Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saudi king allows women to vote in local elections

Saudi King Abdullah announced Sunday that the nation's women will gain the right to vote and run as candidates in local elections to be held in 2015 in a major advancement for the rights of women in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

In an annual speech before his advisory assembly, or Shura Council, the Saudi monarch said he ordered the step after consulting with the nation's top religious clerics, whose advice carries great weight in the kingdom.

"We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society and in every aspect, within the rules of Sharia," Abdullah said, referring to the Islamic law that governs many aspects of life in the kingdom.

The right to vote is by far the biggest change introduced by Abdullah, considered a reformer, since he became the country's de facto ruler in 1995 during the illness of King Fahd. Abdullah formally ascended to the throne upon Fahd's death in August 2005.

The kingdom's great oil wealth and generous handouts to citizens have largely insulated it from the unrest sweeping the Arab world. But the king has taken steps to quiet rumblings of discontent that largely centered on the eastern oil-producing region populated by the country's Shiite Muslim minority.

Mindful of the unrest, which reached Saudi Arabia's doorstep with street protests and a deadly crackdown in neighboring Bahrain, King Abdullah pledged roughly $93 billion in financial support to boost jobs and services for Saudis in March.

Seizing on the season of protest in the Arab world, Saudi women's groups have also staged public defiance of the kingdom's ban on female driving. Saudi authorities went relatively easy on the women, who took to the roads earlier this year and gained worldwide attention through social media.

Abdullah said the changes announced Sunday would also allow women to be appointed to the Shura Council, the advisory body selected by the king that is currently all-male.

The council, established in 1993, offers opinions on general policies in the kingdom and debates economic and social development plans and agreements signed between the kingdom and other nations.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, follows deeply conservative social traditions and adheres closely to a strict version of Islam. Despite Abdullah's attempts to push through some social reforms, women still cannot drive and the sexes are segregated in public.

Saudi Arabia held its first-ever municipal elections in 2005.

The kingdom will hold its next municipal elections on Thursday, but women will not be able to vote or run in those contests.

In announcing the reforms, Abdullah sought to ground his decision in religion.

"Muslim women in our Islamic history have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice," he said, citing examples from the era of Islam's Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century.

He said the members of Saudi Arabia's clerical council, or Ulema, praised and supported his decision.

He also acknowledged the yearning for greater social freedoms in the kingdom.

"Balanced modernization, which falls within our Islamic values, is an important demand in an era where there is no place for defeatist or hesitant people," he said.

In January, a group of female activists launched a campaign on social networking websites to push the kingdom to allow women to vote and run in the municipal elections.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

IMF: World economy enters 'dangerous new phase'

The world economy has entered a "dangerous new phase," according to the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. As a result, the international lending organization has sharply downgraded its economic outlook for the United States and Europe through the end of next year.

The IMF expects the U.S. economy to grow just 1.5 percent this year and 1.8 percent in 2012. That's down from its June forecast of 2.5 percent in 2011 and 2.7 percent next year.

To achieve even that still-low level of growth, the U.S. economy would need to expand at a much faster rate in the second half of the year than its 0.7 percent annual pace in the first six months.

Most economists expect growth of between 1.5 percent and 2 percent in the final two quarters. Though an improvement, it wouldn't be enough to lower the unemployment rate. The rate has been 9 percent or higher in all but two months since the recession officially ended more than two years ago.

"The global economy has entered a dangerous new phase," said Olivier Blanchard, the IMF's chief economist. "The recovery has weakened considerably. Strong policies are needed to improve the outlook and reduce the risks."

The IMF has also lowered its outlook for the 17 countries that use the euro. It predicts 1.6 percent growth this year and 1.1 percent next year, down from its June projections of 2 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.

The gloomier forecast for Europe is based on worries that euro nations won't be able to contain their debt crisis and keep it from destabilizing the region.

"Markets have clearly become more skeptical about the ability of many countries to stabilize their public debt," Blanchard said. "Fear of the unknown is high."

Overall, the IMF predicts global growth of 4 percent for both years. Stronger growth in China, India, Brazil and other developing countries should offset weaker output in the United States and Europe.

Financial turmoil and slow growth are feeding on each other in both the United States and Europe, IMF officials say. Europe's debt crisis is causing banks to reduce lending and hold onto cash. Sharp stock market drops in the United States over the summer have hurt consumer and business confidence and will likely reduce spending. That slows growth, which leads many investors to shift money out of stocks and into safer investments, such as Treasury bonds.

In Europe, slower growth will make it harder for stressed nations to get their debt under control.

U.S. and European policymakers must act more decisively to cut budget deficits, the IMF said.

European banks need to boost their capital buffers more quickly and beyond new minimum levels set to come into force in 2019, the IMF said.

European banks have seen their stocks slide sharply this summer on fears that their exposure to the government debt of shaky countries like Greece could result in big losses.

Having extra capital would bolster confidence in the banking sector and shield Europe's economy from the impact of jitters in financial markets.

The U.S. economy faces longer-lasting problems that go beyond high gas prices and disruptions caused by the Japan crisis, the IMF said.

Employers are adding few jobs and giving out meager pay raises. Many homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Banks are keeping credit tight.

All those trends are holding back consumer spending. Unemployment is likely to average 9 percent next year, the IMF's report said, echoing a recent estimate by the Obama administration.

President Barack Obama's proposal to cut taxes and spend more on infrastructure should provide much-needed short-term stimulus, the IMF said. But it needs to be paired with a longer-term plan to reduce the deficit over, the report said. The timing of the budget cuts is key, Blanchard said.

Budget cuts "cannot be too fast or it will kill growth," Blanchard said in a statement. "It cannot be too slow or it will kill credibility."

President Obama on Monday proposed more than $3 trillion of tax increases and spending cuts over 10 years. His proposal will be considered by a congressional panel charged with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction this year.

Both Obama's jobs proposal and the tax increases face stiff opposition from Republicans. They oppose any tax increases and have strongly criticized the president's plans.

The 187-member nation fund conducts economic analysis and lends money to countries in financial distress. It will hold its annual meetings with the World Bank later this week in Washington.

Online gamers crack AIDS enzyme puzzle

Online gamers have achieved a feat beyond the realm of Second Life or Dungeons and Dragons: they have deciphered the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus that had thwarted scientists for a decade.
The exploit is published on Sunday in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, where -- exceptionally in scientific publishing -- both gamers and researchers are honoured as co-authors.

