Politics & the Nation
  • See what you should be prepared for even after logging an experience which could be the cynosure of all eyes!!
    • Gujarat government's registrar of cooperatives is reported to have issued a notice to Verghese Kurien, India's milkman, withdrawing the facility of GCMMF provided car and personal staff.
    • It is beyond doubt that Kurien has made great contribution to the cooperative movement in the country.  But even such people would not be immune from being targeted by petty politicking.
    • The lesson is this:  some of you would surely be reaching such great heights as Kurien did.  Beware and be prepared for all such mud-slinging.  We have seen too many great figures being treated with contempt like this.
  • What was the committee that has gone into the functioning of the IIMs?
    • Remember the RC Bhargava committee?  Today there appeared a critique on its recommendations.  Very good one.  Read it here.
Finance & Economics
  • RIL can sell natural gas from its KG basin find, says Court
    • This is one corporate legal battle that we have followed extensively in our blogs, as its importance stems from the fact that at stake is the sale of largest natural gas find in India for almost 3 decades.  Not just that, the adversaries arouse common man's curiosity too, being India's prime corporate family.
    • The Mumbai High Court is about to pass the final order in the case.  In the interim it has permitted RIL to sell the gas at government determined price of $4.2 per mmBtu.
    • We have covered it so extensively that it is better that you spend some time searching for 'KG basin' 'RIL RNRL' or 'gas dispute' in our search box.  
  • How can the withdrawing of outsourcing of work to India from the US harm both the countries?
    • In a very well written piece Prabhat Kumar points out six solid reasons.  Well worth a read and good piece for us to keep.
  • Fiscal deficit
    • The country's fiscal deficit in the first nine months of the current fiscal rose to Rs 2,18,262 crore, which is more than one-and-a-half-times originally budgeted for the whole year.
    • The government’s idea was to limit fiscal deficit to 2.5% of the GDP for the whole of the year, lower than 2.8% in the previous year.
    • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had projected that fiscal deficit would shoot up from the target of 2.5% to 5.9% of GDP.  GDP is estimated at Rs 60,12,400 crore. 
    • Sometimes tables give us a better picture than words, when we are studying such things as fiscal deficit.  Look at this table.
  • VES awards:  Visual Effects Society awards
    • These are popularly known as the Oscars of animation and visual effects industry.  
    • Indian film industry has just bagged its first nomination at the prestigious awards for its full length animation 3D film—Roadside Romeo, co-produced by Yash Raj Films and Disney.  It has been nominated in the ‘Outstanding Animation in an Animated Motion Picture’ category alongside big Hollywood animation films such as Dreamworks’ Kungfu Panda and Disney’s Wall-E. 
    • Tata Elxsi, the Bangalore-based VFX arm of the Tata Group, has done the entire animation for the film.
    • Debutante director Jugal Hansraj, who has acted in YRF films such as Mohabbatein, has written and directed Roadside Romeo. 
  • What is Super Bowl?
    • If you read US news, you are sure to come across this phrase.  What is it about?  I ran a check on Wikipedia.  This is what it says:
      • In professional American football, the Super Bowl is the championship game of the National Football League (NFL). The game and its ancillary festivities constitute Super Bowl Sunday. Over the years it has become the most-watched U.S. television broadcast of the year, and has become likened to a de facto U.S. national holiday.
      • The winning team receives this Vince Lombardi Trophy.
      • Since the game is now played on the first Sunday of February, it gets referred to as the Super Bowl Sunday.
    • We can say that Super Bowl:US::Cricket:India.  Such is the madness with which this is followed there in the US.  Of course even basket ball and base ball also equally compete for mind space there.


Politics & the Nation
  • Here is an excellent article on understanding or rather misunderstanding of Gandhi
    • Penned by Salil Misra, it is a must read for all of us.  Take a look.
    • One interesting excerpt from it is about Gandhi's understanding of Religion and Religions. In his world view Religion is a moral order and different religions are sets of belief systems and rituals.  That's why entry of Religion into politics is okay, entry of religions is not welcome.  Therefore, Gandhi wanted free India to be totally secular, based not on the majority of any religious sect or community but on the representatives of the whole people without distinction of religion.  Confusing?  A read of the article will surely clarify things to you.
Finance & Economics
  • What is looked for in a leader by business houses?
    • If you look at Jeffrey Immelt's describing of Obama, you will get a picture.  He said Obama "has demonstrated clam demeanour and forceful action in the few days since he has taken charge as US president."
    • Immelt himself is one of those great leaders in business today, displaying the very same qualities.  What endears him to India is the fact that he announced that GE will not be ditching Satyam.  This is a big morale booster for the employees and other customers of the beleaguered software services firm.
