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Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | China

This edition became insanely long. I going to have to take some of the stuff that happened this week and move it to the next edition. Something significant is afoot in China and its relationship with the rest of the world.

As a kid, I used to love cricket. Now and then there would be these matches where India would play a team that represented the Rest of the World. All without exception were exhibition matches, but there was a thrill associated with it. If we won, we got to beat the whole world in a single match. The best from every country.

China is increasingly taking a position where it looks like China (and some crook states) Vs the rest of the world (not that there are no crooks here). How it will end is anybody’s guess, but the tension is building.

The biggest participants of the first world war were France, Britain and Germany, but it started in Sarajevo with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The world is a tinderbox right now. A random spark can set it ablaze.

Shifting Sands

Japan was considered a manufacturer of cheap transistors in the 1960s. Their products were considered low quality. Fast forward to 1980s, getting a Sony was a mark of buying a high-quality product. China went through a similar cycle. Even a decade back Chinese products were considered cheap and low quality. The last decade has caused a huge pivot in perception. Along with that pivot, a lot of product manufacturing moved to China. 

Being at the epicentre of the manufacturing revolutions made Japan the economy it became. From the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki emerged a nation that was revitalised and more powerful economically. The same happened with China, from being a hopelessly poor agrarian economy, they became the second-largest economy in the world. With the newfound power and money, there are new problems that are emerging.

Where does China end? (Physically)

China has always had a different interpretation of where its borders end. China seems to think all of the South China Sea belongs to it. The reason the South China sea is important is because of its strategic value to trade. The countries involved in this dispute include – Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Borneo. By extension of the fact that the US is responsible for the safety of Japan as per the treaty to end World War II, they are also involved.

Hong Kong has been burning for the past 2 years. China is not used to defiance by its citizens. Further, they cannot afford for this spark to spread to the mainland. A lot of money and power will be at stake if that does happen. Hence the clampdown on Hong Kong.

China has had border disputes with India for the past 60 years. They continue to claim that land on the Indian side. This has led to a war-like situation at the northern border. For China, Aksai Chin which they occupied over 60 years ago is important to keep their control over Xinjiang. The road from Tibet to Xinjiang passes through Aksai Chin.

The northern army commander, Lt Gen. Y.K. Joshi, on Saturday said the army would “continue all efforts to restore status quo ante along the LAC”, the statement assuming significance against the backdrop of the no-intrusion claim by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This is the first time an army commander has officially spoken about “restoring status quo ante” along the Line of Actual Control, which entails that the Chinese have occupied Indian territory.

Source: The Telegraph

They have also been having disputes with Bhutan

China is stepping up pressure on Bhutan to settle their bilateral border dispute. In addition to laying claim to more territory in Bhutan, Beijing has revived an old land swap deal that will require Thimphu to cede control over the territory to settle its border dispute with China.

Source: The Diplomat

Pandemic

There are a lot of tall buildings in China, but there is no Trump Tower in China. Also unlike Moscow, Beijing never wanted one. So Trump has been quite pissed with China right from the outset. Despite berating them for years, he did not have anything that he could really hold against China given the American dependence on China for manufacturing.

COVID-19 provided the perfect segue to turn against China and also get all of the “allies” to turn against China as well.

China made things worse

China had been giving away loans across Africa because Africa was seen as the next big thing. The idea was not to help them develop, the idea was to trap them in debt. This became obvious when they squeezed Sri Lanka for the port China had financed. Sri Lanka could not repay the debt and ended up handing over the port. There is a Wikipedia article on this – Debt trap diplomacy. 

The total loans outstanding from China come up to USD 600 Billion.

There is a global (especially western) push to forgive African Debt. This is deeply motivated by other considerations and China has said – No.

Also, when the pandemic began, and a lot of countries rushed supplies to China.

A total of 21 countries and the United Nations Children’s Fund have donated epidemic prevention and control supplies to China, a foreign ministry spokesperson said Wednesday.

Those countries are the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Hungary, Belarus, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, spokesperson Hua Chunying said at an online press briefing.

Source: Xinhuanet

A couple of months later when those same countries needed supplies…

Countries’ procurement agents are fighting each other in China for access to the protective equipment that must play a key role in stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

He was responding to a spate of reports of consignments of protective masks destined for European countries being bought up by United States officials, sometimes even as aeroplanes stood ready for departure on the tarmac.

Source: Reuters

Hanlon’s Razor – Do not ascribe to malice what can often be ascribed to incompetency. Even so, the mind looks for a more complex explanation.