Their target was a monomeric protease enzyme, a cutting agent in the complex molecular tailoring of retroviruses, a family that includes HIV.

Figuring out the structure of proteins is vital for understanding the causes of many diseases and developing drugs to block them.

But a microscope gives only a flat image of what to the outsider looks like a plate of one-dimensional scrunched-up spaghetti. Pharmacologists, though, need a 3-D picture that "unfolds" the molecule and rotates it in order to reveal potential targets for drugs.

This is where Foldit comes in.

Developed in 2008 by the University of Washington, it is a fun-for-purpose video game in which gamers, divided into competing groups, compete to unfold chains of amino acids -- the building blocks of proteins -- using a set of online tools.

To the astonishment of the scientists, the gamers produced an accurate model of the enzyme in just three weeks.

Cracking the enzyme "provides new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs," says the study, referring to the lifeline medication against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

It is believed to be the first time that gamers have resolved a long-standing scientific problem.

"We wanted to see if human intuition could succeed where automated methods had failed," Firas Khatib of the university's biochemistry lab said in a press release. "The ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems."

One of Foldit's creators, Seth Cooper, explained why gamers had succeeded where computers had failed.

"People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at," he said.

"Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week's paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before."

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Nano car worth Rs. 22 crore

The Tata Group Monday unveiled a Nano car - made with gold and silver, and studded with precious stones - worth an astronomical over Rs.22 crore.

But, it's not for sale - the valuable and fully functional car is a unique branding and promotional initiative by Goldplus Jewellery, part of Titan Industries, a Tata Group company, an official said.

The mega-value Goldplus Nano Car was unveiled Monday evening by Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata.

The Goldplus Nano Car pales the average Rs.1.40 lakh Nano, which started with a Rs.1 lakh price tag at its launch.

The Goldplus Nano Car is billed as the world's first ever gold jewellery car and celebrates the 5,000 years of jewellery making industry in India.

The car's body is made with 80 kg 22 carat solid gold, 15 kg silver, precious stones - including diamonds, rubies - and other expensive gemstones, the official said.

"As many as 14 techniques of jewellery making have gone behind the effort -- from the intricate filigree work to the delicate and colourful meenakari work, the stunning kundan to the traditional naqashi...marking the convergence of diverse and culturally distinct jewellery making techniques from around India," the official told IANS.

Titan Industries managing director Bhaskar Bhat said that since eternity, jewellery made with gold and precious stones has been an integral part of the Indian woman's life.

"Indian jewellery has been an epitome of innovation and creativity, and carved a niche worldwide for itself for the intricacy of the designs crafted out of the precious metals and stones," said C.K. Venkataraman, COO, jewellery division.

After its glittering launch in Mumbai Monday evening, the Goldplus Nano Car will travel to all the Goldplus showrooms at 29 locations around the country.

The car incorporates beautiful designs, made with the precious stones of different colours, set on the gold and silver body of the car.

Apple stock hits $413.23, its highest level ever

Apple Inc. stock reached its highest level ever Monday, hitting $413.23 in intraday trading even as the broader market declined.

That price was 3.2 percent higher than Friday's close and brought the company's market capitalization to $383 billion, albeit briefly.

The stock slipped to close at $411.63 and was trading after hours at $411.58, still up about 2.8 percent, while the Dow Jones industrial average closed down 0.9 percent.

Apple is again the most valuable company in America, putting Exxon Mobil, whose market cap Monday was about $358 billion, at No. 2.

The record-setting trade for 100 shares occurred at 3:39 p.m. Eastern time, according to FactSet.

Apple shares have risen steadily recently, despite company mastermind Steve Jobs' resignation as CEO Aug. 24 amid an extended leave for medical reasons. The day after he announced he was stepping down, the stock closed at $373.72.

JPMorgan analyst Mark Moskowitz issued a research note Monday speculating that Apple would release two new iPhones this fall — an iPhone 5 that is lighter and slimmer and would work around the world, and a slightly improved iPhone 4 model that could target the explosive Chinese market.

Moskowitz speculated that Apple would cut a new deal with a Chinese cellphone carrier that could give it access to more than 100 million more customers. Currently, Apple only has a relationship with carrier China Unicom, with 180 million subscribers, Moskowitz said.

China Mobile, the country's largest carrier, has about 600 million subscribers, while China Telecom has about 100 million, he said.

He said investors should "start to prepare for more positive surprises" in the growth of iPhone shipments. He rates the shares "overweight" with a price target of $525.

Shares are now trading about 13.7 times the analyst's expectation for calendar 2012 earnings of $30.04 per share.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mahindra's maiden aircraft makes successful test-flight

The Mahindra Group on Wednesday said it has completed successfully the test-flight of its maiden aircraft NM5, which was developed in collaboration with the Government-run National Aeronautical Laboratories (NAL).

The five-seater all-metal aircraft, powered by a Lycoming IO-540 engine, completed a 45-minute flight on September 1, Mahindra Aerospace said in a release here.

"It gives us great pride to see our first indigenous effort, the NM5, complete its maiden flight. This project is part of our goal to provide transportation and connectivity solutions to communities," Mahindra Group Vice Chairman and Managing Director Anand Mahindra said in the release.

The NM5 complements Mahindra Aerospace's growing family of light utility aircraft that are designed to meet the latest global standards and can operate in bare minimum environments, the company said.

Engineers from CSIR, a top national R&D agency, NAL and Mahindra Aerospace spent close to three years designing the new aircraft using cutting-edge design and analysis tools.

The prototype was built over a 10-month period by a team at GippsAero, a Mahindra Aerospace subsidiary in Australia, at their facilities in Melbourne. Flight testing is being performed at GippsAero, it said.

Developmental flight testing and evaluations are continuing, with the ultimate aim of achieving certification in keeping with international regulatory standards, followed by a global sales and marketing programme, the company said.

With an investment commitment in excess of $100 million, Mahindra Aerospace has started work on a major aero-structures manufacturing facility in Bangalore.

The Beginning of the End for Suburban America

In the years following World War II, the United States experienced an unprecedented consumption boom. Anything you could measure was growing. A Rhode Island-sized chunk of land was bulldozed to make new suburbs every single year for decades. America rounded into its present-day shape.

