Tuesday, December 27, 2005


When security trumps everything

From The Staesman

Multinationals spin and hype to push the envelop of our expectations of absolute security — not only physical security but also of our health. They tickle our fantasies and seed our dreams. In slogans and jingles they capture our hidden desires. Sometime one-liners have an unintended message symbolic of the new era we are sliding into willy-nilly.

In a full-blown two-page advertisement in major newspapers and magazines, not long ago, a digital multinational company created a thought-provoking blurb for the kind of world that might be emerging from the digitally networked wireless society. On one side of the double page blow up, a sharp-looking vigilant cop said in the ad: “I have x-ray vision.

I have the power to see a bank robbery from across town. I have the power to see how many people are robbing the bank. I even have the power to see which one is wearing the ski mask. I am more than a police officer.”

This has been a long cherished fantasy of security experts, which is now being fed feverishly by the developing digital surveillance technology, including the airline screening system that the US Transport Agency has put into place, raking up much controversy.

Reading the ad I wondered why this technology could not be used in Iraq for controlling insurgency that is killing and maiming Americans and Iraqis. Could keeping the peace be helped with technology? Probably.

As the adman continued on the next page, the police officer’s extraordinary power came from the fact that he’s wirelessly networked with a ubiquitous surveillance system. “I am the x-ray glasses (which the police officer wears)…. I have the power to send videos and data without the use of wires. I have the power to link a bank’s surveillance camera to a squad car en rout to robbery. I have the power to show cops what they’re up against.”

But keep in mind that it’s not the police officer that said: “I am here to protect and serve.” It’s the computer company boasting: “I am more than a network.” We were being asked to trust the network that would improve the efficiency of our otherwise dumb police and promised other wonders such as hastening the development of new drugs.

In general, ads promise to fulfil an existing need or turn our suppressed wants and subliminal desires into urgent needs that must be fulfilled.

Continuing the series, the ad offered much more. The second part showed a seashell that promised to fight cancer. “I have an extract in my shell that has the power to slow cancers in mice. I have the power to be the next penicillin.” That’s an unsubstantiated claim, but I couldn’t stop wondering what if that turned out to be true. Admen are no buffoons. They weave our collective dreams and wishes on paper and screen. I must suspend my disbelief.

The seashell, mercenaria mercenaria, hard clam shell whose delicate meat goes into the famous New England clam chowder soup, is more than a shell. Not so much because of its natural potential but more so because of the power of the network that can turn it into modern medicine. How can the Internet have so much potential for pharmaceutical research? It is through online collaboration.

“I have the power to move clinical trials online so new drugs get to the market faster.” Drug testing that moves from labs to animal trials and finally for human use takes years before the Food and Drug Administration gives its final approval for marketing.

But networking can abridge the time for patients who can’t wait, let say, HIV positives. Clinical trials can be outsourced to India, for example.

And that’s the beauty of the digital age. Whatever work can be done online in the USA can be done equally well elsewhere, wherever there is sufficient brainpower.

And India has brainpower aplenty.

“I have the power to protect a patient’s privacy,” said the voice of the network. Isn’t that what we want to hear? Threat to privacy is at the heart of the network debate. Some people hate being cocooned in anonymous networks where privacy may not survive.

“I can use the power of e-learning to let doctors share research with other doctors. I think sharing is caring.” Yes, sharing is one of the greatest potentials of a networked society, but beware that terrorists could use the same technology also, which in fact some of them, especially Al- Qaida, are already using.

And that brings us back to the police officer, the one who used his wirelessly enhanced networked vision to fight bank robbers except that banks are not robbed by masked gunslingers nowadays but by computer hackers and conmen who may be operating anonymously from any wireless hotspot across the globe.

In the age of terrorism, we are asked not to grudge the police pre-emptive powers to save us from whatever dangers might happen. That is exactly what President George W Bush has been telling us as to why he authorised the National Security Agency to carry out warrant-less interceptions of communications of people suspected of Al-Qaida contacts in the USA. Only if we know that the power won’t be misused.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Making the world safe

Cyber Age: ND Batra

Global interdependence
From The Statesman

Today, India is a much friendlier place to live and do business in than it was a few years ago. There is tremendous optimism in the country that poverty can be reduced and widespread prosperity is achievable.
Although this does not diminish the bold foreign policy initiatives taken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s administration, the US goodwill toward India is quite visible.
Americans have begun to believe that the USA has a vital interest in India’s gradual but steady rise as an economic power. Asia must remain a multi-player stage and no single power should attempt to exercise its hegemony.
Though 2050 is a long way off, Goldman Sachs’ modest forecast that India would become the third greatest economic power could not be brushed away. Eight to 10 per cent economic growth is in the realm of possibility once infrastructure begins to improve.
It is important for the USA to establish a long-term cooperative relationship with India both for economic and diplomatic reasons; and President Bush couldn’t have a better person at the helm than an ex-international banker, David Mulford. Unlike political demagogues, bankers don’t throw their weight around.
As some of the most down-to-earth people with their eyes focused on changing economic horizons, bankers offer cold and calculated assessment of the situation and measure their words precisely for market effect. But when a banker becomes a diplomat, the only way he can exercise his influence is through the power of persuasion, by seeking cooperation and convergence of national interests.
America’s attractiveness in India is primarily due to its culture and values. Most people around the world perceive American culture as the culture of Hollywood, pop music, movies and television programmes suffused with sex and violence; but that’s only partly true.
American culture is a culture of openness, of open roads that lead to the free marketplace of goods and ideas. It is a culture of optimism that holds the possibility of expanding human horizons. Americans fervently believe that global poverty can be eliminated; sickness can be cured. Bill and Melinda Gates are some of them.
China has understood only one aspect of the US culture, the free marketplace. By opening its markets and shuttering its people’s mouths (suppressing all protests), China has become the fastest growing economy.
But China is not a model for the developing world. If the USA were to shut its doors on China, the Chinese export-driven economy would be hard hit. So China keeps lending money to America at rock-bottom rates by buying US treasury Bills. China has no other place to park its trade surpluses.
But why does the USA keep playing the game? The USA knows that China cannot stop there. It would open itself to other cultural influences, including free expression and democracy.Sino-US interdependence is good for keeping the peace.
A similar phenomenon of interdependence has been taking place for quite sometime between India and the USA. Although pollsters tell Americans that they are the most disliked people in the world, it may not be the whole truth. Indians, more than a billion, think highly of the American people. They might disagree with some of the US policies; nonetheless, they are fascinated with American society.
So are the French, the Germans and the Russians, in spite of occasional protests. And the Brits? From British nannies to the British Prime Minister, America needs them so badly; another example of interdependence. Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard believes that a country can become attractive by “co-opting people rather than coercing them”.
But if trade with China and rising prosperity have co-opted the Chinese people and given them new hopes and new dreams, why hasn’t a similar policy worked for North Korea and Iran? Honestly, the USA has not tried hard enough to use the power of engagement, which is the best way to exercise power.
Prof Nye suggests that international influence “comes from an effective aid and information programme abroad. What is needed is increased investment in ‘soft power’, the complex machinery of interdependence, rather than in ‘hard power’— that is, an expensive new weapons system”.
Prof Nye acknowledges that to fight terrorism both hard and soft powers are necessary but you catch flies better with honey than with vinegar.American civil society is far more persuasive in presenting the USA to other people than the government does.
But you might say, what about the moral courage of the American President who in the midst of daily terrorist bombing attacks cannot stop believing that free elections and democracy would work for Iraq? This, too, is part of the culture that makes America so attractive. Corporate America, too, makes the USA attractive.
When an American apparel maker opens a factory in Bangladesh, it creates new hopes and dreams for the people. How long would Islamic jihadists stop Bangladeshis, for example, from improving their economic condition by seeking direct foreign investment? And that raises an intriguing question.
If most US investment goes to China, it deprives smaller countries of any hope of raising their economic standards through direct foreign investments. Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan apparel makers cannot compete with Chinese cheap products made cheaper by hidden subsidies. The USA should encourage corporate America, through economic incentives and other means, to invest in small developing countries, too.T
he best way for the USA to become attractive in Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh or Indonesia is through economic investment that creates jobs. That is the job of Karen Hughes, the under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs. She must coordinate US national interests with those of other nations through bilateralism and multilateralism.India offers her a great opportunity to raise the level of cooperation and partnership between the two countries. The impact of the joint exercise of Indo-US soft power would be felt across the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Watch your e-mail

Betrayed by email
ND Batra
From The Statesman

E-mail seems so personal and private. After all there is nothing between you and the laptop screen; and when you press the key SEND, you have the illusion that nothing could be more confidential than the digital stream that you have let loose.

