Learning by Proxy | COVID Leadership

More than all the world leaders and the Paris accord, COVID has delivered the true solution to the climate crisis; Theatres are hit and accepting any terms; Find out how the mRNA vaccine works!

While climate change has been a topic of intense conversation, no world leader would have come anywhere close to forcing the kind of change that COVID has done. So it would be fair to say, COVID has shown better climate leadership that any human has. It also makes you wonder if nature knows how to protect itself. Snuff out the virus called Humans.

It is also causing industries to alter in unthinkable ways and the theatre business will never be the same again.

COVID a gift to the Climate

2020 started with a lockdown in China because of the widespread infection. China shuts down towards the end of January every year to celebrate the Chinese new year which usually occurs towards the first week of February. They extended their factory shut-down beyond the new year to ensure that people do not return to work and the virus can be controlled. And thus began the process of reducing global pollution this year.

If on the one hand, human activity led emissions have come down, on the other hand, 8.2 million acres of forest land was burnt in unprecedented fires across Western America. According to Wikipedia, this also destroyed 13887 building. That fire season has still not officially ended. Gusts of wind continue to blow this week and utility companies are still considering leaving Californians in the dark over the weekend to avoid fire.

Australian bushfires burnt through another 27.2 Million acres at the beginning of this year. A vast amount of it during the Australian summer from Nov 19 - Feb 20. This BBC report has some incredible analysis.

SpainFrance and Russia also saw thousands of acres burnt as a result of wildfires. The hills of Uttarakhand were ablaze in may in India and hundreds of acres of forest burned. 

Since we are on the subject of fires…

The fire broke out at the Ghazipur landfill site Tuesday night. Fire officials said cooling operations are on to control air pollution. A fire broke out at the Ghazipur landfill site Tuesday night, burning for almost 24 hours before firefighters could bring in under control. This comes even as the capital’s air quality worsened to severe on Wednesday.

[…]

According to a senior fire official, a part of the landfill was gutted at night and the fire soon spread to other parts but there was no damage to life or property. “Since the fire and smoke caused damage to the environment and health, a case has been registered against unknown persons to investigate the cause behind it,” said a senior police officer.

Source: Times of India

I mention all the fires because they put a lot of carbon emission back in the atmosphere. The Earth has become so warm that it is just burning up!

On the flip side, human contribution to climate change was reduced; substantially. Between March and July, several countries across the world were in partial or total lockdown. This included a lack of activity in industries that meant far lower contribution of green-house gases. Road transport was arrested completely in almost every part of the world for close to a month. Air travel took a nosedive. The move to telecommuting and video-conferences has also meant a huge drop in travel across the board reducing emission. 

People went back to cooking. This meant fewer things were eaten out of a packet. The packet did not have to be produced. The factory that put whatever it was into the packet did not produce as much and all in all, this reduced the carbon footprint. 

The fear of the virus meant that non-veg consumption went down across the world but more specifically in America. This led to a decline in cattle farming and therefore fewer methane farts!

Several circus shows such as Davos WEF were not put up, this meant we did not fly thousands of jets across the world so that a 2 days event could be held.

Also, it seems people are starting to re-use. The average cotton shirt we wear takes in about 1000 Litres of water to go from fibre to shirt. Once used, clothes are thrown away into landfills not because it cannot be worn but because it is old or out of fashion. 

A massive force is reshaping the fashion industry: secondhand clothing. According to a new report, the US secondhand clothing market is projected to more than triple in value in the next 10 years—from US$28 billion in 2019 to US$80 billion in 2029—in a US market currently worth $379 billion. In 2019, secondhand clothing expanded 21 times faster than conventional apparel retail did.

[…]

Less than 1% of materials used to make clothing are currently recycled to make new clothing, a $500 billion annual loss for the fashion industry. The textile industry produces more carbon emissions than the airline and maritime industries combined. And approximately 20% of water pollution across the globe is the result of wastewater from the production and finishing of textiles.

[…]

Our latest research supports this possibility. We interviewed young American women who regularly use digital platforms like Poshmark. They saw secondhand clothing as a way to access both cheap goods and ones they ordinarily could not afford. They did not see it as an alternative model of consumption or a way to decrease dependence on new clothing production.

Source: Quartz

Other under-currents can be witnessed.

EIA projected total US power demand will drop to 3,716 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2020 from 3,896 billion kWh in 2019 before rising to 3,753 billion kWh in 2021.

That compares with an all-time high of 4,003 billion kWh in 2018, according to federal data going back to 1949.

Source: Economic Times

First of all, it shows that electricity consumption has been declining since 2018 as it is. Let me just put that decline in perspective. America is expected to consume 3716 billion kWh of energy this year. If you do the maths, it amounts to a mere 3% decline. Nepal has an installed capacity of 733 MW which produces about 650 million kWh of electricity. The decline noted for America in 2020 alone can power Nepal more than twice over!

As of late summer, governments around the world had pledged $12.2 trillion of relief in response to the coronavirus pandemic. That’s around 15% of global GDP, three times larger than government spending put forward during and after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and enough for every adult in the world to receive a $2,000 check.

[…]

Thus, taking into account the $1.1 trillion per year baked into the system already, the additional amount of clean energy investment needed to get on a 1.5°C track comes to just $0.3 trillion—or $300 billion—per year over the next five years.

[…]

Public funding appears to be available—for now—and given how massive this funding is, it provides a unique opportunity to catalyze the development, deployment, and dissemination of clean technologies during the next decade, an absolutely critical period in the fight against climate change.