  • What are the top inventions/business ideas according to the top leaders in business?
    • In a poll conducted by ET, the Web, the mobile, the chip and Google are voted as the four biggest ideas ever. 
    • The 25 Great Business Ideas (continued here also ) poll saw honchos sticking to the 4Cs — connectivity, communication, costs and convenience — with another ‘C’, credit card, or plastic money, voted as the fifth-best idea. 
    • The group rated each of the 25 ideas on three parameters — originality, massimpact and relevance over time. The scores were averaged to arrive at the ranking. 
  • What's your take on the petro price reduction?
    • I am sure ET's editorial line as well as mine, will be in a hopeless minority.  But cautiousness on the expenditure front is warranted in the wake of such giveaways.  I support this viewpoint in today's ET:
      • The move would worsen public finances, further compromise the cash position of oilcos and provide, in effect, open-ended consumption subsidies for the non-poor. The issue of oil bonds thus far this fiscal — which would, of course, be redeemed from budgetary funds — add up to Rs 44,000 crore. It necessarily implies cutting back on more pressing heads, such as that for the social sector, for the like amount. It’s clearly misallocation of resources, which would go against the grain of inclusive growth and reform. 
      • Any takers?  I don't see any.  It's election time boy.
    • The total under-recoveries of oil companies for the year 2008-09 are now projected to be about Rs. 1,01,445 crores.
  • Ever heard of Nassim Nicholas Taleb?
    • He is the author of a best-selling book on finance - "The Black Swan"
    • His comment on the present state of US banking system that "we have a very strange situation in which it’s the worst of capitalism and socialism, a situation in which profits were privatized and losses were socialized" is worthy of our note. 
    • An excellent play with words; isn't it?  Of course, he has lot of substance also; not just words.
    • In the context of reports appearing that the US banking system will be sinking about $2 trillion in bad assets and the bailouts announced by the government are sure to make us agree with his views.
    • It is interesting (shout it be trepidation?) to watch the NPA position in our country too.  Reportedly the NPA levels are rising significantly from the first half of 2008-09.  
    • The gross NPAs in domestic banks are 2% — net NPAs stand at 1% only — which means less than one in 50 loans or equivalent in loan amount is not repaid beyond a defined acceptable level of default.  
    • An account is classified as NPA if the repayment process of the outstanding amount does not start within 90 days.  BTW, NPA stands for Non-Performing Asset.
  • Romulus Whitaker: ____ :: Jim Corbett: Tiger
    • Fill up the blank above.  I know I am just kidding.  For those of who don't feel so and those who feel so alike can get a peek into the commitment and work done by this great personality.  Worth reading.
  • US toying with regulating OTC derivatives?
    • OTC derivatives stands for over the counter derivatives.  It includes things like credit default swaps (CDS) whose market in the US alone is now reported to be about $29 trillion.  Draft regulation in the US is reportedly in favour banning most of the trading in CDS.  It appears to be in favour of making even OTC trades to be processed by a clearing house.
    • The overall OTC derivatives market is reportedly about $684 trillion in size.
Language lessons
  • kerfuffle: 
    • Noun.  A disorderly outburst or tumult


Politics & the Nation
  • An excellent example of a seasoned politician vs. the minnows
    • Look at Pranab Mukherjee's Sri Lanka trip!  The way he has gone about giving two crucial statements puts on display some panache and finesse in conducting foreign affairs and politics.
    • He made it clear that India doesn't hold a brief for LTTE and that it treats it as no different from any other terrorist organization; which is how it should be.  Then he emphasized that Sri Lanka should take all care to ensure that civilian casualties are avoided at all costs.  This should take the wind out of the sails of some of the pro Tamil parties in India.
    • An editorial comment worth our noting in this context:  
      • Colombo must be seen to be able to envisage and deliver a devolution of power to the minorities, including the Tamils. Indeed, it has been the very inability to do that which has led to the institutional disempowerment of the minorities, and which was also a catalyst for the civil strife. 
  • Khusrokhan and Partho Dutta to lead Satyam?
    • Former managing director of Tata Chemicals Homi Khusrokhan and ex-finance director of the Murugappa group Partho Datta are likely to form the top leadership team of fraud-hit Satyam Computer Services, according to reports.
    • Though they don't have direct experience in leading IT companies, they are veterans enough to lead the fraud hit Satyam.  Though they would be handling the CEO and CFO jobs, they may not be so designated to provide them immunity from possible future legal action.  They are likely to be appointed as Directors or advisors of the company.