But nothing is beyond the reach of corporate lawyers and law enforcement authorities in this age of total awareness. Desperate housewives seeking fortunes in divorce have e-mail as their best bet after their husbands have begun to rejuvenate their libidos somewhere else. In early March, The Boeing Company fired its 68-year-old CEO, Harry Stonecipher, for having an extramarital sexual affair with a company employee. He had the brazen foolishness to be expressive about his carnal desires in sexually explicit manner in e-mail exchanges with the woman. None should have read the top dog’s e-mail but someone did.

Stonecipjer, ironically, was plucked from his retirement to rebuild the image of Boeing after the company had suffered a scandalous period under its previous CEO. Enron, the defunct energy conglomerate that put up a power plant in Dhabol, Maharshtra, was undone by its e-mail, which in hindsight you might say was good for the stakeholders and public at large. The company did not comprehend the liability issues in dealing with email, which makes me believe that every business should have its annual e-mail audit.

Employees should be given workplace and documentation training. Since most American office workers use the Internet and communicate via e-mail, bosses are watching closely how their employees use the company’s electronic resources. Several court decisions regarding workplace privacy indicate that in the United States employees have few privacy rights over their e-mail, if it is stored in the company’s system.

Employers no doubt have legitimate concerns about what their workers do in their cubicles, especially regarding the confidentiality of their trade secrets; on-going contractual negotiations; pornography and sexual messages exchanged among employees that might lead to legal liabilities for the company; and whistle-blowing and other activities that may affect the reputation of the company.

These concerns are not new but the speed with which transactions are done on the Internet has created paranoia. It has been widely reported that office workers do visit popular sports websites to check scores and also do online shopping and stock trading. Many of them keep a chatline or instant messaging service open while doing other work.

Some multi-tasking in the workplace has always been there but the Web has created new opportunities and now it is becoming a common occurrence. With continuous restructuring and layoffs, many working people keep looking for new job opportunities. One never knows where the axe might fall. American corporate culture has changed. Being loyal to the company has no meaning nowadays. You can’t be loyal to a company that might outsource your job to hmm… China!

Companies are watching who is applying for jobs and if anyone is trying to cross over to a competitor, he should not expect his boss to be merciful. That was the painful lesson Richard Fraser, a Pennsylvania independent insurance sales representative with Nationwide Mutual Insurance, learnt a few years ago when he offered his services to the company’s competitor via e-mail. Although he was not a salaried employee of the company and had an independent office, he was using the company’s e-mail system and his computer was networked with the company’s server. In his lawsuit against his employer that he filed after he was fired, Mr Fraser alleged that the company had violated his electronic privacy right under federal laws, the Wiretap Act and Stored Communication Act, but the judge saw no merit in the case. Sending or receiving an e-mail message leaves a copy on the company’s server, which is much like a filing cabinet, and the company has the right to scrutinize the content.

It is important to understand, therefore, that e-mail is the least safe method if an employee wants to keep his online transactions confidential. The delete key is the most deceptive piece of software technology ever invented. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Michigan, a major health insurance company, fired seven employees in 1999 for violating the company’s policy and ignoring the written warning against e-mailing obscenities using the company’s computers. Discharging employees for sending pornographic pictures and sexual jokes to colleagues via e-mail is not something new.

When the bosses at First Union Corporation, one of the largest banks in the USA, wondered what was slowing down the company’s server, they discovered that some of the employees were e-mailing videos of people having sex and other lascivious material that strained the system’s capacity. The employees lost their jobs for violating the policy and no one shed tears for them. Employers cannot afford to ignore online lewd conduct of their employees, partly out of fear that some might perceive the company as tolerating a hostile work environment and accuse it of gross negligence. But more importantly, such conduct destroys the work ethic. I

ronically, as offline and online worlds collide and converge, workers do not regard the office as a place of work only. Nor is the home exclusively for the family. If a person is expected to carry his office on laptop to his home, why can’t he do his family chores in the office? The question can’t be ignored because the number of people who telecommute and have their home computers networked to their office server is increasing. So where does the right to privacy end for an employee when home and office commingle? Maybe privacy does not exist any longer – whether you are the boss or at the bottom of the barrel.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Eastward Ho


"As part of India's look East policy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will leave for Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to attend the first ever East Asia Summit (EAS), which has a long-term objective of establishing an Asian economic community on the lines of the European Union."

Read more

Tuesday, December 6, 2005


Cyber Age:ND Batra

Restore civil liberties
From The Statesman

The USA Patriot Act hastily enacted in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks has diminished civil liberties, though the American people accepted it stoically as a necessary evil to secure their lives and civil liberties.

The Act gave enormous powers to law enforcement authorities to invade citizens’ privacy and collect information, with little checks and balances, to uncover suspicious patterns of behaviour that might be linked to terrorism.

There has been no empirical evidence that the Patriot Act has pre-empted or prevented terrorist activities in the country, though one might say, in a manner of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, because there has been no terrorist attack in the USA since 11 September, 2001. So, this in itself is strong evidence that the Patriot Act has been working.

With time, the Patriot Act began to be perceived as the most un-American legislative measure and it has outraged politicians on both sides of the aisle, apart from libraries, corporate America, and small and large businesses that are required to do surveillance on the activities of their patrons, employees and customers.

As The Los Angeles editorial said: “When Congress approved the Patriot Act, it put its trust in prosecutors and investigators to use their expanded powers responsibly. It now appears that trust was misplaced.”

The law enforcement authorities put hundreds of thousands of people under surveillance by demanding to see their private records from various sources without being questioned about the necessity of doing so.

While the victims of surveillance and searches might not have noticed their civil rights being diminished, but the information providers, libraries and retailers, for example, have felt the suffocating power of the Patriot Act.

Since there is no way electronic information can be returned to the owner or be shredded, there is nothing to prevent authorities from misusing the information for political purposes. American society is not based upon blind trust of the people in power. On the contrary, with a healthy doze of cynicism and paranoia, it is presumed that power might be misused and therefore it must be checked and balanced. No one should have power more than is absolutely essential to the job.

The Patriot Act imposed unhealthy silence upon civil society, the countervailing force that has kept America open, free, innovative and creative. The Patriot Act might have been responsible for creating the collective mindset that not only silenced the media about the truth about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but also turned some of the finest investigative journalists, including stars from The New York Times and The Washington Post, into unintentional and unself-conscious collaborators of The White House.

The Patriot Act will expire on 31 December and the Bush administration has sought Congress to reauthorise the Act with minor revisions; but a bi-partisan group of six Senators threatened filibuster unless the reauthorisation Bill contained sufficient safeguards to prevent abuse.

Supporting changes in the revised anti-terror Act are several major US business groups, including Association of Corporate Counsel, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Realtors, Financial Services Roundtable and Business Civil Liberties Inc, asking for changes in rules that give authorities unbridled access to their confidential records.

Why would the American businessman turn against his benefactor in the White House, a most pro-business administration ever?

According to The Wall Street Journal, the groups’ letter to the Senate Judiciary Chair Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said: “…we are concerned that the rights of businesses to confidential files — records about our customers or our employees, as well as our trade secrets and other proprietary information — can too easily be obtained by the Patriot Act. It is our belief that these new powers lack sufficient checks and balances.”

This is a remarkable statement coming from corporate American, which a few years ago was hit by a spiral of corporate scandals from the energy giant Enron to domestic diva Martha Stewart. Without checks and balances, freedom evaporates and so does trust; and so does the free marketplace, which is based upon nothing but trust.

In the USA, checks-and-balances based freedom is an economic necessity. Since the 11 September terrorists attacks, American businesses have been willingly cooperating with federal law enforcement authorities, primarily to protect and safeguard their businesses and, of course, to appear as responsible corporate citizens.

But in the process, they have been willy-nilly turned into collaborators and informers against their own people, employees, customers and clients at home as well as abroad, as it normally happens in authoritarian regimes like China, for example.

What corporate American wants is the right to question and challenge government requests for records when the information is proprietary (trade secrets) and privileged (confidential negotiations) and has no relevance to the terrorism threat and national security.

