Sunday, May 1, 2016

OPEN Forum 2016: Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs Conference

OPEN Forum 2016 in Silicon Valley drew over 700  Pakistani-American entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, bankers, accountants, lawyers and high-tech executives to Santa Clara Convention Center on Saturday, April 30, 216. The forum featured keynotes by Qasar Younus, the Pakistani-American head of Silicon Valley's top incubator Y-Combinator, and  Atif Rafiq, Chief Digital Officer at fast food giant McDonald's Corp.





OPEN Forum 2016 Agenda:

The conference included presentations and discussions in four parallel tracks to inform and educate attendees on various aspects of starting and building businesses at different stages. In addition, there were panels on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, inspiring Pakistani-American youth and dealing with the rise of Islamophobia in the United States. Also screened was a documentary "K2 and the Invisible Footmen" about the unsung mountaineering heroes of Pakistan's tallest and the world's second tallest mountain peak K2 and the film "The PHD Movie" about grad school.




Silicon Valley's Impact on Jobs in America:

The first keynote I attended in the morning was about order automation at fast food giant McDonald's. The effort is spearheaded by Atif Rafiq, a Pakistani-American who has been hired by the restaurant chain operator as its first Chief Digital Officer. After the presentation, I asked Atif as to how he sees the impact of his work on employment at McDonald's? Given the fact that the service sector is the largest employer in the United States, how would the ongoing service sector automation efforts impact the larger jobs picture?  Would the emerging gig economy a la Uber be enough to make up for service sector job losses?   Rafiq confessed it's a significant issue but he did not directly answer it.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, including Pakistani-Americans, are credited with creating millions of new jobs in new industries ranging from semiconductors to computers, communications and software  and biotechnology over the last several decades. The question is: Will the new industries spawned by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs help or hurt the overall employment in America?

Twin Forces of Globalization and Automation:

The twin forces of automation and globalization are now causing significant unemployment and underemployment in the United States. The impact of job losses and growing inequality are  the subject of the current election campaigns.

First, it was the manufacturing jobs that moved offshore in 1980s and 1990s in an effort to save costs and fatten profits. This forced many factory workers to move into service industries and take pay cuts. Now the service sector jobs are also falling prey to outsourcing and automation.

Instead of addressing the root causes of economic difficulties faced by many Americans, Republican front-runner Donald Trump's presidential primary campaign is blaming immigrants and Muslims for their problems. This is  giving rise to forces of racism, bigotry, xenophobia and Islamophobia in America.

Future of Capitalism and Democracy in America:

The success of American capitalism and democracy is built on the firm foundations of nearly full employment and a large middle class. The erosion of these two ingredients threatens the very foundations of America's peace and prosperity.

In response to high unemployment in 1930s, British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) argued: "The government should pay people to dig holes in the ground and then fill them up." He advocated massive spending by government to stimulate demand when all else fails.

John Maynard Keynes:

 Who was Keynes?  Here is how UC Berkeley's Robert Reich described him a few years ago: "A Cambridge University don with a flair for making money, a graduate of England's exclusive Eton prep school, a collector of modern art, the darling of Virginia Woolf and her intellectually avant-garde Bloomsbury Group, the chairman of a life-insurance company, later a director of the Bank of England, married to a ballerina, John Maynard Keynes--tall, charming and self-confident--nonetheless transformed the dismal science into a revolutionary engine of social progress."

Keynes was clearly a very smart man. His ideas of modern Capitalism have created unprecedented wealth and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. And his ideas may still help save capitalism yet again. However, what Keynes couldn't have imagined are the new heights of avarice and wickedness of the modern political-industrial elite in America that has threatened the very foundations of the system that brought them wealth and power. During recent decades, the behavior of American capitalists and politicians has been unbelievably self-destructive.

What Can Silicon Valley Do?

