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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

EDITORIAL 02.03.10

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Editorial

month march 02, edition 000444, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. TRACK DIPLOMACY
  2. SHOOTING STRAIGHT
  3. IN ON THE GREAT GAME
  4. 'FEW GALLERIES ARE WILLING TO EXHIBIT SCULPTURES'
  5. LUGGAGE LUCK - K V KRISHNAN

THE HINDU

  1. THE SMALLEST OF STEPS
  2. A CRITICAL AREA
  3. AN UTOPIAN EDIFICE IN THE MAKING - V.C. KULANDAISWAMY
  4. CAN EUROZONE FIX GREECE? - GAVIN HEWITT
  5. GOODBYE TO KISS-AND-TELL JOURNALISM? - HASAN SUROOR
  6. THE ADVENT OF PASSWORD TYRANNY - CHARLIE BROOKER

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. PRANAB'S PADDING
  2. REVIVING AGRICULTURE
  3. TEA WITH BS: MS SWAMINATHAN - KALPANA JAIN
  4. A K BHATTACHARYA: DON'T BANK ON A TRUCE - A K BHATTACHARYA
  5. NILANJANA S ROY: THE LITERARY CHASTITY OF DRAUPADI - NILANJANA S ROY
  6. WHY CAN'T INDIAN MEDIA GROW? - VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR
  7. M GOVINDA RAO: DAMNED IF YOU DO, DAMNED IF YOU DON'T - M GOVINDA RAO

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. WELCOME NPS BOOST
  2. SUPER HEROES, SUPER PRICES
  3. DUMP MULTIPLICITY OF TAX RATES
  4. THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
  5. IS FISCAL STIMULUS POINTLESS? - J BRADFORD DELONG
  6. SELF IMAGE, BASE FOR EVERYTHING - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
  7. KUDOS TO FM ON INDIVIDUAL TAX FRONT

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. WIN THE GAME FOR HOCKEY
  2. PEDESTRIAN ECONOMICS  - BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
  3. FINANCIAL REFORM ENDGAME IN AMERICA - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  4. MONITOR PROGRESS, NOT PROCESS - BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
  5. SOME SAD FACTS FOR THE T-PANEL - BY KANCHA ILAIAH
  6. UNDERWATER PLATE CUTS 400-MILE GASH - BY HENRY FOUNTAIN

THE STATESMAN

  1. THE PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS
  2. GROWTH RATES & WELFARE - BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
  3. ILLOGICAL SYSTEM OF PROPERTY TAX - SAMIR DAS GUPTA
  4. ALL IN THE FAMILY - SANTANU SINHA CHAUDHURI
  5. CALL TO FREE POLITICAL PRISONERS IN MYANMAR - ANJALI SHARMA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. TARGETING HUSAIN
  2. GOING DOWNHILL
  3. LESSER EVIL - BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
  4. ZEROING ON ZERO - BY H N ANANDA
  5. STATE BUDGET NEEDS REALISTIC PROJECTIONS - BY N V KRISHNAKUMAR

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. WOMEN'S RABBINICAL RIGHTS
  2. THE MYTH OF HERITAGE SITES - BY DAVID NEWMAN
  3. WE ARE ALL BRETHREN - BY SHMUEL RABINOWITZ
  4. RIGHT OF REPLY: PRO-ISRAEL CAMPUS ACTIVITIES HAVE NEVER BEEN - BY STEPHEN KUPERBERG
  5. LET THE SOLDIERS SPEAK - BY MICHAEL DICKSON
  6. DEADLY POLITICAL BABBLINGS - BY GERSHON BASKIN
  7. LET THE SOLDIERS SPEAK - BY MICHAEL DICKSON

HAARETZ

  1. A MIRAGE OF CALM
  2. IRAN, SYRIA MAY TALK A BIG TALK, BUT TOO SCARED TO ACT - BY YOEL MARCUS
  3. PAYING WITHOUT OUR KNOWING - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  4. THE BOOM BEFORE THE BOOM - BY SEFI HENDLER
  5. ISRAELI PEACE COMPROMISES ARE SIGN OF STRENGTH, NOT DEFEAT - BY ALEXANDER YAKOBSON

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE SECOND AMENDMENT'S REACH
  2. REFORM, ON ICE
  3. SOMETIMES THE SMALLEST THINGS - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
  4. AN ESSENTIAL FIX
  5. WATCHING CERTAIN PEOPLE - BY BOB HERBERT
  6. THE HARD AND THE SOFT - BY DAVID BROOKS
  7. WHY I'M NOT RUNNING FOR THE SENATE - BY HAROLD FORD JR.
  8. IN CHILE, LIFE BETWEEN THE TREMORS - BY ALBERTO FUGUET
  9. SANTIAGO STANDS FIRM - BY SEBASTIAN GRAY

I.THE NEWS

  1. PERMANENT ETCHINGS
  2. A CRUCIAL SHIFT
  3. STRIKING WHERE THEY'RE LEAST EXPECTED
  4. RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
  5. PRINCIPLES OF POLICY –  (PART II) MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
  6. RAISE YOUR PRICE - AHMED QURAISHI
  7. CLASH OR COOPERATION? - DR MALEEHA LODHI
  8. FROM ONE CRISIS TO ANOTHER - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  9. INSTITUTIONAL CLASH - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. INDIA PLAYS FOREIGN POLICY CARDS WELL
  2. US EMPHATIC NO TO NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH PAKISTAN
  3. LOOKING AFTER SENIOR CITIZENS
  4. IS DEMOCRACY ONLY ELECTIONS? - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. IT IS FOREIGN POLICY FAILURE - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  6. JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE - MALIK M ASHRAF
  7. TRUCE BEFORE DROUGHT - SHAIMA SUMAYA
  8. ALEXANDER HAIG, A TRUE COLD WARRIOR - JAMES ROSEN

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. CENTRAL BANK ANOMALY
  2. MARITIME DISPUTE
  3. ROUGH HANDS..!
  4. CAN NON-VIOLENCE BE POLITICALLY FRUITFUL - KAWSER AHMED
  5. PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE - S. A. MANSOOR

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. TIME TO TURN THE ETS OFF?
  2. HAIR SHIRTS ARE NOT A GOOD LOOK
  3. GROWTH MAKES THE CASE FOR HIGH-QUALITY SPENDING

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. RUDD DONS THE SORRY SUIT
  2. MISS GILLARD'S CLASS OF 2025
  3. HOUSING ANSWERS ARE CLOSER TO HOME
  4. WHAT THE NATION LEARNS, THE NATION WILL BECOME

THE GUARDIAN

  1. MICHAEL ASHCROFT: REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION
  2. DEVOLUTION: WALES POINTS THE WAY
  3. IN PRAISE OF … BBC RADIO BALLADS

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. EARTHQUAKE IN CHILE
  2. OLYMPIC BROADCAST
  3. HELPING GREECE EASIER SAID THAN DONE - HANS-WERNER SINN
  4. WHEN RELIGIOUS ZEAL DISPLACES TRUTH

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. A PROMISE THE DPJ SHOULD FORGET
  2. SECURITY FOR DISPATCH WORKERS
  3. U.S. 'TORTURE MEMO' LAWYERS GOT OFF TOO EASILY - BY CESAR CHELALA
  4. WHOSE GDP IS NO. 2 MISSES POINT - BY KEVIN RAFFERTY

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. THE ELUSIVE ASEAN GOAL
  2. OBAMA SHOULD HELP A PEOPLE BLIGHTED BY A US CORPORATION - CARMEL BUDIARDJO
  3. IMPROVING THE MANAGEMENT OF DIRECT LOCAL ELECTIONS - CECEP EFFENDI
  4. A GLIMPSE INTO INDONESIAN SEXUALITY - L. MURBANDONO HS

CHINA DAILY

  1. CHASE OUT POLICE BRUTALITY
  2. LESSON FOR ALL CARMAKERS
  3. TEMPER GOVT TIES WITH ECONOMY - BY YANG YAO (CHINA DAILY)
  4. CHINA'S UNSTOPPABLE MOVE TO MODERNITY AS A CULTURAL STATE - BY FRANCIS C W FUNG (CHINADAILY.COM.CN)
  5. REMEDIES FOR REAL ESTATE PRICES IN NEED OF OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE - BY CHAN CHOI-HI
  6. IRAN OFFERS US A LEARNING EXPERIENCE - BY HUA LIMING (CHINA DAILY)

DAILY MIRROR

  1. MORE OR LESS OF FONSEKA...
  2. THE UPFA AND UNF MESSAGES TO THE ELECTORATE
  3. WOMEN'S RIGHTS: PARLIAMENTARY REPRESENTATION
  4. REMEMBERING THE DARK HOUR - BY DILINI ALGAMA
  5. THE GREAT DECEPTION AROUND GSP PLUS  

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

TRACK DIPLOMACY

 

Among the better aspects of railway minister Mamata Banerjee's populist rail budget is her apparent commitment to leverage India's expertise in railways to increase its sphere of influence in the region. India's 'Look East' policy got a fillip with Banerjee announcing that India would set up railway training centres to train personnel from Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries. Track diplomacy is one of the important aspects of the engagement between India and Bangladesh, which has been on the upswing since Sheikh Hasina Wajed assumed power. Establishing better connectivity between the two neighbours via land and waterways featured significantly when the Bangladeshi prime minister visited New Delhi in January. India, then, had committed to building railway infrastructure in Bangladesh and supplying coaches and wagons, while pushing for a transit route via Bangladesh that would link West Bengal to India's north-eastern states.


Establishing multiple transit routes - via road, trains and waterways - to link countries in the South and South East Asia regions would go a long way in integrating the economies of this region, which would in turn enhance overall regional cooperation. With Bangladesh and Myanmar coming on board for the Trans-Asian Railway project, the case for India to use its expertise in mass transportation systems as a diplomatic tool is strengthened. China, after all, has been doing this for a while now and has reaped strategic profit.


At present there are a couple of trains linking Dhaka with Kolkata. There seems to be forward movement on the project to build a rail route between Akhaura and Agartala; more routes connecting other parts of the two countries are in order. The India-Bangladesh Inland Water Transport and Transit Protocol should also be given more teeth to improve connectivity. India and Bangladesh could also cooperate in sharing port facilities, which would help trading communities in both countries. The Trans-Asian Railway project has the potential to not just link India with Bangladesh and Myanmar but also act as a bridge to other South East Asian countries.


Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) that brings together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka with ASEAN members Myanmar and Thailand must be infused with fresh energy as the arrangement has the potential of securing Asian economic integretion. If indeed the next century is going to be Asia's century, then India should ensure that it has a leading role to play in a changed world order. To do this effectively, it will have to expand its sphere of influence and engage on a greater scale with its neighbours on the East. Full steam ahead then.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

SHOOTING STRAIGHT

 

From a 34 per cent increase in defence outlay for the 2009-10 fiscal year to a 3.98 per cent increase in the latest Budget, it has been a precipitous drop. But appearances can be misleading. Parsing the figures more closely aside - taking revised estimates for last year's defence allocation into account, the jump in capital outlay, meant for acquiring new equipment, is actually 25.4 per cent - the problem facing the armed forces is not inadequate resources. It is the lack of an effective process to utilise the available funds. When Rs 7,000 crore remains unused from last year's allocation, bridging the military's capability gaps is no longer merely a question of throwing more resources.

There is a lack of long-term strategic planning in the defence establishment. Upgrading the military's capabilities is not a piecemeal process. It requires a roadmap factoring in a host of variables: evolving military doctrine; estimated requirements years down the line; broader strategic considerations. And yet, a culture of ad-hocism prevails. A case in point is India's Cold Start doctrine that has caused so much heartburn in Pakistan. Given its emphasis on swift, joint arms operations, it requires a well-planned acquisition programme. But nearly six years after it was put into place, the doctrine remains largely on paper with the army lacking vital ingredients such as a sufficient quantity of self-propelled artillery.


It makes for a good soundbyte for defence minister A K Antony to say as he recently did that India is capable of becoming a leader in the global defence industry if public sector organisations come out of old, monopolistic mindsets. But doing so requires concrete action. The private sector's involvement is a must, given the less-than-ideal track record of its public sector counterparts. Here, the government has taken some steps in the right direction by revamping its Defence Procurement Procedure to allow more scope for indigenous private industries. Further enabling foreign direct investment is another route to beef up the sector.


What the government must guard against now is a return to business as usual. Jungles of bureaucratic red tape make the entire procurement process a torturous affair. Worse, the system enables large-scale corruption in the form of kickbacks and misappropriation of centrally-allocated funds. Rhetoric about the success of our missile programme and our blue water capabilities cannot substitute for reality. Antony was right in saying that India possesses the natural resources and the skilled manpower to realise its potential in the defence sector. Now the administration must show that it can institute and implement the policies to utilise them.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

IN ON THE GREAT GAME

 

Throughout the 19th century, Russia and Britain sparred for control of Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan. The "Great Game" ended in stalemate. The Afghans remained fiercely independent. As the saying goes, you can rent a Pathan but you can't buy one.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and new national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon the same team that delivered the Indo-US nuclear deal have decided that engaging Pakistan will be more effective in the long run than isolating it. This is a gamble. Will it work?


The Pakistan army, which negotiates with one gun held to its own head and another to India's, knows America's weakness. It has been Washington's errand boy since the 1950s, receiving generous dollar tips in return. The sacrificial lamb in all of this has always been India. America believes might is right and practises its geopolitics accordingly. India believes right is might and formulates its strategy by this high moral principle.


Squeezed between a sympathetic but ruthlessly self-interested America and a Pakistan obsessed with acquiring "parity" with India, New Delhi continues to fumble. Conventional wisdom in South Block is fearsomely defeatist: "Terror if we talk, more terror if we don't. So perhaps let's talk it can't get worse." Hence the resumption of "non-composite" dialogue. Pakistan revels in India's moralistic defeatism and reliance on an America whose sights are set elsewhere.


Despite these odds, winning the new Great Game is not impossible. To do so, India needs to deploy strategies with clarity and ruthless self-interest. The only reason America has not been attacked after September 11, 2001 is because it has made terrorists pay a terrible price. Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in the 9/11 attack. Since then, the US has through military and covert operations killed in retaliation well over 10,000 terrorists and their sympathisers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. Gauntanamo Bay may be the worst case of human rights abuse in decades but it has put fear into terrorists who target the US mainland. Not one has dared do so, and certainly not one has succeeded, in nearly nine years.


Indian policymakers, immersed in traditional geopolitical timidity, say we can't do the same. We don't have America's military muscle, money or leverage over Pakistan. But that does not mean we should do nothing. Terrorists are deterred only if they know they will pay a price for murder. America has made them pay and safeguarded US citizens, especially at home.


India's defeatist approach has ensured Indian citizens are unsafe in their own country. Terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad and their Pakistani sponsors fear no costs or consequences from India. They can fend off American pressure with their cynical chase-with-the-hounds and run-with-the-hares strategy. They remain brazenly unconcerned about Indian policymakers whose default reflex action for decades has been to turn the other cheek after a terror strike. So how can India make terrorists who freely use Pakistan's infrastructure of terror pay?


By, for once, playing tough with both Islamabad and Washington. For too long has India played the good guy waiting for other good (but stronger) guys like the US to help deal with the neighbourhood thug. "Oh", goes the plaintive refrain, "we can't choose our neighbours." Obviously not. But we can choose how we control their behaviour.

The US has long taken India for granted over Pakistan-funded terrorism with platitudes and homilies. Washington must be told firmly that the era of tea and sympathy is over. No longer will we script our Pakistan policy to suit America's self-interest. India is vital to America's long-term geopolitical strategy to counter superpower China and that gives us more leverage over Washington than we think. Pakistan may have short-term advantages as a hired gun. But it is India already the world's third largest economy after the US and China with a GDP of $4.9 trillion (by purchasing power parity norms) which really matters. Pakistan has one-tenth of India's GDP. Its nuisance value as an obsessed stalker of India far outweighs its geopolitical influence.


A tougher line with the US on Pakistani-funded terror must be combined with a tougher line with Islamabad during talks. Those talks must deliver this blunt message: from now on, zero tolerance on terror. Coercive diplomacy, economic sanctions and covert operations are all options India can exercise if talking with Islamabad does not end terror. Over 40,000 Indian citizens have been killed by Pakistani-sponsored terror attacks since 1989. No responsible government can allow its citizens to be targets of terrorism on this unprecedented scale.


India needs to rise above a toxic Pakistani state and fashion a strategy for a world in 2020. By then, India's military, technology and economy will give it global salience. A tough but flexible Pakistan policy can convert South Asia into a peaceful, prosperous region of 1.50 billion people nearly a quarter of humanity. In contrast, a policy of compromise and concession will keep the region hostage to what home minister P Chidambaram rightly calls the "dark forces" of terror.


The writer is the chairman of a media group.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

'FEW GALLERIES ARE WILLING TO EXHIBIT SCULPTURES'

 

Working primarily with all kinds of stones for more than 40 years, including crossroad public sculptures like 'Banyan tree' and 'Abacus' in Vadodara, renowned sculptor Nagji Patel, 72, spoke to Romain Maitra about the woes of his art form:


Despite the great and the time-tested tradition of sculpture in India, why did it not flourish after independence?
Earlier, sculptures were patronised by believers in cultures, religions and life's values, but after independence, sculptural iconography suffered neglect. Unlike in painting, where new movements have injected fresh ideas and perspectives, contemporary sculptors have not been really able to evolve their own language and therefore have not been able to make a major impact on the contemporary Indian art scene. One of the key reasons for this state of affairs is the lack of infrastructure for the practice of sculptures, often with the absence of even basic facilities. May it be traditional or contemporary, it needs to be supported and patronised.


Some political leaders, and even the government patronages, in India have rather given more importance to building statues (which are often of poor quality) than encouraging creative sculpting.

That is very true. However, in recent years, sculptors' camps, or symposiums have, to some extent, offered opportunities for Indian sculptors to do ambitious works as well as interact with sculptors from different countries. Besides, very few galleries are willing to exhibit sculptures. Moreover, neither the public sectors nor the private business house collectors are too sculpture-savvy either.

 

There is also a remarkable absence in India of sculptures presented comprehensively as public art, like sculpture parks being seen in many countries.

I think sculptures can add life to dull reception foyers, corridors, stair landings, odd corners and gardens, including hotels and hospital premises. Most sculptures can also be people-friendly with an invitation to touch and feel. Further, i am unable to understand how Indian architects, except a few, have completely neglected the potential of sculptures in enhancing built spaces. This is something that should be addressed because architects can play a very significant role in creating awareness while sculptures' costs can be built in to the project expenses.

Sculptures, as part of shopping malls, entertainment and cultural complexes, and large corporate campuses are already seen in several developed countries. Even expressways can also be adorned with monumental sculptures. Moreover, i feel that we are lacking in sculpture parks, or open-air museums of sculptures, where sculptures of permanent material of big size can be displayed. Well-designed and developed parks can be a great contribution both to the visual arts and to society.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

LUGGAGE LUCK

K V KRISHNAN

 

Packing for a flight has become challenging these days. I would never check in my luggage till they recently weighed down my bags with those impossible security rules. To make matters worse, spoilsport airlines have been harsh on check-in luggage. Citing rising fuel costs, restricting the number of pieces was a tolerable first step. Then followed draconian rules dictating how these had to have the right dimensions to fit into your trouser pocket. Most airlines have now started a discouraging trend of charging fees for bags checked in. I suspect gas prices are only a cover all this is really the airline consortium's cover-up to the problem of misplaced baggage. I have often gotten off the plane only to discover that my bags never made the trip with me they belonged to that statistical seven out of 1,000 pieces that airlines routinely throw into a black hole. The ones that do make their way back to me frequently display signs of blunt force trauma or even extensive weight loss. Those that don't probably end up in places like the Unclaimed Baggage Centre, a store in Scottsboro, Alabama that specialises in lost treasures from the world. This place was so institutionalised that last i heard, they had a website, sold gift cards and even had a return policy.


I have also had several close shaves with my luggage. I have picked up impossible lookalikes on a couple of occasions, and walked towards the exit only for an eagle-eyed agent to point out that the baggage tag did not match the luggage slip pasted to my ticket. I once filed a missing-bag complaint and had even cleared customs when my son noticed our suitcase doing the lone rounds in a carousel far away. Maybe my luggage needs to stand out from the rest. There are companies that specialise in whacky personalised luggage tags that you could tie all around your suitcase loudly proclaiming you as the owner of such property. I packed a weird-looking suitcase on a recent trip, strapping it with several funky tags. I went an extra mile by tying my daughter's cheap necklace around the suitcase handle so it would be stamped unmistakably mine. I may have overdone the 'standing out' part, though, since that bag got lost. I have since filed a claim with the airlines but with no luck. I'll probably end up buying it back from the Unclaimed Baggage Centre - at a discounted price, of course.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE SMALLEST OF STEPS

 

To the untrained eye, the meeting between the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan last week produced no perceptible movement, with not even an announcement made of a second meeting between the two sides. Nor have the official and background statements made by Islamabad and New Delhi since then been particularly encouraging. But put the same Petri dish under a microscope and the evidence of a small step forward is apparent. Nirupama Rao is likely to travel to Pakistan in March for another meeting with her counterpart, Salman Bashir; on his part, Mr. Bashir, though lamenting the lack of "structure" in the engagement that has begun, is not averse to pushing the process along. But if it is certain that the next step will be taken, where it actually leads will depend on how the two countries play their cards. The time between the February 25 Delhi meeting and the next in Islamabad will allow Pakistan to move further ahead on the trial of the Mumbai terrorist attack conspirators. It will also give the Pakistani side the opportunity to find ways of clamping down on terrorist masterminds like Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, whose daily statements are aimed at provoking a rupture in the fragile dialogue process. The results of the Pakistani action, if any, can be shared with Home Minister P. Chidambaram when he visits Islamabad for the SAARC interior ministers meeting in the next few weeks.

 

The more substantial the effort Pakistan makes, the easier it will be for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to put up the scaffolding for a meaningful dialogue. But India, too, needs to understand that moving the goal posts is not a helpful strategy. Strictly speaking, the meeting which took place last week should have been held in October, when court proceedings against the LeT operatives in Pakistan got under way. Be that as it may, now that India has decided to press its case across the dialogue table for action on terrorism, it must not allow terrorists to derail this discussion. Not conceding ground on issues where Islamabad wants the dialogue to make a forward movement is a far better strategy than refusing to hold a dialogue or suspending talks in a fit of pique. At no stage should the military establishment in Pakistan be able to point to Indian reluctance to talk as an alibi for not fighting the Afghan Taliban. As the heinous killing of Indians in Kabul last week showed, the Taliban are as opposed to India as the LeT or other terrorist groups. Islamabad may not easily neutralise the likes of Hafiz Saeed; but by resuming talks, India might just have found a zero-cost strategy for calling Pakistan's bluff on the western front.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

A CRITICAL AREA

 

By allocating 46 per cent of the total plan expenditure to infrastructure development, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has clearly shown how imperative this is to return to a higher growth trajectory. That highways, railways, and power got a lion's share of the allocations for 2010-11 signals a clear priority to connectivity and electricity. Rural roads too got a quantum jump in funding. No less significant is the government's commitment to involving the private sector all the more in infrastructure development. Witness Mr. Mukherjee's statement: "With development and economic reforms, the focus of economic activity has shifted towards the non-governmental actors, bringing into sharper focus, the role of government as an enabler." So, the objective seems to be to create an "enabling ethos" for Public Private Partnership (PPP). Going by the Rs.1,73,552 crore allocation for upgrading both urban and rural infrastructure, it is evident that the government wants to accelerate development of high quality physical infrastructure such as roads, ports, airports, railways and power. In this mix, the road and energy sectors come in for special attention for two reasons — some of the ongoing programmes are critical and there has been a perpetual shortfall in the achievement of targets over successive Five-Year Plan periods. The last two years have seen a substantial increase in investment in infrastructure, but as a proportion of the GDP the figure is just around six per cent, three per cent short of the requirement.

 

The Finance Minister has raised the budget allocation for the road transport sector from Rs.17,520 crore to Rs. 19,894 crore — a 13 per cent increase. The government, notably the Highways, and the Planning Commission have targeted a construction pace of 20 kilometres-a-day of the National Highways. Though a massive highways upgradation and expansion programme was launched way back in 1999 and subsequently revamped in 2006, the progress has not been satisfying. Litigation and implementation delays continue to hamper the effort. Similarly, on the power front, there has been a major shortfall in reaching the targets for the 8th, 9th, and 10th Five-year Plans. Even the 11th Plan target is unlikely to be reached. The allocations for the power sector have been doubled for the coming year, and a major impetus given to new and renewable energy. It is not enough for governments to just allocate funds. Infrastructure projects must be made attractive for private and foreign investors, and the States need to be fully involved in implementing and monitoring them.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

AN UTOPIAN EDIFICE IN THE MAKING

THE INHERENT CHARACTERISTIC OF THE BILL THAT SEEKS TO CREATE A NATIONAL COMMISSION ON HIGHER EDUCATION AND RESEARCH IS RESTRICTIVE AT EVERY STEP.

V.C. KULANDAISWAMY

 

The National Commission on Higher Education and Research Bill, 2010, is a testimony to much sincerity of purpose and major investments in time, and the quality of the intellectual approach it represents is notable. Yet, a reading of the Bill gives the prima facie impression that it has been prepared for a country that so far has had no system of higher education in place.

 

The conclusion drawn by many that the National Commission would subsume the University Grants Commission, the All India Council for Technical Education and the National Council for Teacher Education is not correct. All three of them will stand abolished and an entirely new body will be established.

 

Unfortunately, the Bill has so fatal a flaw that the Commission cannot be established without an amendment being made to the Bill before it is introduced in Parliament.

 

The process of its establishment is to begin with the nomination of the core Fellows, the election of co-opted Fellows by the core Fellows, the formation of a Collegium, and the Collegium sending on a panel of three names for the chairperson and each of the members, to the selection committee. Ultimately, the chairperson and members are to be appointed by the President of India.

 

But the Bill neither specifies the number of core Fellows nor lays down the procedure for their nomination. The soul of the institution is missing. It is such a fatal flaw as to render the Bill unimplementable. The provision for the choice of core Fellows is a formidable task since it is difficult to find a method of nomination that will ensure the independence of this really core component of the structure.

 

The Collegium is to meet once a year. Its major functions are limited to the choice of a panel for the position of chairperson and each of the positions of members and the preparation of a National Registry for posts of Vice-Chancellors. The strength of the Collegium will depend on the number of core Fellows, but this number is not specified in the draft Bill. If the number is around 10, the strength of the Collegium will be 40. Scholars they may be, but they are some 40 strangers among themselves who meet once a year under a chair elected at the particular meeting or in an earlier one. It is doubtful whether such an assembly could be guided to scan the academic horizon for talent and choose appropriate persons for the preparation of a panel for the vital positions of the chairperson and members of the Commission. The entire exercise involves a great amount of responsibility and perhaps some risk. All the executive powers are vested in a single body, that is, the Commission, which is not directly answerable to any authority and is not bound by the advice of any larger representative body.

 

A body comparable to the Commission that is now envisaged does not seem to exist in the field of education in any advanced country. What we have before the nation really is a totally new experimental design for the management of higher education. Any experiment, when it covers a whole nation, needs consultations on a much wider scale: the exercise that is now being carried out by the Task Force is a very limited one.

 

The Commission recognises only two providers in higher education: the State and Central governments. Central institutions are very few in number and the State universities are what really count. The long-winding procedures that have been proposed in granting authorisation to establish a university are amazing, even when the applicant is a mighty State government. Eight steps are contemplated. First will come the decision of a State government to establish a university. For this it will have to obtain an assessment report from an accreditation agency, and apply to the Commission with the assessment report. The Commission, after examination, will decide to grant authorisation or return the application seeking more information. The Commission, when it is satisfied about the case, will issue a public notice calling for views and any objections. The next two steps involve referring the views back to the State government and examining the replies received. Thereafter, permission is granted or rejected. If permission is granted, the institution will remain on probation for 10 years. During this period the permission granted could be revoked.

 

For a State government, the running of a university is tantamount to providing social service. For it to go through the hurdles of a bureaucracy as though it is an applicant for a licence to run a business is totally unacceptable. If this is not centralisation, then what could be so called? Again, it is not as though State governments are anxious to establish more universities and are rushing in with proposals. Many of them are, for want of funds, quietly trying to transfer their responsibility for higher education to private providers. By 2006, as much as 63.2 per cent of all educational institutions and 51.5 per cent of the total enrolment were already in the private sector. The authors of the 11th Five-Year Plan have recorded that out of the additional student enrolment of seven million that is contemplated between 2007 and 2012, the share of the private sector is expected to be 3.5 million.

 

The Task Force does not seem to recognise what is happening in the country and seems to be sitting in a world of its own. It seems to be drafting rules and regulations to ensure academic quality as a theoretical exercise. While the overwhelming need is for the promotion of avenues of higher education, the inherent characteristic of the Bill is restrictive at every step.

 

Having thus got the requisite authorisation, the State government has to appoint a Vice-Chancellor. Here again, the Commission will maintain a national registry of persons eligible and qualified to be Vice-Chancellors. From the registry the Commission will recommend a panel of five names for the State to choose from, perhaps based on the biodata, or maybe again through a committee of its own. It is amazing that anyone could think of a registry that would contain the names of, and do justice to, all the academics in this vast country who are qualified to be Vice-Chancellors. The preparation of such a list, which will be a really exhaustive exercise, is not practicable even at the State level. The list is to be prepared by the Collegium from among names received from the Central and State universities and governments. One can imagine the degree of lobbying that will ensue at the levels from where the list would emanate, and the part played by prejudices, malpractices and manipulation for patronage. How will anyone ensure fairness and exhaustiveness in the lists received for the preparation of the registry?

 

Why should one assume that this procedure would be superior, and preferable to, the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor at the State level by means of a search committee? The seeming disbelief in the honesty of all the instruments that are closer to the scene of action and are answerable to the people around, and unconditionally trusting an authority that is far removed from the field of occurrence and is not answerable to the stakeholders, is basically a negation of the principle of autonomy. It devalues the credibility of elected governments, the university authorities, and even the Chancellor.

 

From the time of Plato to Thomas More to Francis Bacon, there have been many efforts to design an ideal society. But it is a grievous error to believe that we will ever be able to create a system anywhere by means of rules and regulations that would ensure virtuous conduct far above the level of the people who ultimately go to make the system. The reasonable path to relatively honest behaviour is decentralisation and making every authority answerable to the immediate stakeholders.

 

The reference in the Bill only to the existing deemed-to-be universities indicate that there will be no new deemed universities. Misuse of the power to grant such status by the regulatory authority in some cases, and abuse of the privilege so acquired by certain institutions, cannot be considered adequate reasons to abolish the system itself. Remediable ills do not demand drastic solutions. The prevailing mood seems to be in favour of closing all new channels and opportunities for higher education rather than opening the gates for new providers — which today is the pressing need.

 

(The writer is Vice-Chairman, Central Institute of Classical Tamil.)

 

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THE HINDU

CAN EUROZONE FIX GREECE?

THE TIME OF SHADOW-BOXING, OF FEINTS AND JABS, IS DRAWING TO A CLOSE.

GAVIN HEWITT

 

  1. Outsiders are still pouring on the pressure on Athens
  2. If Greece is to be rescued by Europe the Germans will have to be at the heart of it

 

Over the weeks ahead Greece must find billions to service its deficit. The moment approaches when it can either raise the money at a reasonable price, or it defaults or it is bailed out.

 

Even as all parties await the bell, the game goes on. Outsiders are still pouring on the pressure on Athens.

 

Their plans to reduce their deficit don't cut it. That was the view of a high-powered team from the European Union and the European Central Bank (ECB) which was in Athens last week. Their verdict: you'll miss your targets and you have to slash spending further. How do we know this? The Greek Economics Minister Louka Katseli, among others, has let us in on what he was told.

 

Even at this late hour others weigh in. The head of the 16-nation Eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker, says: "Greece must understand that taxpayers in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands are not prepared to correct Greek fiscal policy mistakes." The French Economy Minister, Christine Lagarde, reminded everyone that the euro was built on the premise that "there would be no bail-out, because everyone had to play by the same rules and had to respect the same discipline."'

 

At the end of last week the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou sounded like a man who knew he needed to do more. "Will we let the country go bankrupt?" he asked, "or will we react?" So he may this week announce yet more austerity measures, perhaps a further cut in benefits or a hike in sales tax. He must hope he can squeeze his public sector some more whilst keeping the rioters at bay.

 

Some European leaders still hope somehow Greece can convince the markets that it can cut its deficit by 4 per cent this year and avoid any rescue.

 

However, the believers out there are few. Giant hedge funds have placed their bets; the euro will drop further. In their view the euro's inherent weaknesses are not being addressed. Most senior European officials believe some kind of bail-out will be needed.

 

While they watch these latest moves George Papandreou is set to travel to Berlin on Friday to meet Angela Merkel. It is a key meeting. If Greece is to be rescued by Europe the Germans will have to be at the heart of it. The German people are against; it was their big fear when they gave up their beloved Deutschmark that they would end up bailing out the reckless.

 

However, in the background rescue plans are being discussed. One possibility is that the German state lender KfW and France's Caisse des Depots will buy Greek bonds — but behind such a move will lie taxpayers' money. It could not be finessed away. The line will have been crossed; that weak countries that buck the rules will get bailed out. For even as European leaders demand that Greece do more, they reveal their final position. Christine Lagarde said it was "out of the question" that Greece should leave the euro. Angela Merkel has said that for the first time the euro is in a difficult position but "it will stand its ground."

 

If Germany's big banks step in, where will it end? Will it steady the financial markets or will the same institutions have to underwrite Spanish, Portuguese and Italian debt?

 

What about the marked differences in competitiveness within the eurozone between Germany, France and some of the southern European countries — how will that be fixed? Will Germany abandon its culture of thrift in order to stoke up demand and so help out other economies?

 

And that is where — like some massive storm detected on radar — a fierce argument lies ahead. Some of the battle lines are being drawn. On the one hand are those who say that there cannot be a successful single currency when monetary policy is determined for all and fiscal policy remains in the hands of the nation states. Jacques Attali, the founding President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), is the latest voice to call for one European economic policy. "So even if public opinion is for the moment against a single tax and fiscal policy for all of Europe," he said, "Europeans will have to go along at some point. Without it, the euro will not survive." He does not indicate how public opinion will be persuaded or whether such a fundamental change to the sovereignty of the eurozone states should be put to the voters.

 

Say Europe ended up with a single treasury, either via the back door or through popular will, what would be the impact on those 11 countries outside the eurozone? They would be part of a single market where some countries have common tax and spending plans. There would be potential for dangerous divisions. Angela Merkel, for one, is unpersuaded and sees the scope for problems. "It would be wrong," she said, "to have a coordinated economic policy for the Eurogroup while the others can do what they want, because we are of course closely linked to our other neighbours through trade."

 

Whether Greece is bailed out or not this fundamental argument lies ahead. It is out there, on the horizon. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate

 

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THE HINDU

GOODBYE TO KISS-AND-TELL JOURNALISM?

HASAN SUROOR

 

Long used to the idea of "publish and be damned," the British media will have to unlearn a lot of old tricks if the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upholds a move that would force newspapers to inform anyone they plan to run a story about — and warn them that it could potentially breach their privacy, thus giving them time to seek an injunction against its publication if they wish.

 

The good news, if the move goes through, will be that it will put an end to Britain's notorious kiss-and-tell media culture that has made nonsense of any notion of privacy. Currently, anyone with a story about the private life of a public figure, especially if it has a sex angle and the narrator is a woman, is guaranteed to make millions of pounds by selling it to a newspaper. Often, stories are acquired through brazenly criminal methods as the widely reported phone-tapping scandal, involving the News of the World (NoW), illustrates. In a flagrant breach of privacy laws, journalists on NoW, one of Britain's best-selling tabloids and published by Rupert Murdoch's same company that publishes the venerable Times, illegally hacked into phone messages of many public figures, including members of the royal family, in search of salacious stories. And when caught the newspaper attempted to buy its victims' silence by making secret payments in damages.

 

Indeed, the case before the ECHR too has its origins in a NoW story and, if upheld, it will fundamentally change the way the British media operate currently, often getting away with murder under the cloak of free speech. Sometime, even mainstream quality newspapers care little about people's privacy concerns in the scramble for "exclusives." The way the story of Madeleine McCann, a four-year-old girl who mysteriously disappeared while on a holiday with her parents in Portugal three years ago, was treated by even the high-brow national newspapers was simply scandalous. The private lives of her parents were stripped inside out on the pretext of "investigative" journalism and to back bizarre claims about their alleged complicity in the disappearance of their own child. Some editors now acknowledge that it was not their best moment.

 

The argument against a stronger privacy regime, though, is that the rich and the powerful will use it to gag free speech in the name of protecting their privacy.

 

John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, has called it an "extremely dangerous" move saying that "legitimate" privacy concerns are being used as a "battering ram against good and legitimate investigative journalism."

 

Similar concerns have been raised by other free speech campaigners with the man behind the ECHR case — Max Mosley, the former Formula One boss — being accused of seeking a "licence" to stifle investigative reporting.

 

Mr. Mosley approached the European Court following a controversy over a sensational NoW report two years ago about his sex-life that cost him his job at Formula One and left his public image in tatters. He sued the newspaper and was awarded £60,000 in damages. But he claims that it was not enough to repair the damage done to his reputation and wants Britain's privacy laws to be tightened to bring them in line with the European Convention on Human Rights to which it is a signatory.

 

"What Mosley is doing is trying to drive a coach and horses through the rules and get injunctions against newspapers prior to publication.... Are we really saying that next time we want to write a story about a public figure, we should give them 48 hours' notice?" asked Mark Stephens who is representing free speech groups in the case.

Mr. Mosley insists that he is simply seeking to protect innocent people from having their privacy invaded just because voyeurism helps to sell newspapers. His argument is that there is already a law on the subject but in order for courts to enforce it a case must be brought before them and this can happen only if the person concerned is aware of the threat to his/her privacy. If a newspaper keeps its intention to publish a potentially damaging story secret, the person likely to be affected by it cannot approach the courts to enforce the law.

 

Much as we may dislike the Mosleys of the world or the way they conduct themselves after office hours their private life remains their private life so long as they don't portray themselves in public as moral crusaders or paragons of virtue. And Mr. Mosley has never done that. There is no point blaming him for the pickle in which the newspapers find themselves.

 

The reason why it has come to this is because self-regulation by the media has failed. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has no real powers to enforce its voluntary code of ethics and is seen to have been reduced to being a handmaiden of proprietors and editors. Only last week, it got a ticking off from a cross-party parliamentary committee for failing to make self-regulation work. The committee singled out the coverage of the McCann story to point to the PCC's failure to exercise a restraining influence on newspapers. It made a series of recommendations to give the Commission more teeth, including the power to impose fines on recalcitrant newspapers.

 

But who will bell the cat?

 

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THE HINDU

THE ADVENT OF PASSWORD TYRANNY

CHARLIE BROOKER

 

In days of yore, we're told, people had less leisure time because everything — everything — was a protracted pain in the fundament. Want to clean that smock? Then you'll have to walk six miles carrying a pail of water back from the village well. And that's before you've tackled the laundering process itself, which consists of three hours laboriously scrubbing your soiled garment against a washboard and wringing it through a mangle. By the time you've finished, it's bedtime. Did you remember to clean your pyjamas? No. Back to the village well for you, then.

 

No wonder the people in medieval woodcuts look so miserable, even when they aren't being cleft in twain by knights or dropping dead in a flurry of popping buboes. And oh how we modernites love to chortle at their unsophisticated lives. DARK AGE LOSERS PROBLY USED TURNIPS FOR IPHONES LOL!!!! But in many ways, the rustic serf of yesteryear had a better quality of life than the skinbag-about-town of space year 2010. Computers have freed us from hours of drudgery with one hand, but introduced an equal amount of slightly different drudgery with the other. No matter how advanced civilisation becomes, there's an unyielding quota of drudgery lurking at the core that can never be completely eradicated.

 

These days it's commonplace to do everything online, from designing the layout of your kitchen to locating a stranger prepared to kill and eat you for mutual sexual gratification. Tasks that would have taken years to organise and achieve can now be accomplished in the blink of an icon. Or would be, if you could remember your password. But you can't remember your password. You can't remember it because you chose it so very long, long ago — maybe three days afore. In the intervening period you've had to dream up another six passwords for another six websites, programs or email addresses.

 

In this age of rampant identity theft, where it's just a matter of time before someone works out a way to steal your reflection in the mirror and use it to commit serial bigamy in an alternate dimension, we're told only a maniac would use the same password for everything. But passwords used to be for speakeasy owners or spies. Once upon a time, you weren't the sort of person who had to commit hundreds of passwords to memory. Now you are. Part of your identity's been stolen anyway.

 

In the meantime: you need a new password. One as individual as a snowflake. And as beautiful, too. Having demanded a brand new password from you for the 28th time this month, His Lordship Your Computer proceeds to snootily critique your efforts. Certain attempts he will disqualify immediately, without even passing judgment. Less than six letters? No numbers? Access denied. This is a complex parlour game, OK? There are rules. So start again. And this time: no recognisable words. No punctuation marks. No hesitation, deviation or repetition. Go.

 

Pass the qualifying round and it gets worse. Most modern password entrance exams grade each entry as you type, presenting you with an instant one-word review of your efforts. Suppose you glance around your desk and pick the first thing you set eyes on, such as a blue pen. You begrudgingly shove a number on the end, creating the password "bluepen1". You submit this offering to the Digital Emperor, and he derides it as "Weak."

 

You can use it if you want. It's valid. But still; it's "weak." So you try again. This time you replace some of the letters with numbers and jumble the capitalisation a bit, like a chef with limited ingredients trying to jazz up an omelette to impress a restaurant critic. The Computerlord pulls a vaguely respectful face. You've jumped a grade, to "OK." You tingle within.

 

But you can do better. Admit it: you want HRH Computer to actively admire you. You want him to give you a rosette for creating the most carefully constructed password in history, a password that isn't merely secure, but is beautiful. A password that sings. A password to make angels weep. You will present His Majesty the Mainframe with a masterpiece of encryption, an ornate lexicographic sonata — a creation whose breathtakingly impressive elegance is magnified by the heartbreaking knowledge that no human other than yourself will ever set eyes upon it. This is your private cryptographic poem, your encoded love letter to the machine. Better be good.

 

So you take bold made-up words, weave them with numbers, stud the souffle with spicy CaPiTaLs and garnish it with a random string of characters carefully chosen for their memorable unmemorableness. You've performed reverse cryptanalysis; been a one-man Enigma machine. And your offering pleases God. He deems it "Very Strong": his highest accolade.

 

Still glowing, you try out your hand-crafted key for the first time, typing it into the lock. With a soft click, the mechanism turns. Access granted. You are now part of the smocklaundry.com community. How many of your smocks need laundering? When would you like them returned? No problem. Thanks for your custom. Farewell.

