Chuck Schumer’s “Outsourcing Tax”

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, who many say aspires to be the Senate Majority Leader should Nevada’s Harry Reid lose his election or step aside, has proposed a new bit of legislation that may be of interest to SM readers:

In an effort to slow the exodus of U.S. telephone work to overseas services, Sen. Charles Schumer is introducing legislation that would impose an excise tax on companies that transfer calls with American area codes to foreign call centers.

The measure would also require telling U.S. customers that the call is being transferred and to which country.

Companies use call centers to give customers technical product support, answer billing questions or provide other information. They often use several operators.

The fee would be 25 cents for calls transferred to foreign countries. There would be no fee for a domestic call center. Companies would have to report quarterly their total customer service calls received and the number relayed overseas. [BusWeek]

The 25 cent fee isn’t ideal. It is anti-business and too nativist for my taste, but this is a tough economy and the Senator is engaging in a bit of phony “I feel your pain” to protect his right flank. What I really don’t agree with is the second part of the proposed legislation,which requires a company to announce which foreign country the call is being transferred to. Turning that into a law does nothing but encourage the worst in people. What’s next, pass a law that requires the call center worker to use their real names and accents as well?

In a survey of American economists in 2006, Robert Whaples found nearly 90 percent agreed the U.S. should eliminate remaining protectionist tariffs and trade barriers, like the new one Schumer is proposing, that there are lower costs and a net gain from free trade. Most also agreed the U.S. should not restrict American employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. [BusWeek]

And India of course is the main outsourcing punching bag. It doesn’t matter that Ireland and Israel are the beneficiaries of a great deal of outsourcing as well. Only countries like India and the Philippines get the bad public image.

Please let Schumer know that proposing stupid legislation, just to protect himself from a Republican opponent that is a “terror warrior,” is not the right way to get the South Asian American part of his base to turn out on election day or open their checkbooks for his campaign.

You can contact him here.

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The Copycat Facebook Ban

BangladeshFlag.jpg Remember how on May 19th, the Pakistan government banned facebook? Phillygrrl wrote about how all the hoopla was over how there was one page on Facebook dedicated to the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!” which was in turn a retaliation to the anti-South Park activists out there. Soon after, people in Pakistan couldn’t access YouTube (that ban was lifted a few days ago, selectively).

Well yesterday, Bangladesh totally copycatted Pakistan.

Bangladesh has blocked access to Facebook after satirical images of the prophet Muhammad and the country’s leaders were uploaded, say reports. Officials said the ban was temporary and access to the site would be restored once the images were removed.

A spokesman for the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) told AFP Facebook had “hurt the religious sentiments of the country’s majority Muslim population” by carrying “offensive images” of Mohammed. [BBC]

I just think it’s kind of silly that that they are “officially” citing the cartoons TEN days after the actual “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!” That site isn’t even up anymore. If that was really the issue, the halal-ness of the interwebs in Bangladesh, wouldn’t they have banned Facebook at the same time Pakistan did – on May 19th the day before the ‘sanctioned’ date of May 20th?

I think the real issue is that the current Bangladesh government was insulted by cartoons made about THEM. And they are using the anti-Muslim sentiment as a scapegoat. Continue reading

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than accepting an invitation to a dinner party only to discover over the salad course that your host’s girlfriend is a virulent racist. Just ask Sir Ben Kingsley. published this blind item a few days ago:

“Ben Kingsley told a story on The View this morning about an unpleasant dinner he had at the home of a Hollywood actor: ‘There are times when I wish I could have said or done something differently. [For example] The last time I was here, there was an old Hollywood actor who invited me back to his home. He was with his aging German girlfriend. I was instantly nervous around her. During the meal, she said “Are you Jewish?” And I said, “No as a matter of fact, I’m half Indian and half English.” And she said “Oh my god, that’s even worse.” [audience gasps] So, I did not drop my knife and fork and say “F* you.” I stayed in a state of rage throughout the dinner. Why? Because everything happens for a reason. And now here I am with you and [pointing at the camera] if you’re still around, you racist old witch…[gesturing to The View panel] these girls have now heard it, and you know who you are! You know who you are!’

Nearly everyone reading this can relate to this story at least a little. I certainly know what it is like to silently sit in a state of rage after hearing a racist remark at a party, wishing I had either a) called the person out, b) immediately gone home, or c) both. I have to admit that I’m a bit jealous that Kingsley got to verbally tear this woman to shreds on national television. Who hasn’t imagined doing that?

Watch the video below for the full effect of Kingsley’s tale (complete with faux German accent.) The look on his face as he shouts “You know who you are!” is priceless.

