No cell phones, jeans for girls, says Rajya Sabha member

This guy is a Rajya Sabha member:

Sharma’s gave vent to his thoughts while addressing a meeting of Brahmins in Ratlam district on Sunday. He termed cellphone usage by students, particularly young girls, as a big menace and the genesis of other evils. The BJP leader lambasted girls wearing jeans, saying it was the attire of American cowboys and in no way gelled with the Indian culture.

Time for the powers that be to realize that he’s languishing in a different age altogether, no? What is such a person doing trying to shape public policy?

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15 Andhra Pradesh MLAs disqualified

The Hindu reports:

Fifteen rebel MLAs belonging to Andhra Pradesh’s ruling Congress and main opposition Telugu Desam Party were on Saturday disqualified for voting in favour of a no-confidence motion moved by TRS against the Kiran Kumar Reddy government in March this year.

Two things:

  • What were these guys disqualified from? For how long? The article doesn’t say.

  • It’s actually illegal to vote against party lines?! Then what’s the idea behind having a number of MLAs, if their thoughts simply don’t matter? Have an election, then send everyone home and let the party top brass run the Assembly!

Kim Jong-Il’s Sushi Chef

This is unbelievable stuff:

North Korea is a mythically strange land, an Absurdistan, where almost nothing is known about the people or, more important, their missile-launching leaders. There is, however, one man—a humble sushi chef from Japan—who infiltrated the inner sanctum, becoming the Dear Leader’s cook, confidant, and court jester. What is life like serving Kim Jong-il and his heir? A strange and dangerous gig where the food and drink never stop, the girls are all virgins, and you’re never really safe. We sent Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Adam Johnson to meet the man who survived all the craziness.

This is brilliant!

The chef’s name, an alias, is Kenji Fujimoto, and for eleven years he was Kim Jong-il’s personal chef, court jester, and sidekick. He had seen the palaces, ridden the white stallions, smoked the Cuban cigars, and watched as, one by one, the people around him disappeared. It was part of Fujimoto’s job to fly North Korean jets around the world to procure dinner-party ingredients—to Iran for caviar, Tokyo for fish, or Denmark for beer. It was Fujimoto who flew to France to supply the Dear Leader’s yearly $700,000 cognac habit. And when the Dear Leader craved McDonald’s, it was Fujimoto who was dispatched to Beijing for an order of Big Macs to go.

Amazing story; go read. 🙂

–via Kottke.org

On Arvind Kejriwal going after corruption

Arvind Kejriwal has been in the news recently. First DLF and Robert Vadra, then Salman Khurshid and Nitin Gadkari. Just today was the latest:

“It appears that Mukesh Ambani and not the PM runs the country,” Mr Kejriwal said, wearing his trademark cap inscribed with main aam admi hoon (I am the common man). “The PM’s heart beats for Reliance and not the people of India,” he declared.

This is what Mulayam Singh Yadav said recently about Kejriwal:

“Let him enter politics and fight elections. He will understand how things work. There is no need to give him so much of attention. He has not left out anyone and believes that everyone is corrupt. Let him continue to do what he does, he will soon exhaust himself.”

On the one hand, this is the quiet confidence of an experienced man. Let the new guy be here for a bit; he won’t stay honest for long. He’ll toe everyone else’s line soon enough.

On the other, I can’t but read this as a veiled threat—Toe the line, mister, or your new-fangled political party won’t find the oxygen it needs to survive.

For India and its anti-corruption campaign, the hope is that Yadav is wrong; that Kejriwal won’t change his ways. But what happens when every corrupt politician in India gets tired of his antics and decides to band together and come after him?

The fact that these guys have all been defending themselves says one thing, though—Kejriwal doesn’t have many skeletons in his closet. Good on you, sir.

I just hope he takes care of himself in the shark infested waters he’s waded into.

On selling ‘clean chits’

Robert Vadra recently received a clean chit for his transactions with DLF.

Faking News has more on it:

It’s not yet clear if Vadra would be selling his clean chit, but experts say that the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi would be advised to encash this opportunity.

“Till the time he is the son-in-law of the first family, getting another clean chit shouldn’t be a problem, so he may as well sell it to DLF and make quick money,” Arvind, an expert said.

Faking News is quickly becoming as great in India as The Onion is in the USA.

Also, the spate of scandals recently in Indian governance is seriously disgusting; the only hope is that public reaction reaches a tipping point and leads to something seriously groundbreaking.

Can Arvind Kejriwal make enough of a difference? He’s going to need help, once every other politician starts to come after him.

‘The CAG is at it again’: More corruption reports

After the explosive unraveling of the recent 2G spectrum scandal, the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) has published another report, this time on coal mining.