 

Three weeks later your smocks are returned, late and still plastered with hideous stains. You revisit smocklaundry.com to protest. But you can't remember your password. You can't remember it because you chose it so very long, long ago — maybe three weeks afore. And in the intervening period you've had to dream up another 42 passwords for another 42 websites, programs or email addresses.

 

Your beautiful password is dead. It was simply too complex and too damned exquisite to live in your humdrum world, your humdrum mind. Now you must face the ignominy of clicking the password reset button for the 58th time this year. And as you trudge dolefully toward your inbox, waiting for the help letter to arrive, the cruel laughter of His Computerised Majesty rings in your ears. You have failed, human. You have failed. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PRANAB'S PADDING

ARE THE UPSIDES GREATER THAN THE DOWNSIDES?

 

Given the tight control on expenditure the finance minister has exercised and how niggardly the increases have been on flagship programmes — Bharat Nirman has risen from Rs 32,473 crore to Rs 35,953 crore and employment guarantee from Rs 39,100 crore to Rs 40,100 crore — it's natural to wonder whether the deficit reduction targets are for real. Clearly, there is much that can go wrong if global prices go up. The natural targets for this are petroleum prices where the government has not been able to take a decision for several years now — the Rs 3,108 crore kept aside here will end up being woefully low if crude prices rise above $75-80 a barrel. Ditto for fertiliser subsidies. The other imponderables are food subsidies where the Right to Food Bill, when it is finally passed, could end up bloating subsidies, especially since there are three to four estimates on how many poor people India has and the difference between the top and the bottom is around 2.5 times. Estimates for the size of the Right to Education Bill, passed in an earlier session of Parliament, also vary significantly, from around Rs 160,000 crore over five years by the Planning Commission to around Rs 53,000 crore per year by others.

 

 No finance minister worth his salt, though, leaves the downsides fully uncovered, certainly not one as shrewd as Pranab Mukherjee. Which is why, this time around, when the 3G auctions never fetched the anticipated Rs 35,000 crore, Mukherjee didn't worry too much since he had an extra Rs 23,000 crore coming in from selling off shares of government-owned enterprises. So, what are his upsides? For one, most believe the revenue collections from service tax are hugely understated since just a few of the services included — railways, aviation, coaching and health checkups — should ensure the finance minister more than meets his target. Indeed, the larger question of revenue buoyancy is the really critical one. Mukherjee expects taxes to rise 18 per cent while nominal GDP rises 12.3 per cent, which implies a tax buoyancy of 1.5. It is true buoyancy rises sharply as an economy moves into an upcycle — buoyancy fell from 1.2 in 1993-97 to 0.9 in 1997-2003 when GDP growth fell from 6.8 per cent to 5.2 per cent, but rose to 1.6 as GDP growth rose to 8.9 per cent in the 2003-08 period. But this needs to be interpreted with some degree of caution. Excise duty collections, from where extra Rs 30,000 crore is to come, have not grown in line with industrial growth in the past, and customs buoyancy (an equal amount is to come from here) really depends upon how global trade fares, and there is a question mark over how robust trade flows will be. If the recovery is not very robust, as the Economic Survey points out, the revenue optimism may turn out to be misplaced. The same goes for the Rs 40,000 crore target for disinvestment if the markets are downcast or don't believe the government is serious about reforms. And the 3G auction, past experience tells us, isn't done till it's done! Don't bet on the fiscal target being met.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

REVIVING AGRICULTURE

PUTTING MONEY WHERE THE MOUTH IS

 

The agricultural growth package mooted in the Union Budget for 2010-11 seems well conceived but not adequately supported by funding for its key elements. This, surprisingly, is despite the 21.6 per cent increase in the overall Central plan outlay for agriculture and allied sectors, the highest hike in recent years. The underlying objective of the four-pronged strategy outlined in the Budget speech for spurring agricultural growth is, obviously, to address the supply side constraints that have sent food prices soaring in recent months. The plan has measures to boost agricultural production; reduce wastages in the food supply chains right from the field to the market and further on to the dining table; lend adequate credit support to the farmers for investing in raising farm output; and to promote the food processing sector to facilitate both waste reduction and value addition of the farm produce. As a major initiative to tame food inflation, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has indicated opening up of the retail chain to introduce greater competition with the ultimate goal of decreasing the considerable difference between the farm gate prices, wholesale prices and retail prices. But he failed to list concrete measures that the government proposes to take to bring about this much-needed reform. However, it does propose a measured step in this direction by offering concessions on import tariff for mechanised farm produce handling systems at mandi levels; construction of cold storages and facilities for chilling, and refrigerated transportation of perishable farm produce from farms to the mandis and retail outlets.

To boost farm production, the strategy envisages extending the green revolution to the eastern states which have till now been lagging behind the north-western and some southern states in this respect. But only Rs 400 crore have been set apart for this initiative which seems too little for a task of such magnitude, involving as many as six states. Besides, the strategy also envisages organising 60,000 "pulses and oilseed villages", mainly in the predominantly rainfed areas, for concentrated attention on boosting the production of pulses and oilseeds to narrow the wide gulf in their indigenous availability and demand. However, here again, the finance minister seems to have erred by not adequately meeting the financial requirement of this well-intended and much-desired move. Merely Rs 300 crore have been earmarked in the Budget for this purpose. What needs to be realised is that most of the interventions needed for stepping up the productivity of pulses and oilseeds in non-irrigated areas — such as water harvesting, watershed management and soil health improvement — are cost-intensive and need to be taken up on a large scale. Fortunately, the Budget has not wholly overlooked the green revolution areas which are now displaying signs of fatigue, as reflected in the exhaustion of soil fertility and, therefore, need rejuvenation for carrying the green revolution forward. The Budget proposes restoration of soil health through conservation farming involving minimum tillage and ecological balance through biodiversity preservation. But, when it comes to fund allocation, it has clubbed these tasks with another even more ambitious mission of imparting climate resilience to agriculture and has provided a meagre Rs 200 crore for all of these. Thus, while the finance minister has succeeded in correctly diagnosing the ills of the farm sector, as well as the cures, the homeopathic fiscal dose provided for administering the remedies may not serve the purpose.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

TEA WITH BS: MS SWAMINATHAN

BRINJAL BATTLES

KALPANA JAIN

 

The father of the Green Revolution explains how the genetically-modified version of brinjal may kill biodiversity.

He introduced high-yielding wheat varieties in India to feed a country struggling with droughts and famines, but in the Bt brinjal debate, he has sided with its opponents, saying biodiversity must be preserved and health concerns addressed before this technology is introduced.

Has MS Swaminathan, the man who favoured new technology for ushering in India's green revolution, changed his views on technology? Or is he opposed only to gene-based technology? "Not at all. My own PhD was in genetics from Cambridge University," he says with a smile so indulgent that it conveys a sense of his achievements, which, undoubtedly, are vast. There is no arrogance, only grace and humility, in the way he explains his ideas and experiences, writes Kalpana Jain.

There is no denying that he is the patriarch — here, in his home as also in his area of work. And this feeling remains all through the conversation. He walks in holding his cup of tea, settling down at the head of the dining table, where I choose to be seated. "Will you have something to eat?" he inquires, very gently. Briefly, my cup of tea arrives along with some bhujia. It would be hard to guess his age, until he chooses to tell you, "I was born in 1925 in Kumbakonum. It is in Tamil Nadu."

He settles down for this conversation over a cup of tea with me as I munch on some bhujia. Without my prodding, he chooses to give all answers right away to questions on the Bt debate. "If you've gone to the market to buy baingan (brinjal), you would have seen the round baingans, the long baingans, the green baingans, the purple baingans… " He pauses to make sure I've absorbed this, adjusts his spectacles and goes on with what he wants to convey: "We don't want them to be wiped out." Then, pressing his argument further and gently tapping me on my shoulder as you would do to a child, he asks, "Do you know India is the birth place of brinjal."

Even though I am the journalist here, he is quite a master at the art of communication. He was on Time magazine's list of world's 100 most influential Asians in 1999. There couldn't have been a better way of saying how the genetically-modified version of brinjal may kill biodiversity. It doesn't take him too long to start talking animatedly on a subject on which he has spent a lifetime. I am finally having a conversation with the renowned agricultural scientist we've all heard about. And I have to check him when he calls me Kalpanaji.

I ask him if he believed that putting Bt brinjal on hold will affect India's food security? "My brother was getting married — the year was 1947. We had invited 30 people to the wedding as that was the maximum number of people we could feed those days. Yet, there were policemen posted outside our house to count the number of banana leaves," he says. And, once again gently tapping me on my shoulder, he adds, "You were not even born then. This is what it meant to be in a serious food crisis. There wasn't enough food." I repeat my question. "The issue is now about access and affordability and not productivity," he replies.

I know he is glancing at his watch. He has another meeting to rush to. I am so absorbed in this conversation that I've even stopped sipping my tea. It is clear he did not just learn from his research and his books, he learnt from the farmers. Initially, farmers were reluctant to take up his ideas of setting up a seed village. But they learnt to trust him gradually as they saw him come into the village on every Sunday, week after week, with his students. "This was non-verbal communication," he says.

He still goes to villages in Ludhiana and elsewhere and talks to farmers. He talks about those early days when the political environment was so different — how Indira Gandhi agreed to go to a village which was a two-and-a-half hour drive on rough roads to support farmers. "Something you wanted to happen, happened."

And then he recalled with a great deal of nostalgia how farmers in the village — Jounti, where Indira Gandhi went to inaugurate a seed cooperative — surprised him by honouring him with a medal. For a man, who has won so many accolades and awards, it is interesting to see the ones he values the most are those that have come to him directly from the farmers. "The village became very prosperous. Those farmers became very rich. They put up a seed processing plant." Now, of course, everything has changed. "I went there last week. Their children have gone abroad. They have sold their land."

Even now, when he talks about Bt brinjal, he mentions the farmers and how it would affect them. "In India, farmers keep their seeds. Whereas you have to buy seeds every year, when companies start developing hybrids." The one argument for introducing the Bt gene into plants is that it makes them pest-resistant, I point out. "Bt succumbed to pests," says Swaminathan, "even DDT was given a Nobel prize. But after some years, it was not effective."

I want to know what made him work on hunger and poverty. "The values of Mahatma Gandhi shaped my childhood," he explains. "I first met Gandhiji when I was about five or six. One day, my mother told me that tomorrow a man would come who would ask for your gold chain and bangles. It was a tradition in those days for both boys and girls from middle-class families to wear ornaments. That was my first lesson in life that you are not an owner, only a trustee. That is how my attitudes were shaped — as they say from cradle to grave. That is how I gave away my prize money and my ancestral land."

How do you view India's green revolution now; widespread use of pesticide in Punjab is now being linked to rapid increase in cancer cases in some areas, I ask him. "If the farm ecology and economy go wrong, nothing will go right. Farmers need support, not subsidies," he says. "For instance, instead of giving free electricity, you give money in a different form. Storage issues are serious. There is a lot of damage every year. We don't care. How will they store the grains? Last year's wheat is still in gunny bags."

Doesn't he think the use of genetically-modified food will reduce the use of pesticides? "You need a regulatory mechanism that inspires data confidence. Thirteen states felt it is not good for the consumers. There are concerns about whether all tests have been done, and whether there has been an independent verification of results submitted by a company. In the case of lifelong consumption, there should be chronic toxicity tests. In food items of life-long consumption, chronic toxicity tests should be conducted on animals. There is need for a regulatory body with independent facilities for testing. I had recommended setting up of the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority. As of now, 40 per cent of research on the Bt gene is from Monsanto," he says, listing out all the reasons for not backing Bt brinjal.

I could go on. But it's time for Swaminthan's next meeting.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

A K BHATTACHARYA: DON'T BANK ON A TRUCE

THE FM'S PROPOSAL ON NEW BANKS AND A FINANCIAL STABILITY AND DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL COULD SPARK TENSION WITH RBI

A K BHATTACHARYA

 

Are relations between North Block and Mint Road likely to get a little tense? This is a fair question to ask after one takes a quick look at Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's Budget presented last Friday.

Not that there has never been any tension between North Block, headquarters of the finance ministry, and Mint Road, where the head office of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is located. Indeed, the apex bank and the finance ministry have often found themselves quietly wrestling with each other over jurisdiction and turf-control issues.

In the late 1980s, the finance ministry insisted that RBI grant permission to the opening of a foreign bank whose commitment to integrity and governance norms was in doubt. The central bank was in two minds, but the finance ministry was keen that the central bank fell in line. An unhappy compromise followed to break the deadlock. It would be of some interest to know that the protagonists involved in that compromise are now members of the current United Progressive Alliance government.

A couple of years ago, the finance ministry had sent out signals to RBI that it should consider relaxing the monetary policy. The central bank was in no mood to listen to that advice and did what it considered appropriate.

Around the same time, the finance ministry proposed that there should be an independent public debt office to oversee the borrowing programme of the Union government. Indeed, the proposal to set up an independent public debt office was announced by former Finance Minister P Chidambaram in his Budget for 2007-08. The objective was to separate the RBI's monetary policy functions from its responsibility of managing the government's debt.

Though the proposal emanated from the suggestions of an expert group, the central bank was not too happy over the finance ministry's idea. Nobody likes to lose control. There were many arguments put forward in favour of continuing the existing arrangement. There were also other arguments that rubbished an idea whose implementation would have effectively meant that the public debt management responsibility would be in the hands of the finance ministry. Three years have gone by, but one has not heard much about that proposal.

Pranab Mukherjee's Budget for 2010-11 has talked about two interesting proposals, whose implementation may once again raise the eyebrows of those who run the central bank. The first proposal pertains to the grant of fresh licences to private sector players for setting up banks, subject, of course, to the eligibility criteria put in place by RBI. Now, we also learn that the Budget's announcement of new bank licences for private sector players followed a detailed consultation between the finance ministry and the central bank.

The problem is that quite a few industrial houses are interested in obtaining banking licences and expand their footprint in the financial sector. The RBI's apprehensions on this score are that a banking licence to an industrial house can be risky and is not a good idea from the financial prudence and safety viewpoints. With the finance minister already having made an announcement in his Budget and RBI expected to enforce its eligibility criteria, are we now going to witness a fresh turf war between the two authorities?

The second Budget announcement pertains to the proposal to set up the Financial Stability and Development Council. The proposed Council will be an apex-level organisation charged with the responsibility of monitoring macroeconomic and prudential supervision of the economy, including the functioning of large financial conglomerates. The new body would also address inter-regulatory coordination issues and focus on both financial literacy and financial inclusion. The objective behind setting up the new body is to strengthen and institutionalise the mechanism for maintaining financial stability. And the justification for the creation of such a body comes from the global financial crisis of 2008-09, which made governments across the world review the structure of the banking and financial markets.

That this proposal might ruffle feathers at RBI was recognised even by the finance minister himself, as he qualified his announcement with the proviso that the new mechanism would not be prejudicial to the autonomy of regulators. It is widely known that some of the functions to be entrusted to the proposed Council are already being performed by a high-level coordination committee for the financial sector. This committee is chaired by the RBI governor and has representation from all financial sector regulators and the government.

It is not yet clear what role RBI will play in the proposed Council. Will RBI be reduced to playing a role in this Council like any other financial sector regulator? Will that mean a new power equation between RBI and other financial sector regulators on the one hand and the finance ministry on the other? In other words, a fresh phase of tense relations between the central bank and the finance ministry is on the cards.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

NILANJANA S ROY: THE LITERARY CHASTITY OF DRAUPADI

WE NEED BETTER VERSIONS OF DRAUPADI, NOT ONE FIXED, PIOUSLY PALLID, ACCEPTABLE STORY

NILANJANA S ROY

 

As a bunch of ruffians disrupted the Sahitya Akademi award ceremony earlier this month in protest against Yarlagadda Lakshmi Prasad's novel Draupadi, I realised that it's hard to defend the right of bad writing to exist. YL Prasad wrote his novel in Telegu five years ago; it became a popular success, but within the Akademi, there has been heated debate over its literary merits.

The men who threw shoes and other objects at the author and threatened a dharna outside the Akademi if the award wasn't withdrawn, weren't concerned with questions of literary merit — their protests concerned the question of Draupadi's literary chastity, which is another matter.

The two figures in the Mahabharata who guaranteed to exercise a writer's imagination would have to be Karna and Draupadi. Karna is Arjuna's dark shadow — deprived of his birthright, cast into war against his true brothers, his dazzling skills counterbalanced by his resentments.

Draupadi is complex, her story is not easily reduced to the simple "good and faithful wife" narrative that dogs Sita, the heroine of the Ramayana. She has wit and intelligence; is married to five brothers; struggles to overcome her partiality for Arjuna; has the resilience needed to withstand years in exile and the independence needed to fight for her own rights when Yudhishtira gambles her away in the game of dice.

Representations of Draupadi in Indian literature have sometimes been controversial, but often rewarding. In Pratibha Ray's classic Yajnaseni, Draupadi comes through as a woman of fierce independence, struggling to balance her passions against her dharma. In various versions of the epic in oral traditions across India, Draupadi is cast as something of an early feminist, ready and able to speak her mind, matching wits with Krishna. In a short story by Mahasweta Debi, a tribal woman called Dopdi Mejhen endures a modern-day form of vastraharan-rape by local armed forces — and emerges with a kind of strength that's still intact. In Chitra Banerji Divakaruni's Palace of Illusions, Draupadi comes through as a romantic heroine.

One of the most insidious forms of censorship is an insistence on a rigid, simplistic narrative. To those who would see Draupadi as an upright, helpless woman forced into marriage with five brothers, versions such as the one by Pratibha Ray are unwelcome, and have attracted controversy in the past. But Ray's version, or the tribal Bhil version of Draupadi are literary creations in their own right, easy to defend.

YL Prasad's Draupadi is not an easy book to defend. It is poorly written — transliterating the Telegu Mahabharata almost section for section in some chapters — and poorly conceived: his focus is almost exclusively on the nature of Draupadi's relationship with her Pandava husbands and with Krishna. In his novel, Draupadi is a caricature, all flashing eyes and heaving bosom as the author describes her first night with each of her husbands. This is the material of pulp rather than literary fiction.

There are two separate questions at work here, though. Does YL Prasad's book deserve the Sahitya Akademi award for literature? Many critics in the Telegu sphere believe it doesn't — this is a prurient, unimaginative novel that adds little to the many retellings of the Mahabharata. As for the sexual detail, the descriptions of Draupadi's beauty in the Mahabharata and of how her form and her eyes stir up obsession and lust in each of her husbands is written with far more evocative splendour in that ancient epic.

But does YL Prasad deserve to be censored for undertaking to write about Draupadi's marriage, or trying to re-imagine the passionate woman behind the rigid stereotypes of the dutiful wife we're offered today? Absolutely not; one of the beautiful features of the two great Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, is how they've lent themselves to local versions across the centuries in the oral and written tradition in India. There are "feminist" Ramayanas where an angry Sita upbraids her husband for sending her into exile; and there are versions of the Mahabharata that have speculated on the relationships between Draupadi and Krishna, or Draupadi and Karna.

The worst that can be said about YL Prasad's Draupadi is that it's a prurient potboiler that fails to analyse the complexities of Draupadi's marital and emotional life. And I would have much more sympathy for the protestors at the Sahitya Akademi if all their exertions, including "jumping over the dais" according to one report, had been intended as a literary protest. (Think of how entertaining the Indian literary scene would be if jumping across the dais became the accepted method of demonstrating one's critical disagreement.) Instead, their protests and threats stemmed from the belief that there was only one way to write about and depict Draupadi — or any of the great figures of Indian mythology and history.

YL Prasad's way of re-imagining Draupadi is a bad way; but let's not forget that he's entitled to his own brand of mediocrity. We need better versions of Draupadi, not one fixed, piously pallid, acceptable story.

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

WHY CAN'T INDIAN MEDIA GROW?

WHY DO INDIAN MEDIA OWNERS AND MANAGERS FIND IT SO DIFFICULT TO TALK TO EACH OTHER?

VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR

 

This is not about social interaction but about the industry getting together to fight regulatory and other battles which could propel growth. The Indian media and entertainment (M&E) industry has had a pathetic record of it.

In TV there are half a dozen organisations — of cable operators, DTH (direct-to-home) operators, broadcasters, news broadcasters and so on — each on their own trip. In print while there are fewer organisations, unity is suspect. You see that from the fracas that breaks out every time readership and circulation numbers come out.

Much of this did not materially affect growth till recently. There was so much pent-up demand that advertising revenues and consumer appetite for media have continued to rise in spite of all the structural flaws in the market. Much of that growth has brought this $16-odd billion industry to a stage where millions of dollar worth of investment has been poured in — especially from 2006 to 2008. The issue now is of delivering on the promise of the business.

For that to happen, as the growth rate slows down, fresh growth will have to be mined. Whether it is pay revenues in TV or digital ones in print, owners will have to tackle structural issues like infrastructure, licensing and metrics if their segments have to grow faster.

Take metrics in print, for instance. The two currencies of readership and circulation are constantly challenged. It is not unusual for publishers to jump in and out of circulation audits. In other years, they sue or question the bodies that monitor circulation and readership. These bodies, incidentally, are run by publishers in association with advertisers and media buyers.

If publishers keep questioning the currencies which they use for advertising money, why would advertisers take them seriously? And if there is a problem with the metrics — as everyone keeps saying there is — why not get together to fix it.

To understand how cooperation on broad industry issues could work, just go through the websites of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), the Newspaper Advertising Bureau, the Magazine Advertising Bureau, among others, in the US. In markets that are in decline, these bodies spend time and money on research, done by professional research agencies. This seeks to compare newspapers or magazines with other media on every parameter possible — reach, audience composition, efficacy, time spent and so on.

When you read them, you realise how little the Indian newspaper, magazine or even the TV business does as an industry, to either protect its interests with advertisers or to lobby the general public or the government.

Take the TV business in the US. The Federal Communications (FCC) has, for sometime now, been trying to push through a la carte pricing in cable. But the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has worked with an army of researchers to prove that applying the principles of voice telephony to price TV content does not make sense. It even created a new metric — such as the price per viewing hour — to bolster its case.

In India, even though price regulation by the broadcast regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), has held back growth for several years now, there has been no major lobbying effort by the industry. Instead, broadcasters are busy pulling each other down, even on a policy platform. So, it seems pointless to suggest that they could fight the regulator by just using some baseline cable pricing numbers.

The film industry is worse. For all the corporatisation, there is still no authentic source for all those box office numbers being churned out. Nor is there any attempt from the various fora — of producers (in Mumbai, the South, the East, all over), multiplex owners, single-screen owners, film artistes, the exporters' guild, among more than a dozen bodies — to try to get real numbers. In fact, everything differs across states — entertainment tax, the gap between theatrical and TV/home video release, rights to dubbing et al. This makes the life of any film company wanting to go national a nightmare.

As any counsellor would say, come on guys, you can talk this through.

Vanitakohli@hotmail.com  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

M GOVINDA RAO: DAMNED IF YOU DO, DAMNED IF YOU DON'T

THE FISCAL CONSOLIDATION PROCESS HAD TO BE INITIATED WITHOUT COMPLETELY WITHDRAWING THE STIMULUS

M GOVINDA RAO

 

The Finance Minister had to present this year's Budget in the background of slow global recovery, poor agricultural growth and increasing domestic prices. Although Indian economy is clearly on the path of recovery, complete withdrawal of the stimulus is premature, but excessive government borrowing could put pressure on interest rates and hurt the recovery process. Therefore, the fiscal consolidation process had to be initiated without completely withdrawing the stimulus. The Budget also had to increase allocation to various social sector programmes, infrastructure spending, and make higher transfers to states based on the recommendations of the Thirteenth Finance Commission, and yet compress fiscal and revenue deficits. It had to prepare the ground for the implementation of the direct taxes code and the goods and services tax (GST) as well, while dealing with pressures from various quarters for concessions.

There are questions as to whether the finance minister has overdone fiscal compression, whether the estimated deficit presented in the Budget is realistic and whether he will be able to contain the expenditures at the budgeted level. There is also uneasiness about inadequate allocation to infrastructure spending. Finally, there are usual lamentations on the undesirability of levying revenues from indirect taxes on equity grounds. Also, there are questions on whether more could have been done to prepare the country for GST. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't"!

On fiscal consolidation, the revision in the GDP series has done some help to limit the fiscal deficit at the budgeted level as a ratio. However, in absolute terms, it has increased by over Rs 13,000 crore. What is of concern is that it is not merely due to the non-realisation of spectrum auction or shortfall in tax revenue by Rs 9,000 crore, but the non-plan revenue expenditure was higher by Rs 23,110 crore mainly due to higher outlay on subsidies (Rs 19,747 crore). Not surprisingly, the revenue deficit as a ratio of GDP had to be revised to 5.3 per cent from the budgeted 4.8 per cent, though fiscal deficit was contained broadly at the budgeted level, thanks mainly to the disinvestment proceeds.

It was widely expected that the 2010-11 Budget would initiate the process of fiscal consolidation and compress the fiscal deficit to 5.5 per cent of GDP as indicated in the medium-term fiscal plan (MTFP) last year. Indeed, some adjustment is painless; there is saving on account of pay and pension arrears and loan waiver amounting to Rs 35,000 crore. The proceeds from 3G spectrum auction is estimated at Rs 35,000 crore and from additional disinvestment at Rs 15,000 crore. Thus, the reduction of 1 per cent of GDP in the revenue deficit and 1.2 per cent in the fiscal deficit can be attributed to these factors. In a sense, the "stimulus" from the pay revision remains. The pay and allowances of Central government employees, which was 0.9 per cent of GDP in 2007-08, increased to 1.6 per cent in 2009-10 and is budgeted at 1.3 per cent in 2010-11.

Whether or not the budgeted fiscal and revenue deficits are realistic depends on two factors. First, oil subsidy is budgeted at just Rs 3,108 crore as against the last year's revised estimate of Rs 14,954 crore cash subsidy and Rs 10,306 crore of securities. This assumes that either the international oil price will remain low or the government will pass on the price increases to consumers. Similarly, food and fertiliser subsidy outgo is budgeted to decline by about 0.3 per cent of GDP in 2010-11. Of course, the reforms envisaged in the Economic Survey on subsidies are the ways to go forward, but these can be implemented only in the medium term. The decision to make the subsidy nutrient-based without changing the administered price regime for urea is a halfway house. Increasing the administered price of urea only by 5 per cent would not contain the subsidy, nor will it promote balanced use of fertilisers, nor induce private investments in the industry.

The low level of infrastructure spending continues to be a matter for concern. In fact, a substantial part of fiscal corrections since the FRBM Act was implemented was by compressing capital expenditures. As a ratio of GDP, capital expenditure declined from almost 4 per cent in 2003-04 to 1.6 per cent in 2008-09 before marginally recovering to 1.9 per cent in 2009-10, and is budgeted at 2.2 per cent. Surely, the growth prospect of Indian economy depends on infrastructure spending, which is possible only when the unproductive component of revenue expenditures is reduced. In fact, in the seven important infrastructure sectors — namely, coal, mines, power, highways, shipping, urban development and railways — the budgetary support for plan has declined from 35.8 per cent in 2009-10 to 30.6 per cent and the rest is to be financed from internal and extra budgetary resources of public enterprises.

It is in preparing the ground for GST that the Budget is most disappointing. The only measure taken is to increase the general rate of CENVAT to 10 per cent. The finance minister is simply dismissive about extending the service tax to cover all services. Selective taxation of services is a distortion; it creates administrative problems and is fraught with litigation. What is even more disappointing is the attempt to make micro changes in the structure of customs and excise duties. In any tax policy, end-use exemptions will be misused and these have been extended in some cases. There is no attempt to unify the tax rate, convert specific levies into ad valorem, or remove the exemptions. On items like cement, the specific levy continues. Differentiation in the customs duty results in altering the effective rate of protection and ad hoc measures of the type taken are clearly undesirable.

There has been some commotion on the levy of service taxes on freight charges of railways. It must be noted that the value added tax on goods and services works well when all commodities and services are taxed. Manufacturers using the taxed services can credit the tax paid while paying the tax on their outputs and the claim that this will add to inflation is clearly ill founded. This perhaps underlines the need for educating the taxpayer or is it simply a political argument?

The author is Director, NIPFP. The views are personal

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WELCOME NPS BOOST

 

The government's decision to contribute Rs 1,000 annually to new pension scheme (NPS) accounts opened by people in the unorganised sector in thenext financial year is a welcome measure to make social security more inclusive. Also, it will help ramp up subscription for the new scheme quickly, as a similar project of the Rajasthan government for low-income workers illustrates. A higher number of subscribers, in turn, would help lower per-subscriber fixed costs as well. The government estimates that the proposed Swavalamban scheme will benefit about 10 lakh subscribers. Yet, one is tempted to question whether the government should contribute to the accounts of those who can save Rs 12,000 a year. Surely, such a person would neither have very limited income nor need the Rs 1,000 incentive. It might be more prudent for the government to restrict its contribution to only those who can save up to Rs 6,000 a year and need motivation to join the scheme, even if the scheme is for a limited period. The NPS can easily become more popular if the administrative charges for record keeping are lowered: the annual charge for maintaining an account is Rs 350 and the per-transaction fee, Rs 10. These costs will decline to Rs 250 and Rs 4, respectively, if the number of subscribers rises to 30 lakh.


Record-keeping costs can be pared easily, if the infrastructure created for the NPS by the National Securities Depository (NSDL) is shared by the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) to maintain accounts of its four crore subscribers. The gains for the EPFO would be in the form of drastic reduction of its administrative costs, from the current 1-4 % of the annual contributions to almost nothing. Having said that, competition in record keeping can help force down costs for the subscribers. In addition, the government should consider allowing subscribers of schemes such as EPFO to move their accounts to NPS.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SUPER HEROES, SUPER PRICES

 

" Men die! Women sigh! Beneath that Batcape — he's all man!" goes the promo line for the Caped Crusader's first movie appearance in 1966, and he certainly proved that by knocking out the Man of Steel, no less, in the first instalment of what promises to be the Comic Wars. After having famously collaborated on combating crime, when Batman finally came head to head with Superman in the auction arena last week, the chiropteran surprisingly bested the spandex superhero. A copy of the dark knight's debut issue — Detective Comics No 27 in 1939 — sold for $75,000 more than the $1 million netted by a copy of 1938's Action Comics No 1, in which Superman swooped in to save the world, both going to anonymous super-collectors via an online auction. Those sums are not to be laughed at, and should ideally galvanise grandfathers and grandmothers to rummage through their attics in search of the dog-eared funnies they picked up as children. The next candidate should be the flagpole-to-rooftop swinger Spider-Man , though there are several hundred copies of Amazing Fantasy No 15, in which he first swung into action, compared to the 50 or so copies of Batman's coming-out comic, and a dozen of Superman's .


But why are people willing to sink so much into graphic depictions of muscular, if juvenile, men in tight bodysuits with peculiar predilections? From flying through the air with one arm unaerodynamically extended, to careening through Gotham City in a black gas-guzzler, these are hardly the kind of shenanigans that grown men with millions to spare should fall for. Funnily enough, it seems they are increasingly doing just that, for the previous record for a debut Superman copy was $317,000. Or should we blame The Dark Knight's billion-dollar box-office run, Disney's $4-billion acquisition of Marvel comics of Spider-Man and XMen fame, and the expected rollout of three superhero movies next year: Green Lantern, The First Avenger: Captain America and Spider-Man 4?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DUMP MULTIPLICITY OF TAX RATES

 

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee believes that indirect tax proposals in this Budget would pave the way for a smooth transition to the goods and services tax (GST) regime. Agreed, the tax rate for goods and services has converged at 10%, which is one pre-requisite for GST. The other is to have a clutter-free tax system. But the Budget has faltered here. It has introduced multiple import duty rates, lower excise rates and service tax exemptions to specific sectors in an arbitrary manner. The government should shun a cluttered tax system and withdraw exemptions if it is serious about implementing GST from April next year.


The model GST, recommended by the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC) and accepted by the Centre in principle, allows for no exemptions other than a small common list that includes health and education. The government should implement TFC recommendations in this regard. It must expand the service tax net to cover all services including Railway passenger fares. Area-based exemptions must also end as it would be difficult to subsume such schemes under GST. Multiple indirect tax rates favour some goods at the expense of others, leading to inefficient allocation of resources and dent the government's revenue. The revenue forgone on area-based excise exemptions alone is estimated at Rs 1,70,765 crore this fiscal year, significantly higher than the Centre's excise duty collection of Rs 1,02,000 crore.


Successive governments have struggled to reform indirect taxes, to bring about low and uniform rates. From over 100 excise duty rates in the 1980s, reform-minded finance ministers compressed the rates to three by the late 1990s. The introduction of the modified value added tax for select commodities at the central level in 1986 began the process. It was extended to all commodities through the central value added tax (Cenvat). But distortions crept in due to pressure from industrial lobbies. The point is to move to a low, single, uniform rate, not create room for lobbying, patronage and, worse, by creating multiple rates.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE

 

The Mamata image

Mamata Banerjee left her imprint even on how she presented the railway budget. The fiery lady takes pride in not being carried away by the pomp of ministerial office. So, coming in to present the budget, she refused to be ferried in her official white ambassador and instead arrived in the front seat of her 18-year old Maruti 800, driven by a trusted aide. Of course, the official car, pilots, etc, accompanied the humble car. But, then again, given that finance and railway ministers create photo op s as they descend from their vehicle at Parliament House, carrying the eagerly awaited budget in a briefcase, Mamata again showed individuality. She carried her budget papers in her traditional Bengali jhola. But it wasn't just the optics that Ms Banerjee focused on. She had primed her partymen in Parliament to take on the Left brigade in case the latter chose to disrupt her budget speech. As it turned out, the Left played civilised, and Mamata's preparation on this count was the only overkill.

Brinjal tales

Jairam Ramesh's stand on Bt Brinjal has raised hackles in quite a few quarters. The question is, just how far runs the discontent? This newspaper has editorially supported the decision to put approval for the genetically-modified vegetable on hold till the official approval mechanism acquires independent testing capability. But suddenly, three of Jairam's ministerial colleagues turned on him, apparently all in defence of science in the battle against the prejudice of uninformed activists. It was not wholly surprising for food minister Sharad Pawar to speak up for the biotech food industry. But when minister for science and technology Prithviraj Chavan and his predecessor and current HRD minister Kapil Sibal piped up against the decision to keep Bt Brinjal approval in abeyance, Congressmen have started wondering who exactly is egging them on. Jairam claims he has no one to back him except for the prime minister. Third Eye assures him that most sensible people in this country would back the notion that we cannot rush into genetically-modified food without verifying — independently, rather than relying on the biotech companies' data — that it does not have any harmful side-effects .


The pie hunt

Lalu Yadav was with the rest of the Opposition in slamming the government on price rise. But it isn't just due to concern for the aam admi. The former Bihar CM and SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav now take the line that apart from the demolition of the Babri Mosque, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the BJP. Both Yadav chieftains are feeling the pinch of their Muslim support base increasingly shifting allegiance to the Congress. This makes the RJD's tie-up with Ramvilas Paswan and his Dalit base crucial. But Paswan is also crucial for the Congress, ditto for Nitish Kumar. So, Lalu is trying to woo him with Rajya Sabha membership. But just which way Paswan is inclined to swing, no one knows for sure. The man himself is keeping mum. The endless piquant suspense of Indian politics ...


Not quite men of steel

If there is one commodity that found no mention whatsoever in the Budget, it was steel. Economists might see this as a sure sign of maturity of policy. But that is not how the babus see such a development. If a sector like steel does not even merit a mention in the Budget, does it merit an entire ministry to itself?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IS FISCAL STIMULUS POINTLESS?

J BRADFORD DELONG

 

The Harvard economist Robert Barro, writing in The Wall Street Journal, recently made an intelligent argument against America's fiscal stimulus. After wading through the drivel of ethics-free Republican hacks and knowledge-free academic hacks who claim, one way or another, that the basic principles of economics make it impossible for government spending decisions to alter the flow of economic activity, reading Barro comes as a great relief.


But I think that Barro misreads how his own evidence applies to our current situation. Barro writes that he "estimate (s) a spending multiplier of around 0.4 within the same year and about 0.6 over two years.... (T)he (tax) multiplier is around minus 1.1.... (Thus,) GDP would be higher than otherwise by $120 billion in 2009 and $180 billion in 2010..., " and by $60 billion in 2011.


That means that roughly 1.3 million more people will be employed in America in 2009, 1.9 million more in 2010, and 0.7 million people employed in 2011. Suppose that what the government spent money on is worth to us two-thirds on average of what privatesector spending is worth. In that case, we will have spent $600 billion and gotten $810 billion worth of stuff in return, for a net social profit of $210 billion (and those who would otherwise be cyclically unemployed cannot be said to place a high value on their lost leisure).


Only if you think that there are additional large costs lurking down the road — that the stimulus has destabilised price expectations and set in motion a destructive spiral of deflation, or that the stimulus has used up America's debt capacity, driving up debt-service costs to a prohibitive level — can the social profit turn negative. Neither of those things has happened. The long-term nominal and real Treasury rates continue to be absurdly low, so much so that I rub my eyes whenever I see them. And the market inflation forecast — the spread between Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities and normal Treasuries — remains extremely tame.


So I really cannot understand Barro's last paragraph: "The fiscal stimulus package of 2009 was a mistake. It follows that an additional stimulus package in 2010 would be another mistake... "


It is as if he has not done his own arithmetic. The problem, I think, is that Barro tries to use the years of "total" war in the twentieth century — World War I, World War II, and the Korean War — to "realistically evaluate the stimulus," because "the defence-spending multiplier can be precisely estimated.... "


But this is like looking for one's lost keys under the lamppost because the light is better there. Yes, the total war defencespending multiplier can be relatively precisely estimated. But we are not interested in what the multiplier is when the unemployment rate is 3% and the government is trying to diminish consumption and boost private savings via rationing and patriotism-based bond drives. We are interested in what the multiplier is under more normal conditions, and when the unemployment rate is 10%.


I think Bob Hall has a better read on what is going on: "With allowance for other factors holding back GDP growth during those wars, the multiplier linking government purchases to GDP may be in the range of 0.7 to 1.0... but higher values are not ruled out.... Multipliers are higher — perhaps around 1.7 — when the nominal interest rate is at its lower bound of zero, as it was during 2009... " (and is today).


There are other problems with Barro's analysis. He characterises the stimulus bill as a two-year $600 billion increase in government purchases. But about half of the stimulus money spent to date is on the tax and transfer side, and about a quarter is direct aid to states, which enables them not to raise taxes. Barro should be using a weighted average of his spending multiplier of 0.6 and his tax multiplier of 1.1 to get a multiplier of 0.9.


In that case, our social profit is not $210 billion but rather $390 billion, and we should certainly do this again. Indeed, we should do it repeatedly, until there are signs that additional stimulus may start to threaten price or debtmanagement stability, or until unemployment falls far enough to make Barro's multipliers overestimates.


Moreover, Barro complains that because Christina Romer, who heads President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, has "not [carried out] serious scientific research... on spending multipliers..., " he "cannot understand her rationale for assuming values well above one... " To say that policymakers should rely only on their own personal research to formulate policy seems to me simply bizarre.


Finally, Barro assumes that higher spending in 2009-10 will have to be offset by higher taxes later, claiming that "the timing of future taxes does not matter." But it matters very much. At the moment, the US Treasury can borrow at a real interest rate of zero for five years — and shove the entire five-year inflation risk onto the lender. Time preference means that the $600 billion addition to the debt today, which Barro sees as the cost of stimulus, is not nearly as burdensome as a demand to pay $600 billion now would be.


And when taxes are levied to retire the added debt induced by the stimulus, they will be levied at some time at which nominal interest rates are not stuck at zero . The Federal Reserve will thus be able to ease monetary policy then to offset the fiscal drag. So Barro is simply wrong when he claims that although the stimulus boosts employment now, amortising the stimulus must inevitably reduce employment at some point in the future.


(The author is professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research)

©Project Syndicate, 2010

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SELF IMAGE, BASE FOR EVERYTHING

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

The seven-plus-seven traits and manifestations, denoted by the seven alphabets, each in the word 'success' and 'failure', could, as noted by Dr Maxwell Maltz, serve as the basis for accurate analysis and self evaluation. Through intelligent application, the aspirant can thus reduce the intensity of the negative aspects within, while also further empowering the positive traits, already inherent. This is not merely personality development, but shaping one's potential, future and destiny. To a large extent, thus, one can be the master of his fate and the captain of his soul!


Dr Maltz also observes how all characteristics finally boil down to expressions of one's own self image, which actually is the sum total of all the stuff, the 'goings on' and the matter within — one's 'personality', to sum up.


For instance, 'sense of direction', 'understanding' and 'charity', in a 'success' mechanism, are born of one's own healthy self image that he himself is a truly capable personality, fully respectful of others' capacities too. He also sympathises with their imperfections, caused often by their limitations and troubles, as they too are children of God. The other traits of the 'success' personality — 'esteem', 'self confidence' and 'self acceptance' are also outer signs of the fulfilled self image within.


Similarly, regarding 'failure' mechanism, the seven traits sprout from the person's own self image. To illustrate, one who is given to resentments over others' unfairness or injustice, is possibly one who finds such reasons to justify his own self image of one who is a "pitiful person, a victim, who was meant to be unhappy".


Taking cue from external traits should thus be a process, which should also go with watching one's own self image and enhancing this through positive thinking and healthy vibrations all over. Awareness of one's own potential, promise and latent capacities is as important, as being aware of the limitations and infirmities within.


This, verily, is right auto suggestion, based on this famous success formula of Emily Coue: "Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better". This also is the process of further empowering the positive traits within, simultaneously weakening the undesirable ones. The crux thus lies in discovering and shaping for oneself the appropriate self image, which, doubtless, is the base for everything!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

KUDOS TO FM ON INDIVIDUAL TAX FRONT

 

In the words of the finance minister, this Budget belongs to the aam aadmi, farmer, agriculturist, entrepreneur and investor. Given this backdrop, the Budget has attempted to facilitate harmonised growth and provide impetus for attracting capital inflow to keep India's growth story on the upturn, says Ketal Dalal, Joint Tax Head of PricewaterhouseCoopers India, in an interview. Excerpts:


What is your take on roadmap to implementation of Direct Taxes Code next fiscal?

DTC was unveiled last year to public comments and debate. With its drastic suggested changes, representations were made on various aspects of DTC like MAT on assets, introduction of anti avoidance rules, continuation of SEZ tax benefits, treaty override, etc from various industry corners and chambers. The Finance Minister has stated in his budget speech that discussions with various stakeholders are concluded. Given the wide ramifications of DTC, I would expect the Government to release a second draft of the DTC somewhere in the middle of the current year for comments, before it is codified as law. I hope DTC is not directly introduced in next years' Budget without public acceptance. Also, none of the proposed DTC provisions have found way in the current Budget.


What do you feel of the Budget bringing in moderation of tax rates and expansion of exemption avenues for common man?

