Archive for July 14th, 2011

Names You Need to Know: Lobsang Sangay, Tibet’s New Leader

Four centuries of theocratic rule formally ends next month when Dr. Lobsang Sangay is inaugurated as the first democratically elected Kalon Tripa, or prime minister, of the Tibetan government-in-exile. In March, the Tibetan parliament accepted the Dalai Lama’s decision to relinquish his last remaining political powers.

The Chinese government was obviously unnerved when His Holiness announced this year that he intended to end his governmental role. Beijing’s apparent tactic had been to outlast the revered leader of the Tibetans, now 76, and then watch the leaderless movement fracture.

In typical fashion, however, China did not leave anything to chance. Chinese officials in 1995 kidnapped the six-year-old boy the Dalai Lama had chosen to be the next Panchen Lama because that religious figure by tradition has a leading role in picking Dalai Lamas. Beijing then chose its own Panchen Lama and has kept him under tight control since. Four years ago, the officially atheistic Chinese government announced that the Buddhist Dalai Lama could not reincarnate without its permission.

The Dalai Lama, however, has undone much of Beijing’s handiwork by completing a process, begun in the early 1960s, of devolving power to the Tibetan exile government. In giving up the last of his political authority this year—he is still the spiritual leader—His Holiness paved the way for a younger generation, free of Chinese interference, to take up the cause.

In a March election of Tibetans in 30 countries, exiles selected Sangay over two older candidates. He was an improbable choice, spending little time up until then in Dharamsala. His father, a monk who fought the communists in Tibet, fled China and settled in Darjeeling in India, where Sangay was born. The family sold a cow from its one-acre farm to pay for his education, and eventually he earned a Fulbright to study at Harvard.

At the time of his election as the next Kalon Tripa, he was a fellow at Harvard Law School, but now he has quit so that he can earn $367.65 a month to be the leader of a people with no territory, no army, and no diplomatic recognition. He will preside over a flock divided by rivalries, religious and regional, and face a Chinese adversary that is implacable, ruthless, and powerful.

In the face of these seemingly insurmountable difficulties, Dr. Sangay now must make good on his two campaign pledges, freeing Tibet and helping the Dalai Lama return to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Few think he can succeed.

Yet despite their overwhelming power—or because of it—the Chinese have apparently lost the support of almost all Tibetans in China. Beijing maintains its rule over them only through undeclared martial law and an unprecedented campaign of coercion. Its program of bringing Han settlers into Tibet as well as its exploitation of resources there have fueled a long-lasting Tibetan sense of identity and deep resentment. Two generations in sealed-off Tibetan areas worship the Dalai Lama, although these followers have never seen or heard His Holiness and even though they have been subject to decades of unrelenting indoctrination against him. Sangay can always count on China’s hardnosed leaders to unite his people for him.

And Sangay actually has been dealt a winning hand. The Dalai Lama and elder generations have handed younger Tibetans a unique legacy. “There are no models of administrations-in-exile that are democratic,” the new Kalon Tripa told me yesterday.

Democratic governance makes national governments strong and resilient, but is democracy good for mass movements? Up to now, political scientists have assumed that a movement needed a single leader with a single voice to be successful. The Dalai Lama, however, has opted for the cacophony of democracy. Democracy ensures his movement will retain popular support around the world and will be viewed as legitimate, especially when his adversary is the increasingly authoritarian Communist Party of China.

Yet democratic institutions will also make the Tibetan cause hard to manage, especially for someone like Sangay, who has lived far from Dharamsala for almost all his life. With little experience, he will have to balance all the factions in the Tibetan movement, maintain the goodwill of a reluctant India that hosts the exile Tibetan community, seek support from nations intimidated by China, and struggle to free his people from oppressive Chinese rule.

Sangay knows what he is up against. His struggle begins on the ninth second of the ninth minute of the ninth hour of August 8, a time he chose for his historic inauguration. Nine in Tibetan stands for the challenging of evils, he says.

There is no shortage of evils bedeviling the Tibetans or confronting Sangay, unfortunately. He must, in the face of devils, protect his people and lead them back to their mountain homeland.

“I have not seen Tibet, but I am very proud to be Tibetan,” he said to me. “I always say I will die as a Tibetan, but while I live I will fight for Tibet.”


The Best (And Worst) States To Own A Car

If you bought a car in Alaska or Hawaii you’d probably expect it to cost more than if you bought it in, say, Michigan or Ohio, because of the extra freight costs involved. Gas prices are higher in those distant states, too, so you’d expect the car to cost more in the long run.

But why should it cost $9,000 more to own and operate a car in Connecticut than it does in New Hampshire, just 100 or so miles up the road?