An in-camera court could decide in confidence whether such a demand for information is necessary, whether an alternative is available; and how the information would be used and for how long it would be kept in records to prevent its future misuse.

By protecting itself from the excesses of the Patriot Act, corporate America might help restore our civil liberties. That would be a highly patriotic act.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wal-Mart goes to India

Terms of endearment
ND Batra

From The Statesman

West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was reported to have asked at a meeting of business leaders in October, “Why do we need Wal-Mart to come?” That’s a good question, which Wal-Mart has yet to answer.

There is a genuine apprehension that small shopkeepers and intermediaries would be adversely affected by the arrival of the global retailer, as it has happened in many places in the USA where many mom-and-pop corner stores have shuttered down and others are struggling to survive.

“The High Cost of Low Price,” a recently released documentary by Robert Greenwald shows the seamy side of the retail giant, including the denial of health coverage to employees, exploitative wages for women and the elderly, ethnic and gender discrimination and many other not so legal practices, for which ultimately the taxpayer bears the burden.

Small entrepreneurs are the backbone of the Indian economy as well as the burgeoning middle class; and they must not be savaged. Nonetheless, they need to be exposed to the challenges of globalisation, to Wal-Mart’s organisational innovations.

Fortunately the retail space in India, unlike in the USA, is expanding rapidly and something like Wal-Mart is going to occur with or without Wal-Mart. Talking with analysts in June, John Menzer, president and CEO of Wal-Mart’s international operations, said: “India represents a $250-billion retail market, growing 7.2 per cent a year, but modern retailing is just starting to emerge.”

India is not only “a huge organic growth market for Wal-Mart”, but also a fast growing outsourcing market, with expected $1.5 billion merchandise export to Wal-Mart’ stores this year. But that is nothing what Wal-Mart exports from China, $70 billion annually, and has created myriad entrepreneurial opportunities by establishing a most modern supply chain system.

Chief minister Bhattacharjee should focus on not only how Wal-Mart treats its employees, keeping in mind that in the USA the retailer does not encourage unionisation, but also whether Kolkata could be another outsourcing hub for the hungry giant global with 2,000 worldwide stores, including 40 in China.

When small things aggregate, they bring about great changes. The world’s biggest retail giant, Wal-Mart sells almost everything and at the lowest prices, providing low and middle-class people affordable access to goods which would have been otherwise beyond their monthly budgets. The retailer is able to do so by buying massive quantities from inshore and offshore sources and hiring people at blood and sweat wages, mostly women, and that should be of great concern to political leaders like Mr Bhattacharjee and others.

In the long run, such business practices may have greater impact upon the world than Al Qaida, tsunami and the earthquake. As Nelson Liechten-stein, professor of US labour history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote in the Globalist, “Wal-Mart rezones our cities, determines the real minimum wage, channels capital throughout the world — and conducts a kind of international diplomacy with a score of nations.”

As the retail giant scrounges and sponges the Third World for cheap goods, in the process it creates employment for hundreds of thousands of people in developing countries, especially China. In the USA, it keeps overheads low by hiring mostly female workers at wages much less generous than it pays to its male employees.

In 2001, six women said to Wal-Mart, this is discrimination against women and you can’t do it. Six women snowballed into more than a million current and former women employees who in a class-action suit charged that Wal-Mart, one of the nation’s largest employers, paid less and gave fewer promotions to women than to male employees. In the land of presumed equality, this is a serious accusation and has become a public relations disaster.

And the US district court judge, Martin J Jenkins, found that the plaintiffs did “present largely uncontested descriptive statistics which show that women working in Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men in every region, that pay disparities exist in most job categories, that the salary gap widens over time for men and women hired into the same jobs at the same time, that women take longer to enter management positions, and that the higher one looks in the organisation, the lower the percentage of women.”

Gender and race-based discrimination is an anathema in American society; and that’s how it should be in India, whenever a foreign company is allowed to do business. This is, however, not the first gender-discrimination class-action suit against corporate America. Home Depot, Texaco, Coca-Cola, Public Super Markets and many others were hit with class-action suits for discriminatory employment practices and paid millions of dollars in settlement.

A legal and humanitarian precedent set in the USA should be followed whenever Wal-Mart and other multinationals come to India, where local companies, too, should have no choice but to offer competitive opportunities to their female employees at par with what they offer to males: another consequence of globalisation. These should be the terms of endearment that political leaders offer to global corporations wanting to do business in India.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Can Wal-Mart do business in India?

Age of corporate diplomacy
By ND Batra
From The Statesman

When American Airlines, the second US carrier to start a nonstop service to India, planned its Chicago O’Hare to New Delhi flight, its management realised that open skies do not necessarily mean open hearts and minds, in spite of the excellent business climate and trust between the two countries. In an international business venture of this magnitude, failure is not an option. Competition is knocking at the door.

Cultural sensibilities, such as cuisine, had to be taken into account, especially as competition becomes hot on the lucrative non-stop route to one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

According to company sources, “With assistance from the American Airlines Indian Employee Resource Group, and in conjunction with Indian chefs based in the USA and India, the Americans structured a special menu for the Delhi flights that features Indian, Indian-inspired vegetarian and Western meal selections.No beef or pork will be served on the flights to and from Delhi. Only chicken, lamb and seafood dishes will be featured.”

Another airline, Continental, began its non-stop flight from Newark, New Jersey to Delhi on 1 November; and European and Indian carriers are bound to follow soon.Besides, as US Today reported, the non-stop flight has to fly over Russian airspace, which required agreement between the two governments and further corporate diplomacy. So there is a lesson here. Since the foreign policies of a country could put a damper on its international commerce, multinational corporations must have their own corporate diplomats and protocol officers for business development abroad.

Corporate diplomacy is crucial to the credibility of a company in explaining, positioning and carrying out its business, especially in these times when the image of the USA abroad is not bright.

International commerce depends upon the goodwill of the public, which must be continuously built so that it works as a shock absorber when some unforeseen calamity occurs and crisis communication strategy has to be deployed.

The creation and the development of this intangible and valuable asset, the public goodwill, is the function of corporate diplomacy.

In the 21st century, doing business in a foreign country must be much more than making profits. In his keynote address to Owens Corning Executive Summit at Tampa, Florida, Bill Shireman, President and CEO, Future 500, said: “The world is demanding a lot of the modern corporation.” When a company captures market share, he said, it also captures mind share, the deep support of the people.

When the host population perceives a corporation as a good citizen, it produces collateral benefits for the home country. On the other hand, when the local population perceives a country as hostile, foreign businesses could be hit hard, as it happened in Karachi when KFC was torched for the second time recently.

And ironically it happened at a time when Karen Hughes, US under-secretary for public diplomacy, was leading a delegation to Pakistan and visiting Muzafarrabad (Pakistani Kashmir) to assure the people and the government about the US commitment for the rehabilitation of the people affected by the 8 October earthquake. Accompanying Ms Hughes were some top corporate executives from Xerox, Pfizer and UPS, but the Pakistani public remained unimpressed. The foundation for grassroot public diplomacy, which is more than show-and-tell visits by celebrities, has not been laid in Pakistan.

Resentment against US foreign policy has been contaminating the image of US corporate brands, especially in Arab-Muslim countries, which requires corporate America to do its own public diplomacy.

Doing effective global corporate diplomacy requires local knowledge, competencies and tools for implementing strategic communications to deal effectively with foreign publics.

The overarching goal of corporate diplomacy is to develop an effective corporate voice and to learn to use all available means of persuasion, media and human networks, to shape public opinion as well as policies of the government in the host country.

KFC, McDonald’s and Coca Cola cannot depend upon their international brands to survive in hostile environment. They have to engage in creative business-to-people diplomacy.

Global business needs a new kind of corporate diplomat, one who must be responsive and effective in communicating with different publics, interest groups, activists, governments and stakeholders in international settings by using various media forms, print, radio/television and the Internet.

The corporate diplomat must be able to create a powerful corporate identity that serves the mission of the corporation as a responsible global corporate citizen and at the same time support the culture of the host country.

Developing intercultural sense and sensibility will enable the practitioners of corporate diplomacy to develop culturally sensitive best business practices throughout the supply chain.

Special focus must be placed on: developing strategic communications for foreign media; maintaining brand reputation; developing rapid response crisis communication strategies; developing corporate advocacy for environment, open trade and free markets; using philanthropy and community relations to counter negative sentiments; dealing with foreign bureaucracy, influentials, activists and opinion leaders.