In this context

Hong Kong is an important port through which a lot of capital moves. The Chinese take over of Hong Kong has hurt the financial interests of rich people in several countries. There is no better way to attract the ire of nations than hurt the rich. The policy, for now, seems to be to hurt China economically.

Huawei is a Chinese company which has played a crucial role in the development of telecom infrastructure across several countries. The next couple of years were supposed to be windfall years with the introduction of 5G. Hurting Huawei means hurting China. The UK which is going to embrace Brexit screaming and yelling at the end of this year fired the first shot!

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons that UK mobile providers will be prevented from buying Huawei 5G equipment after December 31 under a revised telecommunications bill that the government will table for a vote in the fall. Dowden also announced that providers with Huawei kit in their networks must remove it by 2027.

Source: Quartz

Australia in the meantime is heavily dependant on the Chinese import of ore. Mining is a huge contributor to the Australian economy and China is the biggest trading partner. Even so, in a world that is rapidly changing, it is important to pick sides.

Australia has declared “there is no legal basis” to China’s territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea, marking an escalation of recent tensions with Beijing and bringing Canberra further in line with Washington.

Source: The Guardian

India which is even more hopelessly dependent on China banned TikTok and 58 other apps. This is by far the most inconsequential push back. But you know how they say – an enemy of an enemy is a friend. Not only that, but there are also three Trump Towers in India.

The two countries have been working quietly to step up information sharing amid the tense military standoff between Indian and Chinese troops — it has been on for 11 weeks now — along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.

After US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo spoke to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in the third week of June, at least two high-level phone conversations, the key to this cooperation, have taken place.

Source: Indian Express

and

India and the US are close to inking a “quick” trade deal, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said Tuesday, adding that the pact aims to get issues that have been pending over the past couple of years “out of the way”.

Source: Indian Express

The USA also has banned Huawei. In addition to that, there has been heavy rhetoric. That rhetoric translated into action finally. The US government forced the Chinese Consulate at Huston to shut down. Why? The claim was that espionage operations were being run from the consulate. The Chinese diplomats were burning files outside the consulate causing local emergency service to respond to the smoke. And then…

US officials prised open a small back door having previously tried to gain access via three other entrances. The consulate was ordered to close on Wednesday by the Trump administration which said it was seeking to protect American intellectual property.

Source: Express

And then

Beijing ordered the US embassy to close on Friday in a tit-for-tat move, after Washington instructed China’s consulate in Houston, Texas, to cease operations, claiming it had been involved in a US-wide Chinese espionage effort.

Source: CNN

From the perspective of manufacturing –

Entire nations and their governments are questioning their excessive dependence on Chinese manufacturing. Scores of companies have been instructed and have already started moving production to other countries. Production of strategic importance like pharmaceutical and electronics are being moved to home countries. TSMC, the largest contract chip manufacturer, was given Billions by the US government to set up production in Arizona.

A Gartner, Inc. survey of 260 global supply chain leaders in February and March 2020 found that 33% had moved sourcing and manufacturing activities out of China or plan to do so in the next two to three years. Survey results show that the COVID-19 pandemic is only one of several disruptions that have put global supply chains under pressure.

Source: Gartner

Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani, announcing the partnership at his company’s annual meeting last week, said Google would build an Android operating system (OS) to power a low-cost “4G or even 5G” smartphone that Reliance would design.

Source: Mint

Most importantly pharmaceuticals

But this grant was different. It went to a Richmond, Virginia-based public benefit company that was just seven months old. Before the pandemic, it hadn’t manufactured any drugs, although its founders were pharmaceutical veterans.

The company, named Phlow, isn’t tasked with making new drugs against Covid-19. Instead, its goal is to shore up the US supply of generic drugs.

Source: Quartz

Adding salt to injury

China’s economy had its first contraction in decades thanks to COVID. After a decline of 6.8% in the first quarter, the economy seems to be back to growth posting a 3.2% growth in the second quarter of the year.

China’s economy grew 3.2% in the second quarter following a record slump.

The world’s second-biggest economy saw a sharp decline in the first three months of the year during coronavirus lockdowns.

But figures released on Wednesday show China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) returned to growth between April to June.