The answer is because New Hampshire has no sales tax, and the cost of everything from insurance to fuel and maintenance is lower there. So a $29,000 car will end up costing $49,890 over five years if you live in Connecticut, but only $40,602, if you reside in New Hampshire.

Where you live can make a big difference in the cost of owning a vehicle–a lesson worth remembering next time you’re shopping for a new car. The price can differ state-by-state, thanks to regional incentives, for instance, and destination, or freight charges, can vary depending on the distance the car has to be shipped. Beyond that, you need to consider more than just the sticker price or monthly lease payment. You need to insure it, finance it, maintain it and keep the gas tank filled.

Automotive research website lets car shoppers see the big picture with its proprietary True Cost to Own formula, which takes note of where you live to calculate your average five-year cost for depreciation, financing, taxes, fees, insurance premiums, fuel costs, maintenance and repairs on a range of new and used vehicles.

Forbes asked Edmunds’ analysts to come up with a sales-weighted average by state, which revealed that New Hampshire, South Dakota and South Carolina are the best states to own a vehicle, while Hawaii, California and Alaska are the most expensive. The gap between the cheapest state, New Hampshire, and the most expensive, Hawaii, is almost $13,000.

The two biggest factors tend to be taxes and fees and the cost of insurance. In Oregon, for example, car buyers pay an average of just $129 in fees, but in Arizona, they’ll pay an average $4,346. Insurance is cheapest in South Dakota ($4,723) and most expensive in Alaska ($11,481). In West Virginia and Louisiana, insurance will run about $11,000 over five years, but you’ll pay half that if you live in Georgia or North Dakota.

Maintenance and repair costs can also affect how much your car will cost over time. Labor rates for service technicians in your state might vary, for instance. And if your state has no sales tax, replacement parts will cost less. Maintenance and repairs will cost an average of $1,350 more in Maryland than in nearby New Jersey, for example.

You’re not likely to drive to New Jersey to get your car serviced, so if you’re in one of those high-cost-to-own states, you can at least compare the total cost of ownership for different vehicles on your shopping list. Remember that buying a more expensive vehicle means you’ll probably pay higher sales tax and more interest on your car loan, which could end up costing you more than you bargained for.

Hollywood’s Highest-Paid Actresses

Hollywood is still a boy’s town where the men earn a lot more than the women. But don’t cry for the top female stars: The 10 highest-paid actresses in Tinseltown earned a total $218 million between May 2010 and May 2011, by our estimation.

Tying at the top of our list are Angelina Jolie and Sarah Jessica Parker, who each earned an estimated $30 million.

FULL LIST: Hollywood’s Highest-Paid Actresses

Jolie has made a name for herself as an actress who can easily handle action, drama and even directing. She wrote and directed the upcoming film In the Land of Blood and Honey, a romance set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War. That film follows up her two big-budget 2010 action movies, Salt and The Tourist. The latter, which co-starred Johnny Depp, initially looked like it was going to be a flop after a paltry opening weekend box-office haul of $16 million. But thanks mostly to the overseas market, the film went on to earn $280 million, cementing Jolie’s appeal abroad.

Parker still makes most of her money off of Sex and the City. She earns big from reruns of the TV show thanks to her dual role as star and producer, and the second movie, which hit screens in 2010, performed pretty well. It wasn’t as big a hit as the first movie (which earned $415 million) but it brought in a respectable $290 million.

True to the values of Carrie Bradshaw, Parker has become a beauty icon. She makes money from her successful line of perfumes including Lovely, Covet and NYC, which brought in $18 million in 2010, and she recently started helping design clothes for the fashion line Halston.

To compile our earnings numbers we talked to agents, lawyers, producers and other industry insiders to come up with an estimate for what each actress earned between May 1, 2010 and May 1, 2011. Earnings consist of pretax gross income. Management, agent and attorney fees are not deducted.

Ranking third behind Jolie and Parker are Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, who each brought in $28 million.

Aniston has had more than her share of flops, like 2009’s Management, which earned less than $1 million at the U.S. box office. But lately, even films that looked like they were going to flop have turned out to be hits. The Bounty Hunter opened to a weak $20 million in 2010 but went on to earn $136 million on a $40 million budget. One of her most recent films, Just Go With It, co-starring Adam Sandler, is her fourth highest earning film in the U.S.

Witherspoon hasn’t been as lucky as Aniston at the box office lately. He romantic comedy How Do You Know, flopped, earning only $50 million on a budget of $120 million. It hasn’t hurt her quote though and she’ll still earn big for the upcoming romantic comedy This Means War, which is scheduled to hit theaters in early 2012.