Along the way, there were three inexorable trends at the base of the societal pyramid. First, we plowed more energy into our homes each and every year. We cooled and heated our houses more (sometimes wastefully, sometimes not), brought in more and more appliances, added televisions and computers and phones. Per capita electricity shot up from about 4,000 kilowatt-hours per US resident to over 13,000 kilowatt-hours by the 2000s. Second, we needed more electricity because our houses got huge. The median home size shot up from about 1,500 square feet in the early 1970s to more than 2,200 square feet in the mid-200s. Third, we drove more and more miles every year to get around and between our sprawled-out cities. Back in 1960, Americans drove 0.72 trillion miles. By 2000, that number had reached 2.75 trillion miles. In 2007, vehicle miles traveled hit 3.02 trillion.

Now, though, the relentless growth in those figures is coming to an end. The AP's Jonathan Fahey reported last week that the utility company research consortium, the Electric Power Research Institute, projected that residential electricity demand would drop over the next ten years. "From 1980 to 2000, residential power demand grew by about 2.5 percent a year. From 2000 to 2010, the growth rate slowed to 2 percent," Fahey wrote. "Over the next 10 years, demand is expected to decline by about 0.5 percent a year, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit group funded by the utility industry." That's due, in part, to the decrease in the median size of new homes in recent years. The average size of a new home in 2010 is nearly 130 square feet smaller than in 2007.

Meanwhile, the number of miles that Americans drive fell in 2008 and 2009 -- even as gas prices fell off their highs. In 2010, Americans drove a little more, but so far in 2011, we're driving less. In other words, the growth in total vehicle miles traveled has stalled. And if you look at vehicle miles traveled per person, the picture is even more clear. On a per capita basis, people have been driving less for almost a decade. Now, with gas prices creeping back toward record high territory, we can expect the new downward trends to continue.

Taken together, the end of growth in residential electricity consumption and vehicle miles traveled form a momentous signal. The United States we all grew up with is changing, or rather, it's changed and the numbers are beginning to reflect that. The growth in housing size, electricity demand and miles traveled were the hallmarks of the suburban/exurban era. They were the statistics of sprawl -- but also of economic growth. Now that their relentless upward march has stopped, what happens? We need a new model for American prosperity that doesn't require ever greater injections of fossil energy. That's a generational challenge that hasn't been captured by the pro- or anti-green jobs rhetoric here in Washington.

House probing $528M loan to failed solar company

The Obama administration's eagerness to deliver economic stimulus may have influenced a federal review of a loan to a now bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, a move that may have left taxpayers on the hook for a $528 million debt, House Republicans said Wednesday.

The panel examining the loan disclosed e-mails that appear to show senior staff at the White House Office of Management and Budget chafing about having to conduct "rushed approvals" of federal loan guarantees designed to help jumpstart the nation's renewable energy industry.

GOP lawmakers said the White House had scheduled a groundbreaking for Solyndra Inc. even before the Department of Energy had submitted its final paperwork on the terms of the loan to the OMB.

"We would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due diligence reviews and have the approval set the date for the announcement rather than the other way around," said one of the emails from an unnamed OMB aide to the office of Vice President Joe Biden.

Solyndra was cited by President Barack Obama as an example of how the economic stimulus bill would increase employment through investments in renewable energy. But it couldn't compete with foreign manufacturers of solar panels in the U.S. and the European market dried up. It has filed for bankruptcy, laying off 1,100 workers. Shortly after the filing, FBI officials raided the company's headquarters in Fremont, Calif. The company said the FBI was seeking records on the loans.

Republican lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigations panel are questioning why there was a rush to approve the loan and whether the entire loan guarantee program is warranted.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New tool can ensure better safety on planes

Researchers have developed an instrument for fine tuning an airplane's digital flight-data recorder or "black box" so that it can pre-empt crashes and ensure greater safety for passengers.

John Hansman, professor of aeronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says that current methods of analyzing black box data might miss vital information bearing on flight safety.

Accordingly, Mr Hansman, his colleagues at MIT and various researchers in Spain have devised the tool to spot glitches even before mishaps are triggered, according to an MIT statement.

Mr Hansman's team took cluster analysis, a common statistical approach, and tailored it to black-box data, for more comprehensive understanding of an aircraft's operation.

"The beauty of this is, you don't have to know ahead of time what 'normal' is," says Hansman, "because the method finds what's normal by looking at the cluster."

The researchers tested the technique on flight data they obtained from an international airline that no longer operates.

The dataset comprised 365 flights, all flown on Boeing 777s. The flights were undertaken over a period of one month, with various origins and destinations.

After examining the data more carefully, the team found that one flight took off with significantly less power than most, indicating either an incorrect thrust setting by the crew or a potential power-systems issue.

Another takeoff had erratic pitch behaviour, indicating that the pilot had difficulty rotating on takeoff.

A third flight was identified as being low on approach, with a higher-than-normal flap setting, creating drag that forced the plane to apply more thrust than usual before landing.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bank of America will cut 30,000 jobs

Bank of America is slashing 30,000 jobs as part of an effort to reverse a crisis of confidence among investors. It's the largest single job reduction by a U.S. company this year.

What CEO Brian Moynihan is trying to do is nothing less than save the nation's largest bank. Investors have cut the bank's market value by half this year. The bank is facing huge liabilities over soured mortgage investments and concerns over whether it has enough capital to withstand more financial shocks.

The cuts, which affect Bank of America's consumer businesses, represent 10 percent of the Charlotte, N.C. bank's work force. The bank said it hopes the cuts and other measures will result in $5 billion in annual savings by 2014. The bank has already cut 6,000 jobs this year. The bank also said it would look for cost savings at its other businesses in a six-month review that will begin next month.

"It's as if someone has hit the panic button," said Bert Ely, president of banking consultant Ely & Co.

Moynihan has been taking other steps to shore up the bank's standing. Last week he shook up the bank's top management ranks and has been selling parts of the company to raise cash. Last month Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. invested $5 billion in the company.