Source: BBC

But here is the thing, Retail consumption is lower than it was pre-COVID. So internal consumption is low. Externally, every large economy, esp. the USA has been struggling with the effects of COVID. So the consumption is not coming from outside either; then how? It is a result of government spending. This was the original recipe that worked for China. But given that they are a much larger economy, with a highly developed infrastructure and a global economy which is stagnant at best; how long can they keep bankrolling it? Also, if the spending is on infrastructure what do they plan to build?

And the final nail in the coffin. China seems to be poised to have its own Lehman Brothers moment.

Losses at global banks are projected to soar by $926 billion to $2.1 trillion through 2021, according to Standard & Poors. Almost $400 billion of that increase is forecast to come from Chinese institutions, compared with a $360 billion increase for those in North America and Western Europe combined. While an impending wave of soured loans isn’t expected to cause a credit crisis, the forecast demonstrates the economic pain that’s anticipated from heightened unemployment and bankruptcies.

Source: Quartz

Fallout

The excessive nationalistic push at a time of great global economic instability is not helping China. If at all anything, it has helped galvanise opposition to the country. Even countries like Australia who are tied up in a lot of trade are pushing back.

The sands are shifting and we do not know where and how this will end. The one thing that is for certain is that many of the squabbling global powers – US, India, EU, Britain and Australia (mostly thanks to Trump) are seemingly uniting due to their hatred of China. In 6 months there might be a new president in America.

The sands are definitely shifting!

Indian Monsoon

Monsoon is very important for India because agriculture depends on it. This year the north-western branch of the monsoon has arrived with great fury. The winds carry moisture from the Bay of Bengal and move towards the north-east till they meet the Himalayas. From there they follow the Himalayas as the wind turns to move the clouds westwards delivering rains along the way. What started as heavy rains in Assam, turned into flooding and now has turned into a catastrophe.

“Since the first week of June, we are having no respite with wave after wave of flood that has wreaked havoc inside the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve,” said Kaziranga’s park director, P. Sivakumar. He said an animal that had drowned in a swollen river near the park on Saturday brought the death toll of the endangered rhinoceroses up to 10.

Source: New York Times

Now as the monsoon clouds move westwards, it’s claiming more victims. 

Floodwater entered one more district of Samastipur in Bihar and spread to more inundated areas, hitting half a million more population on Tuesday, even though no fresh casualty was reported and the count remained at 10, an official bulletin said.

According to the bulletin by the state Disaster Management Department, more than 5 lakh people were affected by floods on Tuesday alone, taking the tally of marooned people to 29.62 lakh in 12 districts of the state.

Source: NDTV

It remains to be seen how far this monsoon rage continues. UP, Haryana and Punjab are very important to the food production in the country and if flooded especially at this time, it could turn into an unmitigated disaster especially since the economy is already reeling.

When you see it

Donald Trump had expected to head into the elections with a great economy, unemployment at historic lows and a great platform. Instead, his Attorney General is being questioned on the hill, unemployment are at historic highs (only the great depression saw worse unemployment) and a GDP decline of 10%. The US economy has contracted by 1.8 Trillion dollars! Yes – perspective – add a Trillion to that – India’s GDP.

Gross domestic product — the broadest measure of goods and services produced — fell 9.5 per cent in the second quarter of the year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. On an annualized basis, the standard way of reporting quarterly economic data, G.D.P. fell at a rate of 32.9 per cent.

Source: New York Times

Another way to looking at it. The US economy lost a shade more than the Market Capitalisation of Apple (which posted blockbuster results last quarter). (~1.75 Trillion)

One of the stories last week was titled – Spending is back to normal for poor Americans—but not for rich ones

Research shows that when low-earning families lose income, they do substantially decrease how much they buy. So it’s not that poor Americans are going into credit card debt to keep up their spending. Rather, economists have found that the US government’s stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment insurance have kept many low-income families afloat.

Source: Quartz

To me, this fact only indicates how little the poor have for discretionary spending. They are surely not going to be buying anything that is not absolutely necessary when they are living on doles. Turns out their lives were the same as living on a 600 dollar cheque even before COVID!

Simply put, rich people spent 1.8 Trillion less.

No sooner was this data released, Trump tweeted that the elections needed to be postponed! To which Mitch McConnell said, “Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3,”

The illusion of democracy is the only thing America has going for itself. If that illusion falls apart, there would not be much that is different between America and Russia.

Raising Capital

Now that Mukesh Ambani and Reliance have tasted blood, they can’t stop coming up with fundraising ideas. A while ago, Amazon had bought up stakes in Kishore Biyani’s Future Retail, which had been saddled with debt. In the aftermath of Facebook, Microsoft, Google investments in Jio, Amazon felt left out. 

