Toronto Meet-up Recap

Props to the “Hogtown” mutineers who showed up at Epicure Café this past Saturday. My insult (calling Canada “America Junior” because the RSVP count was low) was certainly uncalled for as over 20 readers and lurkers (and even a few commenters) represented. Neha did an outstanding job picking a place as we had an entire upstairs section to ourselves at a restaurant that overlooked Queen St. in the fashion district. No posts were discussed and no issues debated (except Obama vs. Clinton is a popular topic in Canada as well). To clear up a common misconception, SM Meet-ups are not about who knows the most about topics on the site. Instead, liquor was consumed and a good time was had by all! If you attended and want to see the rest of the pics then email me.

The monkeys in the basement of our North Dakota world blogging headquarters have been throwing around rumors of upcoming DC and NYC meet-ups (in addition to throwing their feces).

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Outsourcing in equilibrium?

Outsourcing to India is nearly limitless in potential, both boosters and opponents alike claim. As evidence, they point to the proliferation of services that are currently being performed in India. No longer limited to programmers and call centers, outsourcing has grown to encompass BPO, medical transcription, tax return preparation, and concierge services. The latest frontier is the legal profession

In the past three years, the legal outsourcing industry here has grown about 60 percent annually. According to a report by research firm ValueNotes, the industry will employ about 24,000 people and earn revenue of $640 million by 2010. Indian workers who once helped with legal transcription now offer services that include research, litigation support, document discovery and review, drafting of contracts and patent writing. The industry offers an attractive career path for many of the 300,000 Indians who enroll in law schools every year. [Link]

This perspective is based on a vision of India as having a nearly limitless pool of cheap labor, which isn’t true. While there are a lot of Indians, those actually qualified to hold these jobs are fewer in number and competition for these workers is increasing:

Young people say it is no longer worthwhile going through sleepless nights serving customers halfway around the world. They have better job opportunities in other fields… The complaints come at a time when the Indian information technology sector, which includes companies that run call centers and do other outsourced work like medical transcription and claims processing, is facing a dearth of skilled labor… India faces a potential shortage of 500,000 professional employees in the information technology sector by 2010… [Link]

And wages in India for the most qualified workers has increased to the point where there are little to no cost savings for companies:

India’s software-and-service association puts wage inflation in its industry at 10% to 15% a year. Some tech executives say it’s closer to 50%. In the U.S., wage inflation in the software sector is under 3%, according to Moody’s Economy.com…while most Indian technology workers’ wages remain low — an average $5,000 a year for a new engineer with little experience — the experienced engineers Silicon Valley companies covet can now cost $60,000 to $100,000 a year. “For the top-level talent, there’s an equalization,” [Link]

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Zakaria Coming to CNN: Grab ‘em by the lapels!

According to the Associated Press, the ubiquitous Fareed Zakaria is going to be getting his own show on CNN, to be called “Fareed Zakaria — GPS,” where “GPS” stands for “global public square,” not “global positioning system”. Reading the news reports on the coming show, my biggest concern is that people simply won’t be interested enough to watch:

“Fareed Zakaria — GPS,” which stands for “global public square,” will air Sundays at 1 p.m. EDT and be rebroadcast at a yet-to-be determined time on CNN International.

CNN U.S. chief Jonathan Klein approached Zakaria about a year ago and was told that “the only show I want to do is one that fills in the huge gaping hole in American television, which is 95 percent of the rest of the world,” Zakaria said in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday.

[Zakaria] said he’s frustrated when he turns on American news networks to hear endless discussions about why Hillary Clinton should or shouldn’t leave the presidential race, because there is legitimate news elsewhere. He fears a vicious circle is at work: Networks don’t show much international news because they fear viewers aren’t interested, and viewers aren’t interested because they get so little of it. (link)

The problem with taking this approach is, of course, that it’s a little like saying to viewers, “take your medicine, pay attention to serious international news, not this fluffy campaign nonsense.” American viewers are used to a diet of tabloid-style cable news that is obsessively America-centric; indeed, they prefer it. On TV, once you leave the protected space of PBS, entertainment has to be part of the package. to his credit, it appears Zakaria isn’t completely unaware of this, but listening to his comments I’m not sure he really gets it:

Zakaria also said he understands the need to make a compelling program that won’t seem like the college seminar you tried to skip. “People instinctively think they’re going to be bored by this and you have to grab them by the lapels,” he said. (link)

The problem with this, of course, is that people watching his show are not going to be wearing lapels — because they’re not wearing suits! Indeed, on Sundays at 1pm, they’re wearing old t-shirts while in the middle of doing laundry, flipping channels to avoid having to vacuum (sorry, TMI). If Zakaria and the producers of the show don’t quite get that, I’m not quite sure how the show will work. Continue reading