How have mutineers handled situations like this? What would you have done differently if given a do-over? And any guesses as to who hosted this ill-fated dinner party? (Most of the Gawker commenters think it’s this Hollywood legend, which, if true, would make me more than a little sad.) Continue reading

Attacks in Lahore at Ahmadi Mosques: an Eyewitness Account

As many readers may be aware, today there has been a terrible pair of attacks on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, by gunman armed with grenades and automatic weapons. As of now about 70 people have been killed. In some ways the style of the attacks — heavily armed gunmen on foot, mowing down people at random in crowded places — reminds one of the attacks by a group of militants on Mumbai, in 2008. Within Pakistan itself, there is also the recent memory of the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. The BBC has an eyewitness account by an unsigned observer:

I saw one of the attackers as he was entering the sermon hall, then I ran away. He very much reminded me of the people who attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team, he was wearing similar clothes – the traditional Pakistani dress shalwar kameez and he looked like someone from a tribal area.

I went upstairs and I found a room with a bed, I hid under the bed. I was too scared to leave, even after the firing had stopped. I saw from the window security personnel, rescue people, fire brigade. The bodies had already been taken away.

This is a big old building, it’s 50 years old. I was on my own. I didn’t know what was happening. I could hear the firing going on for quite some time.

I am not surprised by this attack. We were expecting it for three or four weeks – a threat was published in a local newspaper that there would be attacks and the authorities were informed.

That’s why we have our own security guards in front of our mosques. They are not professional, they are volunteers. They were the first to have been killed. (link)

That last detail is distressing: there were specific warnings published in a local newspaper? And the authorities still didn’t see fit to send in police to guard the mosques? Granted, if these guys were anything like the militants in the Mumbai attacks, even armed police may not have posed a significant deterrant. But still: it seems like a malicious kind of negligence to have left these folks to fend for themselves.

This tragedy is part of a long history for the Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, who form a minority community of about 4 million (many Ahmadiyyas have left Pakistan since the 1970s). Wikipedia describes how the sect was declared to be non-Muslim, and effectively disenfranchised through a series of ordinances, starting in the 1970s. More details about the history of Ahmadi political agitation in Pakistan can be found here (Musharraf initially aimed to counter some of the discriminatory laws targeting Ahmadis, and effectively ended the ban on Ahmadis voting in elections in 2002). Finally, UNHCR has a limited timeline concerning political agitation involving the Ahmadis here.

It should also be noted that there was a serious Maoist attack in West Bengal, India today as well — leaving more than 70 dead as a derailed passenger train was struck by an oncoming cargo train. See a BBC account by Soutik Biswas here. The sense I’m getting is that the sabotage that caused the derailment itself was relatively minor, and might have led to minimal casualties; the event that has caused the high body count was the secondary collision. Continue reading

Guest Blogger: Lakshmi Gandhi

Do we dare hit you with yet another guest this month? Yes, we dare. Many of you already read her blog anyways, so why not read her at this party? Lakshmi Gandhi is joining us for a guest stint. She does a great job on her blog covering pop culture and politics among other topics.

And because we are South Asian I will highlight her degrees:

BA in History from Bryn Mawr College and a MA from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Alright that’s enough intro. She’s ready to go. Please join me in welcoming her.

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M.I.A. in the N.Y.T.

I’m wondering what readers think of the long profile of M.I.A. in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. The author of the piece, Lynn Hirschberg, seems to have gotten pretty much unprecedented access to the Sri Lankan/British/American star, who recently had a child.

For Hirschberg, the high point in terms of subversive M.I.A. performances was the Grammys in 2009, when M.I.A. appeared on stage with four male rap stars, nine months pregnant. Apparently her contractions started while on stage! But Hirschberg also has some pointed comments on some of M.I.A.’s recent work, including the strange (I thought, awful) video to “Born Free.” Here is Hirschberg’s account of it:

Unlike, say, her performance at the Grammys, which was a perfect fusion of spectacle (a nine-months-pregnant woman rapping in a see-through dress) with content (Maya’s fervor was linked to the music), the video for “Born Free” feels exploitative and hollow. Seemingly designed to be banned on YouTube, which it was instantly, the video is set in Los Angeles where a vague but apparently American militia forcibly search out red-headed men and one particularly beautiful red-headed child. The gingers, as Maya called them, using British slang, are taken to the desert, where they are beaten and killed. The first to die is the child, who is shot in the head. While “Born Free” is heard in the background throughout, the song is lost in the carnage. As a meditation on prejudice and senseless persecution, the video is, at best, politically naïve. (link)

I’m not so much interested in M.I.A’s particular politics, which I’ve disagreed with in the past. Yes, she has a very emotional, oversimplified account of recent events in Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers in particular — let’s not have that fight again.

I’m more wondering what kind of image of the artist and performer we get from this article. Does M.I.A. really know what she’s doing? She’s had an album that was a big Indie hit (“Arular”), and one major commercial success, with “Paper Planes,” (off “Kala”); and there were several other solid, highly creative tracks off that second album. Given how important her producers are in her creative process, is it even fair to say that she’s at the helm of her own ship? Do you think she’s due for another success with her upcoming third album, or is her current direction a musical misfire, born of too much self-indulgence?