Kudos on the individual taxes front. Increase in slab rates is a healthy move - it should also result in increasing tax compliance. Additional deduction for investments with an objective of utilisation in the thrust areas by giving exemption for infrastructure bonds is a far sighted positive move and could have been extended to cover other key vital areas of growth. One is a bit disappointed that the corporate tax rates are virtually unaltered. Clearly, fiscal constraints are evident.


What are the key tax reform areas not addressed by the finance minister?

With increasing focus on transfer pricing audits by the income-tax authorities, non introduction of Advance Pricing Arrangements and Safe Harbour Provisions so as to provide clarity to MNCs and avoid to longdrawn disputes is a dampener. Given the need for infrastructure thrust, the Budget could have provided for tax incentives on infrastructure sector.


What is your take on increase in MAT rate from 15% to 18%?

First of all, the rate including surcharge and cess is almost 20% now (from almost 17% earlier). There is nothing minimum about a 20% rate. This move suggests that Government is not too keen on asset based MAT in the future ie DTC. The increase in rate means lower differential between maximum corporate tax rate ie 30% and proposed MAT rate which essentially represents maximum amount for which MAT tax credit can be claimed in future. This may be a cause of concern for MAT paying companies where they may not be able to fully utilize the MAT credit within the timeframe of 10 years.


What is your view on indirect taxes reforms?

The big issue, of course, is impending GST. On specific proposals this year, amendments are clearly to give boost to core sectors such as agriculture, education and infrastructure. An increase in excise duty rates was on the cards. Non increase of service tax rate is a sweetener.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WIN THE GAME FOR HOCKEY

 

Sports and diplomacy are war by other means, especially when it is India and Pakistan that are on the field. The Indian hockey team's spectacular 4-1 win over Pakistan in the World Cup on Sunday evoked hysteric applause and celebration across the country. It was as if we have already won the World Cup even before confirming a slot in the semi-finals. Perhaps the irrepressible Union minister, Mr Shashi Tharoor, can also thank the hockey team for shifting the media focus from his off-the-cuff comments about Saudi Arabia being an 'interlocutor' between India and Pakistan. If Pakistan had trounced India and his comment had coincided with it, the minister may really have been in trouble. This may sound like hyperbole but one can never say, because it is India and Pakistan. Pundits who believed that the Indian hockey team was grossly under-prepared for the World Cup should also seek reasons for the emphatic win in politics and history rather than sport. The huge flag-waving crowds that overflowed the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium with cries of 'Chak De India' set the stage for the battle. For once, cricket took a back seat. India took Pakistan by surprise with a full-press game right from the start and the adventurous approach of Spanish coach Jose Brasa paid handsome dividends. There was no doubt from the beginning that India was at its aggressive best. Everyone seemed at the peak of his motivation. The aggression unfortunately spilled over when forward Shivendra Singh 'deliberately' hit Pakistani Fareed Ahmed with his stick, giving him a cut above the eye. The disciplinary committee has banned him for the next three matches for violent conduct, which was confirmed in video review. Shivendra's absence will be a big blow for Brasa as he is a proven goal-scorer. But this incident has not taken away the sheen of the victory, more so because Indian hockey has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in the last two decades. Recent months have been particularly painful for the game as its administrators lurched from one crisis to the other in the run-up to the World Cup. First, players raised a banner of revolt, questioning the non-payment of incentives for performances in the preceding 12 months. At the national camp in Pune, they even refused to train. Only the intervention of former player Dhanraj Pillay and Sahara, the team sponsor, saved the day. Then the disagreement over captaincy sparked another controversy. Players should not be condemned for talking about financial incentives so brazenly since they get little else apart from their monthly salaries. What is wrong if they demand their fair share from the sponsorship bounty? The authorities should seize the moment when hockey is at its most popular and give the game the boost it needs in terms of funds and publicity. It was popularity that made cricket what it is now. However, most hockey players are pessimistic and are sure that after the World Cup is over things will be back to square one. But all their woes were forgotten when they took to the field for the Super Sunday showdown.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

PEDESTRIAN ECONOMICS

BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's Budget will certainly stoke inflationary fires that are already raging. It is, therefore, amazing that sections of the same media that had been urging the finance minister to contain inflationary expectations have now gone to town heaping fulsome praise on his Budget proposals. True, income-tax payers are exultant. They have reason to be. Market fundamentalists are delighted at Mr Mukherjee's attempts at fiscal "consolidation". Stock markets have reacted favourably to a Budget after many years. But wait. What about the proverbial aam aadmi in whose name our netas swear by?

 

The same commentators who were vehemently insisting that inflation control should remain the focus of the Budget are strangely silent about the fact that the Budget proposals would further increase the prices of a wide range of products of mass consumption, including food. Inflation alone would undo much of the gain that is supposed to accrue from the economic policies of the government. The same government that has been shouting itself hoarse about how "inclusive development" is its "article of faith", has presented a Budget that would spur inflation which, in turn, would effectively negate — if not reverse — much of what is being sought to be provided to the poor in cities and villages by shrinking their real incomes.

 

There are few who believe the finance minister's claim that the hike in diesel and petrol prices would increase the wholesale price index by only 0.4 per cent. That proportion has been mechanically arrived at by calculating the increase in the rate of inflation based on the weight of these two petroleum products in the overall index. The fact is that a substantial portion of the diesel consumed in the country is used for transportation of goods and also for powering agricultural pump-sets. An increase in transport costs results in across-the-board inflation that is disproportionately higher.

 

Simply put, retail prices of various commodities go up by a proportion that is higher than what the increase in transportation costs would strictly warrant — what economists describe as a "cascading effect". Even Mr Mukherjee, who is more of a politician than an economist, unlike Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, understands this aspect of the Indian reality but has chosen to ignore it.

 

The two per cent hike in excise duties would also add to inflationary expectations. When excise duties were reduced by six per cent in two instalments — first by four per cent in December 2008 and again by two per cent March 2009 — the prices of products on which such taxes are levied hardly came down. Unfortunately for the consumer, the reverse does not usually happen. As in the case of cars for instance, the increase in excise duties led to an instantaneous rise in product prices. Manufacturers invariably tend to try and pass on the higher tax burden to the consumer.

 

Those with an assessable income between Rs 1.6 lakh and Rs 5 lakh would gain by around Rs 20,000 a year, those with an income between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 8 lakh would gain roughly Rs 50,000, while those with an income in excess of Rs 8 lakh would gain even more. The government is arguing that the change in personal income tax rates would result in more money being placed in the hands of consumers who would now spend more. This, in turn, our netas and babus hope, would help increase industrial production and add to the demand for services, all of which would result in the overall rate of growth of gross domestic product (GDP) going up. And then, four years down the line, India will proudly proclaim to the rest of the world that it is indeed the fastest growing economy in the world and we will all be able to hold our heads high in the comity of nations.

 

Actually, we are fooling nobody but ourselves. How many people pay income tax in our country with 1.1 billion people? Answer: there are roughly 30 million income tax assesses at present (or less than three per cent of the population), of which roughly 25 million actually pay income tax. Approximately two-thirds of those who do pay income tax don't really have much of a choice — their salary cheques come with taxes deducted at source. The finance minister has himself said that his proposals would not benefit each and every income-tax payer. The short point: lower income tax rates would benefit a miniscule section of the country's people.

 

This Budget has reversed a welcome trend in tax collections that was witnessed in recent years. The Union government was earning more from direct taxes (that are inherently progressive in that the rich pay more than the poor) than from indirect taxes like excise duties and customs duties (that are regressive in the sense that all pay the same quantum of taxes irrespective of their economic status). Mr Mukherjee's tax proposals on direct taxes for 2010-11 will result in a revenue loss of Rs 26,000 crore while his tax proposals related to indirect taxes will result in a net revenue gain of Rs 46,500 crore. In other words, the pattern of tax collections of the Union government will indicate a more regressive tax regime.

 

The stance of the government becomes evident if one takes a look at the "statement of revenue foregone" which indicates that revenue foregone by the Union government (on account of exemptions and concessions) jumped from Rs 4,58,516 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 5,40,269 crore in 2009-10. As a proportion of aggregate tax collection, this proportion went up from 68.6 per cent to 79.6 per cent. The quantum of the revenue foregone can be contextualised if one considers the government's estimate of the country's gross domestic product or national income for the coming fiscal year which is placed at Rs 69,34,700 crore.

 

A cynical interpretation of the Budget would be that the government is not particularly bothered about containing inflation for the aam aadmi because the next general elections are more than four years away and Bihar is the only major state going to the polls later this year. The Prime Minister is fond of saying that there is no difference between good economics and good politics. This Budget represents pedestrian economics and lousy politics. And this comes from an income-tax payer.

- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

FINANCIAL REFORM ENDGAME IN AMERICA

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

So here's the situation. We've been through the second-worst financial crisis in the history of the world, and we've barely begun to recover: 29 million Americans either can't find jobs or can't find full-time work.

 

Yet all momentum for serious banking reform has been lost. The question now seems to be whether we'll get a watered-down bill or no bill at all. And I hate to say this, but the second option is starting to look preferable.

 

The problem, not too surprisingly, lies in the Senate, and mainly, though not entirely, with Republicans. The House has already passed a fairly strong reform bill, more or less along the lines proposed by the Obama administration, and the Senate could probably do the same if it operated on the principle of majority rule. But it doesn't — and when you combine near-universal Republican Opposition to serious reform with the wavering of some Democrats, prospects look bleak.

 

How did we get to this point? And should reform advocates accept the compromises that might yet produce some kind of bill?

 

Many opponents of the House version of banking reform present their position as one of principle.

 

House Republicans, offering their alternative proposal, claimed that they would end banking excesses by introducing "market discipline" — basically, by promising not to rescue banks in the future.

 

But that's a fantasy. For one thing, governments always, when push comes to shove, end up rescuing key financial institutions in a crisis.

 

And more broadly, relying on the magic of the market to keep banks safe has always been a path to disaster.

 

Even Adam Smith knew that: he may have been the father of free-market economics, but he argued that bank regulation was as necessary as fire codes on urban buildings, and called for a ban on high-risk, high-interest lending, the 18th-century version of subprime. And the lesson has been confirmed again and again, from the Panic of 1873 to Iceland today.

 

I suspect that even Republicans, in their hearts, understand the need for real reform. But their strategy of opposing anything the Obama administration proposes, coupled with the lure of financial-industry dollars — back in December top Republican leaders huddled with bank lobbyists to coordinate their campaigns against reform — has trumped all other considerations.

 

That said, some Republicans might, just possibly, be persuaded to sign on to a much-weakened version of reform — in particular, one that eliminates a key plank of the Obama administration's proposals, the creation of a strong, independent agency protecting consumers. Should Democrats accept such a watered-down reform?

 

I say no.

 

There are times when even a highly imperfect reform is much better than nothing; this is very much the case for health care.

 

But financial reform is different. An imperfect health care bill can be revised in the light of experience, and if Democrats pass the current plan there will be steady pressure to make it better. A weak financial reform, by contrast, wouldn't be tested until the next big crisis.

 

All it would do is create a false sense of security and a fig leaf for politicians opposed to any serious action — then fail in the clinch.

 

Better, then, to take a stand, and put the enemies of reform on the spot. And by all means let's highlight the dispute over a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

 

There's no question that consumers need much better protection.

 

The late Edward Gramlich — a Federal Reserve official who tried in vain to get Mr Alan Greenspan to act against predatory lending — summarised the case perfectly back in 2007: "Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers? The question answers itself — the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products."

 

Is it important that this protection be provided by an independent agency?

 

It must be, or lobbyists wouldn't be campaigning so hard to prevent that agency's creation.

 

And it's not hard to see why. Some have argued that the job of protecting consumers can and should be done either by the Fed or — as in one compromise that at this point seems unlikely — by a unit within the Treasury Department.

 

But remember, not that long ago Mr Greenspan was Fed chairman and Mr John Snow was treasury secretary. Case closed.

 

The only way consumers will be protected under future antiregulation administrations — and believe me, given the power of the financial lobby, there will be such administrations — is if there's an agency whose whole reason for being is to police bank abuses.

 

In summary, then, it's time to draw a line in the sand. No reform, coupled with a campaign to name and shame the people responsible, is better than a cosmetic reform that just covers up failure to act.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MONITOR PROGRESS, NOT PROCESS

BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

 

It is a pity that we don't have someone of the calibre of George W. Bush, that brilliant stand-up comic, who was also the President of the United States, to entertain us through panel discussions on the Union Budget. Asked about his "budget experience" some 10 years ago, straight-talking, regular guy Bush said: "It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it." Quite.

 

Every year, when I listen to discussions about the Budget, I must confess I have my George Bush moment. Much of the discussions revolve around figures, specifically outlays — which sectors are getting more money, which ones are getting less, which ones are getting nothing at all, and so on. Panelists often speak in what I call "panelese", which others of the tribe understand, but which leave the rest of us flummoxed.

 

At the end of the half-hour or hour, sometimes one feels one has witnessed the Dance of the Ghosts (bhooter nach), the famous sequence from Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Satyajit Ray's immortal children's film, with figures substituting ghosts in the dance sequence.

 

To me, to really understand the "lot of numbers" in the Budget, it is useful to look at some other numbers in other documents, and ask the right questions to unbundle the buzz words of the day.

 

Because of shortage of space, I am pulling out just two figures which relate to education and health in this year's Union Budget.

 

The plan allocation for school education has increased by 16 per cent from Rs 26,800 crores in 2009-10 to Rs 31,036 crores in 2010-11. The plan allocation to ministry of health and family welfare has increased from Rs 19,534 crores in 2009-10 to Rs 22,300 crores for 2010-11.

 

What do these increases, or hikes in general in sectoral allocations, really mean? To get a handle on that, it is perhaps useful to glance at two other official documents — the Economic Survey 2009-10 and a slim position paper titled "Implementation of Budget Announcements" which focuses on the status of implementation of announcements made in the previous Budget (2009-2010).

 

Let us take adult literacy, the most basic indicator of educational progress.

 

Last year's Budget noted that "the low level of female literacy continues to be a matter of grave concern" and announced the decision to launch a National Mission for Female Literacy, with focus on minorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other marginalised groups.

 

What is the progress on that on the ground? We learn from the position paper that "A new variant of the National Literacy Mission was launched on the occasion of the International Literacy Day (September 8, 2009)". Then onwards, almost every sentence in the text relating to this segment, uses the word "will". It is clear that we have a wonderful roadmap. The new mission will do a host of things to provide comprehensive opportunities of adult education primarily to women with focus on disadvantaged groups. It will cover 70 million adults in 365 districts in 26 states and so on.

 

India accounts for 30 per cent of the total illiterate population in the world. Seventy per cent of these are women. To know if the new mission is on track, we need to know what has been achieved with the resources already ploughed in. We have some information. By December 31, 2009, the mission had been rolled out in 167 districts in 19 states covering 3.82 crore non-literates, including 80 per cent adult female non-literates. Further, the government of India's share of the expenditure had been sanctioned as the first instalment to cover the period upto March 31, 2010. But we don't really know the experience of the illiterates in the states where this new variant of the Literacy Mission has already been rolled out, about mechanisms to address bottlenecks detected during the first phase of the roll out nor if they are functioning.

 

The Economic Survey (2009-10) tells us that in 2009, 96 per cent of children in the age-group six to 14 in rural India were found enrolled in school. But we don't really track the dropouts. How many of those who enrolled dropped out — when, where and why?

 

In India, being enrolled in school does not necessarily mean that a child is learning much. Reading further, I came across some numbers which are truly disturbing: in maths, for the country as a whole, the ability to do division problems has hardly improved for children in Class V. Nationally, between 2007 and 2009, the percentage of children taking paid tuition increased in every class, in both government and private schools. (Only Kerala and Karnataka show a small but consistent decline in the incidence of tuitions in government schools).

 

Now, let us turn to health. A cursory glance shows the yawning cleavage between pronouncement and practice. The Economic Survey tells us that though the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has "initiated decentralised bottom-up planning", district-level annual plans were not prepared during 2005-08 in nine states. In 24 states and Union Territories, block and village-level annual plans had not been prepared at all. Funds for local action through untied grants and annual maintenance grants to health centres remained mostly unspent. The NRHM adopted an inter-sectoral convergence approach to healthcare. However, the committee on inter-sectoral convergence did not meet frequently.

 

To all this, my 11-year-old daughter might say LOL (Laugh Out Loud)! Sadly, this is no laughing matter. Millions at the bottom of the pyramid do not yet have the tools — education, skills, and good health — to meaningfully participate in the discourse on double-digit growth.

 

More money for elementary education and healthcare matter. But more important is how that money is being spent and who is monitoring the money trail. More school buildings, healthcare centres and medical equipments are no doubt needed. But if we don't ask the right questions about the quality of learning inside those schools or the quality of services at the health centres, we are really monitoring process, not progress.

 

- Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SOME SAD FACTS FOR THE T-PANEL

BY KANCHA ILAIAH

 

By constituting the Justice Srikrishna Committee, the Central government has changed the entire issue of forming a separate Telangana state. The fate of Telangana now rests entirely on the recommendation of this high-power committee.

 

The recent separate state movement had traversed through the gamut of electoral process, resignations, agitations and suicides, suffering more losses than the movement of 1969-70.

 

Finally it has resulted in the setting up of a committee. I only hope that this committee headed by a very reputed former Supreme Court judge and comprising other eminent people from different disciplines would do a worthy job of finding a solution to this vexed problem.

 

In an age of digital democracy the pro-Telanagana forces must provide enough evidence to the committee to persuade it to establish a separate state.

 

No agitating political force can say, "We will boycott the committee," in a democratic process. The people who do that would only play with lives of Telangana people, as that would amount to saying "We would like to keep the question alive for making money and for seeking votes."

 

But do they know the price the people of Telangana have been paying for the last 50 years? The issue has to be resolved once and for all.

 

Those who have been claiming to have taken part in Telangana agitations all their lives should also understand that the region has given permanent employment to some old types of agitators.

 

While Telangana has proved that it has the nerve to keep on fighting, it has also proved that constant agitations keep a region underdeveloped. The world has not changed so much through street fights as it did through deployment of brainpower in labs and libraries and changing the contours of production in the fields.

 

Of course, political struggles are important and engendered democracy and socialism but the Telangana struggle has no such transformative agenda.

 

Our students and youth should not be street fighters and self-immolators. Quite tragically, this agitation run by shortsighted people and underhand dealers made it the biggest "suicide" movement ever.

 

Yes, we should blame the Centre, the skillful Andhra operators, but we should blame more those who are counting those bodies to collect money.

 

Justice Srikrishna must put an end these agitational market forces of all regions so that each region can peacefully strengthen the productive forces in every field. Also, the frequent bandhs and roadblocks have made life miserable for many people. For those who give such a call, it is an agitational compulsion but for the poor, a bandh is a day of hunger and starvation.

 

If need be, divide the state or provide a permanent solution to end this game of unemployed politicians starting "private companies" to mobilise finances from all regions. Exploiters of all regions want such 'companies' to be alive so that they can continue their illegal and immoral business in this area.

 

It is dangerous to allow persons to float parties, start agitations and nurture their family business. For them, people's lives have no value. In such situations, intellectuals would also spring up without doing much hard work of research or reading. This does no good either.

 

It is easy to turn all our universities into boycott centres than make them serious teaching and research centres.

 

All regional and linguistic movements produce emotions. This time the emotions have reached the logical end with the Centre making statements such as "Telangana is at your doorstep" and the market forces celebrating such statements.

 

They too have jumped into the bandwagon with the implicit message, "We will be the power brokers."

 

One promoter of the JAC-Inc has gone to the extent of saying "I will become the first Chief Minister of the T state." This is creating a demoralising environment in a region that is oozing blood. The trend appears to be that the more youth die the more they celebrate.

 

Whether it is Samaikhya Andhra or separate Telangana, some castes want power, money and mafia to be around. This is where the committee must examine the third term of reference more seriously than any others.

 

It reads, "To examine the impact of the development…on women, children, students, minorities, SCs, STs and Other Backward Classes."

 

In terms of numbers, the SC, ST, minority and OBC population is bigger in Telangana than in the other two regions. In every movement they have sacrificed more and gained hardly anything.

 

They suffered the oppression of Telangana feudalists, exploitation of Andhra capitalists, became victims of every mode of violent movement ever since the Razakar movement started.

 

Their blood has flown in the Razakar movement, the Telangana armed struggle, separate Telangana movement of 1969-70 and the Naxalite movement of the 1980s and 90s (both in police killings and political killings).

 

In the latest Telangana movement too, majority of suicide and self-immolation cases are from SC, ST and OBC families.

 

In my view, the committee must make a specific recommendation to rehabilitate the families of those youth who died of distress.

 

These incidents have a link with the proclamations of leaders about burning themselves and cutting their own throats to achieve statehood. They never did it but abetted the suicides of others. The committee must make a recommendation for awarding adequate punishment for them.

 

The impact of such agitations, and the constant presence of the police and paramilitary forces on the minds of Telangana children and students must be seriously examined. It must also examine how this whole course impacted the Muslim population.

 

Rural Telangana has faced constant repression for one reason or the other. Educational institutions have been closed for months. The region never experienced a decade of peace for allowing the youth power to grow. The reasons for its educational, and employment backwardness must be thoroughly studied.

 

If the poor of Rayalaseema suffered from the bloody factional wars, the poor of Telangana suffered from unending agitations and police and political repression.

 

One hopes that the committee will look into all these aspects and make recommendations so that peace, growth and development become part of the daily life of the region and not agitations, deaths or suicides.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

UNDERWATER PLATE CUTS 400-MILE GASH

BY HENRY FOUNTAIN

 

The 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Chile early on Saturday morning occurred along the same fault responsible for the biggest quake ever measured, a 1960 tremor that killed nearly 2,000 people in Chile and hundreds more across the Pacific.

 

The stresses added along the fault zone by the earthquake, helped lead to the rupture on Saturday, experts said. Both earthquakes took place along a fault zone where the Nazca tectonic plate, the section of the earth's crust that lies under the eastern Pacific Ocean south of the Equator, is sliding beneath another section, the South American plate. The two are converging at a rate of about three and a half inches a year.

 

Earthquake experts said the strains built up by that movement, plus the stresses added along the fault zone by the 1960 quake, led to the rupture on Saturday along what is estimated to be about 400 miles of the zone, at a depth of about 22 miles under the sea floor. The quake generated a tsunami, with small surges hitting the west coast of the US and slightly larger ones in Hawaii and other parts of the Pacific. A 7.7-foot surge was recorded in Talcahuano, Chile. Mr Jian Lin, a geophysicist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said the quake occurred just north of the site of the 1960 earthquake, with very little overlap. "Most of the rupture today picked up where the 1960 rupture stopped," said Mr Lin, who has studied the 1960 event, which occurred along about 600 miles of the fault zone and was measured at magnitude 9.5.

 

Like many other large earthquakes, the 1960 quake increased stresses on adjacent parts of the fault zone, including the area where the quake occurred Saturday. Although there had been smaller quakes in the area in the ensuing 50 years, Mr Lin said, none of them had been large enough to relieve the strain, which kept building up as the two plates converged. "This one should have released most of the stresses," he said.

 

Experts said the earthquake appeared to have no connection to a magnitude 6.9 quake that struck off the southern coast of Japan late on Friday evening. Nor was the Chilean event linked to the magnitude 7.0 quake that occurred in Haiti on January 12.

 

That quake, which is believed to have killed more than 2,00,000 people, occurred along a strike-slip fault, in which most of the ground motion is lateral. The Chilean earthquake occurred along a thrust fault, in which most of the motion is vertical. Mr Lin said his calculations showed that the quake on Saturday was 250 to 350 times more powerful than the Haitian quake.

 

But Mr Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado, noted that at least on land, the effects of the Chilean tremor might not be as bad. "Even though this quake is larger, it's probably not going to reap the devastation that the Haitian quake did," he said. In many respects, Mr Lin said, the Chilean quake is similar to the 9.0-magnitude Indonesian earthquake of December 26, 2004.

 

That quake, which also occurred along a thrust fault, generated a tsunami that killed more than 2,00,000 people around the Indian Ocean. And like the 1960 Chilean quake, the Indonesian quake increased stresses nearby: it was followed, just three months later, by an 8.7-magnitude quake on an adjacent portion of the fault zone.

 

When they occur underwater, thrust-fault earthquakes like the one in Chile are far more likely to create tsunamis than quakes on strike-slip faults, said Mr David Schwartz, an earthquake geologist with the geological survey in Menlo Park, California.

"When they slip, the fault that causes the earthquake breaks the surface, and pushes the water up," he said. "It pushes an awful lot of water. And that water has to go somewhere." The waves the quake produces travel across the ocean at high speed. Along the way, their height can be measured by buoys linked by satellite. But the height of the waves when they make landfall, and their potential for destruction, often depends on local topography and the profile of the nearby sea floor. A shallow shelf, for example, can amplify the waves.

 

The tsunami that was generated by the 1960 quake devastated Hilo, Hawaii, killing 61 people. Hilo is particularly vulnerable to tsunamis because its bay and narrow harbour funnel the water, increasing wave heights, which in 1960 reached 35 feet.

 

But the tsunami also struck as far as Japan, hitting northern parts of the main island, Honshu, about a day after the quake and killing 185 people and destroying more than 1,600 homes.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

THE PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS

RULES OF PROCEDURE NOT OBSERVED 

 

Last Monday's presidential address to the Houses of Parliament did not follow the established Rules of Procedure and thereby unnecessarily raked up the language controversy. The President, Pratibha Patil, delivered her address in Hindi in the Central Hall of Parliament. The Vice-President, Hamid Ansari, read only the first and the last paragraph of the English version of the President's address. Copies of neither Hindi nor English version were made available to members during the address and there was no provision for simultaneous translation. MPs from non-Hindi speaking states, particularly Tamil Nadu, found themselves at a loss. Two ministers and a few DMK members complained to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and a couple of CPI-M members from Kerala protested the non-provision of simultaneous translation of the President's address.  The assembly of the two Houses in the Central Hall does not constitute the sitting of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha or a joint session of both the Houses as per the Rules of Procedure. The Hindi and the English versions of the President's address as delivered in the Central Hall become part of the proceedings of Parliament when the full text of both versions are placed on the table of each House.


The failure to read the full text of the English version after the Hindi speech of the President has rekindled the very sensitive and explosive language problem. A Cabinet minister from Tamil Nadu, not too fluent in English and a total stranger to Hindi, has already sought his party chief's permission to resign as the Speaker was not receptive to his idea of answering questions in Parliament in Tamil, his mother tongue. It may be recalled that in 1963, when President Radhakrishnan began his address to Parliament in English, Ram Sevak Yadav, leader of the Socialist group in the Lok Sabha, and his party members objected and insisted that he speak in Hindi. The protesting MPs were assured by the Speaker that the address would be delivered in both English and Hindi. Not satisfied, the Socialist members wanted the President to deliver his address first in Hindi and continued to obstruct. Radhakrishnan asked the Speaker to take action against those disrupting his address and calmly proceeded with the English version, followed by the Vice-President reading the Hindi version. Later, the privileges committee reprimanded the erring members for their "undesirable, undignified and unbecoming conduct" during the President's address. The UPA government should not forget the solemn assurance given in Parliament in 1959 by Jawaharlal Nehru when he said: "I would have English as an alternate language as long as people require it and the decision for that I would leave not to the Hindi-knowing people, but to the non-Hindi knowing people." 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

GROWTH RATES & WELFARE

BUDGET SHOULD HAVE FOCUSSED ON THE POOR

BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA

 

THE lowest slab of 10 per cent in income tax has been raised from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 5 lakh in the budget. This will provide relief to the small taxpayer. On the whole, the Finance Minister has given relief of Rs 26,000 crore in income tax while he has imposed higher excise duties to the tune of Rs 46,000 crore. The combined effect is that the person who consumes less will pay lower taxes because income-tax rates have been reduced. He who consumes more will pay higher taxes because excise duties have been raised. This is the correct policy for securing higher growth rates.


The Finance Minister has provided incentives to the development of clean sources of energy. Tax rebates have been given on equipment for the generation of solar and wind energy and on the production of LED lamps. A cess of 50 paise per kg has been imposed on coal. This money will be used for the development of clean energy. These measures are wholly welcome because we are destroying our environment and putting our existence at stake for the production of unclean thermal, nuclear and hydro power.


Fuel prices

THE Finance Minister has increased the tax on petrol and diesel and has also made an upward revision in the administrative price of these fuels to bring them in line with the prevailing international prices. The gap in the domestic and international prices has been reduced. This will make it possible to remove controls on the domestic price of oil and leave it wholly to international markets. The domestic price of oil will increase and decrease along with international prices in future and lead to efficient levels of consumption. We will not be caught in a trap as happened previously. The government was not able to increase the domestic price of oil when international prices increased. The losses of public sector oil companies increased and consumption continued at runaway levels due to low domestic prices. Such a sorry scenario will not be repeated by allowing domestic prices to be determined by international markets.


The ruckus being created by the Opposition to this increase in the price of oil is not justified. The farmer is already getting high price for his produce. An increase of Rs 3 per litre in the price of diesel will probably lead to an increase in the cost of production of wheat of about 10 paise per kg. The farmer will have no difficulty in bearing this increase because the price of wheat has already increased by more than Rs 5 per kg lately. It is more important to preserve the gains in price that have been secured in the last year. The prices of agricultural commodities have been continually declining during the last 50 years. This declining tendency has been arrested lately. It is important not to allow these prices to decline. This will make it possible for the farmers to pay higher prices of diesel and lead to their all-round prosperity.


The common man will be hurt by the all-round increase in the price of all commodities that is likely to follow the increase in the price of oil. But the condition of the common man is also better nowadays. The wages of daily labourers have increased from Rs 120 to Rs 150 per day during the last year. The increase in wage rates under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme appears to have contributed to this. It would be better to secure further increase in these wages and make it possible for the common man to pay higher prices of goods purchased from the market. The wages paid under the NREGS should be increased from the present Rs 100 per day to, say, Rs 150 per day. The government must put in place a policy to increase the income of the poor instead of trying to reduce the prices of goods in the market.


The finance minister has decided to pay fertilizer subsidy on the nutrient content instead of the gross weight as at present. Subsidy will be linked to the content of N, P and K in the fertilizer. This is in the right direction but grossly inadequate. Mr Pranab Mukherjee had promised to move towards direct payment of fertilizer subsidy to the farmers in the last budget. He has repeated the same statement in this budget. No concrete action in this direction has been taken. It seems the bureaucracy has developed cold feet on this issue. At present, the fertilizer subsidies are largely pocketed by the manufacturing companies. They will continue to be pocketed by the same manufacturing companies in the nutrient-based calculation. The need was to move towards direct transfers to the farmers.


The main weakness of the budget lies in the lack of reform of the huge social sector expenditures of Rs 137,000 crore. These expenditures have consistently increased after the UPA government has taken over. But Maoist activities are also escalating simultaneously. Son-of-soil movements like that in Maharashtra have also been reported. This indicates that the social sector expenditures are not actually providing relief to the common man. The fact is that much of the money is pocketed by the government welfare mafia.


Social sector

THE social sector expenditures do not come free. The common man pays for a large part of these expenditures through taxes on match boxes, bicycle tyres and electricity. The poor become poorer in the payment of these taxes. About 15 per cent of the total taxes are paid directly or indirectly by the common man. This revenue is then used to support the social sector expenditures. An effort is made to reach the money paid by the poor back to the poor through the government bureaucracy. But only a small part of the expenditure reaches the common man. Rajiv Gandhi had once said that only 15 paise out of a rupee sent from Delhi reaches the beneficiary. The common man pays 15 paise of the social sector expenditure and receives the same 15 paise through government programmes. The bureaucracy pockets the remaining 85 paise and makes a killing in the process. It is well known that village sarpanches have to pay a commission of 20 to 50 per cent to the government officials under the NREGS. The officials also receive huge commissions in the supply of the 40 per cent material component of the programme. In the net, the social sector expenditures are more beneficial for the bureaucracy than the common man.


The need was to divert all social sector expenditures into a scheme to provide employment subsidy to businessmen. That would make it profitable for them to undertake production from labour instead of automatic machines. The poor would get employment. His poverty would be removed and there would remain no need of these huge social sector expenditures. Alternatively this money could be given directly to every citizen of the country. A family would receive Rs 5,000 per year and poverty would wholly disappear. It is unfortunate that the finance minister has not taken any measures in this direction.

 

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

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ILLOGICAL SYSTEM OF PROPERTY TAX

THE PRESENT SYSTEM OF TAXATION BASED ON ANNUAL VALUATION IS ILLOGICAL AND UNREALISTIC BECAUSE IT HAS NEITHER ANY BEARING ON THE COST OF SERVICES RENDERED NOR DOES IT HELP RECOVERY OF EXPENSES INCURRED BY MUNICIPALITIES, WRITES

SAMIR DAS GUPTA

 

Recognising the fact that corporations and municipalities are mandated to render as far as possible civic services like supply of drinking water, operation and maintenance of sewerage systems, street lights, roads, education and health care, they are entitled to recover to the maximum possible the cost incurred on such services through taxes. In other words, the local government cannot make a profit by "selling'' civic services but can recover the cost of these services.


Since the enactment of the Bengal Municipal Act, 1932 and the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993 local governments were collecting taxes based primarily on the controversial and purchasable method of annual valuation of individual property, a percentage of which is collected as the "property tax''. This gave enough scope for corruption since the time Chittaranjan Das was Mayor of Kolkata Corporation. The term "property tax'' is a misnomer because the same is imposed by the Income Tax Department, Government of India, from income arising from the fundamental right to acquire immovable property either for self-use or for profit or both.


Subrata Mukherjee, as Mayor of Kolkata Corporation, was the first to point to the loopholes in the existing method of assessment and litigation with tax-payers and non-taxpayer who enjoy all municipal services. The present Mayor, Bikash Bhattacharya, echoes similar feelings. But they have not come out with any solution. Due to loopholes in the existing rules and regulations, about 4.60 lakh property holders in Kolkata involving about 18 lakh residents do not pay any tax as the so-called "annual valuation" is "assessed'' below the taxable limit. These are perhaps due to defective laws, leading to corruption. Both Mr Mukherjee and Mr Bhattacharya had declared that charges had to be paid by all for receiving services from the authorities, irrespective of the "annual valuation''.


The present system of taxation based on annual valuation may be legal but is illogical and unrealistic because it has neither any direct bearing on the cost of services rendered nor does it help recovery of expenses incurred by the municipalities. The proposed unit area taxation system of Kolkata Corporation prima facie appears to be more realistic with minimum scope for corruption and works in favour of both the corporation and premises owners. Anyone wishing to live in cities with high standards of municipal services cannot expect to have subsidized services. Otherwise he has to live in places with lower standards of living with cheaper municipal services.


It is not clear whether the proposed seven zones , A to H, of Greater Kolkata is based on services rendered to residents of a particular zone leading to different costs of services and hence different rates of taxation. The zoning is arbitrary and leads to disputes. If the zoning is based on cost difference and revenue collected from all the premises, it will cover the maximum cost of services. Tax rates varying from Rs 1.40 to Rs.5.00 per sq. ft. per year are based on factors like width of the road, walking distance to the market, schools, hospitals, hours of water supply, underground or overground drainage systems. Premises in narrow roads and lanes have a more peaceful residential environment than those situated on wide roads where, due to the public transport system, the environment is affected by noise and smoke pollution. Similarly, living close to the market means facing garbage pollution near the market .


It is believed that the variable cost of services is the basis of zoning . If so, it is not understood how Ward No 1 is classified in the highest cost zone A , when the two adjoining Wards nos 2 and 6 are classified in Zone "D'' and ''E'', respectively A detailed study of the zonal maps will indicate more anomalies.
There is also the self-occupancy and tenanted premises . For example, a single storeyed house with a 1,500 sq ft floor area in ''B'' Zone, according to the proposed scheme will fetch Rs. 6000 as annual revenue, irrespective of the fact the premises is occupied by an aged couple, whose grown-up children are residing elsewhere or occupied by six adult tenants the owner being absent. Thus, in this self-occupied premises Rs 3,000 per adult is charged as against Rs 1,000 per single adult in similar tenanted premises. Such discrimination can be avoided if charges are calculated on the basis of the number adults against floor area. Statistically, it appears Kolkata Corporation is incurring Rs. 550 per capita per year towards rendering civic services. Further, in the tenanted premises, occupied by six adults, the owner earns rental of at least Rs 90,000 against the income of the pensioner in a self-occupied house. Although local governments have no right to share rental income of the owner of the premises, more charges should be collected from owners having rental income but on a more rational basis for use of civic services by more people.


In a house with a three bedrooms covering 1500 sq f floor, the area housing six adult persons, the annual tax structure per person is Rs. 1,125, Rs 1,000, Rs 875, Rs 625, Rs 425, Rs 400 and Rs 350 against zones A, B, C, D, E, F and G, respectively, averaging Rs. 685 per person per year. It will be interesting to know from Kolkata Corporation the total annual cost of civic services incurred in each of the seven zones separately under water supply, drainage and conservancy, street lights and road repairing and the total assessed floors in each zone liable for taxation. The voters' list can be a guide on the number of adult residents although many are not enrolled as voters. The alternative to the number of adults is to record consumption of water through water meters in each taxable building. Once water charge bills are prepared based on consumption at a pre-defined rate per 1,000 gallons of water, a surcharge based on costs recorded in the past three years may be applied.The current practice of claiming property tax from owners against vacant land is unethical and must be abolished since no civic services are used by "vacant land'' owners.

 

The writer is a former vice-president of the Bidhannagar Welfare Association and president, Indian Association of Retired Persons

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

ALL IN THE FAMILY

SANTANU SINHA CHAUDHURI


We lived on a second-floor flat by the side of a main thoroughfare in Kolkata. Beside our house was a petrol station. In sultry summer evenings, a cold breeze blew in from the south and we loved to sit down by the full-length windows and watch cars coming in and going out. The owner of the petrol station was an elderly Sardarji with a long white beard who was always in matching white clothes. He would drive down to the place towards the evening in a Ford T-20 and sit down with his cronies at one corner. The Sikh group laughed often and apparently enjoyed every moment of their gup-shup in a language that we didn't follow.


On the other side of our house, there was a dilapidated two-storey building in which lived some Afghan money-lenders. They were friendly towards us children, but the community was notorious for their usurious interest rates and strongarm recovery methods. During Muslim festivals, they would slaughter goats on their terrace and I would watch the gory spectacle with keen interest. The terrorised eyes of the goats and the meandering river of blood will forever be etched in my memory. Once, when a prince of their land visited Kolkata, they invited father and me for a grand dinner. Men sat opposite to each other in two rows and shared food from a large plate kept in between. The mutton curry was exquisite. That was the first time I ate rumali rotis, which at first I had mistaken to be bundles of white cloth. Father later told me that among Muslims, the practice of the rich and the poor sharing food from the same plate was common and it was one of the reasons why the shabbily treated so called low-caste Bengalis turned towards Islam.


One of the comrades of our Kabuli neighbours has been immortalised in theTagore short story Kabuliwallah and later, the Tapan Sinha film based on it. Their fairytale land of chinars and rivers of ice-cold waters has been described in vivid detail by Syed Mujtaba Ali in a travelogue that has become a classic in Bangla: Deshe Bideshe (In home and abroad). Kabuliwallahs have vanished from the life and economy of Kolkata; replaced by suited executives of equally rapacious and ruthless private finance companies. But that dilapidated building still stands, propped up by saal trunks, as a mute witness to a banking system of the past. Towards the east, that is, behind our house, a Bengali family lived in a house with a fairly large garden and several cottages with corrugated iron roofs. Their jackfruit tree was right under our bedroom window. As a thoroughly city-bred boy, I could identify only one tree with confidence, the jackfruit, and that too, from above. The family consisted of elderly parents, one brother and several grown up sisters. My sister and I called the sisters by their names suffixed with pishi, which in Bangla means an aunt on the father's side. The oldest of the sisters was Lata-pishi, and we were particularly fond of her. Theirs was a religious family that often organised singing of kirtans, that is, hymns in praise of Lord Krishna, through the day. The refrain Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare came back again and again. There was little variation in the tune or the words in kirtans, which induced sleep in children but took believing adults into a trance. No Bengali festival can happen without a community lunch or dinner. For this reason, sister and I looked forward to the festivals in their house. Holi was the occasion when the biggest gathering and the loudest kirtans took place.


Over time, all the sisters of Lata-pissi got married and left. Her brother died young. But she remained there, alone. We kept visiting each other and much later, my daughter and son got the same affection from her that my sister and me got as children. Lata-pishi was a remarkably capable woman and ran her business, a coal and kerosene depot, effortlessly. She adopted a Nepali boy. When he grew up, he took over the responsibility of running her business. Foster mother and adopted son lived happily ever after. Can you guess what Lata-pishi called her son? No prizes for guessing, he was Krishna.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CALL TO FREE POLITICAL PRISONERS IN MYANMAR

ANJALI SHARMA

 

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that he is disappointed to learn that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's appeal against her continued house arrest was rejected, in a statement issued by spokesman Martin Nesirky. Ban reiterated his call for the release of all political prisoners and their free participation in the political process, the statement added.


He emphasised that these are essential steps for national reconciliation and democratic transition in Myanmar.
Attack in Kabul: Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the attacks that took place in Kabul which caused the death and injury of many Afghan and foreign residents for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, in a statement issued by his spokesman in New York. He stated that this deliberate targeting of civilians demonstrates once again a senseless disregard for human life on the part of the perpetrators.


Mr Ban extended his deepest condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and sends his wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured, the statement added.
UN mission in Afghanistan also condemned the attacks killed 17 people, including some Indians and injured many others. "The perpetrators behind these attacks have again shown total disregard for the lives of others", said Dan McNorton, spokesperson for the UN mission in Afghanistan.


According to media reports, the attacks occurred at 6:30 a.m. local time close to the City Centre shopping area and the Safi Landmark Hotel. This is the second deadly attack in Kabul, the mission said.


Electronic waste: The UN environmental agency called for new recycling technologies and regulations to safeguard both public health and the environment as the hazardous waste from electronic products growing exponentially in developing countries, by over 500 per cent.


According to a report issued by UNEP, so-called e-waste from products such as old computers, printers, mobile phones, pagers, digital photo and music devices, refrigerators, toys and televisions, is on rise sharply in tandem with growth in sales in countries like China and India and Africa and Latin America over the next 10 years.
The study Recycling from E-Waste to Resources, launched at a meeting of hazardous wastes experts in Bali, predicted that by 2020 e-waste from old computers will have jumped by 500 per cent from 2007 levels in India, and by 200 to 400 per cent in South Africa and China, that from old mobile phones will be 7 times higher in China and 18 times higher in India.


The most e-waste in China is improperly handled, much of it incinerated by backyard recyclers to recover valuable metals like gold, practices that release steady plumes of far-reaching toxic pollution and yield very low metal recovery rates compared to state-of-the-art industrial facilities, it stated.