  • Proof of travel not required for claiming LTA
    • Employers, while assessing the conveyance and leave & travel allowance (LTA) claims of their staff, are under no statutory obligation to collect supporting evidence and furnish them to tax authorities, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday. 
    • According to prevailing rules, if claims on LTA and conveyance are not supported by journey bills, they would be taxed. 
    • "The beneficiary of exemption under Section 10(5) (of the Income Tax Act) is an individual employee. There is no circular of Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) requiring the employer under Section 192 to collect and examine the supporting evidence to the declaration to be submitted by an employee(s)” the Court ruled.
  • Many of you raved and ranted about and poured your angst against political corruption in our shoutbox and through mails to me for quite some time.
    • Today's op-ed piece in ET will give you more grist to the mill.  Take a look.  But one excerpt that I couldn't resist from reproducing for our record:
      • In the absence of an institutional method of funding politics, we have the present, alternate method of financing: loot of the exchequer, extortion from the public, corruption of the entire system. The rot runs deep and breaks to the surface occasionally as toxic pistules that may take the shape of a Satyam here or an engineer beaten to death for not coughing up money for a birthday bash, somewhere else. 
Finance & Economics
  • Fuel prices reduced
    • Petrol price was reduced by Rs. 5 and diesel price by Rs. 2.  LPG prices were reduced by Rs. 25 for the 14.2 kg cylinder.
    • The price cut is expected to tame inflation and boost demand in the economy. 
Sports: Australian Open
  • Serena makes it to the finals
    • She beat Elena Dementieva in straight sets 6-3, 6-4 to reach the finals.
Language lessons
  • schoolmarmish
    • Resembling a schoolmarm; prim and strict.  A schoolmarm is a woman schoolteacher (especially one regarded as strict).
  • John Updike
    • This American writer in prose, is noted for his many works including "The Windows of Eastwick."  His writing have always been characterized by a sharp observation of American life.  One of his famous utterances about America is that it "is a conspiracy to make you happy."
    • Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom was the name Updike gave to American angst. A carefree character always trying to succeed while dealing with marriage and infidelity, wealth and health; almost a postwar child never quite able to understand and meet the demands of his own children. 


Politics & the Nation
  • There is so much more to the Satyam saga than could initially be comprehended
    • It looks like so, going by the newspaper reports that keep appearing with all the details about insider trading, botched IT investigations, humungous land deals etc.
    • I think it will be quite some time before the last in this episode can be said to have been written.
    • Let's just wait and watch the space.
  • Centre's attempts to take Mulayam off the hook in the disproportionate assets case backfires in Supreme Court.  An extract from a news report:
    • The Centre’s brazen attempts to wind up the disproportionate assets (DA) case against ally Mulayam Singh Yadav and his family members hit the judicial roadblock on Tuesday when the Supreme Court disallowed the CBI from taking a fresh line in the case. 
    • Throwing political propriety to the winds, the Centre not only shifted its stand on the case against the Samajwadi Party leader, but also changed the CBI counsel for appeasing its ally. As part of the quid pro quo politics that is being perfected by the UPA government, the Centre on Tuesday replaced additional solicitor-general Gopal Subramaniam as the counsel for CBI with another ASG, Mohan Parasaran. The change — done at the behest of friendly quarters — did not go unnoticed. A bench comprising Justices Altamas Kabir and Cyriac Joseph asked CBI to furnish an undertaking that it would not change its counsel in future. 
    • The latest stance of the Centre in the case is aimed at making the CBI the authority to decide on the merits of the case. The CBI is known to be mindful of the sensitivities of those in power as well as their friends. Tuesday’s development suggests that the government may not be able to dodge the SC’s watchful eyes in cases against Mulayam and his family members. 
  • The Mangalore incident
    • A motley group of people calling themselves Sri Ram Sene, reportedly attacked the Amnesia pub in Mangalore and assaulted and molested young girls on Saturday afternoon.  The repeated showing of these scenes of young women being chased, assaulted and molested by about 40 hooligans, has put the Karnataka government in an embarrassing situation and it had to condemn the incident and say that the law will take its course.
    • This is one more incident of some ragtag elements appointing themselves as the custodians of culture and saying that something is right or something is wrong for the Hindu culture.  They should leave it to the people concerned to decide as to what is good or bad for them.  
    • The VHP's stand as articulated by its local leader Pramod Muthalik, who has been promptly arrested, only betrays the real agenda of the VHP -- that of trying to be the arbiter and custodian of Hindu culture.
Finance & Economics
  • RBI keeps key rates unchanged
    • Having taken all the measures that it could, before the quarterly review the RBI was left with too little to announce anything in this policy review, save share its findings.  Only time will tell whether or not the bankers take the cue from the RBI and go about reducing the rates.
