Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Eurozone deflation eases, joblessness at 3-year low; Stunning win for Nigeria Opposition; India police collect cow 'mugshots'

1 Eurozone deflation eases, joblessness at 3-year low (San Francisco Chronicle) Official figures have raised hopes that the current bout of deflation across the 19-country eurozone region could be over much sooner than anticipated while unemployment has fallen to a near three-year low — the latest in a string of indicators to suggest that the eurozone recovery has pushed up a gear in the wake of lower oil prices and a falling euro.

Eurozone inflation rates have been negative since last December, a headache that prompted the European Central Bank earlier this year to launch a 1.1 trillion-euro ($1.2 trillion) government bond-buying program on the lines of that pursued by the US Federal Reserve for many years.

The hope behind the stimulus, which is set to last till September next year, is to shore up the economic recovery and get inflation back into the system — the ECB looks to achieve inflation of just below 2 percent.

Lower oil prices aren't the only reason why there is increasing optimism around the eurozone's economic outlook. The recent sharp fall in the value of the euro to near decade lows against the dollar has also been credited for the improving underlying picture — a lower currency can boost growth by making exports cheaper and can raise inflation by making imports more expensive.

2 Stunning win for Nigeria Opposition (Monica Mark & David Smith in The Guardian) Nigerian opposition leader, Muhammadu Buhari, has swept to victory in the country’s presidential election, a political earthquake that inflicted the first defeat on an incumbent in the history of Africa’s biggest democracy.

By Tuesday night Buhari had polled more than 15m votes, well clear of the sitting president, Goodluck Jonathan, on 12.8m, with all of the country’s 36 states declaring. As Buhari’s supporters took to the streets to celebrate, Jonathan called the challenger to concede defeat. The stunning result, which followed a uniquely competitive, expensive and at times vicious campaign, was hailed by analysts as a milestone for multiparty democracy on the continent.

But there was still uncertainty over whether elements in Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would relinquish power after 16 years or resist in the courts and on the streets. Buhari, a 72-year-old Muslim, first tasted power a generation ago as a military dictator, only to be ousted after 20 months and jailed. The former army general has campaigned as a born-again democrat intent on cleaning up the corrupt politics of the continent’s largest economy and most populous nation.

The first paragraph of the fedora-wearing Jonathan’s political obituary will surely make reference to his failure to stop a deadly insurgency by the Islamist militants Boko Haram, including his lacklustre response to the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok.

3 India police collect cow ‘mugshots’ (BBC) Police in one Indian state have told cattle owners to submit photographs of their livestock to help them enforce a new ban on selling beef. Officers in the city of Malegaon, in the western Maharashtra state, say the photos are needed for reference in case a criminal case arises under the recently introduced law, which bans the slaughter of all cows and sale and consumption of their meat.

The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act came into force on 2 March after taking 19 years to become law. "We are keeping the photographs for verification purposes only," police officials said.

The call for photographic evidence comes after three people were charged locally for selling beef, the first case under the new law. While the slaughter of cows was banned in Maharashtra state in 1976, the new law bans the slaughter of bulls and bullocks as well. Beef from buffalo is still legal. Those convicted face a fine and up to five years in prison.

The last official five-yearly census of livestock in India took place in 2012, and revealed a total bovine count of just over 21m animals in Maharashtra state, compared to a human population of around 112m.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ambitious plan to end global poverty by 2030; Teen libertarian captures Brazilian minds; The other Singapore

1 Ambitious plan to end global poverty by 2030 (Linda Yueh on BBC) Later this year, the UN is expected to adopt the World Bank's ambitious target of ending extreme poverty by 2030. It would mean that for the first time, everyone in the world would able to afford a refrigerator and other goods that would make life a bit easier. But, what would it take? Could we really see the end of poverty within a generation?

First, there's been a great deal of progress already. The poverty rate in the developing world has more than halved since 1981. Back then, 52% of people in developing countries lived on less than $1.25 per day. That's now dropped to 15%.

In terms of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, it meant that the target of halving poverty by 2015 from 1990 levels was achieved five years early. In 1990, more than one-third (36%) of the world's population lived in abject poverty. That was halved to 18% in 2010.

But, it was due largely to China. So, there are still about a billion people who live in extreme poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where the number of poor people has increased during the past three decades.

But, what about the billion people who still live in poverty? The World Bank projects that it's possible to end extreme poverty by 2030. But, it would take a heroic effort. The number of people in poverty will have to decrease by 50 million each year. That is the equivalent of about a million people each week for the next 15 years.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim is confident, but emphasised that it would require funding and a raft of targeted policies to raise incomes and productivity. Even so, the task of reducing poverty at that pace is so daunting that economists forecast that the global poverty rate is more likely to be 8% in 2030. That works out to be about 664 million people still living in poverty out of an estimated 8.3 billion people on the planet.