"This report gives new urgency to establishing ambitious, formal and regulated processes for collecting and managing e-waste via the setting up of large, efficient facilities in China", UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.


"China is not alone in facing a serious challenge. India, Brazil, Mexico and others may also face rising environmental damage and health problems if e-waste recycling is left to the vagaries of the informal sector. In addition to curbing health problems, boosting developing country e-waste recycling rates can have the potential to generate decent employment, cut greenhouse gas emissions and recover a wide range of valuable metals including silver, gold, palladium, copper and indium. By acting now and planning forward many countries can turn an e-challenge into an e-opportunity", he said.


Planting trees: The UN environmental agency announced that India will join the global campaign to cover the world with billions of trees, pushing the total number of trees planted to over 10 billion since 2006. UNEP stated in a press release that India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the region and is the world's largest consumers of wood products.With a significant proportion of its population depending on land, intense pressure is placed on forests, while overgrazing is contributing to desertification, the agency noted.
India has kicked off a tree-planting scheme to combat land degradation and desertification, including windbreaks and shelter belts to protect agricultural land, UNEP said. "It is wonderful to have India join a campaign that will give so much in terms of trees and the future of the planet", said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.


The campaign reached its seven billionth tree - one for every person on the planet last September when China signed on and contributed three billion trees, which alone was an "enormous achievement". But thanks to India's participation, he said, it has now surpassed the 10 billion mark.


Loan to farmers: The International Fund for Agricultural Development has announced a $25 million loan to help 58,000 farming households in Sri Lanka to improve livelihoods, boost incomes and enhance their marketing skills to be able to see their products, in a press release issued.


IFAD said that the $25m loan will enable the National Agri-business Development Programme to help small producers, women, landless households and young people in rural areas. The scheme will increase the incomes of smallholder farmers by 20 to 30 per cent, and help farmers become directly involved in processing and marketing their products such as fruits, vegetables, spices, cereal, milk and dry fish, it said. "The programme will provide business expertise so that farmers can take part in joint ventures as equal partners with the private sector", IFAD stated in a news release.

 

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

EDITORIAL

TARGETING HUSAIN

"GOVT SHOULD GO BEYOND SAYING HUSAIN IS WELCOME."

 

It is a matter of national shame for India that Maqbool Fida Husain, the country's most celebrated artist, has accepted the offer of Quatar's citizenship because he is unable to live and work in India. Husain's decision shows that the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and even of life and liberty are dead letters when it comes to the crunch. Husain has been at the receiving end of a virulent campaign by Hindutva forces since 1996 for his unconventional portrayal of Hindu deities in his paintings, notwithstanding the fact that such creative freedom has been the hallmark of Indian art for ages. The targeting of Husain had much to do with his own name, the rising tide of intolerance in the country and the inability to judge art on its own terms.


The 95-year-old artist has been in self-imposed exile in Dubai since 2006, unable to face legal harassment and unsure of his safety and security in the country. He has faced hundreds of cases, launched in a concerted fashion to harass him. Some of the cases have been rejected by courts but there are still others caught in judicial delays awaiting a decision. But a judicial clearance is the least of the problems. Governments have been unable to guarantee him adequate security, though Husain has many times expressed his keenness to come back to the country. His works have been vandalised, his home was once broken into and he has suffered threats and indignities. The government's pussyfooting even created the ridiculous situation of the country's best artist going unrepresented in the India Art Summit of 2008. The government's proneness to pander to the narrow sensitivities of a bigoted class rather than respect artistic sensibility and enforce its mandate to implement the rule of law was at the root of this. Husain is not the lone victim of this official capitulation to a code of hatred and intolerance and threat of violence. Others like Salman Rushdie have also suffered from it.


The increasing communalisation of art, politics and society is a dangerous trend. The inability of Husain to live in India and his likely forfeiting of Indian nationality is a blot on India's reputation as a free and secular country. The government's responsibility should go beyond stating that Husain is welcome in India to ensuring that he and his art will be safe in the country. That responsibility extends to the entire society too.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

GOING DOWNHILL

"THE GENERALS LIVE IN FEAR OF THE FIESTY LADY."

 

The Myanmar supreme court's rejection of an appeal by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi against the extension of her house arrest indicates that the junta is determined to keep her out of public life. Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a sweeping mandate in the 1990 general elections. Not only did the military not respect the people's mandate it refused to hand over power to the NLD - but also it has kept Suu Kyi and hundreds of other NLD leaders and other pro-democracy activists in detention in the two decades since. Suu Kyi's detention was due to end last May. Then in a bizarre turn of events, she was accused of breaching the terms of her house arrest when an American man swam across a lake to her house. Her detention was extended thereafter. There were signs of a shift in the Generals' tough position. Late last year, western diplomats were allowed to meet Suu Kyi.  A fortnight ago, U Tin Oo, the NLD's deputy leader, was set free. It did seem then that the junta, anxious to ensure some legitimacy for general elections due later this year, would release Suu Kyi as well. But these hopes have been dashed by the supreme court verdict.


Suu Kyi, who is often referred to as The Lady by the people of Myanmar, remains hugely popular. The supreme court verdict confirms what the world has always known: the Generals fear The Lady. To ensure she would not throw her hat in the ring, they disqualified her from contesting the election. The court verdict ensures now that she cannot campaign for her party either. This shows the depth of insecurity of the Generals. They do not have the guts to step out and face the electorate if Suu Kyi is in the electoral arena.


The Generals have crafted a constitution that entrenches the military in the country's power structure. And they are holding an election under that constitution to give themselves the legitimacy. This is a farce that the people must defeat . They should participate in these elections in large numbers and vote for those who stand for Myanmar's democratic future. It is through the ballot box that they should show their contempt for the Generals and their cowardice.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

LESSER EVIL

IT IS BETTER TO FACE HIGH PRICES OF OIL IMMEDIATELY THAN RISKING SPIRALLING FISCAL DEFICIT AND LOSS OF ECONOMIC SOVEREIGNTY.

BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA

 

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has increased the price of oil in his effort to control the runaway fiscal deficit of the current year. Large fiscal deficit is fundamentally harmful for the economy. The RBI prints notes and makes them available to the government for making expenditures in excess of its income. This is convenient but impacts the economy adversely in the next cycle. It adds to price rise.


An increase in the money in circulation in the economy takes place. This leads to high pressure in the economy much like in the pressure cooker on the stove. Larger amounts of money begin chasing the same amount of goods in the economy and that leads to an increase in prices - as is happening at present.


Devaluation of currency

Yet later, a devaluation of the currency takes place. It is beneficial, therefore, to resort to fiscal deficit only for overcoming short run problems just as a company may resort to overdraft from the bank for meeting short term contingencies.

The fiscal deficit that has already been incurred can be controlled in two ways - by raising tax revenues or by reducing expenditures. The latter is difficult at the present. Defence expenditures cannot be reduced given the unstable situation in Pakistan. Social sector expenditures cannot be reduced in view of the pervasive Naxalite activities in nearly one-half of the country. The common man is restive because fruits of economic growth are not reaching him. This is also reflected in the resurgence of son-of-soil demands such as that is taking place in Maharashtra.

These expenditures on social sector do not appear to be successful in alleviating the plight of the poor because most money is pocketed by corrupt politicians and government employees. Yet these cannot be reduced until alternative programmes for reaching relief to the poor are set in place.


The finance minister has boldly moved in this direction. He has reversed the relief given in excise duty that was given earlier in the wake of the global financial crisis. He has also increased the price of oil. Many analysts and politicians from the opposition have criticised this move. They have alleged this will lead to price rise.
Prices increase both from a high fiscal deficit as well as from high price of oil. But there is an important difference in the nature of price rise caused by these two routes. The price rise caused by fiscal deficit continues to increase as in a spiral while that caused by increase in price of oil settles down as in a plateau.

 

Let's assume the government followed the policy of living with high fiscal deficit. Reserve Bank printed notes of Rs 100 crore which led to an increase in prices of 10 per cent. In the next year and the year after that, the government would face the same problem again. In this way fiscal deficit spirals into a continuous increase in prices. The situation of the government becomes like that of a loss-making company.


The impact of increases in taxes is benign in comparison. It seems to me, it is better to resort to higher taxation to control fiscal deficit rather than allow it to run amok. Politicians of the opposition should remember that the fiscal deficit will persist and lead to spiralling increase in prices if taxes are not raised.


An increase in price of oil is justified on other considerations as well. The domestic price of oil is slightly lower than international prices at present. Public sector oil companies are importing oil at high price and selling it cheap in the domestic market. The government is issuing oil bonds to make up the losses of the companies.

Imposing taxes

These bonds will be redeemed by imposing taxes on the people in the future. Thus, cheap oil does not come free. We are only consuming cheap oil today by taking a loan on our future tax revenues. More importantly, cheap oil sets into motion a vicious cycle of increased consumption and yet more losses. Consumption of oil increases due to low price, the oil companies have to import more oil, the government has to issue more bonds to make up the losses and taxpayers will have to pay higher taxes in future.


This writer had an occasion to study the gobar gas plants near Haridwar some years ago. Many gas plants were found to be dilapidated and non-operational. Previously they were working because LPG gas was not available. Farmers used gobar gas to burn the stove and the lights. Then cheap LPG gas became available. Almost immediately, the farmers stopped making gobar gas. They sold off their cows and bullocks and started cultivating with tractors because diesel oil was also available cheap.


They will now be in deep trouble if supply of LPG and diesel is cut for some reason. It will not be possible to resume production of gobar gas as the cattle have been sold. It is better to face high prices of oil immediately and reduce consumption instead of risking spiralling fiscal deficit and loss of economic sovereignty.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

ZEROING ON ZERO

IF ZERO IS A NUMBER IT MUST HAVE A VALUE. SO WHAT IS THE VALUE?

BY H N ANANDA


Sir, what is the value of zero? my high school classmate asked the teacher during question time.
 The flummoxed teacher sought time to answer but we got zero answer from him. Has zero any value? "We are all zeros and it is only the Madam who could add some value to us" chota chota netas used to admit during Indira Gandhi days.


Is zero a number? If it's a number it must have a value and so what is the value? Kids are taught 1 to 10, it's only later they learn zero, but not its significance. Ever since the mathematicians conceptualised zero in 650 AD lesser mortals like me are trying to fathom its value or its exact place in the numerical world.


"Zero on its own may not qualify as a number but as a place keeping function it has profound value" says a mathematician. Take for example 123, if you place a zero in between the value keeps changing - 1023, 1203, 1230, etc. Sure, but whose value? - that of the number or zero or both? It's intriguing. "Zero, in its place-keeping function, is a kind of punctuation mark to help us interpret numbers correctly" says another number wizard.


When we hear about the stock markets being wiped out by a few lakh crore rupees the place of zero assumes significance because what does a lakh crore mean? And how many zeros make a trillion, I mean how many zeros are there in a trillion?


Talk of billions, the British and the Americans differ. In fact it is not only English that separates the two countries, as Bernard Shaw said, but billion also. While the UK billion has 12 zeros in its belly, the US has only nine zeros. Take trillion - in the UK people write 1 followed by 18 zeros while the US of A is content with just 12 zeros in each of its trillions. I am not sure how many zeros are needed to indicate one Akshouhini.
Not many of us know how many zeros make a crore; in fact I fumble with the lakh itself. So how do we write a lakh crore in figures? Did I start? No I have given up already.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

STATE BUDGET NEEDS REALISTIC PROJECTIONS

INCREASING THE TAX OR INTRODUCING NEW TAXES IN THE COMING BUDGET COULD PROVE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE.

BY N V KRISHNAKUMAR


For the second successive year, Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa who is also the finance minister is grappling with a revenue shortfall of more than Rs 5,000 crore that has left a gaping hole in the state's finances.


Nor did the chief minister cover himself with glory during his fund raising efforts for flood relief. Initial estimates to the chief minister's flood relief fund were projected at Rs 1,000 crore while the final figures turned out to be under Rs 100 crore.


With his credibility and survival at stake, Yeddyurappa needs to project realistic numbers and introduce innovative programmes in the upcoming 2010-11 fiscal year budget to regain the trust and confidence of people of Karnataka.


Three key sectors for job growth in Karnataka - technology, textiles and construction are all likely to show tepid growth and employees in these sectors are expected to withhold spending until incomes start to rise and fear of losing jobs recedes. With credit flow to medium and small scale industries yet to take off, Yeddyurappa should be cautious in assuming growth figures and will be wise to rein in revenue and expenditure projections below last year's budgeted levels.


Political base

In the last two budgets presented by Yeddyurappa, development took a backseat to populism. Allocations were made to religious institutions and programmes with the sole aim of appeasing party's political base. A slew of infrastructure projects were announced with inadequate funding to sway voters just before Lok Sabha elections.
While JNNURM funding has been used this year to complete some of the on-going projects, the ones dependent on state's own revenues have come to a grinding halt. Also in the last two years, state's own revenues and share of central taxes have fallen while borrowing has seen a substantial increase.


Capital expenditure has not increased proportionate to the debt increase suggesting a failure to invest borrowed funds for long term benefits. Power subsidy in the current fiscal year stands at Rs 2,400 crore and is rising at an untenable pace. Adverse fiscal trends are ominous and Yeddyurappa needs to reverse many of these in the upcoming budget.


The finance minister could hurt his cause if he resorts to revenue generation by increasing tax rates or by introducing new taxes. According to the RBI study on state finances, Karnataka is one of the highest taxed states in the country and with high inflation already putting a dent on incomes, any increase in tax rates will be met with derision by both businesses and general populace.


Plug loopholes

Rather than increase tax rates, the chief minister should plug loopholes in excise taxes, stamp duty collections and eliminate leakages. He should take a leaf out of centre's booklet and privatise some of the state public sector companies (KSDL, KSFC, KEONICS, MSIL etc.) to fill up the state coffers with much needed resources.
Among the infrastructure needs of the state, power situation is grim with very limited short term options. The chief minister needs to show urgency in choosing a new site for the Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) and should seek immediate approval and funding from Central government.

Bangalore is a construction zone and Yeddyurappa will be well advised to ensure completion of existing projects in the state capital before announcing new ones. The 2008-09 budget proposal of Suvarna Karnataka industrial corridors with 8 lane road connectivity is yet to reach even the planning stages. Along with the information highway project, it should be given priority to spur development and growth in interior Karnataka.
Pursuing a populist agenda in the upcoming budget that is full of empty promises is likely to further alienate the voters. Instead  Yeddyurappa should focus on presenting a budget that allocates funds for the completion of infrastructure projects, improving agricultural productivity, enhance investment climate and advance the socially backward in the state. Only through an inclusive development agenda and a budget that captures the imagination of people, can the chief minister reinvigorate the people of Karnataka, regain his credibility and ensure his survival.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

WOMEN'S RABBINICAL RIGHTS

 

The male rabbinic establishment should start acting like, well, men – and allow women to prove themselves on an even playing field.

 

 

 

'Assertive" Orthodox women are making some men very nervous. The haredi Agudath Israel of America's Council of Rabbinic Sages (Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah) has excommunicated the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, an Orthodox congregation in the Bronx, for recognizing Sara Hurwitz, a 33-year-old mother of three, as a rabbi.


"These developments," wrote 10 of America's leading Orthodox rabbis, "represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition... and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox."


Even the more moderate Rabbinical Council of America is considering taking the drastic step of expelling from its ranks Rabbi Avi Weiss, the senior rabbi at Riverdale, who ordained Hurwitz and made her a full member of his rabbinic staff, according to the New York Jewish Week.


The Agudah, and apparently the RCA, are up in arms over Weiss's unequivocal recent statement that Hurwitz, who last March was bestowed the title of "Maharat," an acronym for halachic, spiritual and Torah leader (manhiga hilchatit ruhanit toranit), would now be called "rabbah."


We would recommend that both the Agudah and the RCA calm down and stop using bullying tactics to intimidate rabbis and congregations into submission. A centralized rabbinic body dictating practice to the faithful is an anachronism. Today, individuals choose to belong or not to belong to Orthodox strictures of their own free will.


The proper course of action for both the Agudah and the RCA is to use reason and the power of persuasion to argue, in the free market of ideas, in favor of maintaining traditional gender roles.



AT FIRST glance, Orthodoxy's extreme reaction to Rabbah Hurwitz is difficult to understand, considering the fact that technically, there is no clear halachic prohibition against the ordination of female rabbis.


For instance, at Nishmat, a Jerusalem institute of higher Torah education for women, which is fully accepted in mainstream Orthodox circles, women already serve a quasi-rabbinic position. To avoid arousing the rancor of the men, these women are careful to call themselves halachic advisers (yo'atzot halacha).


But in practice these scholars of Halacha function as rabbis, fielding questions from fellow women involving intimate matters of menstruation, sexual relations and reproduction. In recent decades, numerous educational frameworks for women have produce exceedingly erudite female scholars who are on par with most males.


What really seems to bother Orthodox men is the challenge that women represent to their hegemony. Appointing women as rabbis undermines traditional gender roles that relegate women to cooking, cleaning and rearing children, while freeing men to do ostensibly more interesting things such as excelling at Torah scholarship or learning a profession.


The male-dominated rabbinic establishment seems to have a visceral (Freudian?) fear that female clergy will outperform them on the pulpit. Hurwitz, a graduate of Columbia who studied in several of the leading Torah institutes for women in America and in Israel, certainly appears to have the intellectual and interpersonal abilities to challenge many male rabbis.


Throughout her life Hurwitz, who has been under Weiss's tutelage for the past seven years, has been involved with teaching, organizational leadership and outreach in various Orthodox frameworks. If viewed as an adversary, she is definitely a formidable one.


Admittedly, recent social research has shown that in liberal streams of Judaism, where women are allowed to take on leadership roles, men are increasingly being pushed out.


In a study published in 2008, Sylvia Barack Fishman and Daniel Parmer of Brandeis University argued that as women dominate rabbinic, cantorial and communal roles and feminize them, men lose interest. Orthodox opponents of gender egalitarianism have marshalled the findings as proof that liberal streams of Judaism erred when they opened leadership roles to women.


A closer look at this argument, however, reveals a galling premise: Orthodox leaders would have us forfeit the potential contribution of half of a shrinking world Jewish population in order to prevent the other half from being intimidated by females' sometimes superior abilities.


The male rabbinic establishment should start acting like, well, men – and allow women to prove themselves on an even playing field.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE MYTH OF HERITAGE SITES

BY DAVID NEWMAN

 

Some of the foremost rabbinical commentators argue that physical places do not have any inherent sanctity.

Talkbacks (3)

 

Last week's government decision to invest resources in restoring and upgrading "heritage sites" has aroused much debate about the sensitive politics of geography. On the one hand, the international community has criticized Israel for including sites in the West Bank, namely the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem. Others have been critical of the government for only dealing with sites which have significance for Jewish and Zionist history, while ignoring important sites associated with the country's Arab population.


A soon-to-be-published book by Routledge, edited by Marshall Breger, an American legal scholar and former adviser to Republican administrations, examines the role of holy places in Israel and Palestinian territories. The diverse chapters examine the legal status of these sites, the role they play in the formation and perpetuation of national identities and the popular legends which surround many of them. The authors show how the holy sites have been a focus of both conflict and cooperation.


Place is an important component in the way national myths evolve over time. Calling it a myth does not necessarily mean a story is untrue, but that much greater importance has been attached to it than it really deserves. It is given a meaning disproportionate to its significance at the time the event occurred and has been manipulated in such a way to serve a social or political objective which is relevant today.


In situations of conflict, such as in the Israeli-Palestinian one, the use of historical and geographical myth by both sides is so developed that it becomes difficult to separate historical fact from the mythical significance with which it has been imbued.


Perhaps the classic example in contemporary Israel is the Masada myth, a story which has become the foundation stone for heroism and defense of the homeland and is particularly strong within the IDF. Swearing-in ceremonies for new recruits often take place at Masada. And yet, as Yael Zerubavel has shown in her excellent book Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition, Masada only represented the minority zealot population who held out against the Romans until the last man, woman and child before committing collective suicide. This contrasted with the majority of the Jewish people at the time, who went with Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai to Yavne and ensured the continuation of the Jewish people. Had everyone followed the Masada example, there would not be a Jewish people today.


THE LIST of sites put forward by the government last week is of two types – those of recent significance, focusing on events and places dating back as far as 120 years and those which have ancient Jewish connotations. The latter include those in dispute. These are places which we assume are the burial sites of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel and their families, and which correspond to the biblical narrative, but we have no absolute proof that these are indeed the preciselocations. Nevertheless, these burial sites, which have also taken on religious and historical importance within Muslim tradition and are therefore much more contested than the more recent Israeli sites, have become accepted within Judaism as the next most holy places in the land after Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.


How much more mythical have all the graves being discovered throughout the Galilee and the West Bank become, thought to be the burial places of ancient Jewish leaders or first-century sages? These are quickly transformed into places of pilgrimage for those who believe in the merits of praying at these sites – a concept which has little to do with traditional Judaism but has become of increasing significance with followers of hassidic dynasties or among the Sephardi-Mizrachi population. Equally, one cannot ignore the way in which the growing number of sites are used for quick commercial gain by those who cash in on other people's beliefs.


What makes a place sacred for specific peoples beyond its mythical significance and manipulation for political objectives? Some of the foremost rabbinical commentators argue that physical places do not have any inherent sanctity – even if they are the stones of the Western Wall or the two tablets which Moses is said to have brought down from Mount Sinai. In both religious Jewish tradition as well as contemporary Israeli-Zionist experience, the Land of Israel is not so much a special land simply because of its location or its history, but takes on a special significance as a result of the deeds of the people residing within this territory. Otherwise, argues the famous 19th century Lithuanian commentator, Rabbi Meir Simcha Cohen of Dvinsk, Moses would not have had the right to shatter the tablets – surely a most holy artifact – when he saw the people dancing around the Golden Calf. In his world outlook, the idolatrous deeds of the people had rendered the two tablets nothing more than a pair of worthless stones. So too, argues Bar-Ilan University geographer Yosef Shilhav, places in the Land of Israel only take on special significance if the behavior of the people residing therein merit it.


IT IS a lesson worth thinking about before we spend too much time and resources memorializing sites of specific historical events.

Obviously, places have to be treated with respect and preserved, especially if they have particular mythical meaning for specific groups, or if people have given up their lives at these sites as part of the national struggle. But if they are being promoted as a way to strengthen the political claims of one side while ignoring the places important to the other, or as a means of making a political statement concerning the control of land, then it is highly questionable whether we are in fact sanctifying or desecrating these places. If, through our choice of sites, we only throw additional fuel on the flames of conflict, then we have achieved exactly the opposite of what the government set out to do.


The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University, and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

WE ARE ALL BRETHREN

BY SHMUEL RABINOWITZ


From the window of my office overlooking the Wall, I see one nation in which that which unites us is 10 times greater than that which divides us.

Talkbacks (6)

 

The Western Wall, like the Jewish nation, has both visible and hidden dimensions. It seems like a public and open place, but in reality – as anyone who has touched its stones will attest – it is a place of intimacy: intimacy between a Jew and his past, intimacy between man and his God. This intimacy is created during the wondrous moment when a man leans his head on the cool stones of the Western Wall and feels in the depths of his heart that he has returned home.


The Western Wall has been this way for thousands of years, waiting for the few Jews who reached it on arduous roads from all corners of the globe to stand in the shadow of its stones in prayer and mourning for the destruction of the Temple. This is how millions of Jews from around the world imagined the Wall, impressing the image in their hearts, drawing it on the covers of their holy arks, stitching it onto their prayer shawls, and etching it onto the eastern walls of their synagogues.


Thirteen years ago, when I was appointed rabbi of the Western Wall, I was shocked to discover the data describing visitors to the Wall – more than 60 percent of Israeli youth had never visited. Only one generation after its miraculous liberation, it had become a forgotten relic. Together with my colleagues in the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, and with the encouragement of the government, we began to return the Jewish nation to the Western Wall through tours, guiding, accompanying bar mitzva families, joint projects with the ministries of Education and Defense, and more. Thank God, today more than eight million visitors come annually, a rise of 400% in only the past five years.


I HAVE been following the swell of visitors  over the past few years with great joy. But alongside the joy there is also deep sorrow about the din of dispute that clouds the Western Wall Plaza. There are those who wish to describe the Jewish nation as torn and divided among streams. From the window of my office overlooking the Western Wall, I see one nation in which that which unites us is 10 times greater than that which divides us. We are a nation with one past, one present, and one future. We are a nation with a rich and glorious heritage, a nation immersed with a sense of mission for tikkun olam – world improvement. In front of the ancient stones of the Western Wall, disagreements are dwarfed and the Jewish nation is revealed in all its glory.


To me, the Wall is like a home where siblings grew up who later chose different paths in life. Outside the house, each lives his or her life; but when they enter their childhood home, they each understand that they have to remove their cloak of individuality at the entrance. Here, inside the home, is the time to focus on what unites and is common to all the brothers and sisters.


At the Western Wall, the home of every Jew, no one is completely satisfied – neither the zealots of Jerusalem nor the fighters for equality; neither those wishing to conduct Torah lessons on the plaza, nor those wishing to conduct a women's minyan. All realize it is best to leave disputes outside the Western Wall Plaza, shaded by the ancient Wall, entering it modestly and with a sense of partnership. All are equal in front of the Wall – the simple Jew and the senior politician, the traditional and the innovator – all are beloved children of the divine presence. All their prayers are desired by the One who cares about the stirrings of their hearts.

Therefore, the Western Wall is not a place for ceremonies or demonstrations, proclamations or tongue-lashings. The Wall is the place where all of us, as individuals, join our nation and heritage. This is a place where the parts create the whole, without mediation of groups or tribes, but as links of a chain.


I beseech you to let the Western Wall be what it has always been – a place of deep intimacy and traditional prayer, as the custom of the worshipers here has been throughout the generations. Let not the Western Wall become a place where the gaps and differences among Jews become magnified and emphasized.

For "we are all brethren."


The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

RIGHT OF REPLY: PRO-ISRAEL CAMPUS ACTIVITIES HAVE NEVER BEEN

BY STEPHEN KUPERBERG

 

This week, alumni of pro-Israel advocacy training and of Taglit-Birthright are organizing Israel Peace Week on more than 30 campuses.

 

Lamentations about an alleged lack of pro-Israel advocates on campus ("Similar but different," February 21) miss the mark. In fact, the breadth and depth of pro-Israel campus activities have never been greater. Sadly, anti-Israel protests, biased faculty and feckless administrators still exist, but the pro-Israel campus community is fighting back in new and more effective ways.


While protests and counterprotests of the past may have felt gratifying to those eager to engage in verbal combat, the endlessly repeating cycle of shouting cast doubt that it ever convinced or engaged the uninvolved. Instead, in recent years the pro-Israel community's efforts have focused on positive messages, constructive engagement and meaningful academic discourse on Israel.


As executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), comprised of 33 organizations dedicated to pro-Israel activism on college campuses, I am keenly aware of the contributions thousands of energetic, inspired and motivated university students are making to the pro-Israel agenda.


Students at the University of California, Irvine and elsewhere are taking strategic approaches, coordinating closely with campus officials, demanding and attending courses on Israel, creating Israel business clubs and participating in Israel study and travel. These students are thinking proactively about the long term by putting in place the infrastructure and allies needed to develop sustained pro-Israel support throughout the campus community, far beyond what any tit-for-tat demonstration could accomplish.


In this way, the pro-Israel community has become far more effective, avoiding the knee-jerk counterprotest to anti-Israel activity on campuses, depriving anti-Israel activists of the publicity they seek and instead focusing on programs that position Israel in a positive light.



THIS WEEK, for example, while anti-Israel forces retread the tired ritual of Israel Apartheid Week, alumni of pro-Israel advocacy training and of Taglit-Birthright Israel are organizing Israel Peace Week on more than 30 campuses to highlight Israel's historic quest for peace with its neighbors. Disinterested in battling those anti-Israel forces whose minds are beyond changing, these students have focused instead on the rest of their peers. In testament to their approach, the initiative has attracted more than 3,000 Facebook supporters in less than three weeks.

In addition, while attention is naturally drawn to what takes place on campuses outside the classroom, a more complete understanding of Israel's place in universities shows that inside the classroom, students and professors are voting with their feet in demanding more opportunities to study about Israel. A recent study commissioned by the Schusterman Foundation showed a 70 percent growth over the past three years in courses focusing specifically on Israel at leading US universities.


Better yet, these courses cover a breadth of topics that show Israel as a culture, as a society, as a government – as something far more than a party to a conflict. Who are among those students thought to be driving the demand? None other than returning birthright israel participants, who are coming home hungry for more opportunities to channel their newfound excitement into strengthened engagement with Israel.


Indeed, while Birthright Israel is clearly not an advocacy organization, its alumni return to strengthen the work of virtually all the ICC's 33 member organizations. More than 50% of the participants in the ICC's Israel Amplified advocacy program are Birthright Israel alumni, and professionals across the pro-Israel community confirm similar trends. At the University of California, Irvine, for example, the vast majority of the Anteaters for Israel – its pro-Israel student group – are Birthright alumni, including most of its leadership board. These students were among those who worked with the campus administration to ensure a strong response to any attempt to suppress Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren's right to speak. As a result, the police arrested 11 protesters, and the community as a whole rightly understood that the protesters' behavior threatened the bedrock principles of the free interchange of ideas on which academic integrity and democratic discourse rely.


Birthright Israel provides an entry point for the unaffiliated to explore their relationship with Israel – a relationship that can only blossom into advocacy if given that initial opportunity to engage as well as ongoing opportunities to learn.


Many challenges face the pro-Israel campus community. But a suggestion that Birthright Israel or pro-Israel programs fail to inspire effective pro-Israel advocacy is not consistent with reality.


The writer is executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL


LET THE SOLDIERS SPEAK

BY MICHAEL DICKSON

 

Those who have recently served see that the picture the media presents is skewed from the reality they know.

Talkbacks (4)

 

Conspicuously missing in the narrative of Israel's recent battles against terrorists is the story of those who actually fought in them; the everyday soldier, with no political agenda, just a conviction in the morality of his army and the personal experience to back that up. But that is no longer the case. Groups of Israeli soldiers, young combat reservists are currently touring North America as part of the "Israeli Soldiers Speak Out" campaign.

There was no shortage of volunteers for this tour. Those who have recently served see that the picture the media presents is skewed from the reality they know. They feel a deep sense of injustice when this happens, given that they have risked their own lives and lost friends while doing their utmost to protect Palestinian civilians. These young soldiers recognize that their service is vital to a country like Israel, which is constantly endangered by terrorists and hostile neighbors.


I have been privileged to know the young soldiers participating in this project. Their personal battlefield experience challenges members of the audience to put themselves in their shoes and to question what they would do in similar scenarios.


Audiences will meet Inon, an officer who was fighting Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 when his unit came across an elderly Lebanese woman in an area where the IDF had warned citizens to leave while they carried out their operation. Seeing the lady was crying out, apparently in pain, they approached her with an army medic. As they got closer, they realized she was wired with explosives – Hizbullah had set a trap, turning a pensioner into a human bomb.


Also taking part in the tour is Avi, who cut his honeymoon short to rejoin his paratroopers brigade in the military operation against Hamas in Gaza last year. As he fought intense, pitched battles against Hamas gunmen, he saw the streets covered with leaflets. The terrorists had been warned by the IDF that they were coming, thus denying Avi and his colleagues the element of surprise. But a prerequisite for a moral army is wanting to give civilians a chance to flee the battle zone.


THESE STORIES are not documented in the many recent anti-Israel reports, which have ranged from the libelous to the ludicrous. Israel was being bombarded by rockets for the better part of a decade before acting against the Hamas rocket-launchers in Gaza. Yet, before the dust had cleared from the battlefield, the frenzied media – fuelled by politically motivated NGOs – was full of reports and allegations: of reckless bombardment by the IDF, misuse of weapons, organ harvesting.. the list goes on.


And these slanders have been re-reported as fact in much of the Arab (and Western) media. In many Arab countries, state-controlled media inculcates the worst kind of hate and the Internet ensures the message seeps through. Web-based technology gives hideous anti-Israel lies a platform that has no borders. Israel's enemies know this, as Spanish politician Pilar Rahola recently commented at the Global Conference Against Anti-Semitism, "they seek to kill us with cellphones connected to the Middle Ages".

Global media gives an uncritical reception to these reports. Whereas Israel's actions are examined under the microscope, those who seek to defame the IDF are given carte blanche. This is all fodder for radical groups and anti-Israel organizations who spread the message onto campuses and beyond.


Of course, these reports mention Israel in the same breath as Hamas, who fight in civilian clothing, take their own people as human shields and have used every trick in the book to blur and subvert the rules of war. Radical sympathizers are quick to turn a blind eye to this and explain away their rockets as 'crude', when in reality these terrorist forces are better armed than the majority of the armies of the members of the UN. This is the new frontline that Israel faces; an uneven battlefield on the war front and in the press.


The IDF has over 600,000 citizen soldiers and reservists; with mandatory service a necessity for a country under constant threat. Its army is one of the most monitored in the world, not because the international community demands it, but because we, the citizens of Israel, do.


THE STORIES on the "Israeli Soldiers Speak Out" tour are pretty common in Israel where everyone knows somebody who is serving. But they are rarely heard in the outside world. It is time to shine a light on the immoral Hamas leaders who hold the Palestinian people and the chances for peace in this region hostage .

Indeed, peace is a word mentioned many times by the young IDF soldiers I spoke with. Avi is expecting a baby girl in a few weeks. "I'll still tell her what my parents told me", he said, "that when she grows up, I hope she won't have to serve".


Despite his recent service in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Avi has hope for the future, if the extremists lose their stranglehold on Palestinian society.

 

All of the soldiers we met illustrate the IDF's moral code with first-hand experiences. The media may not always report it, but by putting the soldiers' stories on the Internet, they can speak to people directly. These personal testimonies give a perspective which is rarely heard outside Israel. Let them be heard.



The writer is Israel Director of StandWithUs which educates about Israel through student fellowships, speaker programs, conferences, written materials and Internet resources. Soldiers testimony can be viewed at www.soldiersspeakout.com.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

DEADLY POLITICAL BABBLINGS

BY GERSHON BASKIN


Palestinians have an opportunity to play a constructive role in de-escalating the situation ignited by Netanyahu's thoughtless words on the heritage sites.

Talkbacks (2)

 

In 1996 in his first term in office, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opened the Hasmonean Tunnels, declaring that this place was the "rock of our existence." Following the opening, riots broke out in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Fifty-eight Palestinians and 15 IDF soldiers were killed.


Now the prime minister has fanned the flames once again, announcing that the Cave of the Patriarchs (and Matriarchs) in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem are national heritage sites.


If the consequences of such political babbling were not so deadly, one could simply say populism is a necessary evil of democracy. But we have a prime minister who speaks before he thinks and, more importantly, speaks about peace with our neighbors without any serious thinking about what peace means.


This is, of course, not the first time that riots in Hebron have spread throughout the Holy Land. There was the massacre of 1929 in which 67 Jews were killed by their Arab neighbors after rumors spread that Jews were killing Arabs near the Western Wall. In 1996, with the opening of the tunnels, rumors spread that Israel was digging under the Aksa Mosque so that it would collapse.


Hebron is a very special city. No one doubts its religious importance –nor its bloody history. For Jews it has symbolized barbaric terrorism since the 1929 riots. For Palestinians, the massacre of Baruch Goldstein "matches" the Jewish memories of horror. Without diminishing from the memory of those who were brutally killed, Jews or Arabs, there is nothing special about Hebron in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are hundreds of places and dates that can be recalled from the 100 years of conflict by both sides to invoke the memory of fallen martyrs.


The massacre in 1929 does not grant any special rights to Jews to reclaim property in Hebron, any more than the rights of Palestinian refugees from Jaffa or any other destroyed villages throughout the land of Israel to reclaim their property. If one side has the right to reclaim propertyfrom before 1948, surely the other must have the same. The mutual claims on property must be dealt with at some time in the peace process.


But Hebron is a special place because of its religious significance. The period from 1949 to 1967, when Jews were denied the possibility of praying in the Tomb, is not acceptable. Any peace process must entail religious tolerance, mutual respect and a large degree of civility when it comes to the holy places of all the faiths. The religious claims of Jews regarding Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs cannot be denied by anyone that makes similar claims. People do not have to accept the truth of claims made by other religions, but they must accept that the other religions' truths have value equal to their own.


WHEN A Palestinian state is finally created and the Israeli occupation comes to an end, Hebron will be under sovereign Palestinian rule. Jews must recognize that you don't have to have sovereignty over every holy site or every grave. Rabbi Nachman's grave in the Ukraine is still a sacred site for the tens of thousands who travel there to worship, even without a claim of Israeli sovereignty.

It is important that Jews have access to and are able to safely worship at all their holy sites, even those within the Palestinian state. This does not require sovereignty, and the question of the right to settle in Hebron will have to be dealt with in the framework of permanent-status negotiations and not through a unilateral act by the Israeli government. If the Palestinians wish to remove the settlers from Hebron, it would be wise of them to propose a plan that recognizes the city's holiness to the Jewish people and guarantees the religious rights of the Jews there.


The plan should state clearly that Hebron will be under Palestinian sovereignty with arrangements for Jewish prayer on a regular basis and security guarantees for Jewish worshipers.


In recognizing that Palestinian promises of security fall short in Israeli eyes, the plan should call for international guarantees to protect those rights and to provide security. The plan should be magnanimous and enable the Jews to establish a center of learning in one of the Jewish properties and to even have a museum of Jewish heritage there.


Palestinians have an opportunity to play a constructive role in de-escalating the situation ignited by the thoughtless words of the prime minister. The Israeli government must remove the settlers from Hebron, and the sooner the better. They are among the most fanatic, dangerous people with messianic delusions and present a clear and present danger to peace in the area.


WHEN PRIME minister Yitzhak Rabin thought about removing the 500 Hebron settlers who live in constant conflict with the more than 120,000 Palestinian Hebronites, he was warned by experts that they might "pull a Masada-type suicide" and the political fallout would be too great for any Israeli government to handle. Rabin backed down, even though he had a majority in the cabinet for a decision to remove them after the Goldstein massacre.


Hebron is one of the hard-core issues that will be on the negotiating table. Palestinians can make it easier to handle. Palestinian rhetorical responses to a loudmouth Israeli prime minister will not help. An initiative aimed at recognizing and guaranteeing Jewish religious rights in Hebron would be very helpful in building public support in Israel for removing the settlers as well as creating an international willingness to assist. Hebron could explode into much larger violence at any time – but it also provides an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to head toward better chances for reconciliation.


The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (http://www.ipcri.org), and an elected member of the Israeli Green Movement political party.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

LET THE SOLDIERS SPEAK

BY MICHAEL DICKSON


Those who have recently served see that the picture the media presents is skewed from the reality they know.

Talkbacks (4)

 

Conspicuously missing in the narrative of Israel's recent battles against terrorists is the story of those who actually fought in them; the everyday soldier, with no political agenda, just a conviction in the morality of his army and the personal experience to back that up. But that is no longer the case. Groups of Israeli soldiers, young combat reservists are currently touring North America as part of the "Israeli Soldiers Speak Out" campaign.

There was no shortage of volunteers for this tour. Those who have recently served see that the picture the media presents is skewed from the reality they know. They feel a deep sense of injustice when this happens, given that they have risked their own lives and lost friends while doing their utmost to protect Palestinian civilians. These young soldiers recognize that their service is vital to a country like Israel, which is constantly endangered by terrorists and hostile neighbors.


I have been privileged to know the young soldiers participating in this project. Their personal battlefield experience challenges members of the audience to put themselves in their shoes and to question what they would do in similar scenarios.


Audiences will meet Inon, an officer who was fighting Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 when his unit came across an elderly Lebanese woman in an area where the IDF had warned citizens to leave while they carried out their operation. Seeing the lady was crying out, apparently in pain, they approached her with an army medic. As they got closer, they realized she was wired with explosives – Hizbullah had set a trap, turning a pensioner into a human bomb.


Also taking part in the tour is Avi, who cut his honeymoon short to rejoin his paratroopers brigade in the military operation against Hamas in Gaza last year. As he fought intense, pitched battles against Hamas gunmen, he saw the streets covered with leaflets. The terrorists had been warned by the IDF that they were coming, thus denying Avi and his colleagues the element of surprise. But a prerequisite for a moral army is wanting to give civilians a chance to flee the battle zone.


THESE STORIES are not documented in the many recent anti-Israel reports, which have ranged from the libelous to the ludicrous. Israel was being bombarded by rockets for the better part of a decade before acting against the Hamas rocket-launchers in Gaza. Yet, before the dust had cleared from the battlefield, the frenzied media – fuelled by politically motivated NGOs – was full of reports and allegations: of reckless bombardment by the IDF, misuse of weapons, organ harvesting.. the list goes on.


And these slanders have been re-reported as fact in much of the Arab (and Western) media. In many Arab countries, state-controlled media inculcates the worst kind of hate and the Internet ensures the message seeps through. Web-based technology gives hideous anti-Israel lies a platform that has no borders. Israel's enemies know this, as Spanish politician Pilar Rahola recently commented at the Global Conference Against Anti-Semitism, "they seek to kill us with cellphones connected to the Middle Ages".


Global media gives an uncritical reception to these reports. Whereas Israel's actions are examined under the microscope, those who seek to defame the IDF are given carte blanche. This is all fodder for radical groups and anti-Israel organizations who spread the message onto campuses and beyond.


Of course, these reports mention Israel in the same breath as Hamas, who fight in civilian clothing, take their own people as human shields and have used every trick in the book to blur and subvert the rules of war. Radical sympathizers are quick to turn a blind eye to this and explain away their rockets as 'crude', when in reality these terrorist forces are better armed than the majority of the armies of the members of the UN. This is the new frontline that Israel faces; an uneven battlefield on the war front and in the press.


The IDF has over 600,000 citizen soldiers and reservists; with mandatory service a necessity for a country under constant threat. Its army is one of the most monitored in the world, not because the international community demands it, but because we, the citizens of Israel, do.


THE STORIES on the "Israeli Soldiers Speak Out" tour are pretty common in Israel where everyone knows somebody who is serving. But they are rarely heard in the outside world. It is time to shine a light on the immoral Hamas leaders who hold the Palestinian people and the chances for peace in this region hostage .

Indeed, peace is a word mentioned many times by the young IDF soldiers I spoke with. Avi is expecting a baby girl in a few weeks. "I'll still tell her what my parents told me", he said, "that when she grows up, I hope she won't have to serve".


Despite his recent service in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Avi has hope for the future, if the extremists lose their stranglehold on Palestinian society.

 

All of the soldiers we met illustrate the IDF's moral code with first-hand experiences. The media may not always report it, but by putting the soldiers' stories on the Internet, they can speak to people directly. These personal testimonies give a perspective which is rarely heard outside Israel. Let them be heard.

The writer is Israel Director of StandWithUs which educates about Israel through student fellowships, speaker programs, conferences, written materials and Internet resources. Soldiers testimony can be viewed at www.soldiersspeakout.com.