I think it's in the best interest of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, particularly Pakistani-American entrepreneurs, to pay attention to the economic difficulties being faced by many Americans who are losing jobs to automation and globalization. These difficulties lie at the root of growing xenophobia and Islamophobia. The Pakistani-American entrepreneurs need to think of new ways to help people who are being left behind. They need to explore ideas such as helping build new skills needed for the new economy, promote policy discussions on the idea of universal basic income and expansion of safety nets and development of new gig economy to ensure full employment with decent incomes. Failure to do so could lead to significant social strife and cause irreparable damage to the very foundations of the system that has brought great wealth and power to America as a nation.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Can American Capitalism Survive?

The Trump Phenomenon

Islamophobia in America

Silicon Valley Pakistani-Americans

Pakistani-American Leads Silicon Valley's Top Incubator

Silicon Valley Pakistanis Enabling 2nd Machine Revolution

Karachi-born Triple Oscar Winning Graphics Artist

Pakistani-American Ashar Aziz's Fire-eye Goes Public

Two Pakistani-American Silicon Valley Techs Among Top 5 VC Deals

Pakistani-American's Game-Changing Vision 

Minorities Are Majority in Silicon Valley 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Did Musharraf Steal People's Money in Pakistan?

A story alleging corruption by former President Pervez Musharraf has appeared recently in Pakistan's Jang Media Group publications  in the aftermath of the Panama Leaks that revealed the names of 220 rich and powerful Pakistanis owning offshore accounts.

The Panama Papers show that Mir Shakeel ur Rehman, the owner of Jang Media Group, owns offshore accounts, as do the family of the current Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif and former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in 2007. Other Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers include prominent businessmen, politicians, judges, bureaucrats, etc. allegedly involved in corruption. The names of former President Pervez Musharraf or his family members are not among the 220 names from Pakistan.

The Jang Media Group story titled "How Mr clean Musharraf became a billionaire" lists accounts held by Mr. Musharraf in Dubai and London with balances adding up to millions of US dollars. Farrukh Durrani, the story writer, demands that the commission of inquiry looking into Panama Papers also investigate the sources of Mr. Musharraf's wealth. Here's an excerpt of the story:

"Despite having such huge chunk of amount in his offshore accounts, neither did any investigative agency nor did the accountability bureau question him how he got billions of rupees in his foreign accounts. However the commission of inquiry appointed by prime minister in the wake of Panama Leaks has a broader scope and powers which can question ex-dictator Pervez Musharraf from where he got billions of rupees which are kept in his offshore accounts."

Knowing what I know about how western leaders like former US President Clinton and his wife Hillary became wealthy after leaving office, let me suggest to Mr. Durrani to do his homework as follows:

1. Learn about the lucrative speaker series business which brings hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech to celebrity speakers in the West, particularly the United States. This is a well-established, well-organized business that promotes lecture series featuring prominent speakers where attendees pay hundreds of dollars per person to attend in large numbers.

2. Do research into how many such lectures President Musharraf delivered after retiring from presidency in 2008? How much did he get paid for each? What does it all add up to? Does it add up to more than the reported account balances in Dubai and London?

Let me give a few pointers to Mr. Durrani if he's honestly trying to understand the sources of Mr. Musharraf's wealth:

1. A Newsweek story quoted David Wheeler, President of Embark LLC,  just one of the international public-relations firms trying to land Musharraf as a highly paid keynote speaker, as saying, "The [speaking] fee for Musharraf would be in the $150,000-200,000 range for a day."



2. The Newsweek story further added that "Public-relations executives say the articulate and brash 44-year army veteran's earning power could approach that of former U.S. President Bill Clinton".

3. Here's how an Oregon newspaper "The Oregonian" reported about Musharraf's planned appearance in Portland in 2010:  "The folks who attract big international names to Portland each year have done it again, landing Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's former president, to speak here in March. The World Affairs Council of Oregon's 2010 speaker series will also feature Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz; Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration chief administrator; and -- in a face-off --Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Karl Rove, strategist for President George W. Bush."

4. A brochure announcing the Peninsula Speaker Series in the San Francisco Bay Area that included Musharraf as a featured speaker, along with Condeleeza Rice, Laura Tyson and Paul Krugman, showed the ticket prices ranging from $294 to $403 per person.

