Cripes! Even America’s favorite cons are being outsourced

❝ Police in India say they have arrested 70 call centre workers on suspicion of tricking American citizens into sending them money by posing as US tax officials.

A total of 772 workers were arrested on Wednesday in raids on nine fake call centres in a Mumbai suburb…

An estimated $36.5 million was extorted from Americans, police said.

❝ Seventy were placed under formal arrest, 630 were released pending questioning over the coming days, and 72 were freed without further investigation.

“The motive was earning money,” said Parag Marere, a deputy commissioner of police. “They were running an illegal process, posing themselves as officers of the [US] Internal Revenue Service.”

Marere said the year-long scam involved running fake call centres that sent voicemail messages telling US nationals to call back because they owed back taxes.

Those who called back and believed the threats would fork out thousands of dollars to “settle” their case, he said. The scam brought in more than $150,000 a day…

Americans are so fracking gullible. You get a voicemail telling you to callback the IRS – without ever checking on the phone number. You’re only calling back – much of the time – because you know you’ve been Trumping your tax bill, anyway. If they can pump you for how much you think you owe – it’s only a matter of playing the fish until you’re landed. You can go higher or lower. It’s all in the game.

Somewhere along the line you might notice your IRS agent has an accent. Perfectly reasonable in a nation of immigrants. If the boiler room is like most I’ve heard, you should also detect conversational background noise. And if everyone has the same accent – you’re in trouble, Bubba. The IRS doesn’t restrict hiring to any one ethnicity. 🙂

Amnesty for tax evaders in India uncovers hidden billion$

❝ A tax evasion amnesty in India has prompted tens of thousands of people to declare more than $9.5 billion in undeclared income and assets…All were offered immunity from prosecution in return for paying tax, a surcharge and a penalty…It is estimated that the government could raise nearly $4.5 billion from the scheme.

❝ The government contacted about 700,000 suspected tax evaders earlier this year, urging them to declare hidden income and assets…They were told they would not be pursued by the authorities if they came clean and paid a penalty…

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says that despite the huge numbers, the amount declared is only a fraction of the country’s undisclosed earnings.

It does not account for money stashed in Swiss banks and overseas tax havens which some government investigators believe amounts to around $500 billion…

❝ In a series of tweets on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the amnesty “successful”, saying it was “a great contribution towards transparency and growth of the economy”.

The government says the money raised will be spent on public welfare.

Looks like many of the corporate barons of India’s economy still take 19th Century thieves as their role model. Something often true of their class, globally. Not as easy to getaway with as it obviously has been in India.

Rare Indian records survived over a century — now free online

Indian records

Over the crackle of an old record, you can hear a woman singing in Urdu. Though listening to her is as easy as clicking a few buttons on the British Library website, her voice comes to you across vast distances in space and time.

Sometime in the early 20th century, engineers recorded the voice of a woman called Malkajan for the German company Odeon, which pressed shellac discs for Indian record collectors in the 1910s and 30s. Now her work is part of a series of recordings called The Odeon Collection, digitized by Mumbai record collector Suresh Chandvankar with help from a grant from the British Library. There are over 1400 recordings in the collection, and all are free to the listening public…

Click here to access the archive. You will see the first recording up top and more choices on the right. The choices are expandable.

Enjoy the search. Enjoy listening.

Milestone: For the first time in a century, tiger populations are growing

After a century of constant decline, global wild tiger populations are on the rise! According to the most recent data, around 3,890 tigers now exist in the wild — up from an estimated 3,200 in 2010.

We can attribute this updated minimum number — compiled from national tiger surveys — to rising tiger populations in India, Russia, Nepal, and Bhutan; improved surveys; and enhanced protection of this iconic species…

Governments of countries with tiger populations came together in 2010 to pledge the goal of doubling wild tiger numbers by 2022. Our work is not done: these countries are meeting again this month to report on their progress and commit to next steps to help tigers rebound…

Tracking tiger populations and understanding the threats the species faces is absolutely vital in order to protect these big cats. Classified as endangered, tigers face daily the hazards of poaching and habitat loss. Every part of the tiger — from whisker to tail — is traded in illegal wildlife markets, feeding a multi-billion dollar criminal network.

Though we’ve seen real gains in some countries, the outlook isn’t as clear in Southeast Asia, where poaching and rampant deforestation continue to negatively impact tiger numbers.

But the hopeful news of rising tiger numbers proves we can make a difference when we come together to tackle these challenges. WWF works with governments, law enforcement, and local communities to advocate zero tolerance for tiger poaching across Asia, and uses the latest technology to protect and connect fragile tiger habitat. Together, we have a chance to reach our goal of doubling wild tiger numbers by 2022.

Huzzah!

