Thursday, January 16, 2020

Price tag of the day: $8.05 billion

That’s the economic cost for the number of times that governments around the world deliberately shut down the internet in 2019. The number of hours of lost connectivity: 18,225. The cost of shutdowns has surged by 235% since 2016. The worst-hit economy: Iraq that lost $2.3 billion. India comes in at #3, losing $1.3 billion due to 100 “highly targeted” shutdowns.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Jeff Bezos’ PR offensive in India

The Amazon CEO is in town, determined to win the hearts, minds and wallets of Indians. The verdict on his performance at the end of day one: B+.

First, some context: For many years, India welcomed global companies with open arms. And they came flocking to our shores, enticed by the sheer size and dizzying growth of the Indian market. However, over the past year, the Indian government’s affections have cooled—especially for ecommerce big boys like Walmart and Flipkart. 

  • One reason: they pose a threat to the millions of small and medium-sized shop owners who form the core of BJP’s support. 

  • Second reason: they are formidable rivals to made-in-India billionaire Mukesh Ambani, who plans to conquer the online shopping space. Reliance Retail recently launched Jio Mart that offers home delivery from corner stores.

The result: New regulations aimed at cramping Amazon’s and Walmart’s style. Last year, the government suddenly changed the rules for e-commerce platforms with foreign investment—primarily to undercut their ability to offer deep discounts (see our explainer here). More recently, the Competition Commission of India launched a formal investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices of Amazon and Flipkart (which is owned by Walmart). 

Hence, Bezos’ trip: He is here to woo a Bharat Mata who is increasingly playing hard-to-get. As in, seriously hard to get. Point to note: There has been no announcement of a meeting with the PM as yet.

The charm offensive: It started almost the moment Bezos landed in Delhi. 

  • He headed straight to Gandhi-ji’s memorial in full Indian regalia—and promptly tweeted out the clip, gushing: “Just landed in India and spent a beautiful afternoon paying my respects to someone who truly changed the world..” 

  • This was followed by jumping on the Sankranti bandwagon and flying kites with kids in the capital. He even changed into a brand new kurta for this one.

  • Yesterday, at Amazon’s Smbhav trade summit—looking dapper in an ikat Nehru (Modi?) jacket, no less—he gushed some more: “I wanna make a prediction for you. I predict that the 21st-century is going to be the Indian century. The dynamism, energy … everywhere I go here, people are interested in self-improvement, growth. This country has something special. And it’s a democracy. This is going to be the Indian century.” Audience bada khush hua. Watch that clip here. More gushing here.

The money offensive: Bezos is also backing up his sweet, sweet words with sweet, sweet moolah. The speech included a number of big-ticket promises (watch that clip here):

  • Amazon will invest $1 billion to take businesses online—helping, Bezos claims, up to 10 million small and medium businesses. That’s on top of the $5.5 billion the company has already plowed into its Indian operations.

  • The aim: “This initiative will use Amazon’s global footprint to create $10 billion in Indian exports by 2025."

  • Amazon will expand its existing ‘Digital Haats’—which offer e-commerce, cataloguing and warehousing support—to 100 cities, villages and communities.

  • Point to note: much of this expansion is part of a $15 billion global initiative to help small and medium businesses sell their wares on Amazon stores. 

Did it work? The audience at the summit—made up of 3000 small and medium business leaders—roared in approval. But just a few kilometres away, protesters at a rally organized by the Confederation of All India Traders waved ‘Jeff Bezos Go back’ posters—and compared Amazon to the East India company. CAIT’s main grouse: Amazon and Walmart threaten the livelihood of neighbourhood kirana stores. 

Also not happy: Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy. The Smbhav summit began nearly 1.5 hours late, which cut down the time available to speakers. A grumpy NRN declared, “I was supposed to speak for 20 minutes, but will now try and finish it in five minutes because I am not used to delays.” Then he stomped off stage and had to be invited back by Bezos. Point to note: Murthy owns Catamaran Ventures which owns a majority stake in Cloudtail—one of the largest sellers on Amazon. 

Also very unhappy: Anyone trying to grab a bite at the summit. Angry tweets here and here.


What’s next? The two-day Amazon summit wraps up today. A meeting with Modi is beginning to look unlikely. So Bezos may have to make do with schmoozing with Bollywood celebs like Shah Rukh Khan and Zoya Akhtar. 


Learn more: Mint has the most details on Bezos’ speech. BBC News has an explainer on the protests, and Business Insider has the photos. Indian Express looks at the sellers who account for $2 billion in Indian exports via the Amazon platform. Recommended background viewing: Hasan Minhaj explaining Amazon’s dubious business practices.

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having lots of sex for a good cause

A very clever Putin plan: Yesterday, the Russian government—Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his entire cabinet—resigned en masse. The surprise move wasn’t triggered by dissent or even failure. The real reason: Russian law does not allow a person to be President for more than two consecutive terms. And President Putin’s clock runs out in 2024. So he’s now announced sweeping constitutional changes that transfer power from the president to… the prime minister! Hence, the resignations. No prizes for guessing who will be running for the post of PM in 2024. Medvedev’s exit is just advance planning. Putin has already picked a no-name—ex tax service chief Mikhail Mishustin—to keep the PM seat warm for him. (CNN)

Omar Abdullah is going home to prison: Since August, the former Chief Minister of Kashmir has been detained in a government bungalow. He will now be detained in his own home. No such luck for Mehbooba Mufti. (Hindustan Times)

