Technology is transforming societies more deeply than the political vibrations of 2017


Official posters of the candidates for the 2017 French presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, left, head of the political movement En Marche!, or Onwards!, and Marine Le Pen, of French National Front (FN), are displayed in Saint-Josse, northern France May 5, 2017.

Credit: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

On Sunday, French voters will choose between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron — politicians with radically different visions. Macron is for globalization and European integration. Le Pen is a nationalist, representing the kind of discontent that led to ‘Brexit’ and the Trump election.

It’s a stark choice, but the outcome may actually be less important to the future of Western democracy than, well, the screen you’re reading this on.

That’s because the epochal change created by technology is transforming societies more deeply than the political vibrations of 2017. That’s according to David Rothkopf, CEO of Foreign Policy and author of “The Great Questions of Tomorrow.” He says it’s easy to miss the bigger picture.

“Facebook’s goal is five billion members by 2030. That will be the biggest community ever,” says Rothkopf. “On a level of power, we have to acknowledge that Facebook is going to be significantly more influential in the world, and touch more lives, than all but a couple of nations.”

Facebook now has 1.94 billion users, according to an earnings report released this week. The company also said it plans to hire 3,000 new employees to manage and screen all its content. That would bring its global team to 7,500 people. Getting to five billion users depends on people all over the world buying mobile devices.

Mark Zuckerberg may not be in public office, but he wields a lot of social and economic power, Rothkopf says. Not only does Facebook profit from its users, it also has the power to knit them together, and apply algorithms to decide the news they read. Facebook can also share information about them with governments, corporations and other non-state actors. Not to mention, decide what is acceptable speech and advertising.

And how does Facebook’s power compare to, say, President Donald Trump’s?

“I would argue that the reason we have the president we do is that someone, somewhere, wrote an algorithm that said, ‘Stories with the following characteristic will appear at the top of a news feed.’ Somewhere there’s an algorithm writer with a heck of a lot of power who is not accountable to any public institution or been anticipated by any system of law,” says Rothkopf.

Much was made of Trump’s first 100 days. It’s a classic, journalistic yardstick. And there’s worthwhile debate about what the first months of the Trump Administration can tell us about the next four to eight years. But what about longer term? Rothkopf says we keep looking backwards.

“We’ve spent the last 20 to 30 years looking backward at the last threats of the 20th century … instead of a change in the world on an epochal scale, like the fact that in the next 10 years or so every human being on the planet is going to be connected in a manmade system for the first time in history, which means anyone, anywhere can reach out and touch and communicate with anyone anywhere else, anytime. And that does change: ‘Who am I? What is community? What is a government? What is an economy? What is money? What is war? What is peace? It changes the answer to all of those questions.”

This story first aired as an interview on PRI’s To The Point with Warren Olney.


The Unique Use of Dals in Our Favourite Indian Desserts

The way we use lentils in India is unique. Dals are an intrinsic part of the meal for vegetarians in almost all parts of the country, but they are also one of the most versatile ingredients of the Indian kitchen. As we all know, dals can make for delicious snacks and desserts too and across the country there is a whole genre of dishes – savouries and sweets fashioned out of pulses-that people eat not for sustenance but for recreation!

When you think of Indian desserts, it is difficult to imagine much of mithai without the presence of besan. Chickpea flour is essentially made from a local desi variety of chana, or gram, one of the oldest pulses known to mankind. In fact, the small desi kala chana closely resembles some of the earliest species of gram found at old sites. According to the venerable food historian KT Achaya, chana was found at the Indus Valley sites and the khalva in Yajurveda may refer to it. Chanaka also finds mention in early Buddhist writings.

desserts besan barfi

The small desi chana is hulled to make the Bengal Gram-one of the most widely used pulses in India. The dal got its English name because the English first encountered it in Bengal. Kabuli Chana, bigger and fairer, on the other hand, as its name suggests only came to India much later in the 18th century from an overland route from Kabul. The Bengal gram is used to give us besan. And this is the base for a host of sweets that we find in our midst. Besan Ladoos are common all over northern and central India, the much loved food of many a deity and human.

Achaya suggests that laddoo as a term can be found in the Mahabharata and perhaps the older modak was also a ladoo though now it refers to an entirely different sweet. In any case, this is one of the oldest desserts of India. The same base-besan and ghee can in fact be used in different ways for sweets ranging from besan barfi, set on steel thalis  and then cut into diamonds, or halwa.Mysore Pak, the most popular sweet from Karnataka (which ostensibly does not find a mention in old literature from the region and is most likely a relatively newer creation) is just besan barfi by another name: cooked in sugar and finished with copious amounts of ghee.

desserts besan ladoo

Because of the copious amounts of ghee they use to make the dal desserts creamier and because of the “heavy” nature of pulses itself, these desserts are more common in winter than in summer. A classic example is the puran poli, from Maharashtra, cooked during the Diwali festivities. Puran is just boiled chana dal sweetened with jaggery (Diwali is harvest time for cane as well), and this is then filled in between layers of a poli or flat bread.

No mention of dal desserts in India can be complete without a look at the jalebiand imarti. Coils of batter are dropped in hot oil and then immersed in sugar syrup. The batter itself varies from region to region. Besan and maida together, fermented by a little sour curd, can give you the crisp jalebis of UP and Delhi. On the other hand, urad dal batter is used to make the jalebi’s thicker, wholesome cousin, the imarti.

