablet computers like Apple's iPad, or in the fast-growing smartphone sector. Tablet computer sales are rising far more quickly than those of PCs.

7 Why wealthy Indians live in decrepit areas (The Wall Street journal) Walking around the posh neighborhoods of south Mumbai, you might be forgiven for thinking that the wealthy residents don’t care much for sidewalks, public parks or flyovers. Take neighborhoods like Breach Candy and Cumballa Hill, home to some of India’s richest people such as the industrialist Mukesh Ambani. Yet the sidewalks, in the rare places where they exist, are chipped, uneven and often broken, commandeered by vendors, or so filthy as to be unusable. The monsoon rains just add to the muck and the mire.

Why does the opulence of the homes in these fancy areas not translate into public infrastructure of comparable quality? In the West at least, there’s a clear correlation between per capita incomes and the quality of public goods that residents can expect. Wealthy residents here don’t seem to have much of a stake in their neighborhoods and therefore, aside from a sense of civic virtue, no real incentive to pressure municipal authorities for improvements. Most of these people move about in chauffeur-driven luxury cars or SUVs that glide over the pothole-ridden roads, with sophisticated climate control systems that filter out the noxious air to which pedestrians and those traveling in two-wheelers or black and yellow taxis are subjected. Nor do they demand access to public parks, as they belong to exclusive private clubs.

But the infrastructure that does matter to these wealthy residents functions much better in their neighborhoods than in other parts of town. Many people in Mumbai and other Indian cities contend with daily power cuts and water shortages, yet these problems are almost unheard of in areas like Malabar Hill, Cumballa Hill and Breach Candy. The natural inference is that wealthy residents make sure that the things they care about, the things that affect them directly, work.

8 US drought expanding (Johannesburg Times) Hot, dry weather for the next two weeks will continue to stress corn and soybean crops in the western and northern US Midwest, while rainfall in the east will provide some relief to the struggling soybean, an agricultural meteorologist said on Tuesday. "The rains will be too late for corn but it will help soybeans. The drought is spreading into the western and northwestern crop belt, leading to further stress and more crop losses. The expanding drought, now considered the worst in over a half century, punished the US corn crop last week. The US Department of Agriculture in its weekly crop progress report on Monday, said just 31%  of the corn crop was in good to excellent shape, down from 40% a week earlier and below analysts' average estimate of 35%. Soybean conditions fell to 34% from 40% in the good to excellent category, below estimates for 35%.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

OECD sees unemployment rising; JP Morgan's trading loss at $5.8bn; Lemurs face extinction; In an age of anxiety, are we all mentally ill?; Tears are OK, says Federer; India a nation of a billion bystanders?

1 OECD sees growing unemployment (The New York Times) The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, whose members include all large industrialized countries, issued its annual employment outlook report this week, forecasting rising unemployment in many countries. An accompanying chart shows the forecasts for unemployment rates in all 34 countries that belong to the organization. The figures for each year are the average of the monthly numbers, so the forecast of 8.1% in 2012 for the US implies that the rate will fall below 8% by late 2012. The average for 2013 is predicted to be 7.6%, 1.3 percentage points below the 2011 rate.

In most countries, the organization expects that rates in 2013 will be higher than they were in 2011. Only in Estonia and Iceland are rates expected to have fallen faster than in the US. "You may think you’ve got it bad in the US," said Mark Keese, the head of the OECD’s employment division, "but they are a lot worse in Europe." Of the 15 OECD members that use the euro, only Germany and Estonia are expected to have a decline in unemployment.

2 Slowdown hits Chinese workers (San Francisco Chronicle) From shopkeepers to shipbuilders, some sectors are feeling more pain from China's deepest slowdown since the 2008 global crisis than still-robust headline growth of about 8% might suggest. Higher spending by state industry and government-directed investment is pumping up the world's second-largest economy, but that is masking the fact that the private sector is cutting jobs and scrambling to prop up plunging sales.

