28 May 2011

This is Tahrir Square... yesterday

Yes. It is the afternoon of 27 May 2011... And Cairo's Tahrir Square is filling up with thousands of Egyptians in what organisers called a "Second Revolution".

Why? Because "people do not see any change," according to one volunteer. "The only change we see is that the Mubarak metro station has been changed to the Martyrs station."

Meanwhile packs of international financiers are licking their chops... On Thursday, 26 May, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated in a report to the G8, that "external financing" needs of oil-importing countries in the Middle East and North Africa will exceed $160 billion over the next three years - and that donor countries must step in to help.

The IMF has announced it is ready to lend about $35 billion to "stabilise" economies of countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Syria who are facing surging food and energy prices.

The same week, the World Bank said they want “to help the people there and seize the opportunities of historic change to modernize their economies and build more open and inclusive societies.”

Apparently, they want nothing to "undermine the transition to democracy".

Aw, how considerate of them...

So when is the Nile scheduled to be privatised? And are the pyramids going as a package deal?

26 May 2011

Why is India's Department of Biotechnology funding Monsanto's GMO development?

For the life of me, I can't think of a good reason why the public sector Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is funding 2 GMO development projects by Mahyco (26% owned by Monsanto) to the tune of Rs 2 crores each.

Then again, why does a company whose revenue in 2009-10 crossed Rs 220 crores require this funding? Well, the reason is that the funding also comes with knowledge transfer!

Under the Biotechnology Industry Partnership Programme (BIPP) Monsanto - er, Mahyco can access the "the vast expertise on rice available with the public sector research institutions". This expertise has been built up over several decades of partnership with farmers, and paid for by Indian taxpayers.

But who owns the technology that Monsanto develops using this expertise? Well, Monsanto, of course. The Indian public will manage to get back the paltry fund amount in the form of a 5% "royalty"! Now that's a really fine deal for the country.

And Monsanto isn't the only beneficiary.

Here's how the "partnership" has panned out for the Indian farming community so far...

And for a glimpse of the future, let's hear it from people who really know the "benefits" of dealing with Monsanto...

24 May 2011

Engineers vs. Snake Oil Salesmen

I was sent this interesting piece of news today (Thanks, Anusha).

It seems...

"Toyota has teamed up with salesforce.com to create Toyota Friend, a private social network for owners of Toyota cars.

The network will be accessible through PCs, tablets and smartphones, giving Toyota customers the ability to connect with their dealerships, cars and Toyota itself. For example, your car could send you an alert when its battery needs recharging, and you would be able to connect to your dealership to get maintenance tips and service information.

Toyota Friend will primarily be a private network for Toyota car owners, but customers will be able to connect and expand the experience through public social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

On the financial side, Salesforce.com will invest 223 million yen ($2.7 million) and Toyota Motor Company will invest 442 million yen ($5.4 million) in Toyota Media Service, which oversees Toyota’s global cloud platform development. Microsoft, which entered a strategic partnership with TMC in April, aiming to bring internet services to Toyota vehicles, will invest 350 million yen ($4.3 million) in the platform."


Firstly, aren’t social media devices totally incompatible with Toyota products' core use: Driving?

Secondly, according to Mr Toyoda, “Despite negative factors such as a rapid rise in the yen and the earthquake, our profit sharply rose, thanks to massive cost-cutting and sales efforts.”

Let's decrypt that statement: Toyota is skimping on production and quality (i.e. cost-cutting), while spending more on marketing (i.e. sales efforts). So possibly, they now have a higher profit ‘margin’ with an inferior product!

Toyota’s recent ‘recall’ fiasco affected 14 million vehicles worldwide and battered the company’s reputation for quality. But hey, investors care more about Q-on-Q profits than reputation – so, $12.4 million spent on a marketing gimmick makes more sense than improving the actual product!

It makes one wonder though, if Mr Toyoda (who family name is at stake) doesn't see the pitfalls, why would ANY company management care for a sustainable long-term Brand Strategy?

Are account books blinkering the vision of corporate decision-makers? Is the focus on numbers leading into a unacceptably myopic view?