Moynihan has struggled to calm investors ever since he took the top job in January 2010. He is reversing the empire-building strategy of his predecessor, Ken Lewis, who stepped down amid controversy over the purchase of Merrill Lynch during the financial crisis. Lewis also engineered the ill-fated acquisition of Countrywide Financial Corp., then the country's largest mortgage lender, which has led to heavy financial losses, lawsuits and regulatory probes.

Moynihan is now taking a knife to the company, hoping to shrink it down to a more manageable size even if it means losing the bragging rights of being the nation's largest bank. "We don't have to be the biggest company out there," said Moynihan.

Bank of America's stock has lost 48 percent this year, largely because of problems related to poorly-written mortgages at Countrywide. Just in the first half of the year the bank paid out $12.7 billion to settle claims from investors that it sold them securities backed by faulty mortgages.

Some investors and analysts worry that the job cuts will lead to poor customer service and the bank will lose market share to rivals at a time when there are signs that the economy is slowing down. They also wonder if the job cuts are enough to produce the profits the bank needs to overcome the spiraling costs from its mortgage business.

"There is a fair amount of skepticism on Wall Street, and Brian is doing as much as he can do in the face of a worsening economy," said Nancy Bush, an analyst and contributing editor at SNL Financial, a research firm.

The bank's stock was down for most of the afternoon but rose along with the overall market to close up 7 cents, or 1 percent, at $7.05.

The job cuts follow a revamp of the bank's top management team last week. Two senior executives, wealth management head Sallie Krawcheck and head of consumer banking Joe Price, left the bank. The bank also elevated commercial banking chief David Darnell and investment banking head Tom Montag to co-chief operating officers, reporting to Moynihan.

Bank of America is seen as one of the most bloated banks in the industry. The payroll cuts will bring its work force in line with some of its key rivals. JPMorgan Chase & Co. had 250,000 workers at the end of the second quarter.

"Financial companies have already been cutting for a few months now. He's a little late to the game already," said Walter Todd, a portfolio manager at Greenwood Capital, which owns Bank of America preferred shares.

The cuts are the largest by a U.S. employer this year, according to the outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Merck & Co. said this year it would cut 13,000 jobs. Bank of America's cuts are the largest since the Postal Service announced 30,000 job cuts last year. General Motors Co. cut 47,000 jobs in 2009.

$5.3M Dinners With Warren Buffett Lead to Dream Job for Money Manager

A portfolio manager who paid a total of $5.3 million for two meals with Warren Buffett has just been hired to help pick stocks at Berkshire Hathaway.

In a news release this morning, Buffett's company says 50-year-old Ted Weschler of Charlottesville, Va., will join Berkshire early next year. He is currently managing partner at the hedge fund he started in 2000, Peninsula Capital Advisors.

Weschler joins 2010 Berkshire addition Todd Combs as a portfolio manager.

And in an unusual twist, Fortune's Carol Loomis reveals this morning that Weschler met Buffett by winning Buffett's annual charity "Power Lunch" auction for the past two years. Proceeds go to San Francisco's Glide Foundation.

Until today, the name of the winning bidder for bidding in 2010 and 2011 had been kept confidential.

Weschler paid $2,626,311 last year, and then won again this year with a slightly higher $2,626,411 bid.

Loomis reports that instead of lunch at New York's Smith & Wollensky steakhouse, the auction's regular venue, Weschler and Buffett actually had dinner in Omaha both years at Buffett's favorite steakhouse, Piccolo Pete's.

According to Loomis, the "two men liked each other right away" and Buffett invited his guest to come to Berkshire's annual meeting this spring.

Loomis writes: "At a large private dinner on the night of the meeting, (Weschler) introduced himself to this reporter, made an impression as smart and friendly, and described himself as having a great time."

At first, Buffett wasn't sure Weschler wanted the job. He tells Fortune:

"I very much wanted him to do it, but I didn't expect to get very far with the idea. Ted will no doubt make a lot of money at Berkshire. But he was already making a lot of money with his fund-you can get an idea of that from the size of his Glide bids-so money wasn't a reason for him to come."

After Buffett "almost apologetically" sounded out Weschler over dinner this July, he took a few weeks to think it over and then accepted the offer.

Weschler isn't talking now about his new job, but Loomis says she "can speculate that Weschler's long-time admiration for Buffett made this an offer he just couldn't refuse."

Like Combs, Weschler will be handling about $1 billion to $3 billion of Berkshire's money, and Buffett will continue to "manage most of the funds until his retirement," according to the news release.

It goes on to say:

"After Mr. Buffett no longer serves as CEO, Todd and Ted-possibly aided by one additional manager-will have responsibility for the entire equity and debt portfolio of Berkshire, subject to overall direction by the then-CEO and board of directors. With Todd and Ted on board, Berkshire is well-positioned for successor investment management at the time Mr. Buffett is no longer CEO."

Weschler is like Buffett in that he prefers to buy just a few stocks for long periods of time, although the new hire probably won't be able to short stocks and borrow money to boost his investing capital, as he has at Peninsula.

According to Peninsula's latest 13F filing in July, the hedge fund held almost $2 billion worth of publicly traded U.S. stocks as of June 30.

According to Fortune, anyone investing in Peninsula in early 2000 had a total gain of 1,236 percent as of the end of this year's first quarter, dwarfing Berkshire B shares' gain of 146 percent.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cut taxes, Obama tells Congress in $450 billion jobs plan

Attacking a deepening jobs crisis, President Barack Obama challenged a reluctant Congress Thursday night to urgently pass a larger-than-expected $450 billion plan to "jolt an economy that has stalled." He urged lawmakers to slash Social Security taxes for tens of millions of Americans and for almost every business to encourage hiring.

"Stop the political circus," an animated Obama told a joint session of Congress in a nationally televised speech. Over and over he implored lawmakers to "pass this jobs bill."

Open to discussion but making no promises, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said Obama's ideas would be considered but the president should give heed to Republicans' as well. "It's my hope that we can work together," he said.

In announcing a plan heavy on the tax cuts that Republicans traditionally love, Obama sought to achieve multiple goals: offer a plan that could actually get through a deeply divided Congress, speed hiring in a nation where 14 million are out of work, shore up public confidence in his leadership and put Republicans on the spot to take action.

The fate of economy will define Obama's re-election bid, but he sought to dismiss that element as political fodder that means nothing to hurting Americans.