    • I think the RBI's current stances also is unexceptionable because it appeared to be too cautious to fire all its ammo at one go; given that elections are only a few months away and it is then that the burden of coming out with responses for putting the economy in order will be more on monetary authorities than on fiscal authorities.
  • What is the type of recession that we are currently witnessing?
    • Is it Keynesian or Hayekian?  What is the difference between the two?
      • A Keynesian recession represents a sudden fall in demand, and can be remedied within six months by pumping enough purchasing power into the economy. A Hayekian recession, however, is caused by misallocation of resources over a long period, driven by unrealistic interest rates, ending in a bust that requires years of structural adjustment. Such a recession can last a decade (as in Japan in the 1990s). 
    • For a more detailed explanation and an excellent exposition on the subject, you just can't afford to miss today's article by SSA Aiyar in ET.  Take a look.
Obituary: R. Venkataraman
  • INDIA’S eighth president Ramaswamy Venkataraman passed away on Tuesday. Elected to the post of President in 1987, Mr Venkataraman has distinction of working with four prime ministers in the course of his five year term. Of these, Mr Venkataraman appointed three—V P Singh, Chandrashekhar and Narasimha Rao. 
  • A diehard Congressman, Venkataraman earned for himself a reputation for fair play during his tenure in India’s highest constitutional office. Much of this reputation was earned as he presided over an era when India began its experiment with coalition politics. 
  • Aside from India’s venture into an age of fractured political mandate, Mr Venkataraman had to deal with tricky constitutional and political issues such as the Sri Lankan crisis, the Bofors Gun deal controversy, assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Defamation Bill and 1992 stock market scandal. 


Politics & the Nation
  • Republic Day parade celebrated with great fervour
    • The recent Mumbai terror attacks had made my resolve to observe R-Day stronger than ever.  Stayed glued to the TV to watch the parade at Delhi.  Took lot of pride in our military; though I was also immediately reminded of Rabindranath Tagore's and a few other sages' sayings that we all belong to one nation and one religion i.e., humanitarianism.
    • I was quizzed as to why our military wings have music bands.  I didn't recollect having studied anything about it.  I surmised that without music the march pasts of long columns of soldiers would be sombre and boring.  That is why I presume they would intersperse columns of marching soldiers with music bands.
    • Have a better explanation?  Please proffer it in our shout-box.
    • One important snippet that we should remember from GK point of view is the Chief Guest.  Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan.
    • And finally, it gives the government a lot of comfort that even Obama has sent out warm greetings on the occasion by saying that India has no better friend or partner than the US.
  • The DDA scam
    • Delhi Development Authority is known for being corrupt.  But what is shocking this time is that some top officials of the DDA in collusion with some real estate brokers have resorted to fictitious applications for the flats put on sale and garnered the flats for themselves.  The idea is to sell them in the kerb for a tidy profit.  To hell with the real and needy applicants.
    • Nationally, there is a huge demand-supply gap — over 20 million dwelling units — in low-to-middle income housing. 
Finance & Economics
  • Internet usage statistics in Asia
  • On generics and IMPACT
    • Generics are the cheaper versions of drugs on which the patent has expired. In India, very few drugs are patent-protected and almost all drugs are ‘generic’ as per international parlance. Indian firms — big as well as small — sell ‘generic’ or off-patent drugs at a price much lower than the inventor’s price. Indian generic drug industry exports medicines worth around Rs 30,000 crore. 
    • The MNC lobby therefore is obviously unhappy with the state of affairs and wants to clip India's pharma industry's wings.  It tried to do this through IMPACT (International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce), a WHO agency, which tried to redefine counterfeit drugs.  The redifinition would have made most of the generics made in India counterfeit, even when they contain the right amount of chemical ingredients.
    • The proposed new definition defines counterfeit drugs as medical products with ‘false representation about its identity, history or source.’ 
    • Luckily for India, WHO decided to shelve its plans of redefining counterfeit medicines.
  • What is scraping?  In internet parlance.
    • It refers to the act of stealing proprietary software like games.
    • When you can't stop your software from being stolen, what do you do?  Just join the thieves?  Right?  
    • That's what a web site called Games2Win.com has just done.  It came out with a technology called inviziads and placed ads on such stolen games from its website.  The moment a stolen game is played, the ads will pop up.
  • India ASEAN FTA to be signed in February?
    • India-Asean trade, which has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 27%, stood at $38.37 billion in 2007-08. It is projected to reach $48 billion in 2008-09. 