I posted once before on how inordinate focus on short-term profits can erode equity and actually stand in the way of long-term growth.

To me it seems that somehow, across the corporate world - up and down the line - the wrong set of behaviours are being incentiviced.

23 May 2011

Who decides what you see on the Internet?

Well, for one thing - it isn't you.

As you will find out in the following video, information is not only filtered at several levels, but in so many different ways as well... And the worst worrying aspect is that you never really know what is being kept from you!

One manifestation of this is the Splinternet - which is, to use a metaphor, ranchers (service providers) corralling steers (users) into vast pastures (Internet and mobile platforms) in the Wild West. The difference is that the world outside the fence is invisible!

This trend is not going to be rolled back as 'users' and their 'profiles' are the only real assets that can be monetised by companies like Apple, Google, Yahoo, and their ilk. Also the more detailed the user profile, the more valuable it is.

The web as we know it has changed. And most of us don't even know it.

21 May 2011

India to hand out 1 billion Internet 'kill switches'

I had posted earlier about the absurdity of the new, degenerate IT (Information Technology) Act passed by the Government of India.

Well, looks like it's actually much worse.

Now anyone can censor anyone... Internet platforms (like Google and Yahoo) will have a hefty hardcover volume of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) thrown at them if they don't yank, within 36 hours, posted content that has been construed as 'objectionable' or 'disparaging' by literally any one of the billion-plus Indians with an individual opinion or an excitable disposition.

But wait! That's just the beginning... There are now what can only be described as 'bizarre' conditions for the ubiquitous Indian cyber cafe too.

According to an article on the Outlook India website the new rules regarding cyber cafes include such draconian directives as the layout and arrangement of furniture!

In addition, "the new guidelines mandate that cyber cafes keep a photo ID record of all users apart from maintaining usage data of individuals — including logs of all websites surfed by them — for one year." This, mind you, inspite of mildly annoying requirements that already exist, like stating your name, mobile number and browsing time. Many governments already view their citizens as potential criminals who must have their every activity open for investigated - whenever the "authorities" demand it.

Ladies and gentlemen, what you are witnessing is Big Brother slamming your freedom to express yourself onto the pavement, and proceeding to kick its teeth in!

However, the legal rape of opinion does have the wholehearted support of a certained shady ponytailed B-school professor-cum-salesman. But he's got good reason... I wonder if Sachin Pilot has one.

Sachin Pilot is the US-educated, baby-faced Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology. If one needs any more evidence of the increasingly disgusting hereditary nature of politics in India, and especially, New Delhi - this is a portfolio that was once held by his (late) father, Rajesh Pilot!

Oh! By the way, baby-face (who became India's youngest MP at 26) is under investigation in the multi-billion 2G spectrum sale scam. I wonder if the investigating agencies have a record of all the websites he visited. Or are such ridiculous laws not applicable if your daddy had a red light on his Amby?

17 May 2011

The spin doctor's prescription

Reuter's website has this brilliant piece of Orwellian Doublethink.

It pontificates that the Government of India (GoI) isn't helping the country's central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in controlling runaway inflation. This is probably true given that while the RBI tries to tighen the fiscal belt, the GoI's single-minded focus (besides increasing the net worth of individual MPs) seems to be in maintaining the asinine 8% to 9% economic growth figure while the average Indian family frets over the price of rice, onion and cooking gas.

But the line that got my attention opines that the GoI's "foot-dragging on reform and foreign investment contributes towards keeping food price inflation high."

The highly imaginative author of the article however fails to mention exact how he or she arrived at the convoluted logic that higher profits for foreign investors means lower food price for Indians!

Even in actual fact, the GoI is shovelling financial deregulation through parliament; running through buckets of ink signing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs); and taking a crowbar to the backdoor of the nation's agro industry and food security. In short, India's present government seems hell-bent on burning down the economic defences of the nation.

The aim seems to be to throw the unprepared, unprotected Indian economy into bed with rapacious, unscrupulous multinational vampires. It will be a short, unsightly struggle - and then it'll all be over.

Still, it looks like one logically challenged economics pundit/journalist thinks the GoI has not done enough damage - not acquiesced quite enough.