Jeff Bezos called Mukesh Ambani and said ‘aisa kyun bewafa?’ (why this unfaithfulness?). 

Mr Ambani promptly asked – you got money? 

Jeff said lots – I have so much money that the only way I can blow it up is building spacecraft and destroying Flipkart.

Mr Ambani – I might have something else you can blow it upon…

Rumours are that Amazon is going to buy 9.99% of Reliance Retail. Now some corporate juggling is taking place to bring Future group under the same umbrella.

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd will pay between Rs 24,000 crore and Rs 27,000 crore ($3.2-$3.6 Billion) to buy the Indian retail chains owned by Future Group 

Source: ToI

The Antitrust people are looking on the wrong side of the Atlantic. This is just wrong. The Confederation of All India Traders has been going to court and making a ruckus about Flipkart and Amazon, where are they when they have to fight?

Rise and fall of the OTT

Since we are talking about the Atlantic. Recently Apple acquired the Tom Hanks movie ‘Greyhound’; a World War II story from the middle of the Atlantic. The movie is said to have cost USD 50 Million. Given that the year is a bust and going to the theatre does not make any sense, Mr Hanks sold it to Apple. But what about movies that are made with budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars? No OTT player would buy it! What then?

Paramount Pictures announced yesterday it is delaying the releases of two highly anticipated blockbuster films again—this time until 2021. A Quiet Place: Part II will move from Sept. 4, 2020, to April 23, 2021, while Top Gun: Maverick will eject out of its Dec. 23 date and now land on July 2, 2021. Both films had already been postponed from their original release dates this summer.

Source: Quartz

Signing off…

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Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Twitter – Innovation – Portland

Last week has been strange. Twitter was hacked – next level! There is a lot of other undercurrents, I plan to cover some of it next week.

There is a lot for this week to unpack. India is spiking with COVID, it will be long before we return to any semblance of normalcy. In the meantime, India seems to only have time to discuss Rajasthan politics!

Let us dive in.

Foxed! 

It would not be an understatement to say that Fox News created Donald Trump. Trump would have remained a nobody but for the support that Rupert Murdoch provided Trump. All of the rest of the conservative media put together does that exude the influence over Republicans that Fox does. It is also not a secret that the hand that makes you can break you!

The Republicans are fed up with Trump. I am sure some of them are even cursing themselves for not have voted to have him impeached in February. Mitch McConnell is the most hatable Republican I have known. The Kentucky senator is one of the biggest supporters of Trump. Even he said, his support for Dr Fauci was Absolute. Trump has been running a campaign against the one person in the White House who is an expert in epidemics. 

Trump is threatening to not sign the next stimulus bill if payroll tax cuts are not approved as a part of it. 

Last weekend, Chris Wallace of Fox News called out Trump on his lies and grilled him good. Could this be a change of stance on the part of Fox News? If Fox turns on Trump, Trump will get destroyed.

Wallace unveiled the results of a Fox News poll that showed Trump losing by eight points to the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. Trump was also behind Biden on the response to the pandemic, on race relations and the economy. He trails in other polls too.

Source: The Guardian

Twitter Hack

Twitter got hacked last week. The hacker(s) used social engineering to gain access to an internal tool that allowed the hackers to reset password to verified accounts. Amongst others, they hacked the accounts of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Apple and others. The hackers asked the followers to transfer bitcoins to a wallet and said they would double the sum. The world we live in – some thought this was for real – and made the transfer!

If you remember Elon Musk had to step down from the board of Tesla for having tweeted that he was going to get the Saudi’s to purchase Tesla and take it private. The punishment did not fit the crime, it should have been worse. Still, the privileged boy wept about it. 

Donald Trump is used to making one policy announcement after the next using Twitter. Also, given how one crazy thing after the other is uttered by Trump; who is anyone going to disbelieve if he proclaimed war?

New York Times spoke to those who perpetrated the hack. It is incredible.

The hacker who received the message, using the screen name “lol,” decided over the next 24 hours that Kirk did not actually work for Twitter because he was too willing to damage the company. But Kirk did have access to Twitter’s most sensitive tools, which allowed him to take control of almost any Twitter account, including those of former President Barack Obama, Joseph R. Biden Jr., Elon Musk and many other celebrities.