Above all, emphasis must be on maintaining corporate integrity abroad; and being a good global citizen

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Cyber age: ND BATRA:

Saddam’s trial as public catharsis

From The Statesman

The trial of Saddam Hussein might turn out to be the trial of President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair in the court of global public opinion whether they were justified in invading Iraq in the absence of weapons of mass destruction.

It could be also the trial of American journalists who uncritically supported the White House war against Iraq; and UN’s oil-for-food traders, who illegally enriched themselves. Cynics might say: That is killing too many birds with one stone. So let the trial begin.

Nevertheless, the trial of Saddam Hussein provides the USA with a unique opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the people especially in the Arab and Muslim world, if conditions are created for him to defend himself in an open and fair trial held in Iraq by a panel of credible judges. Assassins must not rule the courthouse.

The world knows Saddam Hussein’s monstrous crimes, the torture chambers, the gassing of the Kurds, the disappearance and murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis buried in unmarked graves, and much worse, even the killing of his own two sons-in-law. But when television showed us in glaring light the haggard, bedraggled, haunted, pitiable face that twisted and turned on command for examination for lice and saliva, we wondered, “Was this the face that launched…?”

How did this man create the social apparatus, the machinery, and the network of collaborators that sustained his regime of fear that lasted so long? Saddam Hussein’s capture presents the Iraqi people a great opportunity to discover how organised violence by the Baathist Party under the dictates of one man subjugated their spirits. Hussein’s crimes against his people must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Even though we have seen pictures of the mutilated bodies of children, men and women, young and old, lying helter-skelter after they were gassed to asphyxiation, Hussein must be given the right not to be a witness against himself as well as the presumption of innocence until he is proven guilty. I am simply paraphrasing the rights of an accused in the USA enshrined and hallowed in the Bill of Rights, the greatest document ever written by the human mind, which is the ultimate source of American values, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and fair trial, all that is good about the USA, all that makes it a unique civilisation in the annals of mankind.

It is only by judging the worst amongst us in a fair and open trial – and in the global village Saddam Hussein is one of us– that we test our values, affirm our faith and renew ourselves as an open society.

A fair trial subject to international scrutiny conducted by Iraqis themselves, with the help of American and international jurists, if necessary, could be the beginning of a new era of transparency in Iraq based on the rule of law; and as a corollary, a great challenge to closed West Asian societies showing them how life could be better for them under a different system.

Sunshine is the greatest threat to rulers of the dark side. But how could Iraqis who have lived in mortal fear of this man for such a long time put aside their anger, hatred and overpowering desire for revenge to let a panel of judges conduct a fair trial? That is the challenge.

Richard Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunals for Rawanda and the former Yugoslavia wrote sometime ago in Los Angeles Times that while Hussein’s trial gives the USA a chance to show that “the rule of law is stronger than the need for revenge,” it also presents a great challenge for conducting a fair trial because for decades Iraq had “no credible criminal justice system”; and the country has hardly any prosecutors trained to present a credible prosecution case. “There are,” Mr Goldstone wrote, “no credible Iraqi defence attorneys capable of providing Saddam the advice and support that he would need in defending himself. The independence of the judges would be highly questionable as well.”

Two defence attorneys have been killed. The people of Iraq, although a house divided against itself, Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and others, must be trusted and trained to handle a trial of this magnitude, a trial that would have a decisive influence on the future of their country and beyond. A broad-based all-inclusive and legitimate government in charge of the country is the first and foremost step in conducting a fair and open trial.

Let Hussein tell his side of the story in the best possible manner so that we understand how he built such a durable system of tyranny that lasted for more than three decades, and which might have continued but for the intervention of an outside power.

In the ultimate analysis, the purpose of Hussein’s open trial is social catharsis, purgation of hatred and desire for revenge by seeing the criminal punished; justice and may be compensation for the victims; and closure and national reconciliation.

The trial could be the beginning of a new society based upon the rule of law so that in future no one could abuse power without fear of punishment. And what is true of Iraq is also true of the USA.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Teaching virtually

cyber age: ND Batra

Teaching virtually
From The Statesman

There is a misplaced feeling on the American campus today that old faculty members are generally resistant to pedagogical technology and feel stressed by it.

But who wouldn't feel the pressure especially when every year vendors relentlessly push software and hardware upgrades, even though the older ones are quite functional and adequate? Most professors do not see any special advantage in teaching by pushing most advanced information technology in the classroom, which somehow gives the erroneous impression that they are too hidebound or too dumb to learn new things.

The good news is that a majority of professors in the USA are still in their most creative period, 55 or less, according to a report from the Higher Education Research Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Of the various instructional methods used for undergraduate teaching by American professors, the use of computer or machine-aided instruction hardly exceeds 25 per cent; and that too may be limited to the use of PowerPoint or video clips to break the monotony of the long lecture.

No one has come up with an equally good alternative to classroom lecture-discussion method that has been at the heart of the teaching-learning experience since the days of the ancients.

Nor has any instructional technology been developed to replace cooperative learning that occurs in group projects, field studies, recitals, performances, and writing and re-writing or students critiquing each other's research reports.

Having used PowerPoint for quite sometime, I feel that more often it is a barrier to engaging students deeply in class. Some students positively resent PowerPoint because it has homogenised teaching. From class to class, it is the same, a student bemoaned.

Sometime ago I attended a daylong workshop on the use of information technology in the classroom and asked innocently what I should be doing instead of lecturing if I go for the on-line teaching method. The response was a counter-question: Why do you lecture? The simple retort jolted me and I began to wonder how much lecturing is essential when apart from the textbook there are several reliable sources available on the Internet.

It is true that students do not learn only from the textbook; otherwise teachers won't be needed. When the textbook with supplementary readings is brought to bear upon a discussion topic in the classroom, you see the beginning of learning, which is further enhanced through projects, term papers and the stimulus (or fear) of quizzes, weekly short essay assignments, and mid-term and final examinations.

Learning is a process of pattern building that requires frequent breaks and discontinuities and the silence of the mind. Human brain is not a storage disk. You cannot download knowledge at the stroke of a key or ingest it as a cascade of PowerPoint slides.

Internet on-line courses and software programmes being pushed by publishers on American campuses are no doubt posing some fundamental questions about our traditional pedagogical methods. Although students sometime hesitate to join classroom discussion, I have found that many students enthusiastically participate in on-line discussion.

Many of them express themselves freely if I encourage a free-style discussion, de-emphasising grammar and style for the time being.

Of course, students and professors would miss a lot if there were no face-to-face encounters, dramatic moments which not infrequently result in repartee, witticism, humour and other minor conflagrations that enhance teaching and learning and make the dialogue such a joy.

The American campus is under stress, as is the office workplace, simply because there is no way anyone can be perpetually at the cutting edge of information technology. Even younger faculty members feel stressed by technology. Partly this is due to the fact that information technology is not user-friendly; resistance to its adoption has not much to do with age.

Instead of keeping ahead in their academic fields, the faculty members are expected to master newer technology every now and again, which sometime causes frayed tempers. In contrast, the chalkboard and the test-tube have lasted for hundreds of years. If a breezing presentation using PowerPoint does not lead to a lively discussion, it is of no use. A mathematics professor might not feel comfortable to teach abstract concepts to his undergraduates on-line, which could probably be better done by leading students step by step in the old fashioned way.

It would be quite a task to expound to on-line students, for example, the mystery of black holes; the string theory; or the eternal hope in "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" But in this age of abundant technological choices, when everything from facial features to automobile is being customised and personalised, we are being pressured to think whether college instructions too could be made to fit the abilities and aptitude of each student.

I am not sure if information technology can give us some leeway in treating different students with different pedagogical methods to enhance and quicken the learning process for a generation that is growing up with iPods, computer games, chatrooms, instant messaging, and mobile Internet.

The technology gap between the young and the restless generation, short on attention span yet bright and inquisitive, on the one hand; and the campus gray professorate, on the other, has begun to matter a lot more, in fact so much that some of us find ourselves in the wilderness, wondering: Why do we teach the way we do? Should we "coursecast" our lectures on iPod and do something else?

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Diplomacy and disinformation

cyber age: ND Batra
From The Statesman
Info leaks as weapons of destruction

The wages of disinformation have to be paid sooner or later, as the Bush White House and some celebrity journalists are learning painfully.