A Rift in Microloan-World

Last week’s Economist had an interesting blurb on the disagreements within the Microloan community around Compartamos bank in Mexico

SINCE CompartamosBanco, a Mexican lender to the poor, went public a year or so ago, a rift has been growing in the booming microfinance industry. To supporters of traditional charitable microfinance–providing loans and other financial services to help lift people out of extreme poverty–the Compartamos initial public offering has come to symbolise an aggressive move by capitalists to profit from the poor. To its backers, on the other hand, the success of Compartamos, despite the recent lacklustre performance of its shares, symbolises how the profit motive can help lift many more people out of poverty than charity alone could ever do.

In an earlier Sepia Mutiny piece, I noted that while nearly all parties heap praise on the specific mechanisms of microcredit, there is some interesting dissonance around the narrative and goals of the system

While I’m a huge fan of microloans in general, I fear that for many, the lesson drawn is that micro-loans somehow subvert “traditional” capitalism (whatever that may be). It’s a flame that Yunus certainly fans and that many, but clearly not all, boosters latch onto…instead of reenginering capitalism to help the poor, microloans are far more profoundly reengineering charity to help the poor help themselves. Why point out this seemingly semantic difference? It’s about identifying the long term goal and the moral high ground…. Microloans are ideally a new on-ramp helping these individuals participate in the virtues of Global Capitalism (and eventually graduate into traditional banking) rather than some sort of bypass.

And sure enough, the High Priest of Microloans, Mohammed Yunus, is one such critic who seeks the “bypass from capitalism”….

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Gay Rights in India — an Update

Nearly two years ago, we posted on a court case involving Section 377, India’s notorious law criminalizing homosexuality. A case had been filed in the Delhi High Court (in 2001!) by the Naz Foundation, and the High Court had initially turned down the case. Later, the Indian Supreme Court directed the Delhi High Court to consider the case after all.

Last week, the case finally came up for a hearing, and the proceedings are described here. The chief lawyer for the Naz Foundation, Anand Grover seemed to hit all the right points: the law is a colonial relic; the law is vague to the point of absurdity, opening itself to arbitrary interpretation and arrest of presumed homosexuals; the law insults the dignity of homosexuals; and the law runs counter to the interests of public health. All of these are strong arguments (read the article for the nitty-gritties, including a rather fine distinction made between “carnal intercourse” and “sexual intercourse”).

The government’s confused defense amused one of judges hearing the case, Justice Sikri:

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blockquote>Counsel for the Union of India submitted that her client had filed two affidavits, one by the National Aids Control Organization (“NACO”) under the Ministry of Health and the other by the Ministry of Home Affairs. She admitted that NACO’s reply is supportive of the Petitioner. To this, Justice Sikri remarked that if that is the Union’s position, then why did it not amend the law itself?

The Counsel for the Union of India replied that the Ministry of Home Affairs has opposed the petition but that its counter was filed in 2003 prior to NACO’s reply (in 2006). She admitted that the client (i.e the Ministry of Home Affairs) had not given any new or additional instructions. It therefore appears that the Ministry of Home Affairs stands by its earlier stand of contesting the petition.

Amused by the fact that the Union was divided in its opinion, Justice Sikri remarked “It (homosexuality) is not a health hazard but is affecting the home”. (link)

In short, the government’s initial response (from the Ministry of Home Affairs) on Section 377 contradicts the National AIDS Control Organization’s response (the latter group actually agrees with the Naz Foundation). The government here can’t coordinate its own defense, making any attempt to actually defend the law seem a little schizophrenic. Continue reading

Posted in Law

Mississippi Masala Gets Organized [Updated]

It has the typical story framework of the Indian H-2B guest workers trafficked to the US to work for little money and live in cramped quarters. Except in this story the guest workers have fought back with a strategic two year grassroots campaign, culminating in Washington DC this week.

Mississippi Workers in DC.jpg Sepia Mutiny has been following this story over the past few years (March 07, March 08) about the Indian guest workers that were trafficked to the Gulf Coast…

Signal International, a marine and fabrication company with shipyards in Texas and Mississippi, hired approximately 300 laborers from India as welders and pipe fitters in Mississippi under a guest worker program. In addition to decent wages, Signal allegedly promised good accommodations and steps to permanent US residency to its guest workers. But some of these workers have protested that Signal did not live up to any of its promises, and that they’ve been subjected to “slave” conditions. [Sepia Mutiny]

In the past year, this group of of workers have really organized, and organized well with the support of the New Orleans’ Workers Center for Racial Justice.

