Sunday, July 22, 2012

Prostituting journalism

This was the editorial of today's Sunday Observer. I thought it interesting enough to be worth sharing.

Apparently, INGO's and Foreign Missions (any guesses as to which ones?) are behind this dastardly plot. Clearly people are annoyed by this but I wonder, why the perpetrators have been termed 'suicide journalists'?

Anyway, it was only last week that the Observer informed us that the alleged crime wave had been blown out of proportion. In that instance it was the open economy that was held to blame, although it does concede, correctly, that the new constitution, was  partly to blame.

The faults of that constitution have been extended of late, mostly recently the 18th amendment. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The taming of the Sunday Times

It is often remarked that the local media lacks something in terms of critical analysis. What nonsense!;  is the reply, just see the stories in the Sunday Leader on Srilankan Airlines or the Sunday Times lead on the investment in Greek bonds by Sri Lanka's Central Bank.

There is definitely still criticism but it is distinctly more muted than before, nothing illustrates this better than the story on the Central Cinema. The Sunday Times broke the story last week, but tucked it away on page 19 of the paper. Strangely enough, the story was not carried in the online edition. Perhaps it was just an omission.

Further, quite unaccountably, the important follow up: the destruction of the cinema was missed. There was a one line item in the online edition but that was it. was left to the Sunday Leader to carry a follow up.

Why is it that a newspaper that breaks an interesting story, fails to follow up on it. Sloppiness? Inefficiency? It seems hard to believe. In the context of the failure to put the original story on the online edition (where it could be read by potential overseas investors) and the placement of the original story at the back of the newspaper and one gets the distinct impression of 'soft pedalling'.

I have noticed this before (an example here). A few stories make the lead but a lot more are hidden. Most people have little time to spend trawling through the paper looking for tidbits of information and are thus uninformed. There was a time when the Sunday Times would have pursued this with vigour, but those days seem to be in the distant past. It is still, on the whole, one of the better papers, although this is not saying much. 

The question is why have they lowered their standards? Are they afraid? Have they bought into the GoSL view? It could be anything although analysts tend to believe the latter rather than the former view.  The GoSL liberated the country from ruthless terrorism, give them a little leeway to act.

Unfortunately a lot of people who have bought the hype may not realise that the fundamental requisite for growth is confidence and that confidence in the laws and system of justice is the very foundation of this. Expropriation of property, especially if it is, as the Leader claims, in violation of a court order, strikes at the very heart of confidence.

I am a pessimist, always seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. Perhaps these are minor blips, once these (admittedly) under utilised properties are developed things will start to happen. Perhaps. I tend to think that the most important thing for a state to do is get the governance right and step back and let private investors take over.

I may yet be proved wrong. I certainly hope so.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Central Cinema torn down

Heard that the Central Cinema in Maradana was torn down last night. The Sunday Times website carries a brief news item.

People from around the area say that bulldozers arrived in the middle of the night and started flattening the cinema. The owners apparently tried to contact higher authorities but were unsuccessful in preventing the demolition.

The Sunday Times website says the Urban Development Authority (UDA) demolished the cinema after the owner failed to meet tax obligations. The report in the print edition of last Sunday's paper stated that the owners had apparently won their case in the district court.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

UDA takes over the Central Cinema in Maradana

There is a story in the inner pages of today's Sunday Times that the Central Cinema is Maradana has been taken over. Unfortunately the web edition of the paper does not carry the story, but if you do have the paper take a look, its on the top of page 19 and easy to miss if one is not looking for it.

The gist of the report is that after the 8pm show ended on Friday a group of people including police and soldiers drove in and seized the premises.  When the owners went to the police to lodge a complaint they were asked to prove their ownership. On presentation of the relevant documents the police said there was little they could do since the UDA,which took over the premises is under the Defence Ministry.  

The UDA website however lists the Central cinema property which suggests that the officials were simply executing some older order but I can recall no report of this. I don't think it was a part of the takeover of under utilsed assets.

Can anyone shed any light on this?

For a change, today's papers have a lot of interesting stuff, from the Central Bank investment in Greek bonds, to the killing of a jungle cat, to a couple of issues at Sri Lankan Airlines.

Drugs, violence and trade: the sad tale of the US war on drugs

Indi has written something on the US war on drugs.  There is a sad and twisted tale behind this and its roots lie in, of all things, a failed trade policy.

The tale starts with protectionism for the US sugar industry. This started as far back as 1934 but was tightened in the 1970's. Under pressure from the sugar industry import quotas were tightened. Sugar imports from the Caribbean dropped  from around 6m tonnes in 1977 to around 1.2m tonnes by 1998, impoverishing many small nations. Therefore it is hardly surprising that farmers there found coca a more attractive crop and the underground American drug industry a more willing trading partner.

Sugar protectionism costs American consumers billions while providing the narcotics industry with its primary produce.

A second strand in this tale is the horrific violence that the Mexican drug cartels, enriched by the lucrative trade with the US have unleashed. Unfortunately, one of the lesser known facts is that the Mexican cartels buy their weapons, quite legally, from across the border.

Not only  does the US create the lucrative market (the emphasis on cutting supply, rather than demand keeps drugs prices high, enriching traffickers), force farmers south of the border to turn to illegitimate crops, they also arm the gangs. Some have expressed fears that the drugs violence in Mexico can spill over into the US, but it is rotten US policy that is igniting the region.

Cutting the Gordian Knot of problems is well nigh impossible, but legalising distribution and consumption will help. Abolishing the protectionism that impoverishes the Caribbean and hurts American consumers and industry will also help, but  there is another twisted evil, that bars reform: campaign finance by special interest groups. The NRA prevents a sensible gun policy and the sugar industry perverts trade policy but unless campaign finance is reformed so that these minority groups can no longer pull the strings of policy nothing is possible.

My simple suggestion is that private funding be abolished entirely, the state can give each candidate a small fixed sum and no further spending or funding (including "gifts" of free airtime) is permitted. Politicians can then concentrate on policy, instead of fund raising and end up having to spend the entire of their tenure serving the special interests of their donors.

Source: I picked up the information on the impact of US sugar protectionism on Caribbean farmers from Todd Buchholz's book.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

Rod Stewart builds model railways

Rod Stewart has a hobby, building model railways. He seems pretty good at it too. More pictures from the Model Railroader magazine are here, images are not great but they do enlarge a bit if one clicks on them.

Interesting, huh?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Belief in astrology leaves nation in the dark

Well, not yet, but soon. Very soon.

The stars foretell it.

In the boundless wisdom of the rulers, the clocks were set back by half an hour, at the auspicious time of 06.42am on the 15th of April 2006.

Now we reap the benefit, the darkness will engulf us soon.