Politics & the Nation
  • Negative voting: The manna from heaven that India has all along been waiting for!
    • Today's news report in ET about the referral to a larger bench of the Supreme Court for deciding the issue of Election Commission's power to devise a mechanism for enabling voters to exercise the right of negative voting in elections, is like a manna from heaven for all those who are in favour of electoral reform in the country.
    • A two-judge bench, comprising Justice BN Agrawal and Justice GS Singhvi, on Monday said the decision of the Constitution bench in Kuldip Nayar Vs Union of India case tends to create a doubt whether the right of voter to exercise his choice for the candidate is a necessary concomitant of the voter’s freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. They said this issue needed a clear exposition of law by a larger bench.
    • The right to elect, fundamental though it is to democracy, is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right, but pure and simple, a statutory right, it had said. 
    • A couple of earlier judgments of the Supreme Court gave an expansive meaning to the term ‘expression’ used in Article 19(1)(a) by declaring that in the democratic set up of our country the elector's right to have complete information about the candidates and then express his choice for a particular person, are necessary concomitant of the freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution, bench said. 
    • This is too important an issue and too important a news report to ignore.  Please read it in full.  In fact we should all read the judgment itself.  It is not available as yet on the Supreme Court's web site.  In case I forget, please do remind me through our shoutbox, I will give a link to it as soon as it is made available on the Supreme Court web site.
  • We have often heard about local solutions for local problems being more appropriate.
    • This article that appeared in today's ET elaborates the concept with special reference to Railways.  Some of the comments made in the article are worth our attention; as they hold discovered wisdom.
    • The problem with the western template is that it poses the objective of profitability and of meeting a certain minimum social obligations as being in conflict with each other. Of course, this long-held belief is fast changing in societies like the United States where we are seeing unprecedented socialisation of capital. For instance, a million home owners not being able to pay off their loans and getting a reprieve from banks is a classic example of socialisation of capital. The IMF, World Bank or its intellectual progenies among the Indian elite would have scoffed at a similar loan amnesty scheme in India or other developing economies.
    • The government must resist the temptation of parachuting global consultants to deal with tricky domestic problems. The world is going through an unprecedented crisis and all conventional wisdom is being stood on its head. Indeed, this is the time to evolve our own thinking process that is rooted in our own cultural context. There is no better time to do this than now. 
Finance & Economics
  • What is the incidence of indirect tax in India?
    • According to Vijay Kelkar, if you add various local taxes to VAT at the central and state level, the incidence of indirect tax today is close to 30%. 
    • The best fiscal stimulus that can be delivered is by reducing the total incidence of indirect tax from 30% to a single GST rate of, say, 17%. 
    • The 17% GST can be shared in the ratio of 4:4:2 between the Centre, states and the local civic bodies. According to Kelkar the economic value of this GST reform could be $500 billion and has an employment potential of 4-5 million. 
  • Some comments on the ill-effects of protectionism; excerpted from an op-ed article in ET today:
    • If past is any guide, it may delay recovery as happened in 1930, when in the midst of the Great Depression, the US government passed the Smoot-Howley Act that imposed high import duties on approximately 3,000 foreign goods. In response, European countries retaliated by imposing equally high tariff duties on goods manufactured in the US. The result was a deepening of the recession in both the US and Europe. 
    • Protectionism will increase cost of production and result in an inefficient allocation of resources. In the short run, it will increase demand for goods manufactured by local producers. It will also trigger retaliations from trading nations. On balance, while some domestic producers will benefit from higher tariffs, others will lose on account of retaliatory actions by importing countries. 
    • In the long run, protectionist policies will reduce global competitiveness of local manufacturers. It will protect inefficient industries that cannot compete internationally, but efficient and competent industries would be on the losing end. Steel manufacturers, for instance, may benefit from the ‘Buy American’ clause, but high-tech companies like Microsoft, Intel, Apple, General Electric and Boeing may suffer if in retaliation China, India, and America’s other trading partners impose tariffs on goods produced by these companies. 
  • With Slumdog garnering our full attention yesterday, I apologize for our failure to note about the remaining great heroes of this year's Oscars.
  • Hugh Jackman of the X-Men fame was the host of the awards.  The Oscars' presenter is considered a very prestigeous assignment nowadays.
  • Sean Penn took home his second best actor Oscar, winning for his portrayal of slain San Francisco politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk in "Milk."
  • Kate Winslet won best actress for playing a Nazi concentration camp guard in the "The Reader."
  • Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as the Joker in the "Dark Knight."  Ledger died Jan. 22, 2008, following an accidental drug overdose in his New York apartment.  Ledger, who was 28 when he died, joins 1976 best-actor winner Peter Finch of "Network" as the only other performer to win an Oscar after his death.
  • Penelope Cruz won the best supporting actress award for "Vicky Christina Barcelona," and "Wall-E," the morality tale cleverly disguised as romance about robots, won for best animated feature.
  • The following is the complete list of Academy Award winners
    • Motion Picture: "Slumdog Millionaire."
    • Actor: Sean Penn, "Milk."
    • Actress: Kate Winslet, "The Reader."
    • Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight."
    • Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
    • Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire."
    • Foreign Film: "Departures," Japan.
    • Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire."
    • Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, "Milk."
    • Animated Feature Film: "Wall-E."
    • Art Direction: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."
    • Cinematography: "Slumdog Millionaire."
    • Sound Mixing: "Slumdog Millionaire."
    • Sound Editing: "The Dark Knight."
    • Original Score: "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman.
    • Original Song: "Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman and Gulzar.
    • Costume: "The Duchess."
    • Documentary Feature: "Man on Wire."
    • Documentary (short subject): "Smile Pinki."
    • Film Editing: "Slumdog Millionaire."
    • Makeup: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."
    • Animated Short Film: "La Maison en Petits Cubes."
    • Live Action Short Film: "Spielzeugland (Toyland)."
    • Visual Effects: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."
  • Ever heard of the 'Golden Pound Principle'?
    • This is a principle which is to be ideally followed by NGOs and other charitable organizations.  Followers of this principle ensure that every single donated pound is spent on charitable projects. All operating costs, such as staff salaries, are covered by corporate sponsors or interest which is earned while money raised is waiting to be spent (granted) to charitable projects.
Language lessons:
  • doggone: 
    • Verb: Wish harm upon; invoke evil upon
    • Adjective: Expletives used informally as intensifiers
    • eg: Slums can become skyscrapers but, doggone it, some things never change fast enough. 
  • chutzpah: Noun
    • unbelievable gall; insolence; audacity
  • joie de vivre: Noun
    • A keen enjoyment of living