27 Jun 2011

Brussels, the new Thermopylae?

The Place: European Parliament, Brussels
The Day: 22 June 2011
Speaker No.1: Nigel Farage, Member of European Parliament (MEP), UK
Speaker No.2: Niki Tzavela, Member of European Parliament (MEP), Greece
The Occasion: Debate preparating for the European Council Meeting, 24 June 2011

25 Jun 2011

Egypt turns down IMF loan

Egypt's governing military council has said that the country "didn't need outside finance."

Three things seem to have help it arrive at the decision not to saddle citizens with foreign debt: Firstly, both Saudi and Qatar have promised around $500 million each in assistance - apparently, on better terms than the cabal of international financiers; Secondly, the council also managed to pare it's fiscal deficit forecast from 11% to 8.6% of GDP - partly by reducing subsidies to industries, and partly by raising the income tax rate on firms and individuals earning over $1.67 million from 20% to 25%; and thirdly - and perhaps most significantly - the Finance Minister, Samir Radwan, revealed that the first draft of the budget was discussed with "activists, writers, the business community, trade unions and non-government organizations."

Overall, a very progressive move indeed. Godspeed, Egypt!

22 Jun 2011

This is not a toy


The world's biggest garbage dumps are not landfills. Mostly because they aren't on land! They're at sea.

Giant "plastic soups" of garbage stretch over hundreds, if not thousands, of square kilometres of open ocean. The largest of these is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Estimates on size range from 700,000 square kilometres to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres, i.e. ranging from 0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean - a body of water that makes up nearly 50% of the 'blue' in the 'blue planet'.

There is a floating 'plastic continent' in the Indian Ocean and another one in the North Atlantic too.

According to the UN, debris - especially plastic - kills more than one million seabirds and 100,000 mammals and sea turtles... every year!

Spread the word.

20 Jun 2011

The Bilderberg Group: Power & Secrecy

From 9 June to 12 June 2011, the Bilderberg Group had their annual meeting at St.Moritz, Switzerland.

The group brought together some of the most influential and wealthiest people in the world: European royalty; high ranking politicians - including Chinese and European Cabinet Ministers; international bankers - including the President of The World Bank, the President of the European Central Bank and the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer; corporate bosses - including those of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Royal Dutch Shell among others; the Head of US Cyber Command and the National Security Agency; senior Executives representing media - like the BBC; and sundry puppeteers like David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger; and a number of incognito members.

The hotel the group stayed at was ringed by security rings several layers deep. Unarmed private guards outside, snipers on the roof and the secret service-types within. The venue was off-limits not just to the general public - but to ALL uninvited guests.

One Italian Member of European Parliament (MEP) was beaten and then arrested by the private guards, and the next day a Member of the Swiss Parliament - yes, Swiss Parliament, was denied entry!

Four days after a meeting of such secrecy and significance, the Reuters' website has NO news regarding the meeting; the BBC's website has one article rather condescendingly titled, "Bilderberg Mystery: Why do people believe in cabals?" (the previous article on Bilderberg being from 2005); and the CNN site has one article surprisingly (or perhaps, unsurprisingly) titled, "Why do we embrace conspiracy theories?". CNN actually has NO news with the word "Bilderberg" in its title.

Thankfully, The Guardian covers it well. (With a scathing conclusion as well.) As did over 300 journalists repesenting alternative media - mainly online ones.

So it may also come as no surprise that one of the topics discussed at the Bilderberg 2011 meeting was "Social Networks: Connectivity and Security Issues". Hmmm... Now go back and read the guestlist.

19 Jun 2011

India gives, Mr Tharoor, but who gets?

Shashi Tharoor, former Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and UN Under-Secretary General, who is one of the more articulate parliamentarians writes about India's use of what he terms as 'Soft Power' in engaging with African nations - especially during Dr Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Among the promises is $5 billion in aid to countries in Africa - besides soft loans, schools, hospitals and other civic amenities (which many places in India could do with.)

In the article titled: India Gives, Mr Tharoor contrasts the apparent benevolence in India's actions to the hard-driving methods of China and the West. "Unlike China," he says, "India does not descend on other countries with a heavy governmental footprint. India’s private sector is a far more important player, and the government often confines itself to opening doors and letting African countries work with the most efficient Indian provider that they can find."