    • The FTA provides for elimination of tariffs on 80% of tariff lines in a phased manner by 2015. For about 10% of additional tariff lines on the sensitive track, the tariffs will not be eliminated but brought down to 5%. India has 489 items, mostly farm products, on the sensitive list which will not be subject to tariff cuts. 
  • Is there a difference between Hamas and Al Qaeda?
    • In an article of high intellectual calibre, Pothik Ghosh argues that it would be "inaccurate to equate Hamas with Al Qaeda merely because both articulate their politics in the idiom of religious Islam. The latter posits its Islam as an anti-democratic institution that needs to be imposed on the entire world in the form of an international caliphate. For Hamas, on the other hand, Islam is an organic language of resistance and autonomy. Al Qaeda is a force of fascist regression, Hamas, the harbinger of struggle and hope."
    • Students of political science should not miss such highly analytical articles.  Recommend a read for others also.
  • Japan urges people to have more babies!
    • At 1.34, its birthrate is well below the 2.0 needed to maintain Japan's population.  Hence the government as well as companies there are doing all they can to encourage people to have more babies.
    • As part of this effort Canon, is reportedly letting its employees leave early twice a week to encourage them to have more babies.
    • Keidanren, Japan's largest business group, with 1,300 major international corporations as members, has issued a plea to its members to let workers go home early to spend time with their families and help Japan with its pressing social problem.
  • What's the big deal about stem cell research?  Why is it in the news?
    • The US FDA has given its green signal to conduct stem cell research in humans.
    • Embryonic stem cells are master cells found in human embryos, which give rise to more than 200 specialised types of tissue in the adult body. They have vast medical potential, because the can be grown into any kind of tissue to replace cells damaged by injury or disease. Stem-cell therapies could eventually be used to treat conditions such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, as well as paralysis.
    • Use of embryonic stem cells, however, is contentious because they must be harvested from human embryos, which are destroyed in the process. This has raised moral objections from those who believe embryos have the same rights as living people and see the technology as unethical.
    • The issue is especially acute in the US, where it has become entwined with the fraught politics of abortion. Opposition to stem-cell research is led by the evangelical Christian lobby, whose influence prompted President Bush to ban most federal funding in 2001 — the Geron work was financed entirely by the private sector. Stem cell research is legal in Britain, where it is encouraged and funded by the Government.
Language lessons
  • conflate
    • Verb.  Mix together different elements
  • divvy up
    • Verb. Give out as one's portion or share


Politics & the Nation
  • The rich outnumber the poor in India?
    • In a study that is sure to raise the eyebrows of many an observer, NCAER's senior fellow Rajesh Shukla comes out with this startling finding.
    • His study predicts that the size of high-income homes — with an annual household income (AHI) of more than Rs 2.85 lakh — will rise to 46.7 million in 2009-2010 , overtaking the number of poor households at 41 million. The NCAER study pegged AHI for poor homes at less than Rs 71,000.
    • Medium-income households with AHI between Rs 71,000 and Rs 2.85 lakh are forecast to rise to 140.7 million in 2009-10, up from 138.4 million in 2008-09. 
    • Take a look at this graphic to get a picture of what he is saying.
  • One more recap of the facts leading to CBI probe in the SNC-Lavalin case
  • Ashok Chakra awardees
    • The Ashoka Chakra (military equivalent is Param Vir Chakra) is awarded to any individual, uniformed or civilian, for the most conspicuous bravery, or some act of daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice otherwise than in the face of the enemy.  This is the highest peacetime gallantry award that is conferred in the country.  Next is the Kirti Chakra.  
    • The Ashoka Chakra is awarded to former Mumbai ATS chief Hemant Karkare, the seniormost officer to be killed during 26/11, and assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Omble, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and Havaldar Gajender Singh Bisht of National Security Guard, who died in Taj Mahal Hotel and Nariman House encounter, Senior Mumbai Police officers Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar, Colonel Jojan Thomas and Havaldar Bahadur Singh Bohra of the Army, who died in fighting terrorists in J&K, Delhi Police inspector M C Sharma, who died in the Jamia Nagar encounter, R P Diengdoh of Meghalaya Police and Pramod Kumar Satapathy of Orissa Police.
Finance & Economics
  • Why are bailouts of private companies bad, when they are acceptable for banks?
    • Take a look at this reasoning given by no less a person than the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission:
    • Bailouts in the case of banks are not uncommon but the circumstances are very different.  These are regulated institutions, which take deposits from the public.  There is some presumption on the part of the public that the regulator has ensured the adherence of procedure.  All these factors justify government interventions.  A private company producing goods and services, competing in a competitive market cannot be treated on the same plank as banks.