Your move, Manmohan.

The news this morning...

A 20-year old Australian man fell from a 7-storied building in Brisbane while trying out a social media fad called "planking".

For those physically aged over 30 (and mentally, over 3), "planking" involves lying face down with arms to the sides, in a straight line - preferrably in an unusual public place; photographing it; and posting it on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube.

Apparently, it's to do with the pressures of today's online "reputation economy" on young people - or at least, that's the local Deputy Police Commissioner's take on the situation.

Anyway, the Brisbane Planking Association (I'm not kidding) vows that they will "absolutely not" stop. The Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, weighed in by urging plankers to learn the difference between "a harmless bit of fun ... and taking a risk with your life". And this morning, the incident was front-page news on the Reuters website.


In other tragi-comic news from around the world... The United States has hit its debt limit. Congress will now have to decide whether (rather, when) it will raise the national debt ceiling (or the debt burden carried by citizens and taxpayers) from $14.3 trillion. This is only the 11th time they will be doing so since 2001.

Meanwhile the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor has decided that the Libyian leader and his son must be punished for authorising the killing of civilians. Hours later, NATO jets continued to pound the capital city - presumably, causing no harm to civilians - er, I mean collateral damage.

16 May 2011

The Dogs of War Redux

WTF? Honestly.

What else can I say? ...Except that this development may ultimately have a twist that actually outdoes Frederick Forsyth's magnificent plot.

And perhaps the ending may not be as "fortunate" as the novel.

Google's Do-It-Yourself Stasi File

Call me cynical (OK, even paranoid), but I saw this video dripping in saccharine sweetness - and the only thing I could think about was a Stasi File!

The erstwhile East Germany's secret police maintained minute, banal, and often absurd, personal details on its citizens. But according to an article in Spiegel Online, Herbert Ziehm - Head of the Department in Germany that now manages the Stasi Files archive: "More often than not, the Stasi did not need to apply pressure at all. In fact, many often felt snubbed if their information was deemed to be of no interest."


Also, the fact that the files occupy over 100 kilometres of shelf space somehow reminded me of a Server Farm.

Hey, personal information is personal information... whatever manner it is stored!

15 May 2011

What's next? An Internet kill switch?

The Government of India has amended the Information Technology (IT) Act to make the Internet safer. Presumably, for itself.

NGOs, free-speech advocates and legal experts are appalled that the new rules force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block websites hosting content that officialdom deems to be “disparaging”, “harassing”, “blasphemous”, or any of a whole range of other labels that are vague and open to interpretation. To make matters worse, there are no provisions to challenge wrongful interpretations.

News articles covering the subject seems to imply that this is a problem only if it is "enforced", but the very fact that the threat of censorship looms over Indian cyberspace is entirely unacceptable. All laws that rely on the whim of politicians or the judgement of their lackeys are inherently dangerous.

By the way, is there a law that allows the general public to selectively shut down a government department that it considers as "harassing"? Thought not.

14 May 2011

The real cost of corporate profit

In an earlier post, I touched upon the woeful track record of the Government of India when it comes to protecting the nation's and its people's interests against unbridled greed of businessmen.

Whether callous neglect that led to an unprecendented tragedy in Bhopal; or supply of substandard equipment for soldiers fighting a high altitude war in Kargil; or kickbacks paid to an Italian middleman for Swedish military equipment; or selling national assets at a tax discount of trillions of rupees... Big business always wins, no matter how vile the act.

Despite the chatterati yaking away about India being a "Superpower"... I am sorry, the facts on the ground show that Indian lives are cheap. And India is rather like a large doormat for corporate houses.

Knowing very well (Manmohan Singh is supposedly an Economist) that India escaped the full brunt of the recent financial meltdown because of its stringent (albeit imperfect) financial regulations, has not stopped the Government of India from surreptitiously pushing through financial deregulation, including in Savings.

More importantly, study after study have shown that India was less affected by the recent economic crisis because the Indian economy was largely focused at the domestic market. But our erudite, doctorate-holding elected representatives go on a veritable signing spree of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) over the last two years.