The desserts obviously belong to the sophisticated Persian tradition and even now, many parts of the former Turkish empire (the Turkish conquered the Persians) have similar desserts in their repertoires. In India, the jalebi seems to have come into existence through trade contacts with the Arab world. We have accounts from Karnataka and Maharashtra mentioning it in as early as the 15th century. Like with many other dishes, it seems to have been refined by the Mughal and later Nawabi cooks to give us the thinnest, crispiest whirls that are looked upon as such a delicacy in UP and Delhi.

indian desserts jalebi

Boondi is another dessert that has seen refinement down history. Originally, said to have originated in Rajasthan, the fried chickpea flour dots sweetened with syrup are part of the temple offerings in many parts of northern India. Gradually, boondi began to be fashioned into ladoos, and finally into finer motichoor ladoos. But the acme of its refinement seems to have come about in the old Awadhi culture. Nugdi ke Ladoo at Ram Asrey in Lucknow are still an institution, the ultra fine, orange boondi as refined as the small dot or nuqta of the Urdu script. It’s a dying legacy today-one that you need to bite into before it disappears.

LeEco Said to Plan Sale of $420-Million Beijing Real Estate Amid Cash Crunch



  • LeEco is trying to raise funds amid a severe cash crunch
  • The company recently scrapped a $2 billion deal to acquire Vizio
  • Sale would allow LeEco to revert focus to its core businesses

Chinese tech conglomerate LeEco is in talks to sell a prized property asset in the heart of Beijing it acquired in a $420 million deal last year, the latest effort by the electric car-to-smartphone behemoth to raise funds amid a severe cash crunch.

The company plans to sell either all or a majority of its Shimao Gongsan retail property in a popular area on the east side of Beijing by divesting from two firms it owns, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said. LeEco has been in talks with potential investors for some months now, the first person said.

Reuters could not immediately ascertain the identity of the potential investors or the likely deal price, but one of the people said the discussions are in an advanced stage and the price likely will be higher than what LeEco paid for it.

LeEco, centred around a Netflix-like video platform operated by its listed unit, has been one of China’s boldest tech firms, ambitiously pushing into the US market and looking to take on Elon Musk’s Tessla Motors in high-end electric vehicles.

The firm’s wide spread, however, led its billionaire founder and Chief Executive Jia Yueting to admit in November that it was facing “big company disease” and battling a cash crunch after expanding too fast.

The firm is now reining in its spending, looking to sell property in the United States and scrapping this month a $2 billion deal to acquire US TV maker Vizio.LeEco Said to Plan Sale of $420-Million Beijing Real Estate Amid Cash Crunch

The two people said LeEco hoped to sell the 50,000 square metre Beijing property in the Sanlitun district by divesting from two firms it owns – Beijing Fortune Times Property Co Ltd and Beijing Baiding New Century Business Management Co Ltd.

LeEco bought the firms, which control the property, for a combined CNY 2.92 billion ($424.15 million) in May last year from Shimao Property Holdings Ltd.

The planned sale would free up funds to allow LeEco to revert focus to its core businesses, particularly its smartphones, TV, LeSports unit, and auto segments, the two people said.

LeEco declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Back to the core
CEO Jia has pledged to pay more attention to the listed business, Leshi Internet Technology & Information, which operates entertainment platform LeTV, and would look to integrate other parts of the business into that unit.

The second person said the plans to sell the Beijing property were “part of rationalizing the core businesses”.

Both sources asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

LeEco has investments from sports rights to taxi hailing platform Yidao Yongche as well as business units focused on smartphones, online entertainment to household appliances.

Earlier this week Yidao’s founder Zhou Hang said he had left his managerial role of the ride-hailing unit and alleged LeEco, which owns a 70 percent stake in Yidao, had “misappropriated” CNY 1.3 billion ($188.84 million) of Yidao’s funds to cover its debts. LeEco later denied the allegation in a statement.

In February LeEco’s sports unit also lost the television rights to the Asian Football Confederation matches, after reports that it had fallen behind on payments. The firm said then it had “let down” its users.

The second person said the firm would still look to expand internationally, but would do so with “more discipline”.

LeEco has also cut staff in China, the United States and India. Local media said it was scaling back plans in Russia.

Trading in shares of the listed unit, which posted a 3 percent drop in 2016 net profit on Wednesday, is currently halted.

“War Paint,” the ugly fight over the business of beauty

A new musical ON BROADWAY brings to life a historic rivalry that was anything but pretty. With Richard Schlesinger, we take a look:  

“All of my life’s work lost.
All because of her: Second-rate imposter.
She appropriated half my line.
I’m the scientist behind her design.”

The Broadway show “War Paint” tells the story of an unlikely fight between two successful women, in an unlikely time for women to be so successful.

In the early 1900s, before women could even vote, the flames of the feud between cosmetic queens Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden had already been ignited.

“They did really some vicious things, there was no question,” said author Lindy Woodhead, who wrote the book “War Paint” about the ugly fight over the business of beauty.