2 Teen libertarian captures Brazilian minds (San Francisco Chronicle) Microphone in hand and standing atop the sound truck, the raspy-voiced protest leader jabbed his finger into the air shouting for the ouster of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, igniting wild cheers from the crowd below him.

"What Lula and Dilma have done shouldn't just result in their being banned from politics. It should result in them being in jail!" Kim Kataguiri yelled, denouncing Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The March 15 demonstration was the largest Sao Paulo had seen in more than three decades, since 1984 protests demanding democratic elections after a long dictatorship. But more surprising than the crowd of more than 200,000 was the fact it was being led by Kataguiri, a skinny, 19-year-old college dropout, and other young Brazilian activists inspired by libertarianism and conservative free-market ideals.

The grandson of Japanese immigrants, Kataguiri is a social media star whose quirky videos skewer Rousseff and the ruling party's social welfare policies. His ascent as a protest figure has been rapid. Two years ago, when protests erupted across Brazil over corruption and poor public services, Kataguiri was a high schooler who avoided the unrest.

Today, he is the public face of the Free Brazil Movement, a growing force that is more focused than the 2013 unrest that expressed a wide range of middle-class anger. Brazil's new wave of protests are seen as a right-leaning movement clearly channeled against Rousseff and her Workers' Party.

3 The other Singapore (Rahul Goswami in Khaleej Times) The idea of a “founding father” of Singapore is as misplaced as the idea that here is a city which was once “third world” and through trade and globalisation became “first world”. Both ideas are untrue but both are popular, partly because the Republic of Singapore’s official machinery worked hard to get these views popularised.

The development of Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s is due to the efforts of a large and committed group of people – amongst them were Toh Chin Chye, S. Rajaratnam and Goh Keng Swee. This group was the peer group of the man who recently passed away, and whose passing has occasioned all the new, mostly misinformed, analysis.

Perhaps until the middle of the decade of the 1980s Singapore’s economic development actually helped the majority of Singaporeans. The lives of ordinary Singaporeans did improve, especially when compared with countries that were yet to become the misnamed ‘Asian Tiger’ economies. That period did not last for even a generation.

The reasons are not far to seek. Singapore’s ruling party went through changes that altered, fundamentally and unfortunately, its character. Under the direction of the man who recently passed away, the first generation of workers and people’s leaders who shepherded Singapore through a tumultuous independence that included a fractious parting with Malaysia (the Federated States) was removed.

The replacements for this generation were to prove utterly unequal to the task that had defined itself in 1965, when Singapore became an independent republic. Gradually, Singaporeans began to feel new burdens - health subsidies were reduced, the prices of public housing and education rose, the wages of low-income workers started stagnating.

The spin-doctors for new Singapore did not once mention the fear that was instilled into even the highest levels of governance was responsible for breeding a generation (now two generations) of an unquestioning proletariat.

This is the sorry legacy of the man who recently passed away - a small country of unhappy serfs struggling under burdens their parents never dreamt would fall upon Singaporeans, a small country whose income inequality is shameful, whose ruling party has kept itself in power for half a century, whose press freedom ranks on a par with Rwanda and Iraq, whose ‘meritocratic’ and ‘champion of globalisation’ government controls an estimated 60 per cent of the economy. It is a dreadful legacy that hard-working Singaporeans deserve to be rid of.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Deal creates world's largest travel retailer; South Korea to join China-led Asian bank; Japan's emphasis on quality time at home

1 Deal creates world’s largest travel retailer (BBC) The Benetton family has sold its controlling stake in World Duty Free to Switzerland's Dufry. The deal creates the world largest travel retailer, with a market share of 25% and projected annual sales of $9bn (€8.3bn; £6bn).

Dufry is paying €10.25 a share for the 50.1% stake, valuing the group at €3.6bn. World Duty Free operates 495 stores in 98 airports, including London's Heathrow and Gatwick. Based in Basel, Dufry has 1,650 stores in more than 60 countries with around 20,000 employees.

Last year it made a record turnover of $4.3bn. That compares to World Duty Free's turnover of $2.6bn, currently owned by Edizione, the holding company of the Benetton family. Retail spending at airports is expected to rise in the years ahead, particularly in Asia where more than 350 new airports are set to be built.

2 South Korea to join China-led Asian bank (Straits Times) South Korea expects to take a stake of 4 to 5 per cent in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in which it is seeking to be a founding member, a deputy finance minister has said.

South Korea also seeks to play an important role in the management of the proposed bank, Deputy Minister Choi Hee-nam said on radio, noting that the senior management positions had yet to be discussed. "Stakes of the individual members will be decided based on economic size and other factors, and it looks like (South Korea's stake) will be 4 to 5 per cent," Choi said.