15 Liters of water – Om Malik

Om at Taj Mahal

When California was amidst a drought, I decided to implement a three minute shower limit so as to minimize my water usage. A typical shower is about eight minutes long and takes up about 17 gallons or 65 liters of water. So a three minute shower consumes about six gallons Of water. I embraced other water saving changes, but the short shower was the one which I thought made the most sense on an individual level. It has become a habit since, only to realize that I could do more.

When I came to Delhi to visit my parents, I had to use a bucket of water to take a bath. Water is a real luxury around the world. You remember that when you open the taps and there isn’t a drop in sight. And that is why you figure out how to bathe with a bucket of water. This is what you learn as a child and it remains for you forever. It didn’t take me long to remind myself – a good bath needs about 15 liters of water. That’s about 3.96 gallons of water. I will remember that next time I open the shower tap!

March 30, 2016, New Delhi

Worth remembering no matter where we are in the world.

Thank you, Om.

2 cities and 2 ways of moving forward against smog


Click to enlargeAltaf Qadri, AP

Two cities. Two very polluted cities. And two very different ways of dealing with twin public health crises.

When Beijing’s air was forecast to reach hazardous levels for three straight days earlier in December, the government issued a smog red alert. The result: Half the city’s cars were off the roads within hours, schools were closed and construction sites shut down. Less than three days later, pollution levels had dropped by 30 percent.

When New Delhi’s winter air grew so bad that a high court warned that “it seems like we are living in a gas chamber,” the city’s top official declared that cars would be restricted starting Jan. 1, with odd and even license plates taking turns on the roads. But police officials quickly announced they hadn’t been consulted, and said they’d have trouble enforcing the rule. Plus, no one could fully explain how the already overstretched public transit system could absorb millions of additional commuters overnight.

So, well, maybe the whole plan will be scrapped…

Long famous for its toxic air, Beijing is struggling to lose that reputation, bowing to pressure from a growing middle class to keep pollution under control. Traffic is regularly restricted in the city, factories have been moved and the central government is anxious to ratchet down the country’s use of coal-burning power plants.

And New Delhi, which by many measures now has far more polluted air than Beijing? So far, the environmental court — which has only quasi-legal powers — has ordered that no diesel cars be registered in the city for the next few weeks, and has discouraged the government from buying diesels for government fleets. Officials, meanwhile, have suggested everything from car-free days to planting more trees to dedicated bus lanes.

It amounts to little more than vague promises, and is resulting in increasingly angry headlines…

❝”In China, whenever you talk about PM2.5 (one of the most dangerous forms of airborne particulate matter), everybody knows what that is, it’s pollution. But once you raise the same questions in Delhi, it seems like not many people care about that. And yet, the level of pollution in Delhi is more than five times” higher than in Beijing, said Yann Boquillod, a longtime Beijing resident who co-founded Air Visual, a startup that crunches pollution data and weather information to predict air quality…

In China, an authoritarian system makes policy changes much more straightforward than in India, where a chaotic and widely corrupt government makes it easier for polluters to avoid regulations.

China has made a very serious and concerted effort to fight air pollution in the past few years,” said Lauri Myllyvitra, Greenpeace’s global campaigner on coal. She said Beijing’s success came when it realized the problem had to be addressed regionally, not just in the city.

“Our greatest hope is that India will not waste a decade trying to address a regional problem locally … but will move much faster to put in place regional action plans for cleaner energy sources and fuels, as well as meaningful emission standards and enforcement,” she said…

Our politicians learned long ago to describe serious questions in political terms instead of economics. You can fuss with the former for decades without actually changing anything. So, India is described as a great democracy while that nation’s corruption has surpassed China – while China has moved in the other direction to begin to counter historically-accepted levels of corruption.

But, much of the difference remains economic. Though it may take Beijing as long as London or Los Angeles to overcome smog problems, China can afford to make the needed changes. India can’t. Not yet. They will need assistance whether their politicians care to admit it or not.

Human waste is a wasted potential source of energy


Click to enlarge

A concept that needn’t be limited to the Third World

Gas produced by decaying human waste is a potentially major source of energy that could provide electricity for millions of homes while improving sanitary conditions in developing countries…

Biogas is produced when bacteria break down human feces. And it would be worth the equivalent of $9.5 billion in non-renewable natural gas, the United Nations Institute for Water, Environment and Health said on Tuesday.

Residues from treated waste could yield two million tons a year of “solid” fuel worldwide that could reduce charcoal use and the number of trees being felled, which would help in global warming reduction efforts…

In low-income countries, the use of biogas could finance development

Almost a billion people around the world do not have access to toilets, about 60 percent of them in India, and have to relieve themselves outdoors…

If their waste was collected and used to produce biogas, it could generate electricity for 10 million to 18 million households and be worth $200 million to $376 million per year…

Bringing toilets to so many areas also will improve hygiene and public health in these countries. Poor sanitation is to blame for 10 percent of illnesses in developing countries, the researchers said.

“Challenges are many, but clearly there is a compelling, multi-dimensional financial case to be made for deriving energy from waste,” said Chris Metcalfe, one of the authors of the study.

Many states have a few biogas facilities constructed over bulging landfills. I’ve blogged before about at least one gigantic dairy farm that powers all its trucks with biogas from cow manure. Also another source readily available in India, for example. More important, though nations like the United States are generations away from projects like these suggested making economic sense for us – with some of the cheapest natural gas in the world – the cost of transporting natgas to India and Africa makes the concept of human-origins of biogas more than sensible. It becomes affordable.

Don’t pee on snakes!


Levantine viper responding to a curious photographer in Dagestan

While urinating in an open field in India, a farmer’s penis was struck by a Levantine viper (Macrovipera lebetina). The “gunas,” a local name for the cold-blooded culprit, injected venom through two fang entry points just behind the glans.

The man, 46, arrived at the hospital 3 hours after the attack with a “grossly swollen penis and formation of hemorrhagic bullae” at the puncture sites, Tajamul Hussain, MD, and Rafi A. Jan, MD…reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Fortunately, the man’s vital signs were stable, but labs showed poor clotting action…Doppler ultrasound of the veins and arteries of the penis revealed normal flow throughout.

A polyvalent antivenom effective against cobra, common krait, and viper was administered, and 36 hours later, the patient’s labs showed normal coagulation function.

He still had swelling for what had to be a difficult 4 days, and necrotic tissue formed black scabs at the puncture sites. But, thankfully, at the 2-week follow-up, the physicians wrote that the man had completely recovered…

On the plus side, we now know a penis can be saved after a viper attack, and to be careful not to pee on snakes.

I’d be more likely to pee on myself while running away from a poisonous snake! 🙂

Don’t click through to the article unless you’re prepared for a couple of gross photos of the injury.

Parrot detained by coppers over obscene language

Police in India said a parrot detained on allegations of shouting obscenities at an elderly woman refused to utter a single word for officers.

Chandrapur district police said the parrot, Hariyal, was detained at the police station in Rajura, Maharashtra, after Janabai Sakharkar, 85, told investigators the parrot would shout obscene words and phrases at her whenever she would pass by the home of its owner, her stepson.

Sakharkar told police she believes her stepson, Suresh, trained the parrot to shout obscenities at her because of an ongoing land dispute between the family members.

Police said the parrot did not speak in front of officers, even when confronted by Sakharkar…

Police said they decided not to return Hariyal to his owner and instead put the bird in the care of forest department officials for rehabilitation.

You have the right to remain silent…

The man who planted a forest in Kerala

Abdul Kareem, 66, of Parappa, Kasargod, Kerala had a liking to ‘Kavu’, the sacred forests of Kerala, right from his childhood. He would frequently visit his wife’s house in Puliyankulam village and it was during such visits that he noticed the barren hillside land nearby. In 1977, as if on an impulse, he bought five acres of the land for Rs 3750. The people nearby and even his family were not able to comprehend his action, and he became a laughing stock in the locality. The property had only a single well that remained almost dry throughout the year. Since it could not provide enough to water the saplings that he planted, he would carry water in cans from outside sources on his two-wheeler. This continued for three years, at the end of which, nature started responding to his unrelenting efforts and the trees actually started growing.

The change was now to be seen – birds came in flocks and helped Kareem by bringing seeds of umpteen varieties and started setting their nests in this new haven. Soon other forms of life also appeared. The ecosystem was developing at a good pace. In the meanwhile, Kareem bought another 27 acres of land and planted trees all over the place with the new-found vigour, motivated by the fruits of his efforts.

One notable feature of Kareem’s forest (that is what the Department of Tourism, Kerala Government, calls this place) which makes it a forest in the true sense is that Kareem never tried to interfere in its natural development once it started sustaining itself, rather he gamely prevented anything and everything that would interfere with the natural growth of his forest. He has never weeded the forest; neither does he sweep away the fallen leaves. There is no effort for intervention of any kind.

The forest has brought about amazing changes to the surroundings. The once dry well in the plot is now brimming with pure, fresh water. The underground water table in an area of about 10 kilometers has risen, it is said. The temperature inside the forest is markedly cooler than outside. Kareem has been living inside the forest since 1986, keeping constant vigil on his creation, which is dearer to him than anything. Visitors are allowed inside, even to stay as paying guests for a few days, provided they comply with Kareem’s regulations. Plastic is banned inside the forest; so is the use of automobiles. Wild partying, loud noises – all are a strict no-no.

Kareem has resisted various offers to commercialize the forest and to turn it into a theme park…For those who know him, the man who was once a laughing stock, has now grown colossal in stature, along with his creation – one that generations will cherish.

Inspiring.

Thanks, Ursarodinia