Ranking fifth is Julia Roberts. Her most recent film, Larry Crowne, may have flopped its opening weekend (earning only $13 million to rank 4th) but the actress can still command a big pay check and a portion of a film’s back end when she chooses. Roberts earned $20 million between May 2010 and May 2011.

Kobo CEO On The Future Of E-Readers And Google Books

Now that electronic readers have touchscreens, color support and can play Flash video, what’s next for these gadgets?

Kobo’s Reading Life app. The company plans to add additional social features and rewards to its e-reading software.
Michael Serbinis, Chief Executive of Toronto-based e-reading company Kobo, sees a future marked by innovations in social sharing and mobile commerce. He expects to see book purchases facilitated by social networking sites and to offer mobile coupon rewards to frequent readers.

Both services represent an evolution of current e-reader features, which thus far have implemented social networking as content-sharing, not purchases, and limited rewards to non-monetary prizes. Both ideas could increase the e-reader audience by expanding the ways and places to buy e-books and providing real-world incentives for reading.

“You will see social networks get into the content-selling business,” said Serbinis in an interview. He anticipates companies like Facebook will soon let members buy books, music and movies through their sites. Purchases could be paid for with Facebook Credits, the virtual currency payment system Facebook introduced in 2009, added Serbinis.

Kobo, Serbinis says, would benefit by being one of the e-book providers. The company already has a social networking feature called Reading Life that is integrated into Facebook. Kobo readers can use the site to share the books they are reading, see what their friends are reading, get book recommendations and compare reading statistics.

Though Reading Life was built with Facebook’s open developer tools, Serbinis contends that the site would be interested in working directly with Kobo. “Our investment in Reading Life makes us the most attractive e-book provider for social networks,” he said.

One of the most popular features of Reading Life is the ability to earn rewards for reading. Serbinis said Kobo will offer “awards with benefits” in the future. Someone who reads Kobo books a few times a week at a Starbucks, for instance, could earn a coupon for a free latte.

Such rewards may be Kobo’s answer to Amazon’s advertising-supported Kindle e-reader, which uses ads to subsidize the device. (Amazon’s “Kindle with Special Offers” costs $114, $16 less than Kobo’s latest e-reader, the Kobo eReader Touch. Kobo’s older e-reader, Kobo Wireless, is cheaper, however, at $99.)

“Rewards are offers, not ads, but we’re going to start there,” Serbinis said. Though Kobo has traditionally offered lower-cost e-readers than its big-name competitors, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Serbinis downplayed the prospects of an ad-sponsored Kobo. The challenge, he noted, is that the people most likely to buy ad-supported e-readers may not be prolific readers. If users don’t spend much time on the devices, Kobo wouldn’t be able to sell many ads for them, he added.

Kobo isn’t averse to adopting other ideas from its rivals, such as color screens. “The next big thing will be color,” said Serbinis. Publishers, he pointed out, are beginning to make more color content like cookbooks and children’s books available in digital form. (There have been technical upgrades, too. EPUB, the e-book standard that Kobo uses, now supports the kind of fixed layouts found in many cookbooks and reference books.)

When the number of available color books reaches the tens of thousands, companies like Kobo will want to offer a color-enabled e-reader, Serbinis hinted. It’s an idea Barnes & Noble implemented first with its Nook Color, which was introduced in October 2010.

Some noteworthy features in the Kindle and Nook won’t be coming to future Kobo e-readers. Cellular connectivity is one. Bundling 3G with Kobo devices the way Amazon does with its Kindles would raise their prices and hamper sales. “Most people are okay using Wi-Fi,” said Serbinis. “3G is not a priority now.”

Nor are Kobo e-readers likely to sport built-in app stores like Nooks do. “We’ve stayed clear of app stores,” said Serbinis. “These devices are not designed for ‘Angry Birds’.”

Kobo will need more than a few buzzy features to climb from its No. 3 rank among global e-reader makers to its goal of becoming No. 1. Serbinis acknowledges that Amazon and Barnes & Noble enjoy advantages, such as household names and extensive distribution networks, particularly in the U.S. It’s one reason why Kobo has begun opening demonstration kiosks in highly-trafficked areas like New York’s Grand Central station. “Getting our brand recognized is important, both in bookstores and increasingly out of bookstores,” said Serbinis. “We will do more kiosks.”

One rival that doesn’t trouble Serbinis is Google Books. Though the search giant announced the first dedicated Google Books e-reader yesterday – the Story HD manufactured by South Korean electronics company iRiver – Serbinis believes Google will remain a niche player in e-readers.

“Google is launching in a market that already has advanced services like apps, commerce and gifting,” contends Serbinis. “It takes more than a giant database of books in the cloud and a Web interface to build a leading e-reading business.”

%d bloggers like this: