Politics & the Nation

  • The importance of Mumbai
    • Mumbai is among the top ten commerce centers in the world and contributes about 5% to India's GDP.
    • It accounts for 60% of customs duty collections, 40% of foreign trade and incometax collections each and 20% of central excise tax collections, besides Rs 40,000 crore ($8 billion) in corporate taxes to the Indian economy.
    • Mumbai also accounts for 25% of the industrial output, 40% of maritime trade and 70% of capital transactions in the economy. Mumbai's per-capita income is Rs 48,954 ($990), which is almost three times the national average.
  • India's demarche to Pakistan
    • India asked Pakistan to turn in India's Most Wanted. They include Dawood Ibrahim whose hand is suspected in the Mumbai carnage and also Masood Azhar, the terrorist who was exchanged for the release of IC 814 flight passengers a few years ago.
    • BTW what is a demarche?
      • That is the term used to describe a move or step or manoeuvre in political or diplomatic affairs.
  • I suggest a read of this report about Zardari saying that some rouge elements in Pakistan may be responsible for the carnage.
    • I can't agree with him more. Raising tempers between India and Pakistan are in the interest of these rouge elements. This is not to say that the fight being carried out by Pakistan against these elements under the banner of 'fight against terror' is laudable or sincere. That fight is more for appeasing US than anything else. But whatever may be the reason, it does us a lot of good by allowing Pakistan to concentrae its forces on borders other than India's. So, we should not play into the hands of these elements by riling the Pakistani government and strengthening their military's hardline stance against India. The modicum of civilian political authority that exists there will collapse with such a development.
    • Instead, what we should be doing is mobilize international opinion -- especially in international fora like the UN -- for an establishment of an international agency to fight terror anywhere. Let the countries of the world accept some limitations to their sovereignty in this regard. This means keeping silent when the international agency investigates, acts punitively against such groups or even arrests or bombs those responsible for terrorism.
    • Can such proposals succeed? We don't have a Nehru on the Indian political firmament at this juncture, who can set an agenda for the international opinion and steer it successfully, the way he did for NAM (Non-aligned movement). Understand why we need statesmen to lead the State?
    • In the absence of a statesman of such order, one debate that you shound not miss reading is about what we should be doing now. Though time consuming, some excellent inputs are found in today's perspectives. Worth a read.
  • This is one editorial that you should not miss.
    • I have also riled against ourselves -- the citizen at large and the society at large -- a few days ago in our blogs. Want a more sophisticated argument which identifies and gives an expression to the deficiencies in the way we put in place a political system? This editorial does it best.
    • We all should remember one thing -- one of my erstwhile bosses used to say -- "People get the government they deserve." So, if we are riling against the government or the political class now, the blame rests equally with us for electing or putting in place such a system in place.
Finance & Economics
  • Exports show a decline for the first time in 5 years!
    • Take a look at this graphic; it gives comparative performance of our exports and imports with previous year.
    • Exports fell to $12.8 billion in October from $14.58 billion in the same month last year.
    • Trade deficit was at 61% ($10.53 bn), after imports grew 10.6% to $23.36 billion in October, compared with $21.12 billion a year ago.
    • Trade deficit estimates for Apr-Oct widen to $72.99b. Imports: $187.78 bn
    • A recap of some personalities in connection with export and import performance of India:
      • Ajay Sahai, director general of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, a trade body of several export groups.
      • RS Gujral, the Director General of Foreign Trade.
      • Amit Mitra, the Secretary General of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
    • The drop in exports is directly affecting employment. About 500,000 jobs could be lost in the textile sector alone over the next five months, textile ministry estimates suggest.
  • Some automotive sector related national institutes / establishments in India
    • NATRiP: National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project, Delhi
      • It was established to create a state-of-the-art testing, validation and R&D infrastructure, at Manesar, Chennai, Indore, Silchar, Rae Bareilly, Pune and Ahmednagar.
    • ARAI: Automotive Research Association of India, Pune
    • VRDE: Vehicle Research and Development Establishment, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra.