Simply put: The government promises to give public money (aid) in return for "doors" being opened for private profiteers? How different is it from President Obama's recent visit to India with a delegation of CEOs in tow?

None. Except that Ethiopians are not Indians.

In India, landowners across several states are, literally, fighting to keep their land from being acquired for mega projects run by large private corporations. Numerous projects in Orissa, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat have been stalled. (Across the spectrum, from left to right, the political class has been conspicuous by its silent non-intervention. Perhaps, they are all confining themselves to "door opening".)

Anyway, the yokels in India may have impeded 'progress' - but not so in Ethiopia...

One of the private players to have "doors opened" for it in Addis Ababa is Karuturi Global. This Bangalore-based company has taken over one of the largest farmlands in the world in the south of Ethiopia.

At 300,000 hectares (3000 sqkm), the Karuturi 'farmistan' is nearly 1/2 the size of the Indian state of Sikkim (7,096 sqkm). And it's just one of their mega farms in the country.

The Karuturis (also the family name of the promoters) estimate they can grow about 10% of the total traded volume of rice in the world - which would be good news for impoverished Ethiopia, but for the fact that most of the food produced on 'farmistan' is earmarked for export. Karuturi Global pays the Ethiopian government approximately $250 a week for the right to farm on the land... for 50 years!

These guys may be "efficient" Mr Tharoor, but are they welcome? Please watch.

18 Jun 2011

Why Advertising - like everything else - needs a 'reboot'

It was Albert Einstein who said, "we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

Umair Haque, on his Harward Business Review blog, puts it into a more modern context... He looks at the futility of looking for a mere "recovery" from the on-going downturn in the global financial markets. He calls for a more fundamental rethink... socially, culturally, ethically and economically.

In Advertising & Marketing too... teams (on both sides of the table) far too often hang onto The-Way-It's-Always-Done method as if the 'status quo' is itself a business objective.

The odd iphone app or facebook phenomenon notwithstanding, it is painfully obvious that most marketers - no matter how badly their brand needs a rethink - still prefer the 'familiar', the same 'tired (it's not a typo) and tested' approaches to a whole new set of problems.

Ad Agencies for their part, often tax their grey cells no further than to come up with a cheaper way to continue the same formulaic approach! Talk about shooting oneself in the foot... Now there's less incentive, more pressure and no result.

Among the compelling arguments Umair Haque makes, one is especially strong: What if what we need to seek isn't merely "more" prosperity, but meaningfully better prosperity? The economy's just a tool. It's time to question not just it's "how." but it's "why." Why do we have an economy in the first place?

Advertising is a tool too. It is time for some really deep introspection and fundamental assessment of what our job really is... It means changing the question from "How do I earn" my retainer to "Why do I earn it?"

Let's reboot the system and start all over...

Umair Haque is Director of the Havas Media Lab and author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business. And he has many more brilliant posts on HBR.

14 Jun 2011

What happens when a brand doesn't deliver

This is sort of a sequel to my previous post on Brand Obama.

No matter how great the marketing strategy; no matter how creative the advertising; no matter how attractive the packagaging - you can make people "buy" it ONLY once.

Caution: This film is 2 hour long... And it's worth your every minute.

Lifting the Veil from S DN on Vimeo.

But the reason I am concerned with what is unfolding thousands of miles away is this: For decades, the United States of America was the system that was held up as an "example" for developing nations.

In light of what is going on today, it imperative that nations like India STOP aligning their political, economic, security and even cultural values to what, we know without the shadow of a doubt, is just malevolent and patently false advertising!

This brand doesn't deliver.

12 Jun 2011

The advertising campaign that sold 'hope'

The "change you can believe in" slogan may not resonate as much today...

But the making of Brand Obama still inspires because it is one those rare audacious campaigns that actually worked. And it worked brilliantly... making billions of people (not just Americans) 'buy' intangible brand attributes like 'change' and 'hope'!

From the Advertising point-of-view, it is an excellent example of a perfectly meshed cross-media campaign.