He said South Korea has a 5.1 per cent stake in the Asian Development Bank, which is dominated by the US and Japan and to which the AIIB will likely be a major challenge.

3 Japan’s emphasis on quality time at home (Khaleej Times) Japan's prescription to use the sunlight at its maxim has a science of its own. Though many countries across the globe, including the US and Scandinavian countries, rewind and forward their clocks to make use of daytime and cope with long chill nights, Tokyo’s contribution to it is more in social essence.

While energy factor is of pivotal importance in such decisions, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes that workers can spend quality time in the evenings back home by avoiding late working hours. The island-nation state wants government employees, at least, to get to work earlier in the summer to improve their work-life balance. The dictum is not clear as far as the private sector is concerned, which employs the maximum workforce in Japan.

Abe says if the public sector can start as early as 7.30 am and wind up their chores by five in the evening, they will be left with many more hours to spend with their children and parents. Japanese work for an average of 1,745 hours each year, which according to the OECD is much more than their European counterparts. But as far as Japan is concerned, which is one of the most ageing societies in the world, it will be a welcome social aspect to see people getting more time for child-rearing and taking care of the elders.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Europe's easy-money endgame; Brazil stagnates in 2014; Why people are so mean online

1 Europe’s easy-money endgame (Hans-Werner Sinn in The Guardian) The euro has brought a balance-of-payments crisis to Europe, just as the gold standard did in the 1920s. In fact, there is only one difference between the two episodes: during today’s crisis, huge international rescue packages have been available.

These rescue packages have relieved the eurozone’s financial distress, but at a high cost. Not only have they enabled investors to avoid paying for their poor decisions; they have also given overpriced southern European countries the opportunity to defer real depreciation in the form of a reduction of relative prices of goods. This is necessary to restore the competitiveness that was destroyed in the euro’s initial years, when it caused excessive inflation.

There are four possible economic and policy responses to this state of affairs. First, Europe could become a transfer union, with the north giving more and more credit to the south and later waiving it. Second, the south can deflate. Third, the north can inflate. And, fourth, countries that are no longer competitive can exit Europe’s monetary union and depreciate their new currency.

Each path is associated with serious complications. The first creates a permanent dependence on transfers, which, by sustaining relative prices, prevents the economy from regaining competitiveness. The second path drives many debtors in crisis countries into bankruptcy. The third expropriates the creditor countries of the north, and the fourth may cause contagion effects via capital markets, possibly forcing policymakers to introduce capital controls, as in Cyprus in 2013.

QE in the eurozone will bring about the inflation that Draghi wants via higher import and export prices. Whether this effect will be sufficient to revitalise southern Europe remains to be seen. There is a risk that Japan, China and the US will not sit on their hands while the euro loses value, with the world possibly even sliding into a currency war.

The southern EU countries, instead of leaving prices unchanged, could abandon austerity and issue an ever greater volume of new bonds to stimulate the economy. Competitiveness gains and rebalancing would fail to materialise and, after an initial flash in the pan, the eurozone would return to permanent crisis. The euro, finally and fully discredited, would then meet a very messy end. One can only hope that this scenario does not come to pass, and that the southern countries stay the course of austerity. This is their last chance.

2 Brazil stagnates in 2014 (Straits Times) The Brazilian economy, the world's seventh-largest, posted near-stagnant growth in 2014, expanding just 0.1 per cent, and will likely enter recession this year, officials said.

Hosting the World Cup in June and July and gearing up for the Olympics next year failed to reverse the drag of rising inflation, a ballooning deficit and a $4 billion kickbacks scandal at state oil giant Petrobras that has tarnished Brazil's largest company and President Dilma Rousseff's party.

It was the fourth year of lacklustre growth for the South American giant, whose economy expanded 2.7 per cent in 2013, 1.8 per cent in 2012 and 3.9 per cent in 2011, under a revised calculation system that took effect this month. Rousseff has never managed to match the blistering 7.6 per cent GDP growth Brazil posted in 2010, the last year in office of her charismatic predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The central bank is expecting an even worse year in 2015, forecasting a contraction of 0.5 percent. Analyst Alex Agostini, chief economist at Brazilian firm Austin Rating, predicted modest growth of around 1-2 per cent in 2016 before a return to stronger growth of about 2.5 per cent in 2017.

Of the Brics group of emerging economies - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - Brazil posted the lowest growth for 2014. Russia's economy grew 0.6 per cent, China's 7.4 per cent and South Africa's 1.4 per cent. Brazil, the largest economy in Latin America, also had the poorest GDP growth in the region outside crisis-hit Venezuela.

3 Why people are so mean online (Jane Wakefield on BBC) It used to be the case that people got their gossip over the garden fence or from a bit of curtain twitching. But now we have the internet and the nature of chat has changed forever.