Obama never estimated how many jobs would be created by his plan, which also includes new federal spending for construction, hiring and an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. Despite his promise that it would all be paid for, he has not yet released the details on how.

His message was unmistakable to the point of repetition, as he told Congress more than 15 times in one way or another to act quickly. That was meant as direct challenge by a Democratic president to the Republicans running the House to get behind his plan, especially on tax cuts, or be tarred as standing in the way.

The urgency of the jobs crisis is as pronounced as it's been since the early days of Obama's term. Employers added zero jobs last month. A whopping number of Americans — about eight in 10 — think the country is headed in the wrong direction and Obama's approval ratings are on the decline.

In the House chamber, Obama received a warm response but then the usual political pattern took hold, Republicans often sitting in silence on the applause lines that had Democrats roaring. Boehner had chummy moments with Vice President Joe Biden at his side before the speech but was somber over Obama's shoulder as the president spoke.

"The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we'll meet ours," Obama said. "The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy."

The newest and boldest element of Obama's plan would cut the Social Security payroll tax both for tens of millions of workers and for employers, too.

For individuals, that tax has been shaved from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for this year but is to go back up again without action by Congress. Obama wants to deepen the cut to 3.1 percent for workers.

Obama would also apply the payroll tax cut to employers, halving their taxes to 3.1 percent on their first $5 million in payroll. Businesses that hire new workers or give raises to those they already employ would get an even bigger benefit: On payroll increases up to $50 million they would pay no Social Security tax.

Obama proposed spending to fix schools and roads, hire local teachers and police and extend unemployment benefits. He proposed a tax credit for businesses that hire people out of work for six months or longer, plus other tax relief aimed as snaring bipartisan support in a time of divided government.

The White House put the price tag of Obama's plan at $447 billion, with about $253 billion in tax cuts and $194 billion in federal spending.

The president said he would make his case to the public and will waste no time taking his sales pitch on the road. His first stop will be on Friday at the University of Richmond in the Virginia congressional district of House majority Leader Eric Cantor, a frequent critic of the president's policies.

Politics shadowed every element of Obama's speech. He appealed to people watching on TV to lobby lawmakers to act. He did the same thing before his speech in an email to campaign supporters, bringing howls of hypocrisy from Republicans who wondered why Obama was telling them to put party above country.

The American public is weary of talk and wary of promises that help is on the way.

And the window for action is shrinking before the 2012 presidential election swallows up everything.

Under soaring expectations for results, Obama sought to put himself on the side of voters who he said could not care less about the political consequences of his speech. "The next election if 14 months away," Obama said, adding that the people who hired every elected leader in the room need help "and they need it now."

Administration officials bristle whenever critics of their original stimulus plan note that it did not live up to the job creation estimates the White House issued in 2009. As a result, the White House is leaving it to outside economists to render their verdict on the new plan.

Mark Zandi, one of several economists asked by the White House to evaluate the president's proposal ahead of his speech, said that if enacted it would add 1.9 million jobs and reduce the unemployment rate by one percentage point. Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics, said the expanded payroll tax cut would be responsible for the most increase in hiring, adding about 750,000 jobs. The tax cut for employers, he said, would add about 300,000 new jobs

As to paying for it, Obama will ask a special debt panel in Congress to find enough savings to cover the costs of his ideas. He says he'll release specifics a week from Monday along with a proposal to stabilize the country's long-term debt. Among them: raise taxes on the wealthy, an idea Republicans have already rejected.

Most of the $447 billion package would be spent in 2012. The White House says Obama's as-yet-unrevealed plan for payment would spread the cost over the long term, likely over 10 years.

The president said deepening the payroll tax cut would save an average family making $50,000 a year about $1,500 compared to what they would if Congress did not extend the current tax cut.

"I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live," Obama said, a reference to the conservative tea party influence on many House Republicans. "Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise-middle class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away."

No incumbent president in recent history has won re-election with the unemployment rate anywhere near the current 9.1 percent.

Obama's jobs plan put a special emphasis on the long-term unemployed — those who have been out of work for six months or more. He repeated his calls for a one-year extension of unemployment insurance in order to prevent up to 6 million people from losing their benefits, and he proposed a $4,000 tax credit for businesses that hire workers who have been out of work for more than six months.

Google buys restaurant review service Zagat

This "iconic" publisher of restaurant reviews is "trusted" and "well-loved" by foodies. Customers love its "ability to innovate" and gush over its "tremendous insight."

Google said Thursday that it is buying Zagat, maker of the slender guidebooks that offer one-paragraph reviews and numerical ratings of eateries, peppered with partial quotes from the people who love and hate them.

Google plans to integrate Zagat's online reviews into its Google Maps service and its basic search results. Google said Zagat's style, drawing on snippet-sized customer reviews, was mobile before mobile was cool.

"Zagat has established a trusted and well-loved brand the world over, operating in 13 categories and more than 100 cities," Google said. "The Zagats have demonstrated their ability to innovate and to do so with tremendous insight."

The founders, husband and wife team Nina and Tim Zagat, said they will remain co-chairs of the 32-year-old company and will use Google's resources and expertise to expand.

In a blog post Thursday announcing the purchase, Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of local, maps and location services, said Zagat "will be a cornerstone of our local offering."

Google and other companies are trying to improve their local offerings as a way to sell more ads to local merchants.

BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis said the purchase was smart. He said Zagat is like the little brother of Yelp, the leading online review site and a pioneer in a space that was founded in 2004. Google had attempted to buy Yelp in 2009, at one point offering about $500 million for the San Francisco-based company, according to numerous published reports.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. It is likely a windfall for Zagat's founders, who tried to sell the company in 2008.

Google's stock rose 74 cents to close Thursday at $534.77.

The purchase may have rattled investors in OpenTable Inc., which provides ways to make reservations at restaurants along with diners' reviews. That company's stock fell $5.22, or 8.3 percent, to $57.51.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Competition watchdog orders probe against Apple

Competition watchdog CCI has ordered investigations into allegations that iPhone- and iPad-maker Apple is limiting the availability of its products to a few service providers using its dominant market position.

The Director General of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) was asked to probe the matter after studying a complaint from a customer that Apple is curbing customer choice by limiting the availability of iPhones and iPads in India to a limited number of service providers, besides its signature stores, sources said.

"We have found that prima facie, it makes a case worth investigating further," a source said.