Source: Quartz

To overcome the pandemic, every central bank has been printing money. This money can be put to use to re-focus economies in the right direction. Whether that is done or not will have to be seen.

The rural disruption that COVID has brought upon us has allowed us space and time to rethink. More important it has robbed the system of the inertia it had. It has upended a lot of existing practices and offers us an opportunity to pursue things differently. To use this as a point of inflexion and move towards sustainability. Obviously, there are several vested interests and the livelihoods of many at stake. It is rather easy to sit back and pontificate without having to figure out the practical challenges that this poses. Nevertheless, it is an opportunity.

Worst Hit

Movie theatres are usually mentioned when super-hit movies are released. This year, they have only been mentioned for the hit that they have taken in terms of business. Also, struggling to stay alive, producers have moved to Over The Top (OTT) services for the release for their movies. This would have been unthinkable blasphemy 11 months ago, no longer. 

The release of movies used to follow ‘Windowing’ to maximise returns. Windowing refers to the different window of release. The first 60-90 days went to theatres; then to television/OTT and then finally to CDs or Online purchase. Releasing them in these windows allowed each player to maximise the returns they got from the product.

Windowing be damned.

In another sign pointing toward where Hollywood is headed, Universal Pictures agreed to a deal with Cinemark—the second-biggest movie theatre chain in the US—to drastically shorten the time a film plays exclusively in theatres before it can be watched at home. The deal comes four months after Universal struck a similarly historic pact with AMC Theatres, the world’s largest cinema chain.

Under the agreement, all Universal films will play in Cinemark theatres for a minimum of 17 days (or three weekends) before the studio has the option to release some as digital rentals. After 17 days, a film’s shelf life in theatres—and its availability on-demand—will depend on its opening-weekend box-office totals.

Source: Quartz

Wonder Woman 1984, part of the DC Comics universe will release on HBO Max simultaneously. They don’t want to lose out of Christmas revenue just to keep the theatre chains happy. 

I heard the CMO of Asian paints a while back and he said our biggest problem is that we have no data about our customer. We have to just plan based on what the shopkeepers and distributors tell us. This was the same problem that production companies faced. The theatres owned the customers. Times Warner, Disney, and several other production houses are rolling out their streaming services, they can own their customers.

Some people still go to arcades to play video-games, but most people just buy a console and bring it home. It seems like theatres are headed that way. Theatres will have to work hard on improving the experience of the customer going forward if they want to stay relevant.

Digital Hit

Last week the Indian government made a very important change to the FDI policy as per the new policy, digital news media companies were brought under the FDI cap of 26%. This has been a sector that has had no regulation till now. 

The imposition of a 26 per cent limit on foreign direct investment in the digital media sector can hamper its growth potential, be a disincentive to incorporating companies in India, and lead to an unfair advantage for global players, said digital news companies and experts.

Source: Hindu Business Line

Media is playing a huge role in shaping the opinions of people and traditional new media has always had this limit. Given the importance of digital news media, it is only natural to extend this. I did not expect the repercussions to be this swift!

HuffPost India, the Indian web publication of the US-based digital media company, HuffPost, shut down on Tuesday after six years of operation, leaving the 12 journalists who worked there out of a job.

The closure is the first direct impact the Modi government’s new policy limiting foreign investment in digital media publications has had on the Indian media landscape. Under an official notification, FDI in digital media has been capped at 26% of equity. Media ventures with FDI beyond the limit have a year to disinvest. Until recently, there was no limit.

Source: The Wire

India = Google Lab

American companies are known for launching their latest products and features in the US before bringing it to the rest of the world. But for one company, that market has been fast seeing a shift. Google launched Android Pay, back in 2015, don’t be surprised if you have not heard of it, just a reflection of the disaster that it was. It was relaunched as Google pay in America and India in 2018.

Google Pay is already big in India with several thousand users. It uses the UPI system for money transfers, which is possible by providing the UPI code in the apps. One can scan the QR code as well and pay accordingly, besides using the usual method of sending it via by searching him/her in the contacts.

However, now the search giant is expanding the reach of its Pay service to new countries. This time it has brought Google Pay to 23 new countries and 24 new banks, as mentioned by Google in its dedicated page and reported by Android Police.

Source: Hindustan Times

Google has pushed its ad business to the limit and they are probably beginning to realise that they need to diversify. Especially with Anti-trust cases moving forward against them in the US. Also, the European Union starting to question many of their business practices. The French government has made Google agree to pay a portion of their ad revenue to French news publications since they populate their results with news links. The days of easy ad revenues are numbered. 

They are now coming with a new retail offering in India.

Tech giant Google is making a foray into airport retail with a tie-up with travel industry engagement platform Airbuy to make its services available across six airports in India.

Flyers can now use Google Pay at Airbuy app to book lounges and F&B. 

Founded in 2019 by a group of classmates at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Airbuy aims to increase airport revenues and enhance the overall passenger’s shopping experience through advanced Machine Learning capabilities.

Source: Inc42

They have money. They just need to find new areas where they can deploy their products and leverage data. India seems to be the most benign policy landscape and hence the company is beginning to experiment in India and use the country as a lab to fine-tune their products before releasing it to the rest of the world.

This might also mean, many more jobs getting shipped to India!

mRNA

mRNA stands for Messenger RNA which is a single strand of the molecule of RNA that corresponds to the genetic sequence of a gene. It is read by the ribosome during protein synthesis. In layman terms, if you have seen a DNA helix, mRNA is like one side of the DNA helix. Since it is one-sided, it results in the development of the other half called the tRNA (transfer RNA) which is read by the Ribosome to produce the protein. 