 

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

HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

A MIRAGE OF CALM

 

The quiet on the security front in recent months is illusory and misleading. While the residents of sovereign Israel enjoy relative tranquillity and even prosperity, across the Green Line the reality of the occupation continues in all its brutality, without getting much attention. Amira Hass described the events of one ordinary day in the territories in yesterday's Haaretz: On February 24, there were no fewer than 212 occupation-related incidents, including four physical assaults on Palestinians, eight military shooting attacks, 39 military raids and the destruction of five wells.


The year 2009, marked in Israel as an especially peaceful year, was characterized by a large number of violent events in the occupied territories: Israel demolished 225 homes, uprooting hundreds of Palestinians, and arrested no fewer than 700 minors.


Even if most of these incidents go unreported in the Israeli media, it's impossible to ignore them. They sow the seeds of even more frustration and hatred, belie the government's depiction of life in the territories as serene and peaceful, and may yet ignite a new popular uprising.

 

It's true that some restrictions have been eased in life under the occupation in the past year. But this is not enough to change the whole picture: The Palestinians still live under the brutal jackboot of the Israeli occupation, even if the pressure has been slightly relaxed. As long as this is the reality, all of us, Palestinians and Israelis, will be living on top of a powder keg that could explode at any moment. Any provocation could provide the match that sparks the conflagration anew. No easing of restrictions can cover up for the continuation of the occupation and the total deadlock in the diplomatic process.


Palestinian terror has ceased almost completely, but the violence of the occupation has not. In the absence of terror, Israel has no pretext for not getting the peace process moving, both by negotiations and practical measures such as an evacuation-compensation program. This would precede the dismantling of settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian state, to which the prime minister has committed.


If nothing is done, we should not be surprised if the flames break out again, not only in the territories but also in complacent, tranquil Israel.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

IRAN, SYRIA MAY TALK A BIG TALK, BUT TOO SCARED TO ACT

BY YOEL MARCUS

 

The banquet at Syrian President Bashar Assad's palace last weekend was held in the best tradition of Western state dinners, complete with white silk tablecloth, name cards at every place setting, fine china, pure silver flatware and three delicate crystal glasses for every diner.


The only difference was in the choice of appetizers, a la mezes, familiar to us from our nicer Middle Eastern restaurants. The main course was not culinary, but rather political. Seated around the table were not epicureans, but the heads of the axis of evil, and on everyone's plate was, naturally, Israel.


The host was the same Assad who had only recently proposed peace talks with Israel a number of times. To his right was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who proclaims the destruction of the Zionist state. To his left, Hassan Nasrallah, who wholeheartedly supports that goal.

 

According to foreign reports, Nasrallah came disguised, with his goal, one may surmise, being the formation of a military alliance to deter Israel and/or the United States from taking steps that would harm Iran's nuclear program, which the whole world fears along with Israel.


This surprising summit is certainly in Iran's interest, but it is unclear whether it is in Syria's. Assad's regime is among those Iran would like to bring down.


Assad is not only not Shi'ite, he is not religious. He is a member of the Syria's ruling minority and needs to be closer to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt rather than Iran.

If foreign press reports can be believed, there are good reasons to fear Israeli intelligence and its ability to infiltrate and expose the enemy.


They shouldn't fear the James Bond-style hit in Dubai, but the killing of Imad Mughniyeh, which happened in the heart of Damascus.


As opposed to Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who came and went openly to and from Dubai and spoke freely on the telephone with his brother in Gaza, Mughniyeh concealed his identity. If we throw in a few more mysterious actions, among them the uncovering and bombardment of the secret Syrian nuclear reactor, Assad has good reason to be concerned.


As for Ahmadinejad, he has a big mouth - so big that he does not understand that the more he threatens us with a second Holocaust, the more he spurs Israel to build greater means of deterrance and increases its willingness to use them.


Ronen Bergman wrote last week in Yedioth Ahronoth that former prime minister David Ben-Gurion told Yuval Ne'eman, one of the fathers of Israel's nuclear program, that his worst nightmare was that the survivors of the Holocaust in Europe, whom he had brought to Israel, would be victims of a second Holocaust here.


The reasoning, Bergman wrote, which won the day when former prime minister Menachem Begin ordered the bombing of the Iraqi reactor and by which the Syrian reactor was bombed, is that a country calling for the destruction of Israel must not be given the means to do so.

This is not a one-way threat. Iran might misunderstand the voices emanating from Israel. Iran's leaders might be mistaken about Israel's capabilities or exaggerate the extent of American pressure on Israel not to act against Iran. But our deterrance is based on force and the willingness to use it in the face of a threat to our survival.


In the days before the 1967 Six-Day War, when our soldiers were sitting for weeks doing nothing under the burning sun, with Egypt threatening to attack, Moshe Dayan was finally appointed defense minister and everyone awaited his decision. But in his first meeting with foreign correspondents, he was ambiguous - "It's too late to act militarily and too soon to sum up diplomatic efforts."


The journalist Winston Churchill (grandson of the British premier) decided he was wasting his time and that same night flew back to London, while our planes were on their way to bomb the Egyptian air force.


Israel's reputation is built on deterrence. Iran, full of itself, could presume that we will not act or we will not be allowed to act. But good intelligence on their part can depend on precedents where we did act in similar circumstances.

In bombing the Iraqi reactor we surprised the Americans, although they might have given their agreement in a wink and a nod. At the Damascus summit Iran's leaders are attempting to build an offensive axis against Israel and its home front. In the words of Henry Kissinger, even the paranoid have enemies. They certainly have a big mouth, but they are afraid to act.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

PAYING WITHOUT OUR KNOWING

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

 

It's bad enough to work hard all month and then see that they've slashed a third to half of your salary for income tax, national insurance premiums and health tax - and on top of that they hit you for value added tax on everything you spend. These levies, however, are only the visible taxes that have been approved by the Knesset and pay for public services like education, defense, welfare and infrastructure. Even more annoying are the invisible taxes that the Knesset has never approved; let's call them "monopoly taxes."


The most infuriating monopoly is the Israel Electric Corporation. Recently the World Bank examined the IEC's situation, at the company's own request. It found that the IEC and other monopolistic electric companies (it studied six) have a similar number of workers, but the IEC's payroll costs per capita are 25 to 38 percent higher.


But why compare with other monopolies in South Korea, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Ireland, Malaysia, Greece and Portugal? Maybe the corruption there is just as bad. Another report, by the international consulting firm KPMG, found that the IEC's corporate structure is cumbersome and outrageously inefficient, with 2,000 superfluous personnel. Not only do people at the IEC earn inflated salaries, there are far too many of them. And we the consumers bear the costs in our electric bills. That's the IEC monopoly tax.

 

The second most infuriating government monopoly is Mekorot, the national water company. At this firm as well, too many employees enjoy astonishingly good salaries at a great expense to consumers. Mekorot now wants to build a desalination plant, but it insists on charging more for the water it produces.


Although in the past it boasted that it would be able to build and run such plants more efficiently than any private entrepreneur, private desalination plants are now up and running, and every time Mekorot tries to set up a plant, through outside companies, it runs into trouble. Now it wants to open a plant in Ashdod that will charge NIS 2.86 per cubic meter of water. But private producers are willing to charge only NIS 2.36. Why should we have to pay half a shekel more? Because that's the Mekorot monopoly tax.


Israel's defense suppliers also collect invisible taxes from us all. Over the years they have taken billions from the state. Israel Military Industries, for example, has received NIS 6 billion since 1990 (the treasury claims that the figure is NIS 10 billion). But despite these vast sums, the company's plight has gone from bad to worse, and this year it will show another loss.


According to its recovery plan, IMI should cut 950 workers from its 3,400-strong workforce. To do so, it is demanding NIS 1 billion from the state and another NIS 700 million as a safety net in case of further dismissals. The recovery program has been frozen because it doesn't fit with the political interests of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini. They are blocking the recovery because it's not their problem if we go on paying the IMI monopoly tax.


Another monopoly is the Bank of Israel. It's the sole arbiter of monetary policy and supervision of the banks. It can also print as much money for itself as it likes - this is clearly seen in the salaries and perks its employees enjoy, some 250 of whom earn more than the Finance Ministry's director general.


But this doesn't stop the bank's governor, Stanley Fischer, from insisting that these salaries not come under the aegis of the treasury official in charge of civil service wages. Rather, they should be set by a secret "board of governors" with the prime minister as the final arbiter, Fischer says. And that, of course is a surefire recipe for perpetuating the scandalous wages paid for by the Bank of Israel monopoly tax.


The story is similar at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which also has many redundant employees, at the Israel Airports Authority, and of course at the seaports as well. All these monopolies are not just inefficient, they collect invisible monopoly taxes from us every day. This is more infuriating than all the other taxes we have to pay.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE BOOM BEFORE THE BOOM

BY SEFI HENDLER

 

An Israeli and a Lebanese man meet up for coffee in a European capital. What will they talk about? The risky business of forging passports? The Iranian nuclear program? The war clouds gathering over the horizon? No. If there's one topic that ignites the imagination of Beirutis and Tel Avivians alike, it's real estate prices. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the value of apartments in Tel Aviv surged 37 percent in 2009. By all accounts, prices in the Lebanese capital continue to soar.


The Lebanese man begins the conversation by carping about his predicament. "Even with half a million dollars you can't buy anything in Beirut anymore," he says. The Tel Avivian mockingly retorts: "Half a million? Don't make me laugh. If you want to live in the same neighborhood as Ehud Barak or Galia Maor, get ready to pony up at least 2 million."


Now it's the Lebanese's turn to heap scorn. "Who's talking about your minister of war? He isn't even worth one millionaire from the Persian Gulf. They come here on flights from Dubai and Abu Dhabi and drive prices sky high. They want the best apartments, with a concierge and parking, and they aren't deterred by the price. Now that oil's expensive again, they don't care. One square meter in Beirut now costs $5,000, in some cases even $8,000. They simply buy it all up and we, the Beirutis, are pushed out of the city and into the suburbs."

The Tel Avivian bursts out in laughter. "People from the Gulf? Give me a thousand just like them. Our problem is the French. For them, it's not just a matter of liquidity, but also ideology. They come here with their money on their charter flights from Marseilles and think that Zionism means buying expensive apartments in Tel Aviv. They pay any price for a balcony with a view of the sea and they leave us with a few tanning beds on the beach."

The conversation about the first Hebrew city, which still likes to think of itself as New York, at least in terms of price per square meter, continues. So does the talk about Beirut, which has regained the title of the Paris of the Middle East, at least when judging by real estate prices.


Backers of the Olmert government cite "the doctrine of refusal," characterized by a disproportionate response to an act of war instigated by the enemy (and which resulted in the wholesale destruction of Hezbollah's Beirut stronghold, the southern neighborhood of Dahiyeh). They cite this as a war story that changed the face of the Middle East. If it didn't yield a long-term psychological change, then at least Israel benefited from a few years of quiet, proponents of this argument claim. On the surface, the attendant leap in apartment prices in Tel Aviv and Beirut supports this claim. Both cities, which are vulnerable to destructive attacks, have become magnets for investors who view them as islands of normalcy and a kind of stability.


On the surface, this flourishing real estate market bodes well. Money, both foreign and local, that shows confidence in the sturdiness of these two vibrant cities on the Mediterranean is supposed to be the answer to the announcements coming out of Damascus, Tehran and Jerusalem. As long as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad, and even Minister Without Portfolio Yossi Peled, make threats against the cities, real estate prices will just keep going up and buyers will multiply. Still, nobody can ensure that an imbalance exists between the prices and the nervousness among the forces on both sides of the border.


It's worth asking whether this is the best of times or the worst of times for these semi-twin cities. Are those who have benefited from the real estate bonanza on the Mediterranean simply sticking their heads in the sand because of the war drums that are once again beating within earshot of Beirut and Tel Aviv? Will one boom, that of real estate, dissipate when the other far noisier boom happens?

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ISRAELI PEACE COMPROMISES ARE SIGN OF STRENGTH, NOT DEFEAT

BY ALEXANDER YAKOBSON

 

Some questions are better not asked out loud, but once they are, they should not be evaded. Dmitry Shumsky asks in a February 21 article in Haaretz what would happen to the Jewish population in the country if Israel were to be defeated and conquered by an Arab-Iranian coalition. He describes a fate similar to the Israeli occupation in the territories - military administration, roadblocks, emergency regulations, harsh oppression of the occupied people's resistance. The writer thus invites Israelis to identify with the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation and understand why they view the divestment of their national independence so grimly.


To understand the Palestinians' natural desire for independence and their anger at the occupation, one hardly needs daring intellectual exercises. All the surveys show that a large majority of the Jewish public in Israel agrees a Palestinian state should be established as part of a peace arrangement. In one survey, more than 60 percent of the respondents said they consider the Palestinian demand for independence to be justified. But a similar majority did not believe the Palestinians would allow Israel to live in peace after they receive a state.

People preaching to the Israeli public at large (as opposed to the ideological right) usually insist on trying to convince people of something they agreed on long ago - that the Palestinians are entitled to a state. However, they totally ignore the issue people are really concerned about - whether having withdrawn from the territories, Israelis will receive a reasonable measure of peace. It is doubtful whether such "persuasion" contributes anything to the chances of reaching an arrangement and ending the occupation.

 

As for the question of what awaits us in case of defeat - if there is a safe way of making sure the Israeli public will not identify with the Palestinian suffering, it is by making them concentrate on this question. Everyone living here knows what Israelis expect - not occupation, roadblocks, emergency regulations or settlements, but an out-and-out slaughter.


There is no way of knowing whether this prediction is right - let's hope we never find out. However, Jewish Israelis - or any other people in such a situation - cannot be expected to think anything else. It is a fact that the numerous internal wars in the Arab world over recent decades were accompanied by the widespread murder of civilians. And if this is the fate of Arabs and Muslims, the average Israeli inevitably asks himself, what would befall the Zionist "alien body"? For the Jewish Israelis know well that their neighbors do not see them as a legitimate element in the area, but as colonialist invaders. Even Saddam Hussein didn't see the Kurds in Iraq that way, while he treated them as if he did. In these circumstances, the Jews in Israel simply cannot presume defeat would bring anything else.


So anyone interested in contributing to peace had better not invite the Israelis to ponder scenarios of defeat, but explain that these scenarios are unrealistic due to Israel's power - a power enabling it, among other things, to take chances for a peace arrangement. As long as this power is maintained, there is no need to elaborate on what may befall us in case of defeat. It's enough just to think about it from time to time.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE SECOND AMENDMENT'S REACH

 

Two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down parts of the District of Columbia's gun-control law. On Tuesday, the court will consider whether that decision should apply everywhere in the country, not just in the federal territory of the nation's capital.

 

We disagreed strongly with the 2008 decision, which took an expansive and aggressive view of the right to bear arms. But there is an even broader issue at stake in the new case: The Supreme Court's muddled history in applying the Constitution to states and cities. It should make clear that all of the protections of the Bill of Rights apply everywhere.

 

McDonald v. Chicago is a challenge to a law that makes it extremely difficult to own a handgun within Chicago's city limits. The challengers rely on the court's 5-to-4 ruling in 2008, which recognized an individual right under the Second Amendment to carry guns for self-defense. But that decision left open an important question. The Bill of Rights once was largely thought to be a set of limitations on the federal government. Does the right to bear arms apply against city and state governments as well?

 

Since states and localities do far more gun regulation than the federal government, the court's answer will have a powerful impact. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, relying on 19th-century precedents, ruled that the Second Amendment does not apply to states and cities.

 

Under the doctrine of "selective incorporation," the Supreme Court has ruled on a case-by-case basis that most, but so far not quite all, of the Bill of Rights applies to states and cities. The court should dispense with the selectivity and make clear that states and cities must respect the Bill of Rights.

 

To justify incorporation, the court has relied on the 14th Amendment, which was enacted after the Civil War to ensure equality for newly freed slaves. The amendment has two relevant clauses: the due process clause that requires government to act with proper respect for the law, and the privileges or immunities clause, which is more focused on protecting substantive individual rights.

 

The logical part of the amendment to base incorporation on is the privileges or immunities clause, but a terrible 1873 Supreme Court ruling blocked that path and the court has relied since then on the due process clause.

 

A group of respected constitutional scholars and advocates is asking the court to switch to the privileges or immunities clause as the basis for applying the Bill of Rights to states and cities. That would be truer to the intent of the founders, and it could open the door to a more robust constitutional jurisprudence that would be more protective of individual rights.It is unlikely that the court will delve directly into the gun issues. If it decides to apply the Second Amendment to cities, it would probably send the case back to a lower court to evaluate the Chicago law. If that happens, the justices should guide the court in a way that makes clear that reasonable gun restrictions will still be upheld.The Supreme Court's conservative majority has made clear that it is very concerned about the right to bear arms. There is another right, however, that should not get lost: the right of people, through their elected representatives, to adopt carefully drawn laws that protect them against other people's guns.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

REFORM, ON ICE

 

President Obama gave immigration reform only one vague sentence in his State of the Union address. Despite that, and the poisonous stalemate on Capitol Hill, the White House and Democratic Congressional leaders insist that they are still committed to presenting a comprehensive reform bill this year — one that would clamp down on the border and workplace, streamline legal immigration and bring 12 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows.

 

The country needs to confront the issue, to lift the fear that pervades immigrant communities, to better harness the energy of immigrant workers, to protect American workers from off-the-books competition. What's been happening as the endless wait for reform drags on has been ugly.

 

The administration has doubled down on the Bush-era enforcement strategy, unleashing the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies and setting loose an epidemic of misery, racial profiling and needless arrests. The intense campaign of raids and deportations has so clogged the immigration courts that the American Bar Association has proposed creating an independent court system that presumably would be better able to command adequate resources.

 

Tensions and anger in immigrant communities are rising. Religious and business groups are urging change — for moral reasons and because they believe that bringing immigrants out from the shadows would help the economy. Young students who have patiently waited for the Dream Act — a bill to legalize immigrant children who bear no blame for their status — are frustrated. Groups across the country are planning to march on Washington this month, demanding action on reform.

 

At least one advocacy group, the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, has declared the dream of comprehensive reform dead. It is urging incremental change, with modest reforms like the Dream Act. Other groups may follow. It is too soon to give up.

 

Representative Luis Gutierrez has submitted legislation in the House that contains the right elements of comprehensive reform. Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham are working on a Senate version. Let's hope Congress and Mr. Obama are paying attention and will find the spine to fashion a fair, comprehensive bill and then fight for it.

 

Mr. Obama should remember the promise he made often during the campaign but left out of his State of the Union: that the undocumented deserve a chance to make Americans of themselves.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SOMETIMES THE SMALLEST THINGS

BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG

 

Lately I've been thinking of the things my parents taught me — all those habits that were handed over to me one by one when I was a child. These are the sorts of thoughts I always have when I'm teaching writing, which is partly the act of revealing bad habits to their surprised owners. What got me thinking this time was the discovery that I've been tying my shoes wrong for more than half a century.

 

I've been tying a granny knot in my laces, a lopsided knot that tends to come untied even when doubled. It's the knot my mother taught me. But thanks to a tip on the Internet, I learned that if I wrap the lace around the first bow the opposite way, I get a reef, or square, knot, which lies evenly across the shoe and doesn't come untied.

 

(You can see for yourself at http://bit.ly/92NW56.)

 

I believe that if my mother had known about the reef knot, she would have taught it to me. What mother wants her child's laces to come undone?

 

Here's another example. My dad taught me how to adjust the sideview mirrors on a car. In their reflection, I learned, I should be able to see the edge of the vehicle I'm driving — as though vertigo might set in if I couldn't locate a mechanical version of myself in the mirror. But this is exactly the setting that creates a blind spot on both sides. There's a better way (http://bit.ly/cY2dtl). I've been using this new setting on the freeways of Los Angeles, and I realize now that I've been driving with my mirrors improperly adjusted for more than 40 years.

 

These are small things. They're also deeply embedded and as close to unconscious as learned acts can be. To tie a reef knot in my laces, I have to try to tie a reef knot. That means beginning to do what I've always done and then undoing it — reefing the granny, in other words. I'm sure my dad didn't want me to have blind spots. He simply passed along the blind spots he'd inherited. Now I'm having to learn to trust what the mirrors show instead of what they don't.

 

One of the beauties of the Internet is its ability to cough up tips like these from the collective experience of humanity. I'll discover more, I'm sure — slight, but somehow significant adjustments to the things my parents taught me, the deep habits of a lifetime. I don't imagine that I'm driving without blind spots in reef-knotted shoes on my way to the examined life. But something has changed, and I welcome it.

 

VERLYN KLINKENBORG

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

AN ESSENTIAL FIX

 

The recession dealt a devastating blow to the post-Katrina rebuilding effort in the Gulf states, where scores of affordable housing projects have been placed in jeopardy. Congress can revive the rebuilding effort by extending the deadline for a tax credit program that is supposed to encourage developers and investors to take on these desperately needed projects.

 

Nearly all affordable rental housing in this country is built with federal tax credits. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Congress allotted Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama more than $300 million in low-income housing tax credits, slightly more than two-thirds of which has been used. At first, these credits, and projects, were hotly sought after. Demand dropped sharply as corporate profits fell and businesses had smaller and smaller tax liabilities.

 

As the economy has improved, interest in the credits seems to be picking up in many places — but not in the Gulf. That's partly because of a provision in the Gulf Opportunity Zone law that requires projects in the region to be ready for occupancy by the end of this year. That leaves just 10 months — instead of the 18 months that investors like to see — for the deals to be sealed and the housing built. Projects that miss the ready-for-occupancy date, because of all-too-common weather delays or construction problems, would lose the tax credit.

 

Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat of Louisiana, has introduced an amendment that would extend the occupancy date by two years. Unless Congress moves quickly to pass it, the Gulf states could potentially lose financing for more than 70 housing projects and 6,000 units of affordable housing. The loss would be especially devastating for New Orleans, which is desperately short of housing for the low-income workers who are essential to the city's service economy.

 

The more Congress dithers, the more likely it becomes that tax credit investors will look outside the Gulf states for places to put their money. This is an easy fix — and a critical one.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

WATCHING CERTAIN PEOPLE

BY BOB HERBERT

 

From 2004 through 2009, in a policy that has gotten completely out of control, New York City police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, frisking and otherwise humiliating many of them.

 

Upward of 90 percent of the people stopped are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And yet the New York Police Department is compounding this intolerable indignity by compiling an enormous and permanent computerized database of these encounters between innocent New Yorkers and the police.

 

Not only are most of the people innocent, but a vast majority are either black or Hispanic. There is no defense for this policy. It's a gruesome, racist practice that should offend all New Yorkers, and it should cease.

 

Police Department statistics show that 2,798,461 stops were made in that six-year period. In 2,467,150 of those instances, the people stopped had done nothing wrong. That's 88.2 percent of all stops over six years. Black people were stopped during that period a staggering 1,444,559 times. Hispanics accounted for 843,817 of the stops and whites 287,218.

 

While crime has been going down, the number of people getting stopped by the police is going up. Last year, more than 575,000 stops were made — a record. But 504,594 of those stops were of people who had done nothing wrong. They had committed no crime, were issued no summonses and were carrying no weapons or illegal substances.

 

Still, day after day, the cops continue harassing and degrading these innocent New Yorkers, often making them line up against walls, or lean spread-eagled on the hoods of cars, or sprawl face down in the street to be searched like criminals in front of curious, sometimes frightened, sometimes giggling, sometimes outraged onlookers.

 

If the police officers were treating white middle-class or wealthy individuals this way, the movers and shakers in this town would be apoplectic. The mayor would be called to account in an atmosphere of thunderous outrage, and the police commissioner would be gone.

 

But the people getting stopped and frisked are mostly young, and most of them are black or brown and poor. So Police Commissioner Ray Kelly could feel completely comfortable with his department issuing the order in 2006 that reports of all stops and frisks be forwarded and compiled "for input into the Department's database."

 

"They have been collecting the names and all sorts of other information about everybody who is stopped and frisked on the streets," said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the department's stop-and-frisk policy and its compiling of data on people who are innocent. "This is a massive database of innocent, overwhelmingly black and Latino people," she said.

 

Police Commissioner Kelly has made it clear that this monstrous database, growing by a half-million or so stops each year, is to be a permanent feature of the department's operations. In a letter last summer to Peter Vallone Jr., the chairman of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, the commissioner said:

 

"Information contained in the stop, question and frisk database remains there indefinitely, for use in future investigations. Therefore, there are no existing Police Department guidelines that mandate the removal of information once it has been entered into the database."

 

He added, "Information contained within the stop, question and frisk database is used primarily by department investigators during the course of a criminal investigation."

 

So the department is collecting random information on innocent, primarily poor, black and brown New Yorkers for use in some anticipated future criminal investigation. But it is not collecting and storing massive amounts of information on innocent middle-class or wealthy white people. Why is that, exactly?

 

Councilman Vallone is a supporter of the stop-and-frisk policy, but he is concerned about the innocent people in the database. As he told me on Monday, "I don't support the indefinite keeping of this information regarding people who were not arrested or charged with any crime."

 

The Police Department has no intention of changing its policy. A spokesman for Commissioner Kelly told me that information collected when the police stop an innocent individual "may be useful" in future investigations. The stored data may become useful "in the same way" that license plate information is useful, he said.

 

He cited the hypothetical example of someone in the course of a criminal investigation saying that he or she was at "a certain place at a certain time." The information permanently stored in the stop-and-frisk database, he said, could help the police determine if "they were or they weren't."

 

His example would suggest that the innocent people stopped are nevertheless permanently under suspicion, which is, of course, the case.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE HARD AND THE SOFT

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

The United States, a nation of 300 million, won nine gold medals this year in the Winter Olympics. Norway, a nation of 4.7 million, also won nine. This was no anomaly. Over the years, Norwegians have won more gold medals in Winter Games, and more Winter Olympics medals over all, than people from any other nation.

 

There must be many reasons for Norway's excellence, but some of them are probably embedded in the story of Jan Baalsrud.

 

In 1943, Baalsrud was a young instrument maker who was asked to sneak back into Norway to help the anti-Nazi resistance.

 

His mission, described in the book "We Die Alone" by David Howarth, was betrayed. His boat was shelled by German troops. Baalsrud dove into the ice-covered waters and swam, with bullets flying around him, toward an island off the Norwegian coast. The rest of his party was killed on the spot, or captured and eventually executed, but Baalsrud made it to the beach and started climbing an icy mountain. He was chased by Nazis, and he killed one officer.

 

He was hunted by about 50 Germans and left a trail in the deep snow. He'd lost one boot and sock, and he was bleeding from where his big toe had been shot off. He scrambled across the island and swam successively across the icy sound to two other islands. On the second, he lay dying of cold and exhaustion on the beach.

 

Two girls found and led him to their home. And this is the core of the story. During the next months, dozens of Norwegians helped Baalsrud get across to Sweden. Flouting any sense of rational cost-benefit analysis, families and whole villages risked their lives to help one gravely ill man, who happened to drop into their midst.

 

Baalsrud was clothed and fed and rowed to another island. He showed up at other houses and was taken in. He began walking across the mountain ranges on that island in the general direction of the mainland, hikes of 24, 13 and 28 hours without break.

 

A 72-year-old man rowed him the final 10 miles to the mainland, past German positions, and gave him skis. Up in the mountains, he skied through severe winter storms. One night, he started an avalanche. He fell at least 300 feet, smashed his skis and suffered a severe concussion. His body was buried in snow, but his head was sticking out. He lost sense of time and self-possession. He was blind, the snow having scorched the retinas of his eyes.

 

He wandered aimlessly for four days, plagued by hallucinations. At one point he thought he had found a trail, but he was only following his own footsteps in a small circle.

 

Finally, he stumbled upon a cottage. A man named Marius Gronvold took him in. He treated Baalsrud's frostbite and hid him in a remote shed across a lake to recover.

 

He was alone for a week (a storm made it impossible for anyone to reach him). Gangrene invaded his legs. He stabbed them to drain the pus and blood. His eyesight recovered, but the pain was excruciating and he was starving.

 

Baalsrud could no longer walk, so Gronvold and friends built a sled. They carried the sled and him up a 3,000-foot mountain in the middle of a winter storm and across a frozen plateau to where another party was supposed to meet them. The other men weren't there, and Gronvold was compelled to leave Baalsrud in a hole in the ice under a boulder.

 

The other party missed the rendezvous because of a blizzard, and by the time they got there, days later, the tracks were covered and they could find no sign of him. A week later, Gronvold went up to retrieve Baalsrud's body and was astonished to find him barely alive. Baalsrud spent the next 20 days in a sleeping bag immobilized in the snow, sporadically supplied by Gronvold and others.

 

Over the next weeks, groups of men tried to drag him to Sweden but were driven back, and they had to shelter him again in holes in the ice. Baalsrud cut off his remaining toes with a penknife to save his feet. Tired of risking more Norwegian lives, he also attempted suicide.

 

Finally, he was awoken by the sound of snorting reindeer. A group of Laps had arrived, and under German fire, they dragged him to Sweden.

 

This astonishing story could only take place in a country where people are skilled on skis and in winter conditions. But there also is an interesting form of social capital on display. It's a mixture of softness and hardness. Baalsrud was kept alive thanks to a serial outpouring of love and nurturing. At the same time, he and his rescuers displayed an unbelievable level of hardheaded toughness and resilience. That's a cultural cocktail bound to produce achievement in many spheres.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHY I'M NOT RUNNING FOR THE SENATE

BY HAROLD FORD JR.

 

WHEN it was reported two months ago that I was thinking seriously about running for the United States Senate from New York, Democratic Party insiders started their own campaign to bully me out of the race — just as they had done with Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Steve Israel and others.

 

But as I traveled around New York, I began to understand why the party bosses felt the need to use such heavy-handed tactics: They're nervous. New Yorkers are clamoring for change. Our political system — so bogged down in partisan fighting — is sapping the morale of New Yorkers and preventing government at every level from fulfilling its duty.

 

The cruel twist, of course, is that the party bosses who tried to intimidate me so that I wouldn't even think about running against Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who had been appointed to the seat by Gov. David A. Paterson, are the same people responsible for putting Democratic control of the Senate at risk.

 

These are tough times, and the New Yorkers I have met are facing economic adversity with grace and dignity. They worry about their future, care about their neighbors and hope this storm will pass so they can focus on better days ahead. And yet too few in the Democratic Party are really willing to break with orthodoxy to meet these challenges. We need leaders as good as the people they represent — leaders focused on creating jobs, keeping taxes low, helping small businesses and restoring faith in government.

 

Voting for health care legislation that imposes billions in new taxes on New Yorkers and restricts federal financing for abortions is not good for the people of this state. Voting against critical funds necessary to ensure the survival of the financial services industry — the economic backbone of this state — is not good for the people of New York.

 

I was considered out of touch with mainstream Democrats when I argued against spending more than $200 million a year to hold the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York. I was also labeled out of touch for advocating a payroll tax cut for small businesses and for putting a jobs bill before a scaled-down health reform bill. Though much more needs to be done to create jobs, I am pleased that these ideas have now become part of the Democratic mainstream.

 

Yet the party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events: Ted Kennedy's "safe" Senate seat was lost to a Republican; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced they weren't running for re-election; Senate seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin and Delaware now seem to be in jeopardy; New York's state government faces even more controversy and challenge.

 

There are compelling reasons for me to run. I believe New Yorkers are hungry for a new direction in government. Our elected officials have spent too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda — and not enough time looking out for their own constituents.

 

New Yorkers aren't asking for much. A jobs bill that cuts taxes for the middle class and invests in the future; a health care system that doesn't bankrupt people when they get sick; and public schools that lay the groundwork for children to take advantage of all the future holds.

 

I believe raising these issues over the last two months has forced Democrats and Republicans alike to do better. And I will continue holding their feet to the fire. But I will not do so as a candidate for senator from New York.

 

I've examined this race in every possible way, and I keep returning to the same fundamental conclusion: If I run, the likely result would be a brutal and highly negative Democratic primary — a primary where the winner emerges weakened and the Republican strengthened.

 

I refuse to do anything that would help Republicans win a Senate seat in New York, and give the Senate majority to the Republicans.

 

I realize this announcement will surprise many people who assumed I was running. I reached this decision only in the last few days — as I considered what a primary campaign, even with the victory I saw as fully achievable, would have done to the Democratic Party.

 

I am a Democrat. But I am an independent Democrat. I am not going to stop speaking out on behalf of policies that I think are right — regardless of ideology, party or political expediency. I plan to continue taking this message across our state and across our nation.

 

Harold Ford Jr. was a United States representative from Tennessee from 1997 to 2007.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

IN CHILE, LIFE BETWEEN THE TREMORS

BY ALBERTO FUGUET

 

Santiago, Chile

IN Santiago, we feel both lucky and guilty to have been stricken with an earthquake registering 8.0 instead of an 8.8, as it was in Maule and Bío-Bío to the south. Still, most people now keep a glass of water close by as a makeshift seismometer, to see if the rumbles they keep feeling are real or imagined.

 

We are as shattered as the windows and mirrors that tumbled when that 300-mile fault tore open in the middle of a late-summer night. People are shaking, living in a daze of anxiety, sadness, exhilaration, gossip and a tremendous need to connect with one another and feel that the quake is over.

 

It is not.

 

Not all the country is down. Friends got together in cracked buildings with no power for Sunday lunch with not-so-cold chardonnay, to swap stories from the front. People lined up at the local hot dog franchise, reading sold-out editions of all the local papers.

 

I was scheduled to fly to Nashville Sunday night, but I'm still here, hooked to the news that's breaking every minute. Near where I went to change my ticket, office workers with no offices shared espressos and anecdotes. The sight of our main airport "not open until further notice" has added a feeling of isolation to this tragedy.

 

For two decades, since we have been "modern" in this faraway country, we have felt like part of the world. Now, especially in places like tsumani-swiped Constitución, all our supposed advances seem in jeopardy.

 

The quake hit Chile in the middle of a presidential transition and right smack at the start of our bicentennial celebration. It's a testament to our infrastructure and social institutions that the whole country didn't fall down. But we did stumble. And now, live on HDTV, we hear things that make us remember the dark days of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, words like "the missing," "curfew" and "state of emergency."

Rumors come and go: The phones are down; that's true at the moment. Running water will stop for a day; who knows? Supermarkets are full of people and empty shelves. You worry that no one is in charge or, if they are, the situation is too big to handle without force. The real tremor rumbling beneath the rubble is the threat of social upheaval, especially in Concepción and Talcahuano, where ships lie in the streets.

 

We are in a state of suspension. People are tired and perhaps spent, feeling they can't make it through another one. A friend told me that, from his window, he watched a church steeple crumble. We have the sensation of having met, face to face and in pitch dark, the big one.

 

The worst part of the memory, many people say, is not the quake itself but the anxiety that came immediately afterward, when our cellphones were out and we couldn't reach our loved ones. For two or three hours Saturday morning, all Chileans were very alone. We felt as if we were at the end of the world. Which in a way is true.

 

Alberto Fuguet is the author of the novels "The Movies of My Life" and "Missing (una investigación)."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SANTIAGO STANDS FIRM

BY SEBASTIAN GRAY

 

Santiago, Chile

I was awoken from a heavy sleep by the characteristic sly shaking of a tremor. I leapt from my bed in the dark and ran to hold up the glass cabinet in the dining room, as I usually do during quakes.

 

Soon, though, the entire building was rocking widely with a deafening roar, the roar of a building in critical stress, and then I realized in absolute horror that this was the big one, at long last, the one you are taught from childhood to expect and fear, the one that changes history and geography, the one that can kill you. There's no use running: that could be far worse. Stay where you are, and wait.

 

After a few minutes — as long as a lifetime — the shaking and the noise finally stopped. I cried out for my loved ones, and my cat; we were all so disoriented that it took us awhile to find each other and to comprehend that we were safe, unscathed. I ran back to my room and fumbled in the mess of my strewn belongings until I found a flashlight to survey the damage.

 

All the drawers in the house had sprung open; furniture had danced around; books and dishes and ornaments had flown onto the floor. Yet even though the earthquake was far more violent than the one in Haiti, not one serious crack had opened up in our sturdy four-story walk-up from the '50s. Is this good luck or the height of civilization?

 

Indeed, of the thousands of contemporary mid- to high-rises in Santiago and Concepción, most were able to withstand the quake with only cosmetic damage, if any. Thank the stringent building codes and responsible building practices that have existed here since the devastating earthquakes of 1939 and 1960, which leveled many older structures.

 

I teach at the School of Architecture of the Universidad Católica, and faculty and students have begun to discuss how to help the reconstruction efforts in the southern regions of Maule and Bío-Bío. There, in the heartland of Chile, the postcard of our national identity, the earthquake unleashed its full force, made worse by an enormous tidal wave that swept the entire coastal area just a few minutes later, trapping many people, still shaken, inside their homes. Towns that had managed to dodge the forces of nature for hundreds of years were toppled or washed away. Beautiful old buildings of adobe and simple masonry are now gone forever.

 

Saddened as I am by the loss of life and landmarks, I am scandalized by the few modern structures that crumbled, those spectacular exceptions you keep seeing on the TV news. The economic bonanza and development frenzy of the last decades have clearly allowed a degree of relaxation of the proud building standards of this country. That's likely why some new urban highway overpasses, built by private companies with government concessions, are now rubble. It's a sobering lesson for the neoliberalism favored for the past 35 years, and a huge economic and cultural setback for the country.

 

For Chilean architects, this is the challenge of a lifetime: to restore beauty, to preserve history, to build sensibly.

 

Sebastian Gray is a professor of architecture at Universidad Católica de Chile.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PERMANENT ETCHINGS

 

It seems the 'Islamic' provisions rammed into the Constitution by the late dictator General Ziaul Haq, to serve his own purposes, can be neither touched nor altered. Like etchings in stone, they may stay with us for a very long time to come. One of the greatest ironies of our time can be found in the sordid saga of how the Constitution, consequently politics and ultimately society at large in Pakistan were put under the bondage of obscurantism disguised as religion by military dictators and civilian opportunists. They certainly knew how to play society's prejudices and biases to their advantage and cared little for Islam or the people. We call it an irony because the path to constitutional theocracy in Pakistan was laid in blatant contrast to what its founder had envisaged this country to be. It was not for nothing that he had invited the wrath of the theocrats and the orthodox while struggling for a Muslim homeland. The process of diluting his vision with vague references to people being 'enabled' to live their lives according to the precepts of state-defined religion and turning the definition of political sovereignty into a metaphysical one began soon after his death. Since then it has been the fate of this country and its constitution(s) to sink deeper and deeper into a swamp of confusion over questions of rights, identity, gender, education and the nature of state and its interaction with citizens. Instead of building the dream that was Pakistan, we dragged whatever good we had inherited into the mire of hypocritical rhetoric that prevented us from solving the most basic questions regarding politics, religion and society. The consequences are there for all to see. Anybody who does not see the role of this hypocrisy, this failure, this betrayal of the original ideal, in the rise of militant obscurantism suffers from voluntary blindness.


Against this backdrop, we see with sadness that the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform has failed to touch any of the provisions (even those that were the prop of Zia's rule) introduced in the name of religion. Interestingly even the controversial Article 62, which lays down that all members of parliament must be 'sagacious, righteous, honest and 'Ameen' has not been touched. The fact that few in parliament can lay claim to these values, as fresh cases of corruption never cease to surface, in no way influenced the committee. This should provide food for thought to those who were angry with the judiciary over the references it made to the rulers being 'Ameen' in its judgment on the NRO. Perhaps they would have served the cause of enlightenment better by urging parliament to see reason and rid us of such "anomalies" instead of castigating a judiciary which is not responsible for these provisions being there. Having said all that, it is not difficult to imagine the outcry by certain quarters had the committee touched these provisions. We have become a society where religion is used as a means to blackmail. Apparently, the 'religious' parties and their patrons have made it impossible to even talk about many issues with any degree of rationality. We are too scared to take up matters of immense significance. A genuine effort is needed to alter the Constitution in a meaningful way and make a move towards transforming Pakistan into a progressive state. Those who wish to see things change should demonstrate courage and conviction. They may find that once they raise their voices there are others ready to join in with them.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

A CRUCIAL SHIFT

 

There are significant and far-reaching shifts in the way in which the ruling establishment perceives and interacts with the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban. Until very recently they were seen as discrete entities, separate but having complementarities and some shared interests. Today, there is a recognition – somewhat belated but no less welcome for all of that – that both the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) are essentially one and the same; jihadi organisations which have the overthrow of the state of Pakistan as well as Afghanistan as their core objective. Over the last eight weeks we have seen nine of the eighteen key members of the Quetta Shura detained by our security forces in several parts of the country. Whilst it is not possible to second-guess what will come next, it may be reasonable to assume that other detentions will follow, and if so, this will weaken the QS and by extension the TTP – which is a very long way from the position long-held wherein a benign linkage was maintained with both groups as a hedge against the future withdrawal of coalition troops in Afghanistan.


When viewed together the TTP and the QS are a large, flexible, adaptive, resourceful and well-equipped single entity that has the capacity to inflict death and destruction to a wide range of targets. Together, they are now seen to represent an institutional threat to our country. They have the ability to terrorise and destabilise large parts of our sovereign territory, and to threaten our infant democracy. That we today recognise this is not just because the Americans have demanded it, but because we have recognised that it is no longer in our best interests to maintain this dubious dark alliance. Other regional players, closer friends than Uncle Sam, have had a role in our rethinking of the concept of strategic depth. It is alleged that the Saudis have played a part, and if true we may have much to thank them for in the future. Now is the time to move away from old and increasingly irrelevant doctrinal positions towards positions that reflect new and emerging realities. Understanding that the TTP and the QS are conjoined is a step in the right direction for both us and Afghanistan, and can only strengthen our hand in fighting militancy and terrorism.

 

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I. THE NEWS

STRIKING WHERE THEY'RE LEAST EXPECTED

RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI


There seems to be no end to the violence in the North-West Frontier Province even though the situation has generally improved and hope has been rekindled about a relatively peaceful future. However, there have been certain dangerous trends that are causing concern and reinforcing uncertainty.


One matter of concern is the fact that violence resulting from the militancy is moving to new areas hitherto considered safe. Suicide bombings in Mansehra and Karak districts in recent days showed that no place is safe any longer and that the militants are trying to strike where their strikes are least expected. The general slackness of the law-enforcement agencies in such previously secure places is also a reason for the militants to exploit the opportunity and launch surprise attacks.


There have been attacks in the past against non-governmental organisations operating in Balakot in Mansehra district and in neighbouring Battagram following the October 2005 earthquake, and Mansehra's semi-tribal area Kala Dhaka has experienced some spill-over of Taliban-inspired militancy from the adjoining Shangla and Swat districts. But there was no permanent presence of militants in these parts of Hazara region. It is possible that the militants who struck the same day on Feb 20 through suicide bombers at the police stations in Mansehra town and Balakot and killed the station house officer Khalilur Rahman Tanoli and injured seven other cops came from outside the largely peaceful Hazara division. But militants need local support and hideouts to carry out such attacks and it is therefore obvious that Mansehra isn't completely militancy-free.