After Mr. Durrani has had a chance to do his homework, I believe he will realize, if he's honest, that he is being used by his employer to deflect attention of the world and of any investigative commission members from the sins of Mir Shakeel ur Rahman and his rich and powerful friends in high places, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family, who have either stolen Pakistan peoples' money and/or cheated on taxes they owe to the Pakistani treasury. Any investigative commission must not allow itself to be used to pursue vendettas to obscure the truth.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistani Leaders in London After Panama Leaks

Culture of Corruption in Pakistan

Zardari Corruption Probe

President Pervez Musharraf's Legacy

We Hang Petty Thieves and Appoint Great Ones to High Offices

Capitalism's Achilles Heel by Raymond Baker

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Pakistani Diaspora Sends Home $19.3 Billion in Remittances Amid Falling Oil Prices

Pakistani diaspora sent home $19.3 billion in remittances in 2015, representing 12.8 % increase over 2014, according to a World Bank Report titled "Migration and Development Brief" released today.

Pakistan's $19.3 billion in remittance make up 6.9% of 2014 GDP, essentially closing the rising trade deficit amid the nation's falling exports.

The 12.8% increase over 2015 is substantial but it is down from 16.7% jump seen in 2014 over 2013. The report attributes the slower remittance growth from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to falling oil prices.

This report comes soon after the Panama Leaks that show how Pakistan's corrupt elite, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family, are moving and hiding in offshore tax havens the hard-earned dollars sent home by overseas Pakistanis to keep Pakistan's economy afloat.

Overseas Remittances in South Asia Source: World Bank 


In Q4 of 2015, year-on-year growth of remittances to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia and the UAE were 11.7 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively, a significant deceleration from 17.5 percent and 42.0 percent in the first quarter, said the report.

Global remittances, which include those to high-income countries, contracted by 1.7% to $581.6 billion in 2015, from $592 billion in 2014, the World Bank said.

India was the top recipient with $68.9 billion in remittances in 2015, a decline from $70 billion in 2014. This marks the first decline in remittances since 2009,  according to the report.

The growth of remittances in 2015 slowed from 8% in 2014 to 2.5% for Bangladesh, from 16.7% to 12.8% for Pakistan, and from 9.6% to 0.5% for Sri Lanka. “Slower growth may reflect the impact of falling oil prices on remittances from GCC countries,” the report said.

The only country in South Asia to see dramatic growth in remittances was Nepal. The overseas Nepalese workers sent home $7 billion in 2015, an increase of 20.9 percent in 2015 versus 3.2 percent growth in 2014. After the devastating earthquake that hit the Himalayan nation, many Nepalese migrant workers returned home to take care of their families, as the average number of returns at the airport jumped five times to around 4,000 per day.

“Remittances are an important and fairly stable source of income for millions of families and of foreign exchange to many developing countries,” said Augusto Lopez-Claros, director of the World Bank’s Global Indicators Group.

“However, if remittances continue to slow, and dramatically as in the case of Central Asian countries, poor families in many parts of the world would face serious challenges including nutrition, access to health care and education,” Lopez-Claros said.


Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Remittances to Pakistan

Pakistani Names in Panama Leaks

Pakistan Diaspora is Among the World's Largest

Pakistan's Corrupt Elite

Remittances Offer a Lifeline to Pakistan's Poor

Aid, Investment, Trade and Remittances to Pakistan

Friday, April 8, 2016

Fashion Pakistan Week 2016 Attracts Foreign Buyers to Karachi

Top fashion designers Maheen Khan, Deepak Perwani, Wardha Saleem, Obaid Shaikh, Sanam Chaudhri and others are showing their latest creations at the ongoing Pakistan Fashion Week in Karachi, Pakistan. It's being sponsored by Trade Development Authority of Pakistan. In addition to domestic and foreign media, there are also several international buyers from overseas chain stores attending the show.

Here are a few pictures from the fashion show:


































Photos Couresy of Tapu Jhaveri, others.