The COVID vaccine by Pfizer and Moderna have announced use this technology. They have a very high degree of efficacy but require insanely low temperatures. They both use the same technique for drug discovery based on mRNA. This is perhaps the quickest any vaccine has been brought to market as well. Moderna is very excited because they call the mRNA a platform akin to a computer operating system on which many things can be developed.

Recognizing the broad potential of mRNA science, we set out to create an mRNA technology platform that functions very much like an operating system on a computer. It is designed so that it can plug and play interchangeably with different programs. In our case, the "program” or “app” is our mRNA drug - the unique mRNA sequence that codes for a protein.

Source: Moderna

Moderna is using the mRNA which has part of the Viral DNA code to synthesise the protein that is the virus and then have the immune system attack it. Since the mRNA is only one side of an RNA strand it is highly unstable hence the low-temperature requirement. 

Vaccine discovery will get faster in the coming years.

Also

Trump pardoned the Turkey

Deep in the Utah desert, they found an impeccably crafted steel monolith

Punjab farmers have been protesting against the farm bill for over a month. They are now marching to Delhi to protest and the government does not want that.


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What we think, we become ~ Buddha

Snakes & (Urban)Ladder

One day you are worth a 750 Crores and the next you gifted your company to Reliance.

UrbanLadder was acquired last week by Reliance for less than 20% of the money invested in the organisation. While the fact that the business would not be shut down seems like a win? Does the fact that it got sold for such a low price make it a loss?

Reliance acquires UrbanLadder

Now imagine reading the following headlines - 

General Electric buys WhatsApp

Baidu acquired by PetroChina

We constantly look at the startup eco-systems in America and China and tend to compare ourselves with that. Imagine, General Electric was the largest acquirer in America or PetroChina was buying all the startups in China. That is not the case. Instead, you have Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon in America; Alibaba and Tencent in China; all of whom are technology companies. Consequentially, they understand the nuances of technology. Further, they have assets that can leverage the acquisition immediately. This renders the acquisitions of greater value to them.

Now, think about Reliance. They are already trying to pivot from being an ancient world business to being a modern technology-driven business. For now, the Jio story is holding its own, but truly excelling in e-commerce or for that matter any product is years if not decades away. For a business such as Reliance, UrbanLadder does not offer much value because there is no immediate way to leverage the same.

In the past 25 years, India has not been able to produce a truly global consumer tech startup. Many of the startups that India did produce, remained focused on the Indian market because the investors kept telling them that India itself is a large market. This was their biggest undoing. If they were to focus on India, they needed to go local, double down on languages and develop depth. Instead, they kept, and continue to skim the metro cities and remain anglicised. 

So we ended up with companies that were neither truly Indian nor global.

Who could have bought UrbanLadder? Flipkart? They had to themselves wave the white flag and get acquired by Walmart to ensure continued survival. Maybe Paytm, but their own e-commerce foray has not been a raging success to be able to leverage UrbanLadder. The fact that there is not even a third company that can be mentioned on that list is a cause for worry in and of itself. 

Under such circumstances, the company got sold to Reliance for what would be chump change for them. The founders would have been nothing to show for the years they invested in the company. The investors were also forced to take a huge write-off on their investment. Everyone is a loser. Even Reliance which is not really in a position to take the company and run.

The only positive to come out of this are lessons. For founder, investors and the eco-system at large.

Learning by Proxy | Chinese Imperialism

China has imperial ambitions. Their attack on Hong Kong democracy and the Indian borders are just far more naked. Their nefarious plan called OBOR is coming apart.

If a traveller were to circumnavigate the globe in 1600, here is what the traveller would have seen. Europe was suffering from the Black Plague; the US was not even sparsely populated and Indigenous people still could roam freely. India, on the other hand, was having some of the best architecture being translated into buildings. The forbidden city in China was in its glory years. Nobody would have thought it would be the other way around in 400 years.

China wants to use the western strategy all over again, but with a twist. Unlike the Westerners who came from squalor and robbed the gold; China wants to appropriate a from the poor. 

China seems to have made several poor assumptions. Much like the VCs who thought India was the next China and just sold Urban Ladder to Reliance for 1/5th the valuation claimed at the time of its last funding.

Belt Road Initiative

Vasco da Gama arrived in India on 20 May 1498. When he landed in Calicut, he requested the locals to take him to the Zamorin of Calicut so that he could negotiate trade. He took along with him some of the products that he had brought with him from Portugal. The Zamorin told him that the products, as well as the crafts that his people could produce, were far superior to what he brought from Portugal. The Zamorin refused to offer a trade agreement because Vasco da Gama had nothing worth trading. All he was able to extract was permission to buy spices from Calicut.

Wanting a preferential trade agreement, the Portuguese kept returning and spending time to understand the politics of the region. They worked to destabilise the region and went to war with Cochin in 1504. The Portuguese won and with that began the 400-year plunder of a nation we today call India. On the other coast, the French set up a port city called Pondicherry. Unable to work with the French, the British set up two ports. One north of Pondicherry called Fort Madras and another one in the delta called Calcutta. The western coast remained under the Portuguese for more than a century. In 1664, when Catherine de Braganza married Charles II of England; as a gift, he was given a swampland north of Goa called Bombaim. The Portuguese did not see it coming.

The British loot of India alone is valued at USD 45 Trillion today. For perspective, the Indian GDP was estimated at 2.7 Trillion in 2019. The Europeans made away with Hundreds of Trillions from across Asia. The western world is rich, solely because of this shameless plunder.