The numbers are staggering to say the least:

[…] the government has extended “undue benefits”, totalling a mind-boggling Rs 10.67 lakh crore, to commercial entities by giving them 155 coal acreages without auction between 2004 and 2009. The beneficiaries include some 100 private companies, as well as some public sector units, in industries such as power, steel and cement.

Rs. 10 lakh crore. Incredible.

Companies that find themselves mentioned in the report include Jindal Steel, Tata Steel, NTPC, Arcelor Mittal India and the Aditya Birla group. Big names, all of them.

But Jindal Steel and Power Ltd promoter Naveen Jindal responded, saying: “It is all project specific. Often you find (state-run) companies unable to start work. I am proud to say that JSPL has started two of our blocks and is contributing towards creating wealth for the country. For all these 155 blocks, Coal India did not have any mining plans as it found them unattractive… CAG may have its view but whether it is JSPL or any other private company, they are all Indian entities and are creating wealth for the country.”

Certainly, sir—it is a matter of pride that you are able to create wealth for the country, and are strengthening the economy. But considering that you are perfectly healthy, profit making companies, it’s certainly criminal of you to transfer to your private coffers some money that rightfully belongs to the exchequer—yes, you’re not the only party at fault, but you’re culpable too!

Rs. 10 lakh crore. That’s approximately $200 billion (if I counted the zeros right—there are way too many zeros in that figure).

I wonder how many other such ‘schemes’ are hidden in the woodwork. CAG—please keep digging!

Talking about Insurance

Jeff Miller writes about insurance:

This is really a remarkable chart. First, look at the two areas of progress. More people ages 18-25 are covered than before. That’s great … kind of. People this age are the healthiest—they need coverage less than people of virtually any other age. Why did their coverage go up: The ACA required insurance companies to let parents keep their kids on their policies until they were 26. This is why this is one of the few groups that gained, not lost, coverage. But it’s also insane. Again, this is the group that needs coverage least. It should not have been a priority of health care legislation. So why was it? I suspect this was just a payback to Obama’s tireless legion of young supporters. Really. I mean that. It was a kickback. Thanks for your hard work; as a result, I’ll place you above the poor in terms of health care priority.

Second, let’s look at the poor. Fewer people who make less than $90,000 a year are covered by health insurance than before the ACA. Health insurance is more expensive than it used to be, and the ACA is at least part of it. By forcing companies to insure twenty-somethings and people with pre-existing conditions, the ACA drove up the cost of health insurance generally. So who does this really hurt? People making under $90,000 a year. Right?

Um… I’m not so sure—but then maybe I’m missing something.

Let’s start with insuring the youngsters who don’t need insurance. They’re healthy, so they rarely use the insurance coverage that they pay for, correct? …But they do pay their share of the insurance premiums (or their parents do). Isn’t that actually a good thing?

I thought that was the whole premise of insurance: collect modest sums of money from everyone, and use that money to pay for whoever falls sick (and incurs a large expenditure). To offset the people who actually get sick (and use the money collected) you’d need people who were part of the scheme, but rarely needed to actually use the money—in other words, healthy people. This is why people who are deemed to be more likely to fall sick are either asked to pay higher premiums or are kept outside the system completely (for example, people with pre existing conditions).

Wouldn’t having young people in the insurance system actually help the system, and bring insurance premiums down for everyone? They’re paying their share of the premiums but not using any insurance money since they’re healthy—which means there’s more money available without having to increase premiums for everyone else. Right?

So, as I see it, even if including youngsters into insurance plans was a ‘kickback’ from Obama (I wouldn’t know), it was also beneficial to the system as a whole, helping to reduce insurance costs of everyone else who are more likely to fall sick.

Let’s talk about the pre existing conditions too. I agree, including people with pre existing conditions increases the insurance premiums for everyone—as I said above, if there are people who are more likely to fall sick, it strains the contributions of everyone. But is that really something that you’re against? Isn’t a modern society one that takes care of everyone that is part of it? What good is an insurance system that excludes those that need it the most?

When you say:

By forcing companies to insure twenty-somethings and people with pre-existing conditions […]

you’re actually talking about two opposing forces—including people with pre existing conditions increases premiums for everyone (but which I think should be done anyway), but including youngsters actually brings insurance premiums down for everyone.

Am I missing something?

Dinesh Trivedi: Minister of Railways

Have you been following the latest fiasco in Indian politics, regarding the Railways Ministry? Well, here’s what has already happened:

The Railway Minister, Dinesh Trivedi, proposed the annual budget for the Railways. This was lauded to be a very well designed budget by one and all, including other politicians and the media—except for one person: Trivedi’s party chief, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Her gripe? Trivedi had introduced modest fare increases, saying that his first priority was to increase safety in the Railways, and if this means small fare increases, so be it. (Mind that this was the first fare increase in the last nine years! Considering the rest of the economy, it’s a surprise that fares hadn’t been increased before now.) Mamata was not in favor of fare hikes—at any cost (pun intended).