Here's a Pakistan Pictorial:

 
Find more photos like this on PakAlumni Worldwide: The Global Social Network

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan Fashion Shows

Pakistani Village Girl Launches VC-Funded Fashion Startup in San Francisco 

Pakistan's Top Fashion Models

Pakistani Cover Girls

Life Goes On in Pakistan

Pakistan Fashion Week 2013

Karachi Fashion Week 2013

Veena Malik Challenges Pakistan's Orthodoxy 

PakAlumni-Pakistani Social Network 

Huma Abedin Weinergate

Pakistan Media Revolution

Protest Music in Pakistan

Resilient Pakistan Defies Doomsayers

Life Goes On in Pakistan

Pakistani Entrepreneurs Survive Economic Downturn

Silent Social Revolution in Pakistan

Saturday, April 2, 2016

India Complains to WTO Over US H1B Visa Policy Change

India has recently complained to the World Trade Organization against the United States over changes to visas for skilled workers that Republican presidential candidates have targeted for elimination, according to a report in the UK's Financial Times.

The WTO revealed that India had requested consultations with the US over moves by Washington to raise fees for L1 and H1B working visas and also restrictions on the number of those visas awarded. The move is the first step in initiating a dispute at the WTO. 

India's WTO complaint:

India's WTO complaint is over an increase in fees on H1B visas that the US imposed on companies with workforces comprised of more than 50 percent foreign workers. A provision included in last year's federal spending bill added a new $4,000 fee for each H1B, which India argues is discriminatory to the country under its trade agreement with the US.

Meanwhile, the annual gold rush in Silicon Valley to file applications for H1B visas has just begun, as the federal government began distributing some of the 85,000 H1B visas it is authorized to issue this fiscal  year, according to Vice News.

Indian Body Shops Infosys, TCS and Wipro Topped H1B Sponsor List in 2013


Why the Complaint?

Why is India complaining? There are two main reasons:

1. India's overall exports have suffered 18th consecutive monthly decline in February 2016, according to India's Economic Times. Exports from India amounted to US$264 billion in 2015,  down -12.4% since 2011 and down -16.9% from 2014 to 2015. 

2. Most of India's IT exports to the United States are made up of wages of H1B workers brought to the United States by a handful of Indian body shops like Tata Consulting Services (TCS) and Infosys.  In 2014, 86% of the H1B visas for tech workers were granted to Indians, according to available data. Given India's heavy reliance on H1B workers for its IT exports earnings, it is natural that the Indian government gets very concerned whenever there's even a hint of the US possibly limiting H1B visas or making them more expensive.

Excluding the Indian H1B workers' pay,  such exports drop to about one-twentieth of the the amount reported by the Indian government as IT exports, according to a 2005 study by US General Accounting Office (GAO).

Indian Body Shops:

The Indian body shops like Cognizant, TCS and Infosys that rely on the H1B visa program in the US are "the shining star" of the Indian economy, and the country's largest export, according to an Indian-American professor Ron Hira who is a strong critic of the abuses of H1B program. By complaining, the Indian government and firms that rely on the program are trying to "build up a firewall so that no other reforms can come through and constrain the program in any way."

Indian Code Coolies:

H1B workers brought in by Indian body shops are described variously as "code coolies"or "H1B slaves". Some call them "indentured servants", like the ones from India who replaced slave labor after the British empire abolished slavery.

“’Indentured servants’ is a pretty accurate term because in many cases that’s exactly what’s going on,” said Phillip Griego of San Jose’s Phillip J. Griego and Associates. Over the years, Griego and his law partner, Robert Nuddleman have represented several H-1B workers in lawsuits against body shops.

Summary:

India has complained to the World Trade Organization about changes to the US H1B that mainly benefit India's body shops like Cognizant, Infosys and Tata at the expense of both US and Indian workers. US workers lose their jobs while Indian workers are exploited as wage slaves. India uses the wages of Indian H1B workers to inflate its IT export earning by as much as 20X. Proposed changes  to H1B visa program like higher fees and lower numbers threaten India's export earning which have declined for 18 months in a row.  The ongoing election debate over whether the H1B program is hurting American workers rose to public consciousness amid the Republican primary debates this year. The election outcome has the potential to negatively impact Indian H1B exports earnings.


Pakistan's Software Prodigy

Biotech and Genomics in Pakistan