Revenues for companies in construction, shipbuilding and export manufacturing are down by up to half compared with a year ago. The slowdown is a setback for economies around the world that were looking to China to drive demand for exports and support global growth. Job losses could fuel political tensions, eroding economic gains that underpin the Communist Party's claim to power. Though China's growth even now is higher than those of developed economies, many industries depend on a much faster expansion to propel demand for new factories, cargo ships and other goods.

3 JP Morgan's trading loss at $5.8bn (The Guardian) The London trading debacle that JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon once dismissed as a "tempest in a teapot" has so far cost the bank $5.8bn, almost three times initial estimates, the bank said as it released second quarter results that included a $4.4bn loss on the massive European trades known as "the London whale". Dimon said the bank had clawed back two years of annual compensation from those involved in the trades. The bank also confirmed that the three traders at the heart of controversial trading had left.

The losses at JP Morgan's London offices have caused a political firestorm in the US and led to calls for tighter regulation of Wall Street banks. They come as the bank is also under investigation for its role in the alleged fixing of Libor interest rates. Finance chief Doug Braunstein put the trading loss at $5.8bn and confirmed that the bank believed it could lose between $800m and $1.7bn more as it tried to unwind the complex bets.

4 Lemurs slide towards extinction (BBC) A new survey shows lemurs are far more threatened than previously thought. A group of specialists is in Madagascar - the only place where lemurs are found in the wild - to systematically assess the animals and decide where they sit on the Red List of Threatened Species. More than 90% of the 103 species should be on the Red List, they say. Since a coup in 2009, conservation groups have repeatedly found evidence of illegal logging, and hunting of lemurs has emerged as a new threat.

5 In age of anxiety, are we all mentally ill? (Khaleej Times) There is an extraordinary trend in mental illness: an increase in the prevalence of reported anxiety disorders of more than 1,200% since 1980. In that year, 2-4% of Americans suffered from an anxiety disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, used by psychiatrists and others worldwide to diagnose mental illness. In 1994, a study asking a random sample of thousands of Americans about their mental health reported that 15% had ever suffered from anxiety disorders. A 2009 study of people interviewed about their anxiety repeatedly for years raised that estimate to 49.5% - which would be 117 million US adults.

Some psychiatrists say the increase in the prevalence of anxiety from about 4% to 50% is the result of psychiatrists and others "getting better at diagnosing anxiety," as Dr. Carolyn Robinowitz, a past president of the APA who is in private practice in Washington, DC, put it. "People who criticize that are showing their bias," she said. "When we get better at diagnosing hypertension, we don’t say that’s terrible." Critics, including other leading psychiatrists, disagree. They say the apparent explosion in anxiety shows there is something seriously and dangerously wrong with the DSM.

6 Tears are OK, says Federer (Khaleej Times) Last Sunday, when he walked away after being crowned 7-time Wimbledon champion, Roger Federer celebrated his victory but you could also sense his empathy for the Andy Murray, whose dreams of greatness he had brought down. Murray wept at the prize–giving ceremony but was brave and generous enough to say he had lost to the man who played better than he. Federer, who has suffered a number of rather humiliating and disappointing defeats in the last couple of years probably understood what Murray meant and, more importantly, how he felt.

The stakes were so high for both of them that it could easily have been him who had to cry, he said adding it is ok for grown up men to cry, "to show you are human, that your heart can be broken too". In that instant, Federer is sure to have garnered thousands of fans in men across the world who have been taught that tears are strictly for girls. The world number one has often shed his tears on both cherished wins and defeats in furiously fought matches said: "When you cry, you communicate with fans. I think they appreciate the fact that we care about winning and losing, we care about what they feel. So, it’s OK to break down, to let it all out."

Federer is also likely to have been moved to tears by the fact that the three special women in his life -- wife Mirka and twin daughters Charlene Riva and Myla Rose -- were at center court as he picked the most special trophy in his spectacular career.