Karak in southern NWFP was until now spared of the violence that has engulfed most of the province and the adjoining tribal areas. Not any more, as the police station in Karak town was destroyed in the Feb 27 vehicle-borne suicide bombing that killed four people, including a brave policeman named Mohammad Riaz, who fired at the bomber and saved some lives, and injured another 24. Karak's comparatively high level of literacy and the fact that a substantial percentage of its population was serving in the military and civil armed forces were often described as reasons for absence of militancy in the gas-rich district. It is unclear if the suicide bomber was from Karak or an outsider, but it is possible that his handler was local or that he received some intelligence and logistics support from within the district.


Another worry is the sectarian strife involving followers of different Sunni schools of though, such as Deobandis and Barelvis, instead of the usual Sunni-Shia feuds. This happened in Dera Ismail Khan during Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi celebrations on February 28 when a procession of one Sunni sub-sect was attacked by another. It triggered violence that eventually drew the security forces and the police and led to clashes claiming seven lives and causing injuries to 23 people. Curfew had to be clamped for a while in Dera Ismail Khan and mass arrests were made to prevent the violence from spreading, more so in view of reports that violence linked to Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi celebrations had taken place in Sargodha, Faisalabad and Toba Tek Singh in Punjab.


Dera Ismail Khan was known for its occasional Sunni-Shia riots and there was a sigh of relief this year that Moharram and Ashura passed peacefully throughout the province. But one didn't reckon that Sunni sub-sects would start fighting each other in a small place like Dera Ismail Khan's Dhaki village, famous for its delicious dates and until now not known as a tension trouble-spot.


The faithful and their ulema of all sects need to consider the possibility of limiting religious processions in these dangerous times when a slight provocation can cause violence and result in death and destruction due to the use of sophisticated weapons and explosives. Such public display of religious sentiment as large processions walk through congested bazaars is a tempting target for militants and agents seeking to destabilise Pakistan at the behest of its enemies.


Violence also revisited Swat on Feb 22 as a suicide bomber riding an explosives-laden vehicle struck in the busy Nishat Chowk in the heart of the valley's principal city, Mingora. The death toll quickly climbed to 14, mostly civilians, even though the target was a military convoy in which a soldier was killed. Among the dead was the 44-year old British woman Belinda Gardiner, who had assumed the name Amna Khan after marrying pizza chef Yahya Khan from Kuza Bandai village in Swat. She had met him on a train in the UK five years ago and lost him three years later when Yahya was killed near his village in Swat in a Taliban attack on a local politician in whose car he was travelling. A fortnight before her death in the Mingora suicide bombing, the Cardiff-born nurse had travelled to Swat and married Yahya's younger brother Saeed.


Though militants no longer have any known hideout in Swat, they are still able to strike fairly regularly through suicide bombings. An act of terror happens just when one starts experiencing normal life in Swat. Before the latest bombing, another suicide bomber had struck on Nov 30 last year killing the NWFP Assembly member Shamsher Ali Khan while the MPA was receiving well-wishers at his home on the occasion of Eid. Such occasional attacks cannot be discounted in future as a significant number of Taliban militants managed to escape during last year's military operation. Though many of them were subsequently captured and some were summarily put to death in custody, those still at large would prefer to fight on and attempt revenge against the security forces, the police and ruling politicians.


Such terrorist acts create uncertainty and cause worry about a return of violence. Four days after the Mingora suicide bombing, curfew was imposed in the city and its surroundings and a massive search operation was launched by the security forces to nab would-be suicide bomber and their handlers reportedly hiding there. Hundreds of people were rounded up in pouring rain and herded to Nishat Chowk where the bombing had taken place to undergo an identity check.


This caused anger among people but the security forces felt this was being done to protect the population of Mingora from another suicide bombing. Obviously, such search operations have to be carried out with care and sensitivity to local culture and norms to avoid accumulation of ill-will against the military. As if this wasn't enough, the killing of a policeman at the Haji Baba Chowk in Mingora contributed to fear among residents about the likely return of Taliban militants. The police authorities took pains to assure people that the cop's murder was due to personal enmity and not the work of militants.


The lack of foreign funding for rehabilitation and reconstruction activities in Swat and the rest of the militancy-hit Malakand division is another matter of concern. NWFP chief minister Ameer Haider Hoti has spoken about it and the elected representatives of the people in the province have started voicing concern that the promised funds haven't come. The damage-assessment survey for houses destroyed and damaged houses due to militancy and military action in Swat has been completed and is in progress in the rest of Malakand region, but there is no timeline as to when the affected people will be compensated.


The compensation amount could become another point of dispute because those affected expect more money than the government could provide. If foreign donors don't pay, the federal government and the cash-strapped provincial government would come under pressure to provide the needed compensation funds and also undertake the challenging task of reconstructing the infrastructure and reviving livelihoods in the affected districts. This could have political fallout and cause social unrest.


The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim yusufzai@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PRINCIPLES OF POLICY

PART II

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI


The extent to which the Pakistan that we know conforms to the Pakistan that we were supposed to know (according to the framers of the Constitution) can be gauged from the Constitution's own ten "Principles of policy". The first six of these principles (Article 31 through Article 36 of the Constitution) touch upon a diverse array of issues, including an "Islamic way of life", the "protection of the family", and "the full participation of women in public life". None of the first six principles of policy have any real tangible roots in modern Pakistani society. But does this necessarily mean that the Pakistan we know has failed the personality test outlined within its own Constitution? Not necessarily. Other crucial aspects of Pakistan -- notwithstanding the importance of the issues addressed in Article 31 through Article 36 -- are contained in the remaining principles. It would be unfair to declare failure without examining Article 37 through Article 40 -- a section of the "Principles of policy" that we might even think of as the crux of the personality of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.


Article 37 is titled "Promotion of social justice and eradication of social evils", and it has nine bullet points. With due respect to the immense value of the space this newspaper affords me each week, these points require reproduction. Readers can wear whatever hat they'd like as they read these: jiyala, sher, mullah, sufi, stoner, poseur, moderate, fundo, liberal, disco or saada. It is unlikely that there will be different opinions about how Pakistan 2010 measures up against these:


"The state shall: (a) promote, with special care, the educational and economic interests of backward classes or areas; (b) remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period; (c) make technical and professional education generally available and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of merit; (d) ensure inexpensive and expeditious justice; (e) make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work, ensuring that children and women are not employed in vocations unsuited to their age or sex, and for maternity benefits for women in employment; (f) enable the people of different areas, through education, training, agricultural and industrial development and other methods, to participate fully in all forms of national activities, including employment in the service of Pakistan; (g) prevent prostitution, gambling and taking of injurious drugs, printing, publication, circulation and display of obscene literature and advertisements; (h) prevent the consumption of alcoholic liquor otherwise than for medicinal and, in the case of non-Muslims, religious purposes; and (i) decentralise the government administration so as to facilitate expeditious disposal of its business to meet the convenience and requirements of the public."


Let's try to rein in our appetite for destruction for just one moment. Forget the ideological mishmash and the umbrage -- either of living in a country of prohibition, or of living in a country whose promise of prohibition is about as binding as its promise of the protection of minority rights. The real question is whether there is a single one of the nine clauses that are treated with any degree of seriousness in Pakistan 2010. Emphatically, the Pakistani state has failed to promote social justice or eradicate social evils -- according to Pakistan's own definition. Not Amnesty International's. Not the International Crisis Group's. Not the New York Times'. Not David Ben-Gurion's.


Article 38 is titled "Promotion of economic and social well-being of the people". This principle, whose mention by Harris Khalique originally inspired this piece, also deserves reproduction here.


"The state shall: (a) secure the well-being of the people, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, by raising their standard of living, by preventing the concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest and by ensuring equitable adjustment of rights between employers and employees, and landlords and tenants; (b) provide for all citizens, within the available resources of the country, facilities for work and adequate livelihood with reasonable rest and leisure; (c) provide for all persons employed in the service of Pakistan or otherwise, social security by compulsory social insurance or other means; (d) provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing. housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment; (e) reduce disparity in the income and earnings of individuals, including persons in the various classes of the service of Pakistan; and (f) eliminate riba as early as possible."


Much like Article 37, it is hard to find any area in which Article 38 has been adhered to. In most cases, in fact, it seems the active efforts of the state have been in the opposite direction of what the Constitution requires. The Constitution expressly forbids the concentration of wealth and calls for the adjustment of rights between landlords and tenants. Oh dear landlord. The Constitution expressly calls for a reduction in income disparities, especially between persons in the service of Pakistan. Oh dear GOR.


Article 39 is titled "Participation of people in armed forces", and calls on the state to "enable people from all parts of Pakistan to participate in the armed forces of Pakistan". People from all parts of Pakistan do not participate in the armed forces of Pakistan, and they never have. In the 1990s, young men used to be asked where their grandparents were born, as blooding new Urdu-speaking officers into the military was seen as an institutional risk. After decades of systematic exclusion, today, it is hard to find a Baloch citizen of Pakistan that feels anything but resentment towards the Pakistani state, with almost all the anger directed at the armed forces. In the future, Pakistanis from the tribal areas may find they have much in common with Muhajirs from the 1990s and the Baloch from 1947 onwards. Upward career mobility is not particularly smooth when you're part of a 'problem' ethnic group.


The final principle of policy is Article 40, "Strengthening bonds with Muslim world and promoting international peace". In the present global geopolitical context, Article 40 makes for compelling reading. It says that the state shall endeavour to "promote international peace and security", and "encourage the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means" among other things. Pakistan has thorny and existential disagreements with Iran, Afghanistan and India. It is getting lectures on democratic conduct from Saudi Arabia. It is having trouble getting its paychecks from US Congress -- paychecks promised on the back of waging war in its own territory. Safe to say that Article 40 is kind of lost in translation.


The utter dysfunction of Pakistan's foreign relations is not an aberration. It follows the pattern of how brazenly the Pakistani state violates the nine principles of policy that precede the principle on foreign relations.


Pakistan treats its women, children, men, minorities, Muslims, disabled, needy and poor with little regard for the principles around which the state has been constructed. Why would Pakistan treat its neighbours, or countries with whom it shares brotherly bonds, any differently?


If this picture is too morbid or negative for the palate, there is something wrong with the palate. Not with the Constitution. The constitutional narrative since the Gen Musharraf era has focused with laser-like precision on the pomp, privilege and circumstance of the distribution of power among the elite.


Ordinary Pakistanis are right to be invested in the outcome of the tension between unconstitutional presidential power and constitutionally-mandated executive prime ministerial authority. But the discussion must reach far beyond the Charter of Democracy paradigm if it is to have real meaning for ordinary Pakistanis.


The Constitution is meaningful for ordinary Pakistanis in the rights that it affords them, and the principles that it defines for how the state will behave. These principles of policy are not theoretical constructs, to be dismissed as ideals. They define what the personality of Pakistan should be. They are its DNA and the real raison d'etre of the Pakistani state.

(Concluded)

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

RAISE YOUR PRICE

AHMED QURAISHI


Pakistan has agreed to hand over Afghan Taliban's number 2, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, to Afghanistan. How about asking for the dismantling of the Afghan-based terror infrastructure targeting Pakistani Balochistan? Though Afghanistan's role as a base for anti-Pakistan operations over the past seven years seems to be gradually shrinking, it is not completely over yet. The rollback in that role is directly linked to what the US wants. Its recent change of heart regarding Pakistan's role and legitimate regional security interests are the result of the Pakistani military standing its ground, not any genuine change of heart in US policymaking circles. This is why you did not see any US official jumping in excitement at the idea of the Pakistani military training the Afghan National Army.


So the change in the US position may be tactical, forced by Pakistani straight talk. Examples abound, including how the CIA dragged its feet before it finally began targeting anti-Pakistan terror groups and leaders in the border area. There might have also been some visible decrease in the level of logistical support that the so-called Pakistani Taliban received from the Afghan soil (and not all of it from the proceeds of Afghan Taliban's drug trade, as Afghan and American officials have been trying to convince their Pakistani counterparts). Pakistani officials are yet to certify this decrease publicly. Granted that Admiral Mike Mullen is someone who genuinely tries to understand Pakistani concerns. And he has been doing his bit with apparent sincerity in the past few months. But there are still some tensions below the surface. A Time magazine story over the weekend tried to delink US connection to the Jundullah terrorist group and throw the entire responsibility at Pakistan, targeting Iranian paranoia by suggesting a Pakistani intelligence support for Jundullah 'as a tool for strategic depth.' Enough of the demonization of Pakistan that the US media unfortunately spearheaded over the past three years, apparently through some kind of semi-official patronage. If US officials can bluntly accuse their Pakistani counterparts of sponsoring 'anti-American articles' in newspapers, whatever that means, surely Islamabad can pose the same question, especially when Pakistan's case is stronger.


The same goes for the admirable US nudge to India to resume peace talks with Pakistan. Had things not gone wrong in Afghanistan for the grand US project, Washington was all set to introduce India as the new regional policeman in Afghanistan following the eventual pullback of NATO and US militaries from that country. Pakistan was being pushed to accept this as fait accompli and Mr Zardari's pro-US government was more than willing to play along. Again, a Pakistani public opinion that is not ready for such a major one-sided Pakistani concession probably threw a spanner in the works.


Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir must be commended along with his team for stating the Pakistani bottom line. Forget the US statements on the need for peace between Pakistan and India. The fact is that the US played the two countries against one another in Afghanistan in the past eight years. If Pakistan accepts, a photo-op would work just fine for Washington as it does for New Delhi. We'd be asking too much if we think anyone in New Delhi or Washington is really itching to help Pakistan resolve its grievances with India. It's just that the regional dynamic is helping us at this point in time.


So let's make the most out of it while we retain the initiative. Instead of the theatrics, we must ask for something substantial this time. No more prolonged people-to-people exchanges. There is no problem between our peoples. And please, no more equating Pakistan's responsibility for peace with India's responsibility. The onus is on India. It is the bigger country. It can change the entire mood in the region by taking small steps to alleviate Pakistani insecurities. It can do so by taking steps in the water dispute, in improving how it treats Pakistani visitors, and by reducing tensions with the Kashmiri people on the ground.

Bottom line: Enough of selling ourselves cheap over the past eight years. Pakistan should secure its interests and accept nothing less.


The writer works for Geo TV. Email: aq@ahmedquraishi.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CLASH OR COOPERATION?

DR MALEEHA LODHI


The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.


President Barack Obama's meeting last month with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, became the latest irritant to inject strains in Sino-US relations.


Beijing reacted angrily to the White House meeting with a person it considers a separatist. This came on the heels of China's indignation over America's decision in January to sell $6 billion in arms, including sophisticated weaponry, to Taiwan. This prompted Beijing to suspend military contacts with Washington.


Over the past year a number of issues have complicated ties between China and America. These have ranged from the divergent positions they have taken at the Copenhagen summit on climate change to the row over the Google affair. More significantly, they include frictions over trade and the value of China's currency, as well as on tougher sanctions against Iran.


Trade disputes have led the two countries to take tit-for-tat action against the other. The latest round was triggered last September by the Obama Administration's imposition of punitive tariffs on Chinese exports of tires in an effort to placate labour unions in America – a move that reflected growing protectionist sentiment. This was contrary to the US commitment, renewed just months earlier to the G20, to avoid protectionist actions. China retaliated by announcing duties on American products.


Disagreement over the yuan has seen the US accuse China of undervaluing its currency to make its exports cheaper. Beijing has rejected US calls to revalue its currency upward against the dollar, given its priority to protect jobs. The currency issue lies at the heart of the imbalances that characterise the economic relationship between the two countries and also generate conflicting claims about why China's huge trade surpluses persist.


Does all of this signify that the world's two most powerful nations are headed towards a collision course? Is the notion of a G-2 partnership, in which the two collaborate to solve global problems, more hype than real? Or have the two countries become so economically interdependent that despite the eruption of tensions on political and trade issues their relations always come back on track?


Does Beijing's more muscular posture on a host of issues reflect a new assertiveness predicated on the shift in the global balance of power from an economically stalled America to a rising China still on a trajectory of dramatic growth?


Western analysts give varied answers to these questions, even as they agree that the US and China have equities in each other's economic future. A common explanation of the firm position China has taken on many issues with the US is that this assertiveness reflects the dynamics of the emergence of a new superpower which makes turbulence in their ties more likely.


Others see rising nationalist sentiment prompting Beijing to take tougher positions in the international arena. Another view places Chinese behaviour in the context of internal politics as leadership changes loom in 2012 and 2013 when President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jibao will bow out along with other senior figures.


Most of these explanations overlook the historical context of the issues on which China is said to be taking more forceful positions. These issues – from Taiwan and Tibet to trade and currency – are ones that China has always regarded as sovereign and therefore taken appropriate positions on them. Beijing has long drawn parameters around issues it regards to be in its vital national interest, making it clear that it would respond if its redlines are challenged.


It may be true that China's growing economic muscle – as the world's second-largest economy – now puts it in a position to react more strongly. But where China determines its sovereign or security interests are at stake, it adopts a robust posture – as it has also done in the past.


China's reluctance to support harsher sanctions against Iran on the nuclear issue is not, as Western officials suggest, stubborn rejection of efforts to restrain Iran's nuclear quest. Beijing believes that more punitive measures will hamper rather than help find a solution to the standoff. China considers that Teheran's position will harden in the face of tougher sanctions. It therefore prefers diplomatic efforts to resolve the matter.


China's stance is also based on a longer-term assessment of how the situation can spin out of control by the further ratcheting of sanctions, opening up space for military action against Iran, which China, as indeed much of the world, is resolutely opposed to.


Even though China and America have divergent positions on a number of political issues and both view the other's military postures and moves with suspicion, there are compelling economic reasons for them to cooperate to avoid instability in their ties. This is evident from the manner in which both nations have sought to deal with disputes over trade and not allow them to escalate into a trade war.


There is a mutuality of interests that underpins what is widely regarded as the world's most important relationship. The American and Chinese economies are closely intertwined with an intense level of interdependence. A new book, Superfusion, written by Zachary Karabell, even argues that the two economies have now fused to become one integrated system.


As the largest exporter to the US, China supplies products that have helped American consumers maintain a standard of living that would otherwise not be possible. Inexpensive Chinese goods have also kept US prices down.

The trade surplus – as China exports far more than what it imports from the US – is held by Beijing in the form of debt instruments including US Treasury bonds and other American assets. This has kept interest rates low in America, enabling continued consumer spending and helping the US fund its current account deficit.


The economic imbalances make China America's largest lender and America the world's biggest debtor. Most of China's $2.4 trillion in foreign currency reserves are held in US dollars. China's economic strength was demonstrated by its resilience during the global financial crisis when the trillions of surplus dollars that it held provided what Karabell calls a "vital bulwark" against a disastrous meltdown.


Both America and China have important stakes in their economic relationship. China has an interest in not seeing the dollar lose value as that would wipe out a considerable proportion of the wealth it has accumulated and erode the value of the US securities it holds and continues to buy. Beijing also stands to benefit from a US economic recovery that will fuel higher consumer spending.


Despite frequent US complaints about cheap Chinese goods, consumption costs for its middle class and less well-to-do groups would rise substantially if supplies of modestly priced consumer products were not available. In fact, trade protectionist measures by the US will not just affect Chinese export earnings but also hurt American consumers. On the other hand, a large Chinese market holds out attractive opportunities for US companies.

This interdependence doesn't at all mean that economic competition will be friction-free, or that this can moderate intensifying military competition between the two countries. But they have a shared interest in managing the tensions generated by that competition. Both would lose from the failure to forge cooperative ties in the era of globalisation.


Relations, however, can be imperilled by any upsurge of protectionism in the US and mutual suspicions over each other's long-term strategic intentions. Interdependence is generating its own anxieties, especially in the US, where opinion seems to be conflicted between whether to view China as a partner or a challenge.


A recent article in The Washington Post argued that for now China has become an all-purpose bogeyman in the US to galvanise efforts to fix America's economic problems: "Domestic anxieties have morphed into anxiety about China." And it rightly cautioned the US not to inflate the challenge from China to get itself moving.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

FROM ONE CRISIS TO ANOTHER

DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN


This article briefly reviews two years of economic performance of the present government. What it inherited, what it informed the IMF and the people of Pakistan, why it went to the IMF, and where we stand now - are the subject matter of this article.


Pakistan positioned itself as one of the four fastest growing economies in the Asian region during 2000-07 with its growth averaging 7.0 per cent per annum for most of this period. As a result of strong economic growth, Pakistan succeeded in reducing poverty by one-half, creating almost 13 million jobs, halving the country's debt burden, raising foreign exchange reserves to a comfortable position and propping the country's exchange rate, restoring investors' confidence and most importantly, taking Pakistan out of the IMF Programme.


These facts were acknowledged by the present government in a Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies (MEFP) for 2008/09-2009/10, while signing agreement with the IMF on November 20, 2008. The document clearly acknowledged that "Pakistan's economy witnessed a major economic transformation in the last decade. The country's real GDP increased from $60 billion to $170 billion, with per capita income rising from under $500 to over $1000 during 2000-07". It further acknowledged that "the volume of international trade increased from $20 billion to nearly $60 billion. The improved macroeconomic performance enabled Pakistan to re-enter the international capital markets in the mid-2000s. Large capital inflows financed the current account deficit and contributed to an increase in gross official reserves to $14.3 billion at end-June 2007. Buoyant output growth, low inflation, and the government's social policies contributed to a reduction in poverty and improvement in many social indicators". (see MEFP, November 20, 2008, Para 1)


A cursory look at the above stated acknowledgement is sufficient to see that the government deliberately misguided the people of Pakistan by presenting a totally distorted picture of the economy. While it could misguide the people of Pakistan for domestic political consumption, it had no option but to tell the truth to the international financial institutions as these facts were known to them.


Even the government did not inform the people of Pakistan that it obtained the IMF Programme on the basis of past performance. Pakistan received the extra-ordinary funding from the IMF under the fast-track Emergency Financing Mechanism which was meant for the countries "that have a strong track record of sound policies, access to capital markets and sustainable debt burdens but need rapid help to overcome financial crisis". (IMF Survey, October 29, 2008) Thus, a government which starts its inning on distortion can never bring stability in the economy. Most of its time and energy would be consumed for covering up of its failure.


The present government inherited a relatively sound economy on March 31, 2008. It inherited foreign exchange reserves of $13.3 billion, exchange rate at Rs62.76 per US dollar, the KSE index at 15,125 with market capitalisation at $74 billion, inflation at 20.6 per cent and the country's debt burden on a declining path. The government itself acknowledged in the same document that "the macroeconomic situation deteriorated significantly in 2007/08 and the first four months of 2008/09 owing to adverse security developments, large exogenous price shocks (oil and food), global financial turmoil, and policy inaction during the political transition to the new government". (Para 3 of the MEFP, November 20, 2008)


What went wrong? Why one of the fastest growing economies in the Asian region until two years ago has been totally forgotten in the region? Firstly, the speed and dimension of exogenous price shocks (oil and food) were of extraordinary proportions. Secondly, the present government found itself totally ill-prepared and clueless in addressing the challenges arising out of the shocks. While rest of the world was taking corrective measures and adjusting to higher food and fuel prices, Pakistan lurched from one crisis to another.


Despite peaceful election and a smooth transition to a new government, political instability persisted. For a protracted period there were no finance, commerce, petroleum and natural resources and health ministers in the country. The government lost six precious months in finding its feet. It gave the impression of having little sense of direction and purpose. A crisis of confidence intensified as investors and development partners started to walk away. The stock market nosedived, capital flight set in, foreign exchange reserves plummeted and the Pakistani rupee lost one-third of its value. In short, Pakistan's macroeconomic vulnerability had grown unbearable. It had no option but to return to the IMF for a bailout package. There were no Plan A, B and C. There was only one plan, that is, to return to the IMF.


While the country was moving rapidly towards the IMF, the ministry of finance had prepared the plan to bring $4 billion by June 30, 2008 through four transactions. A kick-off meeting was scheduled on April 23, 2008 at the ministry to give a final touch to the various roadshows. These transactions were cancelled on April 20, 2008. Who ordered the cancellation of $4 billion transaction? This cancellation prompted balance of payment crisis and the rest became history.


The economy continues to remain in intensive care unit and is breathing thanks to the injections from the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The economy is not on the radar screen of the government and as such the economic managers have no relevance in the current political set up. The exit of Shaukat Tarin is a classic example. At least he tried his level best to inject financial discipline but paid the price of teaching prudent financial management. No matter who replaces Shaukat Tarin, the economy would continue to lurch from one crisis to another until and unless the government brings the economy at the centre stage.


The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan@nbs.edu.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

 INSTITUTIONAL CLASH

MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN


The Lahore High Court Bar Association has strongly criticised the government for trying to curtail the powers of the chief justices in the matter of appointment of superior judges. It has rejected the government's intentions to appoint a parliamentary commission for the selection of judges, warning that such a step would be the end of an independent judiciary. Earlier, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association had made a similar statement.

Every country has developed its own process of appointing judges. Except for India and Pakistan, no two processes are similar. Our process of appointing judges has been borrowed from the Indian constitution. This process has been working smoothly in India, except for the setback to judicial independence that the Supreme Court and the country suffered during Indira Gandhi's emergency rule. In some cases, such as nationalisation of banks and land reforms, the government, after the adverse Supreme Court verdict, had introduced appropriate legislation to make these issues constitutionally palatable to the Supreme Court.


In Pakistan military dictators Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf had made mincemeat of the judiciary and hacked its independence and integrity to pieces. Gen Zia invented the satanic Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) to humiliate the judiciary and humble people who were demanding an end to his sadistic rule. His sadism became obvious when his kangaroo courts started inflicting lashes on non-conformist journalists and political workers. Zia was followed after a brief democratic interlude by Gen Musharraf. He earned the dishonour of sacking and arresting nearly all the superior judges, including the chief justice of Pakistan. He also won the medal of public disgrace for an imposing emergency (martial law) twice. He took Pakistan back to the Middle Ages.


India also tasted a near-"martial law" during the 1975-77 emergency of Indira Gandhi. The independence of the judiciary was severely curtailed and human rights restricted under laws passed by parliament. A Supreme Court bench of five senior-most judges ruled in favour of the state's rights to unrestricted powers of detention during the emergency. There was no sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, but the Supreme Court felt mortally afraid of giving a verdict against the emergency.


Some experts have hinted at adoption of the American way of appointing judges wherein the president appoints the Supreme Court justices, which is a lifetime appointment. Such job security has been conferred solely on judges. It helps insure the court's independence from president and Congress. But there is a hitch. The president does not appoint but only nominates. The Senate, with a simple majority rejects or approves the nomination. This process is not restricted to federal judges but is applicable to all high appointments, including US ambassadors. Would any government in Pakistan be willing to adopt transparency in high appointments?


The UK, buried deep in traditions, has changed the process of appointing Supreme Court judges. According to the Constitutional Reforms Act, 2005, when a vacancy arises in the Supreme Court a selection commission will be formed. This will be composed of the president and deputy president of the Supreme Court and members of the appointment bodies for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. All new judges appointed to the Supreme Court after its creation will not be members of the House of Lords; they will become Justices of the Supreme Court.


President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have both acted wisely when dealing with the judiciary and the lawyers. It is their sagacity that did not allow the problems getting out of hand. All the sacked judges are back and recommendations of the chief justices have been honoured in the new appointments. Above all, Zardari got rid of Musharraf. The general to the end did not know what was happening to him.

Email: mirjrahman@hotmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

INDIA PLAYS FOREIGN POLICY CARDS WELL

 

AFTER bullying its small neighbours like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan, India then moved ahead to have a foothold in the backyard of Pakistan by establishing its effective diplomatic, commercial and military presence and influence in Afghanistan as well as in the Central Asian Republics. And now Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has embarked upon a major foreign policy initiative by visiting Saudi Arabia, which is the most trusted friend of Pakistan.


Saudi Arabia and India are two sovereign States and both of them have every right to pursue their national interests and, therefore, visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Riyadh should be seen strictly in that context. It is also a fact that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy deep-rooted and unshakable relationship that cannot be affected by any outside power or influence. But one must take stock of what Indian Prime Minister has been propagating in the Kingdom in a bid to create confusion about what is happening in the region. Saudi Arabia is one of those countries which support unequivocally Pakistan's position on the fundamental dispute that mars prospects of peace in South Asia, and Riyadh has always raised voice against Indian atrocities in Occupied Kashmir and just resolution of the long-standing problem. In this backdrop, India should have been explaining its atrocious policies in Occupied Kashmir, denial of even fundamental rights to the Indian Muslims, conduct of Shiv Sena and BJP extremists who have made lives of the Muslims miserable but instead Dr Singh raised the bogey of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, adding that the countries should cooperate in combating the menace. This implies as if there is no other problem in Pakistan-India context than the issue of terrorism. India is not willing to talk sense with Pakistan but Dr Manmohan Singh is seeking 'strategic partnership' with Saudi Arabia for 'promoting peace'. One can, therefore, say that India is playing its foreign policy cards well, at least, as far as Pakistan is concerned and this should be a source of anxiety for those sitting in the former Shehrzad Hotel on the Constitution Avenue. Same is the situation vis-à-vis other countries where Indians are effectively projecting their faulty and wrong point of view in a positive manner. Pakistan is a frontline State in the war against terror but the US and the UK are doling out more favours to New Delhi and are even encouraging India to gain a firm hold in Kabul to the disadvantage of Pakistan. India is gaining edge only because of deep slumber of our Foreign Office and Pakistani missions abroad that have miserably failed to project the country's point of view or promote its business interests in the host countries.

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

US EMPHATIC NO TO NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH PAKISTAN

 

THE United States has once again reiterated its position that it will not enter into any India-like deal with Pakistan to provide any atomic power plant or civilian nuclear cooperation. Briefing Indian journalists in Washington, a senior official of the Obama administration said the nuclear power was not currently part of the discussions with Pakistan.


Pakistan is facing worst type of energy crisis these days and according to all estimations the problem would persist for years to come because of the growing demand for power and the rising gap in supply and demand. Pakistan is working on multiple fronts to help meet its energy requirements including hydel and thermal power production, solar and wind power as well as nuclear power plants. Thanks to the Chinese cooperation, Pakistan has three such projects in Mianwali but the country needs to enhance significantly the share of the nuclear power to the national grid to overcome the problem on a sustainable basis. It is in this backdrop that the country has been urging the United States and other members of the so-called Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to provide necessary assistance in development of the nuclear power sector but regrettably Washington and other capitals are not yet willing to respond positively despite the fact that they have entered into nuclear deals with India. This selected approach deepens the impression in Pakistan that it is being discriminated because of the Western bias against the Islamic world. It is because of this that the country's nuclear programme has remained all along a favourite target of the Western agencies and media while they never spoke any word of concern about Indian nuclear programme or that of Israel. There are also fears that India would divert the technology and resources to upgrade and strengthen its military nuclear programme, which would trigger arms race in the region.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

LOOKING AFTER SENIOR CITIZENS

 

SENIOR Citizens Foundation of Pakistan (SCFP) has urged the Government to pass the legislation aimed at providing comprehensive social welfare system to all the elderly members of the society. According to the SCFP there are more than ten million senior citizens in the country who need better healthcare and other facilities in the later part of their life.


At a meeting in Islamabad the SCFP has drawn the attention of the Government that the legislation is pending for the last ten years and must be expedited. Also the meeting drew the attention to other problems that the elderly people face in their day to day life. While supporting the just demand of the SCFP, we may point out that these are the very people who spent the prime days of their life in the service of the country and therefore they deserve all the care. In Muslim society and particularly in Pakistan, elderly people are accorded most respect in the family and their needs attended to well by all. Yet there are some areas like special facilities for the treatment of the elderly people, which only Government can provide. There is a saying that if we show respect for those who have lived long on the face of this earth, then in return, people will be more likely to show the same respect and care for us when we get in that condition. Caring for the older people needs patience and tolerance because of their poor health, mental attitude and a philosophy of life that runs against the grain. In these days of rising cost of living, it is becoming almost impossible for the pensioners to meet their daily needs including medical treatment because of high costs of consultation, tests and medicines. We would therefore urge upon the Government to pay due attention to the demands of the SCFP and create special centres and additional facilities for the senior citizens in all Government hospitals along with reasonable increase in their pension.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

IS DEMOCRACY ONLY ELECTIONS?

DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI

 

Let us first be clear on basic postulates of democracy. Is democracy only elections ? the reply is no, free fair elections is the first step towards democracy but not be all and end all of democracy.Elections are like admission card to the club but there are rule of behaviour for the members. Elections are permission to start the journey but not the destination. The origin of the word democracy is Greek, demos, the people, Cracy rule of . A formulation of definition of democracy ,ascribed to Abraham Lincoln, is " Rle of the people, by the people for the people" Long ago the basic tenet of democracy that power flows from the people , as against Napoleaonic dictum that all power flows from the barrel of the gun, became well established in democracy, much before Pakistan was born. Nor the word democracy has been discovered by any person or party in Pakistan. Pakistan was born of votes, referendums, confirmation of these by the Provincial assemblies.The fathers of nation were fighters for democracy.


If Pakistan went in the hands of waderas it was not the fault of Pakistan movement. Further the idea that a rule must have the consent of the people has existewd among Muslims from the earliest day. Similarly from ancient times, ensuring justice to the people has been considered essential to legitimize the rule, be it ancient China, Hindu India, Zorastrian Persia, The practice of choosing rulers through electiojns is of recent origin, from Industrial Revolution in the West. In long history of Statecraft, whenever democracy or rule became sick , either they reformed themselves or handed over power to the other elected party, after elections- or faced the upheavals like revolutions, just as when a man's heart is not well, he suffers a heart attack. Nobody wishes heart attack.

Defending themselves the spokemen and women of the regime claim "we have given great sacrifices to bring democracy to Pakistan. It need be reminded that the greatest sdacrifices were given by the Muslims of India including mostly by East Punjab to bring Pakistan into existence. Eight million rendered destitute refugees, one million massacred men, women children, 80,000 women were abducted, etc. One of them Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in Liaquat Bagh in Pindi. He worked for Muslim causes, sacrificed his estate larger than of any wadera of Pakistan, and this was his reward. On the other hand, pardon me to have lived in luxury in self exile, building plazas there, staking millions, ands millions of dollars in foreign bank was not sacrifice. As regards the economic and political conditions in Pakistan today, the claim that having come to power through elections PPP has the right to remain in power for full five years is only half the truth_ because elections are only first step towards democracy but not the be all end all of democracy. Election is not like an allotment order to govern as one pleases in the prescribed period of rule. It is subject to certain conditions. The criterion of democracy has to be the rule of the people, by the people, for the people" A lady from Lahore , Nabeela Hayat, in Observer has described in few words very succinctly what democracy is : " Democracy is about the rule of law, transparency, jobs on merit, accountability, good governance , security, education, health, welfare. It is not expected of democratic leadership to protect robbers, plunderers, law breakers, and murderers. Accountability of elected leaders is a prerequisite for good governance . It is shocking to hear politicians to defend their cronies accused of robbing the state". It is agrred by majority of political observers that corruption has reached a record high level never witnessed before, cost of food items and essential things for living have reached an unprecedented hike, the Rupee has sunk lowest in its value in world currency market, and one hopes it would not sink more. Law and order has never been as bad as now, ethnicity is being promoted where it threatens federation of Pakistan, and its integrity, etc,etc.


Nobody would like the country in its present delicate condtions to be destabilize, or derail the system. Let the PPP Governmnet rule as long as they can retain the support of the masses, but along with this a friendly advise to them is to do soul searching and recognize the need for rectification of most alarming conditions, economic and political both. People resent loss of Pakistasn's sovereignty to foreigners. They should start making drastic changes. Reduce the size of Cabinet, number of advisers to President and PM ( useless load, given Ministers and Secretaries- and are the President and PM really in need of spoon feeding on every topic under the sky ) , pays and allowances of the political appointees, perks, tours, etc. It is agreed that the present is the most recklessly lavish in expenditure , and so on so forth, Just look at the Indian counterpart of our Ministers advisers etc. I know they do not get the royality treatment at staste expense.


Then the regime should let the accused in NRO SC Judgment face the trials after releaving them of their status. One accused coming to the court with State protocol and retaining rank is a previliged person still. Control the prices. Even Middle class cannot afford decent food, cannot have riti, kapra or makan. What to speak of low income group. The solutions should be found before the people's discontent becomes a lava , and their patience is exhausted.


The best remedy available to an elected government when it finds its popularity graph alarmingly sinking is to rectify what the masses consider to be wrong policies or actions. This is internal catharsis but time is of the essence for rectification.A democractic regime must be bound by the public opinion and will. Making the State an orphanage for politicians and providing them funds like milk of mother should be avoided. Surely such an outstanding people, second to none in ability and capability deserve better and can make democracy work, but the rulers should realize need for drastic changes in their style, policies and respone to public sensitivity.


The writer is one of the four BS-22 officers of the Pakistan Foreign Service.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

IT IS FOREIGN POLICY FAILURE

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

It appears that India's politics of deceit, deception and hypocrisy is successful at least for the time being, as Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has expressed concern over Al Qaeda operatives and Taliban fighters' activities in Pakistan. One would not have taken exception to such statement if it had come before the successful military operation in Swat, Malakand Division and South Waziristan. But at this point in time, when Indian Prime Minister is on Saudi soil and he wanted to use Saudis' clout to persuade Pakistan to take action arguably against Hafiz Saeed, then there is cause for alarm.


One could call it a foreign policy failure and of course failure of the inept leadership also, as both major political parties are involved in internecine conflicts. In fact, they are power hungry and do not want to share power with other. They are more concerned in undoing 17th amendment and destabilizing each other's government in centre and Punjab province rather than focusing on foreign policy and solving the problems of the people. It is a sad reflection on our leadership when Saud al Faisal urged the politicians to unite to take on the challenges facing the country. Indian leadership's craftiness, demonstrated by being skilled in deception, is hallmark of Indian diplomacy. At the heels of his three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said India sought a peaceful and normal relationship with Pakistan, saying there was no alternative to dialogue to resolve the issues that divided the two countries. In an interview to Saudi journalists ahead of his visit to Riyadh, he said: "There is no alternative to dialogue to resolve the issues that divide us. Today the primary issue is terrorism, and we are ready to discuss all issues with them in an atmosphere free from terrorism." Even a cursory glance of this statement showes that there is an in-built condition that the dialogue cannot take place unless Pakistan guarantees that no 26/11-like incident would take place in India, and that Pakistan would take action against those who are considered by India as the masterminds of the terrorist attack. It goes without saying that Pakistan has suffered from terrorism more than any other country of the world. Therefore, how can it guarantee that no non-state actor would carry out terrorists acts in other countries?


Meanwhile, India's Minister of State for External Affairs Sashi Tharoor said in Riyadh on Sunday that Saudi Arabia, with its close ties with Islamabad, could be a "valuable interlocutor" in improving India's ties with Pakistan. Responding to a question on whether India will seek Saudi Arabia's support to influence Pakistan to address India's concerns over terrorism emanating from Pakistan territory, he said: "We feel Saudi Arabia has a long and close relationship with Pakistan and that makes Saudi Arabia a more valuable interlocutor to us". The fact remains that India has always shown aversion to any mediator or 'interlocutor', be it European country or America, but since India wants to benefit from Saudi Arabia's market, its resources and investment, Indian leadership has come out with such statements only to curry favour with the Islamic country. It is true that extremism and terrorism are major threats not only to India, but also to Pakistan, and all its other neighbours, but Pakistan should not be blamed for creating the monster of terrorism. In the backdrop of Afghan jihad in 1980s, the US and the West should share the blame and the responsibility to eliminate the spectre of terrorism. And it has to be said, that Saudi Arabia had sent Osama bin Laden to wage jihad against Soviets


Since, India has taken the initiative to involve Saudi Arabia and use its influence over Pakistan, our leadership should immediately follow it up and ask Saudi government to persuade India to implement United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Kashmir dispute and honour commitments made by it with the international community. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution of 21 April 1948 - one of the principal UN resolutions on Kashmir - stated that "both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite". Subsequent UNSC Resolutions of 3rd August 1948 and 5th January 1949 reinforced earlier UNSC resolutions. In his address to the Parliament on 12th February 1951, first prime minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru had declared: "We had given our pledge to the people of Kashmir, and subsequently to the United Nations that we stood by it and we stand by it today. Let the people of Kashmir decide". Pakistan should also furnish proofs of India's involvement and support to insurgents in Balochistan and terrorists in FATA.


It is unfortunate that Muslim countries did not exert pressure on India in 1950s and 1960s. Had they done it, India perhaps would have resolved the Kashmir dispute, as India had then badly needed the enormous resources and the market of the Muslim world. It is because of their patronization of India, that India has attained a strong economic position today. The fact of the matter is that Muslim world faces leadership crisis unparalleled in the history since advent of Islam, and in most countries the leadership is unimaginative. The OIC or for that matter Arab League have failed to provide leadership or collective wisdom to extricate Muslim Ummah from the multifaceted crisis. If they had shown unity among them; ensured socio-economic justice, strengthened the institutions and fostered the spirit of tolerance in their societies, they would have been spared the ignominy they face today. The countries with enormous oil resources should help the less fortunate ones to enable them to alleviate poverty so that impoverished and hapless people do not fall a prey to the designs of extremists and terrorists. Unfortunately, most Muslim countries are deviating from the ideological track and are following shadows of opportunism or adventurism.


One does not see a semblance of Islamic brotherhood so far as the foreign policy pursued by them is concerned. Sometimes, they are vying for the contracts and competing with each other instead of sharing with each other. In the past, majority of the Muslim countries had supported Pakistan's just stance on Kashmir that the UN resolutions giving the right of self-determination to Kashmiris be implemented. Now they advise Pakistan to resolve the issue through bilateral negotiations with India, knowing full well that the latter did not do it during the last 60 years.


Up to 1970s, Iran used to support Pakistan's stance, but since then its interests converge in Afghanistan, and Iran gives overriding consideration to economic interests. It has to be mentioned that despite Pakistan's involvement in defence pacts with the West, people and the government of Pakistan have always stood by Iran be it Iran-Iraq war or its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. On the other hand, India had voted against Iran in IAEA board meeting, and buckled under pressure from the US to implicitly withdraw from Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. India has strategic relations with Israel, and Israel's intentions about Iran are not hidden, yet Iran considers India a friend ignoring the maxim that 'friend of your enemy is your enemy'.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE

MALIK M ASHRAF

 

While the Supreme Court judgments on NRO, PCO Judges case and the rejection of the appointments of the judges made by the President are being widely hailed as historic developments signifying independence of judiciary , there are people within and outside the country who see these expressions of independence of judiciary in a different light. A news report published in the Wall Street Journal recently and reproduced by a local daily on 24th February claims that the Chief justice of Pakistan is violating the same principles which catapulted him as a hero and his hostile posture towards the President is also generating controversies about the role of the judiciary.