  • Unity in diversity
    • I am sure many of you would have read a bit about it and perhaps even written a bit about it either as part of your academic pursuits or otherwise.
    • Take a look at this excellent piece penned by Rama Bijapurkar, one of the leading market analysts in India today.  Brings a different perspective to the subject.
  • Mobile number portability regime
    • The government had approved MNP in late-2007 and said the facility would be introduced in the four metros by the second half of 2008. Since then, implementation of MNP has missed several launch dates. Number portability has so far been introduced in countries like Australia, Korea, Japan, Canada, the US, the UK, most of Europe and Pakistan. According to reports, its introduction has been followed by up to 20-50% subscribers switching operators in some of these countries. 
    • Now the government has invited bids for implementing the MNP regime.
  • What is the Monroe doctrine?
    • Formulated in 1823, it proclaimed all of Latin America to be a zone of exclusive American interest.
    • But now, it is felt that globalization and dynamic changes in the economies and politics of its countries is providing Latin America with an opportunity to decrease the scope of its dependency on the United States, and thus to renegotiate, on better terms, its hitherto asymmetric relations with its giant northern neighbor.
  • A bit of history about social security measures
    • Social Security became law in 1935 in the US.
    • Older Americans gained universal health-care coverage with Medicare in 1965.  Even with this, the elderly in the US are finding it necessary to pay for a grater percentage of their overall medical bill.
  • Slumdog Millionaire bags the PGA
    • The Producers Guild award is considered an important bellwether for the Oscar success, as its members make up an important constituency of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes on the Oscars. In its first 19 years, 12 of the PGA’s top film picks went on to win the Academy Award for best picture, including last year’s champion “No Country for Old Men”, although the producers missed the mark for three straight years starting in 2005. 
  • Can you imagine a politician who defends drugs for the sake of maintaining law and order?
    • I was surprised to know that President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras has called for the legalization of drug consumption as a means to end the violence related to its production and trafficking.
    • Such is the exasperation in South America with violence that politicians appear to be giving up on hope to contain the violence.
Language lessons
  • nous
    • Noun: Common sense.
      • eg: she has great social nous.  His bureaucratic nous...


Politics & the Nation
  • PM undergoing bypass surgery today
    • Let us all wish him speedy recovery.
  • The preacher caught on the wrong foot
    • It is now CPM's turn to be embarrassed
    • The CBI has claimed that it has got clinching evidence against CPM's Kerala unit Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, who it alleges had indulged in a criminal conspiracy and abuse of his position as electricity minister to cut a sweetheart deal with Canadian power company SNC-Lavalin. 
    • Recommend a read of what we have noted about the controversy surrounding this deal earlier in Discover It.  The Kerala High Court had asked for a CBI probe into the issue in January 2007.  If you follow that up with this report that appeared in today's ET it will give you a good comprehension about the controversy.  
  • An excellent case for letting investigative agencies do their work in Satyam
    • Sample this excerpt from an article commenting about PwC's role: "Also, given that the audit firm in question was also involved in the affairs of Global Trust Bank and DSQ not long ago, it may be relevant to ask what corrective actions were taken by the firm to mitigate or prevent opportunities for fraud, reckless mismanagement, and conflicts of interest raising the potential for such behaviour within its own organisational set-up."  Then another one: "First, the inability of auditors to detect fraud and the diversion of funds separately or conjointly constitute a key element of the ‘expectations gap’ between public and professional perceptions of auditor’s responsibilities and usually gives leads to a possible collusion between the auditor and the management. "
    • In the wake of calls like these, I think the question about the role of auditor -- whether he is a watchdog or a bloodhound -- should be decided first.  This assumes lot of significance in view of the fact that Arthur Anderson, which saw its demise in the wake of Enron scandal, was ultimately absolved of any wrongdoing by the US Supreme Court; ironically much after the demise of the firm.
    • Couldn't get a better and forceful argument than this one that pleads for a balanced view of the role and responsibilities of independent directors and auditors.
    • A must read.
  • Is it a clear shift in US disposition towards Pakistan?
    • It is now widely quoted that the US President Barack Obama called Pakistan along with Afghanistan as the epicentre of terrorism threatening world security and that his administration would tackle both countries as a single problem. 
    • His comments are sure to be received with glee in India, which has maintained that terror coming out of Pakistan is a threat to not just India but the international community. The linking of Afghanistan and Pakistan as one problem is also being seen here as a positive development for the region. 
Finance & Economics
  • EAC admits to a slowing economy
    • The Economic Advisory Council to the PM has said that it expects the economy to grow by 7.1% instead of the 7.7% that it estimated earlier.  Further it also says that the fiscal deficit will be about 8%, if the subsidy payouts are included.  This is one figure that has been consistently touted by "The Economist" magazine since long.