      • ARAI and VRDE already have testing and homologation centres. They are going to be upgraded as part of the NATRiP project.
  • Take a look at these money laundering figures
    • In 1996, the International Monetary Fund estimated the aggregate size of money laundering in the world could be anywhere between two and five percent of the world's gross domestic product. Taking world GDP at $60,100 billion in 2008, that gives us something between $1,200 billion and $3,000 billion of the likely sums involved.
  • Bird flu outbreak in Assam
    • Even as we were coming to terms with the Mumbai carnage, bird flu outbreak last week in Assam went unnoticed.
    • Reportedly over 40,000 poultry was culled.
    • The H5N1 strain, that cuases bird flu, could mutate into a form easily transmitted between humans and spark a deadly pandemic.
  • AIDS
    • Last year, according to UNAIDS, the international body charged with combating it, 2.7m people were infected, bringing the estimated total to 33m.
    • The rate of new infections now is 20 per 1,000 people per year.
Science & Technology
  • What is slipstreaming?
    • Conserving energy by following the leader, as in a flock of birds. It can give a rider or driver that extra bit of juice to pull ahead at the very last moment.
    • In the natural world, however, it is the leader that enjoys a significant dynamic advantage over the followers.
  • Hillary Clinton named the Secretary of State finally.
  • Maldives has a new government in place
    • Mohamed Nasheed, a former political prisoner, was sworn in as President of this island nation early this month.
  • Poznan conference
    • This is the city in Poland where the next round of climate change talks under the aegis of the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) are scheduled to be held in this month.
    • The talks are not expected to result in a new deal that will succeed the Kyoto protocol; but are expected to bring in lot of clarity about what countries are looking for on issues such as emission cuts and forest protection like:
      • the scale of commitments that countries are willing make on cutting emissions
      • the scale of financial resources that developed nations are willing to commit
      • what institutions will run various funds and mechanism etc.
    • But as UN negotiators talk in Poznan, the European Council will be holding sessions in Brussels (Belgium) aimed at finalising its climate and energy package, which will clarify the scale of the bloc's eventual unilateral commitments.
    • The council is likely to endorse plans to cut EU emissions by 20% by 2020, or by 30% if there is a new global deal, and to provide 20% of all energy from renewable sources by the same date.
    • Yvo de Boer is the executive secretary of the UNFCCC.
  • Pakistan gets bailed out by IMF
    • With a $7.6 bn bail out package of which it can avail of $3.1 bn immediately. The remaining being available over a 23 month period.
    • Before it turned to IMF, Pakistan tried its best to secure funding from Saudi Arabia, China and the US. Because its request was politely turned down, it had no other go but to seek comfort from the IMF, though it means swallowing a bit of national pride.
    • The IMF funding comes of course with the usual conditionalities attached to it like:
      • tightening of fiscal and monetary policy
      • phasing out of energy subsidies
      • raising taxes and
      • stopping borrowing from the central bank.
    • Questions remain over Pakistan's ability to stay in tune with the IMF's conditionalities, given the security constraints it faces -- especially on the fight against terrorism which is imposed by the US. Intriguingly, of the US assistance of about $10 bn given for this cause, reportedly about 70% is unaccounted for. While we in India, would like to read this as money having been spent on fighting India, others elsewhere would like to see this as having lined the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats in Pakistan and the US.
  • What has the credit crunch got to do with AIDS and STDs?
    • It reminded me of Steven Levitt's book 'Freakonomics.' How disconnected they look? How can AIDS and STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) have any connection with credit crunch?
    • People in Britain reportedly are finding that they have more than their usual free time. Surveys pointed out that while many are filling their free time with window shopping and gossiping, many others are filling it up with having sex.
    • So the medical authorities are worried that credit crunch can result in an increase in AIDS and STDs. Hence they are advising that people should have contraception in mind while indulging in their favourite pastime.
  • India's internet users
    • India has been ranked fourth among the top 10 nations in the world with 81 million Internet users. United States leads the chart with 220 million Internet users followed by China (210 million) and Japan (88.1 m).