We have all seen nasty comments online - whether they be a row on Twitter or a catty response on Facebook. The internet acts like a kind of digital-fuelled alcohol, freeing us to say things to strangers that we would never dare to say if we met them.

Dave Harte, a lecturer in media communication at Birmingham City University, believes that social media gives us a connection with each other that we are all craving. "People with shared interests come together but often they would disintegrate because the internet gives people the opportunity to say things that you wouldn't say face to face," said Mr Harte.

Trolling has become an established term for people who sow discord on the internet by starting arguments - and there are a lot of them around. Women seem to be particularly prone - a survey conducted by cosmetics firm Dove and Twitter found that in 2014 over five million negative tweets were posted about beauty and body image - and four out of five of them appeared to come from women.

The problem is that the nature of the internet means that within groups and the wider social networks we are all part of, people are only a few clicks away from being able to annoy frustrate or upset a whole range of people - often strangers. And for many the temptation to respond to a post they find annoying or frustrating is just too hard to resist.

Japan on brink of deflation; Worrying over a robot uprising; Pilot on a suicidal mission

1 Japan on brink of deflation (BBC) Annual core consumer inflation in Japan, the world's third-largest economy, stopped rising for the first time in nearly two years in February. The core consumer price index (CPI) was flat from a year ago, stripping out the effect of last year's sales tax increase in April. The last time the core CPI did not rise was in May 2013, when it was flat.

The latest figures are moving further away from the Bank of Japan's (BOJ) inflation target of 2%.  Japan's economy came out of a recession in the fourth quarter of last year, but its recovery remains fragile on sluggish household and business spending. Economists said the data put more pressure on the central bank to expand its monetary policy as falling oil prices keep inflation subdued.

The unemployment rate, however, fell to 3.5% in the same time period - close to what economists see as full employment. Jasper Koll, head of research at JP Morgan, viewed the data as "good deflation" saying that the good news was prices in Japan were coming down while wages were going up.

2 Worrying over a robot uprising (Marcus Gilmer in San Francisco Chronicle) As artificial intelligence continues to evolve, it’s no wonder that some of us are getting a little worried about just how advanced it’s getting: when will AI outstrip our own? Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is now expressing similar concern.

In a radio program, Musk discussed the advancements in artificial intelligence over the years and expressed his own concern with its growing power. Musk warned that once robots reached the stage of “superintelligence,” they’ll simply overpower humans and keep them “like a pet labrador if we’re lucky.”

Musk’s concerns echo those that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak made in a recent interview: Like people including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have predicted, I agree that the future is scary and very bad for people. If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they’ll think faster than us and they’ll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently.

Bill Gates expressed his concern earlier this year: I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.

Of course, the warnings require the usual grain of salt. While expressing all those concerns, Musk seems pretty comfortable pushing his own cars to the forefront of autonomous driving. And there are plenty of smart people who say the fears are overblown.

3 Pilot on a suicidal mission (Khaleej Times) If the testimony with reference to the Germanwings crash is to be believed, there couldn’t be a more disgusting episode in the history of aviation. The very belief that the co-pilot of the ill-fated flight wanted to deliberately destroy the aircraft, and went ahead with his intentions, has opened a Pandora’s Box over the scheme of things that would come under suspicion on each and every flight.

As per stated records and bona fides available with the German airline, Andreas Lubitz – the co-pilot, was no extremist and was a promising professional. The biggest question, however, that should be asked is that when the authorities kept on monitoring that there wasn’t any response from the cockpit for more than 10 minutes, they should take extraordinary measures, such as flying a sortie from the air force to ensure that nothing is terribly wrong.

The findings from the Black Box, which proves that the pilot was locked out and the co-pilot had his way till the aircraft carrying 144 passengers and crew was doomed over the French Alps, raises questions of security and safety in similar circumstances.

A crude question that could be posed is that if the cockpit is taken over by hijackers or terrorists, there should be a parallel ground contact system from the tail of the aircraft – and the crew and flight commandoes should be aware of it. This question can lead to many discoveries and a debate over its merits and demerits. But there is no harm in it. This tragedy could have been avoided had there been some critical thinking undertaken at the spot of time. Such deliberate-suicidal acts from the cabin personnel fall in the gambit of crimes against humanity.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kraft, Heinz to merge; 'India is tough but rewarding'; Milk as dementia beater

1 Kraft, Heinz to merge (Jill Treanor in The Guardian) A string of kitchen staples such as Heinz ketchup and Philadelphia are to become part of the same company, after a $100bn deal engineered by legendary investor Warren Buffett and the Brazilian private equity company 3G to buy Kraft Foods.

Buffett and 3G are paying nearly $40bn to acquire Kraft, and will merge it with HJ Heinz, which was bought two years ago by the same two investors. The deal will create the world’s fifth largest food and beverage company – but immediately raised concerns about jobs in the combined workforce of around 50,000.