7 India seen as nation of a billion bystanders (Preetika Rana & Diksha Sahni in The Wall Street Journal) Is India a nation of one billion-plus bystanders? Recent shocking incidents from Gurgaon to Kolkata to, this week, the molestation of a young woman in Guwahati, the capital of Assam, could easily lead you to that conclusion.

Of course, it can be a daunting prospect: It would take a lot of bravery to jump into a violent situation, with its potential to backfire on the intervener. Yet, people are brave, and often act irrationally and selflessly in an effort to protect others under attack. The "Bystander Effect" which came to be coined after the infamous Kitty Genovese murder case in the US has taken grip in many places in India: Individuals offer no help to a victim during an emergency. Why? "It is a reflection of the way we live. We do not care enough," claims AK Mathews who teaches humanities at Indian Institute of Management at Kozhikode. "Social change," says Mr. Mathews, "cannot come from Facebook."

He adds that the public needs to be made stakeholders in the justice system and, for that, there has to be trust in legal authorities, the upholders of law and in citizens at large. Our country is experiencing "a touch-and-feel revolution," says Ranjana Kumari, who heads non-profit Centre for Social Research. Outraged texts, compelling Facebook status updates, angry tweets, but what then, she asks.

Friday, July 13, 2012

China growth dips to 7.6%; Amazon animals face extinction; Peugeot Citroen to cut 8,000 jobs; World's narrowest street; Why Pakistanis are not warm to democracy; India low on staff loyalty

1 China growth dips to 7.6% (BBC) China's economy grew at its slowest pace in three years as investment slowed and demand fell in key export markets such as the US and Europe. Gross domestic product rose by 7.6% in the second quarter, compared with the same period a year ago. That is down from 8.1% in the previous three months. In March, Beijing cut its growth target for the whole of 2012 to 7.5%. China accounts for about a fifth of the world's total economic output and any slowdown may hamper a global recovery. At the same time, many of Asia's biggest and emerging economies are becoming increasingly reliant on China as a trading partner.

2 Cost-cutting forces BBC out of Bush House (Outlook) There was a lump in many a journalist's throat as the last transmission was made from the iconic Bush House, the base from where the BBC World Service reported major events in various languages, including Hindi, for over 70 years. The BBC has moved out of Bush House as part of the corporation's cost-cutting plans.

In a special broadcast, BBC director general Mark Thompson today said: "This benign Tower of Babel, the scene of so many great broadcasting moments and the home of so many great broadcasters over the years, is now silent; its corridors deserted; its studios empty". As part of the BBC's relocation plans to cut costs, the World Service has moved from Bush House to Broadcasting House in central London. Financial compulsions have already reduced the number of languages in which it is broadcast to 27.

3 Amazon animals face extinction (The Guardian) The destruction of great swaths of the Brazilian Amazon has turned scores of rare species into the walking dead, doomed to disappear even if deforestation were halted in the region overnight, according to a new study. Forest clearing in Brazil has already claimed casualties, but the animals lost to date in the rainforest region are just one-fifth of those that will slowly die out as the full impact of the loss of habitat takes its toll. In parts of the eastern and southern Amazon, 30 years of concerted deforestation have shrunk viable living and breeding territories enough to condemn 38 species to regional extinction in coming years, including 10 mammal, 20 bird and eight amphibian species, scientists found.

4 Peugeot Citroen to cut 8,000 jobs (The Guardian) French political leaders and unions were in a state of shock after carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën announced it was shedding 8,000 jobs and closing a production line in a huge shakeup. The revelation of the unexpected "restructuring plan" from one of the pillars of French industry prompted an instant response from François Hollande's Socialist government. Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was "extremely concerned by the unprecedented scale" of the company's reorganisation.

The company, which faces a first-half loss of €700m this year, is trying to save €1bn as it struggles to compete in Europe's fiercely competitive car market. It is suffering particularly amid a slump in sales in the recession-hit south of Europe. Its sales plunged 20% in Europe in the first quarter. Union leaders have reacted with fury to PSA's decision. Jean-Pierre Mercier, representative of the CGT union at PSA, described it as a "declaration of war against the workers".