The Chinese are great students of history. Their modern-day equivalent of the European trade mission is called Belt Road Initiative (BRI) or as the Chinese like to call it One Belt, One Road (OBOR). Beautifully hidden in the story of the silk route, this initiative is projected as the revival of the ancient Silk Route that acted as a conduit of trade and wealth. Unveiled in 2013, the project envisages building more than a Trillion dollars worth of infrastructure. Involving 62 nations, there is a host of infrastructure that is supposed to be developed under the project including, ports, roads, railway lines and airports.

Most of the countries that have partnered with China will be making minority investments, with China providing loans to these countries to cover the cost. For the countries that refused to join, China had projected the prospect of economical ruin. Being one of the biggest manufacturers in the world, China will provide preferential trade agreements to the countries that are a part of this program.

The Europeans came looking for trade and took the land. China is playing the same game. But…

China has spent an estimated $200 billion of the estimated $1.2-1.3 trillion investment gap on infrastructure development under the BRI. The generous funding of the BRI projects has been possible due to the Chinese financial institutions which operate through four distinct channels; policy banks, state-owned banks, international financing institutions, and sovereign wealth funds including the Silk Road Fund with a market capitalization of $40 billion.

[…]

The pandemic has halted the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Cambodia’s Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, the Payra power plant in southern Bangladesh, and the Port City development project in western Sri Lanka. Even before Covid-19 wreaked havoc on supply chains and imposed travel bans on Chinese workers, many of China’s BRI projects especially in Africa were coming under scrutiny. African Countries have already called for $100 billion in bailouts and debt relief to help them cope with the devastating effects of the pandemic.

Source: Financial Express

When infrastructure is put on hold, use health. 

China has hosted a high-level virtual meeting with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka to build up “political consensus” in containing the Covid-19 pandemic and boosting economic development.

The “five-parties” meeting, termed so by the Chinese foreign ministry in a late-night statement on Thursday, was an expansion of a similar meeting held in July involving Pakistan, Nepal, and Afghanistan, and hosted by the foreign minister, Wang Yi.

Source: The Hindustan Times

Of all the countries on that list, Sri Lanka should know better. They have already been forced to gift a port away to China. A port which was built in a place where little would arrive in the form of trade. The entire story by the New York Times is incredible. [link above]

Of all the countries, the one, of greatest strategic importance to China has been Pakistan. After 9/11, the Bush administration funded the country heavily; this allowed American to use the country as a condom during their penetration of Afghanistan, ostensibly to hunt out Osama Bin Laden; who happened to be sitting right under their noses. Nevertheless, the defence contractors got to make a lot of money blowing holes in a country that was already quite dilapidated. As the Bush-era came to an end, China started supporting Pakistan as a counterweight to India. This also meant building infrastructure across Pakistan and especially along the Iranian border in a region called Balochistan. Balochistan is Pakistan's Jammu and Kashmir.

To build highways and the port’s infrastructure, the land has been expropriated without the rightful owners receiving a penny of compensation. Furthermore, the promised jobs have, in Balochistan’s case, gone to workers ‘imported’ from other provinces of Pakistan instead of to the local people. In the province alone, 15,000 soldiers have been deployed to ‘protect’ the Chinese workers and the investment. The Baloch maintain, however, that CPEC is not or not only an economic project but a military project too. In Hyrbyair Marri’s words, ‘Pakistanis and Chinese have been calling it an economic project to hide its military and strategic aspects. Because of Balochistan’s socio-political conditions, CPEC is not an economically viable project, which is well understood even by Pakistan’s military and political elite. NCDA and CPEC-authority are attempts by Pakistan’s military to directly control coastal areas of Balochistan where millions of Punjabi and Han Chinese people will be settled to secure their military bases and permanently colonise the areas by implementing demographic changes where secretly underground submarine bases and naval bases are being built.

Source: The Print

China has Pakistan right where it needs it. Much like the East India Company, it was trading first (actually weapons), then infrastructure to make that trade feasible, then army to protect that infrastructure and soon they will take everything.

Moreover, recently, Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, previously the Minister of Maritime Affairs, revealed to the senate that Pakistan will get only nine per cent of total revenues from Gwadar Port. The remaining 91 per cent will go to China over the next 40 years, as per the agreement signed between the two countries. senators raised their concerns over this substantial imbalance of sharing assets, with China getting the most out of it, but as we all know by now, civilian institutions in Pakistan count for very little.

Source: The Print

The development of the Gwadar port was started not because of the potential for trade. It was meant as a strategic port to undo any advantage India might be able to gain out of the port that it is co-developing with Iran in Chabahar. Now, Pakistan will end up losing Balochistan to China.

Pakistan is an incredibly mismanaged state. They have kept the state alive only because of the alms that they keep receiving from different countries. China has its agenda, maybe they will swallow Pakistan whole. But till then they have to maintain a facade. 

At the sixth meeting of the financing committee on ML-1 project, which includes dualisation and upgrading of the 1,872 km railway track from Peshawar to Karachi, decided that Pakistan would initially request China to sanction the only USD 2.73 billion in loan out of the total estimated Chinese financing of about USD 6.1 billion.

This development comes even as Pakistan's economy has been teetering on the verge of bankruptcy for some time and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even worse.

Source: Wion News

This is a deal with the devil. Pakistan does not need the money for railway tracks, it needs it to keep the government alive. Chinese don’t like Muslims all that much. If anybody has doubts, they need to look only as far as Xinjiang province and what the Chinese have done to the Uighur Muslims. When the Chinese come for Pakistan, it is not going to be pretty.