The enlarged company will be known as the Kraft Heinz Company and will be the third largest food and beverage company in the US. 3G Capital is run by Brazilian former tennis player Jorge Lemann, who is now the country’s richest man with a fortune estimated at $25bn. Lemann, who also owns Burger King, built his empire on a beer business. He relocated to Switzerland after threats to kidnap his children.

2 ‘India is tough but rewarding’ (Issac John in Khaleej Times) The Indian economy is poised for a big take-off, but the business environment has to become more globally competitive to draw international businesses and foreign direct investments, said panelists at a seminar on the Indian budget held in Dubai.

The budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in February seeks to prepare the economy for a paradigm shift in the way of doing business to ensure enhanced global competitiveness across all sectors, speakers at the Times Now event entitled “The Indian Budget Impact 2015” said.

Anurag Bhushan, Consul-General of India to the UAE, quoted IMF managing director Christine Lagarde as saying “India is a bright spot in the cloudy global horizon”. He urged investors not to see the government budget as a one-day affair, but as work in progress. He said the new government in Delhi has done a great job in emphasising that economic management is a 365-day task, not confined to the day of the budget.

India ranked 142nd among the 189 countries surveyed for the latest World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report released in October 2014, a drop of two places from last year’s ranking. In the annual Global Competitiveness Report 2014-15 released by World Economic Forum, India slipped to 71st position — the lowest among Brics countries — in 2014. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that he would like to see India breaking into the top 50 in three years.

The panelists said new measures such as simplified bankruptcy laws, a mechanism for easier regulatory clearances and the revisiting of the public-private partnership model are all key to improving the ease of doing business.

3 Milk as dementia beater (Jenny Hope in Daily Mail) Drinking three glasses of milk a day could help stave off diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, say researchers. A new US study shows a link between milk consumption and higher levels of a naturally-occurring antioxidant called glutathione in the brain in older, healthy adults.

The powerful antioxidant may minimise damage to brain cells from free radicals, destructive groups of atoms made as a by-product of metabolism that can damage cells. Antioxidants help to neutralise this type of oxidative stress in the body. The study was carried out at the University of Kansas Medical Center by associate professor of neurology In-Young Choi and Debra Sullivan, professor and chair of dietetics and nutrition.

The researchers found those who said they had drunk milk recently had more glutathione in their brains. Oxidative stress is known to be associated with a number of different diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and many other conditions, say the researchers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Upturn in Eurozone business activity; What zero inflation means for UK; India court gives boost to online free speech

1 Upturn in Eurozone business activity (BBC) Business output in the eurozone grew at its fastest rate in nearly four years in March, a closely watched survey suggests. The CIPS/Markit composite purchasing managers' index (PMI) rose to 54.1, compared with 53.3 a month earlier - it's highest level in 46 months. Any reading above 50 indicates growth while a reading below 50 points to a fall in activity.

Markit said the survey pointed to first-quarter economic growth of 0.3%. That would match the eurozone growth figure for the final three months of 2014. It said the improvement in business output was the result of growth in new orders that had increased at their fastest rate since 2011. Employment also grew at its fastest rate since August 2011.

Crucially, the survey showed that deflationary pressures eased in March with prices falling at the slowest rate since July. Markit added there was some anecdotal evidence that the European Central Bank's (ECB) stimulus measures were beginning to be felt.

Manufacturing prices rose for the first time in seven months, albeit only modestly. Meanwhile, in the service sector, prices fell, but the rate of decline was the weakest for nine months. Business activity in Germany rose to to its highest level in eight months as new orders hit a nine-month record. The French economy also saw business activity increase for a second month.

2 What zero inflation means for UK (Larry Elliott in The Guardian) Britain is within a month of a period of deflation. When the figures for March come out next month cheaper energy bills will mean that the cost of living is lower than it was a year earlier.

These are uncharted waters for the UK, at least in the modern era. The general assumption is that this is good news all round, even though some people do better out of zero inflation than others. Pensioners benefit because the triple lock means that the state pension is uprated by whichever is highest of the annual inflation rate, average earnings or 2.5%. At present it is 2.5%.

Deflation is also a boon for those with cash in the bank, since their money will buy more in the future than it does now. Losers include those with debts, which rise in value if prices are falling.

There are two reasons economists think zero inflation is a good thing. The first is the boost to living standards from wages rising faster than prices. Wages have risen extremely slowly since the recession of 2008-09 and even against a backdrop of falling unemployment are currently only going up by 1.6% a year.

The second boost to consumers comes from the outlook for interest rates. It will come as no surprise to the Bank of England that inflation now stands at zero. All nine members of the Bank’s monetary policy committee are in favour of official interest rates remaining at 0.5%, which is where they have been since early 2009.