Above all, it is one of those campaigns that prove that although out-of-the-box ideas matter - it's the making it happen that really counts. As Scott Thomas one of the brains (and hands) behind Brand Omaba's creation, says it all about "Ticking off the 'dos'."

Yes, an idea needs to be 'sold' first - before mundane things like Art Direction, Typography and Copywriting really begin to mean anything.

One percent inspiration. Ninety nine percent prespiration.

8 Jun 2011

Five truths you didn't know about UID

Truth #1: UID scheme can never be implemented for ALL residents of India
India's population is growing at a healthy clip of about 2.4%. That is compounded every year, i.e. If it is 2.4% of 1.2 billion in 2011, it will be 2.4% of 1.2 billion + 2.4% in 2012, and so on.

It is MATHEMATICALLY IMPOSSIBLE for the UID scheme to catch up to this exponential population growth curve.

If someone says otherwise, I suspect, they lie.

Truth #2: UID is meant to be eventually made COMPULSORY
The UID is NOT a voluntary scheme... It is designed to be inescapable. It is primarily aimed at the most vulnerable sections of society and the largely uneducated rural populations. The aspects of life tied most closely to the UID scheme are Employment (NEGRA), food (PDS), healthcare (public hospitals), and education (public schools). Exclusion from any of these can easily be used as an threat to submit to the UID.

The threat is already VERY REAL for some.

Truth #3: UID can easily be used as a tool for ostracising anyone, and even deny services they are entitled to
The UIDAI has NO SET PROCEDURE to deal with the dead and deceased. The current idea is to retain the data and ID number for at least 10 years of inactivity. Essentialy, the identity will exist - but only in a binary limbo.

Theoreticaly, a living person can be a made - to borrow a word from Orwell's 1984 - an "unperson"... or, a more Latin American theme - someone may "disappear" from the database - and technically, cease to exist!

Truth #4: UID is near-useless as a national security tool
The biometric scans of 10 digits (all fingers on both hands) and scan of irises of both eyes are stored as jpeg images. E.g. If an investigation turns up a fingerprint, unlike what you see on CSI, it is nearly impossible to retrieve the identity of the individual. It would mean matching it to over 10 billion fingerprints (10 digits of 1 billion individuals).

A highly onerous task unless the UIDAI also profiles India's residents (which they claim they would not do) by sex, age, demography, ethnicity, domicile, etc. But even then, given the size of India's population, it helps narrow the database only slightly.

Despite claims of both the government and the UIDAI, the UID is near-useless as a national security tool!

Truth #5: UID is useful almost EXCLUSIVELY in two situations
UID is a passive proof-of-identity. Meaning, it can ONLY be used to prove you are indeed who you claim to be.

Nandan Nilekani and the UIDAI will spend about Rs3000 crores of government money for a type of ID that is useful ONLY in two situations: 1.) Immigration and 2.) Financial transactions (KYC).

Since the poor of India are not going to have much to do with immigration services... it all points to the possible REAL objective of the UID: IT IS A BANKING TOOL!

Hmmm... Could this be related to the utterly strange fact that the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of ICICI - a private foreign financial institution - sits on the Biometrics Committee of the UIDAI?

(Below: No. 5, Mr. Pravir Vora, ICICI)

Since so one has bothered to tell the public, about how this strange connection has come to be, I am going out on a limb and draw another hard-to-believe conclusion of my own.

ICICI has strong historical, and much more current, association with the rapacious Wall Street Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase. J.P. Morgan was a co-founder of ICICI in 1955 - and more recently, there was a sizeable migration of Top Management from ICICI to J.P. Morgan India.

Now for some fact about J.P. Morgan. They run, and of course, profit from the largest proportion of the 'food stamps programme' encompassing 43 million Americans for the US government. That's nearly, 1 in 8 Americans - and growing! And the 'destination' for the 'food stamps' are the mega retail chain. Like, Walmart, Costco, Carrefour, Tesco, etc.

