Thursday, January 24, 2008

A "Fine" Toilet - Singapore Style

A recent 20/20 story included a mention about fines in Singapore for not flushing a Public Toilet after use. Singapore is often descibed as a "fine" city.

How they enforce that beats me ...... Cameras in public restrooms ?

Couldn't find much on the web except confirmation that there is a Singapore $250 fine for not flushing. And it is a moot point since almost all public toilets in Singapore are self-flushing.

If they are really enforcing that fine it is indeed a case of Public money being flushed down the toilet !!!

US should join in Nano car effort

My blog piece Can Rochester ride the People's Car? was published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle as U.S. should join in Nano car effort.

Sparked off some interesting debate on the D&C website which you can check out by following the link above.

Despite the economic recession and a globalized economy, I see very little awareness amongst ordinary Americans about the need to proactively exploit business opportunities in the emerging economies.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Healthcare : Robotic Style.......

How does a society which has a very high proportion of elderly citizens, is very insular (not willing to accept new immigrants into its fold) plan to deal with the issues of care of the elderly in the long term future ?
The country is Japan and the solution is Robots.......yes ..... Robots helping with elderly care.
Is that the way we are headed in the US too ? .....maybe.... either more citizens agree to work in this area or more immigrants be allowed in to do this work...... if the answer to both is no then the answer is about cold, impersonal care !!
Links :
RI-MAN And Roujin-Z Robots: Elder Care Fact And Fiction
Robots Help Japan Care For Its Elderly
Aging Japan Building Robots To Look After Elderly

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Can Rochester ride the People's Car?

Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Group unveiled his company's new "Nano" dubbed the People's car at the 9th Auto Expo in New Delhi, India recently. Priced at $ 2500 (yes, that's just 2 zeroes after the 25) it will be the cheapest car in the market (anywhere in the world). He was motivated to develop this car by a sight very common on Indian roads: entire families riding two wheelers- one kid perched behind the handle bars, the mother riding pillion with a kid clutched in her arms and maybe another one tucked between her and the father driving the bike. He thought he should build a safer vehicle for people who can just afford a two wheeler. Tata realizes the concern of some environmentalists that the popularity of this car can increase crowding and pollution, he does believe that "India desperately needs a mass transit system" but also asks "should (ordinary Indians) be denied the right to individual forms of transport, the right to safety?"

Reactions in the US to this car were as expected - questions about safety, emission standards, fodder for jokes on the late night shows and some smart quips even on regular News shows. However, most people seemed to have missed a point. This car , its pricing and potential success validates the hypothesis proposed by the renowned management guru C.K. Prahalad that there is a "Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid"- there is money to be made, sizable amounts of it by making low priced products for the low income segment of the world's population. Another Indian company Bajaj proposes to launch a car in the same price range and Renault's Carlos Ghosn is also talking about launching a $3000 car. With the projected millions of units sale (Car penetration in India is just seven per 1,000 people compared to 550 per 1,000 in countries such as Germany and around 800 per 1000 in the US), even at these low prices the market size is of many Billion dollars. Even if we do not buy this car we can be supplying technology, expertise, components etc to the makers of these cars and their vendors.

Business associations in Rochester and other similar cities should be deliberating on how US companies can leverage their strengths to join this revolution being unleashed in the far hitherto considered to be impoverished parts of the globe. Some may think that Rochester since it does not have a strong automotive manufacturing base (except for Delphi) may not have a role to play. How about some out-of-the-box thinking. Making a car at this price has required a paradigm change. I would think that all manufacturers in sectors like sheet metal working, injection molding, induction welding, composite materials, paints and adhesives etc. can benefit. Vendors in India would be on the lookout for expertise, technical collaboration, products etc. as they try to ramp up their production to meet the new demand. There is definitely an expertise in these areas in Rochester given the supplier base for Xerox, Kodak and their spin-off's. The need is for a systematic evaluation of the opportunity and identifying proper matches for interested Rochester area manufacturers. RBA or some other industry group should take the lead with this. Their role should expand from attracting investors here to exploiting opportunities elsewhere. Both approaches bring jobs and money to the local economy.

We can choose to ride the people’s car wave or just watch as the world drives by in it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A People's car for the World !!

Tata Group chairman, Ratan Tata, poses in the company's new Nano car during its launch at the 9th Auto Expo in New Delhi. The car, a hatchback with a 624cc engine, is priced at about 100,000 rupees ($2,500), half that of the current cheapest car in the market. (Reuters Photo)
There is definitely Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid as countless entrepreneurs are discovering.
The Nano's also expected to get 54 US miles per gallon......once gas hits USD 10/gallon you should see a lot of these on the roads here !!!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Arm wrestling NY style?