India did not agree to join the OBOR initiative, partly because China has been building a lot of infrastructure along its border and India did not want to provide China with further excuse to build more military assets. Instead, India borrows from Japan to fund our infrastructure. The rate at which the Japanese population is shrinking, by the time the loans comes due, there will probably be nobody in Japan left to collect it!

China has also been making its economy look good through a tremendous amount of government spending. The fact that consumption is not back to normal is shown by the fact that corporates are struggling. China made a liquor company buy a state-owned highway company to save it from defaulting. But this cannot be the standard solution for all struggling companies.

A Chinese mining firm that defaulted on its debts this week held an emergency creditors’ meeting on Friday to address potentially “huge credit risks”, as a series of defaults by top-rated state-owned enterprises (SOEs) sent shockwaves through China’s corporate bond market.

Investors have traditionally seen bonds issued by state-owned firms as less risky due to their perceived government backing. But the recent delinquencies triggered a selloff in debt issued by state firms in impoverished provinces, raising fears of a brewing credit crisis.

Source: AlJazeera

This is bound to hit banks and insurers in China and hurt them. There is a lot of pain that is hidden. This may be part of the reason the Ant Group IPO may have been stalled. Having a gigantic financials company go public has the potential to make a lot of these things very transparent. 

China’s $45 trillion banking industry has suffered its worst profit slump in more than 10 years after being put on the front-line in helping millions of struggling businesses hurt by the pandemic.

As part of the response, China has allowed many borrowers to delay interest and principal payments to March next year, which is hiding the true sense of the bad debt bulge.

The industry’s non-performing loans climbed to a record 2.84 trillion yuan ($429bn) as of September 30, according to China’s banking regulator.

Source: AlJazeera

To make matters worse, China owns about a trillion dollars in US government bonds; with the US squeezing them on policy, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they retaliate, the value of their bonds suffer; if they don’t, they suffer. They have been trying to reduce their holdings since Trump came to power. Also, many of their OBOR partner countries are also on the verge of bankruptcy and their own companies in China seem plenty stressed.

Hence attempting a more low-cost strategy, China started down the path of setting up a trading block. A new trade deal called Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership includes over a dozen countries across South-East Asia.

The world’s biggest trading bloc is taking concrete shape in Asia and it doesn’t include the US—pointing to a significant challenge ahead for president-elect Joe Biden.

Yesterday (Nov. 15), 15 countries signed a trade deal which covers 10 Southeast Asian countries, including the region’s biggest economies, Indonesia and Thailand, as well as China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. In other words, as President Donald Trump turned his back on trade negotiations in the region led by the US under former President Barack Obama, countries in Asia didn’t standstill.

Source: Quartz

When East India company started the conquest of India, between 1650 and 1850, the company almost went bankrupt a few times. The monarchy and the English government stepped in several times to save the company before finally nationalising the East India Company in 1857. The Chinese imperial expansion has not been undertaken through a shadow entity. They are USD 200 Billion down and not really in a place to reap the rewards yet. 

Have they bitten far more than they can chew? Would the trade deal allow them the same leverage that putting infrastructure in place does? Only time will tell.

Not an Iota of hope

The last storm to visit central America was Eta which skirted past Cancun. This time Iota tore right through the countries. Amongst them, Nicaragua - the worst-hit, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize were some of the countries to deal with the category 5 hurricane.

Iota is now considered the strongest storm to hit Nicaragua in the country's history and has killed six people, according to the Nicaraguan government.

Four adults and two minors are dead, according to Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo.

More than 400,000 people in Nicaragua were affected by the storm as it made landfall near Haulover, Tuesday as a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds near 155 mph, according to the NHC.

Over 62,000 people in the Central American nation have been moved into 683 government shelters following the storm, the country's government said on national television Tuesday.

Source: CNN

This will affect crops and the ability of the people of the country to make a living. In the next 6 months expect a caravan of immigrants to arrive at the US border hoping to just stay alive. This is what climate migration looks like. While it is painted as an immigrant crisis due to unstable governments, the reality is that it is manmade. 

The growth of the west was financed by pollution. They took as much as they could from the environment. During the 20th century, they pushed the boundaries of productivity, till such time that it became unsustainable and then they outsourced it to China and blamed China for climate change. 

Equatorial countries will pay the price for these excesses and the people who live there will struggle to stay alive as this crisis worsens. 

European Right - Wrong

America is not alone in having put fools at the helm. There are countries, that are part of the European Union who are equally foolish and now, this is representing a challenge when it comes to working out a bailout for the continent.

But that unity was shattered on Monday when Hungary and Poland blocked the stimulus plan and the broader budget, cracking open one of the bloc’s most persistent, existential divisions over what a European Union democracy looks like.

The two eastern European countries said they would veto the spending bill because the funding was made conditional on upholding rule-of-law standards, such as an independent judiciary, which the two governments have weakened as they defiantly tear down the separation of powers at home.

Source: New York Times

This is going to be much like the stimulus stand-off in America where the Republicans and Democrats have not been able to reach agreement on the stimulus. There will be compromises made to overcome this problem.

“I had to tell her that if this regulation drafted by the European parliament and the German presidency were to be accepted -- it requires two-thirds majority so we cannot block this -- then we have made Soviet Union out of the EU,” Orban told state radio.

He said the criteria would amount to “blackmail on an ideological basis without objective criteria”.

“This is not what we wanted ... we did not create the EU for having a second Soviet Union,” Orban added, stopping short of threatening to veto the entire EU budget process.

Source: Reuters

Statements like this would not help in arriving at a compromise. Would EU rupture further? Can a landlocked country like Hungary afford to do this?