The customer's complaint was admitted under section 4 of the Competition Act, 2002.

An e-mail sent to Apple remained unanswered. At present, iPhone's latest version is available through Aircel and Bharti Airtel in India.

Besides, Apple phones can only be serviced in Apple centres, which in turn charge high rates for servicing.

iPhone, the touch-screen handset that acquired a cult status in the US and other western countries was launched for the first time in India in 2008. Following the launch, the new upgrades have also been introduced in the Indian market.

Smartphones are catching up fast in the Indian market, especially at a time more companies are rolling out 3G services across the country.

3G services, which offer high-speed Internet access, have already been rolled out by operators like Airtel, Vodafone and Aircel.

According to a CyberMedia Research study, around 12 million smartphones are expected to be sold in India during 2011.

The Commission, which became fully functional in 2009, with the appointment of a chairman and six members, has the power to check anti-competitive agreements and abuse of dominant position, drawn from Sections 3 and 4 of the Competition Act, 2002.

Beginning June 2011, the Commission also received powers to check high-voltage mergers and acquisitions, with the notification of section 5 and 6 of the Act.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why luxury aircraft are being used for spying ?

For four years, a doctor commuted between his clinics in Texas in a $5 million turboprop with jazzy metallic stripes and ruby stones embedded on the drink cabinet inside. The plane featured exotic wood veneers and polished chrome, and his daughter's initials were in the tail number.

But after a mysterious buyer snapped up the plane in 2008, it ripped out the fancy appointments, painted it a dull gray and sent it on a more dangerous mission. Unknown to the doctor, his prized King Air 350 had become a spy plane, one of the first of a new military model that is now easing the load on the unmanned drones for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For a military that loves to create shiny hardware from scratch, dipping into the used-plane market is a rarity, done only under the most urgent conditions. Remotely piloted drones have been the intelligence stars of the wars, but the Pentagon cannot build them quickly enough to meet the demand.

So the Air Force bought eight used King Airs and equipped them with video cameras and eavesdropping gear as part of a broader effort to supplement the drones with manned aircraft. The Army has also retooled similar planes to track insurgents who plant bombs.

In turning to the King Airs, the Pentagon has appropriated an aircraft that is commonly associated with business executives flying to meetings and wealthy vacationers to weekend ski outings. King Airs have also drawn celebrity pilots like the late actor and comedian Danny Kaye.

The military has used older King Airs to carry V.I.P.'s and conduct other operations in the past. Now, military commanders say the twin-propeller planes, which carry two pilots and two sensor operators, have carved out a niche in working more closely than the unmanned drones with soldiers on hazardous missions.

The crews on the planes, now called MC-12s, are in nearly constant radio contact with convoys and troops in firefights. They can chat more easily with them than the drone crews, which are based in the United States, to position the spy gear and interpret data about enemy movements.

With budget cuts looming, Air Force officials say the rapid fielding of the MC-12s also shows how the military could make greater use of commercial products to reduce costs and contracting delays. In addition to the used planes, the Air Force has fielded 29 new King Airs with the surveillance gear, and the Army would like to buy 36.

"For me, this is a precursor of what we're trying to do across the board," said David M. Van Buren, a top Air Force acquisition official, though that could be easier said than done with more complex weapons.

Mr. Van Buren said the Air Force turned to the used planes after Robert M. Gates, then the defense secretary, ordered it to rush more spy planes into the air. Each of the used planes - some had been owned by law firms and companies - were outfitted differently.

One had a stereo and high-definition television system. The manufacturer, Hawker Beechcraft, had picked the ruby theme for the doctor's to celebrate the model's 40th anniversary in 2004. And perhaps in a foreshadowing that the plane would eventually be put to a broader use, the words "Free Enterprise," a motto of one of Beechcraft's founders, were emblazoned under the cockpit window.

An Air Force contractor, L-3 Communications, found the eight used planes with the least wear and tear. It then ripped out the plush interiors.

Bubinga wood veneers gave way to computer stations for the surveillance specialists and miles of wiring for three communications networks at different secrecy levels. A camera ball was hung from the belly, and 16 antennas were added.

Meanwhile, the Air Force gave a no-bid contract to Hawker Beechcraft to build 29 extended-range planes at $7.5 million apiece, the average discounted price for commercial customers. An L-3 plant in Texas then worked around the clock to install the spy gear, which cost $13 million a plane.

At least eight corporate plane buyers let the military slip ahead of them in the production schedule. Several more slots opened as the recession forced others to cancel orders. Terry Harrell, a Hawker vice president, said Hawker had risked $35 million to $40 million of its own money to start building the planes before the contract was signed.

"It's been a nice little case study in industry and the Air Force working together to get something done quickly, and at low cost, in a very pragmatic fashion," he said.

The first of the converted planes began flying in Iraq in June 2009. It was soon joined by the other used ones, most of which are still flying there.

The planes are popular with many troops, because while armed drones offer protection and can conduct longer stakeouts of enemy compounds, their operators and analysts are half a world away, and they communicate as much through computer chat rooms as by radio. The MC-12s, which are unarmed but have more radio links, tend to be in closer touch with the commanders on the ground.

"If you've got a convoy that you know is going into harm's way, you're going to need a lot of interaction with those ground forces, and generally the MC-12 is going to be the one you'd pick for that," said Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, a top Air Force intelligence official.

The Army wants to update its King Airs, and a Senate committee recently suggested that the Air Force could instead transfer its MC-12s to the Army to keep from having too many of the planes when the wars end. But both the Air Force and the Army say the planes could be useful in other hot spots and are resisting the suggestion.

Hawker Beechcraft and L-3 see an export market for the planes, and other contractors are also pitching civilian planes as spycraft. Lockheed Martin has taken a wet bar out of a used Gulfstream III business jet and turned the plane into a laboratory for such conversions. The former owner? The Jack Daniels liquor distillery.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Unique Identity Scheme: India scans 2.4 billion eyes

Ankaji Bhai Gangar, a 49-year-old subsistence farmer, stood in line in this remote village until, for the first time in his life, he squinted into the soft glow of a computer screen.

His name, year of birth and address were recorded. A worker guided Mr. Gangar's rough fingers to the glowing green surface of a scanner to record his fingerprints. He peered into an iris scanner shaped like binoculars that captured the unique patterns of his eyes.