A meeting with Gov. Eliot Spitzer

Given that California is NY's strongest rival in the "idea driven economy", would Gov. Spitzer be willing to take on Arnold Schwarznegger in an arm wrestling match? Surely not, the Governor was quick to retort; however he would gladly challenge him to an IQ match.

On a more serious note, the Governor seems to be all done with his bout of arm wrestling with the State’s Republican Leadership . He struck a more conciliatory note when he met the Editorial Board on 01/10. He mentioned that he realized that the public has no tolerance for stagnation and gridlock. His objective was to get things done. And get them done in a fiscally prudent way.

He plans to present a balanced budget without raising taxes. He did not envisage this increasing the state's debt in a major way as he planned plowing resources from the sale of state's sub optimally utilized assets (e.g. property in Manhattan) into more productive programs. And he did not feel the plans to sell the lottery were like selling the crown's jewels because he was taking a capital asset (State Lottery) and converting it into another capital asset ( Endowment for Higher Education).

His plans to move the focus on education from K-12 to what he described as P-16 (Pre K to end of college) sounded interesting. This approach plans to harness the expertise and resources available for higher education to improve the state of school education. He reiterated the need for getting parents more involved in the process. In response to a question he also promised to research about the low attractiveness of teaching as a career amongst people of color.

He drew some flak for referring his cap on property tax proposal to a commission for review. The Governor tried to dispel the notion that commissions are places where good ideas go to die. He expected the property tax commission to present its findings within this calendar year. He opined that the commission was a nice way to draw feedback and opinion from all stakeholders, a shift from the earlier unilateral approach much disliked by his detractors.

How can he as NYS Governor help New York City retain its position as the Global Economic Capital? A position increasingly under threat from competitors like London and Dubai. And an issue which impacts all of us since NY City is an engine of growth for the entire region. He mentioned about his initiatives with the CEO's of major financial corporations to formulate a new NY Financial Regulatory structure which removes the incoherence across various silos like Banking, Insurance etc and brings it more in line with the model used by London. He is in consultation with the Federal Government on these issues and the problems with visas which make global financial players choose London over NYC for their operations.

The governor has a strong agenda for Rochester. He spoke about Midtown and the fact that he had asked Mayor Duffy to identify similar other investments. He felt Rochester given the availability of trained & highly educated workforce and high concentration of research labs and higher education institutions was uniquely poised to benefit from the USD 600 million funding over the next 10 years on Stem Cell Research in the State.

The battles of last year do not seem to have taken a toll on the boldness of the Governor’s visionary thinking. He is more pragmatic and astute now. This should bode well for the execution of these plans to reality. Another year of gridlock is something which the public will not be willing to endure.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How are the Baileys doing?

Sen. Chuck Schumer had introduced us to a fictional family, the middle-class Baileys—Joe, Eileen and their three kids in his recent book "Positively American". So my question to Sen. Schumer when he met the Editorial Board on 01/08 was "How are the Baileys doing?". Turns out that the Baileys who were distinctly upbeat a decade ago are now slightly despondent about the state of the economy, gas prices, and college tuitions and seem to think there are tougher times ahead for their kids. However they still have not lost their resilient spirit and continue battling on notwithstanding the odds.

The major reasons for this despondency as per Sen. Schumer were the reduced funding available to support education and health initiatives. The 2 big causes for a decline in funding as per him were the reduced tax burden on the super rich (those making over $ 1 million a year) and the $ 200 Billion a year spending in Iraq. The Senator had spent New Year in Iraq with the US troops and waxed eloquent about their valor and commitment. He was pleased with the progress made on the ground under the NY born Gen. Petraeus but described the state of Iraqi civil society as still being fragmented by sectarian differences and a very weak & unpopular central administration.

For us in Rochester, Sen. Schumer had some good cheer to share. He mentioned an emerging trend of US corporations moving some of their high-end manufacturing work back to the US. He felt Upstate NY in general and Rochester in particular was well poised to benefit from this trend given the availability of trained & highly educated workforce, population concentration and low office space rent. He spoke about his efforts to boost the local economy by helping local companies for specific initiatives; developing niche opportunities like Fuel Cell Technology, Center for Photonics; Grants in the Budget for corporate, county and city endeavors; and overall by making the business climate better (e.g. by better air services)

The issue which bothers the Senator the most is the declining standards of the US education esp. Math and Science education. He feels that declining education standards will significantly reduce America's competitiveness in a global economy. He discussed his initiatives to get more qualified people interested in Science and Math teaching. He highlighted a grant for establishing a Center for Math and Science teaching excellence at the Nazareth College. In response to a question he also promised to research about the low attractiveness of teaching as a career amongst people of color.