In 2003, the CIA asked diplomat Joseph Wilson to investigate whether Saddam Hussein procured uranium (yellow cakes) from Niger. Wilson found no evidence and was publicly critical of the Bush administration for making the claim to justify the Iraq invasion. In an Op-Ed piece published on 6 July 2003 in The New York Times, Wilson questioned the infamous “16 words” from President Bush’s state of the union address in which he said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Immediately after Wilson’s critical report, conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote that “two senior administration officials” told him that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA secret agent working on issues related to weapons of mass destruction and she had suggested her husband be sent for the yellow cake investigation.

The information was leaked to him and other well-known reporters to discredit Wilson and to compromise his wife’s career. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act enacted in 1982 to protect undercover CIA agents makes it a crime to intentionally identify a covert agent. The culprit in this diabolical case was not only the conservative columnist Novak, who willingly allowed himself to be used as a tool of vilification, but also other journalists and some White House officials.

Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter, who never published her story but was a recipient of a White House official leak, was subpoenaed to reveal whom she talked to in the White House. But she refused and chose to go to jail to protect her First Amendment freedom to gather news and keep her mouth shut about her source.

Her defiance at that time seemed very heroic and drew global sympathy. Another journalist, Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper, also privy to the leak, agreed to testify before the grand jury but only after Time handed over the source of the leak to investigators. In a grandiloquent and vainglorious tone, The New York Times wrote that it was “a proud and awful moment” for the newspaper because of one of its reporters, Judith Miller, “has decided to accept a jail sentence rather than testify before a grand jury about one of her confidential sources.”

After spending 85 days in jail, Miller said that her confidential source had released her from the promise of confidentiality and she agreed to testify before the grand jury investigating the leak. But soon The Times’ editors discovered that Miller had been less than forthcoming about her “entanglement” with her confidential source.

A colleague at the Times called her a “woman of mass destruction”. Miller apparently played a game of simulation and dissimulation.

Journalists cultivate confidential sources to uncover corruption; and sometime they know more about a case than crime investigators. Whistleblowers leak documents or talk on the promise of confidentiality to reporters.

Reporters must report if they have information that impacts society. Not to report truth would be not only complicity in crime but also unethical and unprofessional behaviour. Sometimes courts, and even legislatures, issue subpoenas demanding information including notes, photos and videos that have not been even published, failing which they exercise contempt power. Contempt power tends to chill Press freedom. Why? Because journalists would dread going behind public relations handouts to find out the truth about the misbehaviour of public men.

American society, for more than four decades, has been struggling with how to strike a balance between the news media’s obligation to do investigative reporting by cultivating confidential sources and the needs of the courts and law enforcement for access to crucial information that journalists might possess.

When a journalist is the only source of information, and possesses an indispensable piece of evidence in a legal case, information so compelling that without revealing its source there is the danger of justice being miscarried, in such a circumstance the source must be revealed regardless of the promise of confidentiality. The right to a fair trial is no less important than Press freedom. But how do you strike the balance?

In the course of time, the US Supreme Court began to use “preferred position balance theory” in deciding conflicts between Press freedom and other rights. In numerous rulings, the court held that some freedoms especially those granted by the First Amendment (Freedom of Speech and the Press) are fundamental to a free society and consequently deserving of more protection than other constitutional values. Nonetheless, Press freedom does not automatically trump all other rights, especially the constitutionally guaranteed right of a person to a fair trial, which may require access to critical evidence in the possession of a journalist.

Thus by giving Press freedom a preferred position in balance with other rights, the court put the burden of proof on the government that forcing a journalist to disclose his news source is necessary.

It is also important to understand that when sources suspect collusion between law enforcement and news organisations, trust is lost. Free flow of accurate and reliable information is choked; and power begins to corrupt. An independent judiciary and a responsible free Press are the watchdogs of an open, secular, democratic society. And they must be kept apart.

It is not only criminal but also unethical when reporters become tools of vindictive officials or political operatives, as columnist Novak and others chose to become, taking shelter under the First Amendment in protecting their confidential sources when they should have known better.

Special counsel Patrick J Fitzgerald, investigating the leak, has concluded his grand jury investigation in the case of Vice- President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I Lewis Libby, who has been indicted with “obstruction of justice, false statement and perjury charges” for lying about how and when he got and disclosed to reporters classified information regarding CIA agent Plame.

While this may be only the beginning of the trouble for the White House, the US news media has suffered another blow to its dwindling credibility.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Who needs freedom if China can do without it?

cyber age : ND Batra
It’s a dog’s life sans freedom
From The Statesman

China has been growing at the rate of 8-9 per cent for the past two decades or so, and is expected to become an economic and military heavyweight, if not a superpower, in the coming decades. Since the authoritarian rule has not held back China from growing at a phenomenal rate, it is legitimate to ask: How could they do so much in such a short time without freedom and civil liberties? Even Vietnam has begun to follow the Chinese model.

May be Francis Fukuyama should revise his thesis which he prematurely delivered soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union: “What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Rather too soon, I am afraid, the end of Communism brought about a sense of complacency, a grand illusion as if it were the final triumph of freedom. Of course, that did not happen. It did not happen in Russia after the Soviet Union disintegrated; and it did not happen in China in spite of the 1989 Tiananman Square pro-democracy protests; and in spite of rapid economic growth and broadening prosperity under state-controlled market capitalism.

Democracy did not happen in the Muslim-Arab world where Islamic fundamentalism has been taking hold of the hearts and minds of the people since long. In fact, after the collapse of the Soviet Union worldwide authoritarianism might have increased. China has no doubt ceased to be an imminent threat since its economic growth has become increasingly tied up with: search for energy and other raw material; foreign direct investment; and exports, especially to the USA.

Today China, ironically, is the USA’s biggest foreign lender; and so, unsurprisingly, human rights including Tibet have ceased to be an issue in Sino-US relations. On a recent visit to China, US treasury secretary John Snow urged the Chinese to spend more on consumer goods; he never mentioned democracy. Do you know why? Because China, according to The Wall Street Journal, would be accumulating “a $100-billion trade surplus for the year — triple last year’s number — it must reduce reliance on trade and build up internal demand by encouraging the Chinese to spend more.” For China, consuming what they manufacture is more important than political freedom.

Between the USA and Saudi Arabia and other seemingly pro-American Muslim-Arab countries in the region, where fundamentalism has been holding sway for long, human rights and freedom were seldom an issue. After the 2001 terrorists attacks, the USA bonded with Pakistan using financial and military ties to make it an ally against the Taliban and Al-Qaida terrorism. And to maintain its hold over Pakistan, the USA soft-peddled the issue of even the black-marketing of nuclear technology by one of the world’s most notorious scientists, AQ Khan. Military rules the land. Jihadists flourish, regardless of earthquake or whatever.

The USA has not given up the realpolitik of playing games with the devil regardless of its newly found messianic fervour of spreading freedom universally. The rhetoric of freedom and liberty seems to be a posture of public diplomacy for winning the hearts and minds of the Arab-Muslim world. George W Bush believes that the USA would remain vulnerable to terrorism so long as tyranny and hate ideology prevailed abroad and for which, according to him, there’s no other solution except to expand freedom.

“The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world…. Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government because no one is fit to be a master and no one deserves to be a slave,” said Bush at the beginning of his second term. But an Arab/Muslim might say, look at China, where 1.3 billion people work day and night to churn out goods for the entire world without much ado about freedom.

When Bush goes to China, is he going to challenge President Hu Jintao: Democratise or else?

With Iraq in mind, Bush has no doubt been steadfast in what he had said earlier, “Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfil, and would be dishonourable to abandon. Yet, because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom.” Elections in Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority raised some hope that eventually elections and sharing of power in Iraq might bring about the beginning of law and order in Iraq, too.

Successful holding of the recent elections in Iraq for the approval of the constitution was a momentous event, a new day when millions of Iraqis exercised their freedom. But freedom to vote is not enough because it does not mean the end of violence, poverty and unemployment, which provide a fertile ground for more terrorism.

The Bush freedom rhetoric and new-found zest for public diplomacy must include economic aid including preferential trade for poor Muslim countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia as well as for other nations which have been making valiant efforts to grow economically and control Islamic jihadism at the same time.

Instead of looking to China as a model, they should look to the USA. That is the biggest challenge for the US public diplomacy today.

The Random and the Absurd

Volume 1

Can you build a bridge over a black hole with a donut?

Think of evolution as a function of intelligent design.

How does evolution explain sexual pleasure; or the anguished cry: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have You deserted Me?