In the new musical, Christine Ebersole plays Elizabeth Arden. “She was very driven and very committed, and nothing deterred her,” she said.war-paint-patti-lupone-christine-ebersole-b-620.jpg

“Was she mean?” Schlesinger asked.

“Yeah!” she laughed. “But she could, of course, put on the charm.”

And Patti Lupone plays Helena Rubinstein. “I think their similarity is what’s so interesting, because they were enemies, but ambitious, ruthless, creative. And I also think very lonely.”

“My sons don’t call. My husband cheats.
Now they can pay their own receipts.
I’m back on top.”

The real story of Arden and Rubinstein is dramatic enough even without the music and the costumes. They might well have been friends. But in the case of these two powerful, wealthy women, similarity bred contempt.

They were enormously talented. They respected beauty,” said Woodhead. And, “they were tyrannical.”

And they both came from very little, and made very, very much.


Elizabeth Arden (left) and Helena Rubinstein.


Elizabeth Arden was born Florence Nightingale Graham outside of Toronto in 1878, or 1884 (records conflict).

Her father was a peddler. In the show, as in reality, her arch-rival Rubinstein knew that. (“Pedigree?  What, she stepped off the pilgrim boat in her Chanel pumps? I know the truth: She’s Canadian!”)

Helena Rubinstein was born Chaja Rubinstein in 1872 in Krakow, Poland. Her father sold kerosene. And in the show, as in reality, Arden knew that (“Royalty?  Chaja Rubinstein?  Her father pulled an egg car to the slums of Krakow!”)

“He couldn’t even afford the donkey!” laughed Ebersole.

“That’s very mean,” said Schlesinger.

“But they’re also speaking the truth,” said LuPone.

And the truth hurt. As the money piled up, so did the resentment.

They opened salons around the corner from one another. According to Doug Wright, who wrote the script for the show, Arden stole Rubinstein’s favorite marketing director away, and then Rubinstein retaliated by stealing Arden’s husband and bringing him to her company. “That was a feud!”

There’s no record that they ever met. “Never spoke to each other, never referred to one another by name,” said Wright. Rubinstein called Arden ‘The Other One’ in her Polish accent, and Arden called Rubinstein ‘That Dreadful Woman.'”

But in the midst of all the no-name calling and all the fighting, they created an industry by making makeup respectable. When they started, the only women using cosmetics were hookers and show-girls. Today it is a multi-billion-dollar business, after Rubinstein and Arden laid the foundation for cosmetics departments in stores like Bergdorf-Goodman.

“So they not only invented the product, they invented how it was sold?” Schlesinger asked.

“The branding, the customer service … it never existed,” Woodhead replied.

The fight that propelled these two women has largely been forgotten, until now — perhaps, argues the show, because they were womenThe two stars sing a duet called, “If I’d Been a Man.”

Theirs was one of the great feuds in American business, like Macy’s and Gimbal’s. “But those were men, too,” said LuPone. “And I wonder whether we were a feud or simply a ‘catfight’ — whether they diminished the importance of this particular feud because they were women.”

In the end, there was no real winner of this feud … but no real loser, either. The reality is that they needed each other,” Woodhead said. “They fed off each other. It was very sparky. And it was great for business.”

Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden died within 18 months of each other.

And it would probably pain them both to know that they are being remembered together, as two women who produced all that makeup — but never made up.

For more info:

  • “War Paint” at the at the Nederlander Theatre, New York City | Tickets
  • Follow “War Paint” on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube
  • Follow @RealPattiLuPone on Twitter
  • “Deconstructing Patti,” an evening of Broadway stories and songs with Patti LuPone and Seth Rudetsky benefitting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, at the Nederlander Theatre, New York City, September 24 | Tickets

Education secretary has long history of financing politics


Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s education secretary, built her political resume by raising and contributing millions of dollars to support the cause of giving parents choices on where their children go to school.

The daughter of one wealthy businessman and the wife of another, DeVos has headed a series of groups that help rich contributors spend large sums on elections, including one that was assessed the biggest fine ever by the Ohio Elections Commission.

A look at her political activities.



DeVos is the daughter of an auto parts manufacturer who married into another wealthy Michigan family, the one that runs Amway.

Her family is steeped in politics. Her father, Edgar Prince, was a major early donor to the Family Research Council. Her husband, Dick DeVos, lost a 2006 run for governor of Michigan, and DeVos herself served as the chairwoman of the state Republican Party. Her brother, Erik Prince, is the founder of the security company Blackwater, which has had key government contracts.

Her education experience is mainly through advocating for school choice. She attended private Christian schools. Her children, now grown, were educated through a combination of private schools and homeschooling.

During a 2001 appearance at a retreat of Christian philanthropists, she said, “Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”



DeVos personally contributed at least $2.3 million to candidates and political action committees from 2007 through last year.

Her family, including husband and one-time Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos, mother Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, brother Erik Prince and father- and mother-in-law Richard and Helen DeVos contributed a combined $19 million in that same period.



Twenty years ago, DeVos wrote an opinion piece for the Washington publication Roll Call in which she said her family was the leading contributor of “soft money” donations to political parties. Unlike money given directly to a candidate, money given to the political parties is largely unregulated, thus the term “soft money.”

“We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues,” she wrote. “We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government.”