5 World's narrowest street (The Guardian) You might well call it a fissure, a gap or a chink. But the folks of Reutlingen in Baden-Wurttemberg, western Germany, are adamant that a 31cm divide between two houses is in fact a street. They are keen for the space between house numbers nine and 11 on Spreuerhofstrasse to continue being recognised as such, if only because the world’s narrowest street draws in tourists from around the world.

The svelte street has existed since 1726 when a devastating fire swept through the city destroying it. Spreuerhofstrasse was rebuilt, but with little regard for the city regulations that stated dwellings should be built far enough apart to prevent any future fires from spreading too fast. Its status was in doubt for years until in 1820 a purportedly slender town hall official, who was able to squeeze down it himself without too much difficulty, declared it to be a public street.

But Reutlingen’s top attraction is in danger of losing its Guinness Book of Records status because the wall of No 9 is leaning dangerously into the passageway due to bulging, water-soaked beams. If the gap is no longer passable, and the building cannot be shored up, then it can no longer be considered a street, and its unique status will be revoked. A decision on whether it will be closed has to be made by next year.

6 India's Congress needs a detox (Neeta Lal in Khaleej Times) India's Congress party needs to undertake an immediate detox to unveil a new improved avatar. It will also need an infusion of fresh ideas, motivation and energy. Sonia Gandhi can begin by initiating a thorough shake up of her party. For this, she will require to do something on a far more expansive and more audacious scale than the usual tweaking that passes muster in her party. Purging ministries of geriatric ministers, and the finance ministry of unimaginative bureaucrats, will help.

There are good auguries. PM Manmohan Singh’s takeover of the finance ministry has injected a new dynamism and hope in New Delhi. It also helps that the Congress is on a stronger wicket than the NDA regarding its prime ministerial candidate (read Rahul Gandhi). Dynastic choice it may be, but it’s still better than the NDA squabbling over who to pit against the Gandhi scion. Narendra Modi can’t be that choice. Whatever his administrative accomplishments, the taint of the 2002 pogrom, like Lady Macbeth’s blood stain, will continue to haunt him.

Given the brutal nature of Indian politics, the Congress and its allies may still end up with eggs on their faces in the next election. But after three years of blatant misrule, and failing to deliver to the ordinary people of India, at least they won’t be accused of lack of trying.

7 Finding the 'right' migrant (Khaleej Times) The British government is justifiably concerned about the permanent movement of people to the UK. The number of immigrants coming into the country to make it their home has far exceeded government estimates; the influx of 252,000 in 2010 sharply exceeded expectations of 13,000 a year. However, the government’s criterion for determining eligibility for immigration appears to seriously discriminate against low earning groups. And this means that these migrants who slog it out in Britain for a better life will no longer have the privilege of bringing their families into the country.

This is rather disheartening because the UK, like the US, has always been a land of opportunities for South Asians for decades. Immigrant taxi drivers and shop owners have assimilated in the country and built a bright future for their second and third generations with hard work. But it seems like the UK in the coming decades will no longer be home for the working class people who earn little but dream big.

8 Why Pakistanis dislike democracy (Dawn) A recent poll of six Muslim countries revealed that Pakistanis by far were the least likely to favour democracy. Compared with Turkey, where 71% of the respondents favoured democracy, only 42% of Pakistanis held the same view. A report by the Pew Research Centre showed that unlike Pakistan, the overwhelming majority of respondents in the other five Muslim majority countries preferred democracy.

And while Pakistanis demonstrated a half-hearted appreciation for democratic principles, an overwhelming majority (82%) expressed preference for the laws to follow the Quranic injunctions. In comparison, only 60% of Egyptians wanted their laws to follow Quran. A careful review of the Pew survey offers hints of why democracy is no longer favoured by most Pakistanis.