Great lovers are born, not made. Think of Lord Byron.

If Vice President Dick Cheney is uncovered as the source of the leak about Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover agent and the wife of diplomat Joseph C. Wilson, I hope President George W. Bush would pardon Mr. Cheney, the ultimate man of war and peace responsible for spreading freedom and democracy around the world.

Why can’t we apply the Game Theory to Jihad?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Choosing between friendship and patriotism

E. M. Forster
Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)

"One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of one's life, and it is therefore essential that they should not let one down. They often do. Personal relations are despised today. They are regarded as bourgeois luxuries, as products of a time of fair weather which is now past, and we are urged to get rid of them, and to dedicate ourselves to some movement or cause instead. I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country. Such a choice may scandalise the modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the telephone and ring up the police. It would not have shocked Dante, though. Dante placed Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of Hell because they had chosen to betray their friend Julius Caesar rather than their country Rome."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

America: a country of second chance

Beyond the game theory
ND Batra
From The Statesman

Life is more than a game theory. Sometimes it is an act of faith. In the USA, a person can have another chance to get out of his sordid past and start a new life. It is indeed a country of second chance.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger, now California Governor, was fighting for the gubernatorial race in a recall election in 2003, the Opposition dug up dirt and uncovered his father’s Nazi association in Austria, his native country. Yet the California electorate decided to put his European past behind and elected him Governor of the most dynamic state in the USA. Game theory couldn’t have explained the electorate behaviour.

Once upon a beautiful day at Morehead State University, a school nestling in the rolling hills of eastern Kentucky and Daniel Boone Forest, I was teaching an undergraduate class when I heard a gentle knock at the door. As I opened the door, I saw two cops standing ramrod and one of them, after politely apologising for the intrusion, said they would like to speak to one of my students, Gary (name changed). Is he there, he asked authoritatively? It’s a drug inquiry, the other said. I was shocked and puzzled. Should I turn in one of my students to the cops, or make a plausible excuse for his absence? The classroom, unlike a temple or church, is not a sanctuary; but nor is it a public forum. It is a place of awakening and certainly my students were awakened that beyond the world of textbooks there is another world.

I returned to the class and closed the door behind me. The students, most of whom were girls, devoured me with their inquisitive and anxious looks and after a moment of “Pinteresque pause” I asked Gary to leave the classroom. He looked at the window but understanding his drift I said, no, go from the front door.

After two weeks of absence Gary returned, presumably on bail, and asked me if he could do the makeup work and continue in the course. As per university rules, it was for me to decide whether to allow him to return to the class after such a long unexcused period of absence. By this time, the campus learned the truth about Gary, and I felt that it wasn’t exactly like allowing a confessed killer to sit in my class; nonetheless, it was somewhat of an ethical dilemma.

Most people think that ethics is about what’s right and wrong within a given moral system into which they are born, but it is more than that. Ethics sometimes is about making a choice between two equally competing values or between two wrongs, and choosing the lesser one in compelling circumstances. Consider for a moment the ethical dilemma of a doctor who has two equally desperate patients and both likely to die, but he has only one kidney available for transplant. What should be the basis of his decision when the Hippocratic oath enjoins him, “First do no harm”? His decision however sound logically would let one of them die.

I begin my Fall semester law and ethics class at Norwich University with the ethical dilemma posed by Immanuel Kant, the renowned and influential 18th century philosopher. If a man with a handgun knocks at your door, asking about another man who is hiding in your basement and with whom he wants to settle an old score, what would you do? Will you let him in and drag the man out to be shot, or tell a lie to save his life? Both killing and lying are morally wrong according to Christian morality, the framework in which my students have been growing up.

Whatever post-modernists might say, I think moral relativism is a worst form of immorality. But what was my moral framework under which I made the ethical choice to let Gary sit in my class, in spite of his dubious past? Although I was brought up in a Hindu family where karma, compassion and truth were regarded as the highest virtues, the superstructure on this foundation has been that of Western secular humanism. And when Gary confronted me with the ethical dilemma, I recalled Oscar Wilde’s notorious words: “The difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Gary would have a future if he completed his education, but if he were dismissed from the university he might become a drug dealer and harm society and self-destruct. I wasn’t bargaining like a game theorist.

Norwich University, a few years ago, faced an ethical dilemma about the presence of Indonesian military-sponsored students in its military college. The American people used to watch on television the atrocities committed by the Indonesian military against innocent people of East Timor (before their independence) and some in the media accused the university of unintentional complicity. Should the university have let the students continue in the programme hoping that they would return to Indonesia as good citizen-soldiers in service of their country rather than killers of the innocent? A private university depends upon the public goodwill and must be accountable for its actions, including its investment decisions and foreign collaborations. The university gave the Indonesian students a chance and let them continue hoping that they would do good to their country when they returned.

So when I look at the face of a student sitting in my class, I do not think that one day he might become a Unabomber like Ted Kaczynski; or an Islamist terrorist. I hope my students would become proud and successful professionals, parents and responsible citizens as most of them do. Teaching like marriage is an act of trust, which must be built and rebuilt daily with the hope that tomorrow would be better.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Nuclear Iran?

cyber age: ND Batra
The Statesman
Q&A: Iran-India diplomacy

Would it be in India’s national interest for Iran to develop nuclear weapons?

Although India is not a signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty, in spirit, however, it is committed to the international treaty. The 18 July agreement with the USA, which was a virtual recognition of India as a nuclear power, further confirmed its commitment to NPT. Iran is a one-party Islamic fundamentalist state with strong ties with Hizbollah (founded in 1982 with Iran’s support), which has been responsible for terrorist attacks in West Asia. India has an international responsibility to see that nuclear weapons do not fall into wrong hands. One nuclear power, one AQ Khan, in the neighbourhood is too many.

Would India’s IAEA vote affect India’s substantial Shia minority?

India’s diplomacy has to serve the larger interests of the nation and must not be allowed to be held hostage to any narrow sectarian interest. Indian Muslims are, and should be, more interested in their own welfare rather than getting involved with Iran over its nuclear future. Iran’s attitude toward India has always been ambiguous, especially, when it had to take a stand on Kashmir in the Organization of Islamic Countries. Although Iran has been claiming friendship with both India and Pakistan, at crucial moments it has always sided with Pakistan.AQ Khan, the father of Pakistan, could not have transferred nuclear technology designs to Iran without the approval of the dreaded ISI and other military brass.

What’s India’s diplomatic responsibility now?

By claiming that India’s vote for the EU-3 proposal would give the international community time to find an acceptable solution puts the onus on India to work out a way that ensures that Iran does not engage in clandestine nuclear weapon programmes and at the same time gets access to nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, of course, under full international safeguards. India should become an active participant with EU-3 countries, Germany, France and the UK, to see that negotiations do not turn into confrontation that might give the USA or any other power, apprehensive about Iran’s nuclear bomb, an excuse to intervene militarily. Iran should not allow itself to be perceived as another country with weapons of mass destruction and a haven for Islamic terrorists with access to nuclear weapons.

Would the IAEA vote have an adverse effect upon India’s access to Iran’s energy resources?

If India were hopelessly dependent upon Iran’s oil, Iran could use oil as a weapon against India, which however is not the case. This makes it all the more important that for its energy security, India cannot unduly depend upon any one country alone. Even if Iran were to assure India that its trade relations would remain unaffected by its stance on the nuclear issue, India has to diversify not only its oil and gas resources but also energy resources in general. Now that nuclear sanctions have been lifted, India must invest heavily in civilian nuclear energy development.

Is nuclear energy a viable option for India?

During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to France, President Jacques Chirac offered his country’s full cooperation for the development of civilian nuclear technology. For the harnessing of nuclear energy for civilian purposes, France is by far the most advanced country in the world. Jean-Francois Cope, France’s budget minister and government spokesman, wrote an interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal, “Energy a la Francaise,” in which he said that the oil crisis of the 1970s left no choice for France except “to accelerate the construction of facilities to produce safe and economically profitable nuclear energy.” Today, France is 50 per cent energy independent and is relentlessly pursuing its independence goal further. With genuine pride, Mr Cope wrote, “In partnership with the French nuclear builder Areva SA and the European energy leader Electricite de France (EDF), we are building a revolutionary, safe and competitive nuclear reactor - the FPR - that will go online in around 2015…. a fresh step forward in risk prevention as well as environmental protection, since it will create less waste…. Along with fission energy, fusion energy represents the hope for clean, abundant source of energy for the future.” There lies India’s energy future. The good news is that like France, Canada too has reversed its policy of nuclear boycott against India that it had imposed in the wake of the 1998 tests. Manmohan Singh should establish a special task force for making India 50 per cent energy independent by 2025.

