Nisha for South Asia bureau

Desai Biswal, who is a graduate of the University of Virginia, began her professional career in Washington DC with the American Red Cross in the mid-90s before she joined USAID in her first stint. As a Hill staffer with the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee from 1999 to 2002, she worked extensively with diplomats from the region before doing another stint with the NGO InterAction. From 2005 to 2010, she was the Majority Clerk for the State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee on the Committee on Appropriations in the US, a crucial position close to the purse strings of American foreign aid.Her appointment was met with much delight in the Indian-American community with great approval voiced over social media. Although there have been several other Indian-Americans at the assistant secretary level ( Bobby Jindal, Richard Varma, Karan Bhatia, Suresh Kumar among them), this is the first time an Indian-American is heading the South Asia bureau, a new milestone for the community. The White House announcement said the President intended to nominate Nisha Desai Biswal as assistant secretary of state for “South Asian Affairs,” although in the State Department it is formally known as “Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs” dealing also with the five Central Asian “stans” – Kazakhstan, Kirghiztan, Tajkistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistans. The South Asia bureau itself was originally carved out from what was the Nearest Eastern and South Asian Affairs bureau, with the Central Asian countries added to it some years back. In a striking development, US President Barack Obama nominated Nisha Desai Biswal, an accomplished Indian-American administrator, to head the South Asia bureau in the US state department.When confirmed by the Senate, Desai will become the first person of Indian or even South Asian origin to head the bureau, which oversees US foreign policy and relations with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan. She is currently the assistant administrator with USAID, which is also headed by an Indian-American, Rajiv Shah, the Times of India reported. Desai Biswal’s nomination is unprecedented in the sense that the South Asia bureau has always been headed by “all-American” diplomats, although there have been many mid-level staffers who are US-born but are of sub-continental origin. Previous assistant secretaries of the South Asia bureau from the time it was formed in 1991 are Robin Raphel, Karl Inderfurth, Christina Rocca, Richard Boucher, and Robert Blake – in that order. read more

Netflix Canada is hiking prices in its biggest increase yet

TORONTO — Another price hike is on the way for Netflix Canada subscribers as competition heats up among the biggest streaming video services.The company behind “Narcos” and “Orange Is the New Black” is introducing its biggest price increase yet for both new subscribers and current members.Netflix’s standard plan will now cost $3 more — or $13.99 a month — to watch content on two screens at a time.Bell doubles down on Crave with soft rebrand, premium service that includes current HBO contentBell Media opens gates to HBO content, Hollywood movies under new Crave packageNetflix adds to growing debt pile with $2-billion bond issue to fund new showsThe basic plan — which does not offer high-definition video and only allows one stream — rises a dollar to $9.99 a month.Premium plan subscribers pay $3 more — or $16.99 a month — for up to four simultaneous streams and ultra high definition 4K video.Netflix says the higher prices are effective immediately for new subscribers, while existing users will be notified by email before their bills rise in the coming weeks.The company most recently increased prices for most plans by a dollar about a year and a half ago.Netflix says the move will help fund upcoming TV series and films as well as overall improvements to the Netflix platform.But the company also faces intense competition next year as the number of streaming platforms in the Canadian marketplace with attractive offerings grows.Earlier this month, Bell Media introduced a higher tier of its Crave streaming service that includes a selection of recent Hollywood movies and new HBO programs. The package, dubbed Crave+, costs about $20 per month.Next year, Disney jumps into the market with its own streaming platform. Disney+ is expected to be stocked with movies and original series like a prequel to “Star Wars: Rogue One” and a Marvel superhero show based on the character Loki from “Thor” and “The Avengers.”Other platforms could make headway too, including a new service operated by Criterion that specializes in classic films, and CBS All Access, which is beefing up its library of original shows that include “Tell Me A Story” and “Strange Angel.” read more