It appears that the adage "It’s the economy, stupid" also holds true for Pakistan where 58% of Pakistanis preferred strong economy over a good democracy (34%). While the two may not be mutually exclusive, Pakistanis appear more prudent to prefer bread, clothing, and shelter over empty promises of the same from the beneficiaries of the electoral processes. In 2007, when Pakistan was ruled by a military dictator, 59% of Pakistanis expressed faith in the nation’s economy. A mere 9% of Pakistanis today are optimistic about their economic outlook.

9 India's low staff loyalty (Financial Chronicle) Commitment levels among employees in India have declined sharply in comparison to the global average, as about 33% of them are planning to leave their jobs in less than two years, says a survey. In contrast, only one-in-five of the workforce over the world intend to do so.
Commitment levels have fallen to a 5-year low in every major region of the world as long-term loyalty has become a casualty of low levels of employee engagement and employee enablement, it said.

"It is a worrying sign that Indian organisations, despite averaging higher engagement levels than the Asia average, find that only about 40% intend to remain loyal to their present organisations in the next five years," Hay Group India Managing Director Gaurav Lahiri said. More than two-fifths (44%) of the global workforce intend to leave their employers within five years, while in case of India a much larger majority of employees (58%) have acknowledged their intent to exit their present organisations within five years.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

US drought threatens food prices; Qatar taking on the world; A new poverty map; Questioning Alpha leadership; And the award goes to...; No wonder Gurgaon is revolting

1 US drought threatens food prices (The Guardian) The worst drought to hit the US in nearly 25 years is threatening to drive up food prices around the world. The price of corn, the staple crop of much of the midwest and the prairies, has risen by a third in the past month and rose again after a US government report said farmers would not yield as much from their parched fields as expected. Almost a third of America's corn crop is already showing signs of damage and a report released by the US Department of Agriculture forecast that farmers would only reap a fraction of the corn expected last spring when they planted 96.4m acres, the most since 1937.

The USDA now predicts that the corn crop will average just 146 bushels an acre, down 20 bushels from its previous forecast. It estimates the harvest at 12.97bn bushels of grain, down 12% from the 14.79bn bushels forecast in June. One bushel of corn equals 25.4kg. "To see something on this continental scale where we're seeing such a large portion of the country in drought you have to go back to 1988," said Brad Rippey, a USDA agricultural meteorologist. That year saw corn yield drop by nearly a third.

2 How Qatar is taking on the world (Peter Beaumont in The Guardian) On Thursday evening Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who combines the roles of Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister, stood with the Duke of York and mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to watch the inauguration of the Shard. As lasers lit up a London skyline now dominated by the 310m skyscraper, the performance was streamed live around the world.

If the opening of western Europe's tallest building presided over by Hamad, whose country's sovereign wealth fund owns 95% of the development was a demonstration of Qatar's rapidly growing global visibility and influence, a few days before, in an equally vast but older building, that influence was being exercised far more discreetly. The building was the UN's Palais des Nations in Geneva, where last Saturday Hamad met the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and other foreign ministers to press his country's case for firmer international action over Syria.

A generation ago Qatar whose people are the world's wealthiest by virtue of its oil and natural gas reserves barely registered on the global radar. It is a former British protectorate ruled by the al-Thani family since the 19th century; its present emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, seized power in 1995 from his father in a bloodless palace coup. Today it is difficult to avoid its money and influence.

3 A new poverty map (The Guardian) By 2025, most of the world's poorest people will live in fragile and conflict-affected states in Africa, posing challenges to aid donors who have usually focused on helping well-governed countries, according to a new report, Horizon 2025. As a result, even though currently MICs may have more poor people than the world's poorest countries, this will be a temporary phenomenon. By 2025, the number of poor people in MICs could be as low as 100 million out of a global total of 560 million.