What about the attitude of India’s Left?

The Left parties’ contention that India has given up on non-alignment is misplaced. Non-alignment does not mean that India should endorse every illegal action by one of its members. In any case, the Left parties are the wrong people to chant the mantra of non-alignment, an empty international posture that became meaningless once the Soviet Union dissipated and Communist China courageously embraced American style marketplace capitalism. If the Left opens up the economy to foreign investment as China has done, West Bengal, too, would rise and shine. While Chinese Communist leaders fearlessly come to the USA and globetrot to enhance trade and commerce, Indian Left leaders are afraid to show and tell the world, Hey, West Bengal is the place to invest.

What about the media elite?

The middle class in India, which is growing richer by the day and feels more confident about India’s future today than any time since Independence, has little sympathy with Iran or another Islamic fundamentalist country. Dr Singh’s government understands the rising sentiment of the Indian people that ties with Canada, Europe, Japan and the USA are important. In the digital age, India can choose its neighbours and friends. The Indian elite is out of step with the emerging reality, as is the BJP leadership.

If the Indian media elite, Leftists or Shia Muslims have to send their children abroad for higher education, where would they send them, Europe/USA or Iran?

Iran of course, won’t they?

Monday, October 10, 2005


This week in corporate parody

Feature-rich but compromise is an option
If no breakdown, no obsolescence, hey,
What are we going to do, chapter 11?

Do you hear the dragon coming?
The yellow invasion
Day 11
Are you losing your mind?
One billion operating systems, command and control,
If you don’t kiss the dragon timeout for breakdown, in the snakeroom,
Hot properties make me insomniac, insania, i-searies, insecurity, inhumanity of the Indian infrastructure

Is that your final answer because i-know therefore i-bem complexity
Take back control from the rising sun neighborhood,
Upgrade i-cereal sans cholesterol, prepare for takeoff starting at 41.999
The world fastest reaching i-bem suspension system
That lifts off inter-continental for the next generation

If you press the i-button
Without losing one second of accuracy for which we apologize if
Our precarious martini was not cool enough for your dream date then i-recommend
Red goose with rib-eye of the dragon on sushi i-bem-extraordinaire
But you say lemon i-suggest olives
Unless you settle for average Joke, don’t raise the bar and let others figure out
How to invest in Russia oil&gas reserves
What is i-next that is for Bangalore to elevate investment commitment action and blood pressure bp.com.

I-bem ein Berliner

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Factor India globally

cyber age: ND Batra: From The Statesman

Advantage India
High quality guaranteed

India’s $700 billion economy, growing at a leisurely pace of seven per cent, is a small potato for a billion people, even if you add to it another $ 350 billion of the shadow economy. India needs a sustained growth of eight per cent or more to be able to absorb a projected 75 to 100 million-strong labour force during the next 10 years, apart from lifting the 25 per cent people still below the officially defined poverty line.

The world has come to know India’s cognoscenti, the knowledge class, its comparatively transparent legal system, and the substantial number of graduates and post-graduates coming out of its science, technology and management schools.

Even Asian telecom giants like Flextronics and Kyocera, are beginning to look at India with refreshing eyes, following the footsteps of European and US multinationals such as Motorola, Daimler-Benz, Pfizer, and GE. It seems the macroeconomic environment for doing business in India is improving. Girja Pande, Asia-Pacific director of Tata Consultancy Services was quoted in Reuters as saying, “People come to India for cost (savings) and stay for quality.”

I don’t know how widespread is this sentiment abroad about the quality of India’s BPO, but if this could be turned into a mission statement for corporate India, certainly the country has a great economic future.

The expectation is that India would be another China, not a replacement, mind you, but one more driving engine for the world economy. China has been providing a well-trained and disciplined work force to attract technology transfer and FDI from Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, helping it to grow at a nine per cent annual rate during the last two decades. China has the good fortune of being surrounded by industrialised and wealthy countries, which have been providing it with many growth opportunities. In contrast, India is surrby some of the most conflict ridden and failing states.

But India must overcome and find another route to rapid economic growth. Probably a most amazing piece of news came from Europe that German publisher Springer Science + Business Media plans to publish works in German in India, apart from expanding its existing English language publishing.

India has been known for its excellent editorial skills in English but to expand its grasp to other European languages is a great leap. Reuters too has moved some of its editorial functions to India. If the trend continues, India might emerge as a global publishing hub. Because India is a multi-lingual nation, with a deep and widespread respect for learning and the learned, Indians pick up foreign languages much more quickly than other people.

The world has yet to be aware of India’s linguistic advantage. Besides English, there are millions of Indians with a superb command of French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic and Farsi. For Springer Science, India has come to play an important strategic role. The success of the company’s English language publishing in India has led to its increased confidence that German language publishing too could be done in India, which shows how big is the potential for the outsourcing of publishing in India from the USA, Germany, England and may be France.

Echoing Pande’s observation — attracting the foreign customer with cost saving, but keeping him with high quality — Haank said: “It is undeniable that the financial attractiveness played a role in coming to India, but this is not unique to India. For the type of work we do, India offers not only a highly educated, but also industrious work force.”

According to a recent IMF, twice-yearly World Economic Outlook report, “If India continues to embrace globalisation and reform, Indian imports could increasingly operate as a driver of global growth as it is one of a handful of economies forecast to have a growing working-age population over the next 10 years.” It is expected that in the next five years, Indian exports would double and imports would triple, which would impact global economic growth for the simple reason that no single country can grow without triggering growth elsewhere. Economic growth is not a zero-sum game.

So what can India do to make itself attractive for boosting regional and global trade links? Meet the energy challenge because rapid growth, “rising incomes and accompanying urbanisation and industrialisation” will put tremendous pressure on “a tight global energy market,” as the IMF report said. The situation could become more dangerous when oil producing countries like Iran try to tie up business deals not with supply-and-demand but on a quid pro quo basis in international politics.

India must break its economic insularity. At present it accounts for just 2.5 per cent global trade compared to 10 per cent in case of China. Barriers are many — high tariffs, limits on inward investment, restrictive labour laws, strangling red tape and poor infrastructure — but not insurmountable.

More than anything else, India needs fiscal discipline, including the control of its runway deficit (eight per cent of GDP); and more importantly streamlining state finances.

India needs to engage in a new kind of public diplomacy that should present a vision that knowledge-based industries such as auto design, pharmaceutical research, healthcare, information technology, financial and accounting services, publishing and back office legal research are not only cost effective but they are of the highest quality.

Corporate India should guarantee quality in no uncertain terms: Money back if not satisfied.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What's a "killer app"

What is a killer application?

In a narrow literal sense the term “killer application” or "killer app” describes a software application that is so unique that it surpasses and even kills the competition. In a broader sense it means some method, technology, or an idea that creates something so attractive that everybody wants to embrace it. It becomes indispensable and its acceptance inevitable. Think about how the Chinese communist leader Deng Xiaoping redefined market capitalism to make it acceptable to the Chinese Communist Party and unleashed tremendous energies in China. The West Bengal Communist Party (India) could not do it. What a shame!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

There's more to offshoring

From The Statesman

Looking for the next big little thing?

Cyber Age/ ND Batra

The venturesome fear that they might miss out on the next big little thing, a Google, the self-organising information universe; Skype, a conversation-sharing website bought by e-Bay; or MySpace, a social network, acquired by NewsCorp. Money is seldom a problem; it is a consequence of one’s activities. Money doing nothing or being in the wrong place is a problem. Venture capitalists are on the lookout for newer applications, which they can bet on. If Kolkata becomes as friendly as Shanghai, investors will flock there.

On a recent visit to Bangalore, chief executive Derk Haank of the German publishing company Springer Science + Business Media said: “We constantly review each of our tasks and ask ourselves why this is being done in Germany or New York. We ask if we can do it in India?“ Hunting for talent and brainpower is one of the biggest challenges for business leaders today. For political leaders, the biggest challenge is to attract foreign direct investment that creates jobs and wealth by presenting their states as investment-friendly.