How will the Baileys vote in this year's presidential election? Definitely for the Democratic Party, the Senator said, but for which Democratic contender? Sen. Schumer the quintessential politician suavely sidestepped the question.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Democracy and Dynasties........

Today's Democrat and Chronicle carried my blog item Democracy and Dynastic Politics. as an Editorial piece : Political dynasties are anti-democratic

You always read it here first on the blog. Visit often and please do share feedback .

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Eliot Spitzer's First Year as NY Governor

Look Before you leap

There's a saying in Hindi which goes "Come Bull, Come and hit me" used in context of people who invite troubles onto themselves. I think this aptly epitomizes Gov. Spitzer's year in office. I think the biggest mistake he did was not testing the waters first before jumping in for two of his most controversial initiatives : his fight with Republican Leader Bruno and the well intended (in his mind) but ill executed illegal immigrant drivers' license initiative. And as the fires on these issues raged, the smoke from them camouflaged whatever he was achieving in other areas. As a politician he should have know how well his opponent was dug in; as an administrator he should have known whether he had the support of the administrative machinery to execute his policy. 2 big failures resulting in his current dismal ratings.

But he is a smart guy and can pick up the pieces and start over again:" A bold rider is never afraid of a fall, tis' the weaklings who walk on their knees who never fall" . NY needs his bold measures. Bold measures executed after due deliberations and consultations regarding political and administrative ramifications.

An abridged version of the above article was published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle today as part of a review of Gov. Spitzer's first year:

Letters to the editor: Grading Spitzer

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Democracy and Dynastic Politics.

"The Queen is dead. Long live the King" seemed to be the resounding cry when Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was named successor to his slain mother Benazir Bhutto's legacy. It seemed strange given the total lack of leadership experience of the hapless 19 year old and his mothers' oft stated commitment to the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. Apparently the same values did not extend to her visions for her own party which will continue to be run as a fiefdom of her family. In neighboring India, the ruling Congress party is oft described as the personal fiefdom of the Nehru-Gandhi family, with the leadership transitioning from one family member to another

South Asia is not the only place where dynastic succession is happening despite a democratic framework. Argentina recently saw the transition of power to Cristina Fernández, the wife of the outgoing President - Nestor Kirchner.

Dynastic Politics might have caused a raised eyebrow in the US a few decades ago but now it will be a case of the kettle calling the pot black. We are currently in the midst of a dynastic presidency (Bush I, Bush II and a presumptive heir- Neil Bush waiting in the shadows to be Bush III) and may well be headed into yet another one (Clinton I, Clinton II) in 2009. In the recent past many spouses, children, siblings have also been called upon to complete terms of outgoing senators or stand elections in their lieu.

Some writers have explained the continued dominance of dynastic politics in the developing world as being caused due to a political system which is not able to nurture strong parties with national appeal and acceptability among all castes and religious groups. They think that unless a strong political party structure emerges in these countries, there is no hope of dynastic politics taking a backseat.

This does not explain the prevalence of this trend in developed countries like the US. It seems that there is almost a primordial urge in humankind to cherish some kind of monarchical/dynastic values. That may explain monarchy being established as a form of government, independently across geographic locations, races, cultures etc. Maybe that's why there is a continued attraction to the kind of dynastic succession espoused in movies like Lion King, Godfather where people are supposed to root for the dynastic successor.

While the selection/election of a truly qualified dynastic heir apparently makes sense, in all likelihood the incumbent creates circumstances/opportunities which favor his/her own bloodline at the expense of other qualified contenders. And that is the biggest danger of Dynastic Politics and what should make it an anathema for a modern Democracy. Our founding fathers had realized that when they created a constitution which established our nation as a republic and not a dynastic monarchy. As champions of that visionary legacy it is incumbent upon us that we continue to ensure that the "best person rises to the top" irrespective of his /her dynastic affiliation. And if that person be a spouse, child or sibling so be it. The dynastic badge should by itself not guarantee anything.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year 2008

Wish a very happy and prosperous 2008 to all my blog readers and friends.

My New Year Resolution related to my blog is to try and update it on a more regular basis and take it to the next level. And I'll look forward to your feedback in determining what that level is.

As my writing escapades continue, I have been selected a community member on the Editorial Board of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
The Editorial Board is responsible for the newspaper's institutional view, which appears in daily editorials. This being an election year in the US, I look forward to the opportunity to perhaps meet some of the contenders and some interesting discussions.

Keep reading the blog, you'll read it all here first

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