Making a mess

Trump has been throwing a tantrum ever since the elections concluded. He has been trying all legal measures, without success. He has tried pressuring state officials - Republicans - with death threats even; did not work. He has finally fired the person responsible for the integrity of the elections because he did not agree with Trump.

Raffensperger told the FOX 5 I-Team the hand ballot recount is mostly matching the computer count and mistakes they have found have not significantly changed the vote total.  

Senior I-Team reporter Dale Russell said Raffensperger commented after discussing death threats and scathing political attacks he has received from members of his own party. 

Source: Fox5

The last-ditch effort seems to be to try and get the electors to vote for him against the will of the masses. I don’t know if that will work or not, but if it does - this is how a civil war begins. In the meantime, he fired the Secretary of Defence and a whole host of Pentagon officials. And the announcement was made that he was going to draw down troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Both countries are a mess that George Bush (another Republican) created; thankfully his investment in Halliburton soared. 

The troop withdrawals are to be completed 5 days before the inauguration on 15 Jan 2021.

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced Tuesday that the US will withdraw thousands more US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq by January 15, 2021 -- just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, confirming plans first reported by CNN on Monday.

Miller said the withdrawal, which will leave approximately 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and roughly the same number in Iraq, "does not equate change" to US policies or objectives but provided no details about the plan and refused to answer questions following Tuesday's appearance in the Pentagon briefing room.

Source: CNN

Trump is also exploring the possibility of launching an attack on Iran. Biden wants to reopen the negotiation with Iran which Obama had undertaken. Attacking them would make it impossible to pick up those conversations.

Before he goes, he wants to create an international policy mess so grave that COVID looks like a walk in the park. 

How to concede

In the middle of the global pandemic, Azerbaijan and Armenia went to war with one another over a disputed region which had been occupied by Armenia. In the quest for peace, Russia brokered it by ensuring that the region was conceded to Azerbaijan and the Armenians move out of the region. Much like the American Presidency, the Armenians want to ensure that what they handover is a mess.

In a bitter farewell to his home of 21 years, Garo Dadevusyan wrenched off its metal roof and prepared to set the stone house on fire. Thick smoke poured from houses that his neighbours had already torched before fleeing this ethnic Armenian village about to come under Azerbaijani control.

The village is to be turned over to Azerbaijan on Sunday as part of territorial concessions in an agreement to end six weeks of intense fighting with Armenian forces. The move gripped its 600 people with fear and anger so deep that they destroyed the homes they once loved.

Source: AP News

This is the Standard Operating Procedure for all concessions in 2020 by the looks of it.

Refund

The travel industry has been slaughtered by COVID. The stoppage of international travel at a scale never witnessed before. Cancellations of events have caused a deep decline in demand. Airbnb has been affected by this just as much as any other company.

In its S-1 regulatory filing, the home-rental giant revealed that it has issued more than $1 billion in refunds during the pandemic, under its policy for extenuating circumstances.

“While this helped our guests, it created problems for our hosts—half of whom depend on their Airbnb income to pay their rent or mortgage,” the filing notes. (According to the San Francisco-based company, more than 55% of Airbnb hosts are women, and the average annual Airbnb earnings per host with at least one check-in was $7,900 in the 12 months ended Sept. 30.)

Source: Quartz

Often the question of why Airbnb gets valued the way it does, comes up? I do not suppose any hotel chain would have refunded a Billion dollars in bookings. None. It is a raw reflection of how strong their business is. 

Also

Did you know bears are also dogs?

Have you used hand fertiliser?

While Facebook is spreading lies in the US, in the Solomon Islands the government wants to ban it because it is spreading the truth about the government


You have come this far, so I assume you enjoyed reading this. Please do subscribe! 

If you are not subscribing but still want to know when Learning by Proxy drops; follow me on Twitter @viveksrn 

It takes me time to write this and if more people read it and comment on it, it encourages me, so please do share this post with anyone who might like to read it.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

When things are bad… Keep going

You often need to put effort to keep going only when things are hard; not when they are easy.

It is 1984, Ivan Lendl is playing the finals of the French Open against John McEnroe. He is two sets down 3-6, 2-6 and barely hanging on to the third one. From the perspective of Lendl, it would probably have been easier to lose than to win. The third set is 3-4 and the game is 0-40.

Lendl had to lose only 5 more points and the match would have been over.

I would not be writing about that match if that is what had come to pass. He won one point and then one more and then one more. He told himself all he needed to do was break McEnroe's service once. Just once. And then the break came. He went on to win the match 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5. If you look at the entire match Ivan Lendl had his service broken more times than McEnroe did.

Lendl just kept going.

The difference between life and sports often is the duration for which you need to keep fighting. Even the longest match would be over in a few hours. In life, you might have to keep the fight up for months, perhaps sometimes years.

You need to find the spark the will keep you going. For Lendl, in that match, the spark was breaking McEnroe’s service once. The spark that you need to see to know that you are successfully fighting back might be different, but you need to see that spark. Once you see it, chase it.


Take a wild guess when 'BookMyShow' was founded?

August 1999. They were the Swiggy for movie tickets back then. They used to have a fleet of bike riders who would hand-deliver tickets which customers could book by calling a number. Then in 2001, Bryan Adams came to India. The company had a flood of bookings and their boys would show up to find the buyers refuse the tickets. Priced at Rs. 1000 having 500 tickets on the road meant absorbing 5 Lacs in working capital which was huge for the company at the time. They almost shut down their business but instead downsized to three members and decided to just survive. They survived selling customer management software.