The decision of the judiciary on NRO is a part of the same campaign against the President. It further reveals that the elitist circles in Pakistan view Chief justice as an ally of Nawaz Sharif and if it succeeds in ousting the President , the biggest casualty will be the nascent democracy in Pakistan. According to the report the meddling of the superior court judges in the political affairs of the country negates the concept of independence of judiciary. One cannot say anything with certainty about an alliance between the Chief justice and Nawaz Sharif, but the contents of the report cannot be dismissed lightly either. What the repot implies is that a deliberate attempt is being made to force the President to abdicate power. If my memory serves me right a similar conspiracy theory was unfurled by a renowned journalist Mr.Shaheen Sehbai in an article published in The News on 22nd of July 2009. According to him the establishment had already choreographed an exit strategy for the President in which judiciary would be the main player in setting in motion the process for Zardari,s removal and that the process has already been kick started with the exoneration of Nawaz Sharif from all charges and convictions, to be followed by the disqualification of PCO judges and ultimately the quashing of NRO with all the accompanying upheavals. When we look back at the sequence of events that have unfolded since then , his story seems to have a tinge of prophetic accuracy and provides a very convincing argument for those who subscribe to the conspiracy theory, though I personally do not give credence to such convulsions.

 

No doubt the decisions of the court are extremely popular , but a microscopic probing of them from the constitutional and legal perspective by some eminent legal minds does suggest that the judiciary has acted in more than independent manner and also resorted to selective application of the principles of justice. For example Babar Sattar , a distinguished lawyer vehemently defended the NRO decision and dismissed suggestions regarding military-judiciary nexus in his article in The News on 25th January , but readily conceded that such notions were nourished by the deficiencies in the PCO and NRO rulings. In the PCO judges case while the court ordered action against the PCO judges it did not take or suggest any action against the giver of the oath. In the NRO case also the government has been instructed to proceed against Malik Muhammad Qayyum but no orders have been given to rope in the author of the NRO. He wrote " the court must realize that notwithstanding ground realities and other extraneous considerations, selective application of principles is antithetical to the rule of law". Another contradiction often cited by the legal experts is that the SC in its judgement of 31st July while declaring the appointment of PCO judges unconstitutional and void ab initio did provide protection to the decisions taken by those judges on the principle laid down in Malik Asad,s case but did not apply the same principle in the case of NRO beneficiaries. There is no doubt that the SC decision to declare NRO unconstitutional is beyond reproach, however it would have been better had the SC shown the same pragmatism that it showed in its judgement of 31st July by protecting the democratic system and the judgements delivered by the PCO judges.


The legal and constitutional experts also hold the view that the SC in its judgement of 31st July by instructing the government to present the Ordinances, including the NRO before the parliament or the provincial assemblies within 120 and 90 days from the date of the judgement, actually re-promulgated these Ordinances and irrespective of whatever the intentions of the court were, it represented an encroachment on the constitutional powers of the president. Similarly it is also believed that the court orders to open Swiss cases ( ostensibly against the President) are also incompatible with article 248 of the constitution which accords immunity to the President and the Governor against prosecution in any court during their tenure in the office. The foregoing contradictions and infirmities pointed out by the legal experts as well as the conspiracy theories propounded by the media and the unfolding of events as enunciated in such theories , are actually instrumental to what has been alleged in the Wall Street Journal report.


Judiciary as a custodian of the constitution and guarantor of the fundamental rights of the people, is not only considered as the most sanctimonious organ of the state machinery but also a foundation on which civilizations are built. All the religious and political philosophies ungrudgingly acknowledge and espouse independence of judiciary as a means to ensure social and political amity , peace and progress in any society ; lack of which can cause anarchy ,chaos and upheavals. However , independence of judiciary does not imply absolute and unbridled freedom and trespassing into the domain of responsibilities of other institutions of the state .


The judiciary in the discharge of its constitutional role is bound to respect the principle of tri-chotomy of powers enshrined in the constitution itself. Similarly the other institutions of the state are also supposed to remain within the confines of their constitutional and legal powers to promote well being of the state. Any deviation from this principle by any institution is bound to create an atmosphere of confrontation to the detriment of the national interests.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

TRUCE BEFORE DROUGHT

SHAIMA SUMAYA

 

Pakistan and India have been trying to achieve what Abraham Lincoln quoted. The first time this was attempted was way back in November 1947. The meeting of the Joint Defense Council was scheduled at Delhi only four days after the occupation of Kashmir by the Indian forces. The venue of the meeting was changed from Delhi to Lahore. The Governor General and Prime Minister of the two countries were supposed to attend the meeting. Jawaharlal Nehru declared himself ill, in the view of most Pakistanis to avoid direct talks with his Pakistani counterpart and his deputy, Sardar Patel, refused to come to Lahore, stating that there was nothing to discuss with the Pakistani leadership. This left Mountbatten alone in his visit to Pakistan.


Mountbatten came to Lahore on November 1, 1947, and had a three and a half hour long discussion with the Governor General of Pakistan. Mountbatten made an offer to the Quaid that India would hold a plebiscite in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, provided Pakistan withdrew the Azad Kashmiri forces and their allies. He also made it clear that the Indian forces would remain in the valley and Sheikh Abdullah in the chair. Quaid-e-Azam opposed the unjust plan and claimed that the State of Jammu and Kashmir, with its massive Muslim majority, belonged to Pakistan as an essential element in an incomplete partition process. He was also convinced that plebiscite under the supervision of Sheikh Abdullah and Indian regular army would be sabotaged. Presenting his proposal, Quaid-i-Azam asked for the immediate and simultaneous withdrawal of both the Pathan tribesmen and the Indian troops. Afterwards, he suggested that the leaders of India and Pakistan should take control of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and sort out all matters including the arrangement of a free and fair plebiscite.


Quaid-i-Azam guaranteed his counterpart that the two of them would be able to solve the problem once and forever, if Mountbatten was ready to fly with him to Srinagar at once. As India was not interested in the immediate resolution of the problem and wanted to gain time, Mountbatten told the Quaid that unlike him, he was not the complete master of his country and had to take the consent of Nehru and Patel. Thus the talks ended and the problem remained unsolved.


Lady Pamela Hicks, Earl Mountbatten's youngest daughter, reveals in her book with co-author, her daughter India Hicks, "India Remembered: A Personal Account of the Mountbattens during the Transfer of Power" that "My father could talk of nothing else because he could not crack Jinnah and this had never happened to him before. He later admitted that he didn't realize how impossible his task was going to be until he met Jinnah." The Congress, Pamela writes courted Mountbatten's help. "Jinnah was the opposite and rejected my father's involvement whenever he could."


But that was a different time, different circumstances, and an entirely different passage in history. But the conclusion to the 1947 conflict could be summed in word "compromise"; both India and Pakistan resolved their differences by compromising. Now we are living in a post 9/11 world, the year is 2010 and both countries are facing the crisis of good and impressive governance. The approach required for the countries was to take small pragmatic steps, and each side to test whether the other side is willing to do what it says, that is the most basic thing that is needed for future success. If Kashmir or terrorism are made the two focal points of discussion then it would lead to a dead end. And that is exactly what happened when the two foreign secretaries met after the 2008 Mumbai attacks that brought both countries on the verge of war. While Pakistan on Thursday after three and a half hour dialogue said it was "unfair, unrealistic and counter-productive" to allow the issue of terrorism to stall the process of improving relations between the two countries, and the core issue between the two countries remained Jammu and Kashmir and outstanding issues of Siachen and Sir Creek are "do-able".

India has handed over three dossiers containing names of 34 terrorists wanted here, including LeT chief Hafiz Saeed, with a demand for handing them over. Both foreign secretaries expressed their agenda and results in separate conferences and talked tough with each other. The purpose of these talks was to restore the two year trust deficit since the carnage in Mumbai; also, these talks were viewed by the US with special interest as it wants Pakistani troops deployed at the Pak-India border to be used against insurgents acting on the Pak-Afghan border. Pakistan foreign secretary Salman Bashir did express that there was a "huge gap between expectations and mistrust" that exists between both the countries today but he completely forgot what his role in the whole scenario should have been. 1000 Mumabais in Pakistan or one Mumbai in India, Pakistan must realize that India's pain, grievances and mistrust towards Pakistan are genuine. Simply discarding three dossiers as a 'dosset' is no way of going about it. Meanwhile Pakistani Interior Minister held India responsible for terror attacks in Pakistan on the day of the talks. It seems that there is zero coordination between the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Whatever evidence the Ministry of Interior has against India should have been brought to the table. Another angle Mr. Bashir did not capitalize on was the mood in Jammu Kashmir and the statements made by Mir Waiz Umer Farooq prior to the meeting of both foreign secretaries. Mr. Bashir must have had knowledge about them but seemed oblivious to the whole situation. Rather than resolving differences, Mr. Bashir's language and gate can be summed up in one sentence, "I am not desperate to talk to you, so don't give me orders". Ms. Rao was obviously under tremendous pressure from her government and Home Ministry.


There is one issue that can avalanche into a war, and that is the water crisis between India and Pakistan. There is death and dearth due to drought of water in India and this crisis is cracking hard on Pakistan. At the time of independence 5000 cu/m of water was available for each Pakistani, which has now reduced to 1000 cu/m because of uncontrolled population growth. India is regularly blocking water into Pakistan to suffice its own needs. This particular article pertains to the bilateral talks on Thursday, which were dismal and disappointing to say the least. The issues and the analysis of conflicts between India and Pakistan cannot be covered in one article. Anyhow, from the progress so far it seems that some pundits were right not to have any expectations from these talks. Time is running out and "Deadlock" is not a word that should exist in the dictionaries of both India and Pakistan.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

ALEXANDER HAIG, A TRUE COLD WARRIOR

JAMES ROSEN

 

After eight years of refusing my requests for an interview about the Nixon presidency, retired Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr., accosted in the Fox News green room, finally relented. Our tape-recorded session — held in Haig's downtown office on July 27, 2000 — lasted nearly three hours. I published some portions in a book I wrote on Watergate but decided to keep the vast majority private until Haig's death. Haig, who served as secretary of state under Reagan and chief of staff in Nixon's White House, died Feb. 20 at age 85. In the interview, he was in rare form: sharp of memory, combative in tone, unsparing in recounting the famous and obscure, civilian and military. Below are excerpts from the conversation:


I started out as a Cold Warrior, even my last years in grade school. I used to read everything I could get on communism. In fact, the first paper I wrote as a plebe at West Point caused a major upheaval in the faculty, because I predicted that our next enemy was the Soviet Union. . . . It was during the war [World War II], when we were allies. . . . I was viewed with some suspicion by the social sciences department. And I'd always been that way. And I stayed that way, rather consistently. I had a great interest in the subject and I really did have a concern about it. . . . But I don't make any bones about being still quite concerned about it. To declare the Cold War over, and declare democracy has won out over totalitarianism, is a measure of arrogance and wrong-headedness. And if you look back at a lot of our problems today, it's the direct product of that baloney about the new world order and why Marxism collapsed. It wasn't that their values were defeated by our values; it was our system that defeated theirs, the market economy. But to keep pumping that out — now you see why, even in the Bush camp, there's a hyper-fear of calling a spade a spade, when there's genocide taking place in Chechnya, and every one of our friends and enemies is being weaned away from us. The United States is isolated today in the world. . ..


If you look back at all of our troubles today, they didn't start with Richard Nixon. They didn't start with Ronald Reagan. They started with George [H.W.] Bush. . . . Total misreading of what was happening in the Soviet Union. Totally misreading the realities in Eastern Europe. Kosovo, Bosnia — mayhem. . . . Totally misreading the termination of the Gulf War. Remember he told the American people if he got rid of Saddam Hussein, the coalition would be shattered? Shattered? The shattering took place precisely because we didn't get rid of Saddam Hussein! I think Henry Kissinger was too soft on the Russians. And I thought he was naive on Vietnam. . . . Henry and I almost came to fisticuffs, only I would have been the puncher, on a number of occasions. . . . He was difficult to work for. . . . Henry had an ego; Henry was duplicitous.


But you know, Henry Kissinger, the country's better for having had him than if they hadn't had him. The appalling part of it was that you assemble people around you to be on a team, and yet you tolerate it when they don't play on that team. . . . Let me tell you now: There ain't anybody else in America that I know that has quit three presidents — but I have. And I quit Ronald Reagan for exactly that reason. He's sitting there, not knowing what the hell was going on, and he had [Deputy Chief of Staff Mike] Deaver and [Chief of Staff James] Baker and Mrs. Reagan running the government! And when it came to national security, there was a bit of [CIA Director] Bill Casey as well.


When we get into the Middle East war, in Lebanon, we could have settled that war, on terms in which we wouldn't be confronted with what we were confronted with today. We would have returned Lebanon to the sovereign control of their people. . . . I went to the president and I said: "Hey, you're going to have big, big problems. And I don't want to be a part of it. Now you either are going to let me do what you hired me to do, or get another guy." "Well," he said, "well, Al, please stay here and settle this Middle East thing." I settled it twice. The first time I got it settled was before the funeral of [Saudi Arabia's] King Khalid. We had a withdrawal schedule [for Israeli troops in Lebanon]. That's why I created a multinational force to go into Beirut. Not to keep the Israelis from brutalising the PLO, but to supervise the withdrawal of Syria, the PLO and Israel. Now, what happened? [Vice President] Bush, [Defence Secretary] Cap Weinberger, designated by Jim Baker to go to Khalid's funeral. And do you know what they had — went in, in a meeting, a secret meeting, and said, "Boys, Haig doesn't speak for the U.S. — United States government." And therefore, they immediately jumped off that agreement, which I had to twist their arms to accept.


Rosen: How did you learn about that? A secret message. Came right in to me. And I showed it to the president. I said: "You can't run a government this way. People are getting killed." He said, "Please stay on." I stayed on. I rebuilt the whole thing by brutalising the Saudis. And the next thing I know, I tell the president, I said: "Mr. President, I think we've got it now. But it's very delicate.


Rosen: And that goes back how many, 20 years now? Twenty years. And let me tell you: That's the truth of it, and you know, history will never observe that, because he who has the power writes the history. —The Washington Post

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

CENTRAL BANK ANOMALY

 

The detection of anomalies and corruption in the Bangladesh Bank by the Comptroller and Auditor General's office is an alarming news as the central bank in its capacity as the apex financial institution of the country plays a pivotal role in the economy. However, it was not entirely unexpected as the central bank has been the focus of public attention owing to its down swinging level of efficiency. When such a pitiable state of affairs remains unaddressed for long, it is not surprising that it will breed corruption.


But what is surprising is that the management is scared to take action fearing backlash from affected employees.

 

If that is the case, the country's economy is done for. Whatever the cost, one cannot allow indiscipline and corruption in the central bank as the cost of such behavior has a multiplier effect on the entire economy. The central bank is a strategic institution and the government must ensure that it operates without any interruption.

 

That is the test of leadership and the administration should take it up seriously.


For too long trade unions have ruled the roost in the banking sector, much to the detriment of the desired level of efficiency; it should not be tolerated anymore. This must stop and the government must take the lead, otherwise the whole nation will have to pay the price.


If the administration can take action against trade unions in the state-owned commercial banks, there is no reason why it should fail to take action in the central bank. The country has already paid through the nose for the administrative inaction. And the influence of unions has created many administrative anomalies already; now comes reports of financial misappropriation. If this is symptomatic of things at the central bank the nation has a lot to worry. Besides, as most criminologists will say that for every crime detected there are at least four that go undetected. Therefore, the ramification is possibly much wider. The sooner the administration takes care of it, the better for the country. 

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

MARITIME DISPUTE

 

The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea provides guidelines for drawing maritime boundaries between states. The territorial sea extends to 12 nautical miles, the exclusive economic zone to another 188 miles and the continental shelf may extend another 150 miles.  In all 350 miles of maritime boundary is involved. The jurisdiction of a state on territorial sea is three dimensional; control on airspace of the territorial sea, surface water and seabed, while the jurisdiction on economic zone and continental shelf is resource-oriented.  It is the latter that is of importance to both India and Myanmar as states have the exclusive right to explore, exploit, preserve, conserve and protect living and non-living resources of the sea of these areas.
Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the equidistant method for its delimitation, unless the states concerned agree otherwise. The equidistant method is drawing a median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. It is a line based on geometric calculations. But Articles 74 and 83 of UNCLOS provide that the delimitation agreement on economic zone and continental shelf must achieve an equitable solution. That means justice and fairness must guide the negotiations leading to an equitable solution. In January, Bangladesh and Myanmar did achieve progress when delegations from both sides agreed on the method of delimitation of the sea boundary. But no such agreement has yet been possible with India. The result of this is that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea appointed three arbitrators to settle the dispute between Bangladesh and India. Now foreign ministry officials are hoping the tribunal would bring an end to the long-standing dispute between Dhaka and New Delhi. Until that happens let us keep our fingers crossed.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

BOB'S BANTER

ROUGH HANDS..!

 

The middle aged woman who looked more like she was in her sixties wiped the sweat from her brow as she entered her little house. She saw her teenaged daughter lying on the only bed they had, she noticed there were tears in the little girls eyes.


 "How was college my child?" she asked.


 "Terrible!" wept the little girl.


 "Were the teachers bad or the subjects difficult?"


 "Neither," said the little girl.


 "So why the tears on your first day my child?"


 "I don't want to go to college ever again mother"


 "But your teachers were good and your subjects were not difficult?"


 "My classmates were horrible."


 "Oh! Oh!" said the mother. "Did you have a fight with them?"


 "No mother I didn't."


 "They laughed at you?"


 "No."


 "Then how were they horrible?" asked the mother.


 "They ignored me ma. They talked to each other. They cracked jokes with each other. They ragged one another, but they kept away from me."


 "And you felt bad?"


 "Mother it was horrible. Not just them ignoring me, I also felt different. They wore the latest fashionable tops and skirts, the latest Levi's and Nike shoes. They were all carrying cell phones and chatting and SMSing all the time. Oh mother I felt strange being there."


The mother looked at her little girl and went over and sat on her bed. The hands that stroked her daughter's body were rough and blistered. "It's going to be a tough year for you," she said.


 "Yes mother," murmured the little girl.


 "But you can make it easy for yourself," said the mother.

 "How mother? How?" sobbed the little girl.


 "By doing in college what you entered college for," said the mother. "You didn't enter to make a fashion statement. You didn't enter to impress the others. You go my child to study hard and be somebody one day."


The mother stroked the little girls head.


 "My hands are rough aren't they?"


 "Yes mother."


 "Remember them, my child. When you see those flashy cellphones think of your mothers hands. When you see mini skirts and costly tops imagine these blisters."


 "Why mother?" asked the little girl.


 "Because my child, if you can give those five years all you've got, if you can see the goal you have set out to reach and see nothing else then you need not have hands that do the work I do. Forget those phones, those fancy clothes, they will be yours when it is time. Walk tall in what you wear, shine in the subjects you have taken and grudgingly but surely will you get your due."


The little girl kissed her mothers hands. "Why did you get such hands ma?" she asked.
A tear dropped from the mother's eye, "Instead of studying, I wasted years with fancy stuff," she cried, "My hands pay the price today in the menial work I do..!"


—bobsbanter@gmail.com

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THE INDEPENDENT

CAN NON-VIOLENCE BE POLITICALLY FRUITFUL

KAWSER AHMED

 

Writing about non-violence might appear to be ludicrous and wishful thinking in a violent world. In the half-century following World War II, the number of war-related deaths in developing countries averaged 400,000 per year. These included innocents and combatants in coups and insurrections against dictatorial regimes, as well as wars launched by such regimes and invasions by external powers.


To prove my point, the recent spate of violence in educational institutions and political arena bears the testimony and exhibit our moral jeopardy to such an extent that it left us numb. While our pacifist Home Minister evaluates these at her own term as 'stray incidents' but one cannot stop wondering about the future ramifications of these events. Is it too simplistic an idea and a minimalist deduction of a pessimist like me? Look how the Prime Minister emphatically declared that the 'name change' culture once started cannot be stopped and it was high time to teach a lesson to opposition by undoing the wrong again, which palpably leads us to believe that we could not get out of the old vicious circle yet. Inevitably it drew widespread criticism in the civil society for two reasons: the ruling regime is drifting away too much from their election manifesto of 'change' and now fueling  the opposition to launch violent political movement which eventually would jeopardize the socio-political equilibrium that is desired for a poor country like us. The opposition's battle cry is now reverberating reminiscing of street violence that we thought, we left behind so many years ago (!) which traumatized our national life. That brings me to one vital question: is there no alternative available other than violence in our national psyche to achieve socio-political goals? Can non-violence be tried at some point of time to bring our political differences in fruition? I always wonder how little difference we have amongst us in comparison to other nations/societies around the world. We are a homogenous stock: there is no social absurdity in terms of race and ethnicity, colour of skin, language, economic inequality. What divides us so immensely (a token was displayed on 14 February in Jatiyo Sangsad-JS session) is 'attitude', as I notice. A dictionary says, 'An attitude is a hypothetical construct that represents an individual's degree of like or dislike for an item, it is someone's disposition or beliefs and how they act on them'. Attitude is how you feel about a certain thing or situation. We cannot control how other people react or feel about us, but we can control how we feel about other people or situations. The attitude which was simply put on display in our last JS session was explained by none other than the speaker of the house. According to him, one party treats JS as a battlefield to impose their will onto others while other enters the JS with battling attitude and leaves JS battling. Both of them display attitudinal violence to further their respective political goals while remaining ambivalent about its ultimate outcome and relevance. Let me put some of the ingredients, methods and historical dispositions of 'non-violence' both as a strategy and tactics in perspective for those who are too ignorant to learn. It might serve dual purpose of resisting them so that they cannot bashfully manipulate public mind to secure their narrow, inimical political advantage and to warn about their treading of the path of violence would lead them to a fathomless abyss.


Non-violence, both as means to achieve political ends and as a philosophy, was made popular by Mahatma Gandhi as he rose to prominence by adopting it initially in South Africa and later to attain Swaraj of India from the British Raj in 20's and 30's. If we want to study his methodology of using it as a method, we need to discern two aspects intuitively. Its usage as a strategy demands thorough planning, outlining justifiable ends and attainable time frame as we see Gandhi himself postponed it several times in order to gain leverage. Then its usage as a tactic calls for rigid discipline in all ranks so that it does not produce violence. Both the factors are important to understand and then it will become clear, how it dissuaded the political differences to achieve Swaraj. Many critics evaluate Gandhi's non-violence was fraught with violence (though politically it is correct) as finally it bred animosity between Hindu and Muslims leading to partition. It could not hold the Indian subcontinent together as a potent political philosophy too. This statement is both true and untrue in its own merit. Attaining Swaraj through full non-violence could not see the light of reality as World War II descended and the whole Indian polity dived into a far wider sphere of violence coupled with the attention of British diverted to contain the spread of war in India. It is needless to mention here that, prior to Gandhi's emergence in Indian political arena and even during the Great War, personalities like Tilak Rai and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose preached active violent means to achieve Swaraj but both of them equally failed. Nevertheless, it was Gandhi's ideological movement (non-violent, non-co-operation) that drew world attention (even the Jews sought his co-operation to resolve the Palestine crisis by sending Kallenbach) helped gaining independence momentum and ultimately compelled the British to concede. Thus his efforts need to be assessed in a wider spectrum of political emancipation of mass people non-violently. He was perhaps the only Indian politician who was emblematic in getting the politics out of city based high society, to the villages and every nook and corner of Indian subcontinent. He was thus characteristics of his time who demonstrated the basic tenets of non-violence leadership by setting personal example. Can our leaders emulate and display such characteristics nowadays? We all wonder.


A dichotomy always pervades in our mind each and every time as we think of waging social change. Can a society be transformed without violent means (contrary to popular concept of revolution)? The philosopher Hannah Arendt addressed such panacea while saying that "much of the present glorification of violence is caused by severe frustration of the faculty of action in the modern world". The cardinal question is why the ruling regime would concede power which they gained after so many struggles? Having all these social revolutions in the backdrop (famously the French and Bolshevik revolution) how non-violence even can be discussed as a means to bring social change? These are fundamental questions and must be answered on some fundamental grounds basing on human nature and its complex relationship of power devolution. Frederick Douglass (1817-1895), a former slave and leader of the American anti slavery and 'Abolitionist Movement', outlined, 'Power concedes nothing and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue until they are resisted…The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." A half-century later, Leo Tolstoy predicted that 'public opinion' would change the 'whole structure of life' making violence 'superfluous'. An overwhelmed Gandhi adopted this in his famous non-violence non-co-operation movement against the British by using techniques like; mass marches/protests, refusal to pay taxes, boycotts, resignations, all summed up as 'Active Interference'. American 'Civil Rights Movement' is another epoch making event in the history of non-violence and we all are aware of American dreams more or less. Martin Luther King was ardent follower of Gandhi in imitating non-violence struggle to obtain political leverage (though ironically he also succumbed in the hands of assassin like his mentor Gandhi) and he succeeded.


However, let me describe briefly few essential points about non-violence and how it is still in vogue least we are aware. The dynamics of non-violence lay within the paradigm of three broad precepts; when the people deprive an oppressor of their consent, it reduces his legitimacy, when enough people refuse to co-operate; they increase the cost of holding control and when the system's legitimacy drops and its costs rise, and its enforcers doubt its endurance. Though there are arguments about achieving ultimate victory using the same technique but there are empirical proofs. For example; the movement of African-Americans ('60s), Malians (1991), Argentines, 1980Russians (1991), Chileans (1985-1988), South Africans (1992), Poles (1970s-1980s), Serbs (2000), Filipinos (1986), Georgians (2003), Czechs/Slovaks ('80s), East Germans (1989), Salvadorans (1944), Mongolians (1990) and Ukrainians (2004) are purely mass movements and they ushered monumental social changes in their respective societies without resorting to violence. In the 35 years between 1970 and 2005, there were 67 transitions from authoritarian to democratic governments. In 50 of 67 transitions, the key factor was non-violent force. The fall of Berlin wall eventually declaring the triumph of western liberalism is another instance where the iron curtain simply evaporated on the face of mass movement - a vivid demonstration of the strength of non-violence.

Let me dwell some bit on the issue of Civil Resistance - an essential tactics of non-violence. After practicing twenty long years of democracy (with an interval of two years of Military Backed Caretaker Government - MBCG), is it time to recast our thought entirely from a different plane? If so, it might be pertinent now to evaluate the circumstances leading to the birth of MBCG; (nevertheless it initially enjoyed overwhelming popular support). It is rather an undeniable fact that, the political misadventure of the then ruling regime gave birth to a vacuum which was filled in by awaiting 'Third Party' - quite a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. Neither there was any option left to mass people to organize a civil resistance nor there was a leader to rise up and meet the demand of the day. That was the turning point in the history of our nation in recent times when such leadership was craved for. Unfortunately it was a big void and none were ready with an off the shelf plan to fit in. The situation was mired with conspiracy and counter conspiracies but due to the absence of civil resistance, ultimately a complicated power sharing game had been consented between Caretaker Government and Military. The nation was too divisive and if such a resistance could be organized it might have charted the course of nation's history in a different track now. Vaclav Havel (the Czech dissident and later president) in his book, 'Disturbing Peace', outlines such a situation while mentioning, 'How Resistance Changes' everything, 'by breaking the rules of the game, [the dissident] has disrupted the game…He has shattered the world of appearances…He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.  Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal… There are no terms whatsoever on which it can coexist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety'. Alas we could not seize it. As a nation we had been too skeptical on that day.
In order to prepare for such social resistance (I think there lies our ultimate liberty) evokes two fundamental questions of 'Choice of Identity'; "Who are you?" Are we the object of a ruling elite, submissive to threats of violence, intimidation, artificially constructed thereby submerging us in a social anesthesia? Or a citizen, able to resist the lie, believes in that injustice can be opposed, able to develop non-violent means to obtain power? This awareness will take time to build upon but is not impossible to build either. Such non-violent actions outline some emergent properties which are outlined here as future guideline. These are: consent which confers legitimacy, recasts the idea of power and creates space to resist. Reason which respects the citizen's mind, stimulates creative thinking, persuasion (not coercion), signals honesty and credibility, instills "reasons to believe". Self-rule which underpins the ideology of Swaraj, engages in constructive work, produces self-organization which dwells on non-violent discipline. Representation, which ascertains and presents people's grievances, listens, delegates and invites participation, practices humility, not hierarchy, establishes solidarity of all, not heroism of the few. Resilience in tactical mobilisation, strategic sustainability, momentum-driving action, and existential stakes: identifying with the cause and certitude of faith in eventual success. Force, equipped with strategic/tactical skills, understands target foe's capacities, disperse initiative of own and divide loyalty structure of the foe. Transformation which understands that there is no monolithic enemies, brings people from destruction to debate, preaches justice only by rule of law, treats everyone a stakeholder and finally derive policies where means reflected in ends. These are ground rules and not utopian scheme. A new study (Stephen & Chenoweth, "Why Civil Resistance Works", International Security, Summer 2008) finds that, using these rules, of 323 violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900 to 2006, only 26 per cent of cases in violent campaigns succeeded while in nonviolent campaigns 53 per cent of cases succeeded. If others could do, why can't we?


The common wisdom of preaching political violence lay in the argument that it is necessary as means to an end (our main stream political parties justify on this ground) or virtuous, as redemption or apotheosis (our religion based political parties promptly follows this course). On both counts, it is futile and ends up in a zero sum game. In order to justify the means, the end is misperceived forcing it to wither away into oblivion and that is exactly the scenario we are witnessing. If we ask our ruling law makers what is the end result of their vociferous strive, they probably cannot identify in clear terms, as most of them (both ruling and opposition) do not possess any moral ascendency to substantiate their actions to achieve a specific political goal. Thereby they engage in endless feuds in JS polluting the highest legislative organization. So here comes the justification of developing an invincible force as a 'Third Party' (not the usual convention which stands for military and its cohorts) but a 'Civil Group' imbued with the power of non-violent civil resistance outlined previously to remedy all our injustices. 


Otherwise there is no end in future. We are set in a pathetic psychological doldrums from where there is no escape till death. To conclude let me mention Abraham Lincoln who defined the elemental contest of two groups; one ruler and other ruled and I hope we might take lessons out of it.


"It is the eternal struggle between...two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time...The one is the common right of humanity and the other is the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, 'You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.' No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own race and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle".


There is no king and queen, no elite aristocracy, no zemindars, but still we wander aimlessly to achieve true independence. Oh Seleucus what a pity! 


(The writer is an Mphil researcher in department of Peace and Conflict Studies in University of Dhaka)

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE

TRAGIC FIRE IN FACTORIES

S. A. MANSOOR

 

Front pages of most dailies have reported on the Gazipur garment factory fire in the end of February. Unfortunately, most of the views expressed, referred to improvements to preventive measures like ventilation, fire extinguishers and escape ladders as well as fire drills, which is both preventive and curative. All these are good suggestions, however, the emphasis of neglect by the factory owners is the key issue. In my opinion,
Government should legislate on fire prevention and make it mandatory to ensure that garment factories are free of fire hazards.


Firstly, all garment factory premises must be 'NO SMOKING' area, extending at least fifty feet around it. Garment factories cannot be located on first floors of buildings, with restaurant and cigarette shops in the ground floor, using gas or kerosene cookers, and lighting cigarettes.


Such locations should be banned; and it should be locked off by the authorities, immediately for ensuring safety!


The greatest dangers are the electric switches and wiring. These must be of approved non-sparking flame-proof quality, duly certified by international surveyors like Lloyds, ABS or NKK. This is very important, as fiber dust is natural in garment factories, and spark of any kind is a poison for it; because it will set it on fire! The rules should be same or similar as practiced in dangerous petroleum and natural gas installations in Bangladesh for many years successfully!


Factory owners must realise, that "a stitch in time saves nine". They must use oversized cables, to keep wiring cool. No bare connections of loose copper wires wrapped with insulating tape can be allowed; only approved flame proof connecters has to be used. All switches must be of approved oil immersed or other flame proof type. These can all be imported, and government should allow if need be 'duty free' impost of such 'flame proof' switch gear and wiring accessories. These may cost more, but should give lower fire risk insurance premium. All electrical operating machines in the factory has to be properly earthed.


The earthing network of the factory, must have two independent 'earths' with less than 5 ohm resistance for each! This must be made mandatory, both by the government, through the Inspector of Factories, as well as the insurance companies.


The building must mandatorily have stairs for easy access; if it has vertical floors of operation. Minimum width of the stairs should be 5 feet for 50 people on the floor. It should be 1 foot more for each additional 20 people. The maximum stair width should be 8 feet for not more than a total of 90 persons including all; located on that floor. Additionally another emergency stairway five feet wide must be provided. Locking of stairway has to be prohibited. The riser for each step of the stairs must be no more than six inch high.


Ventilation, by natural draft, not exhaust fan must be provided, kept open at all times, and netted with metal wire mesh. The area of the window or windows must be a minimum 20sft of clear area, excluding window frames or any other fixtures for every one hundred and fifty square feet of factory floor area inclusive of passages, isle ways etc. Further, the factory roof must have vertical ducts fitted to the ceiling or roof, with minimum size being 15 sft clear duct area, per 150 sft of roof area.


These must lead up to the open sky. If there is rain cover on top, the side clearing all round the rain cover must be at least 25 per cent more than the clear surface area of the duct. Minimum of two such ducts for every ceiling has to be provided, for natural escape of warm air to provide good working atmosphere and act as a fire safety feature; preventing danger of smoke inhalation.


Another safety may be to have an engine driven (not electric motor) air supply fan providing outside air through each factory operating floor. The fan capacity should be of such air volume, so as to ensure total air change every five minutes whenever the factory is open.


These are minimum safety measures that need to be incorporated, over and above the mandated provisions for fire extinguishers and sand buckets around each working area, and in every floor, if it is a multi-storied factory!
On top of it, Fire Brigade must carry out fire drill, every six monthly, and their observations duly recorded for the Inspector of Factories, who must visit the factory, un-announced, at least once a quarter. The owners must pay a reasonable charge, say taka one thousand for every fire drill, which should be officially paid to the fire brigade authorities.

 

(The writer is Adviser, Spectra Group; and trained in UK for fire prevention and safety in Industrial Gas Plants).

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

TIME TO TURN THE ETS OFF?

IT looks like time for Kevin Rudd to consider turning off the emission trading scheme's political life support and accept it was too pure an idea for the dirty world of international politics.

 

With news US President Barack Obama might accept a bipartisan push in the US Senate to give up on the cap-and-trade component of legislation to cut greenhouse gases, the idea that Australia can go it alone with an ETS is almost impossible to justify. While acting independently may appeal to green activists who welcome economic martyrdom, it will make no sense to ordinary Australians, who will wonder why we are still considering increasing our energy costs by charging industry for emissions when India, China and now the US will not.

 

Ever since the Copenhagen conference demonstrated how the global warming debate has been hijacked by environmental extremists and advocates of ever more aid for Africa, the case for requiring energy-intensive economies, such as Australia and the US, to act against their own interests has weakened. When the largest developing economies will not place assumptions about what might happen to the world's climate in the future above the immediate economic interests of their citizens, it is hard to ask the US to increase its energy costs. And the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which forms the basis of many arguments for the ETS, is increasingly suspect. Claims that Himalayan glaciers will be gone in 25 years and that cyclones will become more frequent, among many others, are now known to be more speculation than science. That climate activist-in-chief Al Gore acknowledges some IPCC arguments are not based on settled science makes it hard to argue that all the evidence is in.

 

This is not to argue there is anything economically irrational about the ETS. A market approach to global warming is sensible. Nor does it mean Australia should give up on cutting greenhouse gases. But the idea we can go it alone and impose costly cuts when we account for less than 2 per cent of global emissions is based on symbolism, not sense. The argument we could benefit from first-mover advantage by forcing industry to reduce emissions ignores the way it would hurt energy exporters competing against countries that do not have similar schemes. And if the US acts to reduce emissions without a carbon cap-and-trade scheme, the ETS will be irrelevant.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

HAIR SHIRTS ARE NOT A GOOD LOOK

 

FROM the prime minister to premiers, Labor politicians are being fitted for hair shirts as they admit mistakes and promise to do better.

 

Some of them, notably NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, who is personally popular but leads a government that is not, should probably order more than one. The same applies in Tasmania where Labor is polling poorly in the lead-up to the state election. In South Australia, which also goes to the polls this month, Premier Mike Rann does not look like he is enjoying selling his achievements and Victorian Premier John Brumby says his government has let the voters down. But for the acme of admissions of fault it is hard to beat Kevin Rudd, who took responsibility for Labor's federal failures in appearances on TV and radio programs he normally avoids, timed to influence the Newspoll reported in The Australian today.

 

They all owe their strategy to Peter Beattie, who made admitting fault an election-winner. In 2001, he went to an election apologising for electoral rorts in the Queensland Labor Party. In 2004, he took Queensland to the polls claiming he needed a mandate to fix its child protection services -- which his ministers had mucked up. And in 2006 he went to the people claiming he needed a mandate to fix the hospitals. The Beattie doctrine assumes Australians will always give an individual another go if they genuinely promise to improve. But what worked for Mr Beattie may not help those premiers who voters no longer believe can lift their governments' games. And it definitely will not assist leaders who look like they take their hair shirts off once the cameras are off.

 

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's strategy makes the point. He is exceeding expectations and may well

make a contest of the next election by sticking to his policy guns instead of apologising for absolutely everything. In contrast, Tory leader David Cameron looks like he will say whatever it takes to win. There is a lesson here for Mr Rudd. Having admitted fault once, he must fix the problems he acknowledged, sending his hair shirt to the political charity bin. Newspoll, which shows Labor well ahead on a two-party-preferred basis while noting a jump in Tony Abbott's popularity, demonstrates the limitations of the Beattie doctrine, at least for leaders who have solid policies to sell.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

GROWTH MAKES THE CASE FOR HIGH-QUALITY SPENDING

 

WHILE Glenn Stevens assured a Melbourne seminar yesterday that he was no Pollyanna, he still gave us all a good deal to be glad about.

 

According to the Reserve Bank governor, Australia has emerged from the global financial crisis with sound banks and government finances in good shape, certainly compared with the US, Europe and Japan, which bore the brunt of what is increasingly looking like less world than northern-hemisphere financial problems. While Australia could still sniffle if these economies stay in the deep freeze, our Asian neighbours, especially China, are generating enough economic heat to keep us warm for quite a while. Last month, Mr Stevens forecast growth of over 3 per cent this year and 3.5 per cent next. Unemployment, now at 5.3 per cent, is expected to peak well below the 8.5 per cent that Treasury predicted last year. And as the economy expands, so government debt should contract with higher tax receipts and lower welfare outlays. In May, Canberra expected net government debt to peak at 14 per cent of GDP. By the end of the year, it had revised that to 10 per cent -- a figure backed yesterday by Mr Stevens. This suggests a government deficit of $35 billion this financial year, an improvement of nearly $20bn on what was considered likely at Christmas. .

 

This is all very good news, especially for every Australian who will keep working when they had feared unemployment and it will help the Rudd government sell itself as the better economic manager. It will also force the opposition to work harder to make its "debt and deficit" argument stick. Certainly, finance spokesman Barnaby Joyce is entitled to rail at the risks of total debt, yesterday's 19 per cent increase on the current account deficit for the December quarter is not good. However, with government borrowings less than expected the conservatives will have to demonstrate how they will cut spending. It is a challenge Mr Rudd should accept, reaffirming the commitment to keep expenditure increases below 2 per cent once growth returns to normal and avoiding the temptation to spend up in this election year's budget.

 

While the way we escaped the economic crisis that still engulfs much of the developed world had more to do with the strength of China and the stability of our financial institutions than the government's stimulus spending, there is no debate Mr Rudd was right to act as he did in the depth of the crisis. But having laid the foundations for the claim to be the better economic manager it will undoubtedly make at the next election, it is now up to the Prime Minister and his economic team to complete the case by adjusting to our fast-improving circumstances as quickly as they acted when the economic outlook appeared awful. This means letting loose Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner with his sharpest razor as ministers' budget bids arrive. And it means considering how the $20bn of the emergency stimulus spending that is still to be spent can best be used to boost the economy's productive capacity. You don't have to be a gloom merchant to know the days when money needed to be spent as fast as possible to protect jobs and increase demand are gone and the task is now to increase productive capacity with high-quality spending on roads and railways, ports and power plants to expand the economy. That would really be something to be glad about.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

RUDD DONS THE SORRY SUIT

 

KEVIN RUDD is sorry his government has not delivered on its promises more quickly and effectively. The global financial crisis is no excuse, he says, nor is the difficulty of unpicking a federal political system well suited to inefficiency and blame shifting. "We didn't anticipate how hard it was going to be to deliver things," he says.

 

Contrite, or just plain trite? Take your pick. Labor stalwarts who believe their economic stimulus package saved the nation from recession think it was unnecessary, while critics call it a gimmick to deflect recent pressure over the government's bungled home insulation scheme and flagging poll ratings. The public will feel mixed scepticism and bewilderment.

 

Obviously, some ''Hollow Man'' political adviser has convinced the Prime Minister that a little humble pie will go down well with voters and provide the political circuit-breaker he needs to take on Tony Abbott. Maybe it will, but it could also backfire if voters conclude that the Prime Minister is right and the government is defective.

 

Critics, meanwhile, can argue that, like some of his unpopular state Labor colleagues, Rudd is all spin and no wickets. Cute and clever is no substitute for credible; a muscular defence of the government's achievements might have worked better. The stimulus strategy paid handsome dividends. It saved perhaps hundreds of thousands of jobs by pump-priming the economy. Its very urgency meant the execution was always going to be scrappy, especially when creaking state bureaucracies were the delivery and supervisory conduits. But the timing was excellent and Australia fared best of all the developed economies caught up in the crisis.

 

Instead of going on the offensive, however, Rudd retreats. This supine posture assumes that Abbott's political honeymoon will simply run out of gas, but it could just as easily encourage his aggressive tendencies. Labor needs a leader who can give as good as he gets. Attacking the government he leads cannot be good for morale. Abbott says the Prime Minister is rattled. If so, it took very little to induce the panic. When the financial crisis tested Rudd's mettle he was not found wanting, but in the same way that September 11, 2001, turned George Bush into a one-issue president, so managing the financial crisis competently is all Rudd has to show so far. Experience suggests it will be enough for voters to give him a second term. But by overdoing the contrition, Rudd has over-complicated the issue and succeeded only in raising more questions about his approach to government.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

MISS GILLARD'S CLASS OF 2025

 

JULIA GILLARD has an unerring grasp of what is needed to sell the new national draft curriculum published yesterday. Although its aim is ''to provide a world-class education system for the 21st century'', she has left most of us with the impression it is about going back to basics.

 

To older Australians she suggests a return to the sort of education they received: phonics to learn to read and write, then English grammar to get their thoughts in order. History, newly compulsory outside NSW, will mention the Rudd apology to the stolen generations, but will teach children ''about the Australian flag''. A Labor leftie herself, Gillard has no compunction about stealing the clothes of the conservatives, and thumbing her nose at their bugbear, the teachers' unions, as well.