    • If the deficits of states are also included, the country would be seeing a fiscal deficit which is well beyond 10% of the GDP.
  • Supreme Court rejects Vodafone contention about jurisdiction of IT authorities.  The chronology of events relating to this case which will have far reaching implications for cross border transactions goes like this:
    • I-T Dept asks why Vodafone should not be treated as assessee in default for failure to deduct tax on payment in respect of transfer of securities relating to Vodafone Essar Ltd 
    • Vodafone files a writ petition in the Bombay HC on January 28, 2008 challenging the notice 
    • HC orders that purchase of shares by Vodafone in Cayman Islands was liable to capital gains tax here 
    • Vodafone moves Supreme Court questioning the jurisdiction of Indian IT authorities to tax the deal 
    • Co may face $1.7b as tax & fine (same amount). Total outgo may rise to over $4 billion 
    • You can also take a look at what we noted in December, 2008 about this issue.
  • RIL's Q3 results show that it is impacted by the global slowdown
    • Its GRMs (gross refining margins) have taken a hit in Q3 because of the volatility seen in crude prices globally.
    • In the past, RIL has managed to sustain attractive GRMs above regional and global benchmarks, by efficiently sourcing crude — relying more on relatively lowpriced ‘sour’ crudes and exporting oil-products of the required specifications, as per prevailing demand conditions. The attendant flexibility in refining operations has paid rich dividends. 
  • Ever heard of 'Active inertia'?
    • This is a management concept that is attributed to Donald Sull.  It is used to describe management's tendency to respond to the most disruptive changes by accelerating activities that succeeded in the past.
    • Sull's wisdom says that times characterized by disruptive changes are best negotiated by companies that practice 'active waiting.'  It refers to anticipating and preparing for opportunities and threats that executives can neither fully predict nor control.
    • The best way to avoid active inertia, according to Sull is to have fuzzy vision and stop being glued to a well-defined future.  Fuzzy vision provides a general direction and sets aspirations without prematurely locking the company into a specific course of action.


Politics & the Nation
  • Satyam saga
    • With charges and denials flying high and thick, this saga is sure to satisfy the schadenfreude of many a competitor for Satyam.
    • Charges that Ramalinga Raju has systematically diverted money from the company through accounts opened in fictitious names of non-existent employees and that he fudged bank accounts and invoices have been aired by the prosecutors.  The defence has predictably denied the allegations.
  • Obama re-takes oath of office
    • It was reported that the Chief Justice of US John Roberts flubbed while administering the oath of office and that to avoid legal complications, Obama had taken oath of office again.
    • Instead of saying, “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States”, Roberts changed it to “I do solemnly swear that I will execute the office of the President of the United States faithfully”. 
    • Obama became only the third US President to retake the oath, after Calvin Coolidge and Chester Arthur. Herbert Hoover escaped even though, while swearing him in, Chief Justice Taft changed the phrase “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” to “preserve, maintain...”. 
  • Obama's messages to the world
    • At least his first few policy stances are notable for their premises.  Take a look at these:
      • “We intend to win this fight, we are going to win it on our terms” on pursuing the campaign against global terrorism. 
      • The idea that the US would pursue the struggle against violence and terrorism vigilantly, effectively and “in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.”  “It is precisely our ideals, which give us the strength and moral high ground to deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorism organisations around the world.”
      • His utterances that his administration would not “continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals”
  • M$ announces layoffs
    • Microsoft announced 5000 layoffs due to paltry growth in revenues, reported ChannelWeb.
    • The layoffs and other cost-cutting steps are expected to reduce the company's annual operating expenses by $1.5 billion and capital expenditures for fiscal 2009 by $700 million.
    • Microsoft said sales for the second quarter were $16.63 billion, up 2 percent from the same period one year ago. Net income was $4.17 billion, down 11 percent.
    • The numbers by themselves are not so startling; but the company that announced them surely makes us jittery.
  • Bjorn Lomborg is one whose writings I read with lot of interest and attention; for they bring with them a totally different viewpoint while seeking to reach the same conclusions as we all do.  Look at his take on tackling CO2 emissions:
    • Make no mistake: global warming is real, and it is caused by manmade CO2 emissions. The problem is that even global, draconian, and hugely costly CO2 reductions will have virtually no impact on the temperature by mid-century. Instead of ineffective and costly cuts, we should focus much more of our good climate intentions on dramatic increases in R&D for zero-carbon energy, which would fix the climate towards mid-century at low cost. But, more importantly for most of the planet’s citizens, global warming simply exacerbates existing problems. 