With that, Mr. Gangar would be assigned a 12-digit number, the first official proof that he exists. He can use the number, along with a thumbprint, to identify himself anywhere in the country. It will allow him to gain access to welfare benefits, open a bank account or get a cellphone far from his home village, something that is still impossible for many people in India.

"Maybe we will get some help," Mr. Gangar said.

Across this sprawling, chaotic nation, workers are creating what will be the world's largest biometric database, a mind-bogglingly complex collection of 1.2 billion identities. But even more radical than its size is the scale of its ambition: to reduce the inequality corroding India's economic rise by digitally linking every one of India's people to the country's growth juggernaut.

For decades, India's sprawling and inefficient bureaucracy has spent billions of dollars to try to drag the poor out of poverty. But much of the money is wasted or simply ends up trapping the poor in villages like Kaldari, in a remote corner of the western state of Maharashtra, dependent on local handouts that they can lose if they leave home.

So now it is trying something different. Using the same powerful technology that transformed the country's private economy, the Indian government has created a tiny start-up of skilled administrators and programmers to help transform - or circumvent - the crippling bureaucracy that is a legacy of its socialist past.

"What we are creating is as important as a road," said Nandan M. Nilekani, the billionaire software mogul whom the government has tapped to create India's identity database. "It is a road that in some sense connects every individual to the state."

For its proponents, the 12-digit ID is an ingenious solution to a particularly bedevilling problem. Most of India's poorest citizens are trapped in a system of village-based identity proof that has had the perverse effect of making migration, which is essential to any growing economy, much harder.

The ID project also has the potential to reduce the kind of corruption that has led millions of Indians to take to the streets in mass demonstrations in recent weeks, spurred on by the hunger strike of an anticorruption activist named Anna Hazare. By allowing electronic transmission and verification of many government services, the identity system would make it much harder for corrupt bureaucrats to steal citizens' benefits. India's prime minister has frequently cited the new system in response to Mr. Hazare's demands.

The new number-based system, known as Aadhaar, or foundation, would be used to verify the identity of any Indian anywhere in the country within eight seconds, using inexpensive hand-held devices linked to the mobile phone network.

It would also serve as a shortcut to building real citizenship in a society where identity is almost always mediated through a group - caste, kin and religion. Aadhaar would for the first time identify each Indian as an individual.

The identity project is, in a way, an acknowledgment that India has failed to bring its poor along the path to prosperity. India may be the world's second-fastest-growing economy, but more than 400 million Indians live in poverty, according to government figures. Nearly half of children younger than 5 are underweight.

India's expensive public welfare systems are so inefficient that warehouses overflow with rotting grain despite malnutrition rates that rival those of sub-Saharan Africa, and much of it is siphoned off to the private market long before it reaches hungry mouths. The government builds sturdy classrooms but fails to punish well-paid teachers who do not show up for work. These systems fail to connect citizens' most basic needs with help that is readily available, either through government handouts or the marketplace.

Technology, its supporters believe, could solve these problems because it would provide people with a way to interact with the state without depending on local officials who are now the main gatekeepers of government services.

"One cannot improve human beings," said Ram Sevak Sharma, the director general of the identity program. "But one can certainly improve systems. And the same flawed human beings with a better system will be able to produce better results."

To build the database, the Indian government has created a highly unusual hybrid institution: a small team of elite bureaucrats who are working with veterans of Silicon Valley start-ups and Bangalore's most-respected technology companies. Despite the scale of its task, the organization has deliberately been kept small. At its peak, no more than a few hundred people will work on the project, and private contractors will do much of the work of enrolling citizens. It costs the program about $3 to issue each Aadhaar number, Mr. Nilekani said, and more than 30 million have been issued so far. The process is free and voluntary.

The operation's tiny footprint and seemingly technical mission have kept the project from drawing much scrutiny so far. Just as the information technology industry grew stealthily beneath the nose of the bureaucracy that had traditionally smothered private enterprise, the identity database is quietly embedding itself in India's bureaucratic fabric even as other efforts to reform India's government and economy seem to have stalled.

Century-old labour and land laws stifle industry and mobility, making it hard to build factories and create jobs. Restrictions on foreign investment protect small shopkeepers and domestic industries but also hamper investment that could modernize agriculture. Yet efforts to change these rules often fail to overcome entrenched interests.

The identity database has so far met only muffled opposition. Privacy watchdogs worry that the identity numbers will be abused by a snooping state that cares little for civil liberties. Leftists fret that the database will lead to an erosion of the state's role in helping the poor. But powerful and corrupt bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen who thrive on the current system's opacity have yet to object publicly, though they almost certainly will once the challenge to the way they do business becomes evident.

India's identity database will be an order of magnitude larger than the world's largest existing biometric database, the US-Visit program for visas, which has data on about 100 million people. To register all 1.2 billion Indians, the system will need to collect 12 billion fingerprints and scan 2.4 billion irises. It is a project of epic proportions - not unlike the challenge of governing the world's largest democracy.

A Start-Up in Spirit

With its grid of chest-high cubicles in cheerful colours, the suite of offices could belong to a high-tech start-up like so many others in the booming city of Bangalore. On the second floor of the Touchstone Building, part of a nondescript technology office park off a traffic-choked ring road, the government's own start-up is at work.

In one glass-walled conference room, bankers on leave from their jobs in finance were planning how to use the Aadhaar and hand-held mobile technology to bring banking to India's 600,000 villages without laying a single brick.

In another, programmers worked out how Aadhaar's open software architecture could be used to build an ecosystem like the ones Google and Apple created, embedding the number in every aspect of life. That could eliminate trillions of pages of bureaucratic paperwork, remnants of the License Raj, the old system that governed India's closed economy. Indians face obstacles almost every time they ask anything of their government - a driver's license, subsidized grain, a birth certificate. Digitizing these systems would eliminate countless opportunities for graft.

A typical government office this is not. There are no peons in white Nehru caps shuffling between offices with bundles of dusty paper files tied with string. The standard uniform of the tech company employee - khaki trousers and polo shirt - is de rigueur.