A consequence of the dramatic fall in the number of poor people is that the notional cost of eradicating poverty has fallen in absolute terms, and even more so as a share of industrialised country income. The report says the poverty gap looks affordable at only one-third of one per cent of global GDP. The report estimates the poverty gap to be $166bn by 2025, of which $35bn could be filled by the domestic resources of recipient countries, leaving $131bn to come from the rich OECD Development Assistance Committee.

Falling poverty numbers coupled with aid increases since 2002 mean official development assistance per poor person has started to rise sharply, reaching $80 per poor person in 2010 with an inexorable upward trend, according to the report. By 2025, official aid could rise to more than $300 per poor person a year.

4 Questioning Alpha leadership (The New York Times) Just as we thought our attention spans were collapsing and our thoughts reducing themselves to what could be texted or tweeted, the magazine The Atlantic published a nearly 13,000-word cover story by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton University scholar and former Obama administration official. It was about whether educated professional women can still have it all: Can they be involved mothers and superstar workers and perfect wives? And it concluded that, in the world we inhabit in America, they can't.

The controversial crux of Ms. Slaughter's argument is this: that alpha women with alpha opportunities should, if they wish also to be mothers, accept beta careers. This is not to say that women should aim lower, Ms. Slaughter says. Rather, women should become content with peaking later (but still peaking at the top) and with a leadership trajectory of irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when needs and impulses beyond work require it.

5 Austerity may cost 4.5m jobs in eurozone (BBC) The eurozone could lose 4.5 million more jobs in the next four years unless the region shifts away from austerity, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned. That rise would take unemployment in the 17-nation bloc to 22 million. "It's not only the eurozone that's in trouble, the entire global economy is at risk of contagion," it said. The report said that all 17 countries in the eurozone would suffer, both those currently under stress and their healthier counterparts.
In Spain, which has the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone, one in four people is now out of work. The youth unemployment rate in the eurozone stood at 22.6% in May, meaning 3.4 million people under the age of 25 were jobless.

6 Wrestler-actor Dara Singh no more (BBC) Wrestler-turned-actor Dara Singh has died in Mumbai after a long illness, his doctors say. The 83-year-old had been admitted to hospital last week after a heart attack. Singh, who won the world wrestling championship in 1960, acted in several Bollywood films and television serials. He gained huge popularity while playing Hanuman, the monkey god, in the television adaptation of the Hindu epic Ramayana. He was also an member of parliament from 2003 to 2009 when he was appointed to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament.

7 And the award goes to... (Dawn) Irrespective of their backgrounds or their parent companies, almost all film awards in India are the same. Most of them are nothing more than a gala event where everyone's expected to dress their best and do the same thing every year till they are invited. The only thing international in IIFA or International Indian Film Academy Award is the venue it chooses every year. The award claims to honor Indian cinema but since when did a segment of Bollywood become Indian cinema? IIFA is a paid vacation where stars land up in exotic locations with their families and maids, shake a leg, pose for some pictures and think they have done Hindi cinema a great service before picking up their statuette.

Bollywood's love for film awards is beyond any logic. Rather than saluting the year's best awards it simply hands out an award to everyone present. Sometimes it ends up creating a category like 'Most Powerful Scene' just to ensure that the bigwigs don't go home empty handed.

8 Child military slavery (Dawn) More than 11,000 child soldiers were freed from military slavery last year, but the United Nations believes hundreds of thousands around the world remain at the mercy of warlords like Thomas Lubanga. The 14-year jail term ordered against Lubanga by the International Criminal Court is a historic" signal, according to Radhika Coomaraswamy, who ends a six-year term this month as UN special representative on children in conflict. The UN believes hundreds of thousands of children are forced to fight at gunpoint by the likes of the Taliban in Afghanistan, notorious Congo warlord Bosco Ntaganda, the Shebab in Somalia, Ansar Dine in Mali and other terror groups and private armies around the world.

9 No wonder Gurgaon is revolting (The Wall Street Journal) Last week, fueled by a long and brutal summer with temperatures regularly crossing 40 degrees Celsius and power cuts of more than eight hours a day, residents in the suburbs of Delhi erupted in anger. Finally, on July 6, monsoon clouds burst over the region, bringing down temperatures (significantly) and tempers (moderately).