Source: New York Times

More to the point, this is about the power tech companies have amassed. A private company getting hacked should not result in a stock-market meltdown or trigger a war. No private organisation should have this kind of power. You need to be hacking the government to cause nations to go to war, not some micro-blogging site.

There is a rule almost globally which does not allow a person to lie on an ad. This Wikipedia article only covers the laws in English speaking countries, but most countries have them. Somehow, this has not been applied to online advertising at all! 

Similarly, there should be a law on what political leaders can use such platforms to state. Should probably apply to all people in positions of power.

Turns out – it was an inside job!

Destroying Innovation

Think back to any startup that has had a sensible product which is actually capable of profitability, founded over the past 10 years. (Not WeWork, Theranos types) WhatsApp, Instagram, Siri, Zappos, Github – Do you know what is common amongst all of them?

Acquired!

I had written a white-paper a couple of years ago about the lack of an acquisition eco-system in India. This had resulted in many VCs not being able to exit their investments and make money because it’s either IPO or death. Someone I respect, told me I was wrong.

Silicon Valley technology companies do not let any company flourish. Armed with their bags of cash, they go in entice the VCs to force a sell-out. The founders have no say often. WhatsApp is the perfect example of a founder who was so upset with the way the product was being pushed post-acquisition. Brian Acton left a Billion dollars worth of Facebook stock on the table and walked away. 

Big tech’s buying spree is already being scrutinized by the US Federal Trade Commission, the EU, and Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission. On Monday, the US Congress is up: Apple’s Tim Cook, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg are all scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee.

These four companies’ US acquisitions alone have channelled $86 billion into the pockets of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, early employees, and other startup investors. Billion-dollar buyouts motivate more tech founders to get started, but they can deter entrepreneurship as well. Albert Wenger, a managing partner at Union Square Ventures, has warned that the big tech companies have a “kill zone” around them, meaning startups that operate too closely to their businesses have no chance of success.

Source: Quartz

Facebook would not have been facebook if WhatsApp and Instagram had existed as competitors. Mark Zuckerberg would not be as arrogant.

Portland Street = Tiananmen Square

When the west wishes to deride China they always will bring up the picture of the one man that stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square.

Man in front of the tank

You tend to become what you hate the most, they say. America is having its Tiananmen moment. Not only that, but they are also having the worst of everything in recent history happen altogether! Federal Agents who have no business in local law enforcement have been sent out to Portland, Oregon to put down protests that have been ongoing for the past 60 days. This is also a leaf from Hitler’s playbook. Hitler had the Gestapo which was above the SS and had over-riding powers.

A woman sat naked with a mask and cap, defying the agents on Portland Street.

Woman of Portland

Tiananmen Square happened before the Internet and that image has endured. Imagine how long this one will.

A woman wearing nothing but a black face mask and a stocking cap strode toward a dozen heavily armed agents attired in camouflage fatigues, lined up across a downtown Portland street. The agents, dispatched by the Trump administration over vociferous objections of state and city officials, are part of a force that has fired projectiles at and detained activists protesting nightly since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police May 25.

Source: Los Angeles Times

GPT 3

A few years ago, Elon Musk, the AI alarmist created an organisation that would work on the cutting edge of AI and create tools that would keep AI from being used for wrong. The organisation – OpenAI – has been publishing a whole host of algorithms and papers. The latest algorithm to be published is GPT 3 short for Generative Pre-training Transformer. It is a random sentence generator. It is fed with 175 Billion parameters OR everything written on the internet. That is a lot of data to be feeding on.

Ben Evans had once written a piece where he had compared a Machine Learning Algorithm to a dog. You know the dog did something but you do not know what it was thinking. 

Same with GPT 3. It is producing results that have left people mind-blown. If you can read the entire internet, you are bound to produce something useful. Not only that, but it is also programmable to interpret. Here are a few examples. 

Not only English it can also work on other languages – to the extent that there is data on the internet. 

Just when it starts to look like this is magic and AI can defeat humans it runs into something evolution has perfected. The brain.

While it seems this approach may lead directly to a general AI that can understand, reason and converse like a human, OpenAI warns that they may have run into fundamental scaling up problems, with GPT-3 requiring several thousand petaflop/s-days of compute, compared to tens of petaflop/s-days for the full GPT-2. It seems while we are closer, the breakthrough that will make all our jobs obsolete is still some distance away.

Source: Forbes

The human brain is the most power-efficient computer this world has seen. To run any algorithm with just as many processes simultaneously tremendous energy and compute power has to be available.