3 India court gives boost to online free speech (Niharika Mandhana in The Wall Street Journal) India’s Supreme Court has struck down legislation barring “offensive messages” online, saying it violated constitutional guarantees of free expression. A two-judge panel voided a part of India’s Information Technology Act that made it a crime to share information through computers or other communications devices that could cause “annoyance, inconvenience” and “enmity, hatred or ill will.”

“This provision was hugely problematic for anyone using the Internet in India and that is gone,” said Sunil Abraham, head of the Bangalore-based Center for Internet and Society. “The court has removed the additional, unconstitutional limits to free speech.”

Enforcement of the law has sparked controversy for years. In 2012, a 21-year-old was detained after complaining on Facebook about the effective shutdown of Mumbai for the funeral of a right-wing Hindu leader. Another person was also detained for “liking” her comment.

J. Sai Deepak, a New Delhi-based lawyer involved in the case, said the court decision was a significant victory for Internet companies in India. He said the law’s implementation—which earlier was “subject to the vagaries of the political winds of the state,” he said—would now be guided only by the free-speech rules laid down in the Indian constitution.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Promise and peril of drone economy; More women in charge means bigger profits; Farmers, traders, lions and the India beef ban

1 Promise and peril of drone economy (Straits Times) Emerging technologies can charm, baffle and vex all at once. Shorn of the hype, the performance of drones has yet to live up to expectations. External signals can interfere with their navigation systems, many are not able to sense obstacles or other flying objects, they lack autonomous intelligence to discern their relative position, and they are vulnerable to bad weather conditions.

So, those who criticise regulators for not being able to figure out what to do are missing the target. Drone champions themselves haven't figured out sound ways to address technological risks. Hence, giving them unbridled leeway to experiment in live settings would be sheer folly.

In the circumstances, it would be prudent for regulators to take a common-sense approach by heeding all security, safety and privacy concerns while offering novel technologies some room to breathe and grow safely. The challenge is to separate facts from fantasy.

Internet retail giant Amazon has been dreaming of drone delivery and has been granted some scope to run more tests. In battle zones, sophisticated drones have been used successfully to hunt down terrorists. But that's a far cry from having mass-produced flying robots routinely deliver pizzas, without crashing into walls, harming people or hurting operators, as reported. New rules cannot come soon enough to both protect society from potential ills while offering sufficient runway for a new technology to take off.

2 More women in charge means bigger profits (San Francisco Chronicle) Evidence is growing that gender equity is not just politically correct window-dressing, but good business. Companies are trying to increase the number of women in executive positions, yet many are struggling to do so because of a failure to adapt workplace conditions in a way that ensures qualified women do not drop off the corporate ladder, surveys show.

The case for companies to act is compelling. In a survey last year of 366 companies, consultancy McKinsey & Co. found that those whose leadership roles were most balanced between men and women were more likely to report financial returns above their national industry median.

Companies with more balanced leadership do a better job recruiting and retaining talented workers, reducing the costs associated with replacing top executives, McKinsey found. They also have stronger customer relations because management better reflects the diversity of society, and they tend to make better business decisions because a wider array of viewpoints is considered.

It's not just about hours. Women often struggle with a male-dominated culture at executive levels, surveys show. Some have accused such a culture for the aggressive risk-taking that led to the global financial crisis. IMF chief Christine Lagarde quipped that if collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, the crisis would look different.

3 Farmers, traders, lions and the India beef ban (Dawn) A renewed thrust by India prime minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to protect cows, worshipped by majority Hindus, has closed abbatoirs in Maharashtra state, making it hard for farmers to sell their animals, and restrictions are spreading to other states.

Even lions, tigers and leopards in Mumbai's national park are being fed chicken and mutton rather than their usual beef because the city's main abbatoir has been shut for the past two weeks, said S.D Saste, the park's assistant conservator. Maharashtra, India's second most populous state, extended a ban on the slaughter of cows to bulls and bullocks this month and other BJP-led states such as Jharkhand and Haryana have also tightened restrictions on trading beef.

Prices of buffaloes and cattle have fallen by 20-30 per cent in Maharashtra due to the ban and could drop further if more states follow its lead. Several thousand people, mainly from the Muslim community, will be rendered jobless in the beef trade and related industries like leather goods, leaders of the business community say.

The supply of hides to tanneries across India would also be hit, pushing up prices. Tanneries buy and process animal hides and sell leather to makers of shoes, handbags and accessories. Slaughterhouses in Maharashtra are now refusing to slaughter buffalo in protest at the ban, cutting off all beef supplies in a bid to put pressure on the government. Hindus do not consider buffalo to be sacred.