They launched as an online business in August 2007 with their ticket booking portal. This time, no delivery involved. Customers got a message that they showed at the box office to get the tickets. 21 years on, they were on the verge of turning a unicorn and then COVID happened. They streamed nonsense but kept themselves alive. And they keep going.


The hardest thing to do when things are bad is to keep going, the temptation to give up is quite strong. In reality, you need to keep going only when things are bad. When things are good, it is like moving in the direction of the flow of the river; you would not have to expend a lot of effort to keep going.

Often, the troubles in our lives are self-inflicted. At times like the ones we are facing today, one can feel like a victim of the circumstances. It may feel as if you have no control over things in your life and feel helpless. Even so, keep going. Do what you have to do and keep going. It is a matter of time, things will change, there will come a day you will look back and think, it was so hard, but I came through.

Just don’t give up. Keep going.


You have come this far, so I assume you enjoyed reading this. Please do subscribe! 

If you are not subscribing but still want to know when Learning by Proxy drops; follow me on Twitter @viveksrn 

It takes me time to write this and if more people read it and comment on it, it encourages me, so please do share this post with anyone who might like to read it.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

Learning by Proxy | The States of America

America continues to be leader ONLY when it comes to COVID, losing legitimacy as a super-power every moment that passes; COVID on the other hand is the leader of the world!

India held elections in the state of Bihar. Bihar happens to be one of the poorer states in India and many of them migrate to other cities and work hard to make money. It is also considered to be lawless in places. The election was called, despite misgivings, results were accepted and democracy moves forward.

Unlike, of course, the American elections.

The States of America

Imagine you have a friend who is close to you. So close you depend on that friend for financial advice. Whose suggestions you take to make critical decisions. Now, say you discover this friend has bipolar disorder. Would you depend on that friend just as much?

Pretty much what the whole world thinks about America.

After a lot of drama, befitting of the man in the office, the Presidential race finally came to an end with MSNBC calling the elections in favour of Joe Biden. Soon all of the other networks followed. America broke into a nationwide music festival to celebrate the victory. Everyone was dancing to the YMCA. 

It is another thing that the same day 126,000 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in America but let us come to that later.

Credit where credit is due. Donald Trump has irreparably damaged America’s standing internationally. His insistence to prolong the drama is only furthering the hurt.

Biden gave an acceptance speech filled with the same glorification of America that has suckered so many immigrants to go there in the first place. 

America is the beacon of hope, a land of opportunity, where hard work pays off, which makes it the greatest nation in the world.

It is important to consider that despite all of those words, the truth remains that a few thousand votes in states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona could have made this another decisive victory for Trump. About a 100,000 votes across the four states. That is the real margin of victory, not the 4 or 5 million total votes.

Four years ago, Trump won the presidency. A person who has been accused of sexual harassment by no less than 26 women, who has used his university to swindle Millions out of students, who has no respect for women or humans in general, who cannot even construct a proper sentence; a person who you would probably not hire as your office boy became the President.

When Hillary Clinton lost the elections and Trump won in 2016, many theories were floated : 

  • There was not enough participation from the Democratic voters. The democrats were suppressed, especially people of colour for whom it was made unduly hard to vote. 

  • Further, the fact that Bernie Sanders was dropped also caused many of the Democrats to shun the elections as a sort of revenge on the party.

  • Democratic voters were targeted online with misinformation campaigns. 

And then the 2020 elections took place :

  • Highest early voter turnout with over 100 Million voted before the election day.

  • Highest participation in any American elections. Period.

  • Most of the things going around social media, hell the social medial companies themselves had been discredited, sued and nobody trusted a word.

  • The grassroots movement was so strong that suppression was near impossible. 

  • Even Bernie got behind Biden. Also, for the democrats, the alternative universe had been visible in painful detail.

So what happened? One would have to go back 20 years to even think of an election this close.

This election has made it obvious that America is nothing like it is made out to be. A large portion of the population continues to live in the dark ages and would prefer that people are treated as such; quite fervently. Rather than a shining beacon of freedom and forward-looking thought, the country is filled with just as many backwards-looking people. 

In the south of India, I have heard America being colloquially be referred to as The States. It is normal to hear - He is left to The States. The inherent wisdom just became apparent to me. It should be called The States of America. United they are not. 

When Americans talk about being conservative it can quite easily be compared to Saudi. It is quite an extreme variety. In fact, it makes the Saudis look liberal now. This veneer behind which America has been hiding for centuries has been unveiled. 

If you want to see what that veneer looked like, look no further than the video below:

For all the words spoken, that same man supported the Trump presidency. Although he may have spoken up against him on one of two issues, he was just as complicit as any other Republican. Despite being called a loser! By Trump.

If you want to see what Trump supporters think like, here is a peek into their minds.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?height=314&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fthedailyshow%2Fvideos%2F277772113471164%2F&show_text=false&width=56

<iframe src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?height=314&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fthedailyshow%2Fvideos%2F277772113471164%2F&show_text=false&width=560" width="560" height="314" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="true" allow="autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; picture-in-picture; web-share" allowFullScreen="true"></iframe>

71 million people in America think like this. So while Biden may have won by 4 million votes, that represents 2% of the ballots cast. So the difference is between 49% of the people being racist and misogynists as opposed to 51%. With that veil gone, would they ever be able to project a moral high ground, act as the policeman for the world? Even though Biden has won, I believe their ability project that position has been lost for the foreseeable future.

What was earned in 75 years since World War II, Trump squandered in a matter of 4 years. Each day that he prolongs conceding the race, is one more day spent tarnishing the image of America. On the global stage, the only leverage that remains for America is capital. That capital is being threatened by COVID.