E-Commerce

Flipkart is seen as the company that brought e-commerce to India. They were constantly in pursuit of higher Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) because that was seen as the number connected to the valuation of the company. When Tiger Global came to India with the thesis – India is the next China, they did not take into account that China started with Alibaba, a B2B platform, not a B2C platform. 

Flipkart set all the wrong expectations – discounts and free home delivery. Even today the company is not profitable. Maybe not even relevant.

India’s Alibaba was IndiaMart and they went ahead with an IPO a year ago. They may not have a turnover comparable to Flipkart, but they do have one thing that Flipkart does not – profits. Even during a pandemic.

B2B e-commerce platform IndiaMART has posted over 64% increase in its net profit at INR 74.6 Cr in the first quarter of the financial year 2021, versus INR 44 Cr in the previous quarters. In terms of year-on-year growth, the listed company has registered a two-fold increase from INR 32 Cr. 

Source: Inc42

Hong Kong

For the longest time, Hong Kong has been the financial centre of Asia. Several International banks have been based out of Hong Kong and the easy movement of capital also encourages a lot of wealthy Chinese to park their money in the state. Singapore has been steadily eating away at the dominant position that Hong Kong holds. 

I saw an opinion suggesting Mumbai could replace Hong Kong as the financial capital of Asia.

“We are home to some of the large industrial houses (domestic and global) and top financial institutions. Our central bank is one of the most trusted regulators,” said Manjeet Kripalani, co-founder and executive director of Mumbai-based think-tank Gateway House. “Also, the city has the oldest stock exchange in the world and a commodity market in place.” The city can also boast of a huge port, she added, and is perfectly placed in terms of time zone between the east and west.

Source: Quartz

Jokes! The city is underwater every monsoon. That notwithstanding, India would need to undertake unprecedented tax reforms and make it easy for capital to move across borders to be able to get Mumbai to even hold a chance at hoping for a position similar to Hong Kong. 

Media

Media has been undergoing a huge change over the years. With the advent of the internet, newspapers were the first to take a hit. It was always known the ad dollars would slowly move away from traditional media but TV has been resilient. 

I got rid of Cable about 4 years ago. Before that, I would pay Rs. 7500 each year to Tata Sky. I would not have discovered Hotstar for a few more years but for a mess-up by Tata Sky. During their systems upgrade, they knocked out TV for a full month. They refused a refund. I started watching live sports on Hotstar and that was the end of that. I had no reason to go back to Tata Sky.

I never understood the reason Americans stuck around with cable and kept cursing it. I was told it was live sports but there should be an online option, why is it not there? Either way – the pandemic put all sports to bed and with it, looks like cable is going to go.

AT&T reported it lost another 886,000 cable and satellite TV subscribers in the second quarter of 2020. The telecommunications giant—the second-largest TV provider in the US behind only Comcast—lost about the same number of TV subscribers in the previous quarter. Its total subscriber base has eroded 18% in the last year alone.

Source: Quartz

On that note – PVR, the largest Multiplex chain in India is planning to start delivering popcorn through Swiggy!

Glass

The story goes, Steve Jobs called the board line of Corning Glass and asked them to put him through to the CEO. The operator politely told him, if he did not have an appointment she could not. Steve was pissed and told a common friend that Corning was all East Coast bullshit! Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning heard about this and called the board line at Apple – asked to speak with Steve Jobs. Obviously, they refused. He wrote back to Steve saying what had happened. The rest, as they say, is history.

Corning Glass has done for Apple just much as Apple has done as Corning. Apple put this small glass company from New York on the map and Apple was able to deliver a product that blew everyone’s mind. They are bringing something new to the market.

It takes about two years for Corning to develop each new generation of Gorilla Glass, the resilient material that graces a critical mass of iPhone and Android devices. That process has for several update cycles focused on protecting screens against drops, fending off shatters and cracks by boosting what’s known as compressive strength. The newly announced Gorilla Glass Victus, though, gives equal weight to prevent scratches. That’s harder than it sounds and more useful than you’d think.

Source: Wired

So, no more scratches.

Worth a read

If you want to know what we are fighting about in the Galwan Valley with the Chinese – This is an insanely great analysis by the New York Times

The Center for Climate Change Communication has published a handbook on how to discern between conspiracy theory and an actual conspiracy.


Signing off…

Categories
Learning by Proxy

China V India – Telecom – Social Network | Learning by Proxy

Every Saturday, I publish this series called ‘Learning by Proxy’. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.