In 2000, DeVos was a key player in a ballot initiative fight in Michigan over whether the state would allow vouchers for private schools.

She and her husband contributed nearly $1.6 million to the losing effort. The couple and their relatives paid for more than one-third of the campaign overall.



In 2006, DeVos’s school-choice group, All Children Matter, had a political action committee in Virginia, where contributions are unlimited. The group raised $17.8 million that year, and more than 40 percent of it was contributed to affiliated PACs in other states.

The group asked Ohio campaign finance regulators if it would be OK to shift money from Virginia to Ohio, a state with strict campaign contribution limits. The state said it would be illegal.

The committee made the shift, anyway. All $870,000 spent by the Ohio operation of All Children Matter that year was funneled through Virginia.

Ohio campaign finance regulators in 2008 ordered the group to pay $5.3 million in fines, an amount it still has not paid.



In recent years, DeVos’s groups had significant independent spending on political races.

Generally, groups can spend without limits as long as they don’t coordinate with campaign committees. In most places, they’re not required to disclose the individuals who fund them, which is why some of this kind of expenditure is known as “dark money.”

According to tax filings from 2011 through 2015, groups DeVos ran or that were subsidiaries of those she ran — American Federation for Children, American Federation for Children Action Fund, Great Lakes Education Project and Students First Pennsylvania — combined for nearly $20 million in political spending. Some of that money may have been double-counted after being passed from one of the organizations to another.

It’s not clear how much of that money was from DeVos herself.



At least two groups that do not report their donors ran ad campaigns to support DeVos’s confirmation.

Those groups are Club for Growth, a major supporter of conservative candidates across the country, and America Next, which was formed by then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2013.


Checklist of Essential Small Business Technology in 2017


A growing number of small businesses rely on technology to increase efficiency, manage expenses, grow profitability and improve performance.

According to SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study (PDF), 29 percent of all small businesses view technology as helping them to improve outcomes significantly.

Keeping up with the fast pace of technological change can be difficult for the business owner already burdened with the many tasks required to keep his or her company afloat day in and day out.

To help, Small Business Trends compiled this list of nine technology categories that small businesses need to incorporate as principle applications in 2017.

They cross a broad range of functions, including mobile, marketing automation, business intelligence and social media. Some represent newer technologies while others are more established. Together, they encompass nearly everything a small business would need to gain a competitive edge in 2017 and beyond.

1. Massive Growth Makes Mobile a ‘Must-have’ Technology

Perhaps no technology has gained greater adoption or grown more quickly than mobile.

In 2016, more than six billion people worldwide used at least one mobile device, a number that is expected to increase to nearly seven billion by 2020.

Also significant, SimilarWeb’s State of Mobile Web US 2015 report found that approximately 56 percent of consumer traffic to the leading U.S. websites came from mobile devices.

That makes mobile a “must have” technology in 2017, and businesses should incorporate its use in at least four ways: Website design, apps, payment and use of all-in-one devices.

Mobile-friendly Websites

With more and more people accessing the web via mobile, small businesses can no longer avoid making a mobile-friendly version of their website available to consumers, for two reasons:

  • Bing now rewards more mobile-friendly websites with an increase in ranking;
  • Companies that lack a mobile version of their website could lose business as consumers opt for those that do.Checklist of Essential Small Business Technology in 2017

(Note: Bing even offers a testing tool to help business owners determine whether or not their website is mobile-friendly.)

Mobile Apps

In his Small Business Trends article “Mobile App Strategies Boost Revenues for Small Business Owners,” Scott Shane, professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University, wrote, “In an increasingly mobile world, having a well-developed and well-tested mobile app turns out to be a highly effective marketing strategy that gets results.”

In the past, mobile app development required someone with specialized skills. Nowadays, platforms such as Microsoft PowerApps allow non-technical users to create apps easily, so there is no excuse to do without this important technology.

Payment Methods

The use of mobile payments is on the rise, thanks to apps such as Microsoft Wallet, so it makes sense to incorporate their use as an option. Also, companies like Microsoft partner Merchant Account Solutions have made mobile credit card readers readily available to small business users.

All-in-one Devices

Another aspect of mobile technology moving forward has to do with what constitutes a mobile device versus its desktop counterpart. That line is blurring thanks to devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, a 3-in-1 desktop, laptop and mobile tablet. It also comes with pen and touch screen capability, a new innovation.

2. Marketing Automation Increases Efficiency

Marketing automation software has made it easier for small businesses to conduct marketing activities with greater efficiency, removing the need to hire dedicated marketing professionals.

Among its advantages are the ability to score leads, segment messages and set up processes that trigger specific responses based on actions taken by the customer.

Also, automation software links seamlessly with CRM platforms, bringing marketing and sales together, providing each with a 360-degree view of the customer or prospect.

CRM platforms such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 do much of the heavy lifting that previously would have been handled using manual processes.

3. Businesses are Heading to the Cloud (and Not Coming Back)

The use of on-premise software and hardware is going the way of the albatross with the availability of cloud-based solutions such as Microsoft Office 365, and for good reason. Cloud-based solutions offer greater scalability, security, efficiency and flexibility regarding access than their on-premise counterparts.

(Read the Small Business Trends article “Thinking About Migrating Your Business to the Cloud? Consider This Checklist First” to learn more about why moving to the cloud is a must for 2017.)