Even die-hard Communist leaders like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee of West Bengal need to wonder why the state is falling behind in spite of so much talent and brainpower. Why should Germany’s Springer go to Chennai instead of Kolkata? For most businesses, however, the best strategy is to look for an application, a technology, an idea or a business method that creates a new “marketspace”, that never existed before, and establish overwhelming market dominance as long as they can, until, of course, a newer one appears and makes it obsolete.

But a company doesn’t have to invent a unique application; instead it should be on the lookout for it and adopt it. This is one of the reasons that the US companies are offshoring their businesses abroad because offshoring, including R&D, is an extension of brainpower. If we network the world’s best brains, the rate of killer applications should increase dramatically because networking allows sharing and building upon each other’s ideas. But that also means that the rate of obsolescence will increase, leading to a state of turbulence. Controlled turbulence could be a source of self-renewal and creative destruction. File sharing in creative expression, for example, in music recording, is generating turbulence that might necessitate new business models, if law suites against illegal sharing don’t work well.

The Internet is challenging old business models. Businesses, however, flourish in a stable environment. Regardless of however one looks at Microsoft Corp and its market domination, Windows operating system has provided a universal standard and created desktop stability. But some times, a killer application could be replaced with a clone without adverse effects or disruption. For example, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer improved upon Netscape’s innovation, Navigator, which reached a critical mass and lost its dominance.

Killer applications have a short life span. Lindows and other open source innovations would soon challenge Windows. Google might cast a shadow over Microsoft. Nicholas Negroponte in the Introduction to Unleashing the Killer App (Larry Downes and Chunka Mui, 1998) wrote: “The primary forces at work in spawning today’s killer apps are both technological and economic in nature.” Semiconductors have “shifted the world’s economy from an industrial to an information base in a little over a quarter century”. Gordon Moore predicted that every 18 months, computing power will double at constant cost and his law has held its sway. The same has been true of the bandwidth which is becoming faster and cheaper.

Miniaturisation and speed have gone hand in hand with the power of networks, whose value increases dramatically with each additional node. From toys to public buildings, inexpensive digitisation has begun to penetrate everything. But all that began with development of the transistor which became the building block of integrated circuit and the tiny chip that now runs the digital universe. Whatever is digitised could be networked and shared. In theory, every human activity can be digitally designed and built with an Internet connection which would make every networked thing both a consumer and a supplier of information. This would make the global supply-chain system of information an inexhaustible source of further value-added information on which Google seems to be betting so much of its future. Networked databases could profile the whole earth.

Offshoring reduces transactions costs, but do firms really “exist only to the extent that they reduce transaction costs more effectively,” ask the authors, Downes and Mui. Core and the ring – a dynamic and stable core of top executives and a fluid and flexible ring of disposable employees, such as outsourced contractors or offshored workers – is the emerging shape of a modern business. And from this point of view, a firm becomes a “complicated web of well-managed relationships” with business partners and customers digitally spread. Not brick and stones, only digits shall rule. That’s the future. The authors state that killer applications are discovered more than invented. “To unleash killer apps, you must learn to see them coming and be prepared to put together whatever laboratories, partnerships and new business models are needed to make quick use of them. Before someone else does.”

That’s how you go from incremental to exponential change, as it happened when telegraph reached a critical mass in 1843, making possible the rise of the first network of collaborative information gathering and distribution. The world has never been the same.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Musharraf and Saddam Hussein

Rapists and bastards

Pakistan’s General Musharraf may be soft on rapists but he is America’s man, says Nicholas D. Kristof. Kristof is regarded by some as a most conscientious columnist of The New York Times. This is what he wrote in one of his recent columns, “Lining up to be raped?”

“The irony is that while he's a nitwit on social issues, Musharraf has proved himself to be a good economic manager, and the 7 percent growth rates generated by his reforms will help undermine fundamentalism and sexual violence in the long run. During his U.S. visit, Musharraf pressed for a free-trade area between the United States and Pakistan, and that's a great idea to promote Pakistan's development.”

So forgive his tirade against women?

Kristof is no less confused about right and wrong than is Phil Donahue, the ex-TV talk show host, who was de-throned from his national perch by Operah Winfrey long ago. In a shouting match with Bill O’ Reilly, Donahue said about Saddam Hussein what Kristof said about Musharraf: "Saddam was a bastard. But he was OUR bastard, just look at the pictures of Rumsfeld shaking his hand."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

India's great hope: entrepreneurs

When India goes wireless and footloose
ND Batra
From The Statesman

Said to be the fastest growing mobile nation, with each month 2.5 million more Indians being added to the existing 63 million mobile market, India is ingeniously transcending its infrastructural limitations. The cultural, political and commercial consequences of this new wireless mobility for a densely populated India are unpredictable. From a business point of view, wireless mobility is a boon for the small man; and may even open up new opportunities for the homebound woman for starting small domestic ventures. For some it might provide freedom from social constraints.

I recall the remark of a vice-president of Finland’s mobile phone company, TeliaSonera, who said a mobile phone for a Finn is a remote control of his life. But for a militant operating in Baghdad, the wireless is a means of death and destruction; or may be a door to the Jihadist paradise. Many a time television shows old footage of Osama bin Laden, with a handheld unit in his remote mountain hideout on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border as if he were directing his jihad remotely.

But we also see millions of businessmen using the same remote wireless technology for conducting billions of dollars of business in a borderless world. Culture determines the use of technology.

You might wonder, as I do, why the same technology impacts different cultures in so many different ways. During the T’ang Dynasty (618-906 AD), the Chinese were using wooden block characters for printing, which evolved to movable clay type in 1000 AD. The Koreans developed it further into movable metal type in 1234. But the printing technology developed by the Chinese and Koreans had no transformational impact on their societies. But look at them today; both China and Korea are ready to take over the world with their technological advances.

When Johannes Gutenberg re-invented the movable metal type printing technology in Germany (more than 200 years after it was developed in East Asia) and printed the first Bible in 1455, it shook up Europe and the rest of the world for several hundred years. The Europeans broke loose from the stranglehold of the corrupt Catholic Church, forcing it to reform itself after the protest movement initiated by Martin Luther, himself a Catholic priest.

The printing revolution splintered the religious unity of Europe, unleashing waves after waves of religious terrorism, star chambers and inquisitions, forcing thousands to flee to America to live in religious freedom. But it also created a strange wanderlust among the Europeans to explore the world for trade, which led to colonialism and empire building.

This is called the butterfly effect: a small change occurring in one corner of a complex system triggers massive changes (industrial revolution, for example), causing a total transformation in the system in the course of time. That is what wireless technology is doing today; it would metamorphose India.

Imagine Professor Amartya Sen’s “argumentative Indian,” with a Bluetooth clipped on his earlobe, staring into space and trying to clinch a point or haggling to make a deal with someone on the other side in cyberspace!Finland is one of the most wirelessly advanced nations in the world. Many new homeowners in Finland, a vast sparsely populated frozen land of the midnight sun, do not even bother to install the traditional fixed phone. They just go for the wireless, which is much more than a phone.

The Finns use it for Short Message Service (SMS), a low-cost way of sending small written messages to each other, instead of making calls; they use it for making purchases (charges go to the phone bill instead of the credit card); and they use it for many other activities where cash is required. In fact, a sales clerk might ask, whether to charge the card or cell.

Nokia, Lucent Technologies, 3Com and other telecom companies are developing universal standards that will give a lightening-speed access to the Internet and make information portable and accessible from mobile phones from anywhere in the world.

In the coming wireless world, where the handheld/handfree rather than the keyboard would be our lifeline, most of our experiences would be wirelessly mediated. The mobile unit, our ears and eyes, would become so “intelligent” and “prescient” that it would not only alert us to the next big sale or the best price for the next car model, but also warn us how stale is the fish; the gunman lurking in the shadow; or the landmine ahead. Wireless would become geo-spatial with Google Earth and other such competitive services from Microsoft and Yahoo.

It makes hardly any economic sense to get 650,000 villages in India wired at a huge cost, when the whole country could be wirelessly wired with a few satellites. The idea is not only practical but it is the only sensible way. Instead of re-tracing the footsteps of developed countries, India better leapfrog to the latest technology and go wireless; and footloose.

But will the wireless do any good to the Indian poor? Yes, of course. Along with the vote, if the poor in India are also given the power of the wireless including toll-free numbers, they would demand tools of economic development: cheap bank loans, roads, schools and hospitals. Wireless freedom would raise millions of small entrepreneurs — India’s ultimate great hope.