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Saturday, January 9, 2010

EDITORIAL 01.01.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month january 01, edition 000392, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.

http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com

For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. 2010: ODYSSEY BEGINS
  2. PLUG THE LACUNAE
  3. USELESS RELIC OF THE RAJ - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  4. NO ONE SPEAKS FOR BHANWARI - TRINA JOSHI
  5. A YEAR THAT WAS CHINA'S - CLAUDE ARPI
  6. NOT A MATTER OF HONOUR - ANURADHA DUTT
  7. A POLITICAL VISION FOR FUTURE - KALYANI SHANKAR
  8. TOWARDS A BETTER DECADE FOR INDIA - VINAYSHIL GAUTAM

MAIL TODAY

  1. TELANGANA CRISIS IS FOR THE CENTRE TO DEFUSE
  2. CHIDAMBARAM'S YEAR
  3. CONGRESS IS BLIND TO ITS FUTURE CHALLENGES - BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
  4. THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI

 TIMES OF INDIA

  1. INDIA ON TRACK
  2. WHEELS OF JUSTICE
  3. FUTURE IS OURS TO SEEK
  4. INDIAN ARTISTS ARE NO LONGER CELEBRATING THINGS'
  5. THE RAGING NOUGHTIES

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. RUNNING INTO 2010
  2. DO BE VERY AFRAID
  3. MAY YOUR LIFE BE A CELEBRATION

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. YOUNG TURKS
  2. THE BIONIC DECADE
  3. THE CALL
  4. JUST ANOTHER OPINION - MIHIR S. SHARMA
  5. THE MINIMAL YEARS - LEHER KALA
  6. PROPERTY DISPUTES - RAHUL MATTHAN
  7. CLEANING UP THE GENE-POOL - DHANANJAYA DENDUKURI
  8. NAME YOUR POISON
  9. PAKISTAN'S TURMOIL

THE HINDU

  1. ADDRESSING THE VULNERABILITY
  2. INEVITABLE DELAY
  3. THE DRAGON OF INFLATION - AMAR SINGH
  4. THE YEAR AHEAD — THE WORLD STAGE - SIMON TISDALL
  5. THE ANC IS FAILING POOR AFRICANS - JONATHAN STEELE
  6. TRADITIONAL MEDICINE THREAT TO VULTURES - DAVID SMITH

DNA

  1. A NEW YEAR PRAYER
  2. POLICE STORY
  3. WELCOME 2010
  4. FIND AN EXCUSE TO CELEBRATE

THE TRIBUNE

  1. WANTED: GOVERNORS
  2. SOLVING TELANGANA
  3. CHEW FOR CHEER
  4. 'NONE OF THE ABOVE' VOTING - BY JUSTICE RAJINDAR SACHAR (RETD)
  5. 2010 for Delhiites - By S. Raghunath
  6. MOBILITY AND GREEN TECHNOLOGY WILL RULE THE NEW DECADE - BY PRASANTO K. ROY
  7. NO NEED TO DIG DEEP FOR THE TOP STORY - BY SUSAN REIMER
  8. HEALTH - BY JEREMY LAURENCE

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. RING OUT, RING IN
  2. GST ROLLOUT
  3. INTELLIGENCE FAILURE AND GALLOPING TERROR - TALMIZUR RAHMAN
  4. CELEBRATING NEW YEAR - DR DHRUBAJYOTI DAS

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. A THREE-WORD MANTRA
  2. REMOVE THESE SUBSIDIES
  3. INDIA'S TURN TO LEAD

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. TEN HAPPY FAIRIES
  2. OH! WHAT A LONG YEAR 2009 HAS BEEN...
  3. WOW, WHAT A LONG YEAR.
  4. THE TELANGANA BLUFF
  5. CELEBRATE UNITY OF THE HUMAN RACE

THE STATESMAN

  1. DISTRUSTFUL NEIGHBOURS
  2. WESTERN SHARE
  3. EUROPEAN EXPERIENCE
  4. INDIA & CHINA SHOULD JOINTLY MOULD A NEW ECONOMIC ORDER

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. ROAD AHEAD
  2. DOG'S LIFE
  3. HARD TIMES - ASHOK MITRA
  4. RESOLVE TO REFORM -  MALVIKA SINGH

 

DECCAN HERALD

  1. LEAP OF FAITH
  2. SPEAKER, SIR
  3. A DOOMED REGION - BY KULDIP NAYAR

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. MR. BLOOMBERG'S THIRD TERM
  2. THE U.N. IN AFGHANISTAN
  3. NEW YEAR
  4. CHINESE NEW YEAR - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  5. THE GOD THAT FAILS - BY DAVID BROOKS
  6. IT'S ALWAYS THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT  - BY DENIS DUTTON

I.THE NEWS

  1. OUT WITH A BANG
  2. PROMISES, PROMISES
  3. THE ROAD TO HELL -- AND SIMILAR DESTINATIONS - BY AYAZ AMIR
  4. INDIA-PAKISTAN: MILITARY ANGLE - BY DR FARRUKH SALEEM
  5. HOPE OF PEACE - BY DR SYED JAFFAR AHMED
  6. AS KARACHI MOURNS - BY DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  7. PEACE NOW WITH AMAN KI ASHA - BY SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  8. INTERWOVEN - BY CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. TRIBAL ELDERS' ROLE IN COMBATING TERRORISM
  2. KARACHI BLAST CONSPIRACY GETS DEEPER
  3. WHAT KEEPS PAKISTAN AFLOAT?
  4. MORE LAWS NOT THE ANSWER IN INDIA - M D NALAPAT
  5. BLAST IN BHABHA ATOMIC RESEARCH CENTRE & WMD - LT COL ZAHEERUL HASSAN (R)
  6. CUBA AND PAKISTAN RELATIONS - GUSTAVO MACHIN-GOMEZ
  7. IT'S DE OLE FLYIN' DAY'S AGAIN..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. NEW YEAR'S PROMISES
  2. AUDIT OBJECTIONS
  3. I'M ALL YOURS..!
  4. A MODERN, HASSLE FREE DHAKA! - M. SERAJUL ISLAM
  5. STARS DON'T FORETELL ANY MORE - APARNA PALLAVI
  6. BAD MONEY, GOOD MONEY - CHRIS PATTEN

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. AT DECADE'S END, THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE
  2. PUNTER REWRITES TEST HISTORY
  3. A LEGACY OF DEMOCRACY

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. HAPPY NEW YEAR - OR HAPPIER, ANYWAY
  2. CROWDED AGENDA FOR A NEW YEAR AND NEW DECADE

THE GURDIAN

  1. TERROR AND THE WEST: A DECADE OF MISJUDGMENT
  2. 2010: OLD LESSONS FOR THE NEW YEAR
  3. IN PRAISE OF… LUCY PREBBLE

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. ROARING YEAR
  2. THE FAIRNESS OF FINANCIAL RESCUE - J. BRADFORD DELONG
  3. THE HIDDEN COSTS OF 'GOOD ENOUGH' - M.K. THOMPSON

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. MR. HATOYAMA AND THE DPJ IN '10

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

2010: ODYSSEY BEGINS

NEW FRONTIERS FOR A NEW YEAR


Three decades ago, the futurist and science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke wrote 2010: Odyssey Two, a sequel to his iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey. By 2010, Clarke predicted, earthlings would be travelling to and landing on Jupiter. Reality has not quite matched imagination. Plans for a renewed frenzy of space exploration in 2010 and the decade beyond are being drawn up by many countries, including India, but these are unlikely to result in a touchdown on the biggest planet in the solar system. Nevertheless, 2010 promises to be a year of new frontiers and new hopes. Notwithstanding some talk of a second recessionary dip in the American economy, there is a larger belief that the worst is over and that the global economy will be that much stronger at the end of the year than it is today. In India, certainly, expectations are galloping. Renewed buying by its biggest export markets, increase in industrial capacities, an acceleration of the automobile and auto components boom, genuine spending on infrastructure and perhaps budgetary incentives to promote home purchases and invigorate the property market: 2010 is teeming with opportunities. There is much else to look forward to. This year, for all the false starts and plain racketeering at the Indian Olympic Association, the Delhi Commonwealth Games will hopefully go off smoothly. They will leave behind a capital that would have been ravaged by three years of maddening construction but would also have a more robust public transport system than ever before. An ocean and a continent away, South Africa will be home to a much bigger sporting extravaganza, the FIFA World Cup. This could not just establish South Africa's credentials as one of the world's default sports event venues — an honour hitherto limited to countries such as Australia — but also signal how far the 'Rainbow Nation' has come in the 20 years since apartheid. The soccer team is among the unifying symbols of Black and White South Africa.

Nevertheless, 2010 will not be without its challenges. There is the task of converting the economic optimism into actual numbers. More than that, as the case of the Al Qaeda terrorist who tried to bomb a plane travelling from Amsterdam to Detroit in a sort of macabre Christmas present to the United States demonstrates, the violence of millenarian Islamists is never far away. In many senses, the coming 12 months will be decisive for the war against terror or whatever one may choose to call the conflict between free societies and the crazed radical militia based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By the middle of 2011, President Barack Obama has promised to de-escalate American engagement in the AfPak region and start withdrawing troops. Should he stick to this commitment, Mr Obama will have to win decisive military victories against the Taliban on both sides of the Durand Line in 2010. He will also need to significantly cripple the Al Qaeda top leadership, if not eliminate Osama bin Laden, and so strike at the inspiration for contemporary jihad. On the other hand, too many people in Pakistan believe that they simply have to wait out 2010 before the Americans depart.

The commencement of a new year, however, is more than a mere cataloguing of likely events and predictions, happy or grim. Fundamentally, it is indicative of that ingredient vital to human endeavour — hope. May 2010 be true to our dreams.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

PLUG THE LACUNAE

SYSTEMIC CHANGES NEED OF THE HOUR


That the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case has exposed serious lacunae in our law and order system, especially when it comes to cases that implicate powerful people within that very system, is but obvious. Former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore was able to use the 'invisible benefits' that flowed from the office he held to not only get away with molesting 14-year-old Ruchika, who went on to commit suicide in trauma, but also hound her family for 19 long years. Ruchika's brother Ashu was allegedly tortured and falsely implicated in several bogus cases. There is also reason to believe that the investigation into Ruchika's death was compromised due to tampering of crucial evidence such as Ruchika's post-mortem report. The fact that it took close to two decades for a court to find Rathore guilty and sentence him to a mild six months in prison itself is a major cause for concern — Rathore is currently out on bail. If it takes such a long time to get a conviction, the outcome can only be diluted. This is especially true of cases of sexual crimes, and even more so if the accused happens to be influential and well-connected.

It cannot be denied that the present public pressure to reopen the Ruchika Girhotra case is in part due to the role the media has played over the last few weeks to highlight the gross miscarriage of justice in this instance. It is because of the public outcry that the case has subsequently generated that Ruchika's family has found the courage to file fresh FIRs against Rathore, which will now be investigated by a Special Investigation Team that has been set up by the Haryana Government. It is hoped that this will expedite the process of justice. Nonetheless, it is an ugly truth that cases like Ruchika's are hardly exceptions to the rule. In fact, another similar case has come to light in Rajasthan wherein a woman has complained that she was allegedly raped 13 year ago by a former DIG and is yet to see justice being done. Thus, in order to tackle such sexual crimes and prevent those in positions of influence from misusing their offices to subvert justice, there need to be far-reaching changes in the systemic response to such cases. In this regard, it is welcome that the Government has initiated the process that will see the enactment into law of the proposed Sexual Offences (Special Courts) Bill that seeks to create designated courts that will try cases of sexual crimes against women within a six-month time frame. Corresponding changes in the Evidence Act are also being looked at to facilitate proper collection of evidence and sound filing of charges. This will not only help streamline the entire process of dealing with cases such as Ruchika's but also ensure that justice is not delayed to the point that the charges against the accused are diluted and made meaningless.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

PLUG THE LACUNAE

SYSTEMIC CHANGES NEED OF THE HOUR


That the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case has exposed serious lacunae in our law and order system, especially when it comes to cases that implicate powerful people within that very system, is but obvious. Former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore was able to use the 'invisible benefits' that flowed from the office he held to not only get away with molesting 14-year-old Ruchika, who went on to commit suicide in trauma, but also hound her family for 19 long years. Ruchika's brother Ashu was allegedly tortured and falsely implicated in several bogus cases. There is also reason to believe that the investigation into Ruchika's death was compromised due to tampering of crucial evidence such as Ruchika's post-mortem report. The fact that it took close to two decades for a court to find Rathore guilty and sentence him to a mild six months in prison itself is a major cause for concern — Rathore is currently out on bail. If it takes such a long time to get a conviction, the outcome can only be diluted. This is especially true of cases of sexual crimes, and even more so if the accused happens to be influential and well-connected.

It cannot be denied that the present public pressure to reopen the Ruchika Girhotra case is in part due to the role the media has played over the last few weeks to highlight the gross miscarriage of justice in this instance. It is because of the public outcry that the case has subsequently generated that Ruchika's family has found the courage to file fresh FIRs against Rathore, which will now be investigated by a Special Investigation Team that has been set up by the Haryana Government. It is hoped that this will expedite the process of justice. Nonetheless, it is an ugly truth that cases like Ruchika's are hardly exceptions to the rule. In fact, another similar case has come to light in Rajasthan wherein a woman has complained that she was allegedly raped 13 year ago by a former DIG and is yet to see justice being done. Thus, in order to tackle such sexual crimes and prevent those in positions of influence from misusing their offices to subvert justice, there need to be far-reaching changes in the systemic response to such cases. In this regard, it is welcome that the Government has initiated the process that will see the enactment into law of the proposed Sexual Offences (Special Courts) Bill that seeks to create designated courts that will try cases of sexual crimes against women within a six-month time frame. Corresponding changes in the Evidence Act are also being looked at to facilitate proper collection of evidence and sound filing of charges. This will not only help streamline the entire process of dealing with cases such as Ruchika's but also ensure that justice is not delayed to the point that the charges against the accused are diluted and made meaningless.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

USELESS RELIC OF THE RAJ

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY


Many years ago I wrote a chapter in an anthology titled The Governor: Sage or Saboteur. Among the more exalted contributors were EMS Namboodiripad, Soli J Sorabjee and three former occupants of Raj Bhavans, Govind Narain, LP Singh and Dharma Vira. It occurs to me that if Roli Books were to publish a new edition, the title might be The Governor: Sage, Saboteur or Sex-maniac.


Flippancy aside, the current controversy raises important issues concerning the public interest, corruption, media rights, Centre-States relations and constitutional propriety. It also prompts the question: Do we need governors? Sexual conduct — however titillating — is not an issue. Few can deny the way of all flesh, and contrary to Mahatma Gandhi's embarrassing confessions, there is little virtue in doing so. It's only the hypocrisy that goes hand in hand with Indian prurience that turns sex into something to snigger about like repressed schoolboys.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy were not worse Presidents for being sexually voracious. Mr Bill Clinton's fault was not that he could not keep his flies buttoned but that Monica Lewinsky could not keep her trap shut. The publicity and being caught out in lying discredited him. David Lloyd George's cash-for-honours scandal did greater damage to his reputation than his sexual indulgences. Harold Macmillan sacked his war Minister, John Profumo, not for his affair with a call girl but for lying about it and for the girl's simultaneous liaison with a Soviet diplomat.


Our State Governors are not in the same league as American Presidents, British Prime Ministers or even important British Ministers. Indian prudishness is also not uniform. One doubts in retrospect if Jagjivan Ram's standing was damaged by the photographs that Ms Maneka Gandhi's Surya magazine published of his son in compromising sexual positions with a Delhi University student. They generated gossip but that was all. Similarly, periodic gossip about the extra-marital attachments of leading members of the Praja Socialist Party, Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party have not diminished their political reputation or public respect for them.


Reports of a sting operation, blackmail and a mining contract suggest a parallel with Profumo. Whatever we might privately think of an octogenarian's sexual appetite (and photographs have been doing the Internet round), the greater concern is that someone who represents the President is expected as head of state to uphold the highest moral values. Instead, he exposed himself to exploitation by the underlings who pandered to his taste. There may be something in his defence of being framed for the raucous demonstrations outside Hyderabad's Raj Bhavan were obviously contrived. But a Governor should be above the greed for money, power or sex that makes someone vulnerable.


The Telugu TV channel which ran the pictures and was probably responsible for circulating them may have violated obscenity laws. It certainly violated every canon of decency and good taste. But if it was, indeed, a sting operation, with a financial deal at stake, there's as much point in talking of media ethics as preaching vegetarianism to a tiger. The only answer is to ensure that the kind of men who can be blackmailed are not appointed Governors.


Despite the Constituent Assembly debates on the Governor's role, the truth is we have them because British India did. An American State Governor is an elected head of Government like our Chief Minister. Our Governors in their splendid Raj Bhavans surrounded by relics of colonial panoply recall the time when the incumbent was the British monarch's representative and 'an autocrat presiding over provincial despotism'.

The conflict between the two concepts has never been reconciled. As chairman of the Provincial Constitution Committee, Sardar Patel favoured an elected Governor. But some members feared a clash between the Governor and Chief Minister, both being representatives of the people. Others were afraid that the two might unite against the Centre. Haunted by the spectres of 'balkanisation' and 'fissiparous tendencies', Jawaharlal Nehru was apprehensive of elected Governors encouraging provincial separatism.


Namboodiripad makes an interesting point in this context. India's pre-British empires (Maurya, Gupta, Mughal) all had Governors but the office was "in effect a centre of disintegration, rather than of integration." Though nominally the central power's appointees, these Governors "functioned in reality as mini-emperors who subsequently revolted against their overlords."


So, the Constituent Assembly decided on nomination by the President. At the same time, TT Krishnamachari promised that Governors would not "be an agent of the Central Government." The Supreme Court went further in 1959. The gubernatorial office was "not subordinate or subservient to the Government of India." The Governor "is not amenable to the direction of the Government of India, nor is he accountable to them for the manner in which he carries out his functions and duties." The Governor's office was "an independent constitutional office which is not subject to the control of the Government of India …"


Fine words, but in practice the position has been very different in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim and many other States. The gulf between theory and practice is just as great in the quality of incumbents. The eminent jurist, Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, wanted only persons of "undoubted ability and position in public life who, at the same time, have not been mixed up in provincial party struggle and factions." Nehru desired "eminent people, sometimes people who have not taken too great a part in politics." His daughter's interpretation of an apolitical nominee was ironical. Mrs Indira Gandhi appointed bureaucrats — Dharma Vira or AL Dias — as Governor when she wanted to give short shrift to the Chief Minister. Mizoram and other troubled North-Eastern States were blessed with a succession of policemen, like Maoist-infested Chhattisgarh's Mr ESL Narasimhan today.


No wonder Namboodiripad described the Governor as "the watchdog of the Centre." The system raised no cavil so long as one party monopolised power in New Delhi and the State capitals but a multi-party polity demands a new look at the gubernatorial institution. Namboodiripad felt it "cuts at the very root of State autonomy in federal India." If States rank equally with the Centre, 'residual' gubernatorial responsibilities can be discharged by the Assembly Speaker or a committee appointed by the State legislature, or whatever.


Whatever the alternative, it will continue to lag behind public expectations unless men of high integrity and sound values are appointed. But, then, who will do the appointing?

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

NO ONE SPEAKS FOR BHANWARI

TRINA JOSHI


Though the media's relentless pursuit of the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case deserves appreciation, it smacks of being 'selective'. It is indeed true that without the media's intervention, the present case, which has now been reopened, Jessica Lall, Nitish Katara and Shivani Bhatnagar murder cases would not have reached their logical conclusion. Incidentally, the victims in all these cases belonged to a wealthy background. But what about justice for Bhanwari Devi? She is one rape victim who has been felicitated several times for daring to speak, but still pines for justice and hasn't been lucky even after 17 years. Is she too small a fry for the media to be given attention?

While it is no secret how influential perpetrators are given a kid-glove treatment, it is evident that delivering justice, in the true sense of the term, is beyond the capacity of our existing legal system. Who will better bear testimony to this fact than Bhanwari Devi?


A Dalit sathin working for a Government-sponsored project near Jaipur, Bhanwari was raped in 1992 by upper-caste men for opposing the practice of child-marriage in her village, Bhateri. A District Session Court judge rubbished her charges as fabrications and let off the five culprits on the pretext that rape is committed by 'teenagers' and not 'middle-aged men' who are 'respectable citizens', and that upper-caste men, especially a Brahmin, will not rape an unbecoming Dalit woman. Following the brouhaha over this verdict, the CBI investigated the case and found the charges to be true. Bhanwari moved the High Court thereafter, where the case is languishing till today.


It is ironical that numerous changes were catalysed by Bhanwari Devi, but she herself remained bereft of their fruits. Following the Bhateri incident, a law was framed to check sexual harassment at workplace. Bhanwari's bravery inspired many other rape victims to get their case registered. She even received Rs 1 lakh as bravery award, along with Rs 25,000 from then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and Rs 40,000 from Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Were all these people being generous to her for no reason, as the Session Court judge claimed that the rape charges were false?


It may not be possible for the media to take up every other issue, but it would be wrong to discard Bhanwari's case as 'every other'. The market value of the crime and the victim that has potential to bump up the TRP of a news channel seem to determine the amount of media attention one needs. But sensitive issues must be spared the concerns of salability.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

A YEAR THAT WAS CHINA'S

CLAUDE ARPI


2009 will be remembered as the year during which China asserted, often arrogantly, its newly-found economic and military strength. It has not only sailed through the global financial crisis, but has also become the most powerful player in Asia and the second on the planet. However, surprises await in the coming year


China is rich, China is powerful and China is assertive. In November, 2009's most prominent visitor to the Middle Kingdom, US President Barack Obama discovered it. In an Op-Ed in The New York Times, Mr Wei Jingsheng, the Chinese dissident now living in the US, summed up the visit: "No doubt there is some truth in the notion that their revived arrogance is inspired by China's role as America's largest creditor. Surely this is one reason China's leadership feels free to insult President Barack Obama, as it did during his visit to China, when they blocked broad news coverage of his public speech, and when they sent lower-level officials to negotiate with him at the Copenhagen climate talks until the last minute when Prime Minister Wen Jiabao finally granted him an audience."


China is rich and with over two trillion dollars in foreign reserves, the lone superpower of the planet appeared a poor debtor unable to dictate its vision of the world to the Mandarins in Beijing. Wei wrote: "Their humiliation of President Obama …served to mark China's power on the world stage."


The 60th anniversary of the Communist regime will be remembered as the year during which China asserted, often arrogantly, its newly-found economic and military strength. Today China dictates its terms to the world.


The execution of Akmal Shaikh, a British national, despite frantic last-minute pleas for clemency by the Gordon Brown Government is another sign that Beijing has decided to flex its muscles.


Though after a 'full and frank exchange of views', British Foreign Minister Ivan Lewis told Chinese Ambassador Fu Ying that China had not taken Shaikh's mental health into consideration, it was to no avail.


A few days earlier, Mr Francois Fillon, the French Prime Minister had kowtow in Beijing after President Nicolas Sarkozy had 'dared' to meet the Dalai Lama in Poland last year. Mr Fillon, like US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mr Obama carefully avoided the mention of human rights and other vexing issues. In Beijing, he declared "all misunderstandings between Paris and Beijing are a thing of the past." From now on, the relations are to be based on 'mutual respect', which means 'let us only talk about economic exchanges'. France was 'rewarded' with 12 deals in the fields of aviation, energy, culture and water resource utilisation.


Internally, the leaders in Beijing have also shown that they mean business. In December, a Chinese court sentenced Liu Xiaobo, a 53-year-old academic and dissident to 11 years in prison for 'inciting subversion of state power'. The trial was concluded in two hours and the verdict immediately announced. Though not delayed, justice was clearly denied. Lui's crime: He had authored 'The Charter 08', a petition calling for freedom of assembly, expression, and religion in China. It had pleaded for amending the Constitution and called for a multi-party system in China. It was too much for the apparatchiks who saw it as a direct challenge to their grip over the nation, especially after more than 10,000 intellectuals affixed their signature on the Charter.


The leadership is not only proud of the fact that China has sailed through the world financial crisis, but also that the PLA has become the most powerful player in Asia and the second on the planet. According to a report released last week by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China's military strength ranks second in the world in terms of expenditure, number of troops and weaponry. Evaluation indexes include five direct constituent elements — territory and natural resources, population, economy, military, science and technology — and four influencing factors — social development, sustainability, security and domestic politics and international contributions.


Many experts were surprised to see that China's military power ranks second (with a total score of 33.3, behind the US, which scores 90.08, just ahead of Russia, with 31.08). The size of China's armed forces is, however, the largest in the world (2.25 million troops) supported by 240 nuclear weapons, 7,580 tanks, 1,700 fighter planes, 144 naval ships and eight nuclear submarines.


Despite the fact that China believes in 'asymmetric warfare', its official budget ($ 60.9 billion last year) is far below the reality as many 'military' expenditures are shown as 'civilian'. To give an example: In 2009, China has built 53,000 km of highway in Tibet Autonomous Region, connecting 67 per cent of its counties with asphalt roads. The Chinese website eng.tibet.cn quoted a Chinese official who stated: "2009 is the most significant year of highway constructions with 19 key projects being completed, and stimulating economic growth by 1.2 per cent." We know where these roads will lead in case of conflict with India.


Examples could be multiplied. Just to mention a recent one: China launched two spy satellites in seven days in December. The remote-sensing satellite Yaogan VIII took off from northern Shanxi Province on December 13. Though officially the satellite will be used for "young people to experience aerospace science and technology", it is known to be a spy satellite, as is Yaogan VII launched a few days earlier from Gansu Province.


Vis-à-vis India also, Beijing has become more assertive by supporting India's neighbours. It was recently announced that China will train the Nepalese Army and had pledged Rs 220 million as military assistance for procuring 'non lethal' hardware and logistics. It is not good news for New Delhi.


Needless to recall the Tawang incident when the Chinese leadership pressurised India to block the visit of the Dalai Lama to the North-Eastern State. Fortunately, New Delhi understood that India's interests, particularly for the border talks, could be jeopardised if the usual policy of appeasement was followed; it remained firm. It is true that contrary to Washington, New Delhi is financially not indebted to China.


But everything is not rosy in the Middle Kingdom, corruption and pollution have reached new heights in 2009. This has resulted in more than 1,00,000 small and major demonstrations across the country during the past year only. The provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang have been more restive than ever and nobody in the Politburo seems to know how to handle the situation. It explains why the negotiations with the Dalai Lama have been interrupted since November 2008.


Perhaps more worrisome for the leadership in Beijing is the division amongst top leaders which became apparent when Vice-President Xi Jinping visited Germany and did not mention President Hu's name during a meeting with Ms Angela Merkel.


For China, 2010 may not be as smooth as 2009 and many surprises can be expected.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

NOT A MATTER OF HONOUR

NEEDED, A SPECIAL LAW TO CURB HONOUR KILLINGS

ANURADHA DUTT


In recent months, cases of honour killing in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have claimed public attention and triggered demands from civil society for expeditious legislation to curb such crimes. Unconventional alliances, involving couples from different castes and clans, or of the same gotra (genetic marker), provide the pretext for medieval village-level, caste-linked governing bodies, called khap panchayats, to pronounce judgement and award punishment that can only be termed barbaric. Errant parties are hounded out of the villages, driven to suicide or killed. Their kin may also be persecuted by community members. Such events are accepted as being permissible for upholding the status quo in terms of social and caste relations. Outside rabidly feudal areas, alliances that do not meet family and community approval are unlikely to end in death. The errant couple might at worst be shunned by relatives.


To cite an example, on Monday, six members of a family were reported to have been charged by the Gurgaon police in a case of honour killing. The father and other kin were accused of having murdered and cremated a 17-year-old girl, who had eloped with her neighbour. The incident occurred in Patli Hazipur village in Farrukhnagar, near Gurgaon. The youth apparently already had a wife when he got involved with the minor girl. The two families convened a panchayat meeting and reached a truce. However, say the police, the girl's family later murdered her. The police collected the remains of her body from the cremation pyre and sent it for a DNA test. They also filed a murder case against her father and other kin though both families are reported to be absconding.


The custodians of law and order do not usually act with such alacrity in cases of suspected honour killing. Sustained media focus over the past many months has not only galvanised them into action but ensured that at least some police follow-up is undertaken. However, the wheels of justice grind slowly in India, with offenders, as in the Roop Kanwar sati case in Deorala in Rajasthan, often managing to get off the hook or completely evade punishment. Sati, though rare now in view of the vigilance maintained against the practice by local administrations, can also be considered honour killing since the hapless widow, more often than not, is forced to burn along with the body of her deceased spouse as a point of misplaced family pride. It is also a convenient way to keep property and assets within the marital family.


Sociological studies indicate that in cases of honour killings of the kind rampant in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh — and also Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other northern regions — the motivation usually hinges on purely material factors. Marriage between dissimilar groups holds the real danger of family property and wealth passing out of the community into alien hands, and consequent loss of social precedence. It is for this reason that wealthy landholders and farmers zealously guard their females along with their land. The phrase, 'Jiski laathi uski bhains', popular in these northern States, succinctly sums up this ethos. The commonalities to be noted are that all these regions have rich agrarian societies, over whom khap panchayats reign. They all assimilated Central Asian influences via incursions by the 'White Huns' from the 5th-6th centuries AD, in terms of exaggerated notions of honour, hinging on severely curtailed gender equations, with females being treated as chattel. The functioning of khap panchayats is quite like that of sharia'h courts, which govern the lives of Muslims, being dictatorial and in contravention of the constitutionally recognised laws of the land.

There is a growing and justified demand for a special law to curb honour killings. The frequency with which they occur suggests that brutal, custom-bound people can be de-conditioned and deterred only by the threat of harsh penalties. Deprivation of life and property may be viewed as suitable punishment for those who kill others simply because they fear dilution of caste/clan pride and loss of land holdings/property. In addition, they and their descendants, for mocking the democratic ideal, should be stripped of the rights and benefits available to citizens: Right to vote and contest elections; bank loans; Government jobs; and access to quotas and State-run amenities such as water and power supply and medical and telecom facilities. If needs be, the village or community as a whole must be punished for sanctioning such crimes. Such measures may force them to change and become better integrated with the larger society.


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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

A POLITICAL VISION FOR FUTURE

KALYANI SHANKAR


New Year means new challenges for several political parties. There are the long-festering issues that they must address in order to grow and remain politically relevant


What does the crystal ball say about the year 2010? For the Congress, the year 2010 should be one of consolidation and growth. The party ended the year with the launch of its year-long 125th anniversary celebrations. The mood was a little sombre because of the Telangana crisis and the Jharkhand election results, however, the speeches delivered by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicate that the party is serious about putting things in order.


The Congress will complete its organisational elections by March. The new team will not only have approval of the party high command but also of her son and AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi. It is also to be seen whether Mr Rahul Gandhi takes up more responsibility besides that of the Youth Congress and the NSUI.


The other priority for the Congress is to make up its mind about its alliances. The crucial Bihar Assembly elections are due in 2010 and the party has to decide whether to repeat its successful Uttar Pradesh experiment or go for alliances with the RJD and the LJP or even with the JD(U). Rejuvenation of the party in Bihar will enthuse Congress workers elsewhere as without Uttar Pradesh and Bihar there could be no party revival.


As far as the UPA Government is concerned, the most challenging task in 2010 is to host the Commonwealth Games in October. With preparations for the games lagging behind the schedule, the organisers will have to work with break-neck speed to make it a success.


The Government is in a catch-22 situation regarding creation of a separate Telangana State. Added to the embarrassment was the alleged involvement of Andhra Pradesh Governor ND Tiwari in a sex scandal in Raj Bhavan which led to his resignation. Unless the Centre decides to impose President's rule to cool the passions and restore law and order, the Telangana agitation may become more violent. The Government may also face a domino effect of similar demands to create separate States of Vidarbha, Gorkhaland, Harit Pradesh, Bundelkhand, and Saurashtra. If a second State Reorganisation Commission is set up then these demands could be referred to it.


At the foreign policy level, the pending visit of US President Barack Obama will be a big event. This visit will deepen and broaden the India-US relations. President Pratibha Patil's China visit, which is likely to take place in May 2010, is also equally important. The recent strains in the Sino-Indian relations are likely to be ironed out.

The main Opposition in Parliament, the BJP is also gearing up as GenNext leaders are taking the baton from party veterans. The party has a new national president in Mr Nitin Gadkari. Ms Sushma Swaraj is the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha while Mr Arun Jaitley is the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. Mr Gadkari is new to Delhi and his challenges are many. His first task is to establish his authority within the party. Another major task is to ensure that the NDA remains together. The Bihar elections will be the first acid test in this regard as it is not sure whether the JD(U) will remain with the NDA or not.


The Left parties, which are in a shambles, are getting ready to face Assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala in 2011. The CPI(M) is worst hit with the onslaught of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. In Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and party State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan do not see eye to eye. In West Bengal the party has to decide whether Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will lead in 2011. The Left unity also needs to be forged as the four Left parties are not on the same wavelength on some issues.


Tamil Nadu may see a change if Chief Minister M Karunanidhi bows out as he had announced his decision to retire in June 2010. If he does, then will his sons MK Stalin and MK Azhagiri come to an understanding or will they quarrel? Mr Karunanidhi's bidding good bye will have its effect on the fortunes of the AIADMK and other smaller parties. The Congress also has to think of its alliance partner then.


RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan will have to revitalise their parties if they have to be relevant in Bihar politics. Mr Yadav is quite pleased with his party's performance in Jharkhand but capturing power in Bihar will be his one-point agenda. Mr Paswan has come as a cropper and he will have to fight for his survival in Bihar elections.


In short, 2011 will be a dress rehearsal for 2012, when Assembly elections to a number of States are due.

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

TOWARDS A BETTER DECADE FOR INDIA

VINAYSHIL GAUTAM


A closer relook at our financial governance processes can alter things for the goodIt is customary at this time of the year to undertake a retrospect and a prospect.


That some of our major economic policies need some rethinking and some fine-tuning, is widely recognised. In this season to retrospect and prospect, we need to revisit some of the fundamental paradigms of our financial system updating them where necessary and plugging the gaps where required, thus ushering the new decade in a more robust manner.


We should, also, plan for the times that have changed, technologies that have woven a web and create strategies that take a broader view of income and expenditure. An illustration would help to clarify the point, both from the sovereign state point of view and the enterprise perspective.


Microsoft has two subsidiaries: Round Island One and Flat Island Company. They are both in Ireland. Microsoft has parked all its software licences, the intellectual property in Ireland in these two companies. Round Island is the most profitable company of that country. Microsoft has parked all its software licences, the intellectual property in Ireland in these two companies. Every single subsidiary of Microsoft, anywhere, else in the world has, therefore, actually to transact with Ireland. Of the estimated of the dollar 40 billion revenue of Microsoft, about 75 per cent comes to Ireland. That Ireland has 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate is a major reason why Microsoft went there. Extremely strong intellectual property protection laws and a rational tax structure make it an ideal location to do business.


This leads to a logical poser for the Indian economic environment. Vigorous efforts have to be put in to strengthening the economic foundations of the country. We need to be competitive as a nation before our enterprises can become competitive. After all no one can run faster than the train, he is on!


To draw investment and take advantage of the emerging principle of international economic relations, would require the Ministry of Law, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs to work together. It holds to reason that what can happen in Ireland can also happen in India provided we can get our vision clear.

Microsoft is not the only company which has used its multi-national character wisely. Google has also done well so far as similar action is concerned as has Intel.


In early 1990s, the pharmaceutical companies, given their dependency on intellectual property rights, were important players in this kind of operation. Clearly, a closer relook at our financial governance processes can further alter things for the better.


In 1994 James Haynes did a study on income shifting from one jurisdiction to another and he concluded that about one per cent tax rate increase in a year on an average leads to about seven per cent of reported earnings to drop. Repeating this study in 2000 he concluded that it was about 2.5 per cent. The significance can be large in terms of tax aligned supply chain management.


The meaning of this has, also, to be understood in other operational terms. It is not a linear function we are looking at here. It is not a one per cent increase and one per cent drop. It is one per cent increase to seven per cent. The magnitude of these financial figures has to be understood.

Then there is the role of the off-shore corporations which tend to gravitate towards locations with not existent/low tax levels. The off-shore companies are also circumspect on fiscal data exchange with other countries and have attractiveness for shelf companies with fictitious name. To complete the picture it needs to be recognised that there are cooperative states and non-cooperative states.


Cooperative states are the states which actually share information. Today if I am based in UK and I say that I have not seen this company based in Isle of Man and I need to know what the company is all about, the Government will readily go ahead and share that information. The non-cooperative states are the ones which do not cooperate and which do not share information, Monaco for example. Ultimately, the objective must include the need to know where the companies could put away the profits. Clearly, there are ways of avoiding the kind of vagueness which some of the smart corporate get away with; it as well as there being a need to draw investment to this land.


We need to act on it and the forthcoming discussion on the next Union Budget would be a fit occasion to take these discussions forward. However, one has to clearly recognise that there is a difference between tax savings and tax incentives.


gautamvinay@hotmail.com

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

TELANGANA CRISIS IS FOR THE CENTRE TO DEFUSE

 

IN a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, the Centre has called for an all- party meeting on Telangana on January 5. The " all- party meeting" is a time- tested device when you want to pass the buck, not take a decision or rubber stamp a unanimous declaration. No all party meeting is likely to be able to agree on one course of action. The initial reaction of the major parties like the Congress and the Telegu Desam indicates that they have already been divided on regional lines.

 

The withdrawal of the resignation of the thirteen Congress ministers of the state cabinet hailing from Telangana region is unlikely to have much of an impact on the situation. We are already witnessing what appears to be a major upsurge in which the parties are being led by mass sentiment, rather than the other way around.

 

It is clear that the Congress party has been less than honest about its dealings on Telangana. It accepted an alliance with K. Chandrashekhar Rao ( KCR) of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti ( TRS) in the assembly elections of 2004 with the implicit promise that it would create a new state of Telangana. The first United Progressive Alliance government went through the motions of initiating the process by creating two committees, one headed by Pranab Mukherjee and another by Congress leader Sashidhar Reddy to look at the issue. But neither of the two reports saw the light of the day.

 

Satisfied that it had undermined TRS, the Congress ignored the issue till KCR's hunger strike triggered the current upsurge. The larger question for us is the infirm response of the Union government led by the Congress party. Isn't it the job of the executive, in this case the Union government, to act and then persuade the others to go along? It could consult the opposition and other parties, but the onus of acting on the issue rests firmly in the hands of the Union government. Despite its past prevarications, the Congress would be well advised to tackle the issue with honesty and integrity.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

CHIDAMBARAM'S YEAR

 

OF the things for which 2009 will be remembered by Indians, the revitalisation of the Union Home Ministry by PChidambaram ranks high. That meant a break from the terror attacks that punctuated the preceding year with bone- chilling regularity. And while this surely has a link with the international outrage generated by the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 and Pakistan's internal situation, the role played by the presence of an able and committed politician as the head of India's security apparatus should not be underplayed.

 

Some momentum for this course correction was no doubt provided by the 26/ 11 attack itself with the public anger against the government forcing it to bring in a new home minister and set up the National Investigation Agency with overriding powers to probe terror cases across different states in the country. The amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act meant that the law- enforcement agencies got tighter laws to prosecute terror offenders without the government yielding to calls for a draconian anti- terror law like POTA or TADA. The Multi Agency Centre which had been in the doldrums since its inception in 2003 was activated and now ensures that all intelligence and security agencies put their best intelligence on a common table, rather than hang on to it like some precious jewel to be admired in private.

 

Mr Chidambaram can also rightly take some credit for the dip in militancy in Jammu & Kashmir as well as his efforts in initiating back- channel diplomacy to arrive at a lasting political settlement of the Kashmir issue. On another front, it is the Union Home Ministry under Mr Chidambaram that has, at last, instituted effective coordination with states to launch an offensive against the Maoists.

 

But, as Mr Chidambaram himself cautions, there is still a long way to go. The war on terror is far from won and insurgencies still threaten the sovereignty of this country. The minister has talked of his portfolio separating its two functions of security and law and order. Hopefully, in the new year he will be able to leave his imprint on a wider restructuring of his own ministry.

 

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MAIL TODAY

 

CONGRESS IS BLIND TO ITS FUTURE CHALLENGES

BY BHARAT BHUSHAN

 

THE FOUNDATION day speeches of the Congress party's president, and its prime minister at the inauguration of its 125th anniversary celebrations attempted to do little more than squeeze the history of the party into a Nehru- Gandhi strait- jacket. Neither addressed the serious challenges before the party or charted a blueprint for the renewal of India as a vibrant democratic republic. With Sonia Gandhi so firmly at the helm, it may seem strange to argue that the Congress is heading for a programmatic and leadership crisis.

 

But can the party sustain the middle class island, admittedly growing all the time, as the end of politics, while a desolate periphery remains poor, deprived and angry? The residents of the periphery have to be taken along not only as a huge market but as fellow citizens. All major changes and societal transformation originate amongst those on the margins of society and not from those who are its main beneficiaries and by definition status quoists. History is replete with examples of how unaware the status quoists remain till the very end when they are suddenly overwhelmed by transformational politics.

 

Displacement

 

The biggest constituency of the poor in this country is expected to be of the internally displaced people.

 

Either they will have to be provided democratic leadership or they will find their own leaders — we have seen this in Singur and Nandigram recently, in Kalingnagar and Rayagada in Orissa and in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh earlier and are witnessing it in Jhargram currently. The absence of the Congress from these mass movements will cost it dearly.

 

If India remains a democracy— that is a big " if" given the rise of extremist Maoist movement in more than 200 districts of the country— then its future political leadership must represent the restive tribals, the oppressed Dalits, the displaced people and the landless poor of the country who are being forced to go outside the democratic system of grievance redressal. India's future political leadership must have proper representation of those who will argue for redistributive justice, land reforms and protecting the vulnerable segments of the country's population.

 

The Congress is clearly not readying itself for such a leadership transformation.

 

Be it Jharkhand, Chattisgarh or Orissa, the Congress does not have a single tribal or Dalit leader of any consequence in its ranks. Ajit Jogi's tribal status is questioned in Chattisgarh and he stands discredited because of his and his son's shenanigans. Subodhkant Sahay even with the best of intentions cannot be projected as a tribal leader in Jharkhand— as the recent elections in the state demonstrated. The legitimacy of the Congress is so low in Orissa that even in a three- cornered contest, it was the incumbent Navin Patnaik and not the Congress which romped home in the last assembly elections.

 

The short point is that take any tribal state, including Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Assam, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh or Kerala, there is no strong leader in the Congress who can voice the sense of exclusion and alienation that the tribals feel today. Its marginal presence in some of these states and even in governments in some of the Northeastern states means little as its leaders there are among the predators— contractors, real estate sharks and commission agents.

 

Tribals who form 8 per cent of the Indian population represent 40 per cent of all people displaced by big projects. Dalits form another 20 per cent of the affected and the Other Backward Classes ( OBCs) another 20 per cent. But the largest party in the country has no one who can speak for them.

 

Even in government where the party ought to send its best leaders it has farmed out governance to people who are in a patron- client relationship with either Sonia Gandhi or her acolytes. They do not contest elections and therefore bring no new issues into the programmatic agenda of the party. They are seen increasingly as managers for western interests in India rather than as politicians who are in touch with the people of this country.

 

These non- accountable leaders have not been directed by the party's views when they have formulated policy over the last five years on the civilian nuclear deal with the United States, national security issues or more recently, on climate change.

 

The Congress party which used to pride itself on its ideological clarity has no view on these issues as an organisation. The party itself is bereft of modern ideas and sensibilities.

 

There may be Kapil Sibal and a Jairam Ramesh— and thank God for them— who dare to think out of the box, but their ideas are individual initiatives and not the result of deliberations and discussions within the party. The party's role if any has been a negative one, fielding its spokesmen to kill or blunt such initiatives, instead of putting in processes whereby the party can make collective use of the talent it has at its command.

 

Transparency

 

The party's showcase programmes such as the Right to Information Act ( RTI), the rural employment guarantee programme and guaranteeing the right to education, did not originate at 24, Akbar Road. They all came from civil society activists. Even on Article 377 it was not the party which had an enlightened approach to gay rights but the Delhi High Court.

 

If the party truly believed in transparency in decision making, one would expect to see it reflected in its internal functioning. It may come as a surprise to many but Congress party general secretaries do not get a salary. They get a transport allowance of about Rs. 9,000 per month. One would like to know how and from which sources of income they run their households. It is not at all clear how the party itself raises its funds. How does anyone know then, for example and only as a hypothetical

 

example, that a hefty contribution did not lead to someone getting the petroleum portfolio or that the power ministry was not given to someone who could raise party funds or that a possible blackmail did not result in someone else being entrusted with the telecom portfolio in the Cabinet? Chaos The party which claims it laid the foundations of a modern nationstate in India has no agenda for its own transformation in the years to come. India is ready for a second republic. It needs to transform its federalism either by renegotiating it or incrementally through a due process. However, as was evident in the case of Telangana, for the Congress party, a due process is no more than a way of sweeping inconvenient issues under the carpet because it has no forward looking agenda.