The project resembles a start-up because the man in charge is Mr. Nilekani, a co-founder of India's most famous start-up. In 1981 he pooled 10,000 rupees in capital, or $1,100 to $1,200, with six colleagues to start Infosys, the outsourcing giant. Infosys has grown into a $30 billion company with more than 130,000 employees around the globe. Mr. Nilekani's path from son of a socialist textile mill manager to world-renowned billionaire inspires countless Indians.

Two years ago, when the government decided to create the identity database, Mr. Nilekani stepped down as chairman of Infosys to oversee the effort, forging an unusual path in Indian public life from business to government.

"I am an entrepreneur within the system," he explained in an interview in his office in New Delhi.

The very notion of a businessman in government was once unthinkable. Mr. Nilekani, 56, came of age in an era when almost all private industry in India was smothered under the License Raj's heavy blanket of government regulation. This meant entrepreneurship was almost impossible. For a young man in the 1970s with elite credentials, going abroad to work for a private company or getting a posting in the elite Indian Administrative Service were the two most attractive options.

Mr. Nilekani was a founding member of a second elite, the one created when a handful of brainy graduates of India's top technical schools set up companies in Bangalore in the 1980s.

Over time, India's technology elite has transformed not just India but the world, sending its brightest engineers to Silicon Valley and beyond. India has become the back office to the world, not only handling customer service calls and insurance claims, but also composing legal briefs and performing complex quantitative analysis for investment banks.

But even as it made global business more efficient and profitable, this technological class was cut out of India's political system.

In 2008 Mr. Nilekani published "Imagining India," a wonkish book that elucidated a set of ideas he thought could transform India. A best seller here, it was the type of policy book an American businessman might write if he aspired to high public office. But India's hurly-burly political system has no place for men like Mr. Nilekani.

"This was not the United States, where a Michael Bloomberg could be the C.E.O. of a large company one day and get elected as New York's mayor the next," Mr. Nilekani wrote. "Being an entrepreneur automatically made me a very long shot in Indian politics, and an easy target for populist rhetoric."

A deep suspicion toward private enterprise, a result of decades of socialist politics, permeates public life. Political parties are intensely hierarchical and formed along family, religious and caste lines, making it all but impossible for an outsider like Mr. Nilekani to win an election.

Still, he pined to serve somehow, and his chance came when the Congress Party was re-elected and formed a strong coalition government in 2009. Rahul Gandhi, the tech-savvy scion of India's leading political family and the presumed prime minister in waiting, wanted Mr. Nilekani to join the government.

At first Mr. Gandhi asked Mr. Nilekani to transform the dysfunctional education bureaucracy, according to a senior government official familiar with Mr. Gandhi's thinking. But Sonia Gandhi, Mr. Gandhi's mother and the leader of the Congress Party, along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, concluded that such a move would cause too much of an uproar.

When the government decided to create the unique-identity system, Mr. Nilekani leapt at the chance to run it. Though he would hold cabinet rank, he would be in charge of a small and seemingly arcane government authority. No one would notice that he was working on a revolutionary project, the Gandhis and Mr. Singh concluded.

"People don't fully realize what can be done with this," said a senior government official working on the identity system, who requested anonymity because the scope of the project is a delicate subject. "People who are not familiar with technology don't understand how big this is."

The Resistance

Unsurprisingly, some people see the idea of a centralized identity database as a dystopian nightmare. Privacy advocates contend that the government will use it to track citizens, a serious concern in a country where the government carries out extensive wiretapping and surveillance to track potential terrorists.

India lacks robust laws to protect privacy, though Mr. Nilekani and others have urged the passage of strict legislation to govern the use of information the government collects. The database has been designed to contain as little information as possible - only a name, date of birth, sex and address. When anyone tries to confirm a person's identity using the number, the database will supply only a yes-or-no answer.

Many influential critics of the identity system argue that it is costly - $326 million is budgeted for the next financial year, and the project will take a decade to complete - and unnecessary because there are easier ways to check corruption in antipoverty programs. Chhattisgarh State, in central India, has drastically reduced waste and fraud in its delivery of subsidized grain using a system of smart cards.

"This is a solution in search of a problem," said Usha Ramanathan, a lawyer who works on civil liberties.

Because Aadhaar will be linked instantly with a bank account, some social activists suspect that the government is seeking to replace its current system of in-kind benefits - like distributing grain and creating state-supported jobs - with direct cash transfers. Many on the left oppose such a shift because they think handing out cash from the public till would create a backlash and undercut support for poverty programs.

But the project has enjoyed an unusual degree of support from the highest officials in India. When the program was inaugurated, Prime Minister Singh and Mrs. Gandhi, the Congress Party's left-leaning leader, attended the ceremony. Several influential members of the National Advisory Council, a kind of kitchen cabinet that advises Mrs. Gandhi on social policy, were deeply wary of the project, but she overruled them.

"Mrs. Gandhi normally consents to discussions on a number of issues we raise," said Harsh Mander, an activist and member of the council. "But on this she said, 'No, we are going ahead with the idea.' "

The Invisible Man

Under an overpass near the fetid bank of the Yamuna River, in the shadow of New Delhi, the homeless lined up to be counted.

Mohammed Jalil, a rickshaw puller dressed in his best shirt, hair freshly washed and neatly parted, sat uneasily behind a computer screen, waiting to be registered for an Aadhaar number.

Though he has lived in Delhi more than half his life, Mr. Jalil may as well not exist. He is homeless. For two decades he has worked as a rickshaw driver, delivering heavy loads of wooden furniture from a market to homes across the city, earning about $100 a month. Labour is so cheap in India that it makes more sense to use a man as a pack horse than to expend fossil fuel.

He left his village in the impoverished state of Uttar Pradesh, hoping to find a better way to make a living than farming a scrap of land. But the lack of identity documents has been a fundamental hurdle. "When I first came to Delhi I thought I would earn big money, build a house in my village and educate my children," he said.

But he has no bank account, making it hard to save money. When one of his children got sick, he took a loan from a moneylender at an onerous interest rate. Poor people like him are entitled to subsidies for food, housing and health care, but he has no access to them.

Mr. Jalil hopes Aadhaar will allow him to open a bank account. He could get a driver's license and a cellphone.

"That will give me an identity," he said, gesturing at the computer station where he had just completed his enrolment. "It will show that I am a human being, that I am alive, that I live on this planet. It will prove I am an Indian."

Mr. Jalil's number has yet to arrive, but he is waiting.