Politics & the Nation
  • Supreme Court judgment on negative voting right
    • Yesterday we noted about Supreme Court's judgment on the subject.  You can read the full text of the judgment by following these steps:
    • Go to http://www.judis.nic.in/supremecourt/chejudis.asp
    • Click on Case No. on the left menu.
    • Give Case Type as "Writ Petition (Civil)"
    • Give Case No. as 161 of 2004
    • It will display the judgment as a single row table.
    • Click on the word "Judgement" in the last column of this table to read the judgment.
Finance & Economics
  • Stimulus package 3 from government!
    • Within a fortnight after unveiling a budget that was bereft of any grand schemes, the Finance Minister announced a Rs. 30,000 cr package to fire up the economy.  The proposals largely include cuts in service tax, excise duty and countervailing duty on imports.  It is expected that this will be followed by interest rate cuts soon.
    • Excise duty and service tax have been reduced by 2% each across the board, bringing them to 8% and 10% respectively.
  • A recap of the stimulus packages
    • Stimulus package I: Dec 7, 2008 
      • Across-the-board 4% excise duty cut 
      • Rs 20,000 crore in additional expenditure 
      • Benefits worth Rs 2,000 cr for textiles, handloom, handicraft, gems & jewellery, leather & marine food 
      • IIFCL to raise tax-free bonds worth Rs 10,000 crore 
    • Stimulus package II: JAN 2, 2009 
      • State governments allowed to borrow another Rs 30,000 cr 
      • Interest ceiling on ECB removed 
      • FII investment cap for domestic corporate debt hiked to $15 b 
      • SPV created to lend Rs 25,000 cr to NBFCs 
      • Refinance facility of Rs 4,000 cr for NHB 
      • IIFCL allowed to raise another Rs 30,000 cr via tax-free bonds
    • Stimulus package III: FEB 24, 2009 
      • General rate of central excise duty cut to 8% from 10% 
      • 4% excise duty cuts to be extended into next fiscal 
      • Service tax decreased to 10% from 12% 
      • Customs exemption on naphtha import extended 
      • Ceiling for 2009-10 fiscal deficit for states raised 
  • A look at the air travel agent business in India
    • There are about 50,000 travel agents in the country. 
    • Typically, travel agents and online portals account for more than 85% of airlines' ticket sales, while the remaining 15% are sold directly by the carriers. 
    • Most airlines stopped paying 5% commission from November last year forcing agents to shift to a fixed-transaction fee on every ticket purchased. From December, however, the fixed-transaction fee, which was in the range of Rs 350-2,500 a ticket, was also discontinued. Later, all domestic carriers agreed to pay 3% commission to travel agents from December. But foreign airlines have not been paying anything to travel agents. 
  • Lessons in housing mortgage loans
    • Why is the US housing market beset with so many problems while elsewhere it doesn't appear to be in such a big mess?
    • The answer lies in what is called non-recourse mortgages.  Before we understand what is a non-recourse mortgage, let us see its opposite the full-recourse mortgage.
    • In most countries, a mortgage is secured by the value of the home plus a personal guarantee of the home owner. So, if he defaults on mortgage payments, the lender can go after his salary or other assets. This is called a full recourse loan, and encourages home owners to do their best to repay loans. European countries have full recourse mortgages — the lenders can go after all assets — and so have far lower default and foreclosure rates. 
    • But the US has non-recourse mortgages, secured only by the house. The lender cannot go after other assets of the borrower. If the market price of a house sinks below the mortgage outstanding, the owner can simply walk out and mail the house keys to the lender, with no further liability. This “jingle mail” loophole encourages wilful default. 
  • Gmail suffers a DDOS attack
    • Yesterday gmail was unavailable from about 2 PM till evening, by which time Google is reported to have solved the problem.
    • The gmail servers crashed because of a DDOS attack.  DDOS: Distributed Denial of Service
    • It is believed that somebody that was able to gain control of thousands of machines (PCs) make these machines access gmail at the same time.  Unable to service so many requests at one moment, the gmail servers crashed.
Language lessons
  • pip-squeak
    • Noun: Someone who is small and insignificant
  • chimera
    • Noun: A grotesque product of the imagination; (Greek mythology) fire-breathing female monster with a lion's head and a goat's body and a serpent's tail; daughter of Typhon
  • auteur
    • Noun: A filmmaker who has a personal style and keeps creative control over his or her works