4. Collaboration Tools Bring Remote Workforce Together

The rise of the virtual workforce means that tools which facilitate collaboration will grow in popularity.

A 2015 survey conducted by Virgin Media Business predicted that 60 percent of office-based workers would regularly work from home by 2022.

Platforms such as Microsoft Teams make collaboration between disparate work groups more accessible and efficient. Teams establishes a virtual, chat-based workspace that allows team members to chat, call, save documents and collaborate in real-time, without restraint.

5. Chatbots Facilitate Customer Service, Other Uses

A significant shift is taking place in Internet communications due to the advent of chatbots, computer programs that use artificial intelligence to facilitate conversation with humans.

Companies large and small are beginning to latch on to the power of chatbots for customer service and other uses, such as finding products, providing shipping notifications, pinpointing business locations and more.

Internet communications pioneer Jeff Pulver declared in a blog post that 2017 will be the year of the chatbot and said they would be the “new interface for business to business, business to consumer, and consumer to business communications.”

Technologies like Microsoft’s Bot Framework let companies build and connect bots to interact with users not only on Facebook Messenger but also on websites, text/SMS, Skype, Office 365 mail, Teams and other services.

6. Business Intelligence Brings Better Decision-making

Business intelligence (BI) used to be the sole purview of enterprise corporations. However, the software-as-a-service revolution means that small businesses can now afford to tap into the treasure trove of information available with the click of a mouse too.

The capabilities BI provides to track, store, process and analyze data can lead to smarter decision-making regarding cutting expenses, finding new business growth opportunities and improving overall performance.

Platforms like Microsoft Sharepoint make garnering insights more affordable and make it easier to harness the power of big data and predictive analytics.

7. Email Remains Tried-and-True Marketing Technology

Email is a tried-and-true internet marketing technology in use since the 1990s. Despite predictions to the contrary, it continues to find favor as a cost-effective promotional medium for small businesses. In fact, email marketing was ranked as the best channel regarding return on investment — a trend that should not change in 2017.

What will change, however, is the approach. Marketers will do away with “batch and blast” for more targeted messaging that takes into account the unique needs of each customer.

Also, “mobile-first” will be the mantra in 2017 when it comes to designing email campaigns. With more people accessing email via mobile devices, messages have to ascribe to the limitations imposed by mobile devices with their small screens. Marketing solutions from Microsoft Dynamics 365 can also help develop email marketing campaigns to target specific customers.

8. Live Chat Provides Real-time Customer Service

In 2017, successful companies will shift their focus away from customer service to customer success — helping customers reach their goals as quickly as possible. They will do so online, using a variety of digital technologies that include text/SMS, social media, chat bots and live help. Platforms like Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Service facilitate such omnichannel support.

One component, live help, has been in use for several years. The technology remains a familiar one. A widget resides in the lower-right-hand corner of the website with an agent on standby who can engage with customers in real-time at the moment of need, to answer questions, provide guidance and recommend products or resources tailored to the individual customer.

The integration of artificial intelligence (AI), a prevalent trend, will make live help smarter, transforming customer support into a self-service mechanism. AI will work seamlessly with customers and learn from them as the interaction progresses. It can also assist human agents by giving them time to address more complex issues that AI alone cannot solve.

9. Cyber Security Ranked Number One Challenge

As small business reliance on technology grows, the need to secure and protect sensitive information becomes even more critical. The SMB Group study referenced above found that small businesses rank cyber security as their number one challenge.

Meeting that challenge requires the use of holistic, end-to-end, rules-based solutions. Microsoft builds such comprehensive security into all its cloud-based products, to protect a company’s endpoints better, detect threats faster and respond to security breaches quicker. It prevents identity compromise, secures apps and data and safeguards infrastructure.


Getting that real estate kind of feeling again?


Getting those real estate itchy fingers? Stock markets have been on a roll and the upswing in markets is usually a precursor of a jump in real estate prices as investors book profits and sink their money in land. The breathless expectations from a new real estate regulator, combined with an overall upswing in the mood of the economy, is making people begin sniffing the air for real estate deals one more time. One more time I write to caution real estate aspirants, specially those who cannot deal with the clunkyness of the asset, against jumping in. Of course, it still remains a really bad investment at current prices when you compare it to alternatives.

I find real estate to be a very difficult asset to deal with for several reasons. First, this is a very clunky asset. The whole process of selecting, inspecting, bargaining, the paperwork, determining the authenticity of the deal, registration, the stamp duty process, is cumbersome and messy. The number of hoops you need to jump through to buy real estate every time are too many. It takes a certain real estate kind of mind-set—somebody who’d rather prospect for a good real estate deal than take a vacation (no moral judgement here, whatever works for you)—that I don’t have. I find the asset illiquid. Between deciding to sell and the actual selling, there is again a lot of pain. A down market can last for years and a distress sale will cost you a lot of money. Add to this the fact that you can’t sell just the loo if you want just a fraction of the money just now. The black money component is another put off, unless you are buying directly from a builder. But then the builders have their own problems of delay, misinformation and outright cheating.iStock