 

One day it called for a Second States Reorganisation Commission, the next it talked of a consensus approach, then it set up the Pranab Mukherjee Committee to look into the demand for smaller states followed by the Sashidhar Reddy Committee on Telangana. Eventually neither report was made public or discussed in party fora and the party did absolutely nothing.

 

Manmohan Singh went so far as to bracket regionalism with terrorism among the challenges faced by the country! His faux pas shows that the party has no political appreciation of regional demands. No regional leaders are allowed to grow by the party and if they do, their wings are clipped lest they become potential threats to the planned dynastic succession.

 

Nor is there any training, acculturalisation or apprenticeship programme for young professional entrants— witness the difficulties of a Shashi Tharoor.

 

Meanwhile, Rahul baba prefers to remain in the shallow end and is nowhere near emerging as a national leader. Yet his presence at the helm prevents the emergence of a natural leadership in the party.

 

Can such a party lead us into the coming decade? The largely accidental election victories of 2004 ( antiincumbency) and 2009 ( by default and, therefore, surprising) seem to have blinded the party to the formidable challenges it faces.

 

Chaos may have led to success in the past, but that is no path to future success.

 

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MAIL TODAY

 

THE LAHORE LOG

BREATHING SPACE FOR LASTING SOLUTION

BY NAJAM SETHI

 

TWICE IN recent times President Asif Zardari has thundered against the " conspirators" and " nonstate" actors who are trying to hound him out of office.

 

On both occasions he wore the Sindhi cap and addressed loyal party- political audiences as head of the Peoples Party rather than as President of Pakistan. There is an inherent contradiction here.

 

His critics judge his behaviour as unbecoming of the Head of State and President of Pakistan even as his political supporters thump his dogged efforts to keep his party, allies and government intact.

 

If Mr Zardari is rattled, there is cause enough for it. For a variety of reasons, the army doesn't like him. The opposition doesn't trust him. The judiciary is hounding him. One section of the media has got the knife out for him. And the fickle Americans are frowning at the diminishing returns from him. This is a result of Mr Zardari's failed strategy to keep the judges out, the army at arm's length and the opposition at bay, while bending over backwards to appease the Americans and placate the media. In short, Mr Zardari's strategy to keep on the right side of his peripheral and foreign allies at the cost of antagonising the country's core constituents has left him high and dry.

 

So a change of tack has been ordered.

 

The army is now being placated at the cost of the Americans viz foreign and domestic security policy. The peripheral allies are being massaged via the NFC award and Balochistan Package. The opposition is being wooed by renewed pledges of appropriate amendments to the constitution. And the media and judiciary ( the loudest whisper is that they are the conspirators and non- state actors), which are already wading in muddy waters, are being told where to get off. As one measure of deterrence, Mr Zardari is playing the Sindh card to full effect even as he talks of " Pakistan Khappay" by strengthening the federation.

 

Will this work? Much depends on two critical factors.

 

The first is the Supreme Court. Until now, its activism has been spurred by the wind in its tail generated by the media.

 

But the NRO judgment has divided the media, with a significant section criticising the application of certain Islamic provisions of the constitution to strike it down. Much the same division is manifest in the appreciation of the SC's thrusting activism, with important media dissenting from approving its encroachments in the established domains of the executive. Should the court now seem as tilted in the specifically anti- Zardari petitions based on morality before it as the NRO earlier, the division in the media over discriminatory

 

applications of the law may become marked and harm the credibility and cause of the SC. If such considerations acquire weight in the days and weeks to come with their Lordships and redress any perceived tilt, Mr Zardari may hope to benefit from it. THE SECOND factor is the attitude of the opposition led by the PML- Nawaz. Until now, it has played hot and cold in order to nudge Mr Zardari to get rid of the 17th amendment. But the ganging up of the media and judiciary against the executive, with the army humming in the background, has compelled it to think again. Certainly, the last thing the PMLN wants is the prospect of being confronted by this troika one day in the same manner in which it is hounding the PPP today. That is why the PMLN may still be more amenable to a deal with Mr Zardari ( that lets him cling to office while relinquishing power) rather than ganging up with the new troika to get rid of him and set an unholy precedence for itself.

 

Mr Zardari and Mr Nawaz Sharif should jointly consider a simple and elegant way out of this political, judicial and constitutional quagmire. They should join hands to pass a one line, unanimous, and " principled" constitutional amendment that restores the constitution as it stood before General Zia ul Haq's coup of 1977.

 

All the mangling of the constitution by two military dictators happened after that date. Such action will please Mr Sharif because it will restore the full powers of the prime minister, including the right to appoint service chiefs and be PM any number of times.

 

It will give a sense of relief to Mr Zardari because it will cut the Chief Justice's term to three years as originally laid down in the 1973 constitution, at par with the service chiefs and the chief election commissioner. And it will empower the provinces because it will spell the end of the Concurrent List. Above all, it will warm the cockles of every moderate Pakistani's heart — the overwhelming majority — by ousting the bitterly controversial " Islamic" provisions inserted into the constitution by an opportunist and illegitimate ruler and approved by a battery of LFO and PCO judges.

 

Indeed, there can be no better and more effective way of implementing the Charter of Democracy than by reverting to the pre- martial era between the signing of the constitution in 1973 and its overthrow in 1977. Later, once the current crisis has dissipated, all the players can get together and pass another amendment or two to incorporate the current concerns of other sections of the population.

 

Mr Zardari has bought breathing space for himself. He should now exploit it to find lasting solutions for the shaky political system no less than for his own discredited party.

 

MONI MOHSIN

WHAT I don't understand is why the jihadis and Taliban are targeting us poor civilians. It's not as if we're hunting them down in Waziristan or we've broken our promises to them or that we've turned our backsides on them. Bhai, if they have frustrations they should go and went them on General Musharraf or General Kayani or General Motors. Why are they bothering us, haan? We who never even did hello hi with them. We who'd rather eat live cockroaches than snuggle up to them. We tau hate the mullahs. We've never voted for them. Not in our worst dreams. Not me, not Janoo, not Mummy, not Daddy, not Aunty Pussy, not Jonkers, not Mulloo, not Tony, not Fluffy, not even the Old Bag ( oho baba kya ho gya hai, Janoo's mother, who else?) who says her namaaz five times a day and has done Haj three times. Even she hates them because she says they are an insult to Islam. And it's not just us who don't vote for them but hole of Pakistan. Once only Pathans in the Frontier appeared to vote for maulvis and that was also rigged by ISI. Remember? But next election they threw up the maulvis, so fed up they got of them. Maybe that's why the fundos are killing us. Because we're not their lovers.

 

Our driver's brother came to visit him yesterday. I refused to let him enter the house. Why? Because he had a beard. Janoo shouted at me and said I'd gone polaroid. Better polaroid than dead, I said. But I haven't gone mad. Strange things are happening. Take Furry, for instant. You know na her husband, OP, travels a lot.

 

So she started getting a bit worried when her driver started growing a beard and giving her funny, funny looks in the rare view mirror every time she wore sleeveless and drove alone with him.

 

And one day while OP was away she was about to go into the kitchen when she heard whisperings coming from inside. The cook and driver were talking and you know what? They were planning to throw acid on her! Imagine! Because she wears sleeveless and should be taught a lesson! But you know Furry, na, so brave she's always been. So she barged right in and started screaming at them and threatened them with police, torture and prison and God knows what what. She gave the driver his munching orders there and then only. ' And the cook,' I asked, ' what did you do to the cook?' Furry sighed. ' I was about to throw him out also but then I thought, good cooks are so hard to find.

 

The writer is the editor of Friday Times ( Lahore)

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

 EDITORIAL

INDIA ON TRACK

 

Despite surface appearances, sobriety and realism may well be on the ascendant in our public life as we step into the new year. There is enough evidence to suggest that gradually yet surely they are poised to eclipse the triumphalism and dark despair that the rush of developments generated in the recent past. There are no takers anymore for the 'Shining India' bravado even in the ranks of the political party that coined this grotesquely misleading slogan. The awesome challenges facing the nation continue to provoke much anger and cynicism. But except for the extremist elements of the Left, and separatist elements here and there, the nation as a whole does not allow these feelings to metamorphose into an all-out denunciation of the system that governs us.


Voter turnout in elections, for example, remains by and large satisfactory. Violence associated with election campaigns has ebbed. No less significant, identity issues that have hitherto been exploited to mobilise voters have begun to lose their bite. The sangh parivar advocates of minority-baiting politics are at sea. Caste-driven parties seek to enlarge their social base. Linguistic parochialism, which reared its head in the Maharashtra assembly polls, shows signs of running out of steam. Indeed, the latest upsurge in Telangana has less to do with identity bugbears and more with a craving for an equitable share of resources and positions in the power structure.

No less significant is the declining appeal of populism. The Left parties in particular are no longer able to win hearts and minds with their anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist rhetoric. Moreover, while the country's response to economic reforms has been generally favourable, it is in no mood to accept the mantra that such reforms alone will allow prosperity to percolate to the poor in good time. The overall concern of our citizens is now almost wholly focused on issues of development. That is indeed the leitmotif of public discourse today.

Thanks to an ever vigilant news media and civil society, there is a nationwide yearning for growth that helps reduce disparities between social classes, communities and regions; for governance that is responsible, transparent and accountable; for the protection of life, limb and property; for the security of our borders; for access to quality education and health services, energy, food and potable water at affordable prices; for the creation of jobs and equality of opportunities, especially for the most deprived sections of the population; for innovation and enterprise in all fields of endeavour; and for a pollution-free environment.


These are no longer platitudes and shibboleths but priorities that the nation has identified and internalised. It expects leaders in politics and bureaucracy, the corporate world and civil society to ensure their expeditious implementation. Indeed, never before have our citizens become so conscious of the rights of freedom, equality and respect for pluralism that they enjoy under our Constitution. All this augurs well for India as it completes 60 years of its existence as a republic a few weeks from now.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

 

WHEELS OF JUSTICE

 

It might have taken 19 years but justice might yet be served in the Ruchika Girhotra case. Following the national outcry over the lenient sentencing of former Haryana DGP S P S Rathore - a six-month sentence and a fine of Rs 1,000 for molesting Ruchika, who committed suicide three years later - the case has been reopened even as he has been denied anticipatory bail.


What is particularly striking about this case was the brazen manner in which Rathore apparently used his clout to harass the victim and her family, which led Ruchika to commit suicide. In two fresh FIRs, Ruchika's brother and father have documented how they were intimidated so as to withdraw the molestation charge against Rathore. The investigations into the charges by Ruchika's family should be done under the CBI's watch, as suggested by the law ministry, rather than the Haryana police, which has shown itself in poor light. There is the possibility of invoking Section 305 of the IPC - abetment of suicide of a minor - which stipulates a minimum punishment of 10 years and a maximum of death. There is also a sexual offences Bill, something that we have suggested in these columns, being readied by the government.


Fresh investigation into an incident that happened so many years ago is unusual. But public and media pressure have forced a relook at cases where the accused were powerful enough to subvert justice. These include the Jessica Lall, Nitish Katara and Priyadarshini Mattoo cases. The way these and Ruchika's case were handled is a blot on our investigating and judicial agencies.


But the heartening thing is that public pressure has succeeded in preventing the accused from getting away. This is of course not an answer to the ills plaguing the justice delivery system in India, but only a short-term remedy to making government agencies more responsive. But we can only hope - and what better time than the beginning of a new year - that those who commit crimes and then shamelessly use their influence to subvert justice will now think twice about it.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

FUTURE IS OURS TO SEEK

 

Two trends, one good and one bad, defined India's first decade of the 21{+s}{+t} century. The virtuous trend was the spread of prosperity, largely as a result of high economic growth. The second trend was the simultaneous rise in corruption. The lazy-minded connect the two developments when they are, in fact, quite independent. High growth has been fostered by economic reforms while corruption is due to the lack of reform of state institutions. Artha, material well-being, and dharma, moral well-being, are two of the four aims of classical Indian life. During the past decade, artha rose but dharma fell.


For the first time in history Indians are beginning to emerge from a struggle against want into an age when the large majority will soon be at ease. Like many parts of Asia, India too is slowly turning into a middle-class nation. This is not happening uniformly - Gujarat is well ahead of Bihar, but even Bihar will catch up. At that point poverty will not vanish, but the poor will come down to a manageable level and the politics of the country will also change. This is the good news.


The bad news is that prosperity is spreading alongside the most appalling governance. The latest example is the sad and ugly tale of how S P S Rathore, former head of police in Haryana, victimised for years the courageous family of 14-year-old Ruchika Girhotra after molesting her. All institutions of governance broke down in this case - the police, of course, but also the courts, politicians and bureaucracy - and they failed for 19 long years.

In the midst of a booming private economy, Indians despair over the delivery of the most basic public services. Where the state is needed - in providing education, health and drinking water - it performs appallingly. Where it is not needed, it is hyperactive in tying us in miles of red tape. Almost every transaction of the citizen with the state is morally flawed. In a few weeks i will have to renew my driver's licence and i have a nagging worry if i will need to bribe someone. It is the poor, however, who depend most on public services and are least capable of paying bribes. Year after year Transparency International has ranked India amongst the most corrupt. In 2005, its survey showed that 80 per cent of citizens had bribed someone in the police; 40 per cent had paid a bribe to influence the legal system; 30 per cent to government schools or primary health centres.

 

What is eating away our moral fabric is not the big scam that grabs headlines - jihadi terrorism, Gujarat 2002, Naxalism. It is these quiet, everyday failures. When a schoolteacher is absent, he wounds the dharma of society and teaches his students a terrible lesson in civic virtue. If you could punish one absentee schoolteacher, the others would show up. But to expect them to inspire students, you need the call of dharma.


Reform of the Indian state is now even more important than economic reform. It is also more difficult. For rulers are the oppressors and have the most to lose. Societies that we admire, such as the UK, also once suffered from poor governance. But they threw up leaders - Gladstone, Disraeli, Thatcher - who had the courage to fight vested interests and implement reforms.


The epic, the Mahabharata, also had a problem with the self-destructive, Kshatriya institutions of its time and a war was waged to cleanse them. Draupadi's call for accountability in public life in the Sabhaparvan ought to be our inspiration. She questioned the dharma of the rulers when confronted with governance failure. When there is no other recourse, citizens must be prepared to wage a Kurukshetra-like war against corruption in order to bring accountability to public life.


If i were a betting man like Yudhishthira, i would predict that in the next decade, 2010-2019, our economy will continue to grow rapidly. It is on autopilot and it appears unlikely that any politician will kill that momentum. There is a far deeper consensus on economic reforms than a decade ago and this was demonstrated recently in our mature response to the global financial crisis of 2008 - there were no calls to undo reforms and bring socialism back.


But governance is unlikely to improve unless we are extremely lucky or able to throw up a strong-willed reformer at the top, such as a Deng or a Thatcher. Might Rahul Gandhi turn out to be such a reformer? Narendra Modi is indeed a strong-willed reformer but he is tainted by Gujarat 2002 and is thus not trusted. Without such a leader, governance will improve only gradually with the growth of the middle class. The middle class has a growing voice and it has learned from the Jessica Lall and Ruchika Girhotra cases that its voice counts. When the middle class becomes 50 per cent of the population, the politics of the country will also change. Today it is about 30 per cent; in 1980 it was only 8 per cent. In the meantime, India will be a nation in search of dharma.

 

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                                                                                                                                         THE TIMES OF INDIA

 

INDIAN ARTISTS ARE NO LONGER CELEBRATING THINGS'

 

Santiniketan: Although he is averse to painting on the walls of his own home which he wants to remain stark, celebrated art teacher and artist K G Subramanyan, at 85, recently finished painting on the external facades of an insipid building in Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan. Romain Maitra spoke with him:


What in art today is drawing your attention?

In the course of the last quarter of the century, various developments in the field of communication technology have been omnipresent that artists cannot be indifferent about. We artists used to overlook advertising commercials before. We cannot continue to do so since in commodity advertising today, there is a sea change from the methods used some years ago. I am afraid I find more seriousness in commodity advertising than in any other creative field in India today. There is no reason why contemporary Indian artists should not take interest in this genre, its creative potential and what all it does to its target audience by reaching out to them, titillate their interest, anchor their attention and stimulate them to response and action.


Contemporary global art is getting more and more a conceptual enterprise with new mediums of artistic expressions replacing the traditional ones. Do you think the canvas is dying a slow death?

I continue to enjoy doodling, drawing and painting. So it is not dying out with me! But there are many who improvise images with, say, a computer. So long the images are innovative, I do not have any problem with them.

Many artists in the world are pushing the frontiers of art to extremes.

There are certain art practices now that can be compared to religion. Although the artists practising them do not have faith in religion, they are like modern-day yogis with some ideological drive. As flagellating oneself has been a religious practice, self-infliction and the like seem to have become a part of art practice. It seems these artists want to change the world with their art but, to me, an artist should keep his own privacy. Essentially, all art is a kind of soliloquy and the artist first communicates with himself and then with others he conceives in his own image. Besides, art cannot do many things needed to change the world. Art cannot do what insurrections can do.


How do you view the situation in India?

I find the artists of today are mostly either satirical or cynical. They are no longer loving or celebrating things. Their espousal of social causes circumvents the crying issues of their immediate surroundings and is often focused on media-hyped global issues. Floating in a global limbo, they aspire to belong to the new urban culture that strives to network with other urban centres of the world.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

THE RAGING NOUGHTIES

 

A whole decade's come to an end and we still don't know what to call it! It's not a new dilemma: it comes every 100 years and yet after twomillennia we still haven't solved the problem. There's no such difficulty with the decades that go from the Twenties to the Nineties. The 1920s are remembered for the Great Depression, the Forties for World War II. In cricket, the Nineties are always 'nervous', but whatever the association, there is no confusion about what to call each decade: the years starting from 2030 will be called the Thirties, as the years starting from 1930 were, and the years starting from 2060 will be the Sixties. By the same logic, the decade which begins with 2010 should be the Tens, shouldn't it? But it isn't because of a strange quirk of the English language. If the Twenties go Twenty, Twenty one, Twenty two, Twenty three…, the 'Tens' should go Ten, Ten one, Ten two, Ten three etc. Instead of which we have Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen… When we enter the age of the Raging Hormones, we are said to be the Teens, so we could have called the second decade the Teens, except what could happen to the years Ten, Eleven, Twelve?


If anything, the first decade is even trickier. Using the logic of the decades Twenties to Nineties, we ought to call it the Noughts. Or the Zeroes. Or, as someone in the US suggested, using an archaic 19th century word, the Oughts. Or even worse, the Nothings: We've just lived through the Nothings! Ten wasted years for the whole of mankind! Memories of all kinds, some of them deliriously happy, gone into oblivion! Achievements, some of them glorious, reduced to nullity! So much toil and so much trouble, wiped clean away! 'Turn of the century' was used for the first decade of the 20th century, but it only suggests the first year of the new decade, not the whole decade. If we used human chronology, we would use the word 'Childhood', but the 'Childhood Decade'? Sounds infantile. How's 'The Units'? Too numerical. 'The First Decade'? Too prosaic. 'The Toddlers'? Not bad, but wouldn't we look ridiculous still toddling in our eighth and ninth year? One radical solution is to shorten the second decade to seven years and call it 'The Teens'. Then increase the first decade by three years and call it 'The Pre-teens'? That stinks? Find your own word then. I give up.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

RUNNING INTO 2010

 

On a sultry, summer's day 20 years ago, I found myself judging cows. 

 

No, really.    

 

It was a slow day in Bangalore before it exploded onto — and helped create — the flat world.

 

My boss had sent me to a dusty field to report on a curious assemblage of hefty Bangalore cows (most have Danish blood, the result of a clearly successful 1960s inter-governmental programme) and their timid owners.

 

As the only outsider, I was quickly anointed judge and chief guest. I quickly found there were no criteria for judging. So I set my own: doe eyes, smooth cud, powerful flanks, and, er, degree of tail-swish.

 

I have a photo of a bemused me handing out a trophy to a hefty heifer and her pleased owner, a farmer clad in lungi and best shirt. 

 

You know one of those moments you never forget? This was it.

 

But Bangalore changed in two decades, and I never managed to find this particular field of dreams again, until last week. With the sun rising behind me, and a cool December breeze rustling through the gulmohars and over the smelly drain alongside, I was running on a dusty Bangalore road after having dragged myself out of bed.

 

Suddenly, I found it, the place of my memories. It made me smile, the past merged with the present, I felt all was well with the world, and God was in her heaven.

 

These are the moments that emerge when you run. The world loses its frenzy, friction turns to rhythm, and a warm euphoria that some call the runner's high takes hold.

 

So, dear reader, this is my prediction for 2010: More of you will run than ever before, and India — ground zero of a volatile diabetes, cardiac disease and general ill-health situation — will learn there is more to life than acquiring wealth and getting ahead.

 

Did you snort? Oh, you have places to go. I see.

 

Well, get to Marine Drive in Mumbai and watch one of India's most successful men, Anil Ambani, pound the concrete (better mud than concrete though) almost every day. Running gets you there sharper and faster.

 

In September 2009, I wrote how I had joined the growing hordes of morning walkers and runners across India, how this movement was pushing an unathletic nation towards a winning feeling, how my modest six-km run was transforming my body and soul, how one day I would have my 10 km.

 

Well, I passed 10 km in October.

 

I have no great ambitions of running even the 21-km of a half-marathon. I am a solitary runner, I have my own haphazard goals, and I run when I can, which usually is two or three times a week.

 

I have my own pace, and a guarantee that my day always goes better when I run.

 

I love what Jesse Owens said of running: "You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs."

 

Let me introduce you to Dr Ashis Roy, formerly of the Indian Air Force, and 77, training for his 100th marathon: in Mumbai later this month.

 

Dr Roy has run 13 marathons (each 42 km) this year alone. "I may not live for many more years," he muses when I called him, "But I want India to know running can keep us healthy and change our lives." For someone who started serious running at age 52, Dr Roy is the inspiration we need.

 

In 2010, I predict we will seriously start draining the fat of this great land.

 

Of course, I don't mean that you should start — if you haven't before — jogging on the first day of the decade.

Read about it or consult a doctor, but don't be discouraged by one, says Rahul Verghese, who gave up his American life managing global research for Motorola to become 'Chief Believer' of runningandliving.com, which tries to market the business of running ("It's slow").

 

Verghese says running in India needs a big push from the medical profession. "If you're a triple-chinned cardiologist or a 300-pound dietician, how credible are you?" asks the 49-year-old Verghese who ran a Bangalore's 75 km 'ultrathon' in November and saw running in India really catch on in 2009. "It's now going to grow exponentially," he reasons, "Because people like you and me, who aren't athletes, are running."

 

Every city in India now has communities of runners. If you're new, try Verghese's portal or runnersforlife.com. Aside from sound advice, a good pair of shoes is all you really need. Everything else is an excuse. 

 

If you haven't run before, and feel odd about it, listen to Joan Benoit Samuelson, an Olympic marathon champion: "When I first started running, I was so embarrassed I'd walk when cars passed me. I'd pretend I was looking at the flowers."

 

I get Samuelson. I — never athletic, never sporty, called "fatty" through my teens — felt like this until six months ago when I started running at age 43. I felt like this just before the moment of my Bangalore bovine epiphany, after I kicked myself out of my Lodi Gardens-or-a-park-trail comfort zone and into the traffic-filled streets and ran into some stares.

 

Within five minutes of feeling the peace, I found I didn't really care. Neither should you.

-- Samar Halarnkar

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

DO BE VERY AFRAID

 

Diplomacy is all about tit-for-tat. So we are not surprised that after India let the world know about its new tough visa regulations, the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada ganged up to come up with a quick response. The four have issued travel advisories to their citizens against coming to India. The reason: the old chestnut, terrorists are planning to target foreigners.

 

We protest against such sentiments, but not for the same reasons our Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna has. Don't

these foreign ministry mandarins have any clue that there are far bigger threats in India? We can assure you that we don't depend on terrorists from some godforsaken Tora Bora caves to create some clatter. Here are some of our home-grown ones: is flying into Delhi on a foggy winter night less frightening? After circling over the city for hours, you might just find yourself in Chandigarh. And even if you did manage a touchdown in Delhi, beware of the roads outside. Look up to see the sunset and down you'll go into one of the numerous pits that have been dug. Then danger lurks in the form of our twittering minister, Shashi Tharoor. Woe betide the hapless visitor who might find himself at the receiving end of the his tweets on all things related and unrelated to his ministry. Or just let them try understanding how a man charged with murder has become a chief minister. Well, that should injure their brain cells.

 

So, dear travellers, don't go by what your or our government says, go by our travel advisory: India is safe, as safe as any other country. The US has its Nigerian bombers, Britain its terror plotters, the Australians their very own student-bashers and the Canadians, well, maybe Sarah Palin not too far away.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

MAY YOUR LIFE BE A CELEBRATION

 

Welcome 2010 with a new hope, a renewed enthusiasm and a genuine smile. Take lessons from events past. Then just let go and free your mind of these. Move forward for life is evergreen. No storm or snow can wither away its leaves. Similarly, our spirit is eternal and moves forward, through personal or social grief, and emerges powerful.

 

Learn and unlearn from the past and make your resolutions for the New Year: First, realise that our foremost priority is to check violence in the world, to free the world from domestic and societal violence. Second, help those who are in need and bring solace to those who are suffering.

 

Third, pledge that you will stand up and take responsibility for your planet and protect the environment, the society, and the country. Fourth, have the conviction that you can rise above any situation or circumstance. Fifth, make a commitment to whatever you take up, and an integrity inside which says you will see your commitments through. For when you take on responsibility, nature grants power to you.

 

Sixth, take some time to walk by yourself every day. Nurture yourself with music, prayer and silence. A few minutes of meditation, pranayama and yoga will heal and rejuvenate you and release you from the clutches of stress.

 

Finally, always remember that you belong to the Divine and the Divine will take care of you. Let me say Happy New Year with a small poem:

 

Look into the eyes of the Divine and see, does love shine in them for you or not?/Take a step forward but once and see whether you find your path or not./Reach out to help others and see whether your work is accomplished or not./Smile with love but once and see, whether the world embraces you or not./ Take the Divine's name but once and see whether your life becomes a celebration or not.

 

 Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

YOUNG TURKS

 

 A long line outside Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi's door should shock no one. After all, the Congress has a rich history of leader-worship that even the most earnest heir apparent cannot wish away. What might surprise, however, is the youth of those in that line, their professional qualifications, and their choice of a cadre-base within a major national party.

 

These surprises militate against three aspects of our politics long considered beyond reform. The first is the moribund state of inner-party democracy. As Indian politics has grown more representative — with parties designed for every identity — parties themselves have grown more authoritarian, with internal debate and voting within the party closed off. The second aspect is the geriatric nature of our politics. The last general elections were fought between a 76-year-old and an 81-year-old. The 15th Lok Sabha does have over 300 first-time MPs, as well as 81 who are 40 years old, or younger. But a full 62 per cent of those youngsters came from political families.

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INDIAN EXPRESS

 

THE BIONIC DECADE

 

The last century saw the discovery of DNA. The last decade? The human genome map. And the coming decade is one where the natural sciences will play a defining role. A Genomic Revolution is underway, with a wealth of information that needs to be understood and evaluated. In fact, editors at the journal Science have identified five breakthroughs to look out for in the coming year — and three of the five are biotech-related.

 

Top of their list: the ability to reprogramme adult skin cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. This would allow for researchers to develop therapies which are specific to individual genomes. (Related work has already aided advances in treating Parkinson's Disease.) Then there's Exome studies, in which knowledge

 

gathered from genome sequencing will be amalgamated with protein coding, allowing for better understanding of hereditary illnesses. Exciting research — of which results have already been seen earlier this month — will focus on biochemistry's potential in disrupting the manner in which cancerous cells behave. (Also in their list: human spaceflights, and a cosmic eye on outer space.)

 

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                                                                                                                                   INDIAN EXPRESS

THE CALL

 

India will have to take a call soon. Hidden somewhere in the decade to come is a moment, one that we will not recognise when we are there, but one which future histories will try to identify: the moment when India decided whether it will remain a low or medium middle-income country with growth — but growth that doesn't quite match its ambitions — or a genuinely advanced country, one which can provide all-round security and opportunities to its citizens, as well as that intangible essential, pride. True, as this newspaper's special survey indicates, there are enormous grounds for optimism: the claim, for example, that even without any further reform, the economy could grow at over 9 per cent a year. Indeed, one could say that there are more grounds for optimism today than at any equivalent milestone in independent India's history.

 

But, for this newspaper, that is not enough. The same projection has a flip side: an estimate of how many will continue to be excluded from India's growth miracle even a decade from now. That number is shocking: around a quarter of a billion. 250 million people will be very poor in 2020, unable to access the benefits of the modern economy, struggling towards basic citizenship rights. For 250 million of our future fellow-citizens, business-as-usual, even if business is booming, is not good enough. To them India has a responsibility: that when historians decades from now search for that moment — in 2015? 2013? — when India took a call, they know at least that India took the right one. That India took a call to go even beyond what the optimists foresee.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

JUST ANOTHER OPINION

MIHIR S. SHARMA

 

At the turn of the last decade, some early-adopter friend of mine told me he ran something called a "blog". I listened with increasing bemusement as he explained that he wrote things on it, and people read them, and some commented, and others linked to it from their own blogs. This odd subculture intrigued me enough that I actually went over to the then spanking-new blogger.com and signed up for a blog, giving it some suitably pretentious name, now thankfully forgotten. Shortly thereafter, though, apparent good sense reasserted itself: how could it be the case that just anyone — I, for example — could write things that other people would read? A sceptical economist can recognise a bubble (or should) and I abandoned the effort, reasoning that if everyone had an opinion, at some point opinion would become worthless, and a correction would set in.

 

I was both right and wrong. Blogs, and non-stop opinion TV, and even the transformation of the print media, have ensured that any well-argued opinion that you read today will have far less impact on you than it would have had a decade ago — when another view wasn't just a few clicks away. But I was also wrong: no "correction" is likely. Indeed, the coming decade is likely to see the end of opinion.

 

Oh, we'll still have opinions. Everyone will have opinions. But Opinion, the sense that there is a conventional wisdom, a canonical view, is dying. It will become more and more difficult for any one opinion to stand out, for any one opinion-maker to dominate — and, correspondingly, more difficult to know which opinion to trust, to turn to.

 

The benefits of this democratisation everyone knows by now: it has broken down old monopolies over discussion, and monopoly-breaking is always a good thing. The powerless can take pot-shots at the powerful, undermining any narrative they would see imposed on the world. Unpopular opinions can no longer be completely suppressed.

 

But other changes have accelerated too, and will continue over this decade. Really, very little has been left untouched by this democratisation of pontification. The very tenor of discussion seems to have altered. Earlier, public debate was conducted as if in a hushed room, where lines of intent — or bored — citizens would listen to the well-mannered, if droning, tones of their betters; but suddenly more and more people have started talking, and now to get anyone's attention you have to yell something really outlandish, or

organise a bunch of people to shout in unison. Hence the worries everywhere about declining civility, or about how easy it is for extreme views to be considered main stream. Perhaps that's the biggest danger of everyone sounding like an expert: how effortlessly one can find a bunch of "experts" to certify practically any dotty viewpoint. Hand in hand with that goes the idea that if discussion is good, then we need people who disagree. So even the obvious will be endlessly challenged. So, paradoxically, in a decade with more information than ever before, conspiracy theories will flourish; just as in the past decade climate change sceptics, for example, never ran out of supporting "evidence" and serious-sounding talking heads.

 

And checking how genuine a claim to expertise is comes with its own pitfalls: with so much information available, everyone can be reduced to a bunch of antecedents, and every opinion can be dismissed as little more than an obvious product of whatever background we discover. Ironically, as we hear more ideas, we demand more facts that explain where those ideas came from in the first place.

 

And if that's not worrying enough, consider this: when there were fewer voices, and it was tougher to hear from them, accountability for what they said was more rigorous. If you were wrong, it was remembered. That's no longer true. If you say so much, you have to consider each thing less. Who needs rigour when what is noticed is a well-turned, if completely inapposite, phrase? Why make a careful essay-length argument when a pungent paragraph dropped on to your blog — or even a furious, misspelled SMS to a TV channel — will elicit a much more satisfying response?

 

Basically: less accuracy, more extremism, and a lot more shouting. (To anyone who watches news TV, that will sound very familiar.) OK, so we all get deaf sooner. Why should it matter? Because what this describes is a decade in which all opinion is public opinion. And a world in which public opinion is all that's heard is one in which pausing to think might lose you an argument, in which disagreements are settled by what's expressed most movingly, one in which the mob has power. I, for one, don't think of that as an improvement. After all, public intellectuals haven't exactly been replaced by an intellectual public.

 

But the enthronement of public opinion has proceeded apace. YouTube, iPhone, MySpace, "you" are Time's person of the year. Prime ministerial candidates quote the encyclopaedia you wrote in your pyjamas. Google ranks the sites you link.

 

And in India, public opinion is now nothing less than canonised. This the past week has proved: law and government, all must bend before whatever injustice has caught the Public's attention today. Short-lived, ill-thought-out amendments will be announced, secretaries and superintendents will compete to be on television to reassure an anxious, vocal citizenry. As any minaret-less Swiss Muslim will testify, government by plebiscite is a terrible idea; imagine how much worse is government by SMS poll. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. All opinions deserve a fair hearing. But not all opinions are equally valid, and hearing need only be fair, not indulgent. But technology has pushed us towards a world in which it is increasingly difficult for anyone to casually tell what is trustworthy from what is not.

 

In the end, there are three ways of looking at this. Either we have a world in which so many people are so wrong so loudly so often that our public discourse irreversibly degrades, and in which that single golden thread of truth is lost in a tangle of competing narratives.

 

Or you can assume, as economics does, that more people with more information generally make better choices than fewer people with less information. More voices might well make for a clamorous din, but eventually most will hear, and repeat, the one thin voice that's making sense.

 

Or you can accept the change. Opinion is dead. But that doesn't mean facts matter less. Perhaps they matter more. The Iraq war brought forth a blizzard of opinions; but it was something which couldn't be spun, the photographs from Abu Ghraib, that eventually turned people against the war. As S.P.S. Rathore, who will never to smile in public again, can tell you, nothing can sway opinion quite as much as a photograph. In this decade, as all you hear, from every corner, is an opinion, you will mistrust everything — except things that nobody can deny are facts. And maybe that's not such a bad place to wind up, after all.

 

mihir.sharma@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE MINIMAL YEARS

LEHER KALA

 

The world watched in surprise when an unknown, fragile girl from Mumbai transformed into a Cinderella at the Oscars in one dazzling gown after another, being hailed as the next Salma Hayek. Little has been heard of Freida Pinto since the phenomenal success of Slumdog Millionaire, but the year that began on a bleak note for the Indian film industry was somewhat better for Pinto's impact, and of the movie.

 

In fashion, gowns, of the kind Pinto flaunted in Hollywood, have found their audience here. You're no longer considered freakishly overdressed if you show up at a regular party in Delhi or Mumbai in flowing satin. Many film stars have chucked the sari for premieres and award functions — a result, no doubt of stores like Valentino and Versace opening here. But peddling luxury products in tight times is no enviable task when even the most die-hard brand junkie is questioning the intangible worth of a Rs 3-lakh Bottega Veneta bag; though their reckoning is they're targeting those who can always afford a couple of frivolous purchases.

 

It's those immune few whom art curators were also relying on; and 2009 has been a gloomy year for Indian art. Besides the loss of legends like Tyeb Mehta and Manjeet Bawa, prices, even of top artists, have fallen hugely (an Anju Dodiya pegged at Rs 95 lakh in 2008 is now at Rs 45 lakh). This might be an overdue correction; the hundreds of young painters that surfaced during the boom have depreciated like Satyam shares, by over 90 per cent. Confidence in Indian art is at an all-time low, some of India's top auction houses are seriously in debt and international art funds that had set up in India are rethinking.

 

A significant shift in India this year is that luxury brands have become part of fashion culture. The most coveted names in the world are keen to establish a presence here; not only for the wealthy, but the huge potential and numbers of It-bag aspirants. Flaunting a logo has never been this important and luxury brands are here to stay. Even in art, Art Bank and Religare Arts that rent out canvases by artists like M.F. Hussain and Ram Kumar to individuals are recording growth even in depressed times. The first seconds store by Tarun Tahiliani, Design Vault, that stocks garments by top Indian designers from older seasons at discounted rates has opened, bringing in newer customers into its fold, who probably would not shop at full prices. Other enterprising individuals cashed in on the craze to convey the right image by launching luxury bag rental services in Delhi and Mumbai, already a popular concept in the West.

 

This is especially noteworthy, because traditionally, Indians are buyers. Credit-card use in India, though higher than ever before, continues to be among the lowest in the world, with even city-bred, flashy youngsters being inherently suspicious of debt. Yet, somewhere, there's been a fundamental change in how we view life and the perks of money and those who've been admiring luxury brands from afar don't want to wait till they can afford them. Contrarily, post slowdown in the West, conspicuous consumption isn't so cool anymore. Consumers are debating meaningless mark-ups while eco-friendly garments attract discerning buyers.

 

The chaos and lingering effects of the downturn could be felt everywhere but escaped the world of Indian fashion, at least if you go by the explosion of fashion weeks.

 

Besides the three main events, there was a bridal couture week, a menswear fashion week, and a regional week in Kolkata and Gurgaon. Now if only they didn't change venues every year between a dilapidated arts centre, a mall and hotels, creating utter confusion and ensuring that designers will not be taken seriously, talented or not. In a year that saw many designers go broke because of escalating rentals, low sales and export cancellations, Manish Arora is acknowledged to have made it, with critical acclaim at least. A couple of others like Anamika Khanna are waiting their turn, and are slowly but surely making an impact in Paris. Style, internationally, was about austerity and minimalism.

 

In the year 2010, consumers will continue to enjoy sales, discounts and great deals. There will be a subtle pricing shift, reflective of the changes in the luxury world. There are simply not enough people willing to pay any amount for fit, finish styling and that label. Cheers to that.

 

leher.kala@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PROPERTY DISPUTES

RAHUL MATTHAN

 

The Central government recently announced that it intends to amend the Copyright Act, recommending a slew of proposals that seek to update and modernise the statute.

 

Among the proposals is the introduction of provisions penalising the circumvention of digital rights management (DRM) technologies. DRM provisions have existed in copyright statutes around the world for nearly a decade, and have been used to good effect against a range of technologies. However, technologies have advanced and while DRM issues will continue to be relevant in traditional distribution models, one wonders how much of that we will see in India, as we leapfrog into streaming media and 3G enabled media distribution models.

 

Among the more welcome changes proposed to be introduced are the amendments relating to the rights of the disabled to access information. The proposed amendments are likely to include a clause aimed at allowing the dissemination of copyright material in formats specially designed for the physically challenged. A provision for compulsory licensing of copyright works for the physically challenged is also likely to be introduced.

 

Amendments have also been proposed to deal with orphan works — a special category of copyright that relates to works, the author of which is dead or unknown or cannot be traced. Orphan works have recently become the subject of considerable debate in the light of the Google Books Settlement in the US and it will be interesting to see how the Indian government proposes to tackle the issue.

 

A new statutory licensing system has also been proposed to ensure that the public has access to musical works over the FM radio and television networks while ensuring that the owners of copyright over those works are not disadvantaged. This proposal appears to have been spurred by the decision in the PPL v. Millenium Chennai Broadcast case but the details of these proposed amendments would be interesting.

 

For more than a decade, there has been a demand from the performers that royalty payment must be made mandatory for any commercial exploitation of their work. It appears that the government has finally agreed to accede to this request. The details are still not clear but this will have repercussions on thousands of small time street artists and karaoke artists. It appears that a new moral right of performers has been articulated which will mandate that the re-performance of any work will give credit to the original performer.

 

It appears that the government is attempting to put a rest to the controversy regarding who owns rights in a cinematograph film and the corresponding sound recording. At present the producer of the film owns all the rights over every element of the film. It appears that the new amendment will allow each person who contributes to the film to retain independent right over their contribution and will be entitled to receive royalty towards such contribution. However, it will be interesting to see how this is actually put in practice.

 

Since the passage of the amendments to the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in particular the controversial provisions relating to the exceptions available to offences under the Copyright Act, there has been a need to reconcile the two legislations. The newly amended Information Technology Act grants protections to intermediaries such as search engines in respect of information that is not generated or circulated by them. However this protection is subject to the rights of persons under the Copyright Act. It is understood that new amendments to the Copyright Act will clarify the situation but details are yet to be released.

 

While these proposals have (quite rightly in most cases) generated considerable excitement, it might perhaps be premature to put the champagne on ice. The last time we got a draft Copyright Amendment Bill was in 2005 — and that bill has still to be enacted into law.

 

The writer is an intellectual property rights lawyer

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CLEANING UP THE GENE-POOL

DHANANJAYA DENDUKURI

 

The modern biotechnology industry dates back to the 1970s when companies began to exploit the then newly developed technique of cloning to make new products from living organisms. Since then, the biotechnology industry has grown manifold to reach greater than $200 billion in worldwide sales today. While the translation of promise to reality has not always matched expectations, there is no doubt that biotechnology has impacted our lives in significant ways and will only increase in its influence in the years to come.

 

You can now clone your favourite cat back to life or expect to sequence your entire genome for less than a lakh of rupees within the next decade. However, magic drugs that can cure every major disease without causing discomfort or stem-cell based therapies to grow back lost limbs are still some distance away. A conveniently short yet all-encompassing definition of biotechnology is not available today. However, biotechnology may be defined as a broad class of technologies, products and services that has benefitted from our improved understanding of and ability to manipulate biology at the gene and protein level. The benefits of biotechnology include the development of highly specific and effective protein drugs like insulin (as opposed to the more broad-spectrum synthetic molecules that can be created by a chemist in a test tube) and vaccines from living cells. In agriculture, biotech-derived products include the development of new genetically modified (GM) crops that are high yielding and pest-resistant. In diagnostic testing, the ability to decode DNA from body fluids and forensic evidence has helped in confirming the identities of people and in developing very sensitive detection techniques for infectious disease.

 

In India, the $2.5 billion Indian biotech sector is young but growing rapidly with annualised growth rates exceeding 20 per cent per year for the past five years. Major contributors to the sector have been vaccines, biopharma (protein drugs) products, contract research and manufacturing and clinical research. The biopharma sector in particular has witnessed rapid growth over the past few years and is poised for even greater growth over the next decade. One of the key driving factors for this growth is the expiry of a number of patents for protein drugs over the next few years. The market for such drugs could be as high as $40 billion over the next few years and Indian firms are favourably placed to mop up a significant fraction of these sales, thanks to their lower costs of development and production. As a cautionary note, it is worth keeping in mind that the large markets for these drugs are in the developed nations like the USA where regulations on protein drugs (as opposed to synthetic drugs) have not been clarified yet. This means that protein drugs made by Indian companies will have to cross more stringent regulatory hurdles than synthetic drugs to prove themselves equivalent to the protein drugs they seek to displace.

 

In a parallel that is often made to the IT industry, the Indian biotech space also contains a number of service-based companies like Contract Research Organisations (CROs) that employ large numbers of scientists to perform projects for large clients outside India. Another area of significant growth for the future is clinical research where the availability of a large and diverse population has lead to India becoming a destination of choice for drug makers looking to perform clinical trials. By some estimates, India will grab 15 per cent of the $23 billion worldwide market for clinical testing by 2015. While companies are drawn to India because of the low costs and friendly regulatory environment, ethical concerns remain. Setting up of appropriate ethics committees and regular monitoring of clinical trials is essential to allay such fears.

 

A variety of factors such as lack of access to funds, qualified human resources and an innovative research environment has meant that the Indian biotech industry has had to start with non-novel products, services and contract manufacturing to generate initial revenues. A big challenge for the Indian biotech sector over the next decade is whether it can make the cross-over from being solely a service provider and low-cost manufacturer to also making innovative products that can lead to much larger payoffs. Biotechnology is unique in being an extremely science-driven business where the science is not just an enabling tool but often the business itself. Such an environment poses challenges to the traditional models of investment. It is notoriously difficult to value an early-stage company. Further, investors that understand the risks involved and are willing to have a long horizon are few and far between. The problem is especially acute in India where a rapidly growing economy means that there are many more "tangible" ideas like IT, retail and infrastructure chasing investor money.