Meanwhile, Hindu nationalist groups affiliated to Modi's BJP want to set up more cattle camps and cow shelters to house animals no longer wanted by farmers. India has some 300 million cattle, and animals foraging for food are a familiar sight on the rubbish-strewn streets of towns and villages.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

France, Germany join Chinese-led Asia bank; Oil glut pulls prices to six-year low; The danger of erasing history

1 France, Germany join Chinese-led Asia bank (BBC) France and Germany are to join the UK in becoming members of a Chinese-led Asian development bank. The finance ministries of both countries confirmed that they would be applying for membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Last week, the US issued a rare rebuke to the UK over its decision to become a member of the AIIB. The US considers the AIIB a rival to the Western-dominated World Bank. The UK was the first Western economy to apply for membership of the bank. The US has questioned the governance standards at the new institution, which is seen as spreading Chinese "soft power".

The AIIB, which was created in October by 21 countries, led by China, will fund Asian energy, transport and infrastructure projects. These nations came together last year to sign a memorandum for the bank's establishment, including Singapore, India and Thailand.

2 Oil glut pulls prices to six-year low (Nicole Friedman in The Wall Street Journal) US oil prices slid to a fresh six-year low Tuesday on expectations that domestic crude stockpiles have risen to a record high. Light, sweet oil for April delivery settled down 42 cents, or 1%, at $43.46 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement since March 11, 2009.

Stored supplies of crude oil in the US are at the highest level in about 80 years, according to the US Energy Information Administration, and production continues to grow. Demand is typically restrained at this time of year as refiners process less crude while performing seasonal maintenance.

The EIA is set to release inventory data for the week ended March 13 on Wednesday, and traders expect it to show another gain in crude stockpiles. Concerns are mounting that oil inventories could reach maximum storage capacity in some locations, which could push down crude prices by limiting the places that producers could sell their crude. Brent, the global benchmark, settled down 43 cents, or 0.8%, at $53.51 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.

3 The danger of erasing history (Farish A Noor in Straits Times) It has come to light that the ancient city of Nimrud has been bulldozed into oblivion by the radical militant group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and with that one act of vandalism, much of the legacy of the Assyrian kingdom of old has been pummelled into extinction.

That vandalism is part of war is as old as war itself, and was something practised by everyone from the Mongols who sacked and burned the libraries of Baghdad to the Nazis who robbed museums across Europe. What is specific about ISIS' brand of vandalism, however, is that it was justified and motivated by a simpler longing for a simpler past, one that is unencumbered by traces of complexity and pluralism which the group so evidently loathes.

ISIS is not the first radical group to claim some sense of moral purpose in its systematic destruction of its own history: The Taleban did the same when it blew up the colossal statues of Bamiyan, despite the appeals by Muslim scholars from other Muslim countries too. Like the Taleban, the adherents of ISIS' ideology believe that the confusion and anxiety that defines their present condition is partly the result of their complex history that gave birth to the complexities of today.

It is a longing for a simple past that drives the likes of ISIS and the Taleban to do what they do. For the adherents of such movements, their simple message with its simple solution can be delivered only in a simplified setting where no alternative world views and thought systems exist. ISIS' longing to create a simpler-than-simple realm, where only one people of one faith community who hold to one culture and abide by one monological worldview, can be realised only once all other alternatives are removed from the equation.

This is a cautionary tale for all of us today, living as we do in a complex world beset by a wide range of challenges: The erasure of history and the denial of our complex past does not, cannot, and will not prepare us for the realities of the complex present.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Global economy 'too slow, brittle and lopsided'; Cement majors' merger in doubt; India's glaucoma menace

1 Global economy ‘too slow, brittle and lopsided’ (Khaleej Times) The global recovery is “too slow, too brittle and too lopsided”, the head of the International Monetary Fund said in India, describing Asia’s third-largest economy as a rare bright spot on a cloudy global horizon.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said that monetary policy in the world’s leading economies was out of step and, even if well managed, could cause “excessive volatility” in international financial markets. “Looking ahead, something better may yet come on the back of low oil prices and interest rates,” she said. “Still, there are significant risks to this fragile global recovery.”

The first of those was what Lagarde called “asynchronous monetary policy” in advanced economies, with the US and Britain normalising their stances while the euro area and Japan increase their monetary stimulus. More than six years after the global financial crisis, the world will grow by a sub-par 3.5 per cent this year and 3.7 per cent in 2016, Lagarde said, reiterating recent IMF forecasts.

The euro area and Japan were at risk of remaining stuck with low growth and low inflation, she said making it difficult to reduce unemployment and debts, and raising the risk of recession and deflationary pressures. Emerging markets, meanwhile, could face a “triple hit” of a stronger US dollar, higher global interest rates and more volatile capital flows, Lagarde said.