The real estate industry owes its poor place in the asset pecking order because it belonged to an unregulated industry. There was no political will to put a regulator in place since real estate remains one of the most lucrative sumps of black money. But now that there is a real estate regulator with the implementation of the Real Estate (regulation and development) Act, 2016 (RERA), there is hope that things will change. But it will still take years for this industry to improve its track record. Also, RERA is far from being of any real use on the ground. The states are simply not ready with their regulators, websites or processes. Some of those that are ready, have diluted the provisions of the central Act. Read this superb story by my colleague Ashwini Kumar Sharma where he documents the six reasons why RERA is still far from being of use to the final retail buyer. You can read the story here:

So, don’t buy real estate at all or is there a good real estate strategy to work with? At the current level of prices and yields, it makes far more sense to rent than to buy. In Delhi, take an urban mass-affluent locality such as Mayur Vihar and compare costs—what it costs to buy and what it costs to rent. A three bedroom, hall, kitchen (BHK) apartment costs anything between Rs1 to Rs3 crore, according to property listing sites I Googled. Let’s take a middle number of Rs2 crore. What does it cost to rent such an apartment? Rents, on the same sites for similar properties, range between Rs25,000 to Rs35,000 a month. Let’s take a middle number of Rs30,000 a month. An investor who buys this property for Rs2 crore will rent it out and earn an annual return of 1.8% on his investment. The actual return is less after you account for costs of maintenance and taxes. Rs2 crore in a monthly income plan (a debt fund with a 20-30% equity component) gives you a return that ranges from a worst performer of 7.28% to a best performer of 17.52%. These are three year average annual returns taken from Value Research. Look at 10 year returns and you get a worst performer that gave 6.05% and the best performer at 12.49% return a year. In fact, the yields on real estate are so low, that it almost makes sense to sell your house, invest in funds and live in a palace on rent! But that’s not what we advise. The one roof over your head is a good idea. But investment in real estate (for those with only the right-colour money) is not a good financial deal at current prices.

Real estate, as an investment, will make sense when either prices come down or rents go up. It will make sense when the market is better regulated. It will make sense when there are professional agents and estate management firms that take over the transactions and then the management of the property. Do you really have the bandwidth to deal with leaking taps and water seepage that your tenant calls you to complain about? Real estate investment belongs to a particular mindset in India—one that takes the pain of the product as part of the deal. This may be have been the only avenue of wealth creation before the beginning of the financialization of the Indian market, but is not true today. Remember I’m writing for the urban mass affluent who has access to and does have the ability to understand modern financial products if she chooses to spend the time and effort. Real estate investing is a habit from our past, much like that money-back policy we all bought 20 years ago. Markets and products have moved far ahead, so must we.

Monika Halan works in the area of consumer protection in finance. She is consulting editor Mint and on the board of FPSB India.

She can be reached at


The 5 rules of success for highly effective lifestyle gurus


How exactly did Amanda Chantal Bacon snag her piece of the $3.72 trillion wellness industry? She followed the well-worn formula of the wellness guru.
Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Girlboss, Inc.

Los Angeles–based wellness guru Amanda Chantal Bacon has made a fortune selling … herbal dust.

That’s the big takeaway from a masterful New York Times magazine profile of Bacon, the newest darling of the health and wellness industry.

The story, by Molly Young, details Bacon’s rise to fame — opening LA health food stores, being featured in Vogue, getting the Gwyneth Paltrow seal of approval, publishing a cookbook — and her adherence to an exorbitantly expensive raw food diet.

Bacon’s breakthrough product is her “Moon Dust” line of ayurvedic and Chinese medicine powders. Sold under names like Spirit Dust, Brain Dust, and Sex Dust, the gimmicky $30 powders promise to lift your spirit, enhance your cognitive abilities, and boost your sexual prowess. (They are not FDA-approved, and have not been proven to work. Bacon says she worked with herbalists, kinesiologists, and ayurvedic doctors to create them.)

One of Bacon’s products, Brain Dust, is sold as “an enlightening edible formula alchemized to align you with the mighty cosmic flow needed for great achievement.”
Moon Juice

These products are now sold on Paltrow’s popular lifestyle site Goop, at Urban Outfitters, in the super-trendy Ace Hotel, and on Net-a-Porter. Bacon lives in a gorgeous, 4,000-square-foot LA home, she’s opened a third Moon Juice shop in LA, and she ships her products to customers across the country. Her acolytes include Jennifer Aniston, Shailene Woodley, and Alicia Keys.

So, you might wonder, how exactly did Bacon manage to snag her piece of the $3.72 trillion wellness industry? How did she build an empire on dust?

She simply followed the well-worn formula of the wellness guru. Here are the five easy steps.

1) Have a compelling origin story

Wellness gurus, like superheroes, need amazing origin stories. The tale must involve overcoming a struggle that leads you to a eureka moment and sets you on your path to helping others become healthier, more vibrant beings.

According to the Times, Bacon’s origin story involved a fortuitous meeting at the tender age of 7. While growing up in New York, she was “a sickly child” with an undefined bronchial problems who was “pumped through the Western-medicine chain.”

