Politics & the Nation
  • Dalai Lama to resign as political leader of Tibet
    • The Dalai Lama announced Thursday he would step down as political head of Tibet’s exiled government, but continue to push the Tibetan cause in his key role as its spiritual figurehead.
    • In a speech on the anniversary of a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama said he would seek an amendment allowing him to resign his political office when the exiled Tibetan parliament meets next week.
    • China, which brands the 75-year-old Nobel peace laureate a “splittist” bent on Tibetan independence, responded by accusing him of playing “tricks” to deceive the international community. While the Dalai Lama will retain the more significant role of Tibet’s spiritual leader, the move marks a watershed in the history of the Tibetan movement and its long and largely fruitless struggle against Chinese rule.
    • The Dalai Lama was just 15 when he was appointed “head of state” in 1950 after Chinese troops moved into Tibet. He fled his homeland in 1959 after the unsuccessful uprising.
    • His temporal duties are largely ceremonial and the Dalai Lama had already pronounced himself “semi-retired” following the first direct election in 2001 of a prime minister as the formal head of the exiled government. The Dalai Lama’s remaining political power is now likely to be devolved to the prime minister, boosting the role’s profile.
Finance & Economy
  • Is the external environment fragile?  How? (Excerpted from an article by Saumitra Chaudhuri, Member Planning Commission)
    • The political turmoil in North Africa and West Asia has triggered an increase in risk perception that was possibly any way waiting in the wings. Four particular concerns have been bothering players in financial markets for some time.
    • The first was about where the US economy was headed — mostly about growth and unemployment, and also its fiscal position and the end-game in its extraordinarily extended monetary easing.
    • The second was how long the agreement between the Euro-majors about shoring up the weaker members — Greece, Portugal, Ireland and maybe Spain — was going to hold out and whether even in this constrained situation, there were growth prospects in the monetary union, or ought that to be written off to the greater glory of Euro-solidarity.
    • Third, with respect to the growth story in emerging markets, even if it turned out to be true in the medium to longer term, were there hiccups on the way, serious enough to slow everything down — including corporate bottom lines?
    • Finally, flowing from these considerations, has the two-step recovery in economies and markets that had followed on the global crisis approached a point of maturity and was a re-normalisation on the cards — in favour of mature economies?
  • Comfort level on inflation front
    • Annual food inflation slipped to a single digit in the week to February 26, mainly because of a decline in vegetable prices.
    • Inflation stood at 9.52% as against 10.39% in the week before. The decline was due to a combination of the base effect, the high inflation last year, and a drop in the wholesale price-based index fell by 0.6% over the previous week, its fifth consecutive fall.
  • Infrastructure to get new meaning soon
    • The government will clearly define what constitutes infrastructure as it looks to better target benefits and ensure that concessions do not result in asset bubbles.
    • Clarity on what constitutes infrastructure will help the government target its efforts and concessions better and help obtain consistency across various government arms.
    • The central bank perhaps has the widest definition of infrastructure that includes construction of educational institutions and hospitals.
    • Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) follows a definition that is similar to that of RBI.
    • Income tax department has a separate list of infrastructure industries under Section 80-IA (4) of the Income Tax Act that are eligible for tax concessions.
    • The National Statistical Commission, led by C Rangarajan, has defined infrastructure based on certain attributes, says a paper put out by the Planning Commission on definition of infrastructure.
    • The Rakesh Mohan Committee on infrastructure listed electricity, gas, water supply, telecom, roads, industrial parks, railways, ports, airports, urban infrastructure, and storage as infrastructure sectors. The central statistical organisation also considers all these as infrastructure, except industrial parks and urban infrastructure.
  • The World's richest
    • Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim remained the richest person in the world with $74 billion in assets, while the total number of billionaires in 2010 increased to a record 1,210 from 1,011 in the previous year.
    • Slim was followed by Microsoft founder and now a full-time philanthropist Bill Gates, with a net worth of $56 billion, and investment guru Warren Buffet, with assets worth $50 billion at second and third spots, respectively.