    • I suggest that all of you should read his piece that appeared in today's ET.
  • PepsiCo is reportedly preparing to launch a branded nimbupani offering.
    • This will perhaps be the first such attempt at offering something keeping the Indian consumer behaviour in mind.  If true, it will taste success surely.
    • A 'Thumbs Up' to Pepsi!!!  (Remember 'oxymoron' from our language lessons?  This is one such thing.)
Language lessons
  • flub
    • An embarrassing mistake.
  • schadenfreude 
    • Delight at other person's misfortune
  • AR Rahman receives three Oscar nominations for his contribution to Slumdog Millionaire:
    • Best Song(Jai Ho & O Saya) & Best Score
    • The film received nominations for Best Film and Best Director awards also.
    • The film received in all about 10 nominations.  They are: Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (2)


Politics & the Nation
  • US Presidential inauguration
    • While we have missed out on our notings yesterday, the taking of oath by Obama is one major event that we couldn't miss.  There was a media blitzkrieg covering it.
    • Now that he is saddled in power, what are the options that are before him to put US economy in order?
      • Creating a 'bad' bank or banks to hold hundreds of billions of dollars worth of “toxic” mortgage-based and other hard-to-sell assets acquired from commercial banks. The ‘bad’ banks could be leveraged up with private money. Obama’s team could also place the bad assets with existing, specialised private fund managers. But funding such an operation will need huge sums. 
      • Provide more guarantees for the risky assets held by some of the biggest US banks. However, setting up these loan guarantees on a case-by-case basis may be more complicated than establishing a bad bank. Some economists also say new loss guarantees might be less effective in terms of convincing investors that radical action is being taken to tackle the root of the crisis. 
      • Infuse more capital into banks.  Many banks, battered by losses and plunging share prices, have had to turn to the US government as their investor of last resort. 
      • Nationalizing the banks.  The US government is already a big shareholder in some leading banks, including Citigroup, but few investors think it is likely to take them over completely and will effectively nationalise their bad loans instead. However, Obama’s team is likely to use its influence as a powerful shareholder in banks to press them to lend more and clamp down on huge pay and bonus packages to top executives.
  • The state of our politics
    • One ET editorial of today says that our politics remains the same old shoddy matrix of personal ambition, family inheritance and petty caste and individual intrigues.  Can't agree more.
Finance & Economics
  • Blistering pace in telecom connectivity
    • India's telecom story is a compelling read.  Highlights:
    • No. of mobile users as at the end of December, 2008: 346.89 mn.
    • Total no. of telephone connections (mobile and landline): 385 mn.
    • Currently about 10 mn mobile customers are being added per month; this figure is likely to touch 12 mn in the second half of 2009.
  • Chief Statistician of India & news about deflation
    • Pronab Sen
    • He is quoted as saying that India may experience a brief period of deflation - a decline in general price levels, as opposed to inflation — between March and June, till the economic stimulus packages announced by the government revive demand in the economy.
    • I think many of us will be looking forward to experience this.
    • But bond market analysts are writing this off as nothing more than a statistical effect and predict that it will not last more than two months.  This view is predicated on the absence of an inverted yield curve — where long-term bond yields are lower than short-term bond yields — that usually precedes recession and deflation.
  • What are MGCs?  Mortgage Guarantee Companies.
    • Mortgage insurance products are insurance tools that help an individual to buy a house with a low down payment, less than the prescribed average of 20%. The products are purchased by the lenders and paid for by the borrowers. 
    • If, for any reason, the borrower stops making payments, mortgage insurance protects the lender from financial loss. As lenders have the protection, they are able to offer more mortgage loans with lower down payments. 
  • Barack Obama temprarily halts Guantanamo trials
    • The very first act of the newly elected President of the US is calling for a halt to the the Guantanamo Bay prison trials.
    • This is where some 250 inmates accused of having links to terrorism remain and 21 cases are pending.
    • The legal process has been widely criticised because the US military acts as jailer, judge and jury.
  • Ever heard of Minerva?
    • That's the nom-de-plume of Park Dae-sung of South Korea.  He is an avid blogger in economics and finance.
    • As his opinions have started affecting the money markets in South Korea, the government there thought it fit to try him and put him behind bars.  
  • Toyota is world's No. 1 car maker
    • Toyota Motor Corp ended General Motors Corp’s 77-year reign as the world’s largest automaker after avoiding the worst of the meltdown in global auto demand. GM’s 2008 sales fell more than 11% to 8.35 million vehicles. Toyota posted a 4% drop to 8.92 million. 
Language lessons
  • nom de plume: pen name