I was planning to follow-up on some of the topics that I had written the last time. But the geo-politics of it is so interesting, it almost turned into an essay in and of itself. I lost the politics section to it.

Follow Up

See below!


Politics

Chris Voss is a former CIA negotiator and the author of the book ‘Never split the difference’. The premise of the book is – when you are negotiating for the life of a hostage you can’t agree to split the difference. You have to get it the way you want it. One of the lessons therein – When negotiating, always give your adversary a way out. If you corner them – expect the unexpected. 

Some context first

China had started down the path of world dominance a few years ago. They decided to use the American (actually British) play of economic dependence = political dominance. They announced this thing called One Belt One Road, which was to be second coming for the Silk Route. They engaged over 130 countries and poured in hundreds of Billions to create infrastructure such as Road, Ports, Airports, etc. Every continent apart from North America was involved. India refused to be a part of it.

Now let us see the corner China has been painted into.

Hong Kong was an itch which has been hard to scratch for the last 3 years. In addition to that Trump and his trade wars had made life difficult. 

The Coronavirus put a new spin on things. Many of these countries that China has lent to are poor Asian and African nations and with Coronavirus ripping up their economies, they have requested loan waivers and renegotiation. 

As the coronavirus spread around the globe, Pakistan’s foreign minister called his counterpart in Beijing last month with an urgent request: The country’s economy was nose-diving, and the government needed to restructure billions of dollars of Chinese loans. […]

With each request, China’s drive to become the developing world’s biggest banker is backfiring. Over the last two decades, it unleashed a global lending spree, showering countries with hundreds of billions of dollars, in an effort to expand its influence and become a political and economic superpower. Borrowers put up ports, mines and other crown jewels as collateral.

Source: New York Times

Pakistan was supposed to keep India in check. They are now broke. The Middle-East is in a financial crisis of its own with oil prices at historic lows. This implies very limited options available to finance terrorism. Therefore, Trump is not going to give money away to Pakistan as liberally as Obama did. 

Further, not agreeing to the cries of the poorer countries will make it seem like it was an engineered Virus. The optics of it all are terrible! 

Trump called it the ‘China Virus’ and has been pressuring WHO to investigate them – WHO acquiesced. India supported the probe into China. China grudgingly agreed.

A pretty deep corner you see. Now for the push back.

China put an end to Hong Kong by passing a law that forever ends Hong Kong’s democracy – at least the way we knew it. With Pakistan now being rendered incompetent, they had to take matters into their own hands. They started trouble in Ladakh and Sikkim. India pushed back. Both sides said they will protect their sovereignty. All good distraction. But then…

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday ordered the military to scale up the battle preparedness, visualising worst-case scenarios and asked them to resolutely defend the country’s sovereignty.

Source: Economic Times

That escalated fast!

Then Trump tweeted offering to arbitrate between India and China. China changed course and figured this was one more thing they would want the American to stay out of.

On Wednesday tensions between the two nations seemed to de-escalate as China took an apparently conciliatory tone by saying that the situation at the border with India is “overall stable and controllable.”

Source: India Today

While there is a change of tone, satellite pictures show artillery build up on the Chinese side of the border. The US in the meantime is preparing to pass a law rescinding Hong Kong’s trade status.


Economics

Truth

It was a couple of editions ago that I had mentioned that the truth about the actual economic state of India will emerge post-COVID when nobody is paying attention. It is happening. 

Bank lending to MSME collapsed after 2016 as per RBI data. This during a time when the government claimed to have 7.2% GDP growth rate. Many of the MSMEs are critical suppliers to large industries how could they not want loans? If they saw an opportunity, they would have taken loans to grow. 

While large industries saw their credit expand by Rs 1.73 lakh crore, or at an annual growth rate of 1.9 per cent between April 2016 and March 2020, micro and small industries saw their credit expand by only Rs 10,335 crore, or at a 4-yr CAGR of 0.69 per cent during that period.[…]

The decline in demand for credit by the industry, however, coincides with the decline in the demand in the economy and falling capacity utilisations. The RBI’s Order Books, Inventories and Capacity Utilisation Survey (OBICUS) for the October-December 2019 quarter shows that the capacity utilisation declined to at least 12-year low of 68.6 in the quarter ended December 2019.