On March 6, 2008, over 100 Indian shipyard workers walked from their jobs in Pascagoula, Mississippi, located on the Gulf of Mexico…The Pascagoula workers who participated in the walkout, all highly skilled men from India who had paid recruiters to bring them to work in the U.S., contend that they have been subject to human trafficking. [Samar Magazine]
From Mar 18-27, 100 workers held a satyagraha or truth in action, in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, traveling from New Orleans to Washington DC, to reveal the truth of the guest worker program that is being used to sanction forced labor by migrants and to further disenfranchise the most vulnerable American workers. [Press Release]

On May 14th, the workers launched a hunger strike in front of the White House, The hunger strike ended this past Thursday, after eight days of fasting. Their demands? A continued presence in the US or the duration of the Department of Justice investigation into their case, a Congressional hearings on the abuses of the guest worker program, and a just immigration system. Most importantly, they are organizing to shed light on the abuses of the U.S. government’s H-2B guest worker program. Continue reading

Final Reminder: SM Toronto Meet-up is Saturday

We have received quite a few RSVPs for this Saturday but I honestly expected more from Canada’s most populous city. On this side of the border some people refer to Canda as “America Junior.” I hope this won’t be a “junior-sized” meet-up as well. Neha is primed to make reservations for us. How many will it be for? Just a reminder:

When: Saturday May 24th at 5p.m.
Where: The Epicure Café, Toronto.

Unless I get stopped at the border this is going to happen.
Please RSVP if you haven’t already so we can get an accurate headcount: abhi at sepiamutiny dot com

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Bangalore’s Airport/Traffic Woes

Bangalore’s much-awaited new airport is finally opening this week, though the supporting infrastructure around it isn’t yet ready, according to the New York Times:

The way things stand now, the trip to the new airport, 21 miles outside town, will easily take 90 minutes from the city center, and even longer from the software companies that have turned Bangalore, also known as Bengaluru, into India’s own Silicon Valley.

India’s famously sluggish bureaucracy has meant that workers are only now scrambling to finish widening the main road to the new airport. The city water supply has yet to reach the area, making it impossible to begin construction on the shops and office towers that are supposed to sprout around the airport. Even though airport officials were ready to open on schedule, in March, air traffic controllers said they needed more time to train. Late Wednesday, airport officials said they had been told by the government to postpone the opening by one day, to Saturday. (link)

The words “famously sluggish bureaucracy” are, of course, de rigueur in any article on public works in India, a little like travel writers mentioning the heat. It’s a truism that is so true, it sweats.

In this case, though, it’s not just the government that has bolloxed this up. The airport was actually built and designed by private shareholders (including Siemens), who have operated under the assumption that the old airport, closer to the city center, will be closed once the new aiport opens. But given the incredible growth in the demand for air travel in India (and in Bangalore in particular), the new aiport may not be big enough after all, and the group Bangalore City Connect is calling for the old airport to remain in operation in parallel with the new one. I think that makes sense — why throw away an existing facility?

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By The Time We Get To Arizona: Jindal Makes the Short List

I believe I was among the first bloggers to throw out the name Bobby Jindal as a possible running mate for John McCain — I made the speculation back in February, not too long after McCain emerged as the front-runner in the Republican primaries. At the time it seemed a bit out there, even to me, and there was never any indication from anyone close to McCain that Jindal was on their list. Still, the story kept floating around, and now it seems to have moved to the next level.

For the first time, there are signs that Jindal is being considered among a very short list of possible running mates by the McCain camp:

Senator John McCain is planning to meet this weekend with at least three potential Republican running mates at a gathering at his ranch in Arizona, suggesting that he is stepping up his search for a vice president now that the Democratic contest appears basically decided, according to Republicans familiar with Mr. McCain’s plans.

Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a one-time rival for the Republican nomination, have all accepted invitations to visit with Mr. McCain at his ranch in Sedona, these Republicans said. (link)

A couple of other names are also mentioned by the New York Times article, including Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, and Bob Portman. Lindsay Graham will also be invited to the “Veep Vet” party in Sedona, though thus far it appears he’s going as a close friend of McCain’s, rather than as a potential VP.

Given all that competition, it still seems unlikely that Jindal would be chosen. The strongest reason I was able to come up with before was a presumed Republican anxiety about a game-changing, mass-movement emerging around Obama. And while that has happened to some extent, it’s also become clear that there are limits to its reach (i.e., Appalachia). So the idea of off-setting a minority Democratic candidate with a minority Republican Vice-Presidential candidate is probably seeming less urgent now.

Still, perhaps we’re due to have our first Punjabi Vice President. Continue reading