 

For the Indian biotech industry to grow, it is essential to have an environment that can support fledgling, innovative ideas till the point where the companies can sustain themselves. The Indian government has made the development of biotechnology a critical priority area for the future. Funds to the tune of $70 million have been set aside through the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to fund innovative new companies at very generous terms. Private investors need to supplement these efforts, especially for very early stage companies that are idea-based and have not built out revenue streams yet. Ironically, the amounts of money that several companies need are too small for large, international venture capital firms to consider funding, given the returns they expect on their investments.

 

A lot also remains to be done in terms of creating better linkages between industry and academia as well as in producing well-trained biotechnology graduates. Given the science-driven nature of the biotechnology industry, India needs many more start-ups to be incubated out of Indian academia. On the education side, there is today an oversupply of graduates with "biotechnology" degrees but who lack the quality education in modern methods that will make them valuable to an employer. One of the ways to overcome this will be to institute mechanisms by way of which qualified Indians that have migrated elsewhere can be incentivised to come back to India. China has been very successful at this and we can learn from how they have been able to do it.

 

The healthy growth of the biotech sector will not only mean better health and food security for Indians but also many more jobs at multiple levels. Given its youth, the biotech sector is largely driven by scientific innovation and this is one area that India has a lot of catching up to do. The Indian biotech sector would have truly arrived when the first novel drug comes out of an Indian company.

 

The writer is CEO and co-founder, Achira Labs pvt. ltd.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NAME YOUR POISON

 

WHEN you hoist a leg over a barstool these days, you're as likely to find Tom Edison as a Tom Collins. Light bulbs have been popping up behind the bar, with more cocktails developed in the last 10 years than probably any decade since Prohibition. Some of them have emerged as modern classics, standing out not only as culinary creations, but also as signposts of the decade's most significant mixology trends.

 

GIN-GIN MULE: This Audrey Saunders invention is often the first thing that cocktail pros mention when asked about new classics. "Bartenders all over the world tend to know the Gin-Gin Mule," said Gary Regan, author of several cocktail books, including the recent Bartender's Gin Compendium. Saunders — a leading light in darkened bars — created it before founding her SoHo bar, Pegu Club. Essentially a gin-based version of the ginger-minty Moscow Mule — one of the few vodka cocktails still granted respect by the avant-garde — the drink was a symbol both of the cocktail crowd's enthusiastic reclamation of gin and its curled-lip repudiation of vodka. (Gin is also the base of Sauders's Earl Grey MarTEAni, an early and influential example of the tea-infusion trend.)

 

BENTON'S OLD-FASHIONED: Don Lee, formerly of PDT in the East Village, credits Eben Freeman, the mad-scientist mixologist of the recently demised Tailor, with opening his eyes to "fat washing" liquor. But it was this instantly cultish concoction, which infuses bourbon with Allan Benton's Tennessee bacon, that revved up interest in that technique, which melds flesh and firewater. Created by Lee in 2007 at PDT, it perhaps best epitomises the advent of savoury cocktails, which draw herbs, spices and vegetables, including chilies, into the world within the glass.

 

OAXACA OLD-FASHIONED: Tequila didn't play much of a role in the early years of the cocktail renaissance. And mezcal, tequila's rough-hewn relation, had none at all. Both are used instead of bourbon or rye in this south-of-the-border twist on the Old-Fashioned, with terroir-specific agave syrup instead of sugar.

 

RED HOOK COCKTAIL: Rye whiskey roared back in the last decade after decades in eclipse. With it came new homages to pre-Prohibition rye-based cocktails like the Manhattan and the Brooklyn. This mix of rye, sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur, created by the former Milk & Honey bartender Enzo Errico, inspired at least a dozen more sub-riffs by other ardent cocktail classicists, with almost all the drinks named after Brooklyn neighbourhoods, including the Greenpoint (which uses Chartreuse), the Cobble Hill (Amaro Montenegro and cucumber slices) and the Bensonhurst (maraschino liqueur and Cynar). New spins on the Old-Fashioned (see above) were nearly as common.

 

ST-GERMAIN COCKTAIL: The elderflower-based elixir with the sui generis floral flavor almost single-handedly invigorated the moribund liqueur category. Suddenly semi-forgotten potions like Drambuie, Cherry Heering and Chartreuse were being dusted off and tarted up. And every new liqueur wanted to be as big as St-Germain when it grew up. A list of new St-Germain cocktails could fill a few columns, but the mix of the liqueur, Champagne and sparkling water known as the St-Germain cocktail was perhaps the most common, mixed by high-end watering holes like Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco and the Zig Zag Café in Seattle.

 

ABSINTHE DRIP: When a liquor that has been unavailable for nine decades hits the shelves again, it creates a stir. For many cocktail mavens, absinthe, the Victorians' embalmer of choice, was the missing piece to so many liquid puzzles. Soon, it was not unusual to find an absinthe water drip at the end of the bar, slowly clouding a glass of the green liquid with dissolved sugar, the classic way to drink absinthe. It would only be old hat if you happened to be Degas.

BARTENDER'S CHOICE: Ten years ago, the suggestion that a barkeep name your poison would have been greeted with a withering fisheye. Bartenders nationwide have raised their level of skill and scholarship. Customers have followed them with an increased sense of adventure and a willingness to swallow whatever they dish up.

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN'S TURMOIL

 

Jamaat-e-Islami's biweekly Daawat, on December 25 writes: "There is not even the slightest doubt about the fact that the [Pakistan] Supreme Court's order striking down the National Reconciliation Ordinance has created conditions similar to those in 2007 in Pakistan. Prospects of a political and legal crisis are clearly being felt, and the country can once again be struck by instability."

 

In an editorial entitled, "Danger to Zardari's Presidential chair", on December 18, Rashtriya Sahara writes: "Zardari, faced with attacks, pressures and criticisms from all sides, may not be immediately affected by this decision of the Supreme Court, but it is not easy for someone accused of corruption to remain in the chair of the country's President." It writes: "If the Geelani government shows weakness under these circumstances, on the one hand the Army will get an opportunity of grabbing power or at least increasing the pressure on the government, the large-scale campaign against the activities of Taliban will be weakened, on the other hand."

 

Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun-based daily Sahafat,  in an editorial, '"Asma Jehangir's double standard" (December 23), has criticised the well-known human rights activist of Pakistan for her adverse comment on the Supreme Court's order saying that "Pakistan's judiciary has crossed the boundaries of its prerogatives, and it has no right to probe the ethical aspects of MPs." The paper writes: "She [Jehangir] was overjoyed when the Supreme Court had issued orders against former President Pervez Musharraf. She had sung praises of Pakistan's judicial system, particularly the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chowdhury, and described him as the founder of the future history of Pakistan. The same, though, have now become villains in her eyes."

 

Chidambaram's security plan

 

Home Minister P. Chidambaram's proposals for the reorganisation and bifurcation of his ministry including the creation of a national counter-terrorism centre (NCTC), have been discussed extensively. Delhi, Kolkata and Ranchi-based daily, Akhbar-e-Mashriq, (December 26) describes them as "extremely appropriate from the point of view of internal security". Describing the present network of intelligence agencies as "an Octopus whose innumerable tentacles get entwined among themselves, unlike the real Octopus whose tentacles are always separate," the paper has emphasised the need for re-organising the system. "It is quite necessary to lessen the burden of the home minister" (whom it described as "an able and wise son of the country and the best administrator" and "Chidambaram's proposals are behad maqbool-o-munaasib — extremely appropriate and proper — and a way should be found for their acceptance and implementation at the earliest."

 

Rashtriya Sahara (December 25) states: "It should be remembered  that following the terrorist attack in Mumbai, there was a common perception that the country was unable to prevent these violent activities not because of any dearth of confidential information. The most important reason for this was the inability to take a timely retaliatory action based on the available information".

 

Delhi-based Hindustan Express, in an editorial on the same day, does not find much virtue in the plan; "One fails to understand how there can be an improvement in the situation by an addition to the number of ministers and creation of a new portfolio. The job of a minister is only overall monitoring and issuing of orders. There are officers and assigned teams responsible for every department and reforms for any situation and the required action depend not on numbers but on the minister's leadership capability and the competence of his team".

 

The Jharkhand alliance

 

Sahafat, on December 28 writes; "One had a misconception about the new leadership of BJP, i.e., Nitin Gadkari as its new president. People had thought that after RSS had made him the BJP chief with great fanfare and celebration, he would, at least for sometime, give a new look to the party's corrupt face. But soon after becoming the president he accepted the proposal for making a person the CM, about whose corruption every BJP leader had been made the main issue by them in the elections as well... "

 

Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj, in its editorial on the same day says that Shibu Soren's rise to the office of CM "has thrown up a new issue on the political chessboard of Jharkhand as to whether BJP is a communal party or not. The JMM has very clearly said that they don't find any significant difference between the Congress and the BJP, as both are simply political parties. Whether there is any truth in this argument of the JMM or not has to be decided by the people of the country. However, to keep on changing the definition of secularism for capturing power has been an old pastime of political parties."

 

Compiled by Seema Chishti

 

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THE HINDU

ADDRESSING THE VULNERABILITY

 

At a time when the prospects for civil aviation industry seemed to be looking up, the failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound transatlantic Northwest Airline flight last week has come as a rude shock. A 23-year-old Nigerian was able to slip through the security net at the Amsterdam airport and get on to the flight with explosives, later identified as PETN (pentaerythritol). It is by a stroke of luck that he failed — he sustained serious burns in trying to ignite the explosive and was overpowered by the crew and fellow passengers. Airport security was the final line of defence that he had breached. Based on information, he had some months ago been noted as a potential terrorist to be watched but American security agencies had failed to follow up and bar him from flying into the U.S. In addition to addressing the questions raised by the intelligence failure, the U.S. administration has also sought to tighten airport security. Obviously, there are still certain explosives and chemicals — they include plastic explosives — which cannot be detected in the existing security checks at airports. One suggestion that has emerged is the introduction of mandatory whole body scan at major airports, especially for flights bound for the U.S. Nigeria, in fact, has placed orders for these scans at its four major airports, and no international passenger will be allowed to board a flight without going through this check. Many European airports already have this facility, but the check has not been made compulsory as yet.

 

In 2001, after a failed "shoe bombing" incident, when a passenger attempted to blow up a plane with explosive-laden shoes, American airports made it compulsory for all passengers to remove their shoes and put them through the scanner. Chemical explosives, small quantities of which are enough to blow holes through the aircraft with disastrous consequences at high altitudes, have posed a major technological challenge to airport security. Special scanning for chemicals and physical search are currently in use but they are time-consuming and involve additional cost and delays. The airlines too seem worried at the prospect of security measures and terrorist threats keeping passengers away from international flights. If the coming year was expected to see a turnround in the fortunes of airlines, the latest incident and the Nigerian suspect's warning that more bombers were heading for the U.S. have come as dampeners. Technological developments may well make security screening at airports quicker and non-intrusive, but that is for the medium term. Meanwhile, no effort must be spared to make the screening as thorough as possible even at the cost of some inconvenience and delays.

 

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THE HINDU

INEVITABLE DELAY

 

Given the complexity involved in conceptualising and implementing the Goods and Services Tax (GST), it is becoming clearer by the day that the scheme cannot be introduced by April 1, 2010, as originally proposed. An overwhelming majority of States have expressed themselves in favour of a less rigid time frame. The Centre has not yet brought before Parliament the legislation to amend the Constitution without which the GST cannot be put in place. More basically, the Centre and the States are yet to reach a consensus on what the goods and services tax rates should be. The Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers has come out in favour of a dual structure. The Centre and the States will have their own laws and rates, and there will be a multiplicity of rates for goods and services. More recently, there have been suggestions favouring a combined GST across the country, incorporating the tax rates of both the Centre and the States. The National Institute of Public Finance and Policy has said the combined GST could be around 17-18 per cent. This is substantially higher than the 12 per cent combined tax rate — five per cent for the Centre and seven per cent for the States — proposed by the 13th Finance Commission recently. The Commission has also recommended the creation of a safety net for the States with a corpus of Rs. 30,000 crore to be funded by the Centre over five years.

 

The sharp difference in the rates proposed by the two expert bodies indicates, more than anything else, the difficulty in working out a revenue-neutral tax rate that will be fair to all the stakeholders. At this stage, there is no clarity on whether it will be possible to subsume all the indirect taxes into the new levy. The administrative costs involved, including those for the development of crucial technology inputs, have yet to be calculated. Although there are major hurdles to be crossed before a consensus can be arrived at, the time has come to educate all the stakeholders on the merits of the GST, which is not a new tax but only an improvement over the prevailing consumption tax systems at the Centre and in the States. At present, there is a value added tax (VAT) at the manufacturing stage on goods and a separate tax on selected services at the Centre, and a VAT up to the retail stage at the State level. Tax bases at the Centre and in the States overlap and, despite the input credits given at various levels, there is considerable cascading that distorts tax incidence and makes manufacturing non-competitive in many cases. The GST is expected to expand the tax base and reduce distortions by eliminating input taxes.

 

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THE HINDU

THE DRAGON OF INFLATION

IT IS TIME WE FIXED RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE MENACING SITUATION THAT HAS COME TO EXIST IN INDIA ON THE PRICE FRONT.

AMAR SINGH

 

Life for the aam aadmi, or the common person, is becoming increasingly difficult owing to the all-round price rise across the country. It bites into the real incomes of the people. The situation has worsened owing to the several rounds of price increases effected for petroleum products, which has had an alarming impact on the prices of several commodities.

 

Another aspect of the price rise phenomenon is that people are paying more for basic services such as health, education and transport. One of the reasons for the rising indebtedness among families is the increasing cost of health care, which is linked to the escalating cost of drugs. Inflation, combined with policies of privatisation, has caused a complete deterioration in living standards. The large majority of the working people in India are in the unorganised sector. Their incomes fluctuate, and they have no protection against rising prices. Prices have risen, but not incomes. We know about the acute agrarian distress and the incidence of suicide among farmers in many parts of India. Some international agencies have pointed to a most disturbing trend of increasing malnutrition in India, particularly among children and women.

 

India has witnessed periods of inflation even earlier, but over the last two years there has been no end to this trend, and the situation is going from bad to worse. The government remains a mute spectator. According to figures released by the Commerce Ministry, as on November 28, 2009, the food price index had risen at the rate of 19.05 per cent, the highest rate in the last 11 years. Prices of essential commodities such as pulses, rice, sugar and vegetables keep going up. If this trend of inflation continues for a prolonged period, the possibility of food riots occurring in India cannot be ignored.

 

Over a period of time, the Central government has been providing various excuses for this menacing situation. In 2007, when inflation intensified, it was said to be a seasonal phenomenon that would pass in a matter of a few days. After some time the Finance Minister said that inflation was an outcome of economic growth. Subsequently, when the country witnessed a period of drought it was stated that because of low production the supply side had become weak.

 

In November 2009, the Prime Minister said during one of his televised interactions that because of the price rise our farmers would get more for their produce. He said that would benefit 75 per cent of the farmers: for that, 25 per cent of the people would have to manage accordingly. The same was the opinion expressed by one of the Ministers of State (of Home Affairs) who belongs to Uttar Pradesh. The government-determined procurement rate of pulses was raised to Rs. 3,000 a quintal (Rs.30 a kg), while a kg of daal in the open market costs Rs. 90 to Rs. 100. The government should come out of the ivory tower and examine the real statistics. The citizens cannot be befooled. The farmer is getting less than Rs. 30 a kg for arhar daal, while the sale price in the market is Rs.100. The pertinent question is: who corners the profit of Rs. 60 to Rs. 70? The government should come out of Mission America and look into the affairs of the common masses.

 

A while ago, the Union Food Minister put the blame for the rise in prices on the State governments. Everyone knows that the Central government is accountable for agriculture-related laws, such as those concerning the public distribution system, the procurement of produce, the minimum support price of commodities, and so on, which are linked to inflation. If the State governments are to be blamed for inflation, the prices of essential commodities should vary from State to State, and particularly the Congress-ruled States should not have any inflation. But that is not the case: the price of arhar daal is Rs. 80 in Lucknow, and the same is the case in Delhi and Mumbai. If the price of onion rises in Hyderabad, it does so in Jaipur, too. It seems the Food Minister has lost confidence in himself and in his government to prices under check. Probably that is the reason he is putting the blame on the State governments. Why are farmers committing suicide in Congress-governed States such as Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, although these States are actually richer in comparison to other States. Where the Union Agriculture Minister comes from, there are more suicides than in other areas.

 

Now the Congress is also getting sceptical and trying to put all the blame on Sharad Pawar. The entire government has to take joint responsibility for good and bad work. The responsibility for the price rise goes back to the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister. But we cannot entirely blame the Congress for this because it has the old diabolical policy of gulping sugary stuff and spitting out bitter material. The Congress took all the credit for the benefits of the policies of economic liberalisation that were initiated by the Narasimha Rao government. But when it came to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the onus lay only on P.V. Narasimha Rao. The Congress remains a Holy Cow.

 

This year India will import a large quantity of rice. I fail to understand the rationale behind the export and import policies of the government. For years we have had good monsoons and our farmers have produced enough to meet the country's needs. The question is: where are the reserve stocks? The government should not entirely blame the monsoon; instead, its mismanagement of the situation is to blame. In 2008, when the price of sugar was low in the international market it was high in India and India imported. In 2008, the government framed the relevant policy in such a manner that the sugarcane farmers cultivated less in 2009. This ultimately resulted in the manifold rise of the price of sugar. In 2008 the government imported wheat at a high rate because it failed to manage properly procurements from farmers. The middlemen-hoarders bought wheat at low prices from farmers and manipulated the market.

 

The root cause for inflation is 'commodity exchange'. The prices of produce escalate three-fold as they pass from the farmer to the consumer. Faulty procurement policies lead farmers to sell their produce to middlemen or through the 'commodity exchange' process. The hoarders release or sell the produce as they wish, particularly when the market is up. The farmer should be enabled to sell in States other than his own, avoiding the nuisance of the middleman.

 

I do not understand the complex jargon of the economists, but one thing I know: an increase in food subsidy and an effective public distribution system ensure low prices for the common man. The United Progressive Alliance government has failed on both these counts. It is well understood that in order to meet the people's needs, we have to produce more, foil the hoarders and confiscate what they hoard. In India, the per hectare production is less than that in China, Bangladesh and Indonesia. This means that after the Green Revolution phase we have ignored the agriculture sector. Our farmers suffer for the lack of a viable credit facility, a poor procurement mechanism, and expensive farm inputs such as seed, fertilizer and diesel. Today the situation facing agrarian India is so pathetic that more than 80 per cent of the farmers want to leave farming.

 

The government's polices are going horribly wrong and these are totally anti-farmer. Without thinking of the farmer's plight, the government has allowed multinational companies to do business in the retail sector. It has signed a free trade agreement with countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) without thinking about its repercussions. I feel that the government is now more keen to help farmers and industrial houses in other countries at the cost of domestic farmers.

 

Only governmental encouragement of farmers and the procurement of their produce can change the dynamics of cultivation and the position of farmers. Boosting the incomes of small and big farmers will not only enhance their means of livelihood but safeguard them from the anguish of suicides. When there is no shortage of capital in the country, priority should be accorded to the development of farmers and agriculture.

At a Cabinet Sub-Committee meeting on October 21, 2009, the Commerce Minister said the government would provide enough food materials to the people at appropriate prices. We understand that everything is available in the market, but they are two to three times more expensive than was the case earlier — which puts them beyond the reach of the common people.

 

(Amar Singh is the general secretary of the Samajwadi Party.)

 

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THE HINDU

THE YEAR AHEAD — THE WORLD STAGE

WILL THE MIDDLE EAST COLLAPSE IN FLAMES? OR WILL IRAN COME IN FROM THE COLD?

SIMON TISDALL

 

It is easy enough to construct a scenario in which the Middle East explodes into flames in 2010, dragging the rest of the world into a churning crisis of widening military confrontation, terrorist attacks in western cities, and a global economic recession spawned by chronic oil shortages.

 

An Israeli aerial attack on Iran's suspect nuclear facilities is the most obvious trigger. Any such action would be likely to provoke retaliatory attacks on Israel by Iran's Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, and against U.S. targets in Bahrain and the Gulf.

 

The Obama administration's official line is that there are "no good options" on Iran, and that a military strike would have only a short-term impact. But nuclear negotiations are at a standstill, sanctions do not appear to be working and the unofficial U.S. deadline for Iran to start cooperating expired on Thursday (Dec. 31). The U.S. may not be able to restrain Israel's headstrong prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. And it would inevitably be drawn in on Israel's side. If, as seems probable, Iran responded by blockading or mining the Straits of Hormuz, Mr. Obama would be in direct confrontation with Tehran.

 

Truly, it's a dreadful prospect. But it is just as easy to offer a more positive interpretation. In one sense, the difference between a deal and a rupture with Iran boils down to two hardline individuals: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Should either be removed from power, by political opponents, by an internal coup, or for reasons of health, the picture could be transformed. Iran is a young country with a mainly pro-western outlook. Its educated classes bemoan the gulf with the west that has grown up since the 1979 revolution. The majority favours rapprochement. And if a policy of re-engagement were to take hold, as happened in eastern Europe 20 years ago, it could prove impossible to stop.

 

Iran's coming in from the cold would have an enormous impact around the region. Bellwether countries such as Syria would follow suit. Support for violent, rejectionist Islamist extremism in Iraq and Palestine would correspondingly decline. This in turn could create an exceptional opportunity to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

 

The key elements of a peace deal are all well known, laid out in the Arab League's initiative and the U.S.-backed road map. The likely shape a final settlement might take, including borders, Jerusalem, compensation for refugees, and mutual diplomatic recognition, is no mystery. The more problematic question in recent years has been how to create enough trust and momentum to get from here to there. If Israel's leadership, freed from its Iran fixation and preferably headed by a replacement for Netanyahu, truly wanted it; if Hamas, faced by dwindling external support, and Fatah patched up their differences and came to the negotiating table; and if Mr.Obama was there, too, ready to guarantee a deal militarily and financially, there's no objective reason why 2010 might not be the harbinger of lasting peace in the Middle East.

 

The knock-on effect of such a historic grand bargain could be spectacular, for example by removing much of the ideological raison d'etre for Al Qaeda-style terrorism. The boost to efforts to halt proliferation of weapons of mass destruction might be equally stunning. In prospect might be an end to the "clash of civilisations," as urged by Mr. Obama in his Cairo speech.

 

Of course, this can easily be dismissed as wishful thinking. People get comfortable with failure; we are accustomed to things not working out. The odds favour gloom. Believe the worst, as they say, and it will probably happen. But hope for the best, and who knows?

 

With a bit of faith and a dash of luck, 2010 might just bring some pleasant surprises.

 

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THE HINDU

THE ANC IS FAILING POOR AFRICANS

JONATHAN STEELE

 

With the World Cup nearing, 2010 will be South Africa's year. The self-proclaimed Rainbow Nation will receive a rainbow crowd of visitors, the largest and most diverse group of tourists in its history. The spotlight on the country's progress since apartheid will be more intense than ever.

 

The World Cup host, President Jacob Zuma, will bring Britain his message of success with a state visit in March. Eight months in office, he has surprised his critics. He is more accessible to ordinary South Africans than his aloof predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. He is more willing to listen to colleagues than Nelson Mandela who, according to former ministers, could be brutal in cabinet, shutting speakers up by saying he had already taken his decision.

 

Mr. Zuma accepts advice, including on matters where his past behaviour suggests he has different instincts. His recent speech calling for increased HIV/AIDS awareness and a new funding for anti-retroviral drugs was a sharp correction to Mbeki's denialist line. But can Zuma make a difference on South Africa's social and economic problems?

 

Mr. Mandela and Mr. Mbeki presided over the longest economic boom in the country's history. Mr. Zuma was unlucky to come to power just after the onset of the global economic crisis. Growth in 2010 is projected to fall by 2.6 per cent at a time when western economies are already reviving.

 

Mr. Zuma was also unlucky to arrive in Pretoria's Union Buildings, the seat of government, at "payback time." While the end of apartheid removed a vicious system of political inequality, the post-apartheid years have produced a widening of income disparities, leaving South Africa more unequal than its neighbours, Zambia and Zimbabwe. At 25 per cent of the labour force, unemployment is massive. As the riots in several townships demonstrated a few months ago, black South Africans are increasingly angry.

 

They have good cause. Private poverty and public lack of resources are visible everywhere. Visiting a school in a township not far from Johannesburg, we found that dozens of pupils have to walk over two hours from the shacks where they live each day. Class sizes average 50, and the cramped school has no assembly hall or gym. At least the pupils get a meal, and food parcels to tide them over the Christmas holiday, but even this vital help is not financed by the government. It comes from private donors.

 

The good news is that jobless people's rage is no longer directed at immigrants. The xenophobic attacks on workers from Zimbabwe and other African countries in May 2008 have not been repeated. Instead of scapegoating the innocent, poor people are aiming their criticism at officials of the ruling party, the African National Congress, and demanding delivery of long-promised improvements. The bad news is that the government and the media seem unwilling to engage in serious debate, let alone action, on how to supply people with what they need.

 

South Africa's press and blog sites are dominated by rightwing thinking. They regularly headline claims that the government is "lurching to the left" and that the Communist party and trade union allies are getting the upper hand. But Cosatu (the Congress of South African Trade Unions) and two other union federations supported the recent medium-term budget statement of the finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, even though he followed the ANC government's neoliberal trickle-down line of relying on foreign investment and exports to produce growth. He announced some grants for small businesses to retain workers rather than lay them off, but no large-scale public works or any serious redistribution of wealth through the tax system. South Africa's simplistic economic debate does not even recognise Keynesianism as a legitimate alternative to the failed ANC strategy of the last decade and a half.

 

Bad too is the anti-intellectual tone of much of the ANC's discourse. When Kader Asmal — one of the movement's stalwarts and a former education minister - criticised plans to rename South Africa's police a "force" rather than a "service," Fikile Mbalula, the deputy police minister, exploded, saying Asmal's "vitriolic, coarse and vulgar antics smack of duplicity, deceit and double standards." Mr. Mbalula is a close friend of the loud-mouthed Julius Malema, the head of the ANC's youth league whom Mr. Zuma recently endorsed as a future leader of South Africa. Mr. Mbalula supports new instructions given to the police to kill suspects thought to be carrying arms ("Yes, shoot the …," he wrote in a recent column).

 

Ironically, just as during apartheid South Africa's courts occasionally thwarted the state, they have become a key motor for reform today. The country's path-breaking constitution enshrines numerous social rights, including the "right to have access to adequate housing"; and in their search for better service delivery people are turning to judges rather than politicians. They recently won a major victory when the constitutional court struck down the KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act, which had allowed municipalities not only to evict squatters from public land but to force private landlords to kick their squatters out too. Shackdwellers (who consist of as many as 10 per cent of South Africa's population) are increasingly organising themselves, independently of the ANC, the Communist party and the trade unions. They also see little hope in the Congress of the People, which broke from the ANC a year ago. It got 7% in last April's elections, but thanks to internal squabbles and resignations has crashed to 2%.

 

With their new government-licensed permission to turn easily to violence, the police seem to have condoned, and perhaps instigated, an appalling machete attack in Durban against Abahlali base Mjondolo, the biggest of the new shackdwellers' movements. The attack left two people dead and the shackdwellers' leader in hiding, but Mr. Zuma's government refuses to establish an inquiry. South Africa has made huge strides since its first democratic government in 1994. But slippage is accelerating and Zuma needs to reverse it soon.

 

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THE HINDU

TRADITIONAL MEDICINE THREAT TO VULTURES

DAVID SMITH

 

It's a tiny organ that, the superstition goes, holds the secrets of the future. When smoked and inhaled, the brain of a vulture is said to confer the gift of premonition. To put it bluntly, most users hope to sneak a look at next week's national lottery numbers.

 

Such is the demand for vulture brains to use in muti - traditional medicine - that wildlife experts fear the birds could be driven to extinction within two or three decades. They also warn that hunting could intensify as gamblers seek an advantage when betting on the football World Cup in South Africa.

 

Vultures' acute vision, and ability to find prey, has kindled a belief they possess clairvoyant powers. Their brains are dried and rolled into a cigarette or inhaled as vapours in the hope they will bring a vision of the future - including lottery numbers and sports results.

 

Andre Botha, manager of the birds of prey working group at the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa, said: "People believe it's foresight and this finds fertile ground in people's imagination. If it worked for the lottery, everyone would use it and we'd have a lot of millionaires walking around today. There is a lot of betting in South Africa. So we may see an increase connected to gambling around the 2010 World Cup."

 

A 2007 study found that 160 vultures are sold a year for muti in eastern South Africa, with the total across the region thought to be much higher. About 1,000 are killed every year in Tanzania alone.

 

The birds are shot, trapped or poisoned by hunters. One tactic is to poison an animal so the vultures that feed on the carcass themselves fall victim. "You can have 300 or 400 converge on a poisoned carcass and all be wiped out," Botha added.

 

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DNA

A NEW YEAR PRAYER

 

The First hath dawned. With Yama may it be a cow to pour forth milk. May she be rich in milk and stream for us through many a coming year.

 

May she whom Gods accept with joy, She who is Consort of the Year, bring us abundant happiness. Thou whom with reverence we approach, O Night, vouchsafe us long to live; bless us with increase of our wealth.

 

This same is she whose light first dawned upon us: Great powers and glories are contained within her: a first-born bride, she conquers and bears children. Loud was the wooden pass-gear's ring and rattle, as it made annual oblation ready. May we be lords of riches, with goodly children and good men about us.Accept, O Jatavedas, our oblations. Tame animals of varied form and colour - may all the seven abide with me contented. Make me prosper, Night! May the favour of the Gods attend us. Filled full, O Ladle, fly thou forth. Completely filled fly back again. Serving at every sacrifice bring to us food and energy.

 

This Year hath come to us, thy lord and consort, O Ekashtaka. Vouchsafe us children long to live, bless us with increase of our wealth.

 

The Seasons, and the Seasons' Lords I worship, annual parts and groups. Half years, Years, Months, I offer to the Lord of all existing things.

 

I offer to the Seasons to Months, to Years. Dhatar, Vidhatar, Fortune, to the lord of all existing things.

 

With fatness and libation we sacrifice and adore the Gods. Wealthy may we retire to rest in our homes.

 

Ekashtaka, burning with zealous fervour, brought forth her babe the great and glorious Indra. With him the Gods subdued their adversaries: he became the Dasyus' slayer.

 

Indra's and Soma's mother! thou art daughter of Prajapati. Satisfy thou our hearts' desires. Gladly accept our sacrifice.

 

From Hymns of the Atharva Veda by Ralph TH Griffith

 

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DNA

POLICE STORY

 

In a knee-jerk reaction the Government of India has decided, according to newspaper reports, to turn every complaint received by a police station into an FIR.This will mean that the number of investigation officers will have to be increased three or four fold and, correspondingly, the number of policemen who help in the investigation process will also have to be increased. This may not be practically possible within the existing financial resources.

 

What the government needs to do is to pinpoint the basic reason why an SPS Rathore can get off with his evil deeds. This reason is not far to seek.Almost everyone who knows how the system works knows exactly how the most wicked of officers can openly sin and yet prosper.

 

There are individuals like Rathore in all spheres of public life. They can be kept in check only by fear of punishment.This fear prevailed even in the police force but times have changed and the politicians who, soon after Independence, were respected and even feared by prospective offenders in the bureaucracy have now become partners in crime.Since the government in power and its party's supporters have the imbedded authority to appoint, transfer, reward and punish officers, erring officials routinely approach powerful politicians for protection.Each has a godfather or two or even more!

 

We have seen that in Rathore's case politicians, cutting across the political divide, were persuaded to protect the offender despite his culpability having been proved by his own seniors and also by the controlling bureaucracy.If then the authority to prosecute the man was squarely in the hands of his departmental superiors, he could not have got off in this shameless fashion.

 

There are many lessons to be learnt from Rathore's case. The first is that the power to transfer and promote, to reward or punish, should be removed from the hands of one or two politicians and reposed in a Security Commission, comprising the state home minister, the leader of the Opposition, a retired judge of the high court and a few non-political but respected members of society, who will then take a considered and collective view of the merits or demerits of officials particularly those who dare to cross legal or moral boundaries.

 

The Supreme Court in the Prakash Singh judgment had endorsed the suggestion of the National Police Commission to constitute such commissions with the specific mandate of ensuring that only the honest and the meritorious are selected for the top job.

 

The second lesson is that all governments, at the Centre and in the states, should be compelled to exercise the powers reposed in them by the All India Service Rules to compulsorily retire corrupt or incompetent officers at the age of 50 or 55.No government does this at present because of the pressure exerted by officers like Rathore through their political contacts.

 

Thirdly, no state government should be permitted by law to appoint a DGP who has not been empanelled for that post by the central government.At present the Union government will not accept on deputation officers who are not on their select panels.Why then should the people of the state suffer the corrupt or the incompetent who have not been found fit for deputation to the Centre?Such officials should have been compulsorily retired before they picked up rank.

 

Fourthly, no officer who has not been decorated with the Indian Police Medal for Meritorious Service should be promoted to the rank of Inspector General of Police and no officer who has not been decorated with a Presidents Police Medal for Distinguished Service should be promoted to the rank of additional DG.

Even if the state governments recommend their cases, the Intelligence Bureau inputs received by the empowered committees should ensure that the corrupt do not find a place in the list of awardees.It stands to reason that such officers should not be imposed on the people of the state. In fact, they should be compulsorily retired at the age of 50 or 55 as mentioned earlier.Rathore could not have been promoted even as additional DG in that case.

 

It is important for the people to understand that it is the misuse of power by venal politicians that enables corrupt and criminally-inclined officials to rise in the hierarchy and even continue to indulge in wrong doings like the ones that have come to light in Ruchika's case.If we want justice and decency to prevail we have to strike at the root cause for such malfeasance and force the hands of the political class in the interest of good governance.
It is unfortunate that a young girl has lost her life.But the people have been presented with an opportunity to press for systemic police reforms.

 

 Julio Ribeiro

 

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DNA

WELCOME 2010

 

Achange in calendar is a momentous event in our human lives because it gives us the opportunity to look back, to assess and to decide what to jettison from our lives and what to continue with. And although there are many changes of years that we may follow — a financial year, a religious year, a personal year — to move from December 31 to January 1 is a significant milestone because it involves turning the page and the clock, never to go back.

 

The switch from 2009 to 2010 is not a change of decade — that will happen next year — but it does signify that the first decade of the 21st century is coming to an end.

 

And what a year it has been. We started it in the depths of gloom, as global economic recession led to many discussions about the end of capitalism and the horror of the November 26 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai still lingered. But since then we have realised that the rumours about a great depression were highly exaggerated and while the shock of 26/11 has abated, the anger and discontent remains. The end of the trial of Ajmal Kasab is eagerly awaited to give some form of closure to those happenings.

 

We also had a general election which confirmed once again that we have a mature electorate which looks for results and also for stability. The return to power for UPA II was however not so much a thumbs up for the Congress and its allies as it was a thumbs' down for many of India's other parties, especially those which have consistently harped on divisive politics to win votes.

 

The new India, it appeared, had other ideas about the future. It has been a particularly bad year for the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), both of which have to now regroup and re-strengthen themselves if they are to survive. In some ways, having a good opposition is essential to a democracy, so there is work to be done.

 

We managed to stave off a total economic recession only to have agriculture suffer a failed monsoon. Rising prices and inflation remain with us, even if our growth prospects are good.


It was a landmark year in other ways as well. Indian cinema went from strength to strength as new and unusual films — DevD, Kaminey and 3 Idiots for instance —- made their way to box office success. Slumdog Millionaire became an international sensation and refocused the world's attention on the glowing India story.

 

Indian sport also did well with India topping the world in Test cricket for the first time and some personal landmarks too — Sachin Tendulkar celebrated his 20 years as an international cricketer and also made a record 30,000 runs in international cricket. The Indian tennis team reached the world group in Davis Cup for the first time since 1998.

 

The India story, in fact, continued to interest the world and there is no doubt that India and China are now acknowledged as future world leaders. Indian help was sought by the US president Barack Obama in our troubled neighbourhood and India also played a major role in the climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

 

We have ended 2009 with the shocking revelations of the Ruchika-Rathore case, which reminds us of the systemic changes we need to make in our society. May 2010 give us wisdom, maturity, good health and wealth. A very Happy New Year to everyone!

 

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DNA

FIND AN EXCUSE TO CELEBRATE

 

Every excuse to celebrate is good. There are two aspects of true celebration. One is celebration as thanksgiving, as an expression of gratitude for the divine. The second celebration is to move forward by dropping the past, knowing that life is eternal. Welcome the New Year with either or both of these true celebrations.

 

Like the Christmas tree, life is evergreen. No storm or snow can weather away its leaves. Similarly, our spirit is eternal and though time andsome adversities may try to cloud the spirit, it still moves forward through personal or social grief and emerges powerful.

 

The nature of spirit is celebration. Celebration is the best medicine to help you move forward in life — it gets you out of the gloom after a crisis. In celebration, don't just concentrate on having parties. When celebration has a tinge of sacredness and prayer, it gains depth and dignity. Then, that type of a celebration is service, it is sacred. It is not just entertainment for the mind or excitement for the body, but nourishment for the soul. In such celebration, guilt will come nowhere near you.

 

Instead of beginning the New Year with an intoxicant, if it can begin with an act of kindness, a moment of reflection and even a second of introspection, we can call ourselves far more civilised. Your guilt for celebration is only if your celebration is for your own pleasure. If celebration is aimed at uplifting and uniting the hearts and minds of people around you, if it is to help them to let go of the traumatic past and kindle a ray of hope for the future, if your celebration is aimed at uplifting society, then that type of celebration is service, it is sacred. Don't feel stingy. Share what you have with others. Turn your celebration into a sacred offering for society rather than make it a self-centred pleasure-seeking one.

 

To celebrate life, you don't have to spend a lot of money. Celebration comes from enthusiasm and joy, celebration is an attitude and that does not need resources. When things are depressing, celebration is needed even more. A visit to the slums makes you realise that one can celebrate even during tough times. Look at those people. They still celebrate.

 

Let time celebrate your presence. When you let time celebrate you, you are a witness amid celebration. Welcome the year 2010 with a genuine smile from within. That smile comes when you know for sure that you are loved. If you don't know you are loved by the divine, you will not be able to celebrate life. You will live in insecurity. With insecurity comes greed. With greed comes selfishness. And with that comes anger. With anger comes lust. And with that comes sadness and misery, one behind the other, like a chain.

 

In the past year, check how many days you were entangled in maya? Turn back and remember the whole year. When you do this, do not reject anything. Let your attention be on the self. This is a delicate balance. This is yoga. This balance is spirituality. Spirituality is a harmonious blend of outer silence and inner celebration, and also inner silence and outer celebration! Celebration that comes out of silence is real celebration.

 

The year gone by has taught us many lessons: what we should be doing and what we should not be doing. Every pain that we went through in 2009 brought us some depth, and the joy and pleasure gave us a new vision of life and hope for the future. Difficulties give you depth and joy gives you width. One thing you must know is that life will always be better. It moves in the direction of the best. On the way you may find some rough roads, but it's for the better. Reconcile with the past and move on to the future with enthusiasm.

 

The wise will see their past as destiny and the future as free will, and be happy in the present. The unwise regret the past and think the future is destined, and become miserable in the present. In 2010, you have the choice of being one of the two.

 

This New Year, let there be sunshine — both in our lives and in society. Let us all have the determination to create a violence-free, stress-free society. May your life be filled with peace, joy and true celebration. Happy New Year!

 

- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

WANTED: GOVERNORS

DELAY IN SELECTION IS UNWARRANTED

 

The way the posts of Governor have been allowed to remain vacant in six crucial states, it would seem that the issue is not exactly the top priority with the Centre. Strictly speaking, Governors do not engage in day-to-day governance, but their presence is absolutely necessary to keep the elected heads of state governments under benign watch. The Governor acts as the conscience-keeper of the state, while at the same time being the eyes and ears of the Centre. By not appointing new persons to the high constitutional posts, the Centre is inadvertently giving the unfortunate impression that they are not very relevant to the scheme of things. At present, gubernatorial duties in three vital states —Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal — are being discharged by the Governors of adjoining states as an additional charge. Naturally, this puts an extra burden on them. If it was only a matter of a few days, things might have passed muster. But doing so for weeks and months altogether is not a very happy sign.

 

On the other hand, in Punjab, the term of Governor General SF Rodrigues ended six weeks back, but he continues to hold charge simply because a new Governor is yet to be selected. The Centre, which has to do the selection, ought to have announced the name of his successor, who also happens to be the Administrator of Chandigarh, long before the vacancy arose to avoid the prevailing confusion.

 

There is no dearth of either talent or aspirants in the country. It is just that the government at times treats Governorship as a sinecure job for out-of-work politicians. That obviously narrows down its selection pool. It must give due recognition to the qualities of right men, in whichever field they happen to be. The need is for men of honesty, integrity, sagacity, experience, responsibility and clean public image. Handing over charge to undeserving persons is going to bring down the image of the post. The endeavour should be to pick up the best, and to pick them in time. The political situation in most states does not warrant delay.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

SOLVING TELANGANA

ALL-PARTY MEETING MUST EVOLVE A CONSENSUS

 

Union Home Minister Chidambaram's invitation to eight recognized parties in Andhra Pradesh to meet him on January 5 for 'wide-ranging' discussions to resolve the ongoing imbroglio for a separate state is a step in the right direction. Coming after his assurance on wider consultations on the issue in a statement on December 23, the invitation is aimed at evolving a consensus. The political parties cannot shy away from their responsibility to restore order and calm in the state ravaged by unrest over the vexed issue. Significantly, the Centre's in-principle nod to statehood for Telangana had come after a consensus had emerged at an all-party meeting on December 7. However, when the Telangana region on the one hand and coastal Andhra and Rayalseema on the other began polarising along regional lines, all parties, including the Congress, found themselves split down the middle on the issue.

 

Parties like the TDP and the Praja Rajyam Party, which had earlier pledged open support to the cause of the Telangana state and had aligned with the avowedly pro-Telangana TRS in the simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections, did a complete volte face, after they found the non-Telangana regions opposing the bifurcation of the state. It does not behove parties to shift their position on key issues as per their political convenience. It is vital that they behave responsibly, first by attending the January 5 meeting and then by working with due sincerity to defuse the situation. Indulging in doublespeak or dragging their feet in the restoration of peace would eventually expose them before the people at large.

 

The state has indeed suffered enormous damage in the three weeks since the Centre's nod on Telangana. Industrial production has been crippled, investor sentiment jolted, tourism has been severely affected, work in offices has been paralysed and education in schools and colleges has been hit. It is, therefore, imperative that the January 5 meeting be not a wasted opportunity. A durable solution must be found in a spirit of give and take. For Mr Chidambaram too this is a challenge and an opportunity to prove his negotiating skills.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

CHEW FOR CHEER

JUST A TABLET IN MOUTH WILL DO THE TRICK

 

Anything for that morning cup of tea! Say that again. The cup is likely to be replaced by a pill. That is if the Tocklai Experimental Station at Jorhat has its way. In a pioneering move, the oldest and the largest research station of its kind, synonymous with tea research, has developed a tiny tea tablet that can be chewed as well as stirred in a cup of water. Made from natural extracts, fresh from tea gardens of Assam, it will be just as invigorating as a regular cup of tea that brings cheer.

 

The health benefits of a cup of tea have been driven home time and again and it has been rated as the best beverage, even better than water. Researches have proved its role in cancer prevention, improved cardiovascular health and in arresting tooth decay. Green tea benefits are manifold, some anti-oxidental. It not only cuts off risks of dying from heart diseases and strokes but also deaths from many other ailments. Green tea improves metabolism and fights fat too. Now, Indian scientists have given the much-loved health drink a new avatar. Perhaps it will give a fillip to the Indian tea industry too, which has seen a decline in exports recently. The health industry can enter into a joint venture with the tea industry. Tea can be bought like candy, chocolates and chewing gum all from the same counter. How the "chaiwala" at the street corner will take remains to be seen.

 

But the history of tea in India, whose consumption finds mention even in ancient texts, may or may not be rewritten with the new tea pill , or whatever the brand name it may come to acquire. But for those who decide to beat the chill with the pill, the fine art of tea making may well be history. Will the world's largest tea drinking nation no longer wake up to that morning cup of tea? Time to mull over a cup of tea… nay a pill in your mouth. Out with teatime.…. reserve your sympathy for those exquisite tea pots. At 80 paise per tablet — commercial production will bring down the cost even further — it is time to pop the pill and chew your thoughts.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

'NONE OF THE ABOVE' VOTING

AN URGENT DEMOCRATIC NEED

BY JUSTICE RAJINDAR SACHAR (RETD)

 

The recent legislation by the Gujarat government to make voting compulsory at the local election level has elicited mixed response. There is no doubt that there are weighty reasons against making voting compulsory, and the effective mechanism to supervise makes the task still more difficult. But it is somewhat surprising that almost no attention has been paid to the provision of negative voting or "None of the Above" right given to the voters by the same legislation — this right means that if a person does not approve of any candidate selected by the party cabal, he should not have to choose the least undesirable or sit at home sulking and cursing the law. In a vibrant democracy the voter should be able to hit effectively at all the political parties to show that all the candidates selected by them are undesirable.