Source: Indian Express

Repo Rate

The interest rate is an instrument that is used to stimulate the economy when the times are good, expectations form the future are clear and risk can be estimated. When none of this is clear – the Interest rate becomes merely a number. If you play with it unnecessarily, you diminish your power. Modi placed a historian at the head of the RBI to act as his puppet and the bankers are giving him a lesson. RBI dropper repo rate (the rate at which banks borrow) once again to 4%. An all-time low.

“When a heightened level of risk aversion exists among banks, lower cost of capital alone incrementally will not translate into higher lending in the current situation,” said Sreejith Balasubramanian, an economist at Mumbai-based mutual fund IDFC AMC. “Banks make lending decisions based on their risk appraisal and appetite which is currently low.”

Source: Quartz

Business

Sizzling Telecom

In a world that is locked inside their homes, connectivity is a very valuable resource. It is the only thing that preserves a certain degree of sanity and allows for commerce in whatever form to thrive. Connectivity is unlocking its value.

A couple of editions ago, I had mentioned how Reliance has used Jio to free itself of debt. Also last time I had shared the surprise upswing that Airtel had registered. Airtel is now borrowing a trick or two from the Reliance Playbook. They have raised over a Billion dollar through a stake sale and reduced their debt burden. 

Bharti Airtel’s promoter firm Bharti Telecom raised Rs 8,433 crore on Tuesday, selling 2.75% stake in the telecom major to institutional investors through an accelerated book-building process in the secondary market. With this, the Sunil Bharti Mittal led-Bharti Airtel’s promoters are ostensibly looking to go ‘debt-free’, a path similar to the one chosen by Reliance Industries’ Mukesh Ambani. Bharti Airtel share price traded flat on the BSE on Wednesday. After the sale, the promoter group will continue to own 56.23% in the company.

Source: Financial Express

Also, rumours are that Google is planning to buy into Idea-Vodafone.

Not to be upstaged – Jio Platforms as it continues to raise its Billions announced Microsoft as one of the suitors willing to throw in USD 2 Billion. And they also announced their wishes to list on an international stock exchange. 

Post bagging multi-billion dollar deals from marquee investors in the last one month, Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries is said to be now considering an overseas listing of Jio Platforms, according to people aware of the development.

Source: Mint

Technology

Social media is an echo chamber and that echo chamber has resulted in far too many countries in the world having right-wing governments. India included. Life is good so long as you are on the right side of the line – White in the US – Hindu in India and so on. Facebook knew what it was doing and why it was wrong. An explosive and incriminating report exposes the upper echelons of the company brushing aside genuine concerns. 

“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.” […]

But in the end, Facebook’s interest was fleeting. Mr Zuckerberg and other senior executives largely shelved the basic research, according to previously unreported internal documents and people familiar with the effort, and weakened or blocked efforts to apply its conclusions to Facebook products.

Source: WSJ

The person who made this presentation was the head of the ‘Integrity Team’ at Facebook. The company has none of it.

Twitter has been a haven for trolls permitting harassment at an unprecedented level. It came as a huge surprise when Twitter which is in part responsible for Donald Trump being president decided to flag this tweet at false.

[click on the tweet and open it to see the flag]

The move, which escalates tensions between Washington and Silicon Valley in an election year, was made in response to two Trump tweets over the past 24 hours. The tweets falsely claimed that mail-in ballots are fraudulent. Twitter’s label says, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and redirects users to news articles about Trump’s unsubstantiated claim.

Source: Washington Post

The president threw a fit on Twitter about Twitter. Then announced on Twitter that he would be releasing an Executive Order against Twitter. 

In the meantime, Kellyanne Conway his “Counselor” went on a rant against – guess who? – the head of the Integrity Team of Twitter; Yoel Roth. He has been subjected to a lot of trolling by Republicans and Trump supporters – where else – on Twitter.

Here is a list of all the false claims made by the President of USA to date – all 18,000 of them. – https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-claims-database/

And Twitter is not backing down!


Misc

The Indian Government is using drones to chase away locusts.

These are designed to spray 10-litre of chemicals, along with creating a sound that would disperse the locusts into different areas. “It has successfully contained the movement of locusts in an open area and on the foothills where it was not possible for the usual tractors to make it reach. A detailed assessment of its impact is being studied by the field officers,” said Om Prakash, commissioner, state agriculture department.

Source: Times of India

The Democrats are using the Republican playbook – GOD. Only God can save them now. God is peddling conspiracy theories on Trump!

Go on check out the twitter handle. It’s got a lot more there. About Ivanka’s Shoplifting and much more…

Signing off…