    • The other notable things about the list incldue:
    • Facebook makes a splash:  Six of the founders and investors behind the hot internet startup made the annual list and four of them are new to the roster.
    • Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg clocked in at No 52 with an estimated worth of $13.5 billion, up from 212 and $4 billion in 2010. Co-founders Dustin Moskovitz, the youngest billionaire on the Forbes list at 26, Eduardo Saverin, and investors Sean Parker and Russian Yuri Milner are new to the ranks. Rounding out Forbes’ ‘Facebook Six’ is investor Peter Thiel, who has moved down to 833 from 828, despite increasing his wealth to $1.5 billion from $1.2 billion.
    • India's richest: Fifty-five Indians, including NRI steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, the Ambani brothers and Wipro’s Azim Premji, have made it to the list of billionaires in 2011.
    • LN Mittal was ranked sixth in the list with assets worth $31.1 billion. Mukesh Ambani, with net assets of $27 billion, lost five places and was placed at ninth this year. Last year, Ambani held the fourth spot, with net assets of $29 billion, followed by LN Mittal at fifth place.
    • Other Indians among the top 100 include, Wipro chief Azim Premji at 36th spot ($16.8 billion), Shashi and Ravi Ruia at 42nd place ($15.8 billion), Savitri Jindal at 56th ($13.2 billion), Gautam Adani at 87th ($10 billion) and Kumar Birla at 97th ($9.2 billion). Anil Ambani ($8.8 billion), Sunil Mittal and family ($8.3 billion), and Adi Godrej and family ($7.3 billion), were the other prominent Indian names in the Forbes list.
    • The ranks of Indian newcomers into the list include Brijmohan Lall Munjal, patriarch of the family that controls Hero Honda, the country’s largest maker of two-wheelers, Ashwin Dani, vice-chairman of Asian Paints, and Mangal Prabhat Lodha, whose property firm is building a 117-storey residential tower in Mumbai.
  • Should there be monuments of shame in every country?
    • Norman Manea, a Romanian novelist settled in US is a strong advocate of this idea.  Look at his reasoning:
    • "After all, guilt is as significant as courage in any human enterprise. To remember and reflect on how we have wronged other people and nations may benefit a country’s citizens as much as celebrating great deeds. Monuments to shame would not resolve the insoluble problems of humanity’s fate on Earth, but they might slow the advance of its dark side – in Eastern Europe, the Arab world, and everywhere else."
    • Agreeable; isn't it?
  • The reasons for China's blistering growth
    • China has been able to grow so rapidly by shifting large numbers of underemployed workers from agriculture to manufacturing. It has an extraordinarily high investment rate, on the order of 45% of GDP. And it has stimulated export demand by maintaining what is, by any measure, an undervalued currency.
  • Space Shuttle Discovery rolls to a halt after 39 missions
    • The shuttle Discovery braved the hellish fire of re-entry for the last time Wednesday and glided back to Earth to close out the space plane’s 39th and final voyage, an emotion charged milestone marking the beginning of the end for America’s shuttle programme.
    • As it coasted to a stop under a brilliant noon sun, Discovery had logged some 5,750 orbits covering nearly 150 million miles during 39 flights spanning a full year in space –a record unrivaled in the history of manned rockets.
    • As support crews swarmed onto the broad runway, engineers in the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building were busy preparing the shuttle Endeavour for rollout. The target date for Endeavour’s 25th and final flight is April 19. NASA’s remaining orbiter, the Atlantis, is scheduled for liftoff June 28 on the shuttle program’s 135th flight, the final chapter in a post-Apollo initiative that produced what is arguably the most complex, capable and costly manned rockets ever built.
Language lessons
  • quotidian: Adjective
    • Found in the ordinary course of events
    • eg: For far different reasons, the US, and the entire world, seems condemned to simplification of thought, action, and feeling in the service of immediate, quotidian efficiency.
  • quixotic: Adjective
    • Not sensible about practical matters; idealistic and unrealistic
  • kindred: Adjective
    • Similar in quality or character; Related by blood or marriage
    • eg: Kindred people in similar circumstances — whether in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia or elsewhere — are inspiring each other to achieve freedom and dignity.