 

The principle of "None of the Above" is that whereas the government should secure the consent of the governed, at the same time legitimate consent requires the ability to withhold consent. It is also recognised that the provision of "None of the Above" in election law will enable and encourage voters to participate in greater number at election time, and thus indirectly assist in the same process as is sought to be effectuated by providing for compulsory voting.

 

In fact, the Supreme Court in 1993 affirmed that "voting is formal expression of will or opinion by the person entitled to exercise the right on the subject or issue in question" and that the "Right to vote means right to exercise the right in favour of or against motion or resolution. Such a right implies the right to remain neutral as well."

 

Thus, it is incumbent on the Central government to provide an effective mechanism for negative voting. As a matter of fact, such a provision exists under the rules framed by the Central government since long, though hardly anyone, including the presiding officer, acts on it.

 

Thus, under Rule 49(o) of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961, a voter has to inform the presiding officer of his intention not to vote — the presiding officer makes an entry in the remark column in Form 17 and the voter has to sign the form which is also to be countersigned by the presiding officer. This right was hardly exercised because it was then ballot voting, and in this process the secrecy of voting could not be maintained; polling agents and other officers would know about it. The majority of voters do not wish openly to get into conflict with political parties, especially their goons, and, therefore, per force, they voted for what they thought was the least undesirable.

 

But when we switched over to the present system of using the electronic voting machine (EVM), it became easier to provide a mechanism in a manner that the secrecy of voting was not violated by just providing one more slot in the voting machine as "None of the Above". The Election Commission commendably has been writing to the Central government (which alone can amend the rule and provide for this method) since 2001. But, regrettably, there has been deafening silence from different political parties and governments. Now the provocative and undemocratic stand of the Central government is that even if the present rule violates secrecy, it does not matter because secrecy, though desirable, is not inviolate and hence there is no reason to amend the rules. This stand of the Central government flies in the face of the International Civil and Political Covenant Rights and which has been ratified by India — that the secrecy of voting at an election is part of the human rights guaranteed to each citizen in a country which calls itself democratic.

 

Though the right to negative voting is provided in the election law, it cannot be effectuated unless the rules are amended by the Central government. Not doing so, in fact, goes against the mandate of the Parliament's Act — a serious breach of constitutional obligation on the part of the executive — hardly a commendable action.

 

It is not as if it is a radical untested suggestion. Negative voting is already prevalent in Ukraine and Russia, which have only recently adopted democratic elections. It has been in existence for a long time in many of the states in the US since the nineties.

 

In some states of the US it is provided that "if None of the Above" receives the most notes, then no one is elected and a byelection with new candidates is to be held within 60 days. Imagine what pressure it will put on the parties to avoid nominating candidates with a criminal background which in our current elections reaches the minimum of 25 per cent and across all the political parties.

 

Such a pressure on the political parties may compel them to democratise their method of selecting candidates as against the present one of cabal selecting their own progeny, nephews, nieces and underlings — even if the disgusted voter is annoyed he or she cannot prevent any such nominee to be elected. But if negative voting was there it would give a choice to the voters to loudly say "None of the Above", resulting in a fresh ballot This would be a step in the right direction of further democratising the elections and give the "small man with a pencil (a phrase used by Winston Churchill and emphasised by Krishna Iyer J. in the time of ballot voting) — but now the little man with a small finger with the power to press the None of the Above" (NOTA) button on the election machine and make democracy more participatory.

 

One hopes this competitive politics generated at the local-level election in Gujarat will provoke the Central government (which alone is the competent authority to amend the rules) to provide for Nota as requested by the Election Commission. But the Opposition cannot sit idle and blame the Central government. If the BJP wants to take credit for a negative voting provision in Gujarat, it should publicly announce its support for an amendment to the rules to provide for negative voting at the state and central levels which will inevitably put pressure on the Central government to do so.

 

The writer is a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

2010 for Delhiites

By S. Raghunath

 

I have been gazing intently into my crystal ball in a bid to ensnare the ethereal psychic waves and find out just what 2010 has in store for the Delhiites. My findings:

 

For the Aries folks, 2010 is likely to be a bumpy year. With Saturn adversely aspected in their third stellar mansion, they will find themselves coming a beautiful cropper in unexpected potholes on Barakhamba Road and breaking their precious necks.

 

For the Taurans, everything points to a house move, courtesy the bulldozers of the demolition squad of the Delhi Development Authority and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation. With Mercury transiting their birth sign, they can expect sewage-contaminated water to start trickling thru' their taps at 2.30 in the morning instead of 3 o'clock.

 

For the Gemini folks, the influence of Venus, the planet of love, will be pronounced and their love life will prosper. They can expect to convince the mobile court in Tees Hazari that they were courting and wooing and not eve teasing and get away with a light fine and a warning.

 

For the Cancer folks, 2010 is likely to be a financially rewarding year with both Delhi Telephones and Delhi Vidyut Board apologising in writing for overbilling and sending refund cheques.

 

For the Leos, the Jupiter factor will be pronounced as also their speculative and gambling tendencies. They will wager that all curbs on the construction of high rise apartments and commercial complexes in the Green Belt zones would be abolished and win hands down.

 

For those born under the Virgo sign, 2010 is likely to be a smelly year with garbage in front of their houses remaining uncleared for months on end and reaching mountainous proportions and becoming stellar tourist attractions.

 

For the Librans, 2010 is likely to be, quite literally, the year of the Dog. With wild packs of stray dogs in their neighbourhood barking and whelping thru' the night and driving them bonkers. A good year for investing in pharma companies manufacturing anti-rabies vaccine.

 

The literary and poetic streak in those born under Scorpion sign, will come to the fore during 2010. They will pen epic prose and poetry protesting against the hike in property taxes and submitting them to NDMC.

 

Success in business is indicated for those born under the Sagittarious sign. They will get in on the basement floor of the most lucrative racket of 'em all and set up as house brokers and palm off a one-room thatched roof tenement in Trans-Yamuna as a "posh, imperial residency" and pocket a fat commission.

 

For the Capricorns. Mars will be in a malefic aspect and with an adverse conjunction of Neptune and Jupiter, they will find themselves standing in a km-long queue to buy kerosene and have the hawkers flying at them.2010 will find the Aquarians in a relaxed and laid-back mood and doing things they enjoy most like gardening, that is pulling congress grass and other noxious weeds by the roots. For entertainment, they might join a video club that gets raided for piracy.

 

Good prospects are indicated for the Pisceans. They will be able to get their children admitted to Hindi medium Corporation Nursery School in Trans Yamuna colony after paying a donation of just Rs 75,000.

 

A Happy New Year!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MOBILITY AND GREEN TECHNOLOGY WILL RULE THE NEW DECADE

BY PRASANTO K. ROY

 

Technology in the second decade of this millennium will build on the foundation laid in the first 10 years for mobility, cloud computing and green technology that saw the birth of the iconic iPhone, third generation telephony, notebooks, netbooks and the iPod with a camera.

 

Here's a peek into what's in store:

 

Third Generation Telephony: Finally, India goes 3G. If the auction happens before February as planned, it ends a forgettable episode in Indian telecom, 11 years after 3G's birth. If you ignore the 3G services of state-run firms-both amazing failures-then 3G should be on our phones by end-2010. The iPhone, too, will rise with 3G. With under five percent global share, the iPhone accounts for half the world's mobile data traffic.

 

Mobile Data Boom: Only five percent of India's 500 million mobiles are data-enabled smart-phones. That's changing. Of the 10-15 million phones selling each month, a tenth are smart-phones, supporting data and a memory card. Starting 2010, the decade will see an explosion of mobile data applications.

 

The Netbook Will Rule: Four-fifth of personal computers in India are desktops, versus two-third globally. That's changing, too. Annual laptop sales are now nearly a third of total personal computer sales. Laptops and now netbooks have the edge in power-starved India. Now, with Rs.15,000-netbooks and power-packed laptops at Rs.30,000, there's little reason to buy desktop computers. While desktops will still log high sales, thanks to large business and government buyers, laptops and netbooks should match their numbers in 2011, saving, by the way, 100 MW of electricity. Up ahead in 2010: the smart-book, a smart-phone-netbook crossover, that will run a full day on a battery charge.

 

Cloud Computing: Services delivered over the internet already serve the public at large with Webmail, photo sharing and web services. The cloud is evolving into a simple, pay-per-use way to get services on tap, just like electricity, for businesses. A billion mobile and desktop devices will tap into the cloud. The cloud is also the greenest way to go. Organisations don't need to set up server banks running lots of software. Just pay for what you use. The provider services many users from one set of equipment, halving energy and equipment cost per user.

 

Green Building: Environment-friendly features are finally getting into office buildings. House-owners are using power-saving techniques, such as high-albedo reflective paint, which drops rooftop temperature 20 degrees, CFL lamps, and natural light. A ramp-up of solar heating, motion sensors, and LED lights will be seen in 2010. Newer housing projects will be built with green features such as double-glazed glass for natural light, VRF air-conditioning, water harvesting and recycling. The need for saving power will be driven by high cost of backup power, a necessary evil in power-starved India.

 

Green Software: The biggest impact on green tech and energy efficiency will come not from electronics and hardware but from smarter software-software that controls electrical grid, uses sensors data to smartly control building lighting and cooling, improves efficiency of car engines, or runs power management for computer networks. It's software that will really rule 2010's clean tech..

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

NO NEED TO DIG DEEP FOR THE TOP STORY

BY SUSAN REIMER

 

It's traditional for newspapers to make a list of the top news stories of the passing year, and I know what's No. 1 on my list.The White House vegetable garden.I am not sure there has ever been a patch of dirt anywhere that has received as much attention, been so widely imitated and been the source of so much controversy as that 1,100-square-foot garden on the South Lawn of the White House.

 

It even eclipsed the antics of Bo, the Obama children's long-promised pet.

 

Michelle Obama's modest attempt to get some fresh vegetables in her family's diet became an international sensation and hijacked the food conversation in this country.

 

The Queen of England, Maria Shriver and the mayor of Baltimore followed her example-as did municipalities all over the United States. When she went to Russia, no one wanted to talk to her about anything else, and when her husband hosted the G20 summit for world leaders, a jar of honey from the beehive in the White House garden was the gift for each of their spouses.

 

The first lady was even moved to say, "It's the best thing I've ever done."

 

It is true that just about anything a newly inaugurated presidential family does holds fascination for Americans-until we get bored with them.

 

But I am not sure there is anything the Obamas could have done, short of hanging out the White House wash to dry in the sun, that would have had such a profound impact on our thinking about our stewardship of the Earth.

 

The poor economy and the threat of lost jobs helped propel Americans toward a money-saving alternative to the produce aisle at the grocery store, as did renewed concerns about the safety of our food.

 

But Mrs. Obama, planting the garden in her purple sweatsuit and harvesting it in her salmon colored Gap jeans, surrounded by children who were surprised to discover that they liked fresh vegetables, captured the imagination of the country and changed how many Americans think about food and healthy eating.

 

Even her gown for the first state dinner did not garner the kind of attention that her garden gear did. (And by the way, herbs and greens from the garden were served at that dinner.)

 

A farmers market was installed just outside the gates of the White House, with the first lady as its first customer. The vegetable garden was opened to tours for schoolchildren, and Mrs. Obama used the first harvest in June as a platform to help launch her husband's health care reform initiative.

 

Two reality shows, "The Biggest Loser" and "Iron Chef," used the garden as a prop. Mrs. Obama appeared on "Sesame Street" to plant a vegetable garden. Replicas of the garden were installed in one of Europe's biggest garden shows and at the Pennsylvania headquarters of Burpee, probably the nation's top garden seed seller.

 

A marzipan replica of it graces the holiday gingerbread White House, and assistant chef and head gardener Sam Kass, who starred in a White House video that tells the story of the garden, made People magazine's list of the 100 most beautiful people.

 

More than 1,000 pounds of vegetables were harvested from the garden, and it isn't done yet. Kass did a YouTube video on how to build row covers to conserve the sun's heat and grow winter crops.

 

Not bad for an investment of about $175 in seeds and soil amendments. I'm surprised the photo for the White House Christmas card wasn't taken in the vegetable garden (although it was taken outdoors on the lawn.)

 

Not surprisingly, the vegetable garden had its share of political enemies.

 

First there was the charge, after June's first harvest, that the garden had been "faked." Conspiracy theorists claimed that despite a lot of compost and a very rainy spring, the greens the schoolchildren harvested with the first lady had actually been purchased, fully grown, and planted in the garden in the dead of night, and that the media was complicit in fooling the American public.

 

Next were the stubborn reports that a previous administration had used a sludge fertilizer on the South Lawn that contained dangerously high levels of lead and had contaminated the vegetables. Not even a parade of scientists could squelch that rumor.

 

In this conspiracy theory, the first lady refused to let Malia and Sasha eat anything from the lead-filled garden. Instead, she shipped it off to soup kitchens where poor children would have their brain development and their futures stunted by the lead levels in the food.

 

All of this, over a simple vegetable garden? Now that's a news story that should make anybody's list.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

HEALTH
LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE ARTIFICIAL HEART

BY JEREMY LAURENCE

 

IT IS 2020, and the American media is transfixed by the story of a 33-year-old baseball player who has become the first person in the world to The athlete was two when his father died from a heart attack, and now he was found to be suffering from advanced heart disease during routine screening tests introduced for sportsmen and women in 2015. The move followed a rising toll of deaths among top-class athletes who died on the sports field as a result of undiagnosed heart conditions.

 

His inherited heart disease was so serious that a transplant was his only option. But instead of using a donor heart from an accident victim, specialists from the Institute for Regenerative Medicine (IRM) in North Carolina inserted an artificial heart n a fully implantable device called the Abiocor which was first used in 2009 n as a stop-gap while they repaired his own.

 

For six months, he lived with the artificial heart fitted alongside his existing heart, which was "rested". Scientists grew replacement heart tissue in the laboratory from stem cells taken from his bone marrow, and stitched it into the diseased left ventricle, after removing the dead and damaged tissue. The player's "remade" heart was restarted and the artificial heart removed.

 

The advance marks a new frontier for medicine and a world first for the IRM, which has led stem cell science and transplant medicine for more than two decades. Its first breakthrough came in 2006, when it announced the successful transplant of new bladders grown from stem cells in the laboratory into seven patients.

 

The institute's latest success came as a bitter disappointment to British experts from the University of Bristol who, as part of an international team, were responsible for "Claudia's trachea", the world's first successful transplant of a windpipe, grown using stem cells taken from the patient, a 30-year-old mother of two children, from Barcelona in 2008.

 

The British specialists predicted at the time that their advance would "transform the way we think about surgery" and that "in 20 years the commonest operations will be regenerative procedures to replace organs and tissues" with ones grown from stem cells. But their research foundered after 2011 due to a lack of funding during the squeeze on universities and cuts in NHS spending.

 

The potential of stem cell science has given a boost to the growing number of patients suffering organ failure. But their hopes of life-saving surgery have been dashed by a shortage of funds. The introduction of presumed consent for organ donation in 2014 failed to produce the expected boost to transplants. Adults are presumed to consent to the use of their organs after death unless they have registered their objection beforehand on a national database, but there has been no increase in transplant operations.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RING OUT, RING IN

 

This day marks not merely the beginning of yet another year, but also the conclusion of the first decade of the twenty first century. For the older generation, born in the mid 20th century, the 21st had loomed as an evolutionary milestone, when mankind would shed those purely human characteristics that bring discord and horror, and step closer to an envisioned Utopia. Just as George Orwell so misjudged the era wherein Big Brother would take up his observation post, the dreamers of the 20th had got it all wrong, if the commencement of the first decade of the 21st was any indication. The sigh of relief that the culmination of one millennium had not brought about the Armageddon foretold by the prophets of doomsday seems now to have been premature. The Cold War had ended in the 20th itself, so there had been optimism that humanity was slowly elevating itself towards angelic heights and lesser discords would be soon taken care of. But the most terrifying image of the 21st, one which duplicated the horror roused by the sight of Hitler's concentration camps, was of two commercial planes crashing into New York's World Trade Centre and the edifice come tumbling down. The Cold War has merely been replaced by war of a different kind, an insidious monstrosity whose touch no spot in the earth was impervious to, one that constantly demanded pagan sacrifice of innocents.


A decade has passed, yet age-old wounds on the scarred body of Mother Earth continue to fester. If Sri Lanka has achieved what might turn out to be a pyrrhic victory, sores such as Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan have not yet healed. The votaries of capitalism, who had grown so smug when Marxist Communism collapsed, had their complacent bubbles pricked as the economic meltdown struck. Flagrant commercialism has denuded Planet Earth of much of its resources, yet we have not been able to attain the level of sanity that would make possible a concerted environmental effort to save it. At the national level not much meaningful change has occurred during the last decade; India has been shining on the elitist few, social disparities are rampant, giving rise to movements such as that of the Maoists which contain potential for imminent disaster. Poised on the threshold of 2010 there seems not much to ring out, even less to ring in! Yet the rays of optimism are attempting to penetrate the clouds; Obama has been sworn in, recession has been contained and opportunities are emerging, if only our leaders, at the global, national and regional levels, would but seize them. The beginning of a new year, let alone a new decade, is no moment for pessimism. So let us wish each other a happy new year even as we ring out pessimism and ring in hope.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

GST ROLLOUT


T
he long-proposed goods and service tax (GST) which is a pivotal part of economic reforms and which is hailed world-wide not only as an integrated transparent system doing away with separate indirect tax structures between the Centre and the States but also serves as effective instrument of containing evasion and avoidance of tax at all levels does not now appear to be effective from the much publicised date, April 1, 2010 since some important ground works still remain to be completed. Though the empowered committee of State Finance Ministers, headed by the West Bengal Finance Minister, Asim Dasgupta in its three-year long deliberations has come out with a four-slab GST structure, it now appears to be running into rough weather on the issue of GST rate. The four tax-slabs advocated by the empowered committee comprise zero rate for exempted items like petroleum products, alcoholic beverages and tobacco, one standard rate for majority of goods and services and another having a moderate rate while precious metals are likely to attract 1.0 per cent tax to bring uniformity in tax compliance for business community to facilitate them to maintain only a single book of accounts for the State GST and Central GST tax payment. There are, however, other quarters which think differently. Thus, the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Committee favours a single slab each for goods and services or one common rate for both. Its chairman, C Rangarajan is of the opinion that there is an advantage in having single uniform tax even if precious metals are included in the same category. The task force set up by 13th Finance Commission also suggests a single GST for the Centre and the States though the rates might be different as 5 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. Tax experts also believe in single rate as an ideal in the long-run though it could be different to start with.

 

What is important to note here is that the TFC task force in its report on GST has no doubt in mind with respect to delay in implementation of the GST scheduled for 1st April, 2010 on account of lack of adequate preparedness. Earlier this month, the Finance Minister of Bihar also said that the introduction of GST regime should be delayed by a year as the ground work for implementation is still half done. The same doubt is expressed by the executive director of a leading financial consultancy firm, though some tax experts feel that the GST could be rolled out in six months time. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattishgarh, again appear to fear from rate illusion since the integrated rate has to be high enough though the current multiple tax system with central excise, State VAT and services tax sums up to over 30 per cent. Apart from this, there is a lot of structural work still to be done like constitutional amendment to empower the States for levy of service tax and GST on imports among others. The GST draft bill may be tabled in Parliament in the coming budget session if it takes its final shape by then. However, the most important issue still remaining to be solved is the rates to be finalised on GST. Since difference of opinion has surfaced on import issues relating to the structural pattern of GST regime and since it is the most vital pillar of tax reform, all issues should be settled after thorough consideration and scrutiny of opinions. If adequate preparedness for introduction of GST regime takes some more time, it should be allowed rather than hurrying the process with flaws to keep the publicised time schedule.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

INTELLIGENCE FAILURE AND GALLOPING TERROR

TALMIZUR RAHMAN

 

The arrest of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Coleman Headley by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States in connection with LeT's future terror strikes in India and also Headley's alleged involvement in the Mumbai attack tantanounts to a highly dreaded and elusive vista in the terror scenario. While FBI investigation reveals that multiple terror attacks by the LeT in several Indian cities could be round the corner, what may be alarming is the modus operandi of engaging unsuspecting foreign nationals as operatives apparently with a view to bamboozling the security net. It is anybody's guess whether or not other terror outfits are also following suit.


The arrest of Headley and his accomplice Tahawwur Rana could only be the tip of the iceberg. One can never know if there are hundreds or even thousands of such terror operatives at work under various guises in different parts of the country. According to the FBI, Headley visited India as many as nine times on business visas between 2006 and 2009 and could possibly have formed sleeper cells in the Indian cities he had visited, while the conspiracies sowed to trigger terror could possibly be still on. Significantly, during his Mumbai visit in March 2008, Headley reportedly made a detailed study of the targets of the Mumbai terror attack. It is highly probable that he scripted the Mumbai attack blueprint, while FBI is of the view that he was directing the 26/11 attack from Pakistan.


Delving into the pages of history, one embarks upon agents and even double agents rubbing shoulders in the corridors of power both in London and Berlin even at the height of the World War II. And in all cases money was the motivating factor. So far as terror project are concerned, presumably they involve huge funds, may be in astronomical figures. Conflict analysts are often of the view that without active involvement of some locals, it may be exceedingly difficult to strike terror in the desired manner.


A common sense analysis also makes one feel the same way. It is perhaps this phase of a terror project involving enticement of locals that an operative might find difficult to get through. However, with huge money power to back up his project, the terror operative presumably overcomes all obstacles by 'buying' a few locals. Again, being one of the most corrupt nations in the world, it may not be wrong to presume that India could serve as a fertile ground for terror operative or any enemy of the country to 'buy' his way. With virtually all wings of the government reeling under galloping corruption, it may turn out to be a cake walk for a terror operative with a fat purse and a business or intellectual profile to manage his way into the circle of the so called elite and the high ups in and around the corridors of power, known more for rollicking in untold corrupt wealth. And what guarantee is there that a few key persons in high places do not 'sell' themselves off at an exorbitant price to such terror operatives?


While Headley fell into the FBI net, the question arises if our intelligence agencies have the adroitness to nab terror operatives as shrewed, intelligent and slippery as Headley. It may be worth noting that despite nine visits to India, our intelligence wings miserably failed to even suspect the sinister mission undertaken by the LeT operative. He also reportedly used two mobile numbers during his visits to India. While the Union Home Ministery has banned pre-paid mobile service in Jammu & Kashmir on security ground and 'is actively considering to follow suit in the North East, it may do a world of good for the likes of Chidambaram to remember that with corruption ruling the roost, anything or any favour, no matter how illegal, can be "bought" for a price in India. Beyond a shadow of doubt, the rampant corruption that is causing India to reel is a mighty blessing to any enemy of the nation.

As of now it is highly pertinent to question our intelligence agencies if they have worked out any strategy to foil all plans and conspiracies hatched by such unsuspecting foreign citizens engaged as terror operatives, while being successful in nabbing them. While the likes of Headley could be on the prowl across the country working on their terror designs, the all important question that surfaces is — Are our sleuths intelligent and effective enough to bring such operatives to book? The problem appears to be perpendicularly uphill for our apparently ineffective intelligence network as every foreign tourist visiting this country cannot be rounded up or harassed or even suspected to be a terror operative lest the tourism industry suffers a ruinous blow.


That being the highly tricky scenario emerging with the unfolding of the Headley chapter, the authorities are bound to enforce a tough and yet a balanced and apparently gentle approach towards confronting the new challenge. To speak in the language of Napoleon Bonapart, the approach must be one involving "an iron hand in velvet gloves". Do our intelligence agencies and the security forces have the desired culture not to disturb the flow of foreigners into this country, while foiling all moves by foreign terror operatives? The answer obviously is anybody's guess.


Over the years, following almost every major terror strike in the country, the intelligence network has been found to have miserably failed to deliver. On rare occasions when the intelligence agencies succeeded in furnishing right inputs, the security forces prove themselves to be a pack of imbeciles. The picture is similar both in the case of the state and central intelligence and security forces. Has the government delved into the causes of such repeated failures? Have corrective measures been taken to make the network effective? Or will the network continue to be as superfluous and redundant as ever before? The fact that our intelligence wings were given the wake up call by FBI on the Headly issue speaks volumes on this front.


With the intelligence network failing almost as a rule and the security forces reducing themselves to laughing stocks, the people are being forced to be the sacrificial goat at the alter of the terror mongers. Already thousands of crores of rupees from the public exchequer have apparently gone down the drain under the internal security head. And what is the output? Terror, blasts, bloodbaths and death. Beyond a shadow of doubt the entire internal security system needs total overhauling. Till that is accomplished, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the people will continue to meet with gory deaths at the hands of terror masterminds.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

CELEBRATING NEW YEAR

DR DHRUBAJYOTI DAS

 

New year's Day is the first day of the calendar year. People in almost every country celebrate this day with fireworks, parade, dances and great merrymaking. According to Charles Lamb, "New Years Day is everyman's Birthday".

During the Middle Ages, most of the European countries used 25th March called "Annunciation Day", to start the new year. By 16th century, a revised calendar called Gregorian calendar restored 1st January as New Year's Day. Most of the calendars are based on the movement of the moon, position of the sun. All over the world there are special beliefs about the New Year.


In ancient Egypt, New Year was celebrated when the river Nile was flooded. It was believed that without flood people would not be able to grow crops in the desert areas. The statues of God Amon and his wife and son were taken up the Nile by boat. Singing, dancing and feasting were done for a month and then the statues were taken back to the temples.


The Romans celebrated New Year on the 1st of March. But in 46 B.C. Julius Caesar began a new calendar from the first day of January. January is named after the Roman God Janus. The Roman people decorated their homes and gave gifts to each other. Slaves and their masters drank together for a few days.


Most Hindus do not celebrate New Year in the same way or at the same time. The people of Assam and West Bengal celebrate New year from the middle of April called Bohag or Boisakh. Assamese people celebrate with Bihu dances, beating drums and exchange best wishes with gifts to each other.

 

The people of West Bengal and some parts of north India wear various flowers, women like to wear yellow coloured sari. In central India, orange flags are flown from buildings on that day. In Gujarat, New Year is celebrated at the end of October at same time, with the festival of Diwali. In Kerala people celebrate new Year called Pongal from the middle of April. Mothers put food, flowers and gifts on a special tray. On New year's morning the children have to keep their eyes closed until they have been lead to the tray.


The Muslim calendar is based on the movement of the moon, so the date of New year is eleven days earlier each year. The people of Iran celebrate New Year on 21st March. Few weeks before this date, they put grains of wheat in a little dish to grow. When the grains produce shoots the people are reminded of spring and a new year of life.


The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. People think of the things they have done wrong in the past, and they promise to do better in future. Children are given new clothes and breads are eaten to remind the people of harvest time.


In Vietnam, New Year's day is called yet Nguyen Dan. It begins between 21st January and 19th February. They believe that there is a God in every home and God travels to heaven on New year's day. They also believe that God travels on the back of carpfish. So they buy a carpfish and let it go free in a river or pond. In Japan, New Year is celebrated on 1st January. To keep out evil spirits, they hang a rope of straw across the front of their houses. This stands for happiness and good luck. They begin to laugh on that day and this is supposed to bring them good fortune. The Chinese New Year is celebrated between 17th January and 18th February with street processions and thousands of lanterns to light the way for the New Year. They believe that firecrackers will fighten the evil spirits away. Sometimes they close their doors and windows with paper to keep the spirits out. The people of the West believed that there was a Pope called Sanit Sylevester in 314 A.D. and that he captured a terrible sea monster. But in 1000 A.D. people thought that this sea monster would destroy the world. But since it didn't happen, the people were delighted. Since then in few parts of Austria and Switzerland, this story is still remembered on the New Year. People dressed up in fantastic dresses and customes.


In Greence, New Year is called the Festival of Saint Basil. Saint Basil was famous for his kindness. Children leave their shoes by the fire on New year's day with the hope that Sanit Basil will come and fill the shoes with gifts. On New year's eve, people of Great Britain "Let in the new year" by joining hands to form a circle and singing the song Auld Lang Syne (long ago). The people of Scotland called this festival Hogmanay. In some villages barrels of coalter are set alight and rolled through the streets. Thus old year is burnt up and new year is allowed to enter. Large processions with decorated float and bands and football matches are also played almost all over the United States of America on New Year's day. William Godwin (1756-1836) once said, "For the bells were ringing the Old Year out, and the New Year in".

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A THREE-WORD MANTRA

 

The three most popular words uttered today will not be 'I love you' but 'Happy New Year'. It is almost as if the auto-suggestion that 2010 should be a good year will actually make it so if people all over the world keep saying Happy New Year in a bid to transcend all barriers of class, caste, creed and ideology in even the most polarised societies.


Due to the difference in time zones, when people in the world's most populous democracy wake up to the new year, it will still be old in the most powerful one. However, thanks to the transformation of the world into a global village, courtesy television, all of us get a chance to watch everyone wishing everyone else a Happy New Year, first from the Harbour Bridge at Sydney, then Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, Gorky Park in Moscow and finally Times Square in New York, with London's Big Ben doing its duty in between by chiming the advent of 2010 with a 12-gong salute!


New Year's Day is every man's birthday, quipped the 19th century English humorist Charles Lamb, who was better known for rewriting Shakespeare's plays in a short-story format while pretending to work in the London office of the East India Co where he was once asked why he was leaving early, and replied, "But I came late!"

But then, humorists don't take themselves too seriously unlike our politicians who assume that every word they speak has earth-shaking significance. Whereas the humorist could only be wondering whether Chennai will today see Karunanidhi uttering the Tamil equivalent of those memorable three English words to Jayalalithaa or vice versa!


The Hindi version could sound even nicer in Lucknow if Mulayam and Mayawati wish each other. And Kolkata could become a City of Joy today if Mamata and Buddhadeb follow suit in Bengali!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

REMOVE THESE SUBSIDIES

 

The bill for subsidised kerosene is now over Rs 20,000 crore per annum, and yet the Centre seems rather tentative about policy overhaul. Reportedly, the latest proposal of the petroleum ministry is to exempt supplies for households with access to electricity and cooking gas (LPG).


Given the fact that much of the subsidised kerosene is routinely diverted for fuel adulteration, attempting subsidy reform via administrative targeting would be sub-optimal and prone to leakage. Instead, what's required is to purposefully phase out subsidised kerosene and rapidly diffuse solar lamps and other alternatives.


The rationale for subsidised kerosene used to be that the poor need an affordable source of lighting. But now that multiple entities pan-India can and do provide dependable solar lamps for about Rs 499, continuing usage of a sooty, polluting fuel is avoidable.


The way ahead for policy is to proactively redeploy the subsidised kerosene subsidy funds to rev up demand for solar lamps, unlock economies of scale and, generally speaking, make the products affordable and reliable. The move would not just improve public finances and end questionable consumption subsidies that anyway are diverted, only to cause faster engine wear and tear, more pollution etc. There is no justification to price subsidised kerosene at one-third the cost. It merely distorts pricing of all petroproducts.


There's also a sound case for phasing out the subsidy for LPG, used almost exclusively by the non-poor, the subsidy bill for which now adds up to over Rs 10,000 crore per annum. The upfront, open-ended subsidy regime is perverse incentive to make do with routine inefficiencies in the monopoly supply chain with opacity, cost padding and all.


We, of course, need to streamline LPG supplies, end artificial shortages and do away with the 'black' market where a price premium is regularly charged for prompt delivery. But in tandem, we need a conducive environment for parallel marketing of LPG for competitive prices, and better leverage of gas finds in the domestic offshore to boost piped supply. The open-ended subsidy on household fuels merely suggests bankrupt policy, fiscally and otherwise.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S TURN TO LEAD

 

It is a common conceit that many politicians blithely wear, that their leadership is what will save society, never mind if society doesn't quite realise its redemptive destiny. But India leading the world is no facile pretence — it is something that the world needs.


For three reasons, all stemming from globalisation. One, different cultures must learn not so much to tolerate one another as to live as good neighbours, with constant give and take, their differences sublimating in a shared humanity ever prominently in sight.


India has seen this mutually-enriching co-existence of different cultures for centuries, not by self-conscious strategy but inspired by a civilisational genius that accepts that all rivers flow down to the same ocean and celebrates unity in diversity.

 

custom is yet to imbibe the normative logic of cultural co-existence.


The second reason is India's ability to strike the right balance of non-domineering independence in this era of global interdependence and pooling of selective chunks of sovereignty. ASEAN, for example, is happy to see the rise of Indian power, non-threatening in a world in which big powers willingly entertain a dichotomy between democracy within and exported democracy without.


The third rationale for Indian leadership is growth and economic management. Recently, India's per-capita income has been growing at more than seven per cent a year, a remarkable achievement in human history and inspiration for much of the world.


Moreover, India's growth has been a stabilising factor globally. It neither produces forced savings that are dumped on foreign capital markets, inducing artificially-cheap money and financial artifice, nor sucks in all the footloose capital chasing an extra buck, creating unsustainable leverage and overinvestment. India has been both prudent and efficient in the use of domestic and foreign savings.


But India cannot draw attention to what is good in its conduct without the world noticing what is rotten in it as well: Sangh Parivar sectarianism, Maoist insurgency, a Singur, a Rathore, the missing girl children in demographics, shabby infrastructure, shabbier politics. India can lead the world, but only by example, through internal reform.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

TEN HAPPY FAIRIES

 

A wish list is a very precise concept. It is not a checklist where one ticks off items to be returned or retrieved. It is not a memorandum which is a reminder to others to do something. It is not a dream which articulates the repressed and unexpressed in you. A wish list is, first of all, a list of things you want done, wish done and haven't done. It is a chain of being of what you hope will happen or not happen. It is almost a personal signature in a public domain.

 

No wish list is simple. It is a ganglion of plans, dreams, demands and do's and don'ts. My first wish is a small one. I don't want to see children scavenging for food, quarrelling over bits of scrap we throw out as waste. I don't want children to look like hawks hunting for morsels. If that is too middle class, so be it.
My second wish is that in a decade, each of us refuses to pay a bribe. Just once and I think it is do-able. If we do it once, the ritual of refusal will trigger itself and maybe one day corruption will become a minor problem and not a cancer that it is now. Remember, just once a no that becomes a yes.


My third wish, a more socio-political one, is that war in Pakistan and Afghanistan and terror in our country declines. Terror eats into the soul creating an anonymous form of fear, which in turn creates the tyranny of security. A decline in terror means more to me than all the productivity statistics and millennial goals people crow about. But I want terror to disappear all over South Asia. I want the refugee camps of Sri Lanka to feel free. I want Burma to feel free of terror. If peace is a commons, then South Asia would be terror free.
My fourth wish is that we throw away all the foeticide machines that we have imported from China and other countries. Foeticide — the murder especially of the girl child — is a form of genocide that Indians have specialised in. Let us, as part of a new ethics, ban these machines. They constitute the new pornography of technology. India, in term of foeticide, can soon match the enormity of the Nazi achievement. Instead of Jews and gypsies, we will eliminate foetuses.


My fifth wish is that India retains its sense of colour and diversity. A country which has 50,000 varieties of rice has 50,000 ways of dreaming. I want it to remain that way. I realise productivity is a problem we cannot wish away. But to me nothing is more catalytic and representative of Indian democracy than difference. Diversity of colour, taste, smell and skin is what I dream off. I am tired of colourless words like secularism, tolerance and standards. Give me the smell of difference any day. Uniforms and uniformity tire me.


Wishes can be negative. I feel the sentence "I don't want this" repeated too often becomes a negative emotion. Too many negatives become depressing. One has to make positive wishes and seek happier fairies to grant them. My sixth wish, as sincere and yet hopefully more playful, is that Bollywood retains its sense of contradiction, fun, stupidity, the lilts of its music, the power of its lyrics and the tender viciousness of its gossip. I hope Bollywood always has its Madhuri, its Amitabh, its Rahman, its Kajol, its vamps and its mother-in-laws. It is brand name for the wonderful stupidity and wisdom of India where nothing works as it should and, therefore, remains a form of life. I hope Bollywood outlives, outlasts and out-thinks all the Thackerays and Shiv Senas of the world. So here is my Valentine Day's card to that eternal love affair called Bollywood.
My seventh wish centres around the body and the life cycle. I hope Indians learn to age more gracefully and stop thinking that 60 is the time for retirement. It is almost as if they cannot dream at 60. Miracles should begin at 60 and old age should be an everyday miracle that redefines life and livelihood. I want old age as a form of inventiveness, a muscularity where we ask more of ourselves and, therefore, give more to the world. This shrinking of the body and the world, I see at 60, has to stop. I once worked at an institute where everyone above 60 were active as a teenager and the 30-year-olds behaved 60. When the older group left, the institute became a retirement home for the young.


My eighth wish is that all of us renounce some small thing we are fond of. Sweets, a drink or a form of food. To this act of renouncing, let me add two days of fasting a week. Fasting will do more for the economy and for peace than all the noise about sustainability and carbon cuts. Forget the Al Gores and Pachauris. We can create sustainable futures through generosity and fasting. A grandmother's method but grandmothers have done more for peace than the UN General Assembly.


My ninth wish is that every Indian finds one way of saving water. Shut your tap, find an alternative to the flush tank, grow more trees, dream a different city but save water. A dry planet is a nightmare. Save water to save yourself. It is frightening to watch someone you love, in fact anyone, die of thirst.


My tenth wish is a hope that I keep my sanity and sense of fun and remain part of the tragic-comedy called India. I hope that as I grow old I can still see my friends and my memories remain musical. I hope I can add to that insane laughter, that philosophical conundrum called life. May India continue to produce great music, great cuisine and great myths. It does not matter if our technocrats are dull and our politicians stupid. Culture,
like nature, finds its own balance.

 

I want...

1. All of us to refuse to pay a bribe. Just once

2.Terror to disappear

3. A ban on all girl-killing machines

4. India to retain the smell and colour of diversity

5. Bollywood to retain its stupidity and fun

6. Miracles, not retirement, at 60

7. All of us to fast

8. Us to save every drop of water

9. To keep my sense of fun and spirit

I don't want...10. To see children scavenging for food

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

 

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DECCAN CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

OH! WHAT A LONG YEAR 2009 HAS BEEN...

WOW, WHAT A LONG YEAR.


Just think. At the beginning of 2009, George W. Bush was still in charge of the country, talking about how time had flown since he first ran for President.


"Just seemed like yesterday," he reminisced. This was a sentiment the rest of us did not entirely share. I felt as if Bush had been running things since the Mesozoic Age. But now it also feels as if the US President, Mr Barack Obama, has been President forever. I'm beginning to wonder if in the 21st century, White House years are going to be like dog years in reverse. Every one is equivalent to seven or eight in the normal human calendar.
I personally think Obama has been doing a good job, all things considered. The economy is still depressing, but that's an improvement over mind-bendingly terrifying. The rest of the world likes us better, and whenever the President goes overseas he seems to be able to nudge the other countries toward a little progress on some issue on which they had been hopelessly stuck.


And healthcare reform. Extremely big deal. Really could pass. Eventually.


No matter how difficult the issue, Obama has been sensible, deliberative. Just look at Dick Cheney swooping around like a dementor from Harry Potter, and you have to appreciate how much things have improved.


But Lord, is it good to bid farewell to 2009.


And imagine how Obama must feel. Every problem is a long, gruelling slog. Even in the last minutes of the year, he was stuck trying to get out of the hole that homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano had dug when she used the fatal phrase "the system worked" after the failed plane bombing in Detroit.


Napolitano's statements were more nuanced than we're currently giving her credit for, but that doesn't matter.
What she said was ill advised on so very many levels, only one of which was the matter of the system not

 

working. In a time of crisis, you cannot make any sweeping statements defending the performance of the department of homeland security. In a bureaucracy that big, somebody is screwing up somewhere.
Napolitano should have said something like: "Well, we were so happy that the Swiss guy tackled the underwear bomber. Let's give him a shout-out! Now excuse me, but we have a lot of work to do".


Maybe the problem is that the department of homeland security is just too big to function. We know that creating it was a bad move since it was Senator Joseph Lieberman's idea. (This will undoubtedly be a chapter in my upcoming book, How Joe Lieberman Ruined Everything.)


Remember how hopeful everybody was last winter? Remember when Obama had the bipartisan Super Bowl party? I wonder who he'll invite this time. Captain Sully Sullenberger appears to be the only person left in the country who everybody likes. But the way things are going, we'll probably hear tomorrow that Sully was driven out of his home on New Year's Eve by an angry spouse wielding a hockey stick.


For Obama, one of the pluses of the first few months of 2009 was that the Opposition was so inept. This gave the President momentum while also providing the troubled nation with much-needed entertainment.
Remember Mr Obama's first speech to a joint session of Congress? The one that the Republicans followed with a speech by Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who attacked "wasteful spending" on monitoring volcano eruptions in Alaska?


And when Arizona State University refused to give Obama an honorary degree because "his body of work is yet to come?" That was in April. And in October, he got the Nobel Peace Prize. Take that, Sun Devils!


But things really slowed down when we got to healthcare. Remember the Blue Dog Democrats holding the bill hostage in the House? The bipartisan panel of six senators who spent the summer sending back reports on what a great conference call they had had last Tuesday?


Remember Olympia Snowe? Whatever happened to her?


Remember the Ben Nelson crisis, and the Joe Lieberman crisis, and the plan from the freshman Democrats, and the plan from the moderates, and the revolt of the conservative Democrats and the revolt of the progressive Democrats? Boy, those were fun times. I bet Majority Leader Mr Harry Reid is reliving them right now while he spends New Year's Eve on the floor of his bedroom in a fetal position.


The job of governing jumped from difficult to impossible after those Right-wing tea parties last summer, which eliminated any Republican notions that if a president won a big election victory and large majorities in the House and Senate then that might be a sign of the American people wanting him to succeed.
No more. This might allow one to theorise that Glenn Beck wrecked our year if we did not already know it was Joe Lieberman.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

THE TELANGANA BLUFF

 

The Congress' response to the Telangana agitation that flared up with the "un-Gandhian" fast of the Telangana

Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, was on expected lines.


When the fast was taken up, the Congress high command was facing a rebellion by Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, son of Andhra Pradesh's late chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy. If he split the party, there was the possibility of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N. Chandrababu Naidu cobbling up a government with KCR's support. Mr Naidu would then have managed to establish a rapport with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and this would have become a problem for the Congress at the national level too.
Though Mr Chandrasekhar Rao was about to call off his hunger strike after reaching an understanding with chief minister K. Rosaiah, his agitation was overtaken by other events. The militant students' agitation made him continue his "half hunger strike" in the best hospital in the state, Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences. In the end, Mr Chandrasekhar Rao emerged as a hero as there were all kinds of forces willing to agitate for a separate state of Telangana.


The Congress high command, at the same time, wanted to use that occasion to break the back of Mr Jagan's group and foil Mr Naidu's plans. With this in mind, Union home minister P. Chidambaram made a strategic statement (though Mr Chandrasekhar Rao was willing to shift from bottle-feeding to mouth-feeding) on December 9 that the Centre was initiating the process to form a separate Telangana.
His statement was not meant to create Telangana state but to test the nerves of all those political formations that were pretending to support the idea of small states — particularly the TDP and the Praja Rajyam.
The Congress knew that Andhra and Rayalaseema MLAs and MPs would oppose the formation of Telangana. For it the more significant problem was the large group of MLAs and ministers, cutting across regions, who were supporting Mr Jagan.


Once Mr Chidamabaram made his statement, Mr Jagan's support base cracked on regional lines, as did that of the TDP.


Of course, the Congress structure in the state also appeared to have developed cracks but the Central leaders knew that this was a temporary phenomenon. That there was no Congress leadership in Telangana region that would pose a major challenge to the high command was all too well known.


After YSR's death the state has been moving from one crisis to another and the most humiliating one was when Mr Jagan threatened to become the chief minister of the state. The only way to get out of that crisis was to deepen the Telangana question and defuse all other tensions. Mr Chidambaram's statement of December 9 must be seen in that background.


All hell broke loose in the state after his statement. Mr Naidu became a sitting duck and Mr Jagan was made to sit at home, without a single follower. And all around the country demands for smaller states were revived.
This broke the consensus among various parties about the formation of Telangana, even within the United Progressive Alliance.


