1 Europe & China cut rates, Bank of England for QE (The Guardian) Central banks around the world signalled their determination to stimulate the flagging global economy, with the injection of £50bn of electronic money into the UK and interest rate cuts in the eurozone and China. The Bank of England warned that recovery was at risk without a boost to its programme of quantitative easing after a flurry of economic surveys showed the double-dip recession could stretch into the autumn. Not since the financial crash of 2008 has the world economy appeared to be going into reverse, but a downturn in the US and key Asian economies following the euro crisis has sapped the life out of global trade.
The Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, which sets interest rate policy, said that the total amount of QE would rise to £375bn, while the base interest rate would remain at 0.5%. It said the eurozone crisis was continuing to batter business confidence, despite a deal struck last weekend that calmed market fears of a euro collapse.
2 Modern medicine’s loss — the doc’s touch (BBC) Modern medicine is in danger of losing a powerful, old-fashioned tool: human touch. Physician and writer Abraham Verghese says that in our strange new world patients are merely data points, and calls for a return to the traditional one-on-one physical exam.
Before he finished medical school, Abraham Verghese spent a year on the other end of the medical pecking order, as a hospital orderly. Moving unseen through the wards, he saw the patients with new eyes, as human beings rather than collections of illnesses. The experience has informed his work as a doctor – and as a writer. He’s now a professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford, where his old-fashioned weekly rounds have inspired a new initiative, the Stanford 25, teaching 25 fundamental physical exam skills and their diagnostic benefits to interns.
3 SA youth unemployment at 42% (Johannesburg Times) Data shows that about 42% of young people under the age of 30 in South Africa are unemployed. Only one in eight working age adults under the age of 25 years has a job. President Jacob Zuma alleged that local employers often continuously recruited from abroad while the country had thousands of unemployed people, including graduates. Not only were scarce or exceptional skills being recruited from outside the country but unskilled labour as well, he added.
4 Revolution and after (Barak Barfi in Khaleej Times) Egypt is not the only place where the bright hopes of the Arab Spring are fading. From attacks against Western governments to ethnic clashes in remote desert oases, Libya’s revolution is faltering. During his 42 years in power, Gaddafi surrounded himself with advisers who were companions from his youth, supplemented by a small coterie of technocrats. As a result, the leaders of the revolt that overthrew him have little government experience. And, in a country where any political activity was considered treasonous, many expected the neophyte NTC to stumble early and often. And so it has.
Many NTC members believe that the Council lacks the legitimacy to make tough choices. They argue that the NTC should limit itself to serving as a caretaker government, implementing only the most essential decisions until elected officials take office. After an eight-month revolution that devastated the country, Libyans are demanding real reforms. But, without a new leadership that is willing to implement them, it will be a long time before Libya turns a new page.
5 Are we all Tom Sawyers? (PG Bhaskar in Khaleej Times) One of my vivid recollections from Mark Twain’s book ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ is the story about young Tom who was dreading the task of whitewashing the fence. But by pretending to enjoy the task and initially hesitating to allow his friends to share the task, he manages to get the entire fence ‘outsourced’ and gets paid for it by eager boys, all dying to have a go.
In India again, a few years back, a company that manufactured mint decided to cut costs and sell its mint shaped like a ring instead of as a full circle as was conventional. That gave the consumer only about 60% of the quantity per mint, but the company splurged massively on advertisements calling it ‘the mint with a hole’. Now why that should be anything to shout about, I don’t know, but it helped to differentiate and it worked.
My wife once gave me a spiel about making coffee; about how it was an art, how much she enjoyed making it to perfection and about how I was a budding coffee connoisseur who had it in him to make the perfect coffee. I fell for it and since then have made every cup of coffee at home. Now, my wife thinks it is unfortunate that my extraordinary talent for cooking has been unutilised. But I’m smarter now and haven’t fallen for this one. Maybe there’s a bit of Tom Sawyer within each of us. We preen and promote so that we may not be the only one.
6 Exit God, enter madness (Dawn) On Wednesday, a frenzied mob broke into a police station in Bahawalpur (South Punjab). The mob’s target was a ‘malang’ (vagabond), the sort that have been found in and around numerous shrines of Sufi saints in the sub-continent for centuries. As he sat behind bars at a police lock-up and as most of the cops kept giving him sideways glances, cracking vague, pitying grins at the malang’s state of mind and habit of talking to himself, the mob surrounded the police station, demanding that the ‘blasphemer’ be handed over.
Some witnesses (the mesmerised zombies) said they could hear the malang screaming and pleading the mob for mercy. But the onlookers stood still and so did the bruised cops, praying that the promised reinforcements would arrive before the mob slaughtered the malang and send him to hell for insulting Islam – the ‘religion of peace.’ The mob had had its fill of vengeance and blood. It had battered a vagabond and mentally disturbed person to death. And as if that wasn’t enough to quench its blood thirst, it set the limp, bloodied body of the man on fire!
Deluded as we have become about our religious and national identities and priorities, I’m sure after seeing flames rise from the evil blasphemer’s dead body, many pious men in the mob must have looked at the sky, trying to penetrate their blood-shot gaze into the seventh sky where God resides, expecting the Almighty to begin showering rose petals on them. That didn’t happen, and no one was willing to suggest that in all probability God had actually been repulsed by the act.
7 Record current-account deficit for India (The Wall Street Journal) India’s current-account deficit widened to a record in the January-March period, as exports slowed and imports climbed, increasing the pressure on the country’s tenuous external position.Analysts, however, expect the combination of a weak Indian rupee and lower commodity prices to shrink the current-account gap in coming quarters.
The widest-ever current-account deficit kept India’s balance of payments in negative territory for a second consecutive quarter, forcing the Reserve Bank of India to dip into its foreign-exchange reserves. The current-account deficit in the three months through March was $21.7 billion, or 4.5% of gross domestic product, compared with $6.3 billion a year earlier, or 1.3% of GDP. It was also more than the October-December period’s $19.6 billion—the previous record.