If Gurgaon's history is anything to go by, this respite is going to be short-lived. Flooding and potholes will soon replace our daily battles with the heat and dust. Here, population growth is outpacing infrastructure development. According to the Census of India, between 2001 and 2011, Gurgaon district's population grew 73.9% to 1.5 million people. The results of this are all too clear: hours spent in traffic, pigs rummaging through uncollected garbage, reports of sewage-laced tap water, and relentless struggles with water and electricity supply. There is also an unhealthy reliance on the private sector, even for the provision of basic services. It is a story of unsustainable urban development, and a harbinger of what is brewing in medium-sized cities all across India.

10 India sans policy stability (The Economic Times) Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong says the Indian business environment is "complicated" for investors who want policy stability.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Spreading scourge of corporate corruption; Richer rich, poorer poor; Enough of Higgs, let's discuss boson; Bell tolls for India's Congress party; Please give me an identity; India's archaic archives access policy

1 Spreading scourge of corporate corruption (The New York Times) Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Libor scandal is how familiar it seems. The misconduct of the financial industry no longer surprises most Americans. Only about one in five has much trust in banks, according to Gallup polls, about half the level in 2007. And it’s not just banks that are frowned upon. Trust in big business overall is declining. Sixty-two percent of Americans believe corruption is widespread across corporate America. According to Transparency International, an anticorruption watchdog, nearly three in four Americans believe that corruption has increased over the last three years.

The parade of financiers accused of misdeeds, booted from the executive suite and even occasionally jailed, is undermining trust. Have corporations lost whatever ethical compass they once had? Or does it just look that way because we are paying more attention than we used to? This is hard to answer because fraud and corruption are impossible to measure precisely. Perpetrators understandably do their best to hide the dirty deeds from public view. And public perceptions of fraud and corruption are often colored by people’s sense of dissatisfaction with their lives.

Company executives are paid to maximize profits, not to behave ethically. Evidence suggests that they behave as corruptly as they can, within whatever constraints are imposed by law and reputation. In 1977, the US Congress passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, to stop the rampant practice of bribing foreign officials. Business by American multinationals in the most corrupt countries dropped. But they didn’t stop bribing. And American companies have been lobbying against the law ever since.

2 Richer rich, poorer poor (The New York Times) A new report from the Pew Economic Mobility Project shows that when it comes to the wealth distribution, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. First Pew looked at the earnings of today’s adults compared to those of their parents’ generation, and found that the typical American in each income quintile earned more than his counterpart from a generation earlier. Unlike with income, there were not across-the-board gains for wealth. The median person in the poorest quintile has a family net worth that is 63 percent less than that of his counterpart a generation ago: $2,748, versus $7,439.

On the other hand, the top fourth and fifth quintiles by wealth have gotten richer. The median family in the top socioeconomic class today (i.e., the family at the 90th percentile) is worth $629,853, compared to $495,510 in the last generation. That’s a 27% increase in the size of the median fortune in the top income stratum. In other words, compared to the last generation, wealth has been become more concentrated in the hands (and bank accounts and houses) of the richest Americans.

Exactly why is debatable. The global markets for labor and capital have changed, of course. And the lower tax rate on capital gains — which disproportionately helps richer people, who have more capital to invest — has helped the richest amass ever higher net worths.

3 Enough of Higgs, let's discuss boson (Dawn) Media gave lots of credit to British physicist Peter Higgs for theorizing the elusive subatomic "God particle," but little was said about Satyendranath Bose, the Indian after whom the boson is named. Despite the fact that Bose had little direct involvement in theorizing the Higgs boson itself, in India the lack of attention given to one of their own was seen as an insult too big to ignore.