Finally, what did readers think of the second single off the as-yet unreleased new album, XXXO? Continue reading

We Regret To Inform You That Your Condolences Cannot Be Accepted At This Time


As Amardeep noted last week, we are at about the one-year anniversary of the end of the war in Sri Lanka. For the occasion, Groundviews did a special edition, to which I contributed a short story. I’m cross-posting it here.

We Regret to Inform You That Your Condolences Cannot Be Accepted At This Time

a short story

We regret to inform you that your condolences cannot be accepted at this time. At present, both our pain and our hope defy that word, which has been offered and denied us, which we need and do not need, and which in any case we cannot accept, because they (your condolences) will not reach from what has happened to what will come.

We find the word condolences stunning in its insufficiency for past and future.

We evacuated our homes in the light; we vanished from our homes in the dark; we walked away from our families, toward the weapons, and wished that we could turn around. Our bodies entered the earth in places we cannot now identify, and so we are everywhere, blown to dust. By both dying in and surviving this place, we will live here long after your condolences become a ghost in your throat.

We joined others’ battles, willingly and unwillingly; we walked forward on paths not our own when the paths we would have chosen were closed to us. We were incidental; we were vital; we were enemies; we were friends; we were disputed; we were uncounted. In a small country, we felt far away from you. In a small world, we felt far away from you. We were your people and not your people.

We could not wait for you to remember us.

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Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby / Let’s Talk About You and Me

Let’s talk about the old men in the corner who will stone us – if
We talk about sex

I know this news is more than a month old, but the charges against actor Kushboo dragged on for so long that I think it’s perfectly acceptable to drag on their well-deserved death. You might have heard that late last month, the Indian Supreme Court quashed all defamation charges against her. It was alleged that in a 2005 interview with the Tamil edition of India Today, Kushboo denigrated the good name of Tamil women by insinuating that they all have sex before getting married. For this, she was lampooned in the Tamil press, and there were street protests in Tamil Nadu – one particularly memorable for a donkey bearing her name.

First, a wee bit o’ background. Kushboo is a star of Tamil film and more recently television. Those in the know will relish taking apart the previous sentence in the comments section as the understatement of the year. They are welcome to. I will simply say that both of my grandmothers watched her serial “Kalki” and watch her weekly quiz show “Jackpot” – brought to you by Arokya Milk – with a devotion not seen since… dare I say Doordarshan’s Ramayana?

Photo by Scott Carney

The big stink started with India Today’s 2005 annual issue on SEX – the most blatant attempt to boost ratings since… dare I say Doordarshan’s Ramayana? (Kidding, kiddiiiiing). The issue features a sex survey, and each year is different. The theme of the 2005 survey was “Sex and the Single Woman.” The Tamil edition of India Today interviewed Kushboo for the issue and the dignity of Tamil women hasn’t been the same since. I can’t find anything on India Today’s site (so I don’t know if what I’m giving you is the real deal), but here’s a version of the interview which the author transcribed. I humbly offer the following translation. Please feel free to correct.

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Pass the Mic: Interview with Riz MC

I was first blown away by Riz Ahmed when I saw him perform on Britz. It was only afterwords that I realized that Riz wasn’t just an actor – he’s also known as Riz MC. Straight out of the U.K., his lyrics are dynamic and controversial and his sound dances on the edge of gritty hip hop and electro sci fi. Amardeep’s written about Riz MC’s controversial lyrics in the past. I had the chance to sit down virtually with the infamous Riz. Here’s what he said.

Taz: Though you’ve been MCing for a few years, MICroscope is your debut album. Why did you wait so long to release your first album?

Riz: I guess you could say it was because I was busy filming. But in reality, I also wanted to take the time to find my sound and set out a unique style of music and lyrics – dense lyrical ideas with bold simple electronic or totally acoustic sounds. This album took 18 months to make.

T: On your website you say that “the album is coupled with a groundbreaking live show and a trans-media online experience.” What exactly does that mean?

R: There’s a live show that goes with the album. It’s a gig or concert but it also has a story line in which the audience is involved in moving forward. It’s pretty unique as a concept and in the way it’s performed. There’s a short film that ties in with it too. Both the website for the album and live shows are cutting edge digital interactive. So it’s an album, show, film, and website all set at different points in the same story world. Continue reading

She Just Pulled a Kaavya

Hey Karmacy, I think some girl in India pulled a Kaavya Viswanathan on your lyrics (h/t Deepa).

Evidence 1 (skip to 4:35 to see her “rap”):

The original Karmacy video of Blood Brothers:

If I knew Final Cut Pro, I would have edited the videos next to each others, but I think you get the idea. Okay, fine. I do realize that these American/Indian/Wherever Idols are an elaborate form of karaoke and no one ever sings original material. But, is it just me, or does she claim the lyrics as her own? (And who is this Patel rap referred to by the judges?)

She auditioned with the same Karmacy song. Audition video below the jump. Continue reading