Now WHAT has food stamps possibly got to do with India?
- The Government of India is actively considering dismantling the Public Distribution System of food (PDS) and replacing it with a cheaper (albeit less effective) 'targeted food subsidy' - euphemism, for food stamps.
- The Government of India is pushing (I might add, pushing very hard) for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the Retail Sector - euphemism for opening the floodgates for Walmart and its ilk.
- Much of J.P. Morgan's food stamps business is already being processed in India.
- ICICI is actively looking to expand banking to rural areas. And J.P. Morgan sees the untapped potential too.
- J.P. Morgan is looking to acquire banks / financial institution in India, and ICICI's long association makes it a strong contender, I would guess.

The connections I've drawn are tenuous, my conclusion may be wrong, and my concern completely unfounded. But facts are facts... I invite you to connect them any way you want to, add more information that you may come across, and arrive at your own conclusion.

But here's how a well-connected financial institution, a highly-controlled food subsidy programme, and mega retail stores - all mesh together beautifully in the guise of a (heavily identity-dependent) social security system...

Oh, and before we exit the twilight zone, here's another nugget: ICICI Bank is quite the pioneer in Bioinformatics too.

Addendum: A look at the vast untapped potential that UID opens up for corporations.

6 Jun 2011

A tale of two shoes

Footwear the government dislikes...

Footwear that the government apparently prefers...

Never piss off the government

According to reports, the police crackdown on Baba Ramdev's protest venue came after the government cancelled the permission granted to him to convene a 'yoga camp' at the Ramlila Grounds.

Then, the government went ahead and imposed Section 144 in the area... at midnight!

According to an Express News Service report, the move was said to have been given a "green signal" by the Prime Minister... And the police action was supervised by Delhi Police Commissioner BK Gupta himself.

Did this happen largely because the government (and the Congress party's various satraps) are miffed that the wily Baba went back on an "agreement"? (Ummm, what about when the public are miffed about the gazillion times that the government has gone back on its promise to the 'aam aadmi'? Or, was that just an advertising claim with an invisible disclaimer?)

Meanwhile, there are signs (thankfully) that India has not totally descended into a fascist dictatorship... At least, not yet.

In response to a petition, the Supreme Court of India has issued notices to the Union Home Secretary, Chief Secretary of Delhi, Delhi Police Commissioner, and the Delhi Administration in general. The court, rightfully, wishes to know "the exact circumstances" under which the people had to be dispersed in the middle of the night - that too, by "using brutal force."

(Come to think about it, even the 'outraged' Opposition parties in parliament haven't thought of questioning / probing the real reason for the crackdown.)

However, the people of the nation do have a right to know... Are sleeping yogis and faux sathyagrahas a greater threat to our nation and it's future, than kleptocrats in power and hereditary politics?

5 Jun 2011

Why it is better if the Lokpal Bill doesn't become law

I don't quite agree with the demands of hunger-strikers in Delhi, first Anna Hazare and then Baba Ramdev, ostensibly seeking to end corruption in government. But I believe with all my heart that - as citizens of India - they had the right to protest peacefully.

Firstly, why I disagree with them...

You see, even if the Lokpal Bill is successfully passed by parliamentary, it becomes just another 'law'. And often laws are a useful stick the government uses against its own citizens!

Just like the one police used when they barged into the Ramdev protest venue last night... Apparently, Baba Ramdev had overlooked the law that said he needed "permission" for the gathering!

Perhaps, emboldened by the fact that the law was on their side, the 'law enforcers' went ahead and inflicted multiple spinal fractures on a woman yoga teacher... She is now a quadriplegic!

Shame on you, whoever ordered the assault on citizens' rights last night. (The police force in India lacks the backbone themselves to have done this on its own volition. They are mere instruments. Someone very high up in the corridors of power told them - nay, ordered them - to do this.)

We don't need more laws. We need more sensible people at the helm.

All 'laws' are open to interpretation. And unsurprisingly, laws have a way of meaning exactly what the ones with money and power want it to mean.

Corruption is a not about breaking a law. Usually, it is only about interpreting it differently.

Otherwise, why are naked examples of corruption on a gargantuan scale, like the sale of 2G Spectrum and S-Band Scam cloaked in legalese? Why are obvious cases of greed and misuse-of-office, which caused over a trillion rupees in losses to the nation referred for arbitration to a 'Court of Law'?

As a Republic, India is governed by laws. But when a law is made with a vested interest or out of naiveté, it is more dangerous than not having one.

The Lokpal Bill included.