Differences of opinion are great, right? It encourages debate and leads to the best solution. Well, not with Mamata. Her demand? Trivedi should either rescind the fare hikes—or he should step down from his post. Note that even though Mamata’s party is part of the ruling coalition at the Central government, she herself does not hold any post. She is not a Member of the Parliament. Note also that everyone agrees that the Railways budget, as proposed, is exemplary. Instead of a pat on the back, Mamata is still demanding a resignation.

That brings us to the following news. Trivedi is sticking to his guns. The Telegraph reports:

Railway minister Dinesh Trivedi today stonewalled a Trinamul diktat delivered over the phone to resign immediately, hurled back reasoning based on Parliament’s supremacy and insisted that Mamata write to him — all the while adding that he had no problem stepping down.

He also went about discharging his responsibilities as railway minister, holding a meeting with the Railway Board to boot.

In a separate article, The Telegraph reports:

He hoped Manmohan Singh would not ask him to go: after all, hadn’t Singh given him the go-ahead to prepare a “forward-looking and development-oriented budget”?

Trivedi would, anyway, be in Parliament on Monday for the discussion on the rail budget. Which is why he was in his minister’s chair at the Rail Bhavan on a Saturday afternoon, working on a holiday.

“I held a meeting with my board members to prepare my reply to Parliament over the budget. The budget is a serious thing. I am too busy,” Trivedi said.

Way to go, Mr Trivedi! Mamata cannot do anything officially—her credibility would go down to zero in that case. She just wants to flex her political muscle without really doing anything—and Mr Trivedi is simply not bowing down to pressure.

Hopefully the Prime Minister will stick to his guns too. If Trivedi did a good job, there is no way he should be asked to resign simply because his choices were not pleasing to one person.

The worst sentiment, I think, is this:

West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee accused Trivedi of violating the party discipline and posed a question over his allegiance to the party.

She was displeased that the railway minister had not bothered to intimate the party about his budgetary proposals. “He didn’t talk to me, nor did he talk to Mukul Roy,” said a fumed Mamata. Mamata reminded the legislators that no one was above party. “No one is above party. Any effort to trounce the party line will be firmly dealt with,” she threatened.

Really? What is good for the Railways takes a secondary priority to what is more agreeable to the generic party line? Also—why would Mamata need to be consulted? Any consultation would rightly be with members of the Central government, no?

(Note to Mamata: this is how you lose credibility. Please let this go, and handle this magnanimously. You’re the Chief Minister of a state, and have no business wading into these matters! Also, isn’t it time you learnt to be a little more pragmatic? Yes, price rises are hard for a large section of the population. But price increases are necessary for a healthy rail network! Do you even remember what prices were like a decade ago? Railway fares are still pegged at that level!)

Meanwhile—Mr Trivedi, great going.

On Obama’s glossing over details

From a recent article (Obama’s Math Works Only in BizzaroEcon World) by Dr. Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek:

Last night on “60 Minutes” (HT IndianaJim) President Obama said to interviewer Steve Croft about tax cuts:

Steve, the math is the math. You can’t lower rates and raise revenue, unless you’re getting revenue from someplace else.

This answer reveals a deplorable understanding of either economics or math or both.

His logic is simple and quite correct: lowering taxes has the same effect as giving out discounts at the local shopping mall. Each item costs less (and hence provides less profit for each item sold), but more people buy it (which increases overall revenue). The mall owners are hoping that the loss in profit on each item is offset (and indeed, outweighed) by the increase in revenue by more items sold.

However, Dr. Boudreaux misses (or ignores) two points.

One, there is no guarantee. What happens to the shopkeepers if the increase in items sold does not lead to enough profits to balance the lower profits on each item? Simple: they take a overall hit in earnings. More, can the shopkeeper afford to take this risk when he already has sky-high debts against his name? Should he?

Two, Obama’s quote is at an interview on 60 minutes, which is a very well regarded, national-level, widely watched program. Is Obama, on this show, trying to reach out only to the Economists that view the show? How complicated would it be to explain to the population at large (given the time constraints of the interview and attention constraints of viewers in general) to explain the logic in detail? If his idea is to reach out to the largest possible fraction of viewers, is it wrong on his part to keep the math simple and unambiguous?

The second point above is—well, secondary. The first point, however, is paramount, and something that Dr. Boudreaux simply does not mention in his post.

See, for example, this post from Squashed, which summarizes the incomes and expenditures (again in a simplified manner) of the US economy.

Can Dr. Boudreaux guarantee that such a large deficit can be overcome by not increasing taxes? If he can’t, should be blame Obama for simplifying matters for the benefit of his audience?

(P.S.: I don’t care much for politics in general; I am only miffed at Dr. Boudreaux for glossing over details—while shaming someone else for glossing over details.)