The BJP too had to shut its mouth on its pet theory of smaller states as its big capitalist supporters started opposing this proposition. Andhra capitalists sent enough signals to political parties, including to the BJP, that they should not expect any more funds if they support the formation of Telangana. The Andhra lobby did everything possible to get the decision reversed as their interests in Hyderabad were at stake. And the Congress, of course, was only too willing to oblige.


The Congress core committee reworked its strategy and Mr Chidambaram himself made another statement saying that the situation had altered and more consultation and consensus was needed to form Telangana. And with this, the issue of Telangana was brought back to square one.


Since all political parties have all along been split on regional basis, the TRS gained ground and initiated the agitational through the Telangana joint action committee.


This is now resulting in enormous repression of the students and youth and destruction of Telangana public property. The poor and first-generation students, who have reached university level, will be the victims in all this.


Though destruction of public property is self-destructive, it is a regular Indian mode of protest and leaders such as Mr Chandrasekhar Rao, who is unlike Mahatma Gandhi in every respect, would push the situation to the logical end.


Indian democracy remains semi-feudal because it has not been able to evolve mature methods of protest. There is a general feeling that without such destructive forms of protests, the state would not even listen.
It now appears that the Centre will allow the agitators to go on till they are tired. The basic question before them is how to handle Mr Chandrasekhar Rao — either in the Chenna Reddy way or in the Shibu Soren way.
They also know that as they wait for the protesters to tire and calm down, the people of Telangana would starve in unprecedented drought conditions and not have the energy to protest. The more hungerstrikes and suicides, the more they get tired of such agitations.

 

Andhra forces and Central agencies knew that a new talent was emerging from the Telangana region — particularly from the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) — and that they could be stopped in their tracks with the loss of one academic year.
Also, if we look at the configuration of the Joint Action Committee of Telangana, it's clear that leaders from some castes have captured its nerve centre. All the SC, ST, and OBC leaders who built the Telangana movement have been pushed to the background. Gaddar, Jayshankar and Manda Krishna Madiga are marginalised for obvious reasons.


In this society, regional agitations are most suited for stopping social transformation as these agitations create mass hysteria. In Telangana, Andhra and Rayalaseema enough mass hysteria has been generated in recent times.
Many are willing to die while facing bullets or by committing suicide. We can only wait and see what will happen to the starving masses in this difficult situation.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICLE

EDITORIAL

CELEBRATE UNITY OF THE HUMAN RACE

 

Any sensitive and caring human being, born and conditioned in any faith, seeks to find answers to connect deep within and with the world at large. This is the challenge for every caring individual in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society, which the world has always been and is becoming even more so today. This inclusivity, therefore, calls for both a spiritual evolution and conscious effort for co-existence. A dialogue amongst people from different faiths and beliefs on the commonality of spiritualism is the need of the day. That's what we need to celebrate — the "unity of the human race" and, above all, the One Creator who made us all the same.


I hope this new column will achieve this end in our strife torn world where, sadly, materialism and not human values are becoming the only uniting factor. When like truly global citizens we can accept global brands, we also need to be open to spiritualism from wherever it comes. I am delighted to see that several writers of different faiths are going to contribute to this important column and we look forward to having a dialogue with readers to share each other's journey.


True religion leaves one with a quest — a quest for finding the universality of that One as manifested through His creations. Islam begins by accepting all the messengers of Judaism, like the Christians do, and goes on to accept Jesus as a messenger of that One Creator. But in this process of understanding the physicality of a faith we tend to overlook the hidden meaning that exists in everything all around us. Therefore, Islam stresses on two major dimensions of perception — the outer and the inner, the Zahir and the Batin. The moment we dwell on the "hidden" we see connections of all kinds within the human race. We discover how man has laboured to journey within to unearth an indescribable ecstasy, and how near s/he has come to Allah.


The essence of Islam is the creative effort that needs to go into the emancipation of the human being in you and all those around you. Emancipation is a vast term and needs to be re-invented and re-defined all the time, in different ways, in different places. Islam gives us the raw material to use in this process but often we become so mechanical and dogmatic that we don't see the creative task that lies before us. It is here that Sufism come into play — to see the unseen, the hidden, all the time, everywhere. The fundamental primordial concept of unity (Tawhid), when applied to any artistic effort such as art and architecture, creates an aesthetics of an unparalleled order.


People on the path are rich and ecstatic people. They are forever discovering the hidden wonders of that One Creator. They have made the journey from the station of egotism to the station of the heart, from pure spirit to the station of divine secrets, from proximity to Allah to the final station of union.


Born into an enlightened Islamic lineage, I strive to look within to find the endearing aspects of Islam the world can love, regardless of faith or social conditioning. And this was the basis of Islam. To evoke humanism and universalism, it began by negating all but the One God that created the universe, that made one man exactly the same as another, yet no two humans were alike. Each human being had his/her own unique way to find Allah with the same outward form and journey.


As a filmmaker I endeavour to use communication arts to bring together the people of the heart. Today the issue is as global as it is national. Unfortunately, the nation is bereft of the richness of the ecstatic message of love embodied in the poetry of Rumi and Khusrau, Kabir, Nanak and Farid. I believe that all such poet saints are part of the same light and to celebrate this I embarked on Jahan-e-Khusrau, an international Sufi music festival and HU — The Sufi Way, a poetry-driven journal. Both these initiatives are under the aegis of Rumi Foundation. These efforts, through their sheer beauty and deeply humane face, have created acritical mass of listeners and artistes with a spirit of surrender.


While the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) followed by Hazrat Ali are the fountainhead of Sufism, the Sufis open one to the beauty of all creation. They see the reflection of His message in all his apostles — Abraham, Moses, Christ... They see love symbolised in Krishna, about whom they have written many endearing verses. We hope this column will celebrate this openness.

 

 Muzaffar Ali is a painter and filmmaker who finds inspiration in Sufi poetry and music

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DISTRUSTFUL NEIGHBOURS

 

TWO centuries ago, the share of India and China in the world economy was 25 and 33 per cent respectively. This declined in the colonial era and their share was reduced to about one and two per cent after the Second World War. The last two decades have seen some improvement and presently their shares have increased to about two and six per cent respectively. China is moving faster than us. Our laggard position is visible in the nature of our mutual trade as well. We are mainly exporting raw materials like iron ore and importing manufactured goods like toys and bulbs from China. A similar pattern of trade was followed in British India, leading to severe impoverishment. We were exporting raw cotton and importing finished cloth.
India and China are not cooperating with each other in remoulding the world economic order that is presently stacked against us. We view each other as enemies. Just as the British conquered and impoverished India using the policy of 'divide and rule', similarly America is forging an anti-India, anti-China global consensus because India and China are bickering between themselves.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WESTERN SHARE

 

THE share of the Western countries in the world economy today is about 75 per cent while the combined share of India and China is about 8 per cent. It is necessary that incomes of the developed countries should decline for us to regain our historical stature. Some experts believe that instead of opposing the Western countries we must cooperate with them and focus on increase in our incomes within the present world economic order. I am not convinced of this. We have been able to secure a paltry 1 per cent increase in share of the world economy in sixty years of cooperation with the western countries. At this rate it will take thousand years to regain our past level of 25 per cent of world economy. The three power centres of the world today are India, China and America. India and China want to become No. 1 while America wants to retain its position. All three see each other as competitors. America is ruling the world because India and China are fighting with each other. At Copenhagen, for example, America was able to throw out the Kyoto Protocol because India and China did not present a clear joint strategy during the early negotiations. India and China can jointly try to remove the patent laws from the WTO and deprive the West of huge royalties which are a major source of their wealth and our deprivation.


The roots of this mutual distrust appear to lie in our historical experiences. Both India and China are ancient civilisations. Both have a tradition of treating their neighbours as enemies and distant countries as friends. Kautilya says in Arthasastra that the neighbour King is a natural enemy, while the distant King is a natural friend. The Chinese dynasties followed a similar policy of encircling and attacking their immediate neighbours while making friends with distant rulers. There is a need to reconsider this traditional thinking in the changed technological scenario.


The world has become small today. America has launched wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Many countries have missiles that can devastate countries on the other side of the globe. The distinction between neighbours and distant countries has become less relevant today.


The responsibility of making a new policy in this changed circumstance falls primarily on India today because we are the ones that are falling behind in the race for power. It is for India to take the first steps to make friends with China and jointly challenge the American might. Otherwise, America will rule the world just as the clever cat ate away the bread taking advantage of the fight between two monkeys. The main impediment to such cooperation comes from the 1962 war. In his book India's China War, Neville Maxwell had provided a wealth of data to establish the fact that the war was triggered by India's defence minister, Krishna Menon's reckless 'forward policy'. The Indian army made several uncalled for incursions in the area traditionally controlled by China. Real Admiral (retd) Raja Menon says in same tone: "The Chinese have a saying called 'teaching a lesson'. It is a part of their strategic vocabulary. As far as they are concerned, 1962 was not about grabbing territory but it was about teaching India a lesson." Defence expert Mohan Malik says: "An unsettled border provides China the strategic leverage to keep India uncertain about its intentions and nervous about its capabilities, while exposing India's vulnerabilities and weaknesses and ensuring New Delhi's 'good behaviour'.

 

China does not want to give up the 'bargaining chip' that an unsettled boundary vis-à-vis India provides it with. Therefore, we should accept our folly of 1962 and move ahead; otherwise the America-China combine will crush us. Great powers should have the humility to accept their mistakes.


This atmosphere of mutual distrust pervades the actions of both sides. China is regularly advancing help to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan in order to weaken India's influence in her backyard. China is opposing India's membership of the UN Security Council. China condemned India's 1998 Pokhran nuclear explosions. Ninety per cent of the arms sold by China are reportedly going to countries around the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, India has consistently given protection to the Dalai Lama. India has also repeatedly broken ranks with China and other developing countries and toes the American diktat as seen most recently at Copenhagen. Our conflicts have provided a free run to the United States to play one against the other.


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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

EUROPEAN EXPERIENCE

 

WE must draw a lesson from the European countries. Germany had done much worse to France than China has done to India ~ it occupied that country during the Second World War. Yet, the two countries are major players in the European Union and work together as brothers. They have understood that holding on to old problems will impair their joint future. They have joined hands to strengthen their economic and political muscle. India and China should similarly let go of the old disputes and focus on jointly defeating the machinations of the United States. Brothers set aside their lingering property disputes when the house is on fire. They first douse the fire together and then settle their claims. The house will be gutted and there will be nothing to fight over if they continue fighting.


Similarly, India and China should set aside their lingering border disputes when the United States is strangulating their economies. They must first make sure that US supremacy is put to an end and then settle their claims. The United States will continue to come up with new stratagems to keep us backward. The decision to kill the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen is an indicator of the things to come. Both India and China will be deprived of their claims to global leadership and there will remain nothing much to fight about if they continue their infighting and do not rise against the United States together.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

INDIA & CHINA SHOULD JOINTLY MOULD A NEW ECONOMIC ORDER

 

TWO centuries ago, the share of India and China in the world economy was 25 and 33 per cent respectively. This declined in the colonial era and their share was reduced to about one and two per cent after the Second World War. The last two decades have seen some improvement and presently their shares have increased to about two and six per cent respectively. China is moving faster than us. Our laggard position is visible in the nature of our mutual trade as well. We are mainly exporting raw materials like iron ore and importing manufactured goods like toys and bulbs from China. A similar pattern of trade was followed in British India, leading to severe impoverishment. We were exporting raw cotton and importing finished cloth.
India and China are not cooperating with each other in remoulding the world economic order that is presently stacked against us. We view each other as enemies. Just as the British conquered and impoverished India using the policy of 'divide and rule', similarly America is forging an anti-India, anti-China global consensus because India and China are bickering between themselves.


Western share

THE share of the Western countries in the world economy today is about 75 per cent while the combined share of India and China is about 8 per cent. It is necessary that incomes of the developed countries should decline for us to regain our historical stature. Some experts believe that instead of opposing the Western countries we must cooperate with them and focus on increase in our incomes within the present world economic order. I am not convinced of this. We have been able to secure a paltry 1 per cent increase in share of the world economy in sixty years of cooperation with the western countries. At this rate it will take thousand years to regain our past level of 25 per cent of world economy. The three power centres of the world today are India, China and America. India and China want to become No. 1 while America wants to retain its position. All three see each other as competitors. America is ruling the world because India and China are fighting with each other. At Copenhagen, for example, America was able to throw out the Kyoto Protocol because India and China did not present a clear joint strategy during the early negotiations. India and China can jointly try to remove the patent laws from the WTO and deprive the West of huge royalties which are a major source of their wealth and our deprivation.


The roots of this mutual distrust appear to lie in our historical experiences. Both India and China are ancient civilisations. Both have a tradition of treating their neighbours as enemies and distant countries as friends. Kautilya says in Arthasastra that the neighbour King is a natural enemy, while the distant King is a natural friend. The Chinese dynasties followed a similar policy of encircling and attacking their immediate neighbours while making friends with distant rulers. There is a need to reconsider this traditional thinking in the changed technological scenario.


The world has become small today. America has launched wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Many countries have missiles that can devastate countries on the other side of the globe. The distinction between neighbours and distant countries has become less relevant today.


The responsibility of making a new policy in this changed circumstance falls primarily on India today because we are the ones that are falling behind in the race for power. It is for India to take the first steps to make friends with China and jointly challenge the American might. Otherwise, America will rule the world just as the clever cat ate away the bread taking advantage of the fight between two monkeys. The main impediment to such cooperation comes from the 1962 war. In his book India's China War, Neville Maxwell had provided a wealth of data to establish the fact that the war was triggered by India's defence minister, Krishna Menon's reckless 'forward policy'. The Indian army made several uncalled for incursions in the area traditionally controlled by China. Real Admiral (retd) Raja Menon says in same tone: "The Chinese have a saying called 'teaching a lesson'. It is a part of their strategic vocabulary. As far as they are concerned, 1962 was not about grabbing territory but it was about teaching India a lesson." Defence expert Mohan Malik says: "An unsettled border provides China the strategic leverage to keep India uncertain about its intentions and nervous about its capabilities, while exposing India's vulnerabilities and weaknesses and ensuring New Delhi's 'good behaviour'. China does not want to give up the 'bargaining chip' that an unsettled boundary vis-à-vis India provides it with. Therefore, we should accept our folly of 1962 and move ahead; otherwise the America-China combine will crush us. Great powers should have the humility to accept their mistakes.


This atmosphere of mutual distrust pervades the actions of both sides. China is regularly advancing help to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan in order to weaken India's influence in her backyard. China is opposing India's membership of the UN Security Council. China condemned India's 1998 Pokhran nuclear explosions. Ninety per cent of the arms sold by China are reportedly going to countries around the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, India has consistently given protection to the Dalai Lama. India has also repeatedly broken ranks with China and other developing countries and toes the American diktat as seen most recently at Copenhagen. Our conflicts have provided a free run to the United States to play one against the other.


European experience


WE must draw a lesson from the European countries. Germany had done much worse to France than China has done to India ~ it occupied that country during the Second World War. Yet, the two countries are major players in the European Union and work together as brothers. They have understood that holding on to old problems will impair their joint future. They have joined hands to strengthen their economic and political muscle. India and China should similarly let go of the old disputes and focus on jointly defeating the machinations of the United States. Brothers set aside their lingering property disputes when the house is on fire. They first douse the fire together and then settle their claims. The house will be gutted and there will be nothing to fight over if they continue fighting.


Similarly, India and China should set aside their lingering border disputes when the United States is strangulating their economies. They must first make sure that US supremacy is put to an end and then settle their claims. The United States will continue to come up with new stratagems to keep us backward. The decision to kill the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen is an indicator of the things to come. Both India and China will be deprived of their claims to global leadership and there will remain nothing much to fight about if they continue their infighting and do not rise against the United States together.


-- Bharat Jhunjhunwala..The writer is former Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

ROAD AHEAD

 

The real test before the Indian State in the new year will be its handling of the Telangana issue. The agitation has already gone out of control, thanks to the ineptitude of the Central government. What is worse is that the campaign for Telangana has spurred on agitations in other parts of India demanding smaller states. The argument against huge states of the size of the original Uttar Pradesh draws its strength from administrative convenience. This ground does not hold, say, in the case of Gorkhaland, which is to be carved out of the tiny state of West Bengal. Violent protests, bandhs and fasts-unto-death have become some of the methods of pressurizing the Central government to concede to demands for separate states. Such pressures will mount through the year and the challenge before Manmohan Singh's government will be to negotiate with these demands without seriously compromising the existing political configuration of the Indian nation. The tension over Telangana may have been diffused for the moment, but the problem and its ramifications will continue to fester. The test will be to avoid bloodshed and not to concede too much.

 

The prime minister, Mr Singh, has made it evident that lasting peace with Pakistan is very high on his list of priorities. Just as he had pushed forward the opening up of the Indian economy and the nuclear deal with the United States of America, he is eager to establish ties of normalcy with Pakistan, provided the latter successfully eradicates terrorism. The proviso is critical since conditions within Pakistan suggest that no one actually is in control of that country. A dialogue to establish and maintain peaceful relationship, by definition, needs two sides. The absence of a responsible leadership in Pakistan will be the principle hurdle before Mr Singh. India, the chances are, will have to continue to live under the shadow of terrorist violence coming out of Pakistan.

 

The threat from without will inevitably exacerbate internal fears. The political class is suffering from a continuous loss of credibility. While it is true that democracy has deepened in India, it cannot be said with the same degree of certainty that the structures and institutions of democracy have been strengthened. Parliaments and legislatures are often disrupted by the unruly behaviour of members. Political parties take to the streets before discussing and debating issues. Dynastic principles and individuals prevail over institutions. These are some of the bigger issues that India will have to confront if democracy has to mature. The problems will not be solved in 2010. But unless they are taken up seriously in the course of the new year, the country will have made no substantive progress on issues that matter.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

DOG'S LIFE

 

Petitions can be stranger than fiction. When D. Vikram of Coimbatore petitioned the Madras High Court because his neighbours were trying to deprive him of his pet dogs, he was evidently convinced that it was his fundamental right to keep a dog. Getting down to the fundaments is always a risky business, as he seems to have found to his cost. Generating sound and air pollution, that is, sheltering sources of "barking and howling" and of "stench", cannot be anybody's fundamental right, the court has ruled. There was also a small discrepancy in Mr Vikram's petition. He claimed to possess a dozen dogs as pets, while inspection by authorities has reportedly revealed about 30 dogs, or at least far more than a dozen, for which Mr Vikram appears not to have a licence and which, according to irate neighbours, are bred for sale. But delving into the slightly murky doggy background would distract attention from the deep philosophical issues the case has thrown up. Animal-lovers are reportedly disturbed by the sentence; they are naturally far more exercised over the dogs' fundamental rights than the man's. And the dog has a right to bark, just as a baby has the right to cry. However, they seem to be less agitated by the court's reference to stench.

 

Conflicting rights — the neighbours' right to quiet against the far-more-than-a-dozen dogs' right to bark in a residential locality in Coimbatore — are just the tiny symptoms of a vast, historical, perhaps pre-historic, problem, about who owns the earth. Dogs are man's best friend: humankind has carefully bred them to be so. To fight for the right of domesticated dogs to bark uncovers an interesting philosophical paradox — wild dogs, tragically dwindled in numbers in Africa, would perhaps not wait for human beings to fight for their rights. They are famous for getting what they want, swiftly and dangerously. The Animal Welfare Board of India, however, has decided to "go through the court order" and "take suitable legal action to establish the rights of dogs". Do the dogs have a choice?

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

HARD TIMES

PROTESTS NO LONGER LEAD TO GAIN BUT TO LOSS OF JOBS

CUTTING CORNERS - ASHOK MITRA

 

Food prices have shot up by more than 20 per cent in the course of the past 12 months. A vast proportion of the nation is being battered by the price rise — the fixed income group, the working classes, landless peasantry and small farmers who have to buy at least a part of the grains they consume from the market. There is, however, no upheaval among the suffering people. One or two casual comments in the media, one or two protest rallies by this or that party in the Opposition, that is about all. The authorities are not bothered; they make the usual noises about how no effort is being spared to rein in the inflation and how an improvement in the situation could be expected soon. As for concrete measures to discipline prices, nothing much is on the agenda. There is no proposal to ban speculation in foodgrains futures. Nor is it proposed to roll back the easy money policy. The Reserve Bank of India drops a few hints now and then to indicate reservations with regard to a continuing regime of low interest rates. On such issues, though, the crucial decisions have long been transferred from the country's central bank to the ministry of finance. That is to say, politicians have the final say in the matter. Ruling politicians are not extra enthusiastic to put a leash on easy credit, for class interests are involved. Those who borrow from the banks either to play the speculative game or to hoard grains are friends whom it will not be proper to inconvenience. The usual subterfuges are therefore taken recourse to. The Centre blames the state governments for not being vigilant enough against the hoarders. The states — at least some states — complain of the Centre's indifference towards the public distribution system. New Delhi, with its ample reserves of foreign exchange, promises greater import of the commodities currently in short supply. Commission agents love the official announcement: if there are greater imports can lush commissions on their account be far behind?

 

About everybody is aware of the ground reality. Economic liberalization has reached its climacteric. It disapproves of government interference with the market forces. It also does not favour public investments, such as in agricultural infrastructure, which could have boosted farm output. Besides, State trading, neo-colonial policy states, is sin; public distribution of essential goods must not expand. Thank goodness, no major elections are in the offing. So why not allow the near and dear one make a few bits of extra money?

 

The picture would have been far different had the millions belonging to the working and middle classes refused to accept the situation with such demure resignation. In a functioning democracy, in case citizenry adversely affected by any official decision or non-decision are alert and united, they can most of the time force the authorities to listen to them. The collective strength of the trade union movement and an aroused middle class are not easy to defy. It used to be so over here too. Only, a little more than a couple of decades ago, the Ahilya Rangnekars and the Minal Gores could persuade angry housewives to come out in the streets with their broomsticks and bread rollers and command the government, till then apparently unconcerned about spiralling prices, into instant action. Their fury had taught the authorities the due lesson.

 

Economic liberalization has changed that landscape beyond recognition. It has gifted the country's rulers with the boon of gorgeous increases in gross domestic product that can be flaunted before the world. What is much more significant, it has almost dissolved the alliance between the trade union movement and the once combatant middle class. Employment in the organized private sector has gone down since the onslaught of neo-liberal policies; in the public sector, it has at most remained stable. Registrations in the employment exchanges throughout the country have risen sharply. Instead of causing acute social tension, these developments have instead fractured the middle class. Nine-tenths of this class have not gained from the GDP increase spree. Only those belonging to the top decile, those engaged with software operations, entertainments and other services, besides automobiles and a handful of similar consumer durable industries, have reaped the benefits. To scan the monthly budget these days of this section of the comfortably-placed urban middle class is a liberal education. Expenditure of this class on food items as a proportion of their total spending has declined over the past decades. True, its members have not all turned into billionaires, but they are doing exceedingly well and have quickly learnt to enjoy the luxurious things in life, for which they have money to spare. They have money to spare for the share market too. High levels of food prices do not much concern them; their outlay on food does not take up more than five — at most ten — per cent of their monthly consumer expenditure.

 

Much of the bigger contingent of the middle class, of course, continues to be hard hit by the phenomenon of runaway food prices. The members of this group should have been angry beyond endurance. They cannot afford to be, for there have been other developments. Liberalization has resulted in the induction of labour-saving equipment across the board. Lay-offs and discharges are the order of the day. Not much of a protest is to be heard though. The threat of introduction of labour-displacing equipment has been enough to put trade union movement on its back foot. In former times, a coalition would overnight get formed between sympathetic sections of the middle class and the militant trade unions in the event of a lay-off taking place in some industry or other. They would collect the crowds, clog the streets and immobilize civic functioning until the authorities responded positively. They would do the same whenever prices rose abnormally. Economic liberalization has rendered defunct coalitions of that nature. Nobody writes to Marquez's colonel any more; here in India nobody responds any more to a call for militant action in the event of a massive lay-off of labour or a massive price rise.

Not just the white-collar employees, such as in banks and the insurance sector, who have lost their virulence. Consider the fate of the once-enormously powerful textile trade unions too. Neo-liberal trade policies have led to their disappearance. New service sector occupations are no doubt coming up every day. But the scope of employment there is severely limited; the few who are fortunate enough to get absorbed in these outfits would not dream of joining a trade union; thank you, these are getting along fine; they need no collective bargaining.

 

A kind of ennui has taken over. The big battle against economic liberalism was practically lost by the end of the 1990s. Processions, hunger marches and such other types of agitation led to nowhere. Huge numbers from the middle class had once marched in seemingly unending processions in support of this or that cause. They courted arrests and often underwent prison sentences. They got sacked from their jobs and faced grave personal difficulties. But they also won quite a few memorable victories. The past, however, is long past. Agitations do not lead to net gains, agitations cause permanent loss of work.

 

Some of yesterday's warriors feel despondent, some turn restless. Quite a few tend to lose their faith. They start cutting corners, even in their ruminations. Their lives have been a waste, but their children, who are undergoing intense computer training or taking a course in this or that foreign language, will possibly get an opportunity in one of the up-and-coming service industries, such as in the information technology sector. Tomorrow, therefore, promises to be another day. Perhaps there is also the flicker of another dream: the first cousin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Reno, Nevada, is about to get the green card. Once he gets settled in the United States of America, he is likely to swing things for his kinfolk back home.

 

In one of his later novels, Hard Times, Charles Dickens narrated the travails of the British working class in the early phase of the Industrial Revolution: a handful gained, the overwhelming majority suffered in that period of furious economic growth. It is a re-run of that story over here at this moment. The English working people presumably tried to find compensation for their misery in the abstract thought of being joint owners of the Empire over which the sun never sank. For India's poor, circa 2010, it is only the vicarious joy at the country's cricketers scaling one peak of glory after another.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

RESOLVE TO REFORM

BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH

 

Happy New Year and welcome to the second decade of the millennium! Sitting far away from the madding crowd, with no breaking news to interrupt a normal, happy day, there is nothing depressing or disturbing that I can comment on. That is what has made the last day of 2009 worthwhile. The political shenanigans that have overwhelmed India, from Jharkhand to Andhra to Bengal and elsewhere, made one uneasy about the horrors that a few have been inflicting on Indians. Tribal leaders — corrupt, violating every fiscal and social law, misusing their position as elected representatives, greedily filling their own coffers through endless wheeling and dealing — have betrayed their communities and insulted the democratic institutions that India lives by. When these same people start to interpret the tribal bill in their own way, and therefore wrongly, they will destroy whatever little remains of our forests and wilderness.

 

New Year resolutions are the need of the day. One of the resolutions that India should make is to add a green cover to its great land mass. If every panchayat were to pledge two acres of village land to a sacred grove where every villager would have to plant a tree, be responsible for it, and nurture it to maturity, and where men, women and children of all ages could spend time quietly with themselves and their thoughts, India would have begun a journey of renewal. The Youth Congress could lead this endeavour and change the mindset of the new generation by giving them the responsibility of caring for their future.

 

Another resolution could be to force the administration to do its job well and on time. The prime minister needs to pledge that every department will deliver, and if there is a citizen complaint that is legitimate, action will be taken in 48 hours flat. For example, you can get a license honourably without paying a bribe, you won't have to wait for six months to get an electricity connection. So far, the PMO has a standard reply to such problems — 'this is a state subject'. Whenever one criticizes the administration of this country, the babu is ever ready with a quick response and washes his hands off any public demand in the public domain. The babu must be made accountable.

 

New beginnings

At the human and collective level, if every panchayat were to get the mothers of children attending village schools to grow healthy, organic vegetables to cook for the mandatory midday meal, then parents could participate, sensitively, with the teachers of their children. Sounds convoluted, but it is straight and simple, a true ring-a-ring-a-roses! Then, if the mothers are at the school vegetable garden patch every morning, the teachers too will find it tough to do the usual 'no-show'. Neither of the two suggestions needs huge amount of money, which is why politicians and babus discourage such activities that bind communities together.

 

Sitting in front of a stone wall, made of all shapes and sizes of chipped and rejected stones, one realizes how we have allowed some of the finest skills of our land to fade away. Time is ripe to revive these traditions and establish a new but autonomous corporation — Creative Industries. We should begin to solve the employment problem by respecting traditional information technologies of India and making sure that we do not allow these to become a distant mirage of the past instead of an energetic truth for the future. Building strong and aesthetically pleasing walls without cement and mortar, making perfect water pots using earth, creating araish from eggshells, lime and oil, as the paint for walls and other surfaces, building water tanks and storage bins for harvesting what is now becoming a scanty elixir of life, and much more. Our traditional skills are congenitally linked with the environment and we need to restore them to the position they deserve.

 

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******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

LEAP OF FAITH

''THE COALITION POLITY HAS STRENGTHENED PARTICIPATION.''

 

It is double celebration time, today. As we welcome the New Year, we have stepped into the first day of the 21st Century's second decade. We, as a nation, might have been weighed down a bit on confidence count by past year's unending stories of the global economic downturn and the excruciatingly slow pace of recovery. India, though, has fared better than most during the testing times of the past one year. One year is too short in the life of a nation. That is why it is relevant for us to have a decadal perspective of what the first decade of this century has meant to us as we look to the future.


Ten years ago, the world acknowledged that the 21st Century would belong to India and China. This prognosis may not be erroneous. For one, India's image in the comity of nations has changed in the first decade of the century. There is no more the talk of that 'Hindu growth rate' of India — a euphemism for slow economic and high population growth rates. If the economy grew by an average of about six per cent in the first half of the decade, it gained momentum to record an average of 8.5 per cent in the next five years. There is near-consensus at home and abroad about sustaining this growth story in the decades to come. It is also recognition of the need to translate this growth rate into better standards of living for all sections, in particular to bridge the urban-rural divide. While it might be early to draw any definitive conclusion about their effectiveness, mega schemes like the national rural employment programme have been launched to ensure that the rural poor join India's growth story. But it is by now accepted that the last decade of the national coalition polity has significantly strengthened the democratic polity's participatory essence.


Yet, there are serious and fundamental challenges that act as obstacles: lack of political and bureaucratic accountability, pervasive corruption, myriad socio-economic tensions, etc. A galloping India has not only drawn the world's attention, it has also attracted the underworld, what with organised international terrorist groups making the country their target. We have to demonstrate far more commitment to combat the menace, particularly since the country's immediate neighbourhood is the epicentre of global terrorism. As our national quest for peaceful development will have to surmount these roadblocks, we have a responsibility that we cannot duck: to avert an environmental disaster while seeking economic growth and development.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SPEAKER, SIR

''BOPAIAH SHOULD ACT AS A BRIDGE IN ASSEMBLY.''

 

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have heaved a collective sigh of relief at the election of K G Bopaiah as the 17th Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, but the visible lack of satisfaction in the party rank and file over the victory tells its own story. The BJP election managers' palpable tension over the outcome of the election in the run-up to the election is indicative of the erosion of confidence in the ruling party in recent months.



The manner in which the ruling party rushed the election through on Wednesday may have only given satisfaction to the Opposition. The leaders of the Congress and Janata Dal(S) knew that their candidate, T B Jayachandra, had no chance of winning the election.


Yet they fielded him only because they sensed the unease within the ruling party battered by acute dissidence and lack of discipline. That the party enjoying a more than comfortable majority in the Assembly could descend into panic by the mere act of the combined Opposition putting up a joint candidate will surely encourage the two main Opposition parties to continue their alliance into the BBMP elections and beyond.
Although it is too early to say what all this would mean for politics in the state in the coming days, it is now quite certain that the floods of October and the raging dissidence that followed has eroded the BJP's political capital and its sense of assurance.


Bopaiah has much on his plate. He occupies a chair once graced by eminent personalities such as S R Kanti, Vaikunta Baliga and K S Nagarathnamma who handled the proceedings in the House with aplomb, grace and wisdom. Flaming oratory, constructive opposition, consensus on issues and mutual respect across the aisles were a hallmark of the state Assembly in the past. The politicians of the past were men with a sense of history and vision, most of them having participated in the freedom struggle. To expect such standards of business in today's House is unrealistic. The least that Bopaiah could do is try and bridge the chasm of mutual trust between the ruling benches and the Opposition and enable the House to function and not become a byword for bedlam. Here is wishing a him Happy New Year and a distinguished stint as Speaker.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

A DOOMED REGION

SOUTH ASIA HAS THE LARGEST NUMBER OF POOR AND THE ILLITERATE IN THE WORLD. VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS ARE IN THOUSANDS.

BY KULDIP NAYAR

 

When I longingly look at Europe having one visa, one currency (euro), stronger than dollar, and one parliament to reflect on the decisions taken by individual parliaments, my eyes woefully go to South Asia which is nowhere near normalisation, much less cohesion. It is wracked by internal conflicts and outer dangers. The two main countries, India and Pakistan, are not even on speaking terms. The limited trade between Srinagar and Muzzafarabad was suspended a few days ago.


Not that the European countries, 27 of them, did not quarrel. They had, in fact, wars for hundreds of years and killed thousands of nationals of one another. But they were ultimately seduced by the idea of conciliation and cooperation which has brought them prosperity and stability.


But South Asia remains stagnant. It does not map tidily onto progress for their peoples. It is still stuck in distrust and disruption. Its leaders, leave apart the founders, have never risen above their pettiness and parochialism. It seems that countries in the region realised at one time that they could benefit through friendship and founded the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). But their ego and enmity towards one another are so strong that they have not allowed the institution to function. They simply cannot cast off their animosity to begin a new chapter.


The result is that South Asia has the largest number of poor and the illiterate in the world. Child mortality is the highest. Violations of human rights are in thousands. And the infrastructure that the governments should have built is the weakest. Whatever they earn they spend on armaments — the deadlier, the better. And they have enacted so many draconian laws in the name of security that they have even encroached upon the space of individual freedom.


What the rulers in the region do not realise is that governance has to be not through the police or the paramilitary forces, but through the willing consent of the people.


Development is the key. The more people are better off, the lesser would be the tension.


India's GDP is increasing by eight to nine per cent per year. But when 70 per cent of its people and states like Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and eastern UP do not have enough even to afford two square meals, what does growth mean? The fallout has been the larger sway of Maoists who believe in armed struggle to free the masses from poverty. In Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, the growth of Talibanisation has been primarily due to dire poverty. Those wallowing in it have come to believe that fundamentalism is the only solution to their problems.


The menace of the Taliban can be fought provided the army is focused and supported by the joint front of political parties. But the Muslim League (Nawaz) has its eyes fixed on some gain from the turmoil. I was disappointed by Nawaz Sharif's latest speech which deprecated the Asif Zardari government for not making amendments to the constitution to make it more democratic, but did not have a word against the Taliban. He cannot ride two horses at the same time.


In Nepal, the government feels that it can reap a rich harvest if it plays the China card against India. The Nepalese prime minister has visited Beijing in the belief that if Kathmandu were to introduce a new factor, China, in its affairs it would end New Delhi's dictation. The real malady is that different political parties have not learnt how to behave in a democratic set-up.


China as Big Brother


In fact, the point of concern for South Asia is the manner in which China is trying to act as a Big Brother in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and even Bangladesh. Islamabad is already on Beijing's side. However, some countries in the region wash off their hands with the argument that it is New Delhi which should worry because China's strategy is to surround India. Yet Beijing's real ambition is to dominate the region, which is pursuing a different culture and is striving to establish a society that remains democratic, without following a doctrinaire line.

The responsibility of unleashing the forces of destruction lies on the eight SAARC countries. Terrorism was the genie which the Pakistan government brought out from the bottle. Many gullible people still believe that the Taliban only want true Islam to come back. Does it mean the killing of the innocent and the denial of right to education and freedom to women?


New Delhi has released the Frankenstein of balkanisation by issuing its fiat at midnight that the government is proposing to take measures for creating the state of Telangana. The Manmohan Singh government's flip-flop has reignited fires of individual identity throughout the country. Already in schools of some of the states songs exalting the regional idea have been introduced into textbooks. History books taught in lower classes have disclosed a marked tendency to exaggerate past achievements of the dominant linguistic groups. The government may rue the day when it announced the formation of Telangana because it has led to a sense of frustration, with grave consequences, if similar demands are not met.


In Pakistan, there is a demand for autonomy by Baluchistan, the North Western Frontier Province and Sind. It looks as if the country faces a real danger of disintegrating. In contrast, Bangladesh has consolidated itself through a democratic government. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has retrieved the disturbed Chittagong Hill Tract by giving it more authority. Decentralisation of power is the only way to keep nations together. No country in the region seems to realise this. I hope that Sri Lanka has learnt the lesson.
Otherwise, other elements from among the Tamils may rise and constitute themselves into another LTTE to demand for the right to rule themselves.


Busy as they are in politicking, which only means power and corruption, governance in South Asia is practically non-existent. There is a nexus of politicians, the police and bureaucrats. India, although more democratic in the region, has small fires of defiance burning all over. More stringent measures, which are the only mantra that Home Minister P Chidambaram has learnt, may build up resistance. This is a lesson for the rest of South Asia.


If countries in the region had a common union, they would have together fought some of the challenges they face — terrorism and backwardness. But they would rather shoot at their neighbours than cooperate. Cooperation may help the countries to extinguish the prairie fires, a la Che Guevara, raging within. At present, the countries are wasting all their energies in harming one another. This is the reason why South Asia remains a doomed region.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

MR. BLOOMBERG'S THIRD TERM

 

In the last 100 years, only three New York City mayors have served three terms. After spending more than $100 million to become the fourth, Michael Bloomberg boasted on election night that he would challenge the conventional wisdom, and the historical record, that third-term mayors are too tired and too jaded to serve the city or themselves terribly well.

 

Mr. Bloomberg, who will be sworn in on Friday, has already accomplished a good deal and is always eager to prove the pundits wrong. This time, it will be harder.

 

The political climate is a lot less welcoming. If the mayor isn't tired, many New Yorkers are tired of him, especially after he helped overturn term limits — a misguided but popular city law. His re-election was a squeaker, for all the money and the army of advisers.

 

Mr. Bloomberg's biggest personal challenge will be to tame his imperious nature. The city has serious problems, starting with the economy, and he will have to deliver bad news to New Yorkers in coming months.

 

That means that the mayor will have to work harder than he has in the past to rally support from the City Council (many members already see him as a lame duck). And he will have to concentrate more on rallying public support. He will need to reach out, to hold more town hall meetings, to be accessible and allow New Yorkers to give their unvarnished opinions. And when they do, he needs to listen. This is not Mr. Bloomberg's strong suit, but he will have to get better at it.

 

•The mayor's biggest policy challenge this year will be wrestling with a $4.1 billion deficit in his next city budget. Tax revenues are disappointing, and the state's fiscal situation is catastrophic, which means that support from Albany will only go down.

 

Next year's budget is due at the end of June, but Mr. Bloomberg wisely has already started cutting. He has targeted $550 million in savings for this fiscal year and is planning to reduce spending by $1.2 billion in the following one. New Yorkers will soon start to feel the squeeze — with fewer new parks and playgrounds, leaner school budgets, less child care support and personnel cuts, including uniformed forces.

 

As a businessman, the mayor has the right skills to keep the $60 billion budget balanced. As a billionaire, who thrives in Manhattan's social stratosphere, he has to be especially careful about how he explains the need for sacrifices by others. He should take extra care to ensure that cuts do not weigh heaviest on the needy and make certain that struggling families and city businesses both have a decent chance to survive. It will be a tough balancing act, financially and politically.

 

•New York City schools are better today in many crucial ways than when Mr. Bloomberg took over. The old, ineffective Board of Education shed chancellors with dizzying frequency. After the State Legislature finally scrapped the board and gave the mayor control of the schools, he brought much-needed stability. He has also swept away the bureaucratic underbrush, strengthened the teacher corps and increased teachers' salaries.

 

Shortly after the November election, the mayor directed the schools chancellor, Joel Klein, to start using student performance data to determine teacher tenure. It is a sound approach, as long as it is done carefully and fairly. That directive also sent an important signal to the teachers' unions that Mr. Bloomberg is now ready to demand more for their enhanced salaries. He also wants bad teachers out of the classroom and off the payroll. In all, the mayor's education policies have been a good thing for students, but he and his school officials still have to spend more time listening to concerned parents.

 

•Like all mayors, Mr. Bloomberg wants his share of monuments. He already has waterfront parks, two finished stadiums, a slew of high rises and tantalizing possibilities on Governors Island. Going forward, it will be hard for the public to stomach any big giveaways like Yankee Stadium, which, at the mayor's urging, got billions of dollars of support, including taxpayer-backed debt, tax breaks and the use of city parkland.

 

"It's a time for singles, not home runs," said Mitchell Moss, a professor at New York University and informal adviser to the mayor. Mr. Bloomberg should use his business acumen to push for more developments with housing for moderate-income residents and public workers. The next time some bigwig wants a stadium or a fat new zoning change, the mayor should take care to demand more parks and public facilities as part of the deal. The bottom line for any development should be that it helps out more than the developer's bottom line.

 

•Given his history — the anti-smoking campaign, the advances against trans fats and the calorie counts in restaurants — Mayor Bloomberg can be expected to aim in the right direction on health care. Other areas worthy of more focus are asthma, obesity and diabetes.

 

The environment is a tougher climb. The latest report on air quality from the city's health department is especially alarming: it showed unhealthy levels of pollution in high-population areas throughout the city. Mr. Bloomberg should revive his fight in Albany for some form of congestion pricing.

 

Cars are a big problem, but so are all of those buildings spewing black smoke. The Council approved an initiative that helps move toward Mr. Bloomberg's goal of cutting 30 percent of the city's carbon output by 2030. But it only requires large buildings to audit their energy use, not upgrade the equipment if they find problems. The hope is that once they see the numbers, owners will decide to invest in improvements to save both energy and money. That may work. But if the economy improves for real estate, the mayor should revive his idea of requiring owners to do what is needed to clear the air.

 

 

We have confidence in Mr. Bloomberg. He is a smart leader with sound priorities. The next four years will test his political skills — his ability to work with a State Legislature that would try anyone's patience and Washington politicians who take more money from the city than they give back. Most of all, he will have to persuade all New Yorkers that, even in a time of sacrifices, he is truly on their side.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE U.N. IN AFGHANISTAN

 

Americans don't hear a lot about the top United Nations representative in Afghanistan, but the job is a critically important one. The mission's responsibilities include strengthening governance, combating corruption, monitoring and protecting human rights and assuring fair and independently supervised elections.

 

The current representative, Kai Eide, has been a disappointment. He has been too quiet about President Hamid Karzai's corrupt associates and too tolerant of the lax accounting practices at United Nations development programs. He was too slow, even slower than Washington, to condemn Mr. Karzai's blatant rigging of the August presidential election. Mr. Eide has announced that he will be leaving soon. Choosing the right successor is vitally important. Securing and rebuilding Afghanistan is an international, not just an American, responsibility. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, is currently considering three candidates: Staffan de Mistura of Sweden, Jean-Marie Guéhenno of France and Ian Martin of Britain. Of these, we believe Mr. Guéhenno has most clearly demonstrated the qualities necessary for what is a very tough job.

 

The next representative must be someone who can work smoothly with the top NATO commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal of the United States, and Washington's ambassador, Karl Eikenberry. The representative must also have an independent mind and enough international stature to challenge them if they're going wrong, and must be strong enough to stand up to President Karzai when necessary — and diplomatic enough to work with him.

 

He must demand tighter accounting from United Nations development agencies. And he must be willing and able to goad Security Council members to back up their fine resolutions with additional pledges of badly needed peacekeepers, trainers, civilian specialists and long-term development aid.

 

Mr. Guéhenno amply demonstrated many of the right qualities when he served as under secretary general for peacekeeping operations from 2000 to 2008. He took over a discredited and demoralized department and rebuilt it. He also built a productive relationship with Washington (not easy during the George W. Bush years) and other Security Council members.

 

Mr. de Mistura has worked for the United Nations for nearly 40 years, serving in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Rwanda, Lebanon, Afghanistan and, from 2007 to 2009, as the top United Nations official in Iraq. That's an impressive range of experience, but we are concerned that his low-key style and bureaucratic instincts are not the ones needed now in Afghanistan. Mr. Martin, who has held senior positions with the United Nations in Nepal and East Timor and led Amnesty International, is an effective advocate, but he lacks Mr. Guéhenno's stellar international stature. Either could grow into the top Afghan job. Mr. Guéhenno is ready for it today.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YEAR

 

We've been getting and sending a lot of holiday greetings, but one we have yet to hear is: "Have a Very New Year!" Perhaps it sounds too ambiguous for a real felicitation; safer to wish upon each other happiness rather than newness. But what if the newness of the new year was more than a calendrical trope? What if we rolled into January as if we were rolling into undiscovered country — ties cut, wagons loaded, oxen hitched?

 

For all of the toasts and vows, it is easy to dismiss the new year as an artificial made-for-Champagne-purveyors boundary. If we move past it — and our limited resolutions — quickly it is because life has a profound continuity that has little reference to the calendar's pages. For most of us, time falls into different, and largely private, patterns. It's more natural to measure time by how long you've lived in the same apartment or worked at a job, how long a relationship has endured and how old the children have grown, how large the trees you planted years ago have gotten.

 

That's one thing the new year always offers: a look back across the plains into the past before we move onward into the future. It is a holiday that insists upon our temporality and reminds us that time is, in fact, the strangest thing. No one ever sat you down, when you were young, and explained the workings of time the way the safe way to cross a street was explained. You just grew into it, into the way we trail the past behind us while the future comes rushing forward.

 

It also offers possibility. We're all surging forward — some with more impetus than others. And now we have 2010 before us, a year that seemed unimaginable until we were right at its border.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

CHINESE NEW YEAR

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

It's the season when pundits traditionally make predictions about the year ahead. Mine concerns international economics: I predict that 2010 will be the year of China. And not in a good way.

 

Actually, the biggest problems with China involve climate change. But today I want to focus on currency policy.

 

China has become a major financial and trade power. But it doesn't act like other big economies. Instead, it follows a mercantilist policy, keeping its trade surplus artificially high. And in today's depressed world, that policy is, to put it bluntly, predatory.

 

Here's how it works: Unlike the dollar, the euro or the yen, whose values fluctuate freely, China's currency is pegged by official policy at about 6.8 yuan to the dollar. At this exchange rate, Chinese manufacturing has a large cost advantage over its rivals, leading to huge trade surpluses.

 

Under normal circumstances, the inflow of dollars from those surpluses would push up the value of China's currency, unless it was offset by private investors heading the other way. And private investors are trying to get into China, not out of it. But China's government restricts capital inflows, even as it buys up dollars and parks them abroad, adding to a $2 trillion-plus hoard of foreign exchange reserves.

 

This policy is good for China's export-oriented state-industrial complex, not so good for Chinese consumers. But what about the rest of us?

 

In the past, China's accumulation of foreign reserves, many of which were invested in American bonds, was arguably doing us a favor by keeping interest rates low — although what we did with those low interest rates was mainly to inflate a housing bubble. But right now the world is awash in cheap money, looking for someplace to go. Short-term interest rates are close to zero; long-term interest rates are higher, but only because investors expect the zero-rate policy to end some day. China's bond purchases make little or no difference.

 

Meanwhile, that trade surplus drains much-needed demand away from a depressed world economy. My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that for the next couple of years Chinese mercantilism may end up reducing U.S. employment by around 1.4 million jobs.

 

The Chinese refuse to acknowledge the problem. Recently Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, dismissed foreign complaints: "On one hand, you are asking for the yuan to appreciate, and on the other hand, you are taking all kinds of protectionist measures." Indeed: other countries are taking (modest) protectionist measures precisely because China refuses to let its currency rise. And more such measures are entirely appropriate.

 

Or are they? I usually hear two reasons for not confronting China over its policies. Neither holds water.

 

First, there's the claim that we can't confront the Chinese because they would wreak havoc with the U.S. economy by dumping their hoard of dollars. This is all wrong, and not just because in so doing the Chinese would inflict large losses on themselves. The larger point is that the same forces that make Chinese mercantilism so damaging right now also mean that China has little or no financial leverage.

 

Again, right now the world is awash in cheap money. So if China were to start selling dollars, there's no reason to think it would significantly raise U.S. interest rates. It would probably weaken the dollar against other currencies — but that would be good, not bad, for U.S. competitiveness and employment. So if the Chinese do dump dollars, we should send them a thank-you note.

 

Second, there's the claim that protectionism is always a bad thing, in any circumstances. If that's what you believe, however, you learned Econ 101 from the wrong people — because when unemployment is high and the government can't restore full employment, the usual rules don't apply.

 

Let me quote from a classic paper by the late Paul Samuelson, who more or less created modern economics: "With employment less than full ... all the debunked mercantilistic arguments" — that is, claims that nations who subsidize their exports effectively steal jobs from other countries — "turn out to be valid." He then went on to argue that persistently misaligned exchange rates create "genuine problems for free-trade apologetics." The best answer to these problems is getting exchange rates back to where they ought to be. But that's exactly what China is refusing to let happen.

 

The bottom line is that Chinese mercantilism is a growing problem, and the victims of that mercantilism have little to lose from a trade confrontation. So I'd urge China's government to reconsider its stubbornness. Otherwise, the very mild protectionism it's currently complaining about will be the start of something much bigger.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE GOD THAT FAILS

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

During the middle third of the 20th century, Americans had impressive faith in their own institutions. It was not because these institutions always worked well. The Congress and the Federal Reserve exacerbated the Great Depression. The military made horrific mistakes during World War II, which led to American planes bombing American troops and American torpedoes sinking ships with American prisoners of war.

 

But there was a realistic sense that human institutions are necessarily flawed. History is not knowable or controllable. People should be grateful for whatever assistance that government can provide and had better do what they can to be responsible for their own fates.

 

That mature attitude seems to have largely vanished. Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved. We seem to be in the position of young adolescents — who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can't.

 

After Sept. 11, we Americans indulged our faith in the god of technocracy. We expanded the country's information-gathering capacities so that the National Security Agency alone now gathers four times more data each day than is contained in the Library of Congress.

 

We set up protocols to convert that information into a form that can be processed by computers and bureaucracies. We linked agencies and created new offices. We set up a centralized focal point, the National Counterterrorism Center.

 

All this money and technology seems to have reduced the risk of future attack. But, of course, the system is bound to fail sometimes. Reality is unpredictable, and no amount of computer technology is going to change that. Bureaucracies are always blind because they convert the rich flow of personalities and events into crude notations that can be filed and collated. Human institutions are always going to miss crucial clues because the information in the universe is infinite and events do not conform to algorithmic regularity.

 

Resilient societies have a level-headed understanding of the risks inherent in this kind of warfare.

 

But, of course, this is not how the country has reacted over the past week. There have been outraged calls for Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security to resign, as if changing the leader of the bureaucracy would fix the flaws inherent in the bureaucracy. There have been demands for systemic reform — for more protocols, more layers and more review systems.

 

Much of the criticism has been contemptuous and hysterical. Various experts have gathered bits of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's biography. Since they can string the facts together to accurately predict the past, they thunder, the intelligence services should have been able to connect the dots to predict the future.

 

Dick Cheney argues that the error was caused by some ideological choice. Arlen Specter screams for more technology — full-body examining devices. "We thought that had been remedied," said Senator Kit Bond, as if omniscience could be accomplished with legislation.

 

Many people seem to be in the middle of a religious crisis of faith. All the gods they believe in — technology, technocracy, centralized government control — have failed them in this instance.

In a mature nation, President Obama could go on TV and say, "Listen, we're doing the best we can, but some terrorists are bound to get through." But this is apparently a country that must be spoken to in childish ways. The original line out of the White House was that the system worked. Don't worry, little Johnny.

 

When that didn't work the official line went to the other extreme. "I consider that totally unacceptable," Obama said. I'm really mad, Johnny. But don't worry, I'll make it all better.

 

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has to be seen doing something, so it added another layer to its stage play, "Security Theater" — more baggage regulations, more in-flight restrictions.

 

At some point, it's worth pointing out that it wasn't the centralized system that stopped terrorism in this instance. As with the shoe bomber, as with the plane that went down in Shanksville, Pa., it was decentralized citizen action. The plot was foiled by nonexpert civilians who had the advantage of the concrete information right in front of them — and the spirit to take the initiative.

 

For better or worse, over the past 50 years we have concentrated authority in centralized agencies and reduced the role of decentralized citizen action. We've done this in many spheres of life. Maybe that's wise, maybe it's not. But we shouldn't imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time. It would be nice if we reacted to their inevitable failures not with rabid denunciation and cynicism, but with a little resiliency, an awareness that human systems fail and bad things will happen and we don't have to lose our heads every time they do.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

IT'S ALWAYS THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT

BY DENIS DUTTON

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND

 

IT seems so distant, 1999. Bill Clinton had survived impeachment, his popularity hardly dented, Sept. 11 was just another date and music fans were enjoying a young singer named Britney Spears.

 

But there was a particular unease in the air. The so-called Y2K problem, the inability of computers to read dates beyond 1999 threatened to turn Jan. 1, 2000 into a nightmare. The issue had first been noticed by programmers in the 1950s, but had been ignored. As the turn of the century loomed, though, it seemed that humankind faced a litany of horrors.

 

Haywire navigation controls might cause aircraft to fall from the skies. Electricity grids, water systems and telephone networks would be knocked out, while nuclear power plants would be subject to meltdown. Savings and pension accounts would be wiped out in a general bank failure. A cascade of breakdowns in communication and commerce would create vast shortages of food and medicine, which would, in turn, produce riots, lawlessness and social collapse. Even worse, ICBMs might rise from their silos unbidden, spreading death across the globe.

 

Y2K problems would not be limited to mainframe computers that governed the information systems of the modern world, but were going to affect millions of tiny computer chips found everywhere. Thanks to these wonky microprocessors, elevators would die, G.P.S. devices would stop working and dishwashers would dry the food onto the plates before trying to rinse it off. Even ordinary cars might spontaneously accelerate to fatal, uncontrollable speeds, with brakes failing to respond.

 

The Y2K catastrophe was promoted with increasing shrillness toward century's end: headlines proclaimed a "computer time bomb" or "a date with disaster." Vanity Fair's January 1999 article "The Y2K Nightmare" caught the sensationalist tone, claiming that "folly, greed and denial" had "muffled two decades of warnings from technology experts."

 

Among the most reviled of the Y2K deniers was Bill Gates, who not only declared that Microsoft's PCs would take the date turnover in stride, but had the audacity to blame those who "love to tell tales of fear" for the worldwide anxiety. Mr. Gates's denialism was ignored as governments and corporations set in place immensely expensive schemes to immunize systems against the Y2K bug.

 

They weren't the only ones keen to get in on the end-time spirit. The Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested that Y2K would be the confirmation of Christian prophecy, "God's instrument to shake this nation, to humble this nation." The Y2K crisis might incite a worldwide revival that would lead to "the rapture of the church." Along with many survivalists, Mr. Falwell advised stocking up on food and guns.

 

So the scene was set here in New Zealand for midnight on Dec. 31, 1999. We are just west of the dateline, and thus would be the first to experience not only popping Champagne corks and fireworks, but the Y2K catastrophe, if any. As clocks hit midnight, Champagne and skyrockets were the only explosions of interest, since telephones, ATMs, cars, computers and airplanes worked just fine. The head of the government's Y2K Readiness Commission declared victory: "New Zealand's investment in planning and preparation has paid off."

 

Confident that our millions were well spent, we waited for news of the calamities sure to hit countries that had ignored Y2K. Asia, a Deutsche Bank official had predicted, was going to be "burnt toast" on New Year's Day — not just the lesser-developed areas of Vietnam and China, but South Korea, which by 1999 was a highly computer-dependent society. South Korea, one computer expert told me, had a national telephone system similar to British Telecom's. But where the British had wisely sunk millions of pounds into Y2K remediation, South Korea had done next to nothing.

 

However, exactly 10 years ago today, as the date change moved on through the Far East, India, Russia, the Middle East and Europe, it became apparent that it made little difference whether you lived in Britain, which at great expense had revamped many of its computer systems, or the lackadaisical Ukraine, which had ignored the issue.

 

With minor glitches that would have gone unnoticed any other day of the week, the world kept ticking on. It must have been galling for computer-conscientious Germans to observe how life continued its pleasurable path for feckless Italians, who had generally paid no attention to Y2K. There were problems, to be sure: in Australia, a bus-ticket machine stamped the wrong date, while in Britain a tide gauge in Portsmouth Harbor failed. Still, the South Korean phone system came through unscathed.

 

By the time midnight reached the United States, where upward of $100 billion had been spent on Y2K fixes, there was little anxiety. Indeed, the general health of American information systems, fixed and not, became clearer in the new year. The Small Business Administration calculated that 1.5 million businesses had undertaken no Y2K remediation. On Jan. 3, it received about 40 phone calls from businesses that had experienced minor faults, like cash registers that misread the year "2000" as "1900" (which seemed everywhere the single most common error caused by Y2K).

 

KNOWING our computers is difficult enough. Harder still is to know ourselves, including our inner demons. From today's perspective, the Y2K fiasco seems to be less about technology than about a morbid fascination with end-of-the-world scenarios. This ought to strike us as strange. The cold war was fading in 1999, we were witnessing a worldwide growth in wealth and standards of living, and Islamic terrorism was not yet seen as a serious global threat. It should have been a year of golden weather, a time for the human race to relax and look toward a brighter, more peaceful future. Instead, with computers as a flimsy pretext, many seemed to take pleasure in frightening themselves to death over a coming calamity.

 

No doubt part of the blame must go to those consultants who took businesses and governments for an expensive ride in the lead-up to New Year's Day. But doom-laden exaggerations about Y2K fell on ears that were all-too receptive. The Y2K fiasco was about more than simple prudence.

 

Religions from Zoroastrianism to Judaism to Christianity to U.F.O. cults have been built around notions of sin and the world's end. The Y2K threat resonated with those ideas. Human beings have constructed an enormous, wasteful, unnatural civilization, filled with sin — or, worse in some minds, pollution and environmental waste. Suppose it turned out that a couple of zeros inadvertently left off old computer codes brought crashing down the very civilization computers helped to create. Cosmic justice!

 

The theme of our fancy inventions ultimately destroying us has been a favorite in fiction at least since Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." We can place alongside this a continuous succession of spectacular films built on visions of the end of the world. Such end-time fantasies must have a profound, persistent appeal in order to keep drawing wide-eyed crowds into movie theaters, as historically they have drawn crowds into churches, year after year.

 

Apocalyptic scenarios are a diversion from real problems — poverty, terrorism, broken financial systems — needing intelligent attention. Even something as down-to-earth as the swine-flu scare has seemed at moments to be less about testing our health care system and its emergency readiness than about the fate of a diseased civilization drowning in its own fluids. We wallow in the idea that one day everything might change in, as St. Paul put it, the "twinkling of an eye" — that a calamity might prove to be the longed-for transformation. But turning practical problems into cosmic cataclysms takes us further away from actual solutions.

 

This applies, in my view, to the towering seas, storms, droughts and mass extinctions of popular climate catastrophism. Such entertaining visions owe less to scientific climatology than to eschatology, and that familiar sense that modernity and its wasteful comforts are bringing us closer to a biblical day of judgment. As that headline put it for Y2K, predictions of the end of the world are often intertwined with condemnations of human "folly, greed and denial." Repent and recycle!

 

Denis Dutton is a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

 

***************************************

THE NEW YORK TIMES

IT'S ALWAYS THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT

BY DENIS DUTTON

 

Christchurch, New Zealand

IT seems so distant, 1999. Bill Clinton had survived impeachment, his popularity hardly dented, Sept. 11 was just another date and music fans were enjoying a young singer named Britney Spears.

 

But there was a particular unease in the air. The so-called Y2K problem, the inability of computers to read dates beyond 1999 threatened to turn Jan. 1, 2000 into a nightmare. The issue had first been noticed by programmers in the 1950s, but had been ignored. As the turn of the century loomed, though, it seemed that humankind faced a litany of horrors.

 

Haywire navigation controls might cause aircraft to fall from the skies. Electricity grids, water systems and telephone networks would be knocked out, while nuclear power plants would be subject to meltdown. Savings and pension accounts would be wiped out in a general bank failure. A cascade of breakdowns in communication and commerce would create vast shortages of food and medicine, which would, in turn, produce riots, lawlessness and social collapse. Even worse, ICBMs might rise from their silos unbidden, spreading death across the globe.

 

Y2K problems would not be limited to mainframe computers that governed the information systems of the modern world, but were going to affect millions of tiny computer chips found everywhere. Thanks to these wonky microprocessors, elevators would die, G.P.S. devices would stop working and dishwashers would dry the food onto the plates before trying to rinse it off. Even ordinary cars might spontaneously accelerate to fatal, uncontrollable speeds, with brakes failing to respond.

 

The Y2K catastrophe was promoted with increasing shrillness toward century's end: headlines proclaimed a "computer time bomb" or "a date with disaster." Vanity Fair's January 1999 article "The Y2K Nightmare" caught the sensationalist tone, claiming that "folly, greed and denial" had "muffled two decades of warnings from technology experts."

 

Among the most reviled of the Y2K deniers was Bill Gates, who not only declared that Microsoft's PCs would take the date turnover in stride, but had the audacity to blame those who "love to tell tales of fear" for the worldwide anxiety. Mr. Gates's denialism was ignored as governments and corporations set in place immensely expensive schemes to immunize systems against the Y2K bug.

 

They weren't the only ones keen to get in on the end-time spirit. The Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested that Y2K would be the confirmation of Christian prophecy, "God's instrument to shake this nation, to humble this nation." The Y2K crisis might incite a worldwide revival that would lead to "the rapture of the church." Along with many survivalists, Mr. Falwell advised stocking up on food and guns.

 

So the scene was set here in New Zealand for midnight on Dec. 31, 1999. We are just west of the dateline, and thus would be the first to experience not only popping Champagne corks and fireworks, but the Y2K catastrophe, if any. As clocks hit midnight, Champagne and skyrockets were the only explosions of interest, since telephones, ATMs, cars, computers and airplanes worked just fine. The head of the government's Y2K Readiness Commission declared victory: "New Zealand's investment in planning and preparation has paid off."

 

Confident that our millions were well spent, we waited for news of the calamities sure to hit countries that had ignored Y2K. Asia, a Deutsche Bank official had predicted, was going to be "burnt toast" on New Year's Day — not just the lesser-developed areas of Vietnam and China, but South Korea, which by 1999 was a highly computer-dependent society. South Korea, one computer expert told me, had a national telephone system similar to British Telecom's. But where the British had wisely sunk millions of pounds into Y2K remediation, South Korea had done next to nothing.

 

However, exactly 10 years ago today, as the date change moved on through the Far East, India, Russia, the Middle East and Europe, it became apparent that it made little difference whether you lived in Britain, which at great expense had revamped many of its computer systems, or the lackadaisical Ukraine, which had ignored the issue.

 

With minor glitches that would have gone unnoticed any other day of the week, the world kept ticking on. It must have been galling for computer-conscientious Germans to observe how life continued its pleasurable path for feckless Italians, who had generally paid no attention to Y2K. There were problems, to be sure: in Australia, a bus-ticket machine stamped the wrong date, while in Britain a tide gauge in Portsmouth Harbor failed. Still, the South Korean phone system came through unscathed.

 

By the time midnight reached the United States, where upward of $100 billion had been spent on Y2K fixes, there was little anxiety. Indeed, the general health of American information systems, fixed and not, became clearer in the new year. The Small Business Administration calculated that 1.5 million businesses had undertaken no Y2K remediation. On Jan. 3, it received about 40 phone calls from businesses that had experienced minor faults, like cash registers that misread the year "2000" as "1900" (which seemed everywhere the single most common error caused by Y2K).

 

KNOWING our computers is difficult enough. Harder still is to know ourselves, including our inner demons. From today's perspective, the Y2K fiasco seems to be less about technology than about a morbid fascination with end-of-the-world scenarios. This ought to strike us as strange. The cold war was fading in 1999, we were witnessing a worldwide growth in wealth and standards of living, and Islamic terrorism was not yet seen as a serious global threat. It should have been a year of golden weather, a time for the human race to relax and look toward a brighter, more peaceful future. Instead, with computers as a flimsy pretext, many seemed to take pleasure in frightening themselves to death over a coming calamity.

 

No doubt part of the blame must go to those consultants who took businesses and governments for an expensive ride in the lead-up to New Year's Day. But doom-laden exaggerations about Y2K fell on ears that were all-too receptive. The Y2K fiasco was about more than simple prudence.

 

Religions from Zoroastrianism to Judaism to Christianity to U.F.O. cults have been built around notions of sin and the world's end. The Y2K threat resonated with those ideas. Human beings have constructed an enormous, wasteful, unnatural civilization, filled with sin — or, worse in some minds, pollution and environmental waste. Suppose it turned out that a couple of zeros inadvertently left off old computer codes brought crashing down the very civilization computers helped to create. Cosmic justice!

 

The theme of our fancy inventions ultimately destroying us has been a favorite in fiction at least since Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." We can place alongside this a continuous succession of spectacular films built on visions of the end of the world. Such end-time fantasies must have a profound, persistent appeal in order to keep drawing wide-eyed crowds into movie theaters, as historically they have drawn crowds into churches, year after year.

 

Apocalyptic scenarios are a diversion from real problems — poverty, terrorism, broken financial systems — needing intelligent attention. Even something as down-to-earth as the swine-flu scare has seemed at moments to be less about testing our health care system and its emergency readiness than about the fate of a diseased civilization drowning in its own fluids. We wallow in the idea that one day everything might change in, as St. Paul put it, the "twinkling of an eye" — that a calamity might prove to be the longed-for transformation. But turning practical problems into cosmic cataclysms takes us further away from actual solutions.

 

This applies, in my view, to the towering seas, storms, droughts and mass extinctions of popular climate catastrophism. Such entertaining visions owe less to scientific climatology than to eschatology, and that familiar sense that modernity and its wasteful comforts are bringing us closer to a biblical day of judgment. As that headline put it for Y2K, predictions of the end of the world are often intertwined with condemnations of human "folly, greed and denial." Repent and recycle!

 

Denis Dutton is a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

OUT WITH A BANG

 

A new year has begun. As the first sun of 2010 shines down on our country, we all hope the 365 days of this year will be less violent, less bloody and less distressing than those that have just passed. At least 1,180 people died in bomb blasts carried out in 2009. Most of them were men, women and children who had no connection with militancy, or the policies the militants oppose. There were over 70 suicide bombings in the country – easily surpassing the 55 or so such attacks seen the previous year. The gristly sight of dismembered bodies and blood-stained streets was etched deeply into our shared consciousness, with the ferocity of the attacks picking up pace following the military operation launched in Malakand in May and particularly after action in South Waziristan in October. What is most alarming is that despite apparent victory for a determined Pakistan Army in these parts, there is no certainty that the bombings will soon become a thing of the past. Indeed the militants seem to have retained their capacity to strike at will, giving us an indication of the kind of enemy we are up against. The fear that the bloodshed will continue into 2010 lurks in every mind and stalks virtually every street.


The violence meant that the feeling of euphoria encountered at the start of 2009, as judges were restored after a successful long march in the spring, dissipated. But the judiciary remains a key focus for the optimism that exists, with verdicts declaring the emergency of 2007 illegal and dismantling the NRO greeted with good cheer. The actions taken by the apex court to remedy judicial corruption, to save playgrounds seized by commercial enterprises and to look at the pricing of essential commodities also gave people hope that they had some quarter to turn to for their grievances to be redressed. This was important given the mounting heap of such complaints. Before it levelled off after the first half of the year, inflation in the prices of food items ate into the miniscule budgets available to most families to run households. To make their task still harder, acute flour and sugar shortages were experienced. Just as crippling were the prolonged cuts in power combined with bills which rose steadily under IMF dictates. Layoffs from factories and workshops unable to function without electricity added to the gloom and, as the year drew to an end, the government confessed that its promise that the power crisis would end by the end of 2009 had been in vain.

 

A few rays of light shone through. Gilgit-Baltistan voted in its first legislative assembly, there were efforts to pull FATA into the mainstream, a package to bring reconciliation in Balochistan was tabled and there was activism from women in parliament on issues central to their rights. People everywhere also agitated with greater vigour to claim their due, staging demonstrations against inflated utility bills and drawing attention to cases of medical negligence. But, in the absence of anything resembling good governance, such efforts represented little more than a drop in the ocean. The breakdown in the coalition setup after the 2008 elections gained pace, with the PPP and the PML-N pulling apart. Public disdain for the ruling party – and especially the president grew – all the more so as controversy raged over the NRO and its scrapping. Even as slogans were raised demanding democracy be protected, people questioned what precisely democracy meant given the growing distance between them and a state unwilling to address their primary problems. The note on which 2009 ends is not a happy one. The bombing of the Ashura Day gathering in Karachi ensured this. The fears, the uncertainties and the instability generated by the events of 2009 will carry forward into the year that now begins. We can only hope and pray that by the time it ends, we can look ahead to the future with greater confidence than is today the case.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PROMISES, PROMISES

 

Within the last month the president is on record as saying that he would abolish the 17th Amendment to the constitution in December. These words are written on the last day of the last month of the year and the 17th Amendment is still in place. Promise unfulfilled, Mr President. On Thursday it is the turn of the prime minister to pick up the 'promises' baton. He spoke of his government's resolve to restore the 1973 Constitution to its original form and more specifically to remove the bar to an individual becoming president for a third term. Constitutional amendments made by dictators, he declared at the ceremony celebrating the signing of the 7th NFC Award, would be 'scrapped'. The average man-in-the-street would be forgiven for saying that he has heard all this before. Heard he certainly has, but seen … very little.


Amidst these promissory notes of jam tomorrow there are those apparently struck dumb and silent – namely the leading voices of the opposition and most notably the leading voice of the PML-N. It would appear that the opposition is engaged in a prolonged bout of masterly inactivity; the better to let their rivals rip themselves to political shreds and to offer their collective throats to the wolf come the next election. That the party of governance is being hoisted by a succession of its own petards is painfully obvious – the power crisis in its various manifestations, looming drought and increasing mutterings from the grassroots that the president may have a wallaby loose in the north paddock – an Australian euphemism for things not being entirely mentally serene. Amidst all this there is a man who seems increasingly adept at keeping his balance – a useful trick when you shift the cabinet en bloc to a maritime venue – and that is Prime Minister Gilani. He will be keeping a close eye on the wind as do all good sailors and a sharp lookout for hidden reefs – one of which may be his own leader. Giving the order to bail out and take to the lifeboats is always the prerogative of the captain of the ship. We listen attentively as the New Year dawns.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE ROAD TO HELL -- AND SIMILAR DESTINATIONS

BY AYAZ AMIR


We have a developed talent, honed over the years, for counting the trees and missing the larger picture. We see things in one dimension and forget that there may be other sides to reality. This leads to false conclusions and the begetting of great tragedies.


Let us for argument's sake accept that Asif Ali Zardari, the luckless president of a luckless country, is the author of a thousand villainies, the darkest thing to have happened to the Islamic Republic. But let us at least weigh his real or presumed infamy in the scales of history before coming to a judgment about what he deserves.

Has Zardari done anything which comes close to the unbeatable folly of the 1965 war? If anything undid us it was that foolish call to arms. We had set out to conquer Kashmir. At Tashkent we ended up lowering the casket of the Kashmir cause into the ground.


Do Zardari's alleged crimes measure up to the folly of General Yahya Khan who presided over the break-up of Pakistan? If ever the larger picture escaped anyone it was that latter-day Muhammad Shah Rangila, caught up in circumstances beyond his control or comprehension. We couldn't stand the notion of meeting East Pakistani aspirations half-way, just as we are having a hard time now understanding Baloch aspirations.


The frenzied crowds which poured out in 1977 to protest the alleged rigging of the elections by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called for the establishment of Nizam-e-Mustafa (the dispensation of the Holy Prophet). Like the supposed reformers of today who think they are battling corruption, the enthusiasts of 1977 were convinced the promised kingdom was just a step away if only that incarnation of evil, Bhutto, was taken care of.


Bhutto was taken care of and eventually hanged but the frothing crowds were no nearer Nizam-e-Mustafa or anything like it. Instead, for their pains, they got General Ziaul Haq and the long night of his dark tyranny. Zia first proclaimed his aim as Islamization. Then it was accountability. These were pretexts for suppressing democracy and perpetuating his rule. Zia was perhaps the greatest disaster to befall Pakistan. We are still living with the consequences.


Nothing in our history has been more dangerous than the simplicity and innocence of our good intentions. Riding on their back we have stood before not the pearly gates promising everlasting bliss but the gates of hell. It is scarcely an accident that many of the voices now earnestly urging the Supreme Court to embrace an ever-widening agenda of reform were early supporters of Musharraf's military rule. Such contradictions bestride our history.

Khan Roedad Khan hailed Musharraf as a messiah come to rid the country of its woes. Khan Imran Khan, to his lasting chagrin, was also part of the Musharraf-welcome crowd. At least Imran has the decency to say he was wrong. Others are not so coy. There was indeed a time when prominent media pundits, now in ultra-reformist mode, conducted themselves virtually as Musharraf spokesmen. Humein yaad hai zara zara, tumhein yaad ho keh na yaad ho.


Zardari may deserve all the pejorative adjectives in the dictionary but has he committed any crime which comes close to the enormity of the disaster that was Kargil? That adventure was meant to seize advantage in Kashmir once again. It ended up exposing Pakistan to fierce international criticism and giving birth to the term cross-border terrorism, the stick with which Pakistan has been regularly beaten ever since. Are we calling for a national commission to investigate Kargil, as we should? No, we are into other things.


Talking of Musharraf's military rule, what was the role of our present lordships when Triple One Brigade, our highest constitutional authority, reinterpreted the Constitution once again on the long afternoon of Oct 12, 1999? A few judges -- Chief Justice Saiduzzaman Siddiqui comes to mind -- did not take oath under the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) issued two months later. But if imperfect memory serves, all of their present lordships, at one time or the other, took oath under the PCO.


Not only that, some of them were on the bench which validated Musharraf's takeover. A few, including My Lord the Chief Justice, were on the bench which validated Musharraf's takeover for the second time in the Zafar Ali Shah case (2005).


Of course, we must let bygones be bygones and deal with the present. But then this principle should be for everyone. We should not be raising monuments to selective memory or selective condemnation. If the PCO of 2007 was such a bad idea, in what category should we place the PCO of 2000? And if in this Turkish bath all are like the emperor without his clothes, the least this should inculcate is a sense of humility.


And if we accept the logic that there can be a transformation in the nature of things, that people who did questionable things once-upon-a-time can undergo a conversion on the road to Damascus (or anywhere else) and become knights in shining armour, dispensing light and so on, should not some of the same indulgence, the same benefit of doubt, be extended to others?


Zardari cut deals and earned commissions and for his talent in this field earned the sobriquet Mr Ten Percent. You reap what you sow. So if Zardari is haunted by the ghosts of his past, and if his past keeps popping up in conversation and national discourse, he has only himself to blame. But now, whether we like it or not, he is something more than a mere replica of his past. He is the constitutionally elected President of the Republic.

For his failings in government, for his mistakes as President, for incompetence or inadequacy -- if these are the charges brought against him -- he can be pilloried and even ridiculed. This is part of democracy, part of the political process.


But when hidden forces with their hidden agendas go about manipulating things, pulling strings from behind, and if elements in the media or other distinguished places become witting or unwitting partners in this game, then it is not democracy being served or strengthened but intrigue and conspiracy.


The Supreme Court judgment on the vires of the 2007 PCO came on the 31st of July, 2009. But the knives were out for Zardari much before that. Zardari of course heads a team with no shortage of incompetents on board. In a land even otherwise dedicated to mediocrity they seemingly outshine all competitors. (Keen for a doctorate myself, I am still trying to discover the location of that celebrated seat of learning, Montecello University.)

President Zardari can also be his own worst enemy. Who told him to deliver the speech he did at Naudero on BB's second death anniversary? There were things in it which were best left unsaid. Those whom the gods would destroy they first push into such speech-making. But it is also true that Zardari has been driven into a corner. The mandate he got -- constitutionally it bears remembering -- is being nullified by other means.


Their lordships are all men of honour and rectitude who stood up to Musharraf's dictatorship and gave hope to the country. But their lordships are just one part of the national spectrum. If they are men of honour it doesn't automatically follow that everyone else in the equation is also playing by the same rules.

There is thus a need for caution, a need to draw a line between past and present. Let us study our past and draw the correct conclusions. But let us not, wittingly or unwittingly, destabilise democracy. Cleansing the national stables is a laudable aim and makes for a heady slogan. But as our history demonstrates, good intentions, unsupported by a sense of reality or a sense of proportion, lead to unforeseen consequences.


The temple of democracy is a cohesive whole. There is no such thing as smashing one pillar and hoping the rest of the structure will survive. It won't. And when the slabs come crashing down, we will be the losers while those who have always operated in the shadows will have the last laugh. So Happy New Year. Our curse is to live forever in interesting times. May the new year be a bit less exciting than the one which has just gone by.

Email: winlust@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

INDIA-PAKISTAN: MILITARY ANGLE

BY DR FARRUKH SALEEM


The Himalayan ranges have shaped the culture, politics, religion, mythology, climate and military doctrines of all six countries -- Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan -- that the ranges stretch across. The Great Mountain covers an area of about 650,000 square-kilometres and the width varies from 180 kilometres to 350 kilometres with a total glaciation area of over 33,000 square-kilometres. The Great Mountain Arc, from the Indus River all the way to the Brahmaputra River, encircles five countries -- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan -- and a landmass of a little more than four million square-kilometres. This landmass has 1.5 billion inhabitants; around 22 per cent of the world population in an area about half the size of the US.


Environmental determinism is the view that Indian and Pakistani military strategists "build up knowledge by encountering the world through their senses, and are unable to transcend their responses to the environment; they are at the mercy of environmental stimuli." The Great Himalayan Arc, the inescapable environmental stimuli in the Indo-Pak region, has been -- and continues to be -- the densest and the most impenetrable natural barrier between the Subcontinent and whatever lies north, east or west of the Arc.


Genghis Khan founded the 'largest contiguous empire in history' but failed to circumvent the Himalayas into India. The Himalayas have always -- and continue to -- shield India from invaders in the north (read: China). To be certain, other than Sino-Indian border skirmishes of 1962 history has never witnessed any major invasion across the Himalayas.


As a consequence, based on environmental determinism, Indian military strategists in the post-Independence period laid out an Order of Battle whereby at least half of all Indian army corps were stationed within a striking distance from the Pakistan-India border. These corps include XV Corps with two infantry divisions in Srinagar, XIV Corps in Leh, XVI Corps with three infantry divisions, an artillery brigade and an armoured brigade in Nagrota, X Corps in Bhatinda, XI Corps in Jalandhar and IX Corps in Yol (then there's II Corps in Ambala).

According to The Geographical Dictionary, "Human activities are governed by the environment, primarily the physical environment." Pakistani military strategists, with little or no threat from the west, also laid out an Order of Battle whereby six of the nine Pakistan army corps -- both holding and strike corps -- were stationed within a striking distance from the Pakistan-India border. These corps include I Corps in Mangla, X Corp with infantry divisions in Murree, Mangla and Jhelum, IV Corps in Lahore, II Corps in Multan, XXX Corps with two infantry divisions in Sialkot and XXXI Corps in Bahawalpur.


India and Pakistan are in a state of active hostility. For FY 2009, India's defence spending, according to Jane's Information Group, will rise by close to 50 per cent to a colossal $32.7 billion. India is planning its biggest-ever arms purchases; $11 billion fighter jets, T-90S tanks, Scorpion submarines, Phalcon airborne warning and control system, multi-barrel rocket-launchers and an aircraft-carrier. At $32.7 billion India's defence spending translates into 2.7 per cent of GDP.


For FY 2009, Pakistan's official defence spending is set at $4.3 billion (some unofficial estimates go as high as $7.8 billion). If Pakistan were to match India's rise we would have to spend more than five per cent of our GDP on defence. For the record, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan spend an overwhelmingly large percentage of their GDP on defence. Iraq, Somalia and Sudan are all -- or have been -- in a state of civil war. For the record, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia used to spend an overwhelmingly large percentage of their GDP on defence. Soviet Union is no more. Czechoslovakia is no more.

The Pakistan army looks at the Indian army and sees its inventory of 6,384 tanks as a threat (none of those Indian tanks can cross the Himalayas into China so Arjun MBTs must all be for Pakistan). The Pakistan army looks at the Indian air force and sees its inventory of 672 combat aircraft as a threat. The Pakistan army looks at the Indian army and finds that 15, 9, 16, 14, 11, 10 and 2 corps are all pointing their guns at Pakistan. The Pakistan army looks at the Indian army and discovers that the 4th Armoured Division, 12th Infantry Division, 340th Mechanised Brigade and 4th Armoured Brigade have been deployed to cut Pakistan into two halves.

Roti or killing machines? As per World Bank data, 74 per cent of Pakistanis earn $2 a day or less and 75 per cent of Indians earn $2 a day or less. Imagine; one out of every two Pakistanis is short on food. One out of every two Pakistanis is food-insecure. One out of every two Pakistanis is managing to subsist on less than 2,350 calories per day. Last year, there were 60 million Pakistanis short on food. That number now stands at 77 million; a 28 per cent increase.


Over the past century, economic development has been all about trans- and cross-border trading. Pakistan has two population centres; central Punjab and Karachi. Central Punjab is a thousand kilometres from the nearest port. Between Karachi and central Punjab is a desert in the east and on the west is an area that does not -- and cannot -- support population concentrations. To develop economically, we must trade. Trade we must. And, the nly population concentration to trade with is on our east.


To be certain, time -- and money -- is on India's side. Composite dialogue among civilians means little -- if anything at all. What is needed is a strategic dialogue. How can India be persuaded to pull back its offensive formations? What would Pakistan give in return? Pakistan cannot continue to race a race that it cannot win.

The writer is the executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). Email:
farrukh15@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

HOPE OF PEACE

BY DR SYED JAFFAR AHMED


The subcontinent is a land of sharp contrasts. History has witnessed contradictory trends operating here simultaneously touching their heights. Traversing through centuries, today the subcontinent is before us with its present contradictions. The long journey of history has witnessed here a rich tradition of cultural integration, alongside the insistence on the preservation and promotion of distinct identities. By virtue of the teachings of Mahatma Buddha to Guru Nanak, and the Sufi saints of Islam, there emerged a culture of fraternity and brotherhood, but this very land also witnessed some of the worst occurrences of history, bloody conflicts and tormenting migrations.


While standing in the first decade of the 21st century, and having this background of contrasts in one's mind, one does not find oneself in any unfamiliar situation. Therefore, we should not be surprised if today we see both India and Pakistan equipped with nuclear weapons. Both having piled up conventional arms and ammunition, and both comprising sections which are tooth and nail against each other, and longing to eliminate each other. In a region of sharp contradictions, this is just a contemporary expression of an old trait of intolerance and jingoism. On the contrary, striving for peace has also been a rich tradition of South Asia. No matter how bleak the situation appears at present, one cannot leave hope of peace as this is also rooted in a very profound tradition. Where else the hope of peace would find a more fertile ground than in the subcontinent, which has excelled in diversities.


Pakistan and India together constitute around one-sixth of the world's population but unfortunately they are not identified across the world for their achievements and creative contributions. Rather, they are known for their mutual animosity which is believed to be a great threat not only for the region but world peace at large. The differences between India and Pakistan may appear quite serious and rooted in history. But seen rationally, they are not as complicated as to demand supernatural efforts for their resolution. These differences seem to have started due to the partition of the Indian subcontinent, but the partition itself was chosen as the last available option for resolving the intricate politico-communal question of India. The partition was not necessarily meant to generate a new set of animosity. It was this very occasion of partition which saw the biggest proponent of Indian unity, Mahatama Gandhi, going on a "fast unto death" in order to ensure the transfer of Pakistan's share of assets to it, and Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, while explaining his Two Nation Theory, proclaiming that he regarded Hindus as a great nation and their religion being equally great, and that his only contention was that the Muslims and Hindus were different and could not then be united under one political system. Jinnah was not communal or racist in his outlook, a fact that is now being increasingly realised in India.


Politicians like L K Advani and Jaswant Singh and historians like H M Seervai and Dr Ajeet Jawed are discovering Jinnah as a non-communal and secular leader. If this is so, one may question why the partition entailed so much of bloodshed, riots and human misery? In fact, as the dust of emotions is settling down, it is increasingly becoming easier for the historians to have a better and more objective view of the past. Therefore, it is being realised that many of the problems which were believed to be the result of partition, such as the riots of partition, uprooting of twelve million people, the dispute over assets, the differences on the ownership of water resources, the issue of Rann of Katch, and problems in accession of the states, were, in fact, issues which should have been addressed as part of the partition package. It was the failure of the British colonial administration that it could not manage the process of partitioning the subcontinent amicably. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad holds that he had already briefed Mountbatten on the possibility of violent incidents but the latter claimed that being a soldier he would not hesitate in using the military and air force and would use tanks and airplanes to crush the riots if they erupted. His were just hollow statements.

Though in the past six decades, some of the problems accompanying partition were partially or fully resolved by India and Pakistan bilaterally, the arbitration also proved helpful in some cases. For instance, the issue of river water was resolved through the World Bank assistance resulting in the Indus Basin Water Treaty, which was not ideal from the point of view of the either party. Yet it was accepted, as no other mutually agreed solution was possible. Likewise, the Rann of Katch issue was resolved in 1969 through the mediation of Britain. However, the Kashmir issue has remained unresolved. Pakistan and India fought two wars in 1947-48 and 1965 directly over Kashmir. Though the 1971 war was fought due to the East Pakistan crisis, Kashmir was a crucial element in it and the subsequent Simla Agreement had implications for Kashmir. The 62 years saw the rise of nuclear ambitions in India and Pakistan. The Kashmir issue erupted again in 1990. The 9/11 incident generated another wave of tension between the two countries. Both countries held rounds of talks, agreed upon certain confidence-building measures, yet the tension continued.


The biggest hurdle in the solution of the Kashmir issue is the rigid traditional mindset of the policy-makers of the two countries, who do not allow melting of ice, or search for innovative options. The rigid attitude of the two sides, does not allow them to even reinterpret their traditional position. Any such effort made in the past was foiled due to one or the other reason. The logical conclusion of the Vajpai's visit to Lahore or Musharraf's suggestion to solve the issue on zonal basis instead of plebiscite, were thwarted by the logic of stubbornness.


Apart from the conventional mindset of the two establishments, the tension is also boosted by their fear of each other. In India, anti-Pakistan posture may not have contributed to the formation of its nationhood, yet Pakistan is presented there as a vicious neighbour, keen not to spare a chance of troubling India. In Pakistan, India is presented as a country which has not accepted Pakistan wholeheartedly, and is intent upon eliminating it. Moreover, in Pakistan, India has been taken as a permanent point of reference to define Pakistani nationhood, instead of evolving a positive basis of this nationhood by recognising and reinforcing the rich cultural content and diversity of the Pakistani society. This was the mistake Quaid-i-Azam wanted to evade, so he had referred to the secular and positive bases of one Pakistani nationhood by declaring the culmination of the Two Nation heory after partition, on 11 August 1947.


The biggest damage inflicted by the long span of adverse relations of India and Pakistan is the distortion of their own self-image. India assumes itself to be a regional power, with the result that not only Pakistan but India's other neighbours are also restless with it. Pakistan, on the other hand, is committing the mistake of relying on anti-India posture as the basis of its identity. The craze has made Pakistan a country focusing on national security, rather than on being a welfare state. Since such a state confines its major priorities to national defence, the other areas of national life, such as social development, education, health, poverty alleviation, and social welfare, were denied their rightful place in national scheme of affairs.


India got its defence boosted at the cost of social development but also maintained a democratic order in the country. The benefit of this almost uninterrupted democratic process is now being accrued in the form of closer relations with the West and acquiring of a favourable response in respect of military aid. Pakistan made itself a national security state at the cost of the social sector, which with the passage of time has widened the gap between the military and civilian institutions. Paradoxically, the same US and western countries which once backed the military regimes, are now suspicious about the defence build-up and nuclear capability of Pakistan.

(To be continued)

The writer is a professor at the Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

AS KARACHI MOURNS

BY DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL


One more blast, followed by one more round of routine, empty, and ultimately vacuous and utterly meaningless condemnations. One more wound in the heart of a polity now in a state of haemorrhage. A city in mourning turning, in a convulsive movement, yet another leaf on the calendar recording the misdeeds and follies of a morally bankrupt elite clinging to chairs over which hang grand titles of president and prime minister. But a leadership, which is, nevertheless, unable to command, order, and execute even a simple warrant for the arrest of the masterminds behind suicide attacks. The whole security apparatus of the country is in a state of paralysis, but no one is bold and courageous enough to take blame.


Mercifully, Karachi is not a city in its death throes, just a city in mourning, wearing the black dress of death unleashed upon it by a band of men who should not even be called human beings; for the least one human being can do to honour the very title of being a human being is to respect the yet-to-be born baby. But these men show no respect to the old, to the sick, or to the child; they are simply not human, by any definition of the word.

"Why" and "how" remain: Why every single day brings Pakistan closer to an internal collapse? Why there is no end to the havoc? Why thousands of security men in their uniform cannot find the culprits? Why do we have institutions like the police and the intelligence agencies and the army and its long payroll if they cannot stop this unending series of blasts? Why do we have an administration and administrators who cannot perform?

Another set of "why's" include: Why do we have people who are ready to die the way they are dying, with explosives strapped to their bodies? Why do we have an unlimited supply of young men who are ready to blow up themselves and everyone else who comes in their way? Why do they do this? Who sends them out there among the citizens going around doing their everyday tasks? Who is behind this unending series, and why?

Then there are lots of "how's": How is it possible that these criminals have an unending supply of ammunition and explosives, vehicles and money, access to roads which are supposed to be blocked, easy access to public places which are supposed to be protected? And how is it that these people can strike at will wherever and whenever they wish?


These are mighty questions, and no one has an answer; for if there were answers, we would not have this problem, to start with. What is obvious, however, is the height of the graph, recording these incidents and the blood on the ground, even though no one seems to be counting the dead. The green flag of this Land of the Pure is now drenched in blood, and even though it is hard to establish a direct causal relation between the two, there are enough clues to link the red line of blood in our cities to the blood being spilled in the north.


The havoc being wreaked in the north on both sides of the Durand Line remains underreported, but anyone who can read between the lines and listen to the pulse of the land knows that the devastation being caused to it and its people in the north is huge, explosive and impossible to curtail within any confines. This situation has arisen through a series of misdeeds of the rulers. The north was not what it is now prior to the arrival of the US soldiers in Afghanistan. The north has become what it has become through its direct relationship with what is happening in Afghanistan, and through the unwise decisions of those who sided with the Americans when they arrived in our region, arrogantly vowing to send our neighbours back to the Stone Age. Our military dictator thought he could save us by joining them; he was utterly wrong.


Turkey saved itself from a similar situation when the US leadership attempted to coerce it into its Iraqi venture. Pakistan did not. The difference between the two decisions is the difference between the quality of the two leaderships: Turkish leaders took the matter to the parliament; the parliament voted against any direct involvement in Iraq and the United States could do nothing. The Pakistani ruler acted like all dictators do--a self-referential, self-centred decision that led the country into a marsh from which it has yet to emerge. Is there anyone who would investigate this greatest misdeed of a man who had broken all laws of the land and ruled for almost a decade, and who left the country as a shattered polity wounded in the heart?


If anyone can read the writing on the wall, he or she can clearly read: disengage from the affairs of the US-led interminable war of terror and you will find a solution to the chaos, confusion, and terror on this land. A conscious and sincere decision to mend fences with the men in the mountains is required to heal our wounds. Yet the great irony of Pakistan's contemporary situation is that we have a dysfunctional parliament and Senate and a political leadership that is anything but leadership.


In the absence of functional political institutions and morally sound and politically sagacious rulers, and in the absence of any intellectual force capable of analysing the morass, all that is left is blasts and more blasts, each leading to more confusion, more chaos, more wounds.


The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PEACE NOW WITH AMAN KI ASHA

BY SHAFQAT MAHMOOD


The calendar is a structure we put on time; otherwise 1st January is in no different from December 31st. Yet, it feels like a new beginning, a fresh start, a metaphorical wiping of the slate clean. It is also a time to take stock, a personal audit of sins past and a resolve to do better.


As a nation too it should prompt reflection, a cold analysis of what we have done right and where we have gone wrong. There are things that have been thrust upon us and we have had no choice but to respond. The assault of militancy and terrorism being an example.


But, then there are issues that could have been dealt with differently not just by us but also by our adversaries. This would not have made them go away because contradictions and conflict are a part of living. The difference between success and failure though lies in how we address them.


India and Pakistan emerged as independent nations after a chaotic and horrendously traumatic partition. Half a million or more Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were killed and many others subjected to terrible atrocities by crazed mobs. An entire generation in Punjab and some in Bengal were uprooted from their homes and their ancestral land. It left behind a bitter legacy of hate.


It was also natural that arbitrary lines drawn on a hitherto undivided landscape would leave many issues unresolved. Kashmir is one such festering sore that has deeply coloured relations between the two countries. In Pakistan, it led to narratives of being wronged, of bias and injustice.


India's involvement in the separation of East Pakistan further embittered an already sour atmosphere. In Kashmir the path of war in 1948, 65, and 99 did not get any of the countries nearer to its objective. India continues to have an uneasy, tenuous hold on the territory and Pakistan is nowhere close to realizing what it considers is its rightful claim.


The resentment that this conflict and the saga of East Pakistan generated also had an impact on what are normal interactions between neighbouring countries. Tourism, cultural and sporting exchanges, and most importantly trade and commerce have been deeply affected. While the Europeans, South East Asians, and countries of North and South America formed regional trading blocs, South Asians remain mired in hate and mutual suspicion.

It is the people of the region and particularly of India and Pakistan that have suffered because our already meagre resources were diverted towards warfare at the cost of human development. Lack of mutual trade and commerce also put a lid on a huge potential of common good between the countries. While Pakistan has lost more because it has not been able to benefit from a vast and growing economy next door, India also has been denied a large and ready market in Pakistan.


The time has come to leave this legacy of hate and suspicion behind. While there are issues that will continue to divide us, there is much in common. There is a commonality of culture, cuisine and language, particularly between Pakistan and North India. There is a shared history that is not all of communal conflict. And, there are common challenges of poverty that call for a total focus on improving the human condition.


It is in this context that the initiative for peace, jointly undertaken by two leading media groups in Pakistan and India, is so welcome. The Jang group in Pakistan and the Times of India group in India have joined hands to promote peace between both countries.


This initiative is focused on mobilising popular pressure for peace on the establishment of both countries. The campaign for 'Aman ki Asha' is the first time in the chequered history of the subcontinent that major media groups in the two countries have decided to launch a concerted push for peace. The intention is not to suggest solutions. That is for the governments of the two countries to work out. This initiative seeks to create conducive environment and enabling conditions for a peace dialogue to succeed.


The interesting thing is that the campaign 'Aman ki Asha' does not seek to exclude the establishment of the two countries. The Jang group has held wide consultations with the government, with the second major party in the country, the PML N, and with the MQM and others. All have supported the initiative. More importantly in the Pakistani context, the Jang group has also interacted with the military establishment and received its support for the campaign.


I am informed that in India the Times of India group has also interacted with the ruling party and obtained the support of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The group is continuing its interactions with other stakeholders, aiming to get as much public and political support as it can for the 'Aman ki Asha' campaign.


This is not a small breakthrough. Given the hardening of positions after the Mumbai massacre and particularly the anti-Pakistan tone of the Indian media, a call for peace by the largest Indian media group is in itself a significant development. This group has the largest circulation English newspaper in India, a widely watched television channel and a host of other publications. Its access to the Indian establishment and its ability to mobilise popular support gives it a unique ability to create the right atmosphere for peace.


The Jang group is also the largest media group in Pakistan and its ability to contribute to peace between India and Pakistan cannot be underestimated. Getting a major Indian group to partner it in this endeavour is a tremendous success for this group.


As a first step a major trade and industry conference is being organised in Karachi in February, in which the largest business houses of India and Pakistan are participating. The concerned ministries from both countries will also be represented, opening a possible door for more interactions in the future. This raises the possibility of a major breakthrough in trade negotiations between the two countries. On the Indian side, a week-long literary and cultural activity is planned in January which will include participants from Pakistan.These activities will be followed with others over the next three months with more to follow. Both the media groups have resolved to keep the momentum for 'Aman ki Asha' campaign going and allocate time, manpower and resources towards its success. To re-emphasise again, the exact contours and substantive content of negotiations are up to the two governments to decide. What this campaign aims to achieve is mobilising popular support for peace.

The ground for this is fertile because opinion polls have conclusively demonstrated that a large majority of the people in both countries support peace. And why not? They want the burden of their existence to become easier. It is elite snobbery to believe that the ordinary people do not equate their poverty to large allocation of state resources towards war. If there ever were good tidings for the New Year, it is this initiative for peace. If there ever was a resolution for the New Year that needs to be adopted by all, it is the 'Aman ki Asha' campaign. Let us all pray for its success. Happy New Year.


Email: shafqatmd@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

INTERWOVEN

BY CHRIS CORK


Would my mother have been aware of Pakistan on March 23, 1947, the day that I was born? She would certainly have been aware of India and must have had at least some grasp of the great events taking shape half a world away. My father would have been keenly interested in what was happening -- that is for certain. He was an avid newspaper reader and an almost sepulchral silence would settle over our house at six very evening when we sat down to listen to the news on the radio. It was the dying days of the empire, a death I was increasingly aware of as my years and primary education advanced. Independence had come to Pakistan, and India and a range of other pink bits of the map changed colour through my growing years. The cold war got into its stride. Atomic bombs got tested and this strange thing called nuclear power was suddenly with us, producing cheap electricity for everybody. Whatever happened to that, I wonder?


By my teens, I had a rudimentary picture of India as this exotic triangular bit at the bottom of Asia, and almost no awareness of Pakistan other than the name. The Just so stories and Kim had been read in my mid-teens and an early and sustained passion for mountains had me exploring the Himalayas, Karakoram and Pamir via the writings of Eric Shipton, one of my earliest heroes. That I was destined to spend the latter part of my life living and working on the subcontinent married to a Pakistani and with two adopted Pakistani children could not have been further from my young mind.


I grew up to be an inveterate traveler, always pushing the envelope and I visited India more than 30 years ago. However, despite numerous promises to myself, I have never been back. In the end, it was the mountains of Pakistan that snared me and tightened the bonds by being home to the woman I met in 1993 and married in 1995. Things have never been quite the same ever since.


A life spent in social work and international aid organisations, work that I found increasingly frustrating as the years went by, has been replaced by a living earned with my pen. Inevitably, much of my working life today is taken up by thinking, talking and writing about the relationship between my adopted country and India. As a native of neither country and not fluent in any of their myriad languages, you may be forgiven for thinking that I am not the best person to be engaged in this bold attempt at establishing a non-political dialogue between the two. For one thing, there's the baggage I carry with me, most of which is a subliminal sense of guilt. While I was not in any way personally responsible for the bloody consequences of partition, there is always within me a sense that "we did not do that very well, did we?" It is coupled with an acute awareness of the daily echoes I hear of the mistakes made at the end of the empire more than 60 years ago.


Baggage there may be, but there is also a sense that I have 'settled in' here in Pakistan. It is not always comfortable and there are things that I will never feel myself easy with, with the way in which women are treated leaving me with a daily dose of repugnance. But now I am here for better or worse as they say in the marriage rituals, this is now home and probably where I will end my life. I expect to die and be buried here, in a Christian cemetery despite the fact that I am not a Christian (nor anything else, as I have always regarded religion as something which I have been a life-long fascinated spectator of; but never had the slightest desire to participate in).


Would my mother have approved? Probably not. She came from an age before multiculturalism, political correctness and racial integration. It was a huge effort for her, at the end of her own life, to come to terms with the fact that I had married across the racial divide but she eventually did and my wife was at her bedside towards the end. From middle-class suburban London to the edge of the Cholistan desert, with India less than a hundred miles away. A personal journey of almost 63 years, now to take another turn as we reach out to one another. Whose hand will I shake in 2010? An Indian, perhaps. We will have a lot to talk about.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:
manticore73@gmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

TRIBAL ELDERS' ROLE IN COMBATING TERRORISM

 

IT is indeed a good initiative of the Government to involve tribal elders of South Waziristan in resolution of the problem of terrorism. At a grand jirga held at Political Compound Tank, winter headquarters of the Agency, the Government side handed down a list of 378 wanted Mehsud tribesmen to the elders of the Mehsud tribe, who, in turn, sought time till January 20 to thoroughly review the accompanying seven point conditions calling for respecting the law of the land, assuring to live in peace and not providing shelter to the elements involved in anti-state activities.


For centuries, it has been one of the basic norms of the tribal society in Pakistan that elders and 'Maliks' played leading and honourable roles in their respective areas. Similarly, jirga system, based on local customs and traditions, has helped resolve problems in FATA since long but unfortunately this system was allowed to weaken without evolution of an effective and dependable alternative mechanism for dispute settlement. Outsiders, who settled in the area after Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or following the incidents of 9/11, have also influenced the local traditions and system and weakened the role of elders to a great extent. It is also unfortunate that the authorities too failed in their responsibility to provide necessary protection to pro-Government Maliks and elders who were targeted by extremists and terrorists during the last two years. In this backdrop, the return to jirga system for resolution of the disputes is the right and correct approach that will ultimately pay back. Despite the factors narrated above, the elders still enjoy considerable influence in the areas and they can help calm down the situation if assigned the responsibility to maintain peace and help tackle with elements of both local and foreign origin involved in acts of terrorism. There are no too opinions that an overwhelming majority of Mehsud tribesmen are peace-loving and only a handful of them are giving trouble and that too because of the foreign factor. Therefore, we are sure that the elders would hand over the wanted men and agree to the conditions put forth by the authorities as none of them impinge upon their local traditions. The holding of the jirga was also in line with the prevailing trend across the Durand Line as well where the occupation forces are now engaged in secret talks with Taliban. The culture of killings will have to be discarded and that of dialogue and negotiation promoted for the sake of sustainable peace.

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

KARACHI BLAST CONSPIRACY GETS DEEPER

 

AS details emerge in pieces in the aftermath of the Karachi tragedy, it is assumed that there was a bigger and deeper conspiracy to hit hard the commercial hub of the country besides creating sectarian divide. A TV footage shows that after the blast which killed and injured many mourners, anti-social elements went on a rampage breaking locks and shutters of goodowns and shops, looting and indulging in arson by using chemical accelerants.

While Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has done well to announce a compensation package of one billion rupees, President Asif Zardari visited the victims in Liaquat National Hospital and spoke to MQM Chief Altaf Hussain assuring all-out help by the Government to the injured and affected business community. President Zardari and Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah during meetings with business leaders told them that the Government was fully aware of the agony of the victims and the huge losses affecting the livelihood of thousands of retailers, wholesalers and other members of the community. How all this happened in a short span of time, the Karachi Police investigators are yet not sure that it was a suicide attack and have sought the services of Peshawar Police which has attained greater expertise to examine the available evidence and answer important questions. Though there was no crater after the blast which strengthens the theory of suicide bombing yet according to a senior police officer, there is also evidence of serious damage to the vehicles parked around the blast site and electricity poles badly damaged and that creates more doubt about the nature of the blast. The TV footage also shows that immediately after the blast, people broke the locks of shops in Boulton Market and indulged in looting and arson while the police was seen standing by as silent spectator. Though banned TTP has claimed responsibility for the bombing, yet there appears to be a much deeper conspiracy and those behind this heinous attack had planned a much wider mayhem and destruction to further destabilize Pakistan's economy and divide the nation. We expect the investigation teams and inquiry committee would be able to explore all angles of the tragedy and unmask the conspiracy and elements behind it.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

WHAT KEEPS PAKISTAN AFLOAT?

 

IT is very encouraging and may be unbelievable for some that the assets of the financial sector of the country consisting of banks, non-bank financial institutions, micro-finance banks, central depository of National Savings, Insurance and financial markets have grown up to the level of hefty Rs 8.2 trillion. This is not a mere conjecture but a sound report of the State Bank that reveals that the worth of the sector swelled by Rs 1.1 trillion in just one and a half year between December 2007 to June 2009.


It is a matter of pride for the countrymen that at least one sector has demonstrated marvellous achievements despite many odds. Going by the fact that Pakistan is confronted with the challenge of militancy and extremism impacting upon the law and order situation, deteriorating security conditions, local and foreign conspiracies, political instability, corruption and bad governance, this is a remarkable growth and augurs well for the economic future of the country. Actually this is what Pakistan is and we have consistently been reminding in these columns that the country has the inherent strength and resilience to sustain internal and external pressure and come out unscathed. Secondly, the private sector too is playing a critical role in the progress and development of the country despite problems and hiccups. Again, individuals and entities are also silently involved in bringing about a revolution in critical areas of health and education and welfare of the people. Another sector that has shown monumental growth is IT and Telecom, which has not only helped provide jobs and stir up economic activities in the length and breadth of the country but is also playing a crucial role in modernizing life and creating social and political awareness. We are, therefore, confident that irrespective of the challenges and conspiracies the country would continue its march towards progress and prosperity.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

MORE LAWS NOT THE ANSWER IN INDIA

M D NALAPAT


This past week, attendance at cinema houses has suffered because of two stories that have repeatedly been shown on television. The star of the first is the 86-year old Congress Party politician,Narain Dutt Tiwari, who has been Chief Minister of two states,a Union Cabinet Minister,and till a few days ago,the Governor of Andhra Pradesh. According to the channels, a charming lady from his home state of Uttaranchal used to arrange for other - and much younger - women from the same location to visit the Governor in his official residence.


Although protocol demands that each appointment be cleared by the Intelligence Bureau, this was not done.Instead,the lovely young ladies were escorted by an Officer On Special Duty ( very special duty,indeed) past the security checkpoints at the Raj Bhavan to the waiting arms of His Excellency. No entry was made in the visitor logs,and the Chief of Security was informed that the ladies in question were all "close relatives" of the Governor. Of course, the "close relatives" usually looked very different from each other,thus raising questions as to the gene pool they belonged to being 86, Tiwari did not follow the example of some other Governors, who met their "relatives" in 5-star hotels rather than in their official residences. Indeed,in Delhi, at least two 5-star hotels are known for the multitude of charming "relatives" that come for short periods - sometimes at night but usually in the afternoons) to meet "Uncleji" for what must surely be chats about the weather. Others rely on close friends to provide the venues needed for such refreshing encounters, meetings that do so much to preserve family values and the spirit of togetherness. Sadly for Tiwari, his contact got annoyed because a promised coal mine allocation did not materialise. She promptly got one of the "neices" to film Uncleji as he gave learned discourses in the bedroom to her and to two other "neices", discourses where the practical mingled happily with the theoretical.


Some would say that an 86-year old who educated three "neices" at a time should be given a Sports Award. However, India's straitlaced Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, took a somewhat negative view of the Andhra Pradesh Governor's visible (on television) love for his extended family,and forced poor Narain Dutt Uncle (or Grandpa,more appropriately) to resign. Several other residents of Raj Bhavans across the country who have similar proclivities must be thanking their lucky stars that in their case,they kept their word about such trifles as coal licences,and hence have yet to become television stars.


The other story that has been making waves in India is more tragic than the loss of office. Ruchika Girhotra was a 16-year old tennis prodigy when she was summoned into the presence of the President of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association,Inspector-General of Police Rathore,and allegedly groped. She resisted,and was plucky enough to give a written compaint against the top cop. After that,she was forced to leave school on a trumped-up charge,while her brother Ashu was repeatedly arrested by the police on false charges. The harassment grew so severe that Ruchika killed herself in 1980. A couple of weeks ago,after 19 years,a court finally sentenced Rathore to a term of six months for his responsibility in the tragedy. The mild sentence finally woke up the media,which led a campaign that seems set to ensure that Rathore (who was promoted to Director-General of Police,possibly for his groping skills) may spend the next few years of his life in prison. There are far too many instances of high officials exploiting their power to humiliate and assualt women,and the Rathore example may serve as a warning to such individuals.


However, after having slept for 19 years,the Government of India has woken up after the media furore to put in place yet more rules and legislation,on top of the draconian laws that already exist in India. The new laws would make arrest mandatory in every case where a woman complains of harassment, with no right to anticipatory bail. Last year,a young friend of this columnist was harassed for months by his wife (who left him after a love affair), because she filed a case of dowry harassment against him. Under the law in India,such a complaint means that the entire close family of the spouse can be arrested.


My friend's 79-year old mother had a criminal case filed against her,as happened to his sister and her husband. It took a while before the falsity of the charges could be established, a period when the family lived in dread of being taken away to jail. The point is that laws are only as good as the people who enforce them,and in India the enforcement machinery is usually very corrupt.Hence the proposed new laws that will follow the Ruchika case will not end such harassment,as much as it will increase the ability of the corrupt to blackmail and intimidate,so as to get bigger bribes. After more than a decade of liberalisation, India seems to be returning to the Nehru era of tough laws indifferently or crookedly applied.

For the politicians,the passing of tough laws is an easy way out of the public displeasure created by reports such as the Ruchika Girhotra suicide. However,such laws are useless in the absence of a clean,transparent and effective administrative structure. What is needed is milder laws but better compliance.And this can happen only when the public become more alert and more demanding of better standards.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a reformer,but some others in his Cabinet are not,and they have been forcing through rule after rule,law after law,since they came to office six years ago. Such administrative methods have resulted in a shrinking of the space for the public,which is once more at the mercy of the officials,the way they were during the time the Nehru family were in charge. Of course, even today the family is in charge,as Prime Minister Singh has to report to Congress President Sonia Gandhi,the current head of the Nehru clan.

 

Is there hope? There may be,and from the Nehru family itself. Rahul Gandhi,the 39-year old son of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi,is showing genuine reformist instincts. He was born into a new India,and has grown up in a more self-confident country. His associates know first-hand the dangers of choking the system through draconian laws,that may some day get applied against them. Rather than join the herd in pushing through new legislation and new rules that can only increase the flow of bribes, Rahul needs to nudge his party's government into undertaking the systemic reforms that alone can prevent the abuse of power that took the life of 16-year old Ruchika Girhotra two decades ago. He needs to encourage civil society in India. As in Pakistan,an alert and informed citizenry is a much better defense against tyranny and misfeasance than a plethora of indifferently implemented laws.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

BLAST IN BHABHA ATOMIC RESEARCH CENTRE & WMD

LT COL ZAHEERUL HASSAN (R)


The week ending December, 2009 has again opened many possibilities for the global nuke experts and IAEA to investigate the real troubles of Indian nuke plants. Year 2009 is also leaving number of unresolved questions which regarding Indian nuke safety and security and might not be resolved in 2010 also. On second last day of 2009, a high intensity explosion at a chemical laboratory inside Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) took placed which resulted into the death of two junior scientists, Umang Singh and Partha Bagh. Though Indian authorities claimed that no reactor, radioactivity or radiation was involved in the incident but severely charred bodies of the scientists and totally burnt equipment revealed that something very serious happened inside the plant. It is important to highlight here that BARC was started in 1954, as the Atomic Energy Establishment and apparently conducts the research in Biotechnology and Gama Rays.


The initial investigations regarding incident of BARC is giving three leads to solve the mysterious occurrence. Firstly, Indian scientists might be carrying out some experiment on biological and chemical agents. The experiment failed and chemical reaction caused damaged to the lives of the scientists and the laboratory. According to a world news agency staff working on the plants also heard the blast inside the project. The blast and condition of the death bodies do confirm that India is preparing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The preparation of WMD is the desired of Indian top military and political leadership. The intensity on this venture has been multiplied since self predicted Chinese threat on the border is being considered by the Indian leadership.

Second opinion could be that Indian scientists were yet to achieve expertise and hall mark in the nuke field. Their weak knowledge and causal attitude might become the reason of their death. But poor expertise of Indian nuke Programme has also put the lives of Indian and regional masses at stake. In this connection again we can noticed the lapses of security. There are reports that junior Indian scientists were busy in carrying out experiments on preparing some chemical and biological weapons but failed to tackle the situation because of their less experience. It was further reported that they even never have been guided by their senior colleagues. August 27, 2009 interview of senior nuke scientist K Santhanam, with "Times of India" confirms that nuke test at Pokhran II further endorse the weakness of Indian nuke programme. He admitted that the only thermonuclear device tested was a "fizzle". The incidents of Kaiga, Pockran and now BARC do reflects that Indian nuke plants are real danger to humanity since her scientists are lacking requisite experience in this field.


Third version could be that some member out of nuke staff intentionally carried out some sabotage activities inside the plant with the purpose of killing these two junior members of the team. These two comrades might be having some knowledge of on going Indian nuke proliferation and killed by the Uranium smugglers present on Indian nuke plants. Earlier, too on June 13, 2009 dead body of Indian famous nuke scientist Lokanathan Mahalingam has been found from Kali River. The scientist was working on Kaiga Atomic Power Station since last eight years. Reportedly, he was in possession of highly sensitive information and might be doubted for Indian nuke proliferation. Mahalingam was involved in training apprentices on a replica of the actual reactor.

However the exact cause of the fire has not yet been ascertained and need deliberate efforts to dig out the actual causes of repeated nuke incidents in India. IAEA should send some teams of expertise to inspect the Indian nuke plants since continue occurrences may prove fatal to human life. Indian government should also carry out detail investigations through global experts since some members of the police and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) of the centre could be involved in the series of nuke accidents in India.

Indian Prime Minister should not declare BARC incident as mischief and should seriously remove the weaknesses of the safety and security of Indian Nuke programme.

 

In fact, the incident of BARC need to be thrashed out seriously since India is already heading towards making WMD. So called think tank Bharat Verma, Editor Indian Defence Review has started propagating that China and Pakistan would be attacking India in 2012. Indian scholars on their government directions are creating hype in the masses by design, since they are trying to divert their public attention from poor nuke safety arrangements, the strong ongoing separatist Maoist movement and regional issues like Khalistan, Kashmir, territorial disputes and water conflicts with the regional issue. Thus, we can deduce from the BARC incident that India is preparing for global war and her propaganda campaign against China and Pakistan would be taken as her preemptive action against two allies. Chinese and Pakistan governments are already taking notice of new development in the region. Both the governments have the concern over increasing USA influence in Asia and Indo-USA Nuke Deal.


USA Nuke exerts do have serious reservations about the said deal since Indian nuke safety arrangements are very poor. India is already facing the charges of smuggling and theft of enriched uranium.


The world community should force India to open her Nuke Programme for inspection because repeated accidents are serious threat to China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka because of the location of Nuke Plants. IAEA should direct India to remove the prevailing tension in the nuke staffs since the involvement of RAW has created panic in them. In short the detail investigations are required to be carried out at Indian nuke programme, covering the type of weapons being made, arrangement of safety, cause of murder and killing of nuke scientists and staff, reasons of accidents and smuggling and theft of enriched Uranium.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

CUBA AND PAKISTAN RELATIONS

GUSTAVO MACHIN-GOMEZ


This year, Cuba and Pakistan celebrate the 55th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations. Political and Diplomatic relations between our two countries were established on October 28, 1955. Since that time, Pakistan and Cuba have enjoyed growing and excellent bilateral relations characterized by the mutual respect, bilateral understanding, permanent interaction and consultation, and a high level of coordination and coincidence in the multilateral arena. But above all these, we can say that our two people profess mutual feelings of admiration and friendship, which is a warranty for the brighter future in the relations between our two countries.


The presence in the affected areas of the 2,468 members of the Cuban Medical Brigade in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake that hit Pakistan on October 2005 and the solidarity and assistance provided by Pakistan to Cuba after being hit by three devastating hurricanes in 2008, are examples of the strong bond created between Cuba and Pakistan, and between Cuban and Pakistani people. The presence of more than 900 Pakistani students in Cuba as a result of an offer of 1000 scholarships to study Medicine represents a huge presence of the best of the Pakistani people interacting with their Cuban counterpart as part of their preparation as professionals that will return to Pakistan to provide medical assistance to their country mates. They are Ambassadors of Pakistan to Cuba, and will be Ambassador of Cuba to Pakistan.


We are committed to enhance the Pakistan-Cuba relationships in this New Millennium. This commitment does not only refer to the relations between out two people, but also about the political, diplomatic, economic, commercial and cooperation relations between Cuba and Pakistan. We believe in the cooperation and mutually beneficial relations among developing countries, as well as Pakistan does. Despite Cuba and Pakistan are far away from each other, and geography sometimes posses an obstacle, the potential of these relations is encouraging. There are many sectors and fields on which we can work together under mutually beneficial bases.

 

Recently, Cuba and Pakistan signed an Agreement of Cooperation that would lead to the creation of a Joint Bilateral Commission. This Joint Commission would create the framework for discussion, exchanges and decisions about how to work at the governmental level as well as the private, in what sectors we can cooperate, what specific cooperation agreement we can reach, for example Agreements of Scientific and Technological Cooperation, in Biotechnology, in health, in sports, in Education, in Commerce and Trade, among many others.

Our commercial trade is almost inexistence. In 2005 our trade was only of 3 millions dollars. Cuba has imported from Pakistan textile products, leather products, sport garment. Pakistan imported from Cuba biotech and pharmaceutical products. But, there is a potential to increase our bilateral trade. Cuba can import from Pakistan textile products (clothes, garments, etc), row textiles products, leather products (shoes), sport garments and equipments, spices, rice, and medical and lab equipments and instruments. Pakistan can import from Cuba nickel, medical and biotechnological products, medical equipments among other products.


This is just a small list of what can be in the short term. We must promote exchanges between our Chambers of Commerce, our business people, our enterprises in order to look for multiple possibilities. I'll be very proud if during the next Havana Commercial Fair on November, the flag of Pakistan is hoisted in the International Pavilion, altogether with more than 80 countries that normally attend this commercial fest, or if we could see a Pakistani business delegation landing at the Havana airport.


In the economic cooperation there are several avenues we can discuss and agree on. Cooperated productions, joint ventures are just some of the modalities we can explore, looking for the benefit of both countries. I am confidence that Cuba and Pakistan have a lot to exchange, a lot to cooperate and a lot to learn from each other. I am convinced that the future of the relations between out two countries and our two people is brighter.

The writer is Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

IT'S DE OLE FLYIN' DAY'S AGAIN..!

ROBERT CLEMENTS


To many of my younger readers it may come as a shock that once upon a time there was only one domestic airline: "You must be joking?" "And to say you had arrived in life, you needed to have an acquaintance who could book tickets for you in the railways and another to…."


"Book your tickets in this one airline, right? You're still not joking are you?" "No I'm not, and the planes left whenever they wanted to and arrived when felt like, and the airhostesses.." "What about them?" "Never smiled!"

"Why ever not?" "Because it didn't matter, whether they smiled or gave you great service or no service you just had to fly with them again and again and again!"


"It must have been terrible huh?" Oh yes it was, and I did think that that horrible chapter of our nation's history had been relegated to the past till I flew in from Delhi last evening: "On the same airline?" "Nope! On a private airline?""The airhostesses smiled right?"


"Nope I think they were still getting over being nearly laid off!" "But the plane took off in time?" "Not even an announcement made, except some pilot with a Russian voice at the end of the flight apologizing for delaying me for two hours and then delayed me for another half hour on the tarmac itself maybe because I mimicked him; Theese eese your Kapitan speakin.." And the service?" "I asked for a newspaper, he forgot!" "And?" I asked again for a newspaper, and he forgot!" "And?" "I asked him once again and he brought me a glass of weak lime juice!" "And the food?" "Ah the food! The food! Was good ole food of yore! The best! Which is why I'm saying it was de good ole flyin' day's again: Good food, no smiles, or announcements that you are late; it doesn't matter to them you fly with them again or not…"


"Why?" "Because I think they're all running at a loss and really don't want you aboard; that's how I felt last night; it was de ole flyin' days again..!"

 

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

NEW YEAR'S PROMISES

NATION NEEDS TO BE ON GUARD

 

If the tone of the New Year is set by the turn of events of the past year, the dawning of the year 2010 holds before the nation mixed prospects. Despite the many reversals suffered by the country, it made steady progress in political and social sectors in selected areas of governance.


Much to the dismay of the people, the political culture remains unchanged. The process of consultation and cooperation between the government and the opposition on major national issues, which is the sine qua non of parliamentary democracy, is absent. The ninth Parliament is holding its sessions sans the main opposition. This situation must end ushering in a new chapter in the new year so that Parliament becomes fully functional with the participation of all parties. 


 Although one year is too early to judge the success or failure of an elected government, what should not be lost sight of is that people's expectation is high.


  Against all odds, particularly in the context of sweeping global recession, the performance on the economic front may not be considered that impressive but it was by no means negligible either. Its offshoots in all likelihoods are not going to hinder us from taking advantage of the new opportunities that are going to be created with the economic turn-around in the recession-hit developed countries. Already signs are there that our manufacturing and service sectors may get greater access to markets with assured entry and in addition find newer markets.


The prime task of this year would be to strengthen the sense of reawakening and rediscovering our identity that began to dawn upon us with the dispelling of doubts and uncertainties. These doubts and uncertainties may have originated from fractious and at times conspiratorial politics where democracy faced the risk of falling prey either to autocracy or militancy. Now that the threat has been greatly reduced, if not totally eliminated, the nation needs to be on guard and at the same time should look forward to fulfilling its pledges.

 

Quest for socio-economic prosperity

Our quest for socio-economic prosperity to the extent where we can elevate ourselves to a middle-income country was undermined by both political turmoil and frequent natural calamities. The impacts of the climate change, already being felt to a certain degree, are most likely to add to our travails. In that case, we will definitely need global assistance in facing the adverse situations; yet our preparation at the local level should be to the best of our abilities. Small nations are not necessarily to follow the dictum of the large and rich ones, they can lead as well if they have a strong case and can present it convincingly. The point is: united the international community can secure its future.


Wish a happy and prosperous New Year to all.            

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

AUDIT OBJECTIONS

AUDITED REPORTS LINKED TO CORRUPTION

 

According to reports, more than 12, 660 audit objections involving 568 unsettled audit reports and worth Taka 17,500 crore of public money remained unadjusted for over last three decades. This is a highly deplorable state of affairs involving our public expenditure. No wonder, corruption thrives in such an atmosphere. It is good to know that a parliamentary committee is working on it for  final adjustments.


Such anomalies and backlogs, however, are nothing new to this country. Almost all our organizations have them and if they are state-owned, they are more likely to be afflicted by it. Among the state organizations, the backlog in the judiciary is well known as it has been the subject of national discussion and debate for long. But then it is not unique to any particular organisation. It indicates a lack of quality management in our country. However, only when there are financial implications people here take problems seriously. Other problems are glossed over. But that should not be the case for a properly functioning organisation.

 

Separating audits from accounts

There were several suggestions about improving the audit and accounts department of the country in the past but nothing much has happened. One dealing with audits and the other with accounts. This will hopefully improve the efficiency and lead to better services.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

BOB'S BANTER

I'M ALL YOURS..!

 

From his perch above Earth the New Year looked down and gasped as he saw the scene below: "What's happening?" he asked the sentry of the gate of time.


 "The people are waiting to welcome you," said the sentry grimly, "Some are praying, look at that couple literally down on their knees looking at you with pleading eyes!"


"And there!" said the New Year.


"Yes that's a dance hall, those people are partying, and at the stroke of twelve they will all holler and yell and kiss each other and wish…"


"Wish what?"


"That you will allow them to holler and yell and kiss throughout the year!" said the sentry of the gate of time sadly.


"The people expect a lot from me," said the New Year nervously.


"Yes they do 2010!" said the old sentry. "Yes they do!"


From his perch above Earth the New Year continued looking at the people below, it was a few minutes before twelve o clock, a few minutes before he would have to go down to Earth. He stared at the scenes below. "What's that?" he asked.


"Soldiers!" said the sentry. "They've made a truce with the enemy, 'no firing at each other' till the New Year comes in!"


"Why?"


"Both sides are hoping and praying that peace will prevail!"


"The people expect a lot from me," said the New Year again, nervously.


"Yes they do 2010!" said the sentry of the gate of time, "yes they do!"


From his perch above Earth the New Year looked at hungry people holding their empty food bowls up to him. He looked at thirsty people begging him to send rain to their parched throats and barren lands. "What's that?" he asked.
"Activists! They are praying to you that this year world leaders will stop the alarming rate of global warming!"


"And there, what's that happening over there?"


"Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters crying out to you to stop the terror that seems to be taking over the world. They pray that reason will enter the head of the terrorists this New Year!"

From his perch above Earth the New Year saw the clock come closer to the hour of twelve. He took a deep breath and then as the bells rang through the Earth below, he spoke, "Oh people of Earth. You, who expect miracles from me, it is in your hands to shape and mould me as you will. You want a year of peace? You can shape me likewise! You want prosperity? Use me for such! A year of plenty? Use the 365 days I give, to work hard and make it happen! I'm all yours to do as you please!"


The bells rang, the clocks chimed, fireworks went off as the New Year entered Earth. The old sentry at the gate of time looked below, and said, "Did you hear him? He's all yours this Two Thousand and Ten, make the New Year what you want it to be..!"


bobsbanter@gmail.com

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THE INDEPENDENT

A MODERN, HASSLE FREE DHAKA!

M. SERAJUL ISLAM

 

It was indeed heartening to hear the Prime Minister speak on her Government's firm commitment to make Dhaka a modern city with a smooth communications system including waterways around the city by regaining the rivers. The Prime Minister was speaking at the opening of the third Buriganga Bridge named the Buddhijibi Setu. In the speech, she also re-iterated many of her Government's commitment with regard to Dhaka city.
For the residents of this huge metropolis that ranks among the top capitals of the world in the number of people residing in the city, the Prime Minister's commitment is something they don't even dare to dream these days. Take for instance the traffic situation. It is going from bad to worse. Sometime ago, under the direct order of the Prime Minister, the authorities launched Operation Clean Street. The Prime Minister herself was a victim of that Operation as her motorcade was stranded in the traffic jam to let her see firsthand the miseries that people have to live with on a daily basis on the very first morning this initiative was launched. Subsequent efforts to improve the traffic system through different timing for offices and educational institutions and experiments with lanes and lights also did not have any positive impact in improving Dhaka traffic.


It is surprising that it has not yet dawned upon the authorities that the real problems of Dhaka traffic are, firstly, it has ridiculously small percentage of the city's space for roads for a city of this size. Second, it is the ONLY capital city in the world that has vehicles on the road from different stages of human history. It is quite likely to see on the city road, a brand new Japanese car using the road side by side with carts being pulled by humans! Third, where there is practically no effort to increase the space for city's roads as there is hardly any extra space available to do so, the authorities are allowing hundreds of extra cars into the city's roads every month! Do we need any brains then to predict that Dhaka roads are soon going to be space for parking vehicles of all kinds for physically; they would not be able to move because of sheer numbers?


The grave problem over Dhaka's roads is simply symptomatic of much graver problems with other critical aspects of Dhaka life that make it more than a day dream to believe in the Prime Minister and her resolve to make Dhaka, in her words, a  modern metropolis. While I was an Ambassador in Japan, I was once told by a Japanese expert who has worked for a Japanese multinational in improving Dhaka's sewerage. He said that in the context of Dhaka's sewerage management, the city is sitting on a powder keg and when it blasts, as it could anytime, the people would have no alternative but to run away from the city as fast as they could.
In recent times, we have had many seminars and newspaper reports about Dhaka and the rest of the country in the context of possible earthquakes. The conclusion of these seminars/newspaper reports is alarming. An earthquake of moderate intensity would be capable of taking 3/4th of the city buildings down as almost all of them have been built without spending a dime in making them resistant to moderate earthquakes. The regular tremors that have increased of late in all parts of Bangladesh, and given the fact that we are in an earthquake prone zone should scare the daylight out of us.


Dhaka was such a beautiful city not too long ago. Those who have seen Dhaka in the 1950s and 1960s cannot help a tear or two in their eyes as they sit in their cars spending hours to get between distances that in any normal situation, even with traffic congestion, should have taken minutes. In a discussion on traffic with some friends recently, I suggested that one reason for this traffic menace in Dhaka city is the contribution of the newly rich class living in Gulshan, Baridhara, Dhanmandi where each family has 2/3/4 cars. A friend said while this is partly true I should also consider the fact that in the past, one car per family could easily take care of dropping children in school, come back to take the father to his office, come back again to look after the need of the mother, then go back to bring the children home and then again go to the office and bring the father back home. If for the father there was any need for the car for emergency reasons, he could ask for it and get it in a matter of 15/30 minutes depending on location. These days, once the car goes to drop the children to the schools, that car is gone for the entire morning. Hence the father needs a car, the mother another and a third car for the children where the father can afford it. In the city, there are now thousands who can and that has never been brought into the equation. A major way traffic congestion has been relieved in cities elsewhere is by carpooling. In all the discussions we have had over tackling traffic in Dhaka city, we have never heard the authorities who are responsible for Dhaka's traffic even talk about it.


Dhaka's current predicament is a sad one and one must give credit to the Prime Minister for her courage to think that this city could be transformed into a modern city. Unfortunately, the ground realities do not encourage positive thinking here. The Prime Minister is up against people who just do not have any idea that a city such as Dhaka can only survive if everyone who has a stake in it rise above self interest and come around to save the city. Unfortunately, here we have the biggest problem. Rich, middle class or poor, no one in this city is willing to give up even a wee bit of land or his/her own piece of whatever he/she has for  a common cause. Here the rich are the greatest defaulters. They have not just grabbed all the natural wetland in Dhaka city and around it, they have also grabbed and occupied the beautiful rivers around the city that should have given Dhaka's planners in the past such a wonderful natural platform to build one of the most beautiful cities of the world. Belatedly, there has been discussion at all levels against the river grabbers where even the armed forces of the country have been caught encroaching. But as always, we have been loud on talk and very low on action as the rivers, the wetlands, the canals and the rest continue to remain in the hands of the grabbers!
Coming back to the traffic that is now one major problem that is making Dhaka the most un-livable city in the world, a year has passed by but this Government has talked a lot and done nothing to take action to build underground, over ground roads and waterways around Dhaka without which Dhaka's traffic can only make the city come to a standstill. During the caretaker government, the Adviser in charge had twice announced in the media about building for Dhaka an underground traffic system but his initiative was a media event.  One just hopes that the elected government would not act the same way as the caretaker government. This government is already a year late on this important initiative and must consider urgently that time is of the essence here.
Even if the government does all the right things for Dhaka, like build the underground and over ground roads,  the waterways, attend to the sewerage, be conscious about making buildings follow earthquake provisions, Dhaka city would  still remain dangerously imperfect. Just imagine the size of Dhaka city. At night, from Sadarghat, the northern tip of the city to Uttara, the southern tip, it takes 20/25 minutes of travel time by car. East to west, the distance is even less, making the city the most congested city in the world. The problem is no one in Government is even taking note of this. The way the people are flowing from outside Dhaka to the capital, the city will die simply by the pressure of just too many people! Therefore side by side, the Government must also make serious efforts to send people to district towns near to Dhaka  like Comilla for instance  and build connecting fast roads and trains so that people can come from these small towns and work in Dhaka without crowding the city and killing it. Good roads could bring people from Comilla to work in Motijheel, the city's business district, faster than from Uttara or even Dhanmandi at the moment! If the Government is serious about saving Dhaka, it must act and act with vision and not just talk.

 

(The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to Japan)

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

STARS DON'T FORETELL ANY MORE

APARNA PALLAVI

 

The latest joke among the Mahadeo Koli tribals living in the Bhimashankar area of Maharashtra's Pune district is: "Ovni zali ka? (Have you transplanted your paddy?)" In the rain drenched Sahyadri range, where the main food crop is paddy, the unseasonal rains brought on by cyclone Phyan in late November have caused the harvested crop of fragrant Raibhog paddy to sprout shoots. This has made crops in entire villages unfit as food or seed. With starvation and loss of seed stock staring in the face, people can do little but joke about the calamity.


As elsewhere, changing weather conditions wreaking havoc on farmers is nothing new. What is, is the fact that for the last 20-odd years, residents of some 10 villages of Kolis in the western hills of the Ambegaon tehsil have been documenting the changes in climatic conditions and their impact. With the help of the non-profit Shashwat, tribals of these villages have learnt to note their observations using terms like climate change; they say such terms are necessary to make sense of their predicament.


"Till about the 1970s, the rainfall pattern in the area could be predicted like clockwork," said Dhondabai Asawle, the 80-plus matriarch, revered both for her deep knowledge of weather phenomena and her ability to articulate her observations in city language. "We planned our agricultural activities around the time-table of nakshatras (stars).


And till I was in my 40s, I do not remember the timetable ever failing us." The 27 nakshatras in Vedic astrometeorology indicate the overall weather pattern for the year.


According to Dhondabai, the rainfall pattern started changing, following massive tree-cutting on the hills by coal contractors in the early 1970s. "For almost a decade, these contractors would clear vast tracts of hillsides, and make coal from the wood in large furnaces," she said. "There were fires burning day and night on the hillsides for several months every year." The deforestation stopped when in the 1990s, 50 villages backed by Shashwat, waged a struggle to save their devrai s-sacred forests. Dhawdaji Gawari of village Pimpargani remembers two things happened immediately after the hills were denuded: "The temperatures went up and strong winds started blowing; both were bad for our crops."


Shortly after that disturbances in the rainfall cycle began to be felt. The community has maintained detailed records of these. Dhondabai recalled, all through her childhood and youth, millets were sowed on Akshaya Tritiya. This auspicious day in the Vedic calendar falling in April-May came soon after light showers in the Kritika Nakshatra. "Light but regular rains starting with the Rohini Nakshatra followed soon after," she added. "After the rains started, paddy seedlings were prepared, and transplanted at the onset of the Mruga Nakshatra when the rains intensified."


It was as if the entire rainfall cycle was tailored to the needs of crops, say elders. The stars depicting early rainfall, said Zaoji Gawari, were characterized by light rain, just right for the young seedlings. Then come regular heavy rains needed for the rapid growth of the now strong seedlings, the later stars foretell sporadic rain beneficial to crops at the seed-formation stage. "By Diwali, when the crops were ready for harvest, the rains would disappear altogether, not to return till the next year," he said.

 

After the deforestation, the pattern began to change, a little at a time. "Every year, the onset of rain was delayed by a day or two. By the second half of the 1980s, the Rohini rains had disappeared almost completely, and we took to sowing at the onset of Mruga," said Dondabai.


Till almost the end of the 1990s, Mruga rains remained more or less stable; then they too began to waver.
In the last decade, says Dhondabai's formally educated son Sanjay, the rains receded rapidly. "In the early part of the decade, the Mruga rains were hardly seen. This year's phenomenal one month delay in sowing is, to us, nothing but the next stage in an ongoing process of 40 years." For the last 4-5 years, Dhawdaji said, "the monsoon has been split into two. The rains disappear for weeks, sometimes a whole month, after the initial spell and return later, often continuing into harvest time."


The changing rainfall pattern means the area gets less rain each year. Records of the meteorology department's Bhimashankar and Dimbhe observatories reinforce what the villagers have noted over the decades. Rainfall has declined by 2,000 mm annually, dropping from 7,000 and 2,500 mm respectively in the early 1990s to 5,000 and 1,500 mm at present. This has led to other changes. "Till about 40 years back, summers were pleasantly warm and winters were very cold. Now we have uncomfortably hot summers and winter comes as late as November-end," said Goin Pardhi of village Dimbhe.


Earlier, winter set in close on the heels of the receding monsoon, but now it gets warm again between monsoon and November, Pardhi added. This second summer is playing havoc with people's health, giving rise to infectious diseases never seen in the area earlier-especially viral and gastric infections. "Winter has lost its bite as both fog and dew have decreased progressively," Dondabai said.


The change in the rainfall pattern and the disappearance of dew, which kept the soil moist in winter, has depleted food sources. Agricultural produce has fallen to half and repeated crop failures have shaken the fragile economy. Mahadeo Kolis have traditionally depended on a variety of uncultivated vegetables, fruits, crabs, fish and large amounts of milk from their cattle. All these have now practically gone.


 "Several varieties of vegetables like Chava and Bhokri have disappeared from the forests," says Dhondabai, "We used to gather ample amounts of summer fruits like mango, jamun and /toran/ (/karonde, carissa carandus/), which we ate and sold, but we find less and less each year. This year, we had no fruits and no hirda either." The medicinal herb hirda (haritaki, /chebulic myroblan/), is their most important source of cash.
When the rains failed three years ago, large amounts of grass in the forests disappeared, said Dhondabai. "In its place a tough, spiky variety now grows that our cattle can't feed on." The fodder crisis has been building up for years, causing a steady stream of cattle deaths. "Families that owned 50 to 100 cattle 30 years ago now have between 1 and 5 animals," she said.


Water has been another casualty. The numberless perennial streams, which were replenished by dew post-monsoon have been drying up fast as dew fails the forests. Tribal elders say they are left feeling defeated by all these changes. "Nothing ever turns out right," said Dondabai. Earlier, we would have called it the wrath of the gods.


 "It is not as if the people have not done their bit," said Kusum Karnik, forest rights activist who heads Shashwat. "They have fought to protect their sacred groves and surrounding forests, they have done watershed work to conserve water, they have rejected hybrid seeds. The only thing left, I suppose, is that they be heard in larger fora, and their insights be taken seriously."

CSE/Down To Earth Feature Service

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

BAD MONEY, GOOD MONEY

CHRIS PATTEN

 

The British comic genius Spike Milligan once observed that he would love to have the opportunity to discover that money wouldn't make him happy.


Big lottery winners, it is claimed, end up miserable, though real-life research suggests that they are as happy as you and I would be with a check for a million dollars. Money, however, can trigger all sorts of other emotions like rage, for example.


That is pretty much how most people reacted to the stories about bankers' bonuses, when the great crash of 2007-2008 wiped out banks, businesses, shareholders' savings, growth, and jobs. There was, as one banker charmingly conceded, a bit of asymmetry between what bankers were being paid and what their banks had lost.
The Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen notes in his latest magisterial book The Idea of Justice that most people understand that a process is fair when they can detect a connection between effort and reward. The bankers failed this test dismally.


We gritted our teeth and for the sake of our national economies supported our governments as they bailed out the banks with public money. It was a necessary, if infuriating, act of salvation to avoid economic disaster.
Having socialised banks' losses after we had seen the privatisation of their gains, our rage quotient has shot up once more at the news that the banks we saved are again filling the troughs into which all those snouts are enthusiastically dipped. The sheer unseemliness of what is happening raises blood pressure as well as eyebrows.

 

How do they have the nerve?

We should not, however, allow this sentiment to turn into an all-purpose rant against personal wealth. Sometimes its owners use it in hugely generous amounts for great public gain. Consider the cases of two of the world's biggest philanthropists, George Soros and Mo Ibrahim.


George Soros, the enormously successful investor, has used much of his own wealth to establish the Open Society Institute, which has helped to underpin the democratic revolution in Central and Eastern Europe and to press for human rights worldwide. Mo Ibrahim is one of Africa's most distinguished entrepreneurs. He built a business empire on technology, software, and mobile telecommunications. Ibrahim has established a foundation whose main purpose is to raise standards of governance in Africa. The continent certainly needs to pay heed.
With a billion people living in more than 50 countries, Africa is wracked by poverty and, in too many places, torn apart by war. The Oxford development economist Paul Collier reckons that 75% of the poorest people in the world live in countries that have only recently recovered from conflict or are still in conflict. Most of them are in Africa. These are countries where it sometimes seems easier to start an uprising than to start a business.
Guinea, with a nasty military junta in power, is on the brink of disaster. In Sudan, the Darfur conflict is unresolved and divisions between the north and the south once again threaten peace, with a promised referendum on southern independence due by 2011. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people huddle in camps in Somalia, where warlords rule. The list, alas, goes on.


It is not as though Africa lacked resources or the ability to govern itself well. Peaceful Botswana is a good example of what can be achieved. While climate, geography, and the colonial past share some of the blame for today's misery, most of the responsibility belongs to those African governments that have behaved so badly.
Ibrahim wants to stamp out corruption, to see the rule of law applied everywhere, to foster policy environments that encourage businesses to start up and thrive, and to strengthen the role of women. He wants to reward those who support pluralist democracy and is a champion of civil society and a free press, and the Ibrahim Foundation is also deeply involved in the fight against global warming.


He also points out that less than 5% of total trade in Africa is undertaken between African countries. There is a powerful argument for regional economic integration on the continent, abolishing trade barriers, sharing infrastructure like power generation, and allowing free movement of people, goods, money, and jobs. Some countries in East Africa are now trying to do something about that for themselves.


Philanthropists like Mo Ibrahim and George Soros or Bill Gates and Warren Buffett can use their fortunes to make the world a better place. We shouldn't allow our exasperation with bankers to morph into an assault on the creation of wealth. As Spike Mulligan was unable to discover for himself, money really can make people happier, producing a more just world with greater opportunity for the poor and disadvantaged.
Let's hope that we move in that direction in 2010.

 

(The writer, the last British Governor of Hong Kong and a former EU Commissioner for External Affairs, is Chancellor of the University of Oxford)

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

AT DECADE'S END, THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE

DESPITE THE EVILS OF TERRORISM AND MISERY CAUSED BY NATURAL DISASTERS, THE HUMAN CONDITION HAS IMPROVED

 

TEN years ago, the world marked the end of a century of suffering, dominated by world wars in its first 50 years and the threat of a nuclear holocaust for most of the decades that followed. But with the Soviet empire defeated, optimists hoped the first decade of the new millennium would offer an improved life for all the people of the planet. By and large, they were right. The lesson of the noughties is that the foundations of free societies are sound. For all the stress and strife of the past ten years, for all the injustice endured by victims of natural disaster or human incompetence and evil, there is much more to anticipate than fear this New Year's Day. As the 21st century emerges from infancy, people all over the planet can celebrate the ways the world has changed for the better. Democracy has again demonstrated that it is the only just and efficient form of government. The world community is abandoning the hysterics of the green extreme on climate change and beginning to address the issue as a practical policy problem. And for all the rhetoric from the enemies of economic growth, the market economy has emerged from last year's slump battered but still working better than any of the faltering command economies that some suggest are a viable alternative. Just as importantly, the world has good reason to rejoice in humanity's ability to overcome threats and to delight in the way men and women of goodwill forswore the follies of fatalism and fear in the face of the decade's dangers. And for that happy band of humanity that enjoys the greatest of good fortune that is life in Australia, the decade has delivered improvements that tower above our troubles. In the noughties, the world was offered a clear choice: to step back into the embrace of old ideologies or to look forward to the future. And just about everybody chose to believe in our collective ability to make a better world.

 

The struggle between hope and fear in the past decade was best defined by the destruction of New York's World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, when al-Qa'ida declared war on every aspect of the modern world, and on every individual who did not embrace its medieval mindset and its determination to subject humanity to an interpretation of Islam universally abhorred by all men and women of goodwill. But for all their religious rhetoric, Islamic terrorists are also motivated by a fear of a world where ordinary people, especially women, have easy access to the information they need to interpret the world for themselves. And while at decade's end al-Qa'ida could still mount terror attacks, mainly in the form of single suicide bombers murdering innocent people, all over the world Muslims have rejected this murderous malevolence and embraced al-Qa'ida's greatest enemy, democracy. While the war against terror is by no means won in Afghanistan, in Indonesia and Malaysia tens of millions of Muslims demonstrate why the terrorists will lose by voting in free and fair elections. And in Iraq, despite the horrors of the internecine strife that followed the US invasion, the emerging democracy is an enormous improvement on Saddam Hussein's despicable dictatorship.

 

The inevitable defeat of al-Qa'ida is inextricably linked to the digital revolution that began in the 1990s and accelerated exponentially through the this decade. Free societies thrive on knowledge, and everybody with access to the internet now has infinitely more information than was imaginable a decade ago. And the lesson of the past decade is that knowledge is power. While we do not know where digital communication technologies will take us in the next decade, on the evidence of the noughties the ten years to come will immeasurably enrich all our lives. Humanity's ability to adjust ensures we soon take new technologies for granted, but at decade's end it is worth remembering the way the internet has changed society. It encouraged debate and disseminated information in ways unimaginable in 1990, it revolutionised education and entertainment, medicine and money management. And it seems certain the changes will keep on coming as scientists discover ways to distribute ever more digitalised data at ever greater speeds within computers and across continents and entrepreneurs develop products that serve humanity in ways all but unimaginable now.

 

For this to occur, capitalism must be left to operate unimpeded. Perhaps the single most important lesson of the past decade is that the market will always find ways to meet our needs -- for more electricity in China or faster internet connections across the world. But one of the greatest risks we face is that the global financial crisis will be blamed on systemic faults in capitalism when in reality it was caused by incompetent regulators and bankers who decided that the natural laws of the market did not apply to them, that they could grow rich by speculating rather than creating products and services that people need. Capitalism created the new online technologies, greed as old as the abacus was responsible for the slump. After 10 years in which all Australians enjoyed materially better lives, it is essential that we stick with the market economy that made it happen.

 

But while we must not change the basis of our economy in everything else, Australians should accept we live in a world where the only constant is change. A decade ago, economists still argued that value-added manufacturing and service industries, especially tourism, were the way of the future. They missed the speed at which industrialising China would underwrite our economy The growing demand for our natural gas and iron ore gives us a remarkable chance to prosper in the coming years and to create a flexible economy to deal with changes we cannot identify now but which will come. Despite the impact of the GFC, Australia begins a new decade in even better shape than we started the last, thanks as much to our vibrant democracy and market economy as our minerals and energy assets. While many of us are burdened by personal misfortune, the vast majority of Australians have ample reasons to be happy today. Cynics suggest we are a "lucky" country, but nations, like individuals, make their own luck. What happens next is up to us.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

PUNTER REWRITES TEST HISTORY

RICKY PONTING IS THE GAME'S MOST SUCCESSFUL SKIPPER

 

RICKY Ponting's childhood ambition growing up in Tasmania was to become a Test cricketer. Not only has he fulfilled his ambition in 140 Tests, he became Australia's highest run-scorer in July this year, eclipsing Alan Border. And yesterday, after leading Australia to victory against Pakistan at the MCG with the help of two bold and shrewd declarations, Ponting made history as the most successful captain in 132 years of Test history. His 42nd Test victory as captain put him one ahead of Steve Waugh, with West Indian great Clive Lloyd on 36. Ponting has also played in more winning tests, 93, than any other player. It is not just exceptional talent that has stood Ponting in good stead. His grit, feistiness and resilience in bouncing back from controversies and losses, even of the Ashes, have set him apart.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

A LEGACY OF DEMOCRACY

THE OUTPOURING OF AFFECTION FOR GUS DUR IS NOT SURPRISING

 

INDONESIAN democracy is all the better for the contribution of Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia's first democratically elected president. Mr Wahid, 69, a frail but pugnacious figure popularly known as Gus Dur, died on Wednesday night. A moderate Islamic scholar, his most important legacy was paving the way for the democracy that Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, now enjoys.

 

A staunch opponent of the oppressive Suharto regime, Mr Wahid succeeded B.J. Habibie, who served as president for 12 months in 1998-99 after Suharto was forced out. Mr Wahid was elected president in a parliamentary vote in October 1999, defeating Megawati Sukarnoputri. Neither Mr Habibie nor Mr Wahid was prepared to compromise as they championed Indonesian reform and steered the nation towards full democracy.

At a time of grave fears for the stability of the Indonesian archipelago, Mr Wahid was committed to political reform and defending the rights of such minorities as Indonesia's Chinese and Christians. He cracked down on Islamic extremists after a series of Christmas-eve bombing attacks on churches in 2000 and walked a fine line seeking dialogue with ethnic separatists, avoiding a much-feared fragmentation of the nation. Mr Wahid also built bridges with East Timor, travelling to the island to apologise for past crimes and meeting Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta in Jakarta. He was also a consistent supporter of good relations with Australia, working with the Howard government to repair the bilateral relationship after the upheavals over East Timor.

 

Criticised for his erratic leadership style, he was sacked by the national assembly in 2001 over unproven corruption allegations.

 

Despite the sad end to his presidency, Mr Wahid's vital legacy of Indonesian democracy, realised in 2004 when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected by the nation, is set to endure, making southeast Asia a more secure, prosperous region.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

HAPPY NEW YEAR - OR HAPPIER, ANYWAY

 

THE crowds welcoming the new year may have been forgiven for a little extra fervour in their celebrations. Thank heavens 2009 is dead and gone. It had more than its share of bad news and disappointments; 2010 could not be much worse - could it?

 

Leading the long list of 2009's bad news was the economic downturn across the world. Australia has been lucky that its economy, almost alone, has not fallen into the sort of recession that is widespread across Europe and the US. Unemployment rose a little in this country, but it appears to have stabilised for now at a point well below the glum Treasury forecasts at budget time. Not so elsewhere: in the European Union 28 million people, or about 10 per cent of the workforce, are unemployed, and the rate is expected to rise further. It may not begin abating before next year. In the US, where unemployment is usually well below European levels, it has also reached 10 per cent, although it fell slightly in November. In the same month Australia's unemployment was also down slightly, to 5.7 per cent - a sign of how fortunate this country has been.

 

Will the luck continue? The Australian sharemarket clearly thinks so, having finished the year on a high after its best 12-month performance - rising more than 30 per cent - since 1993. But doubt remains over the strength of the recovery. Extraordinary government stimulus packages here and overseas have helped keep economies moving. China's encouragement of borrowing to stimulate growth has produced bubbles in stocks and property. Its enormous investment in US dollar-denominated investments - as the US acts to devalue the dollar to stimulate its own economy - has made it dependent more than ever on stability in financial markets. In current circumstances that is hard to guarantee. Given China's central role now in Australia's economic performance, that uncertainty will cast a pall across the coming year.

 

In politics last year Labor in NSW continued its decline, while in Canberra it appeared to reach its zenith and to have entered a period of decline. The Nathan Rees experiment - a premier from the Left faction appointed with the backing of elements of the NSW Right - failed. Rees tried to bring renewal to the party and to the state but he was hamstrung by the factional alliances that had put him in power. He wanted to bring determination and energy to decision-making, particularly on public works projects where it has been so lacking, but his desire to appear decisive led him to ignore planning in favour of action. When investment decisions commit billions of dollars - as in the CBD Metro, for example - any errors will be expensive. It was not his investment decisions, though, that brought him undone, but his desire to wield the power other Labor leaders, such as Kevin Rudd, had demanded of their caucus - the power to appoint his own ministry. In ejecting from the ministry the factional leaders who had put him in the top job, Rees both undermined himself, and laid bare the truth of NSW Labor: that it is run by, and for, its own factions, and has little connection with the people of the state. His successor, Kristina Keneally, has not been long in the job. Her achievements, though, amount to a series of picture opportunities, and the return of Labor's factional heavyweights to the ministry. Thus far, they do not suggest that she is an agent of radical renewal for a state and a political party that badly need it.

 

In Canberra Labor looks to have experienced what might be termed the curse of John Howard. Rudd came to power suggesting that he would be as comforting and unthreatening as his predecessor, while in fact holding a mandate for considerable change, particularly in education and the environment. But 2009 showed him unable to claim much more than Howard's main boast - that he kept the economy healthy. The much vaunted education revolution has, it is true, been favoured with vastly increased investment, as a way to stimulate the economy, but many of those investments are now mired in controversy over their cost and their effectiveness, and besides them achievements are few. On the environment Rudd suffered a big defeat when Chinese diplomacy snuffed out any hope of a breakthrough on emissions trading at the Copenhagen summit. He promised to be just like Howard and, lo and behold, just like Howard he is.

 

Rudd is now contemplating taking the issue of an emissions trading scheme to a general election, which must be held this year. After Copenhagen this is now a much more risky strategy. Even Rudd concedes there is no point acting faster - and disadvantaging Australian industry more - than the biggest greenhouse gas emitters are prepared to act. Just as the world's leaders have failed to reach a consensus on the right approach to climate change, so have Australia's politicians. In Tony Abbott the Coalition has found a leader who better expresses its innate scepticism on the issue than Malcolm Turnbull, who acknowledged the truth of climate change but failed to convince his own supporters that the logic of that position meant they had to talk seriously to the Government about it. It may well be that the time for emissions trading schemes has not yet come - they are, after all, advocated with the assumption that national schemes will fit into an overarching international framework, so that emission rights can be traded globally. Without that international framework, an emissions trading scheme imposing costs only on Australian industries would be a single large target for Abbott. It would give him a focus - something that his mercurial pronouncements on other matters suggest he needs if his leadership is to maintain coherence. Rudd will be calculating whether it is really necessary to make the Opposition Leader's task so easy.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

CROWDED AGENDA FOR A NEW YEAR AND NEW DECADE

THE CLOCK IS TICKING AFTER A DECADE OF LOST OPPORTUNITIES.

 

IN A WORLD of nearly 7 billion, people's view of that world depends very much on their vantage point. For the privileged minority of 22 million Australians, the outlook after the worst global recession since the Great Depression remains remarkably sunny. Australia's worst fears about economic contagion and a swine flu pandemic were not realised. The nation recorded only a single quarter of economic contraction a year ago and growth is again being driven by the resource demands of the emerging powerhouses of Asia.

 

As the world reflects on a decade book-marked by the terrorist shock of 2001 and economic shock of 2009, the outlook in other developed nations remains much more clouded. Prospects for the new year and new decade are uncertain, the challenges — a decade's worth of hangovers — daunting. Nobel economics laureate Paul Krugman observes that we got through the decade "without ever agreeing what to call it. The aughts? The naughties?" He suggests "the Big Zero — the decade in which we achieved nothing and learnt nothing".

 

Writing as an American economist, his view is understandable, and the emptiness of pledges to restructure global finances and rein in rampant greed and corruption lends weight to that view. It is not, however, reflective of developments in all parts of the world and in developing nations in particular. The US view cannot be discounted, of course, since it is still the dominant global power despite the accelerating shift of influence from West to East. It remains to be seen whether the American century is succeeded by the Chinese century as some crystal-ball gazers predict. (Should that happen, Australia is again fortuitously well positioned, assuming it makes the economic, educational and diplomatic investments needed to capitalise on the opportunity.) A year into his first term, President Barack Obama is locked into confronting problems that festered under his predecessor, George W. Bush: the playing out in Iraq and Afghanistan of a "war on terror" that, as the past week showed, has not produced security; crippling deficits; paralysis on a Middle East settlement in a year that began with the brutal Gaza bombardment; climate change; and nuclear proliferation (the threat from North Korea and Iran is greater than ever).

 

These problems are the world's problems and were complicated by a political dynamic of increasing polarisation. The giddy hope that Mr Obama's election inspired worldwide was a measure of the damage that had been done to America's standing. The awarding of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to a president who had yet to achieve any concrete goals spoke volumes about the expectations of him. Mr Obama has since seen the US economy begin a tentative recovery, and the passage of his universal health-care plan — a feat that eluded all his predecessors — is an answer to Hillary Clinton's question whether the man who campaigned in poetry was capable of meeting the more pragmatic demands of governing in prose. Mid-term elections are still likely to loosen the Democrats' grip on Congress, adding to Mr Obama's challenges. Over in Britain, the last G20 nation still in recession, Tony Blair's hapless successor, Gordon Brown, seems unable to master either poetry or prose and faces an end to 12 years of Labour government this year. Iraq also holds elections in March, the second since the fall of Saddam Hussein, but is hardly an advertisement for the "enduring freedom" touted by the architects of the 2003 invasion.

 

The Obama Administration may have reversed US resistance to a global pact on climate change, but last month's Copenhagen conference was a dispiriting demonstration of nations' inability to put global interest ahead of self-interest. Having borne the costs of avoiding global depression — the International Monetary Fund estimates the advanced economies ran up budget deficits totalling $A4 trillion in 2009 — governments baulked at the costs of tackling climate change, even if the long-term costs of inaction are far greater. The coordinated response to economic crisis showed, however, what is possible when the will to act exists. Mr Obama sees the development of clean energy as a priority and, if nothing else, a decade of startling advances in digital communications shows the revolutions that technology can deliver.

 

The past year also set back efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000, with the target date only five years away. Yet, as with climate change, the world cannot afford to indulge in despair, the natural partner of defeat. Nor is despair entirely justified. Until last year, the Millennium Goals' hope of a better world was being realised, albeit incrementally and patchily. Fewer people are dying of AIDS and many countries have successful programs to combat malaria and measles. Almost half of the developing world's people lived in extreme poverty in 1990; by 2005, this was cut to just over a quarter. Enrolments in primary education hit 88 per cent in 2007, up from 83 per cent in 2000. Deaths of children under five fell from around 12.6 million in 1990 to 9 million in 2007.

 

Compared with such life-or-death problems, it seems almost indulgent for Australians to fret about such things as higher interest rates, a function of economic growth, or a rise in the still modest numbers of asylum seekers from war-torn Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. As to what we call this decade, that is a trivial diversion from what matters. If 2009 taught Australians anything in a year of fires, drought and floods, fears of a financial meltdown and a deadly epidemic, it is that none of us can afford to ignore the global challenges of climate change, poverty, disease and development, free and fair trade, financial stability and environmental sustainability. This year and this decade will be defined by how we tackle all this unfinished business.

 

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THE GURDIAN

EDITORIAL

TERROR AND THE WEST: A DECADE OF MISJUDGMENT

 

The revelation in this newspaper that the kidnap of five British men in Iraq in 2007 was masterminded by Iran's Revolutionary Guard caps an unhappy week, the last of a parlous decade. The kidnap had two motivations – to bargain for the release of the Shia cleric Qais al-Khazali, and to prevent Peter Moore, the only British hostage to have survived, from installing a computer system that would have prevented millions of dollars of international aid from falling into the hands of Shia militia groups in Iraq. This story should serve as the epitaph for the invasion. Far from stabilising, or spreading democracy, the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and Iraq proved combustible. But the follies of the old decade are set to last into the new one.

 

Ten years ago, when Tony Blair hosted a bizarre entertainment to open the Millennium Dome, things looked different. Financiers thought they had created an economy that defied the laws of gravity and basic accountancy. Generals thought invasions were quick and painless. Scientists were optimistic that global warming could be contained. Mr Blair emerged from the Dome brimming with optimism. So much so that he said he wanted to bottle it. The events that followed punished judgments like these.

 

The trigger to the decade's woes did not come out of the sky over Manhattan and Washington in 2001. There were many precursors, but they were ignored or misinterpreted. Like the bombings in Madrid and London, these attacks brought the best out of ordinary people – witness the heroism of the New York firefighters – and the worst out of their governments. Al-Qaida's attacks may have looked and felt like a declaration of war (the Guardian said so in its headline) but that, in retrospect, was the least appropriate reaction.

 

The inability to see how non-state actors functioned across state borders, and the continuing belief that a malign sponsoring state must be pulling the strings in the background, led to the deaths of innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians. Terrorists were conflated with insurgents. Anti-terrorist operations became invasions and wars. Consequently, neither anti-terrorism nor counter-insurgency succeeded. Osama bin Laden was allowed to slip the net around his bunkers in Tora Bora, but his leaving card was a conflict that lasts to this day.

The chaos continued this week. The suicide bomber who struck a remote base used by the CIA in southeastern Afghanistan appears to have used a stolen uniform from the Afghan national army. The alternative is even worse: that the army's ranks are infiltrated by the Taliban. And the generals advising President Barack Obama are still slow to respond in the right way. Like a judo throw, the Taliban (still mostly lightly armed) are using the kinetic force of the lumbering military machine to tip it over. Meanwhile, almost 10 years after 2001, midair horrors continue. Al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen have ended the decade as al-Qaida central started it, by trying to crash airliners landing in the US. But if Yemen becomes the next target of the US drones, where next?If there is one lesson to be drawn from all this, it is that a military superpower no longer has effective supremacy. The next decade must see the re-establishment of a co-operative international system that was badly damaged by the unilateral endeavours of Britain, America and their few committed allies. Western military powers, especially weakening ones, should bend all their efforts into transforming and supporting international institutions such as the United Nations and the international criminal court. The idea that governments in London and Washington should handpick a general secretary of the UN for his weakness, as they did the current one, is absurd; that was perhaps the greatest error of a decade strewn with mishap and misjudgment.

 

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THE GURDIAN

EDITORIAL

2010: OLD LESSONS FOR THE NEW YEAR

 

Past performance is no guarantee of future growth, as the financial small print always points out, just as history is a fallible predictor of the future. But for year-end prophecies there are worse places to start. So in a new year spirit, let's be bold. On historical precedent nothing big should happen next year. Big things rarely do in the 10th year of the century. 2010, like 1410 or 1810, will be an interim year.

 

A few arguable exceptions only go to prove the rule. In 610 (on the Christian calendar) Islam can be said to have come into being, with the first divine revelation to Muhammad. But it wasn't until 613 that he began preaching publicly in Mecca. Two centuries before, the Romans are believed to have pulled out of Britain, but the traditional date of the retreat disguises a long decline. Fast forward to 1910, and things, it must be admitted, were beginning to stir. On 1 January the Manchester Guardian reported that "the eyes of the world were on Britain" because of its constitutional crisis. Before long, though, it was resolved in the Liberal government's favour. If 1910 had produced a monarchist usurpation of democracy, we would remember the year. But it didn't. There were riots in the Rhondda, but for the most part violence ran no further than an attack by a whip-wielding suffragette on Winston Churchill on a train, and the dramatic capture (using a Marconi wireless) of Dr Crippen, escaping by sea.

 

Jewellery specialists may remember 1910 with enthusiasm as the year the Cullinan diamond was cut up and presented to Queen Mary. In 2010 Australians may decide to celebrate the centenary of their first stamps and coinage, and the Canadians 100 years of their navy. But in the scheme of 20th-century history, such things are not large events.

 

1510 was characteristically somnolent too: one of the few dull years in a century that transformed England, the highlight being the 18-year-old Henry VIII's appearance in disguise at a jousting tournament. Whether people were fooled by his costume, or simply pretended to out of politeness, is not recorded. 1610 was no more exciting, at least in England and Scotland under their curious king James – and though in France Henry IV was murdered, the monarchy and the kingdom endured.

 

The 10th year of the century often seems caught in a lull between conflicts. It might be claimed that 1810, when the future Duke of Wellington was driving France out of Spain, was an exception, but the definitive battles of the Napoleonic wars came before and after. Among composers, Robert Schumann was born in 1810 and Thomas Arne in 1710. Our point precisely: they are not quite of the first rank. So sleep well tonight: 2010 will be a quiet year.

 

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THE GURDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF… LUCY PREBBLE

 

From John Osborne with Look Back in Anger to Hanif Kureishi 's My Beautiful Laundrette, young British playwrights often start off by writing about what they know; certainly, careers in drama are not usually made by tackling Texan energy firms (honourable exception made for one 80s saga about the Ewings of Dallas). So Surrey-born Lucy Prebble  took a risk writing about the woes of Enron, the conglomerate that was in everything from natural gas to broadband – until it came crashing out of everything in financial ruin in 2001. This was a subject that took two years of research, starting in the archives of the Houston Chronicle. From dusty beginnings, Prebble has constructed perhaps the best new play of 2009 – one that has transferred from the Minerva in Chichester to the Royal Court and is now playing in the West End. It is a drama about globalisation; a musical about bankruptcy. Most of all, it is a feat of imagination: off-balance-sheet vehicles turn into dinosaurs that take over the basement of the headquarters; the Lehman Brothers show up as two brothers crammed into one giant suit. In the course of all this, the audience gets the kind of insight into the workings of modern business that any number of set-piece interviews and TV documentaries have struggled to provide. All this is an impressive achievement for any 28-year-old dramatist; but it is the fearlessness with which Prebble has tackled a complex and technical subject that particularly stands out. One to watch in 2010.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

EDITORIAL

ROARING YEAR

 

Today begins a new year, a new decade. It does not seem so long ago that we ushered in the new millennium with much fanfare and anticipation, yet we now find ourselves already a decade into the 21st century.

 

Being optimistic creatures, we look forward to the new; as if somehow the next day will be better than the day that has passed. However, in hindsight, we often find that today was no better or worse than yesterday. This is probably because while we have the capacity to shape our days and our future, being creatures of habit - and old habits die hard - we find it difficult to make the changes that we know are necessary to make a better tomorrow.

 

Year after year, we lament the failures of our politicians. Last year was no exception. The National Assembly ended the year in much the similar fashion in which it ended the year before. On Dec. 31, the parliament was still struggling to pass the budget for 2010, deadlocked over the controversial four-river cleanup project. We thought we had seen it all when we watched flabbergasted as our elected representatives used an electric saw to break open a locked door a year ago. We witnessed legislators break the law in the hallowed halls of the National Assembly building.

 

Despite public outrage over the violence at the parliament, our lawmakers found their old habits hard to break. The last few days of the National Assembly session saw violent physical and verbal clashes. Politics - the art of government characterized by debates and compromise - was nowhere to be found as legislators dug in their heels along entrenched party lines, refusing to budge. Legislators seemed to ignore the fact that, in a democracy, the majority rules.

 

With only one more day to go in the calendar year, the Yongsan fire debacle was finally settled nearly a year after five protesters and one riot policeman were killed during a forceful removal of protesters who were staging a sit in against eviction. The families of those killed, the redevelopment union and the government finally reached a compromise and funerals for the protesters will be held next week.

 

The incident sat heavy on people's hearts as those killed, although they participated in illegal, violent demonstrations, were poor tenants who lost their livelihoods as a result of urban redevelopment. It is a relief that we can start the New Year with this heaviness lifted from our conscience.

 

Yet, we should take lessons from this incident so that such a tragedy will not be repeated. We must break away from violent protests. Taking to the streets was one of the few ways to get people's voices heard during authoritarian regimes. However, we have achieved democracy and there are other venues where concerns and demands can be aired. Authorities also need to find ways to respond to demonstrations that do not result in the loss of lives. Ultimately, our society has to seek better ways to resolve conflicts.

 

The proposed revision of the Sejong administrative city plan, the four-river project and the June local elections will all contribute to making 2010 a politically volatile year. If politics continue as before - parties locking horns, unwilling to compromise or accept the majority rule - 2010 will turn out to be no better than 2009.

 

President Lee Myung-bak wants to turn 2010 into a year in which Korea's status on the global stage is elevated. A consortium of Korean companies has clinched a $40 billion deal to build nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates, a source of great pride for the country. Seoul will play host to the G20 summit in November, which the Lee administration wants to turn into a coming-of-age moment for the country. Lee offered to play the role of a bridge between the industrialized countries and developing countries at the G20. At the Copenhagen climate talks, Lee pledged to take a "me first" position on fighting climate change. The government plans to increase its overseas development assistance, expanding aid to African and Central Asian nations.

 

Despite the backwardness that plagues our politics, Koreans have much to be proud of. The country rose from the ashes of the Korean War that ended in 1953 to become the 15th largest economy in the world. Within a generation Korea has moved from authoritarian rule to full democracy, a remarkable feat anywhere in the world. With peaceful transitions of power in place, democracy has taken firm root in Korea.

 

The United Nations Development Program office in Seoul shut down last month as the country has moved on to become a donor country from being a recipient country. In November, Korea joined the Development Assistance Committee - a group of donor countries - in the OECD.

 

Koreans have a tendency to discount their own achievements. We are also predisposed to being overly critical of ourselves. Perhaps this is rooted in our culture which prizes modesty and warns against the evil of pride. This has somehow led to a need for recognition and approval from outsiders.

 

In fact, to outside observers, Korea may seem like country that craves recognition and approval. We are unusually concerned about rankings in all things; from economy to standard of living to even rankings of our universities against other universities around the world. We are so concerned about the country's image that we have a presidential council working on developing a national brand image.

 

Perhaps what we need is confidence. Korea has every reason to be confident. We have weathered many storms, but we have always come out better than before. Despite the challenges that lie ahead of us this year, if we proceed with confidence, we shall be able to rise above those challenges. Here is to a roaring year!

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE FAIRNESS OF FINANCIAL RESCUE

J. BRADFORD DELONG

 

BERKELEY - Perhaps the best way to view a financial crisis is to look at it as a collapse in the risk tolerance of investors in private financial markets. Maybe the collapse stems from lousy internal controls in financial firms that, swaddled by implicit government guarantees, lavish their employees with enormous rewards for risky behavior. Or perhaps a long run of good fortune has left the financial market dominated by cockeyed optimists, who have finally figured that out. Or perhaps it stems simply from unreasoning panic.

 

Whatever the cause, when the risk tolerance of the market crashes, so do prices of risky financial assets. Everybody knows that there are immense unrealized losses in financial assets, but no one is sure that they know where those losses are. To buy - or even to hold - risky assets in such a situation is a recipe for financial disaster. So is buying or holding equity in firms that may be holding risky assets, regardless of how "safe" a firm's stock was previously thought to be.

 

This crash in prices of risky financial assets would not overly concern the rest of us were it not for the havoc that it has wrought on the price system, which is sending a peculiar message to the real economy. The price system is saying: shut down risky production activities and don't undertake any new activities that might be risky.

 

But there aren't enough safe, secure, and sound enterprises to absorb all the workers laid off from risky enterprises. And if the decline in nominal wages signals that there is an excess supply of labor, matters only get worse. General deflation eliminates the capital of yet more financial intermediaries, and makes risky an even larger share of assets that had previously been regarded as safe.

 

Ever since 1825, central banks' standard response in such situations - except during the Great Depression of the 1930s - has been the same: raise and support the prices of risky financial assets, and prevent financial markets from sending a signal to the real economy to shut down risky enterprises and eschew risky investments.

 

This response is understandably controversial, because it rewards those who bet on risky assets, many of whom accepted risk with open eyes and bear some responsibility for causing the crisis. But an effective rescue cannot be done any other way. A policy that leaves owners of risky financial assets impoverished is a policy that shuts down dynamism in the real economy.

 

The political problem can be finessed: as Don Kohn, a vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently observed, teaching a few thousand feckless financiers not to over-speculate is much less important than securing the jobs of millions of Americans and tens of millions around the globe. Financial rescue operations that benefit even the unworthy can be accepted if they are seen as benefiting all - even if the unworthy gain more than their share of the benefits.

 

What cannot be accepted are financial rescue operations that benefit the unworthy and cause losses to other important groups - like taxpayers and wage earners. And that, unfortunately, is the perception held by many nowadays, particularly in the United States.

 

It is easy to see why.

 

When vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp attacked Vice President Al Gore in 1996 for the Clinton administration's decision to bail out Mexico's feckless government during the 1994-95 financial crisis, Gore responded that America made $1.5 billion on the deal.

 

Similarly, Clinton's treasury secretary, Robert Rubin, and IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus were attacked for committing public money to bail out New York banks that had loaned to feckless East Asians in 1997-98. They responded that they had not rescued the truly bad speculative actor, Russia; that they had "bailed in," not bailed out, the New York banks, by requiring them to cough up additional money to support Korea's economy; and that everyone had benefited massively, because a global recession was avoided.

 

Now, however, the U.S. government can say none of these things. Officials cannot say that a global recession has been avoided; that they "bailed in" the banks; that - with the exception of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns - they forced the bad speculative actors into bankruptcy; or that the government made money on the deal.

 

It is still true that the banking-sector policies that were undertaken were good - or at least better than doing nothing. But the certainty that matters would have been much worse under a hands-off approach to the financial sector, a la Republican Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon in 1930-31, is not concrete enough to alter public perceptions. What is concrete enough are soaring bankers' bonuses and a real economy that continues to shed jobs.

 

J. Bradford DeLong is a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. - Ed.

 

(Project Syndicate)

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE HIDDEN COSTS OF 'GOOD ENOUGH'

M.K. THOMPSON

 

Modern life is increasingly hectic. We spend our days fielding e-mails, juggling projects, defusing crises and trying to find some semblance of work-life balance. It's just not possible to get everything done. It is certainly not possible to get everything done perfectly. Sometimes, we must choose between something being "good enough" and not being done at all.

 

However, "good enough" is often not dictated by necessity, but by choice. The old "80/20" rule says that most of the time we spend the first 20 percent of our effort to get the first 80 percent of the results. And it takes four times as much effort (another 80 percent) to get the final 20 percent of the results. At some point, increased effort leads to higher costs but no real improvement. Personally and professionally, we are all constantly trying to find the breakeven point and avoid the point of diminishing returns.

 

In many situations, "good enough" really is good enough. This is especially true of social systems, like governments, that are over-constrained and/or subject to large uncertainty. Here, personal opinion and free will make optimization impossible. Instead, Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon suggested that designers in these situations try to create solutions that will "satisfice," i.e. find solutions that will satisfy the requirements of the system and that will suffice.

 

In complex systems, the consequences of decisions or changes that are made can be difficult or impossible to predict. These systems often need to go through several iterations of testing and revision before they can be finalized. Thus, there is a cost saving advantage to making these systems "good enough" to test, but no better. Additional effort is only needed for the final version.

 

Other times, "good enough" is less good.

 

Students face the same dilemma in school. They, too, have limited time and resources and must divide their efforts between many classes and activities. Since many of these endeavors have explicit metrics to evaluate success (grades, test scores, etc.), they sometimes decide to devote as much energy as needed to achieve whatever metric the students (or their parents) decide is "good enough" and no more. But this strategy is not without risk.

 

Beginning in high school, performance both inside and outside of the classroom takes on a much greater importance. In two to four years, the same teachers who collect and grade exams and homework assignments will look back on students' cumulative performance to make recommendations for special programs, scholarships, college admissions and more.

 

The importance of recommendations and references only increases over time. These endorsements are also needed for admission to graduate or professional school, to obtain new employment and to receive promotions, prizes and more.

 

References and recommendations are not just based on grades or performance reviews, but also on the personal characteristics of the individuals involved. Do they work hard? Are they easy to work with? Are they reliable and enthusiastic? Do they give others credit for their work? Is their work done on time?

 

Individuals who produce excellent work the first time are rewarded. Individuals who try to see how little work they can do without punishment are the last to be chosen for a new project or to be promoted and the first to be laid off in times of economic hardship.

 

In effect, there is a second, silent and ongoing evaluation process in both academia and industry, whose results you will never see but whose outcome can strongly affect your future.

 

Grades and performance reviews are not always a perfect indicator of how you are viewed by your colleagues. Teachers, professors and managers have no desire to ruin careers by putting permanent black marks on the record of their students or subordinates, so formal reviews are often kinder than they should be.

 

A good mentor may take you aside and quietly tell you if your performance, attitudes or other characteristics aren't meeting expectations. But this can be an uncomfortable and sometimes troublesome conversation. So there may not be any warning that your idea of "good enough" really isn't very good until it is too late.

 

Cultivating good references takes hard work over a number of years. Most institutions will ask for the names and contact information for two or three references or for two or three letters of recommendation. But I have seen fellowships request up to five recommendation letters and tenure cases can require more. As you choose courses, projects, internships and other activities, you should be thinking of how many people you can ask for recommendations.

 

If you think that your current supervisor might be a good future reference, be sure to do your best work and maintain open lines of communication. This will help to avoid the hidden costs of "good enough."

 

Mary Kathryn Thompson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. She can be reached at mkthompson@an.kaist.ac.kr. - Ed.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

MR. HATOYAMA AND THE DPJ IN '10

 

The year 2010 will be a watershed year for the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, which came into power last September, ending the Liberal Democratic Party's almost unbroken rule since November 1955. If the administration fails to produce results that meet people's expectations this year, the change of government achieved by the Democratic Party of Japan will become almost meaningless.

 

The approval rating of the administration has dropped from around 70 percent just after its inauguration to around 50 percent in late December. It's time for Mr. Hatoyama, Cabinet members and the governing party to give substance to the main philosophy expressed in the party's election manifesto: ending the traditional practice of relegating the development of policy measures to bureaucrats and, instead, realizing politics in which a ruling party's politicians work out policy measures in a responsible way under the principle of "valuing people over concrete" and of building a society of "fraternity" in which each person is useful to another and feels at home.

 

The historic general election of August, in which people chose to let the DPJ lead the nation, showed that they had lost trust in the politics of the LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito. Mr. Hatoyama and DPJ lawmakers should realize that if the DPJ-led government fails to create its distinctive political style and to develop policies that bring real change to the nation, many people could despair to the point of losing trust in politics altogether. That could put Japan at a political dead end, spawning either deep-rooted political apathy or some form of extremism, or a combination of both.

 

It is not that the Hatoyama administration has not produced meaningful results. Ministers, senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries of government ministries — all elected lawmakers — are trying to work out policies on their own (although they should learn to make the best use of bureaucrats rather than antagonize them).

 

The administration has introduced a system in which the Government Revitalization Unit scrutinizes budgetary requests before public eyes and eliminates wasteful use of public money. Although the scrutiny saved only ¥677 billion compared with some ¥7 trillion that the administration needed to implement the DPJ's campaign promises, it represented an attempt to bring transparency to budget compilation.

 

While relying on bond issues totaling some ¥44 trillion, the administration has successfully included some of the DPJ's main campaign promises in the fiscal 2010 budget, such as the monthly child allowance of ¥13,000 per child without an income eligibility cap on households and a fund to make high schools tuition free.

 

True to the DPJ's slogan of "valuing people over concrete," it has slashed spending for public works projects by 18.3 percent while increasing social welfare spending by 9.8 percent.

 

Unfortunately, people have not viewed Mr. Hatoyama as one who exercises strong leadership. Instead, people have seen confusing flip-flops that could do irreparable damage, especially in diplomatic matters such as where to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station on Okinawa Island.

 

Given the economic downturn and commensurate loss in tax revenues, Mr. Hatoyama's job as Japan's top leader should be to select a limited number of attractive and rational policies that will help stabilize and revitalize people's lives, including job creation.

 

This may lead to a revision of the DPJ's election manifesto. But an important role of leadership is deciding which promises to drop and which to concentrate on. Mr. Hatoyama should realize that he cannot satisfy everybody. At the very least, he must choose policies that can be understood by people who feel left behind socially or economically.

 

Institutionally, Mr. Hatoyama should strive to quickly give a legal basis to the National Strategy Bureau headed by Deputy Prime Minister Naoto Kan, so that it can establish an overall direction that Japan should pursue in terms of economic and social development. The job should include working out strategies for improving education and scientific research — the basis of Japan's industrial competitiveness — strengthening agriculture, and encouraging the healthy growth of industries related to medical and nursing care services and child rearing, which are bound to become increasingly important as Japan's population ages and dwindles.

 

Some Cabinet members have made mutually contradictory statements about important policy matters. Mr. Hatoyama should do his utmost to smooth communication and create unity within the Cabinet, and between the Cabinet and the DPJ, while making decision-making processes transparent. He should understand the important role that language plays in politics. He should speak to people more often, enunciating his decisions and policies in a persuasive manner.

 

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