Of course, the mainstream medicine didn’t help — but an alternative medicine man her family stumbled upon in a health food shop did. The ayurvedic doctor heard Bacon coughing, and what happened in that store changed her life:

The doctor came over and posed some questions (Very typical Ayurvedic ones, like “How often do you poop?”) and took the child’s pulse. After examining Bacon’s tongue, the man provided her mother with a list of forbidden foods: cow’s milk, wheat and white sugar, among others. Bacon stopped eating gluten at age 4 and became a vegetarian at around 7.

She’s described this encounter as “a divine intervention.”

2) Know your moment of truth

Next comes the moment of truth: Your origin story needs to lead to the eye-opening revelation you’re going to share with others.

For Bacon, it came during a stay in Italy. After partying hard as a teenager in New York and trying “every drug multiple times” — cocaine, acid — she packed up and moved to Florence alone at age 18 to “detox,” 11 years after that health food store encounter. While there, she realized food was her true passion. She told the Times, “If I thought about all the times I felt connected or alive, it was around the rituals of people gathering and eating and sharing food and slowing down.”

After moving back to the US, and a stint at a Vermont culinary school, Bacon began working under the celebrity chef Suzanne Goin. According to a Vanity Fair profile, it was then that she truly began to understand “the power of raw and medicinal foods”:

She wanted to heal the hypothyroid condition she’d had since her teens, in addition to severe allergies to wheat, sugar, and cow dairy. “At this juncture, my whole diet changed. I ate primarily vegetables and legumes from the farmers’ market, and foods that would serve as hormonal adaptogens. Within a few months, I noticed a radical shift. These live, medicinal foods had changed me from the inside out.”

So Bacon’s health problems, and the love of food she learned in Italy, led her to want to “bridge the gap between the healing world and the foodie world,” Vanity Fair reported. She views her company, Moon Juice, “as not a business but a mission to educate consumers about herbs that have changed her life.”

3) Offer a quick fix for contemporary health woes — and remind your clientele that everything they know is wrong

Now you have to put that origin story and eureka moment to work — and use the transformative experiences to sell something. The underlying subtext of the wellness guru narrative is always that the world is toxic and everything you’ve been told about eating and health is wrong. Instead, the guru has the answer.

Bacon does this masterfully. Here she is in Vanity Fair again: “My own transformative experience, backed up by extensive blood tests, and under the scrutiny of several physicians, found me with renewed vitality. This shift in my personality, my immune system, appearance, and thought inspired me to create Moon Juice.”

Moon Juice is the name of Bacon’s California shops, where she sells the superfoods, juices, and supplements that she claims have healed her and a multitude of customers. For $30 a jar, you can select from the Moon Dust Collection of organic herb products to sprinkle on your coffee or tea and improve your skin, sex life, or spirit, or even boost your brain. Like many wellness gurus, she claims her potions and powders draw on the mystical secrets of healing ancient Chinese and ayurvedic medicine.

4) Arm yourself with anecdotes to “prove” your potions work

To really own wellness gurudom, you need to have anecdotes that back up your work — stories of people whose lives have been transformed by your products or methods.

In the Times profile, Bacon talked about turning around the sex drive of a woman who had been treated for cancer:

“People really report back: Wow, my skin changed,’ ” she said, turbocharging into evangelical mode. “I hear incredible stories from people. There was a young, beautiful woman who approached me at an event. She said, ‘I’ve been coming into Moon Juice, I had breast cancer,’ and she went through all that hormonal treatment, and by going through it, she no longer had a sex drive. She’s beautiful! She’s our age. She has a boyfriend … and she said that the Sex Dust” — along with pomegranate seed lube — “got them to be able to enjoy sex despite the fact that her body wasn’t producing any of the hormones enabling her to do so. So the herbs, they work. They all work.”

To be clear, in evidence-based medicine, anecdotes are considered the lowest form of evidence, since they may be cherry-picked or otherwise unrepresentative of a broader experience.

But in the world of wellness, they are often presented as definitive proof.

5) Be gorgeous

Any profile of a wellness guru is not complete without a lengthy description of the ethereal beauty of the guru. That’s because being the change you promise to deliver is a key part of the formula.

You need to pluck, scrub, bleach, tuck, tone, and whiten your teeth. You need to look sun-kissed. You need to wear light and wispy clothes that convey the health and healing you’re packaging in your products. You need an absurdly complicated, difficult-to-manage diet that involves lots of seeds, nuts, and supplements no one’s ever heard of. It doesn’t hurt if you can attract a couple of celebrity endorsements for said diet.

As Young writes in the Times, “By the time I left Bacon’s house, I wanted to scrub off my makeup and swaddle myself in white cottons and let my hair tumble down my back in sun-lightened coils like hers.”

That’s the change you want to inspire that’ll sell your products. And you can get there in these five easy steps.

The time is ripe. There’s been an erosion of trust in medicine and science, and a rise in the number of people seeking out alternative medicine and celebrity health advice. The genius of Bacon is that she’s tapped into that desire, with her memorable potions and powders that promise quick fixes for problems that vex people.

But Bacon and the lifestyle gurus that have come before her also confuse the public on health. They obscure the few truths we know actually lead to lasting wellness — getting exercise, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, avoiding smoking, drinking, and eating too much — with overpriced and unproven products. That’s the cost of gurudom.


The Growing Concerns Of IT Industry And Its Workers


A US-based business advisory firm estimates automation could mean a 14% decline in India’s IT workforce.
MUMBAI: Experienced techie Raghu Narayanaswamy lost his job recently and fears he may not get another, as analysts warn of massive layoffs across the country’s multi-billion-dollar information technology sector.

IT outsourcing has long been one of India’s flagship industries but experts say automation, a failure to keep up with new technologies and US President Donald Trump’s clampdown on visas is creating industry-wide upheaval.

Business papers and analysts have reported that major IT firms are gradually laying off thousands of staff while research has claimed that hundreds of thousands of jobs could disappear in the next four years, although the companies themselves have refused to comment on numbers.

Narayanaswamy was caught up in the turmoil in March when he was let go from one of India’s top IT companies after 11 years of service. He says his future prospects appear bleak.

“I have been finding it extremely difficult to find a job these past few months,” the 40-year-old, who is based in Mumbai, told news agency AFP.The Growing Concerns Of IT Industry And Its Workers

India’s IT sector boomed for more than two decades as Western companies subcontracted work to firms like Infosys, Wipro and Tech Mahindra, taking advantage of their skilled English-speaking workforce.

The industry employs nearly four million Indians and rakes in revenues of more than $150 billion, according to the trade body National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom).

While Nasscom is bullish about the future for India’s tech titans, HfS Research, a US-based business advisory firm, estimates automation could mean a 14 per cent decline in India’s IT workforce with 480,000 jobs at risk by 2021.

That’s a worrying prospect for the hundreds of thousands of aspiring engineers at India’s IT colleges.

Although layoffs are not uncommon in the industry, particularly in the final quarter of the financial year, union chiefs say staffs are being made redundant in unprecedented numbers this year as firms deal with narrowing profits.

“Companies are unwilling to talk about the layoffs or how many techies have been served notice to leave as part of their annual appraisal,” said JSR Prasad, chairman of the National Confederation of Unions of IT Employees.
India’s top IT companies have been complaining for a while about the difficulty of picking up new clients as businesses explore automation, robotics and innovative technologies such as cloud computing.

So analysts say it should come as little surprise if some are now streamlining operations.

“These changes pertaining to mass layoffs and downsizing have been due for some time and the current chain of events globally have accelerated them,” said D.D. Mishra at technology research company Gartner.

Nasscom this month dismissed widespread reports, including in respected Indian newspapers like The Economic Times, Mint and Business Standard, of thousands of layoffs but conceded that the rate of hiring was slowing.

It predicted that up to three million new IT positions would be added by 2025 but warned that the industry must reinvent itself to help companies keep up with demand for more innovative technologies.

Kris Lakshmikanth, chairman of Bangalore-based recruitment firm The Headhunters, told AFP the task is huge with around 60 per cent of India’s four million techies needing to be retrained.

Wipro and Tech Mahindra told AFP that they have retraining programmes but refused to comment on the number of layoffs, saying it was standard practice for employees to lose their jobs if they failed to meet expectations.

Infosys failed to respond.

Analysts are already pessimistic about the potential effect of Trump’s curbs on H-1B visas, which India’s IT sector uses to send thousands of highly skilled engineers to America every year.

“There is a big tsunami that will affect between 150,000 and 200,000 Indian IT professionals and will continue for a long time until the industry stabilises,” Lakshmikanth said of the challenges facing the sector.


Thought Your Bowl of Breakfast Cereal was Healthy? Well, Think Again!


  • Cereal boxes are nothing but processed food
  • They are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates
  • Regular consumption can lead to diabetes, heart disease and even cancer

The moment the urge kicks in to start a healthy diet, out comes the box of breakfast cereals. While they promise a whole lot of nutrients – fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc., most manufacturers don’t quite paint the true picture. Ask yourself, what really is a box of cereals? Yes, they are nothing but processed foods, and we all know that processed foods don’t come without health hazards if consumed regularly. The truth is that we live in a world full of chemicals, and processed foods come with hidden additives that are far from being healthy.Thought Your Bowl of Breakfast Cereal was Healthy? Well, Think Again!

The cereal boxes we pick from supermarket stores high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. Regular consumption can lead to severe health issues in the future such as Type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart disease and even cancer. Artificial processing of cereals by frosting with sugar or chocolate-coating, leads to over-consumption of sugar than the recommended dietary allowance.

So when you believe the advertisements and think you are eating healthy, you may be consuming more sugar than you normally would. We may keep a watch on our sugar intake but the truth is that we often forget that we consume large amounts of sugar when we are indulging in processed foods. Processed food is essentially any food that has been modified from its normal state, mainly for convenience to the consumer. That is why these are also called ‘convenience foods.’


Young children are becoming obese today, which indicates that the problem of over-consumption is very real, especially among the well-to-do in India. The manufacturers are producing breakfast cereals as per the consumer’s preference, but at the cost of their health. Then there is also the issue of misleading cereal boxes labels. The cereal package often highlights the presence of ‘whole grains,’ but on further scrutiny, these are usually in low amounts compared to other unhealthy components.

If you want to eat and live healthy, start paying a little attention to your food. Don’t fall for marketing gimmicks, instead read the labels of the products that you pick up from the stores, looking out for added sugars, trans fats, artificial preservatives, etc. Or better still, resort to home cooked meals where you are fully aware of what it contains and its fresh!