Here is a flavour of how wealth disappears

The number of F-1 student visas granted to applicants in mainland China came to just 808 in the six months through September, down 99% from 90,410 in the same period a year earlier, according to data released by the U.S. Department of State. Chinese students make up the largest share of international students in the U.S., at roughly 30%.

The sharp plunge suggests that tensions between Washington and Beijing are affecting the career plans of Chinese students as well as academic exchanges between the two countries. Difficulty in obtaining American visas could steer some Chinese students toward other destinations, such as Australia, Canada and Japan.

Source: Nikkei

Students are free money to any economy. They take nothing and effectively funnel foreign investment into small businesses. It is money that comes into the economy with zero expectation (ok maybe they want to get jobs at times). But at the time that the money comes in, it is free. Imagine 90,000 students spending 5000 dollars each month. USD 450 Million each month; vanished! That is all of Trump’s debt. AND this is just China. 

COVID Reloaded

This year began with the news of COVID outbreak in China which was beginning to move into Europe. The year will end with the disease continuing to dominate the headline. Many economies across the world went into lockdown in spring; almost all of the western European economies are looking at a repeat as COVID tears through Europe.

New lockdowns have not yet stemmed the current influx of patients, which has only accelerated since it began growing in September, according to official counts of current patients collected by The New York Times. More than twice as many people in Europe are hospitalized with Covid-19 as in the United States, adjusted for population.

In the Czech Republic, the worst-hit nation in recent weeks, one in 1,300 people is currently hospitalized with Covid-19. And in Belgium, France, Italy and other countries in Western Europe, a new swell of patients has packed hospitals to levels last seen in March and April.

Source: New York Times

Many European nations are closed for business for the entire month of November seeking to re-evaluate in December. Might I add, there is a man-made calamity called BREXIT which will also arrive by the end of December. Europe is staring at some very hard months.

All the countries that face cold winters are going to be at the receiving end of this pandemic. The US went through a bruising election and the President was intent on bringing out his base. Just overlay the map below with the states where Trump won.

Source: New York Times

Source: New York Times

While the bubbles in the mid-west might seem small, part of the reason is that this region is sparsely populated. The case counts have been shooting up! This does not augur well for the economy. A country that is perhaps not going to be able to go into lockdown because 71 Million people would like to keep schools and businesses open. A senate that is unwilling to provide financial support and a vast majority of people who don’t believe in science. This is the perfect storm! Maybe this is what Trump meant when he spoke about the Red Wave that was coming.

In the northern part of India which is usually swamped in pollution, COVID is starting to have a wild run as well. Delhi has seen record-setting case counts again. 

Delhi has hit the peak of the third wave of the novel coronavirus, Health Minister Satyendar Jain said. He further added that cases will come down soon in the national capital.

"The third wave of COVID-19 is at its peak in Delhi. The number of cases suggests it is the worst wave so far. But the cases will come down soon," Jain said, PTI reported.

Source: Livemint

He is stating as fact what is opinion. This is not good for a city that is already suffering from low bed capacity. Also, winter is just starting! India is opening up almost all of itself, I feel some restriction on movement might be needed but with the state of the current economy, it may not be a feasible option.  

Also, it seems to be that CoV-SARS-2 has an insidious long term effect. It takes a toll on the testosterone levels in the male body.

In some cases, the virus is causing the sexual hormones to go for a toss. Since the pandemic hit, the said doctor received cases of at least 17 men including youngsters who had been infected with SARS-CoV2 and now have zero sperm count. “Their testosterone levels have dropped drastically,” the doctor noted.

Two months ago, Turkish doctors published a study which confirmed findings that testosterone levels in men infected with Covid-19 reduce substantially. Of 232 males hospitalised with Covid in two centres in Turkey, up to 113 (up to 51%) reported hypogonadism, a condition in males characterised with lower than normal testosterone levels. Even in those that did not have any symptoms, out of 46, 30 reported a loss of libido.

Source: The Ken

The only country that seems not at all concerned despite being in a very cold region - China. I don’t know if they are lying (amazingly capable of + censor) or if they have found a solution which they are keeping from the rest of the world (sounds like a conspiracy theory) but something does not add up here.

Sanskari Streaming

All of the online news, content and streaming services have been brought under the purview of the Information and Broadcasting ministry of India. The streamers had lobbied the government hard to keep themselves independent. Those activities have bitten the dust. 

The notification, signed by President Ram Nath Kovind, said the decision has been taken in exercise of the powers conferred by clause (3) of Article 77 of the Constitution, by amending the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 and it will come into effect immediately.

With this, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has the power to regulate policies related to news, audio, visual contents and films available on online platforms.

Source: Hindu

Streamers have had a good run. Now, they will have to deal with the weight of the expectation of the government and the censor board. That is the easy part. The online news blogs coming under regulation is going to pose challenges to many of the popular online blogs. Remains to be seen how tightly or loosely they are monitored. 

Also

Amongst other things Pompeo said Taiwan is not a part of China

https://www.wionews.com/world/taiwan-not-part-of-china-says-mike-pompeo-beijing-fumes-342920

Armenia lost the war to Azerbaijan. Their parliament

Coal is surely dying

I used to think being an air-hostess is a tough job, you need to put your emotions aside and slap on a smile every day. Apparently being an anchor on Fox is just as difficult!


You have come this far, so I assume you enjoyed reading this. Please do subscribe! 

If you are not subscribing but still want to know when Learning by Proxy drops; follow me on Twitter @viveksrn 

It takes me time to write this and if more people read it and comment on it, it encourages me, so please do share this post with anyone who might like to read it.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

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