India’s economy is doing better than its peers, with recent policy reforms and improved business confidence set to boost growth to 7.5 per cent in the fiscal year that starts on April 1. But to anchor long-term growth and employ a workforce that will become the world’s largest by 2030, India needs to open up its labour market to women, boost financial inclusion and invest even more in infrastructure, she said.

Lagarde cited a new IMF working paper which found that only 33 per cent of women in India worked — below the global average of 50 per cent and a comparable level in East Asia of 63 per cent.

2 Cement majors’ merger in doubt (BBC) A deal to create the world's largest cement maker is in jeopardy after Swiss firm Holcim said its merger with French rival Lafarge could not go ahead "in its present form".

The two firms agreed to merge in April, with Lafarge shareholders receiving one Holcim share for each Lafarge share. But since then, Holcim's shares have outperformed those of Lafarge. If a merger were to go ahead the combined company would have sales of about €32bn (£22.8bn; $33.8bn).

"The Holcim Board of Directors has concluded that the combination agreement can no longer be pursued in its present form, and has proposed to enter into negotiations in good faith around the exchange ratio and governance issues," it said in a statement. In response, Lafarge said it remains committed to the tie-up and was willing to explore "the possibility of a revision of the parity, in line with recent market conditions".

3 India’s glaucoma menace (Odisha Samaya) Glaucoma will cause 5.8 percent of total blindness across India. Glaucoma is the third chief reason behind irreversible blindness in the country. Periodic eye exam are crucial to check glaucoma for everyone. According to health experts, regular eye check-ups are vital for early detection of ophthalmic condition of glaucoma.

Several eye hospitals have been conducting screening camps to create awareness about the need for early detection of glaucoma, which is called as the ‘sneak thief of sight.’ The services of the OPD clinics were available to all sections of the general population and for patients with symptoms and signs indicating glaucoma, further evaluation and essential management modalities were initiated free of cost.

According to a study, many people get to know about their condition and problem so late that by then their vision in one eye would already have been deteriorated or lost along with a considerable fall of vision in the other eye. The best way to protect against glaucoma is to go for periodic eye evaluation, especially for people who are above 35 years of age.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

China is world's third-largest arms exporter; Dollar keeps climbing, oil keeps falling; Job loss and the decade of distrust

1 China is world’s third-biggest arms exporter (San Francisco Chronicle) China has overtaken Germany to become the world's third-biggest arms exporter, although its 5 percent of the market remains small compared to the combined 58 percent of exports from the US and Russia, a new study says.

China's share of the global arms market rose 143 percent during the years from 2010-2014, a period during which the total volume of global arms transfers rose by 16 percent over the previous five years, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said.

Its share of the world market was up from 3 percent in the 2009-2014 period, when China was ranked ninth among exporters of warplanes, ships, side arms and other weaponry, said the institute, known as SIPRI.

The data show the growing strength of China's domestic arms industry, now producing fourth-generation fighter jets, navy frigates and a wide-range of relatively cheap, simple and reliable smaller weapons used in conflicts around the globe. China supplies weapons to 35 countries, led by Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, SIPRI said.

However, China's incremental growth and the yawning gap with industry leaders America and Russia show the limitations of its aspirations. The US retained a 31 percent share of the global arms market, exporting to at least 94 recipients. Countries in Asia and Oceania took 48 percent of US exports, followed by the Middle East with 32 percent and Europe at 11 percent, it said.

Russia was second with a 27 percent global share, 39 percent of which went to India — the world's largest arms importer overall. China took 11 percent of Russia's exports, followed by Algeria.

2 Dollar keeps climbing, oil keeps falling (Straits Times) The US dollar maintained its rally, trading near a 12-year high versus the euro as investors considered the timeline for higher US interest rates ahead of this week's Federal Reserve meeting.

Crude oil extended its slump. The greenback was at $1.0498 per euro in Tokyo, after reaching its strongest level since January 2003. The dollar held weekly gains of at least 0.4 per cent versus the currencies of Australia and New Zealand.

Standard & Poor's 500 Index futures slipped 0.1 per cent following a 0.6 per cent drop in the US gauge Friday. Oil slid more than 1.7 per cent in the US and London amid concern over the deepening glut.

3 Job loss and the decade of distrust (Khaleej Times) People who lose their jobs are less willing to trust others for up to a decade after being laid-off, according to a new research. Being made redundant or forced into unemployment can scar trust to such an extent that even after finding new work this distrust persists, found the study.

People’s willingness to trust others tends to remain largely stable over their lifetime. However, this work shows that a trauma like redundancy can shift people’s outlook of the world. “And this change persists long after the experience occurred,” said researcher James Laurence of the University of Manchester.

The study looked at the social costs of recession. Even a single experience of redundancy can lead to depressed trust. “This has important implications not just for the person involved but for society as a whole as trust can have significant benefits, from health and happiness, to social cohesion, efficient democratic governance and economic development,” Laurence added.