So when the next economic crisis hits, India will be ripe for asset stripping by foreign investors and international financial institutions. Way to go, sirs.

This is NOT old news...

Since we have such an exemplary record of upholding Indian consumers' and producers' rights, it is heartening to see the line-up of eminent multinational successors of Union Carbide eager to strip profits from the Indian countryside: Walmart, DuPont, Bayer, Monsanto, and the Rothschilds.

I fear that Governement of India's policies are - deliberately or otherwise - leading the country into an unimaginable agro-holocaust!

To understand and appreciate just what is at stake, we must look back in history... The Bengal Famine of 1943 killed 3 million Indians... more than World War I, World War II, the entire Indian freedom struggle, and the death toll in the partition riots.

The chief cause, according to Dr. Amartya Sen, was not a drop in production... it was a combination of several factors - including steep food price inflation, falling wage value and unchecked exports.

What do you suppose will happen when profit-hungry multinational businesses are in control of food production and distribution in India?

12 May 2011

Did the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation fund coercive vaccine research on girls in India?

PATH is an NGO funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It claims to be "an international nonprofit organization that improves the health of people around the world". One of its programmes being the vaccination of young girls against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease passed on usually by sexual intercourse.

PATH's activities on HPV are based on a coordinated strategy developed by Harvard University, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to "make HPV vaccines available, acceptable, and affordable to those most in need." This strategy too is funded by the sinister money spout of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In India, PATH allegdely conducted vaccine trails on possibly as many as 23,000 girls in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat under the guise of a "vaccination programme". The project had extremely strong backing from the government apparatus. This included "ordering" of all educational institutions to support the programme, and in tribal areas, parental consent was even substituted with that of hostel wardens!

It went smoothly for the munificent foundation... Till seven innocent girls died. The Indian government suspended the project - and true to form, commissioned a report.

The final report submitted found "large-scale ethical violations", and states that the "nature and objectives of these projects makes it evident that they are in fact clinical trials."

But despite exploiting unsuspecting girls as experimental guinea pigs, the "report finally does not fix the responsibility on any individual or institution despite evidence."

So who is being protected? And who really benefitted from the "vaccination" programme?

According to Rani Kumar, Dean of All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, “The ambivalent sentences in the consent form tantamount to covert inducement and indirect coercion especially in the light of the high cost of the vaccine.”

The vaccines are pushed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded PATH, and are manufactured by pharma giants, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The cost of vaccinating an individual is approximately $360.

This sounds familiar... If you haven't seen it, please watch The Constant Gardener based on a novel by John le Carré, and starring Ralph Fiennes.

By the way... Bill, Melinda, you have a daughter too. Is she vaccinated against HPV?

The open corporate takeover of government has begun

This 7-minute video tells a very disturbing story of how those given the job of acting as mere "representatives" of the public are increasingly utilising crises to transfer power from the public (who elect them) to corporate houses (who fund them).

But for this transfer of power to happen in a democracy, the public must first willingly handover an inordinate amount of power that is rightfully their's to "representatives" who constitute a "government". The trouble (and tyranny) begins when the public begins to believe that a government's role is to "rule" and "provide" for them - and not merely to "represent" them...

Incidentally, it was an American, Benjamin Franklin, who once said that anyone who is willing to trade liberty for a sense of security, deserves neither.

11 May 2011

How corporations do the state's dirty work

The US Department of Justice believes every mobile phone user is a potential criminal.

On 10 May, the U.S. Department of Justice called for new laws requiring mobile providers to collect and store information about their customers! According to Jason Weinstein, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the DoJ, "when this information is not stored, it may be impossible for law enforcement to collect essential evidence."

Apparently, the push for mandatory retention of data is not new. Back in January 2011, CNET reported that the authorities are "frustrated" because no law exists to force service providers to track what customers are doing online.

And the irony of it all is that the DoJ's privacy-bustin' proposal was raised during a U.S. Senate hearing arising from the revelation that corporations like Apple, Google and Microsoft record information about users' locations without their consent!

Now what is the chance that this - or any other - Senate hearing will help tangibly improve consumer privacy?

Well... Surprise. Surprise.