Politics & the Nation
  • Russia says that Dawood Ibrahim is involved directly in the recent Mumbai terrorist attack
    • Reportedly his network of drug peddlers provided logistic support for the terrorists.
    • One snippet that we came across while reading this report is about CCIT: Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism
      • India reportedly sought Russia’s help in pushing the CCIT, which India had sponsored at the UN General Assembly. Russia is reportedly willing to work with India to “inject new dynamism” in the convention that has been held up over the definition of terrorism. 
  • Celebrities to get a taste of the rough and tumble of legal consequences for the endorsements they make
    • If the ad is smart but the product turns out to be a dud, who is responsible? A law-in-themaking says the hot celebrity in the ad is as much to blame for duping consumers as the company which owns the brand. The new Companies Bill 2008 proposes sending celebrities to jail for up to three years if they induce consumers to buy a product with misleading claims. The Bill also wants the company to pay Rs 50 lakh as penalty for cheating consumers. Currently, such companies face a Rs 1-lakh fine. The Bill was tabled in Parliament in October. 
    • What's your take on this issue?  Shoot your opinions in the shoutbox.
    • In 2002, top celebs like Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Sachin Tendulkar endorsed the Mumbai-based brokerage firm Home Trade. Later, it was exposed as a company that swindled more than 25 co-operative banks of Rs 600 crore. 
  • A very good article on NREGA
    • Recommend a read.
    • While I keep reading about NREGA's success story from these experts, I also keep hearing from ryots in my village complaining about how NREGA has a couple of negative side effects:
      • They say that it has promoted laziness amongst rural farm workers.  Working not even for a half day, the workers are given Rs. 100/- as wage.  So, these people are happy the way the system works and prefer to have a peg or two and go home for the day.
      • Secondly, this is negatively impacting the availability of farm labour in times of need.  The labour are not at all interested in working on the farm as they can avoid the hard farm work.  So, in spite of the ryots willing to pay and hire more workers, in some villages labour is simply not available.  
    • My suspicion is that if things continue in this fashion for a few more years, at least in these areas we will witness a gradual shift in agricultural practices; whether we like it or not.
Finance & Economy
  • Stimulus package; Round II to be finalized by the coming Sunday?
    • Look at the ideas being considered!
      • Increase limit for low-interest housing loans from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 30 lakh 
      • Raise tax rebate on home loans from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh per annum 
      • Reduce car and two-wheeler loan rates by 2% 
      • Increase depreciation and hasten disbursal of Cenvat credit for steel sector 
      • Safeguards for chemical, aluminium and tyre manufacturers against cheap imports 
  • TK Arun identifies three grounds for staying optimistic about Indian economy
    • Number one: the Indian economy depends far less on exports than other fast growing economies do. If the export market dries up, an export-dependent economy would face crisis. While India’s exports of goods and services together add up to a little under a quarter of the total output, the direct export contribution to gross profits and wages and salaries is less than 10% — substantial, but not huge. The indirect contribution would be significant, particularly in the case of high value exports like software and IT-enabled services. But these segments are likely to grow, rather than decelerate, as companies in the recession-hit large economies seek to cut costs through outsourcing. The bulk of the demand for India’s output comes from India itself. Consumption demand is about two-thirds of the output. 
    • Ground No. two: In aggregate terms, the bulk of Indian investment is financed out of domestic savings. The current account deficit is the measure of dependence on external savings for local investment, and this is about 2% of GDP. 
    • The third ground for optimism: All costs are coming down (save, strangely, of newsprint!). Oil prices are less than one-third their peak. Globally, food prices are down a fifth, metals are down by half and the Economist’s index for all commodities is down by a third. Freight costs are a fraction of what they used to be. 
    • So, why are we so despondent?  He attributes this to the general mood.  Then he says that the mere availability of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle is not enough; somebody has to bring the pieces together and solve the puzzle.  That somebody should be the political class and the bureaucracy working in tandem.
  • Satyam backtracks on its deal to acquire stakes in Ramalinga Raju's son's firms
    • But the damage control exercise did not pacify stakeholders and there are now fears that the firm may be a target for hostile take over bids.
    • Let's just wait and see.
  • Caution about Barack Obama's plans
    • You might have by now noticed in various papers that Barack Obama is going to announce a huge fiscal stimulus package the moment he assumes office.  The plan emphasizes spending on infrastructure.
    • One interesting stat that appeared in the Economist, cautioning about his plan is that the 100 biggest metropolitan areas account for 65% of America’s population and 75% of its output. That is where the infrastructure is needed. But if “bridges to nowhere” start springing up in the boondocks, it will probably be money wasted.
  • Some interesting facts about China's agricultural communes and its SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) 
    • Rural reforms began in late 1978 in the central province of Anhui even as the party was holding its meetings in Beijing. Peasants in one commune there secretly started parcelling out land, expecting death for it, but soon gained backing from a provincial leader and Deng ally, Wan Li. Others gradually followed suit. By the time communes were formally dismantled in 1984, most had long disappeared in all but name.
    • In spite of this, land remains collectively owned, even though it is leased out to individual households to farm. This system has shut farmers out from the boom that cities have enjoyed as a result of the rapid emergence in the past few years of a free market in property.
    • In the late 1990s around 30 million workers were laid off as a result of SOE reform.  Between 2001 and 2006 the number of SOEs fell from 370,000 to 120,000, but this still left assets worth $1.3 trillion in state control.
Sporting and Branding
  • TATA announces branding strategy through Formula One races
    • Tatas and the Formula One organizers reportedly signed a branding sponsorship deal that will put the Tatas name on Formula One.
    • Can you imagine how much money the Formula One participating teams spend per annum on their technological innovations on the Formula One cars?
      • About $200 mn!!
Language lessons
  • boondocks
    • Noun: A remote and undeveloped area
  • bohemian
    • Adjective: Unconventional in especially appearance and behaviour
    • Noun: A nonconformist writer or artist who lives an unconventional life
    • Noun: A member of a people with dark skin and hair who speak Romany and who traditionally live by seasonal work and fortunetelling; they are believed to have originated in northern India but now are living on all continents (but mostly in Europe, North Africa, and North America)