The tale of the vanishing nuclear scientist: This is a very odd and creepy story about the unexplained deaths of India’s nuclear scientists between 2010 and 2014. For example: “In 2013, two chief engineers assigned to India’s first nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant, K K Josh and Abhish Shivam, were found lying on railway tracks by workers. Although saved from being run over by a train, they were found to be already dead. Relatives said that no visible signs of injury were apparent, an assertion backed up by the police.” And that’s just the beginning. Then the bodies just pile up. By the end, the number of deaths recorded at India’s nuclear facilities is astonishingly high. Also: the police investigations into these deaths were rushed and eager to brush many aside as suicides. (Asia Times)

India wages diplomatic war over CAA: The leaders of Turkey and Malaysia have been outspoken in their criticism of the Modi government’s policies. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad slammed the citizenship law as targeting Muslims, and called out India for  “invading and occupying” Kashmir. Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan similarly declared that Kashmiris are “virtually under blockade.” New Delhi has taken note, and steps to express its displeasure. India had already stopped importing palm oil from Malaysia—a big deal since it is Malaysia’s #1 buyer of the product. Now it plans to restrict purchases of petroleum, aluminium ingots, liquefied natural gas, computer parts and microprocessors. As for Turkey, the government is planning to cut imports of oil and steel products. (Reuters

No photoshopped images on Insta: In a bid to combat fake news, the platform will flag images that have been manipulated. They will be tagged with a black ‘False Information’ banner. Digital artists who routinely use Photoshop to create art are very, very unhappy. Heavily Facetuned photos, however, are safe. (Vice)

Sex can fob off early menopause: New research shows that women who have sex more often are less likely to have an early menopause. The study looked at women who were around 45 and in a relationship. It found that women who have sex once a week are 28% less likely to have experienced menopause—at any given age!—than women who have sex less than once a month. The reason: “if a woman is not having sex—and there is no chance of pregnancy—the body might ‘choose’ not to invest in ovulation.“ (The Guardian)

Say hello to the virtual gym: This, ladies and gentlemen, is the gym of the future: “Your local gym will be tucked inside the local market, perhaps just a few feet away from the produce section. There you’ll don a lightweight VR headset and pedal your way through a virtual exotic world as trackers count your every moment. When you’re done, your phone will ping you to book a massage—it’ll know exactly which muscles are aching.” AI can make anything happen. Fast Company tracks the cutting-edge trends in fitness. 

The story of a flyover in Mumbai: Over 80% of the patients at the Tata Memorial cancer treatment centre have come from distant parts of the country. And most of them are very poor. But cancer treatments almost always require extensive postoperative care—followup tests, checkups etc.. So where do these out-of-state patients go? Over a hundred of them are living under a flyover in Parel: "Patients operated for oral cancer take their feeds using a nasal tube even as cars, trucks and buses trundle by.. Patients change their dressings as dust and petrol and diesel fumes hang heavy in the air." This is a worthy and important cover story about poverty in India. Please read. (Mumbai Mirror)

Things that make you go WTF: include the following:

  • Iranian government has arrested the man who filmed the missile hitting the Ukrainian airline on grounds of national security. But the journalist who released the footage says they have the wrong person. Plus: new footage shows that the plane was struck by not one, but two missiles.

  • A Delta Airlines flight dumped jet fuel on primary school kids in a playground before making an emergency landing in LA.

  • Bangalore police randomly accosted three Muslim men from Kerala, detained and then beat them with lathis in custody. Yes, this is seriously WTF! 

  • Smoke from the Australian bushfire has already spread as far as South America—and will make one full circuit around Earth, coming right back to Australia. 

  • Deepika Padukone’s team went around Mumbai trying to buy a bottle of acid—just to test how hard or easy it is given the strict Supreme Court-mandated laws. Their end-of-day haul: 24 bottles. Watch a video of their ‘social experiment’.

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • It’s Super Mario Kejriwal. This may be the coolest Indian political ad we’ve seen.

  • Who sang ‘Teri meri kahaani hai’ better? Man or dog? Definitely dog

  • This awe-inspiring battle between two adult male tigers. Also: can anything shut us Indians up? Nope, nothing. 

  • Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren was asked to respond to the question: "Can a woman beat Trump?" This was her awesome answer

  • Even a king is a gooey paternal mess sometimes. Watch Princess Salma earn her wings from her Commander-in-Chief: her father, Jordanian King Abdullah II Ibn Al-Hussein. The look on his face is priceless. 

  • This is allegedly a famous Pakistani TV journalist. Many think he is the future of Indian TV journalism. 😱 

  • This lovely story about an open terrace in Rohini, Delhi that hosts 60 young judokas—including a young girl aspiring for an Olympic medal. 

  • The happy news that 18-year-old Billie Eilish will become the youngest musician to sing the title song for a James Bond film.

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Men Behaving Badly’ Edition

How do men try and put women down? Oh let us count the ways. Here are two pieces on sexism in everyday conversation.


Yes, ‘Mandozing’ is a thing

Sorry, ‘mansplaining’ is so last decade. We’ve already moved on to ‘mandozing’—a whole new word to describe a very familiar tactic men use to dismiss women. And we can’t decide which is worse.

Read: Mandozing is the deflating trend of men who bulldoze over women’s expertise | Metro

Sex, Love etc 2

Well, you see, Jane…

Imagine if Jane Austen had to endure a writing workshop with a certain kind of man. Well, this would be the hilarious result.

Read: If Jane Austen Got Feedback From Some Guy In A Writing Workshop | Buzzfeed

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