"He is a forgotten hero," the government lamented in a lengthy statement, noting that Bose was never awarded a Nobel Prize though "at least 10 scientists have been awarded the Nobel" in the same field.
The boson is named in honour of the Kolkata-born scientist’s work in the 1920s with Albert Einstein in defining one of two basic classes of subatomic particles. The work describes how photons can be considered particles as well as waves—such as in a laser beam. All particles that follow such behaviour, including the Higgs boson, are called bosons. Higgs, the English physicist, and others proposed the Higgs boson’s existence in 1964 to explain what might give shape and size to all matter. Laymen and the media sometimes call it the "God particle" because it existence is key to understanding the early evolution of the universe.

By then, Bose was living in his Indian city of Kolkata after 25 years running the physics department at Dacca University, in what is now Bangladesh. Bose died aged 80 in 1974. The Nobel is not awarded posthumously. The Sunday Times of India noted other eminent Indian scientists who "never got their due," including physicist G N Ramachandran who died in 2001 after making biological discoveries like collagen’s triple-helix structure and 3-D imaging used in studying the human body. It also said living Indian scientists, Varanasi-based molecular biologist Lalji Singh and New York-based E Premkumar Reddy, should be current candidates for awards.

4 Underemployment hurts youth, economy (San Francisco Chronicle) Underemployment isn't debilitating only for individuals whose career and income opportunities are stunted. It threatens economic expansion, as college-educated young adults have traditionally fueled consumer spending on clothes, technology, entertainment and cars.

Unemployment for Americans ages 20 to 24, which has topped 10% for four years, was 13.7% in June, up from 12.9% the previous month, according to the Labour Department. Employers added 80,000 jobs in June, fewer than forecast, and the overall rate stayed at 8.2%, the data showed.

Instead of indulging at the start of their career, many young people with degrees now are scrimping. Compared with five years ago, Generation Y - people born from 1981 to 2001 - is shopping more at discounters and value stores and less at premium-priced retailers, according to Kantar Media. In the end, underemployed youth will rob the US of economic and intellectual firepower, said Johns Hopkins' Newman. Underemployment can't be tracked as closely as unemployment, but we know from studies of what happened in the Great Depression there's a chronic impact," Newman said. "Young people working jobs they're overqualified for don't get trained or encouraged to advance and become successful, and both they and employers lose out."

5 Bell tolls for India's Congress party (Jagdish Bhagwati & Arvind Panagariya in The Economic Times) Politics in Asia’s two giants, India and China, has suddenly turned very uncertain. China remains in authoritarian mode, of course. But egregious human-rights violations and suppression of dissent are raising the spectre of growing internal disruptions.

By contrast, India, with its firmly rooted liberal democracy, smells to some like roses. But many believe that India, too, faces uncertain political prospects. In particular, there is widespread belief in India today that one of the country’s two main political parties, the Indian National Congress, essentially run by Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, has now run its course and will sink into oblivion.

The problem is that brand-name politics is increasingly at a discount in India, much as it is in the United States. Like the Kennedy and Bush brands, the Nehru-Gandhi label has lost its lustre in India. That is partly a function of rapidly changing demographics. Individuals born after 1975 now account for a very large proportion of the electorate. For these voters, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi are merely historical figures, and are a distant memory even for many voters born before 1975.

6 Please give me an identity (The Economic Times) Janmejaya Sinha, chairman, Asia-Pacific of BCG says that for almost every Indian, perhapss the toughest thing to prove to the authorities is his or her identity. He concludes by suggesting, please read The Trial by Franz Kafka and then take the time to go by the seaside and yell out loud, "My name is ----, please believe me". But maybe not -- no one will. Not in India.

7 India food subsidy bill at Rs 728bn (The Financial Express) If Central and state taxes and generous subsidies coexist in India’s fuel sector, the food sector is no different. Various state-level taxes on grain procurement inflate the Centre’s food subsidy bill by almost 14%. The government’s food subsidy bill rose 14% to Rs 728bn in the fiscal year through March, contributing significantly to the fiscal deficit which grew by one percentage point to 5.8% of the country’s gross domestic product.