 

The draft curriculum does start putting content into the government's education ''revolution'' after the initial stress on computers and buildings. This initial draft covers the years of compulsory schooling, kindergarten to year 10, and the core subjects of English, maths, science and history. Later documents this year will cover the final two years, and additional subjects like languages and arts.

 

So far it seems indeed more counter-revolutionary than otherwise, reversing a trend to choice of subjects and content that has crept down the educational system in recent decades. The stress is back to competency in expression and logical thinking, through strength in literacy, textual understanding and numeracy. Although initial reaction from history teachers is alarm at the breadth of human experience they are expected to cover, the emphasis in English, maths and science is to narrow down the area in order to deepen the grasp.

 

This being a national curriculum, with the consent of the states given two years ago, there is a strong element of nation-building and binding as well as development of human talent. As well

 

as intellectual ability, it seeks to develop ethical behaviour, creativity, self-management, teamwork, intercultural understanding and social competence. Across the curriculum, schools will be fostering understanding of indigenous history and culture, Asia and our engagement with the region, and ''sustainability''.

 

Plenty of room for conservatives and progressives to quarrel over there, but generally this is a prescription for a classic education, though minus a return to compulsory study of a foreign or ancient language, let alone an Asian one. The new curriculum is planned to start from next year, but of course it will be another 10 or 12 years before we see whether the children of the revolution are any different.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

HOUSING ANSWERS ARE CLOSER TO HOME

 

MELBOURNE City Council's ''Future City Design'', reported yesterday in The Age, is startling for the amount of land identified as suitable for residential development. Many areas are coloured red, denoting potential key development areas, and still more, in orange, are being developed. As lord mayor Robert Doyle says, there is plenty of prime residential real estate to be found.

 

This includes land near North Melbourne rail station, blocks east of Southern Cross, space above rail lines east of Federation Square to Richmond and Flemington Racecourse parking areas along the Maribyrnong River. As Cr Doyle notes, the plan for the next 10 to 15 years is not just to house more people but to rejuvenate industrial and commercial sites in areas such as Southbank, Docklands, Carlton and West and North Melbourne. Many more people can be housed in the inner city and suburbs if we only have the sense and imagination to identify and use such sites across this 100-kilometre-wide city.

 

Good ideas abound, as The Age found last August when it reported on innovative ways to achieve higher-density living. ''Liveability is density done well,'' as Municipal Association of Victoria president Bill McArthur said. What has been lacking is the political will to back such ideas. Premier John Brumby even suggested his government had no alternative plan when the upper house last week blocked a tax on land sales to fund infrastructure in fringe growth areas. He predicted house prices would soar.

 

There is a better, less costly way to house more people in Melbourne and make it liveable. The Melbourne Transport Forum says housing for at least 3 million people could be built on underutilised or disused sites across the city. Last July, the Planning Department released a report that showed building on the fringes - where the government plans to site almost half of new housing - costs twice as much as in established areas once one includes infrastructure and environmental costs. Fringe dwellers bear high travel costs, so inner and middle suburban housing is in demand. Of course, some communities oppose higher-density living, but the strong take-up of inner-city apartment developments shows how attitudes change.

 

Politicians must lead the way. Cr Doyle deserves praise for pointing out the possibilities, and the impossibility of doubling the city's size and its infrastructure by 2050. The state government, however, has the final say. It needs to realise that there is a plan B, a plan closer to its original Melbourne 2030 strategy. The government must take the opportunity to revisit and renew that vision.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

WHAT THE NATION LEARNS, THE NATION WILL BECOME

 

AUSTRALIA'S history teachers are worried that the draft national curriculum for their subject, released yesterday, might fail if it is placed in the hands of the bored or the ill-trained. That seems a sensible and mundane concern to have, and the fact that history teachers have that sort of worry about the curriculum is cause for rejoicing. It is one sign that the ideological battles of the so-called history wars are over, allowing the focus to return to what actually happens in classrooms. There will be no black armbands, or white ones either, for students will be expected to study history from more than one perspective.

 

The history guidelines are only a part of the draft national curriculum for pupils from kindergarten to year 10; the draft also prescribes content for the teaching of English, mathematics and science. The new curriculum will be tested in 155 schools during the next three months, and is scheduled to be phased in everywhere from next year, with the process to be completed by 2013.

 

Ideology and spin have not entirely disappeared, however. Commenting on the new curriculum at the weekend, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said it was about getting back to ''the basics that I was taught when I was at primary school a long time ago'', by which he meant ''the absolute basics on spelling, on sounding out letters, on counting, on adding up, on taking away''. Teachers who have been doing these things might wonder just how in touch the Prime Minister is, and resent the apparent implication that classrooms will now emerge from a dark age that has prevailed since the good ol' days when young Kevin first carried his slate.

 

Mr Rudd's choice of words was poor and seemed intended more to win over critics of Australia's schools than to describe the curriculum. There will be a welcome revival in the teaching of some things that have not been comprehensively taught for a long time, such as grammar - many of today's teachers would probably not have learned grammar in the way the generation before them did. But the new curriculum is not simply about ''basics'': as the chairman of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, Barry McGaw, has said, the emphasis is on how students develop key skills. There is grammar, but also literature; the content of some science courses has been honed down, but so that students can develop their interests in greater depth, rather than rushing from topic to topic.

 

The Age believes that a national curriculum is long overdue. With a population of only 22 million, changing the nature of the syllabus and assessment with the crossing of every border makes no sense. A standardised curriculum - not just in these four subjects, but also in geography and languages, which are to follow - liberates students and allows schools to use resources more efficiently. Whether this exercise, the most far-reaching element in the government's ''education revolution'', achieves all that is hoped for, however, will depend largely on the resources devoted to its implementation. The History Teachers Association's anxiety about the bored and the ill-trained is a recognition that at present only about half of Australian students study history, and many of those who do are being taught by people with no background in the subject. If history is to hold the place carved out for it in the new curriculum, that must change, and the same holds for other subjects.

 

Teachers are the basic resource of an education system, and nations that value their contribution are nations with successful education systems. The Commonwealth and the states must work together to ensure not only that there are enough teachers with the required knowledge and skills, but that they receive sufficient remuneration to make their career choice worthwhile.

Source: The Age

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

MICHAEL ASHCROFT: REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION

 

The wilfully ignorant Conservative stance towards Michael Ashcroft's tax affairs was becoming as familiar as it was contemptuous

 

Don't know, don't ask. The wilfully ignorant Conservative stance towards Michael Ashcroft's tax affairs was becoming as familiar as it was contemptuous. "A matter between him and the Inland Revenue," David Cameron said, and his obfuscatory tone was echoed by the Conservative chair, the shadow foreign secretary and every other top Tory who was asked about it. Sir George Young, the shadow leader of the house, briefly departed from the official script last month, but was soon slapped down by central office for "mis-speaking" by suggesting that Ashcroft was non-domiciled for tax.

 

Well, courtesy of a short statement from the billionaire peer yesterday – which came minutes before a freedom of information release would in any case have settled the mystery – we now know that Sir George was not mis-speaking, and that Lord Ashcroft is indeed a non-dom. The extraordinary contortions to prevent this plain truth from coming to light now appear downright shameful. Lord Ashcroft is not merely the biggest single bankroller of the Conservatives, but also their influential vice-chair and a peer entitled to write the laws by which the rest of us must live. Whether or not he pays the same taxes as everyone else is thus a matter of profound public interest.

 

As every American patriot knows, there should be no taxation without representation. But it is surely equally true that no one deserves privileged representation in public affairs unless they pay their fair measure of tax. Mr Cameron's own recent talk of forcing all peers to pay British tax effectively concedes this point, so it is no good Lord Ashcroft seeking shelter behind these plans. He signals he will comply with the law if and when it changes – how could he do anything else? – and yet both he and his party seem to blind to the need for him to change his status now. It is no good, either, to deploy lawyerly distinctions between non-domiciled and non-resident status. Yes, Lord Ashcroft agreed to be a UK resident as a condition of taking up his seat in the Lords, and yes, this means he must pay UK tax on his UK income. But vast pools of his wealth remain off-shore in Belize (where he enjoys serious influence), and as a result he pays far less to the British Treasury than he otherwise would. That may be a defensible position in the courtroom, but not on the political field – particularly after the expenses saga heightened public sensitivity about law-makers who live by one set of rules, and impose another on everyone else.

 

The rough justice Mr Cameron meted out to Tory troops who exploited their expenses without actually breaking

the rules stands in contrast to his prolonged indulgence of Lord Ashcroft's desire to keep his dealings private. Perhaps he is instinctively more forgiving about avoiding tax, which some right-wingers always regard as an indecent affront, than the free use of public funds. Or perhaps Lord Ashcroft – whose carefully targeted donations are currently helping Conservatives campaigns in crucial marginal seats to defy faltering national performance – has been treated especially gently. The Tories' most effective riposte to this damaging charge yesterday was to point to Labour's indulgence of its own wealthy donors – one of whom, Swraj Paul, is a non-dom who has long sat in the Lords, and another of whom, David Sainsbury, made super-sized payments before being appointed to ministerial office.

 

All of this is true, and all the parties share responsibility for failing to reform campaign finance in a way which could clip plutocratic wings. But neither of these Labour Lords were ever as central to the Labour campaign as Lord Ashcroft has become to the Conservatives, and neither of them required their party's top flight to put on an embarrassing show of stonewalling in order to spare private blushes. Now the truth is out in the open. The public blushing is for Mr Cameron, as he seeks to explain exactly why he indulged the non-dommery for so long.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

DEVOLUTION: WALES POINTS THE WAY

 

Opposition to devolution in Wales has gone from 80% to 13% in the space of a little over a generation

 

Pessimists about politics might consider the following facts. Thirty one years ago yesterday, St David's Day 1979, Welsh voters humiliatingly rejected the Callaghan government's Wales devolution act in a referendum by 79.8% to 20.2%. Nearly two decades on, however, Welsh voters narrowly supported the Blair government's Wales devolution act in a new referendum by 50.3% to 49.7%. Today, according to a St Davids Day BBC Wales/ICM poll, only 13% of Welsh voters now want to see the Welsh assembly abolished, while only 18% are satisfied with the limited powers conferred on the assembly in 1998. Most Welsh people would like to see not less or no devolution – but more. By 56% to 35% they say they would vote for an assembly with full legislative powers in a referendum now scheduled for next year.

 

As turnarounds in public opinion go, this is a pretty spectacular one. Opposition to devolution in Wales has gone from 80% to 13% in the space of a little over a generation. At a time when anger with politicians in general and those at Westminster in particular is running high, it is worth drawing some of the lessons. One is that Westminster's expenses scandal has created a potent opportunity for advocates of stronger devolution and local government to gain a hearing. Another is that it pays to keep on pushing for democratic reforms of all kinds.

 

In the early years after 1997, and in spite of being the authors of devolution, the Blair government was cripplingly afraid of relinquishing control from the centre. It took the skills and independent personality of Labour's recently retired first minister, Rhodri Morgan, to turn things around. Yet, having got used to a different form of politics and democracy in Wales, voters there want it to be even more effective. Nearly two out of three Welsh voters now want the assembly to play the dominant role in Welsh life. First fearful, then sceptical, Welsh opinion is now embracing not merely the principle of devolution, but a richer reality.

 

The ICM poll finds the rise in support for stronger devolution in Wales coexists with a decline in support for Welsh independence. No one with any knowledge of Welsh politics would claim that the democratic reform question can be detached from the national question. Nevertheless, it looks as if national political feeling is increasingly expressing itself in terms of a desire for greater devolved power – and not just in Wales. Post-Calman Scotland seems to be moving in a comparable direction, while a new IPPR report even detects the stirrings of something in England. All these situations are different, but the sense that voters eventually get the taste for greater self-rule within the wider union is hard to miss.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … BBC RADIO BALLADS

 

At a time when the BBC is talking of cutbacks, it is a reminder of its strengths as a broadcaster and the power of radio itself

 

On the Buxton platform at Chapel-en-le-Frith station a small plaque records the death of driver John Axon, killed by his own runaway train in February 1957. Axon won the George Cross for his bravery – he refused to jump off the engine and fought through scalding steam to apply the brakes as the train accelerated downhill – but his story would have been forgotten by now had he not been the subject of the first and most famous BBC radio ballad. Ewen MacColl's fire and steel folk voice is not to everyone's taste, but he, along with his partner Peggy Seeger and producer Charles Parker achieved astonishing things in the series of ballads that followed on from John Axon. New songs and old were mixed with the voices of working men and women, until then excluded from the airwaves. The programmes covered things such as the building of the M1, fishing, coal mining and boxing. In 2006, after MacColl's death, the BBC revived the tradition with a series of new ballads, including the Horn of the Hunter, on the foxhunting ban, and Thirty Years of Conflict on Northern Ireland. Tonight at 10.30pm on Radio 2, the latest BBC ballad is broadcast, marking 25 years since the end of the miner's strike. In the tradition, it includes interviews with people involved in both sides – miners who broke the strike and the van drivers who took them to the pits, as well as the police and union leaders. At a time when the BBC is talking of cutbacks, it is a reminder of its strengths as a broadcaster and the power of radio itself.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

EDITORIAL

EARTHQUAKE IN CHILE

 

A magnitude-8.8 earthquake hit Chile early morning Saturday, six weeks after a magnitude-7 quake jolted Haiti up north in the Caribbean. The death toll in Haiti is estimated at 220,000 while that of the Chilean tremor remains below 1,000. Why the difference? Chile was prepared while Haiti was not. Is Korea then prepared, we have to ask again.

 

The surge of water from the epicenter off the coast of Chile caused apprehensions across the Pacific but it left little damage in the alerted areas, from Hawaii to Japan. Korea, shielded by the Japanese Archipelago, was saved from any noticeable surge in water levels this time. South Korea is located in a seismically safe zone, in relative terms, but the country records minor tremors hundreds of times each year - most of them without being felt by people - but the frequency has been increasing in recent years.

 

When the disaster in Haiti was reported in January, government authorities examined our preparedness against earthquake but a general assessment in a few pages were all they produced, just as they had done on previous such occasions. Now with two major earthquakes taking place in an interval of barely six weeks, people wonder if the earth is entering an age of seismological disaster.

 

Experts say such fears are not warranted, citing the lack of geological connection between Haiti and Chile. Whatever the tectonic graphs of the planet may reveal, the two disasters are strong warnings to mankind - not only to the residents of the so-called "Ring of Fire" to which Chile belongs, but also to the rest of the world.

 

In the case of Chile, its location in the earthquake-prone zone dictated strict construction rules against tremors and strict adherence to them as well as life-long drills to cope with quake emergencies. The South American country has more seismologists and earthquake engineers than anywhere else on a per-capita basis. Their advice is faithfully considered by the government authorities when they make contingency plans.

 

We see a big contrast in Haiti, which had had no serious earthquakes for a century, and one report said there were only three buildings in the capital city of Port-au-Prince with any kind of quake-resistant design. In Chile, the use of steel reinforcement is mandatory even in single-story houses and the result was the unbelievably low casualty figures from the Saturday disaster.

 

For some time in Korea, liberal use of glass has been an architectural fashion in the construction of both commercial and official buildings, a clear sign of insensitivity toward natural disaster, not to mention military contingencies. Looking at the forest of apartment blocks across this country, now mostly rising to 20, 30 or more stories, we wonder how much the builders adhered to the quake-resistant building code. Extensive reviews of construction rules in addition to emergency evacuation systems are called for, taking lessons from the disasters in Latin America.

 

Chile is reputed to be the richest country in South America, with per capita GDP of more than $11,000, yet it needs huge amounts of outside aid to establish field hospitals, water purification plants as well as rescue manpower. Reports reveal that more than 500,000 houses were destroyed or badly damaged and more are falling down in the continuing aftershocks.

The international community provided generous help for the people of Haiti and now it has to turn its attention to Chile. Korea should be one of the first to extend humanitarian aid to the country with which its entered its first bilateral free trade agreement.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

EDITORIAL

OLYMPIC BROADCAST

 

The Korean Winter Olympic delegation returns home triumphantly from Vancouver today with the best results ever in the Games, but the exclusive telecast by SBS throughout the Games raised a number of issues.

 

SBS, the only private commercial network among the three terrestrial broadcasters, somehow won the exclusive rights to broadcast not only the 2010 Winter Olympics but the FIFA World Cup in June this year, and all Olympic and World Cup games until 2016. Its pre-Games negotiations with KBS and MBC on sharing the footage broke down, and Koreans had no choice but to watch SBS and listen to the unrestrained screaming and shouting of the "expert" hired by the network as Korean athletes made their feats on the ice.

 

Some who had no particular interest in the Olympics may have liked it, being able to enjoy other programs. But many viewers complained that they had to watch whatever SBS chose to broadcast and could not go over to other competitions, which should have been available if other broadcasters took part in covering the Winter Games. KBS and MBC spent their precious air time criticizing SBS for allegedly breaking an agreement among their presidents in 2006 on joint coverage, and made an appeal to the Korea Broadcasting Commission, but to no avail.

 

It will be disastrous if Korean viewers face the same situation for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa and in future Olympic Games. A pooled telecasting system should be established with an equitable sharing of the cost by reasonable standards. The Broadcasting Law provides in Article 72 that the broadcaster with exclusive rights to cover events of national interest should share its rights with other broadcasters "at fair and reasonable prices without discrimination."

 

The commercial thrust of SBS and the relative languidness of the two larger and older networks resulted in abnormal coverage of the 2010 Winter Games. It is hoped that the three broadcasters have learned a lesson on how to better serve their viewers from the experiences in Vancouver.

 

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THE KOREA HERALD

EDITORIAL

HELPING GREECE EASIER SAID THAN DONE

HANS-WERNER SINN

 

MUNICH - The euro's current weakness has one culprit: Greece. At 14 percent of GDP, Greece's latest current-account deficit was the largest of the euro-zone countries after Cyprus. Its debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 113 percent by the end of 2009. As this year's deficit is projected to be more than 12 percent of a shrinking GDP, the debt-to-GDP ratio will soar above 125 percent by the end of 2010, the highest in the euro zone.

 

Investors have reacted by trying to get out of the euro and, in particular, steer clear of Greek government debt. Greece had to offer them increasingly higher interest rates to stay put. In January, the interest premium was 2.73 percentage points relative to German public debt. If this premium prevails, Greece will have to pay 7.4 billion euros more in interest per year on its 271 billion euro debt than it would have to pay at the German rate.

 

The problem is not only the premium itself, but the imminent risk that Greece will not be able to find the 53 billion euros it needs to service its debt falling due in 2010, let alone the estimated additional 30 billion euros to finance the new debt resulting from its projected budget deficit.

 

The Greek disaster was possible because its government deceived its European partners for years with faked statistics. In order to qualify for the euro, the Greek government asserted that its budget deficit stood at 1.8 percent of GDP in 1999 - well below the 3-percent-of-GDP limit set by the Maastricht Treaty.

 

That figure, we now know, had no basis in reality. After euro banknotes with Greek motifs had already been printed and distributed, Eurostat, Europe's statistics agency, reported that Greece's deficit had actually been 3.3 percent of GDP in 1999. Yet the revised number was also overly generous and Eurostat later withdrew it.

 

Today, no official figure on the budget deficit in 1999, the year on which the EU based its decision about Greece's entry, is available. Reports issued by Greece in 2009 were similarly misleading, jumping from 5 percent of GDP to 12.7 percent after Eurostat had a closer look.

 

Indeed, the official figures were so unreliable that Eurostat felt forced to express "reservation on the data reported by Greece due to significant uncertainties over the figures notified by the Greek statistical authorities" - a stiff rebuke in bureaucratic language. So what Greece got exactly is what it sought to avoid with its dodgy data: the rise in interest-rate spreads for Greek state bonds.

 

This trickery allowed the Greeks to have several good years. Since entering the euro zone in 2001, social-welfare expenditures increased at an annual rate that was 3.6 percentage points higher than that of GDP growth. According to OECD statistics, pensions in Greece, available after only 15 years of work, reach an incredible 111 percent of average net incomes. By contrast, in Germany the average pension level is about 61 percent of average net earnings for people who have worked at least 35 years. The Greek attempt to create a land of milk and honey by excessive borrowing is hair-raising.

 

If no support comes from abroad, Greece will have to announce a formal debt moratorium, thereby declaring that it will only service part of its debt, as was done by Mexico and Brazil in 1982 and Germany in 1923 and 1948.

 

The other euro-zone countries, however, will not let Greece go under, because they fear a domino effect similar to the one triggered among banks by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. If Greece went bust, investors from all over the world would lose their trust in the stability of the weaker euro-zone members, primarily Ireland, but also Portugal, Italy and Spain.

 

If these countries became insolvent and curtailed their expenditure, a new worldwide recession would be likely. Of course, the EU countries could leave Greece to the mercy of the International Monetary Fund, which is willing and able to help - conditional on the government's implementation of a strict austerity program. But many euro-zone politicians regard turning to the IMF as a sign of weakness and prefer their countries to shoulder the burden themselves.

 

Another reason why help will likely come from euro-zone countries is that they would bear a substantial share of the Greek losses anyway. Greece's public debt was placed in its own banking system, which is indebted to the European Central Bank via the issuance of euros. If the Greek state goes bust, so will Greek banks and the ECB would have to write off its claims against them, taking a charge of roughly ?6 billion. As the ECB belongs to all euro countries, they would all bear the loss.

 

Helping Greece is easier said than done, as the European Union has no mandate to take such a step. On the contrary, Article 125 of the Maastricht Treaty explicitly excludes bailouts, stating that neither the Union nor its member states are liable for the commitments of EU governments. Indeed, some countries insisted on the no-bailout clause as a condition of their participation in the euro, fearing that Europe's debtor countries could, by majority voting, expropriate the thriftier countries, thereby generating moral-hazard effect that would undermine the stability of the EU.

 

That concern remains no less valid today. Thus, only bilateral help seems possible, perhaps coordinated by the EU and coupled with strong supervision of the Greek budget and Greece's statistical office. The Greek statistical office has already been severed from the government and Eurostat will have the right to oversee Greece's official statistics directly.

 

Similarly, Greece will lose its sovereignty insofar as the EU will now directly control all budget-relevant decisions of the Greek government. This spring, before the first big issues of new Greek debt must be launched, the world will see which solution Europe has chosen.

 

Hans-Werner Sinn is a professor of economics and public finance at the University of Munich and president of the Ifo Institute. - Ed.

 

(Project Syndicate)

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THE KOREA HERALD

EDITORIAL

WHEN RELIGIOUS ZEAL DISPLACES TRUTH

 

Last Friday morning I turned on the car radio and quickly checked a few stations -- National Public Radio, a sports program and the most listened-to local conservative talk show.

 

I was about to click back to NPR when I was captivated by a caller to the conservative station. In that instant between dial flipping, I heard the caller "correct" WBAP host Mark Davis, who apparently had offended the listener by implying or saying outright that Buddhism was older than Christianity.

 

"Where is this coming from?" I wondered.

 

The agitated caller continued to insist -- as the host attempted to interrupt -- there was absolutely no religion older than Christianity.

 

By now, I'm shaking my head and saying to myself, "Surely he doesn't believe this."

 

To his credit, Davis delicately tried to explain that Buddhism dates to between the 6th and 4th century B.C., as in before Christ, so obviously it was a religion that preceded Christianity.

 

As I turned into my downtown garage, the last words I heard were from the caller who passionately explained that the Creator was a "Christian God" from the very beginning of the world and, thus, Christianity has been in existence since creation. Therefore, absolutely no other religion is older.

 

"Wow," I thought as I headed into my office, still puzzled about what in heaven could have brought on such an intense discussion.

 

Turning on the computer and the television almost simultaneously, I realized that disgraced golfer Tiger Woods had mentioned his Buddhist faith during his long-awaited apology for marital transgressions.

 

I admit that I thought: "Poor Tiger. It was bad enough that he admitted to being an adulterer, but the one sin many people would never forgive him for was believing in any religion besides Christianity."

 

I often wonder what makes religious people, especially Christians, so arrogant and, frankly, so bigoted.

 

Being Christian, I understand the teachings of the Bible and I've come to know that even within the faith, depending on one's denomination, there are still those ready to proclaim your place in hell.

 

That's just the way it is with some folks: If you don't believe what I believe, Christian or not, hell is definitely reserved for you.

 

What is difficult to accept are those who find it impossible to respect other people's beliefs. One does not have to agree with the religious teachings of others in order to respect them or their faith.

 

Besides, as I've said many times before, most of the world's great religions teach that you serve God by serving humanity. Certainly many of the principles of Buddhism -- seeking wisdom, respecting others and leading a moral life -- are found in many different faiths, whether that religion is based on a belief in a Godhead or not.

 

But too often we become like feuding children, bragging about whose God is the biggest, boldest, oldest; whose religious teachings are divine; whose faith will get them to heaven.

 

Surely God can't be pleased with that kind of childish bickering.

 

It would be less troubling if the radio caller were alone in his thoughts or was among a very few who felt that way. The truth is there are many, many more who express the same view and, in their zeal to extol their own religion, debase the beliefs of others.

 

We live in a nation that incorporated freedom of religion as a founding principle. People in this country have the right to believe in anything or nothing.

 

If human beings have a set of values, regardless where they come from, that instructs them in the decent treatment of others, then we ought to applaud that without trying to find fault in their religion.

 

It might do us all good to study (and perhaps practice) a little Buddhism from time to time. It might make us a little stronger, wiser and morally fit.

 

And Christians have no reason to be concerned because it is hundreds of years older than our religion.

 

Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. -- Ed.

 

(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)

 

By Bob Ray Sanders/McClatchy Newspapers

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A PROMISE THE DPJ SHOULD FORGET

 

The Hatoyama administration has decided to abolish tolls for 50 sections of 37 expressways in Japan on a trial basis. This experiment, which covers some 18 percent of the nation's expressway network, will last from June to the end of March 2011. Making the nation's expressways toll-free was one of the main campaign promises of the Democratic Party of Japan, which has said the policy will lower transport costs and revitalize local economies.

 

But it also threatens several problems. More tax money will be needed to maintain and repair expressways. More traffic means more greenhouse gases. The public transportation system could see customer numbers fall, which could lead to bus, ferry and train companies being forced to reduce or terminate services.

 

On Feb. 12, two firms announced that they would cease to provide Inland Sea ferry services between Takamatsu in Shikoku and Uno in Honshu as of March 26, citing the effects of expressway-toll discounts. This could be just the start. JR Hokkaido says that plans to waive tolls on expressway sections that cover about half of Hokkaido will impact directly on JR railway services, causing dire financial consequences.

 

The administration has not explained how it decided which expressway sections would be part of its toll-free experiment. Expressway charges will be removed throughout the whole of Okinawa Prefecture and for many sections in such regions as Tohoku, Sanin and Shikoku. Since the toll-free sections are concentrated in areas where traffic volume is low, it will be difficult to measure the economic impact of the changes.

 

The administration should not pursue its campaign promise if doing so will negatively impact the nation's public transport network. A policy that maintains the "user pays" principle is preferable. In a recent poll that asked people to name campaign promises that the government should not carry out, 60 percent nominated the toll-free expressway policy. The government would be wise to take notice of this result.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SECURITY FOR DISPATCH WORKERS

 

The labor ministry last month asked an advisory body to discuss possible revisions to the law governing the dispatch of temporary contract workers. The Hatoyama administration hopes to improve the stability of dispatch workers' employment situation, and plans to send a bill containing revisions to the Diet in March.

 

According to a ministry draft of the revision bill, the current temp system, which sees registered workers go without pay when there is no work to occupy them, will be banned in principle. Exceptions will be made for 26 fields of work that require specialized skills, such as interpreting. The draft proposes that the ban be phased in over a period of up to five years.

 

The draft also calls for dispatch on assignments lasting two months or less to be prohibited in principle, and for temp agencies to be obliged to make their commission margins public.

 

Dispatch of workers to manufacturing firms will also be banned in principle. Again, there will be a phasing-in period of up to three years before the ban is enforced. However, dispatch of registered workers to manufacturing firms will still be allowed if the workers receive pay continuously for more than one year, even if there is no actual work available.

 

Neither management nor labor is satisfied with the terms of the draft. The management side says the revisions will make it hard for small firms to find workers when their operations experience sudden or short-term booms. The labor side says that the revisions will not prevent workers being dispatched to manufacturing firms on short-term, renewable contracts. Labor also questions why unskilled work such as filing and office machine operation is covered in the 26 "specialized" fields.

 

The advisory body is faced with a difficult task. Its main onjective should be to prevent a situation in which dispatched workers can be easily and suddenly laid off in times ofeconomic downturn. Legislation aside, management should realize that continuing to rely heavily on dispatch workers inhibits the accumulation of skills and know-how among staff, thus weakening a firm's ability to compete in the long term.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

U.S. 'TORTURE MEMO' LAWYERS GOT OFF TOO EASILY

BY CESAR CHELALA

 

NEW YORK — The recent statement by the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) that the two lawyers who wrote the so-called torture memos merely exercised "poor judgment" is a disservice to justice. This is a topic that should be properly addressed by a serious inquiry to establish whether there were any violations of law.

 

According to the Justice Department's ethics watchdog, lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee's written opinion on the subject "contained significant flaws."

 

Specifically, investigators found that Yoo had "violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective and candid legal advice," and that Bybee had "acted in reckless disregard" of ethical obligations in his actions regarding the memos.

 

However, the report containing these conclusions stated that Yoo and Bybee were not guilty of professional misconduct amounting to grounds for their disbarment.

 

This is a puzzling statement if one considers that Yoo and Bybee's actions led to serious violations of national and international law. It is even more puzzling if one considers that a cover letter accompanying the report stated that an earlier version of the report had found "professional misconduct" on the part of the two lawyers.

 

David Margolies, a senior OPR official in charge of reviewing the earlier version, had overruled its finding.

 

"Justice Department lawyers have an obligation to uphold the law, so when they write legal opinions that are designed to provide legal cover for torture, they need to be accountable with more than a slap on the wrist," said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch.

 

She added that "Last-minute changes in the Justice Department's findings should not discourage state bars from investigating whether these men violated their ethical obligations as lawyers."

 

The "torture memos" were aimed at providing legal cover for U.S. interrogators to use abusive techniques such as sleep deprivation and waterboarding. Waterboarding has been prosecuted as a war crime by the United States. In 1947 the U.S. charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out a form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

 

After the 9/11 terror attacks, CIA interrogators sought authority to use coercive means of interrogation against captured Taliban and al-Qaida operatives. These methods were cleared not only by the White House during the George W. Bush administration but also by the Justice Department, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

 

CIA officers used waterboarding at least 83 times against Abu Zubaydah and 183 times against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum, even though the U.S. had historically treated waterboarding as torture.

 

"We prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam," Attorney General Eric H. Holder said.

Information obtained from waterboarding may not be reliable because a person under duress may admit to anything. "It is bad interrogation. I mean, you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture is bad enough," former CIA officer Bob Baer said.

 

In December 2008, then FBI Director Robert Muller said that, despite Bush administration claims that waterboarding had "disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks," he didn't believe that evidence obtained by the U.S. government through enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding had disrupted any attack.

 

Despite numerous and serious abuses, not a single CIA official and only a few military personnel have faced meaningful punishment.

 

There are widespread demands that the Justice Department broaden its preliminary investigation of CIA abuses and of the role that Bush administration lawyers played in justifying these abuses.

 

Although former Vice President Dick Cheney has boasted of being a big supporter of waterboarding, President Barack Obama has said, "I believe waterboarding was torture and was a mistake."

 

Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.


 

THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHOSE GDP IS NO. 2 MISSES POINT

BY KEVIN RAFFERTY

 

HONG KONG — News headlines this month proclaimed that Japan is still the world's second-biggest economy, ahead of its neighbor China. Gross domestic product figures for 2009 showed Japan with $5.085 trillion against China's $4.91 trillion.

 

But every economist knows that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. And these statistics were something of a fluke, were probably untrue in 2009, are certainly untrue now, and don't really matter in terms of the real lives of the people of China or Japan. Nor do they address the difficult questions facing politicians and policymakers.

 

It is a sad reflection on the quality of the media that all the majors made a big deal of the headline — Japan still ahead of China — and most of them did not get to the fine print: What, if anything, does it actually mean?

 

Japan unexpectedly survived as No. 2 because its growth in the final quarter rose by an annualized 4.6 percent, to take its performance for all of 2009 to only minus 5 percent instead of the minus 9 percent forecast originally. However, Japan is notoriously prone to revising its figures; the initial figures did not include components of growth later factored in.

 

As the numbers are in U.S. dollars, they also depend on the value of the yen. A higher yen boosts the size of the Japanese economy, and a lower value shrinks it. Every ¥2 change means a GDP difference of around $110 billion. And let's not talk about the true value of China's yuan, unadulterated by government or market.

 

The debate about who is No. 2 economic dog to the United States is academic because with China powering ahead at 8 percent plus annually and Japan crawling at 1 to 2 percent, it is a matter of time before Japan yields.

 

Of course, in real world terms of living standards and what your money will actually buy, China's rip-roaring growth left sluggish Japan standing a long time ago. Adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), China's GDP is $9 trillion, according to IMF figures, while Japan is languishing at around $4.2 trillion.

 

But even this does not reflect the real real world. China has more than 10 times as many people as Japan, so individual Japanese are far richer.

 

Indeed, China's achievement last year after years of record growth is that it has finally climbed into the world's top 100 in income per capita. According to the International Monetary Fund, China comes 99th with per capita income of $3,566 when measured by market rates, and 97th with GDP of $6,546 when measured by PPP. The PPP measure still leaves China $1,000 per person below Thailand (89th) and Ecuador (91st).

 

China is unique in that it is both a big economy, increasingly one of the leading movers and shakers of the world, and a developing country. Beijing's leaders have recognized in their global negotiations that they can play with the Group of Two or Group of 20 at the top table or with the developing countries as it suits them.

 

Both Japan and China are important economic players and their policies matter greatly for the shape of the global economy. In Japan's case, it has immense issues to sort out, starting with how to get the economy moving again to stimulate growth, jobs and taxes before it is bowed down with an increasing aging population. Companies' search for efficiency has led to more and more temporary or casual work, a big drop in household savings, a rise in uncertainty and the ugly prospect again of deflation as ordinary Japanese worry about their prospects and are reluctant to spend.

 

What is surprising to outsiders is that the policymakers, bureaucrats and politicians alike have buried their heads in the sand rather than squarely face difficulties, including rising government indebtedness, by using the considerable intellectual and economic resources at their disposal.

 

Japan is also handicapped by an inflexible and inward-looking approach, a failure to understand the rest of the world — exemplified in Toyota Motor Corp.'s failure to understand the damage to its reputation by its slow reaction to fix faults in its cars. Japan has greatly depended on exports, but the savvy global brand exporters are only the tip of a giant domestic iceberg.

 

China's attitude is criticized even more — and not merely on the vexing questions of trade disputes and the value of its currency. Beijing is going through a kind of adolescent sulky-assertive period. This would be dangerous in itself given China's already giant global boots as the world's biggest exporter.

 

China also has a hidden iceberg of domestic problems, including massive and increasingly misplaced

investment, incipient bubbles, rising inflation, major issues of social and welfare policy — not to mention a yuan that Beijing might prefer to devalue to keep exporting to a world that increasingly is trying to curb its consumer spending.

 

It is time for more openness from Beijing, a more cooperative front to the rest of the world and cooler heads in assessing and addressing real economic problems. Otherwise, the year of the tiger will be tempestuous indeed, for China first, then for the rest of the world.

 

Kevin Rafferty is a former managing editor of publications for the World Bank.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

THE ELUSIVE ASEAN GOAL

 

The 10-member ASEAN grouping reiterated its commitment to set up a regional economic community modeled on the European Union in 2015 even though its economic ministers, who held their annual meeting near Kuala Lumpur over the weekend, did not have much to say concerning economic integration.

 

The impact of the 2008 global financial and economic crisis has even pushed some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations into protectionism by erecting more non-tariff barriers. Non-tariff barriers are common in international trade as long as they are aimed at protecting consumer interests (safety) through better quality standards.

 

But the blunt reality is that non-tariff barriers within ASEAN trade have been designed to protect domestic industries. Yet more disappointing is that only little progress has been made in the 11 priority sectors targeted for accelerated integration to achieve the ASEAN goal.

 

We should magnanimously acknowledge that Indonesia is the laggard in the marathon run to the ASEAN Economic Community as our economy, though the largest with more than 230 million of the region's 550 million population, is among the least efficient and least competitive.

 

True we still have about five years to gear up for full economic integration that will allow for free flow of goods, services, investments and skilled professionals.

 

However, five years is not a long time for the process of economic integration, especially for Indonesia, which is facing uphill challenges to strengthen its economic competitiveness due to an acute lack of physical infrastructures such as roads, seaport, power supply as well as poor regulatory and bureaucratic frameworks.    

 

We can no longer sit back and relax, hoping that things will improve within five years and will be ready for an ASEAN community.

 

We should instead take a great lesson from our bitter experiences with the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement. We simply forgot our commitment to that agreement after its signing more than five years ago only to painfully find early this year, when the trade pact came into power, that we are not ready for such an open, free trade with China.

 

Another blunt fact is that not only we can not renegotiate our commitment to an ASEAN common market, but an ASEAN single market is also the best chance for us to woo more foreign investment because investors will have an advantage to establish regional production centers in Indonesia to cover the whole ASEAN region.

 

Put another way, businesses can use Indonesia as a regional base for production not only for the domestic market but also the region and entire global market.

 

The problem is that production networks in Indonesia could be competitive only if the country has become a reliable part at least of the regional supply chain because manufacturers now require an efficient supply-chain management to allow for lower storage costs, lean manufacturing and just-in-time delivery.

 

This requires efficient transport, expedient customs services and harmonious customs procedures to facilitate the smooth transit of goods between ASEAN countries, as well as common production standards.

 

 There is a mountain of homework facing us now.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

OBAMA SHOULD HELP A PEOPLE BLIGHTED BY A US CORPORATION

CARMEL BUDIARDJO

 

As the much-heralded visit of President Barack Obama draws near, it is worth remembering that, unlike any other US president, Obama enjoys a special affection among Indonesians.

 

Most Indonesians know that he spent several years in Indonesia as a child and probably still remembers the language he used when he played on the streets with local children. For Indonesians, a US president who can actually speak their lingo is indeed a novelty.

 

In The Audacity of Hope, he wrote at some length about Indonesia, not just about his childhood recollections, but also about events in Indonesia in the 1960s, showing that he has keep abreast of developments during the terrible years of the authoritarian military dictatorship.

 

"By any measure," he wrote, "Soeharto's rule was harshly repressive. Arrests and torture of dissidents were common, a free press nonexistent, elections a mere formality." He went on to write about ethnic secessionist movements, mentioning Aceh in particular where, he wrote, "the army targeted not just guerrillas but civilians for swift retribution - murder, rape, villages set afire. And throughout the seventies and eighties, all this was done with the knowledge if not the outright approval, of US administrations."

 

In Dreams From My Father, he wrote about his stepfather's great unease and silence about his one-year military service in New Guinea, now called Papua.

 

The country Barack Obama will be visiting in March has in many ways changed beyond recognition from the country he wrote about a few years ago. But one place where virtually nothing has changed is West Papua, which was incorporated into Indonesia 40 years ago.

 

But how many Americans or Indonesians are aware of the fraudulent nature of the so-called Act of Free Choice in 1969, or indeed of the massive revenues Indonesia rakes in from this highly profitable piece of real estate? Papuans know only too well that large tracts of their homeland have been changed beyond recognition by an American company called Freeport.

 

Although Papua has abundant natural resources and is host to this copper and gold mining company, which is Jakarta's largest taxpayer, the vast majority of indigenous Papuans live in dire poverty, with a health service that barely penetrates the more remote regions of the vast territory, where HIV/AIDS is estimated to be 15 times the national average and mother and child mortality are the highest in Indonesia.

 

In anticipation of the Obama visit, attention has been focused on agreeing to a strategic partnership. The joint statement is likely to applaud the accord between Jakarta and the resistance in Aceh in 2005, but no one expects Obama's host, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to breathe a word about Papua. Yet this is where Obama's audacity would be well deserved. Having so pointedly condemned the failure of past US administrations to acknowledge the repression in Aceh, he now faces the challenge of speaking to his host about Papua.

 

For the past decade, Papuan organizations and human rights NGOs have stressed their firm belief that Papua should become a land of peace, and have called on Jakarta to enter into dialogue as a way of resolving the many problems that still bear down heavily on the Papuan people.

 

As a Nobel Peace laureate, Obama should understand these aspirations and support any meaningful initiatives to achieve a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

 

According to recent information from our sources in Papua, there are 50 political prisoners there, among them men sentenced to five, 10 and even 15 years simply for unfurling their Morning Star flag in peaceful demonstrations.

 

One of them is Filep Karma, who was arrested in December 2004 and is serving a 15-year sentence. For six months, he has been suffering from an acute urinary infection, which, according to the local doctor, urgently needs specialist treatment in Jakarta.

 

But Karma has not yet been provided with the funds he needs to finance the trip for himself and a relative and for a week's treatment at a specialist hospital. He justifiably insists that those who have held him in captivity for so long should provide the funds needed to cure him.

 

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Obama acknowledged that men and women around the world jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice were far more deserving of honor than him. He can himself now honor the dozens of political prisoners in Papua in a practical way by proposing their immediate and unconditional release.

 

Papua has for decades been a restricted territory for international journalists, human rights researchers and independent observers, while reports paint an alarming picture of the overbearing presence of the Indonesian Military, which has created a climate of fear. No doubt some were hoping that Obama could include Papua in his 60-hour itinerary, given that the governments of both countries benefit from the exploitation of Papua's minerals.

 

Since operations began in the 1970s, the Freeport mine has turned a mountain into a deep crater and seriously polluted the surrounding rivers. Tribal people who lived for generations on the slopes of the mountain were evicted and resettled in coastal regions with devastating consequences for their health and livelihoods.

 

Peacefully flying the Morning Star flag, which means exercising the right to freedom of expression, has for decades been treated as an act of treason. Three years ago, a prohibition on the use of regional symbols such as the Papuan flag was codified in a presidential decree, in violation of Indonesia's ratification in 2006 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

Having criticized US administrations for turning a blind eye to such violations of basic human rights during the Soeharto era, Obama could use his enviable reputation as a world leader to remind his host of the need to repeal laws and regulations that criminalize freedom of expression.

 

Just imagine how welcome this would be not only to Papuans who will have nothing more than glimpses of Obama on their TVs, but to civil society organizations in Indonesia and indeed to Obama's huge following back home.

 

The writer is the co-founder of TAPOL and a human rights campaigner.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

IMPROVING THE MANAGEMENT OF DIRECT LOCAL ELECTIONS

CECEP EFFENDI

 

Local direct elections will be organized in 244 regions in 2010, but not for the first time. The first round of local direct elections began in 2005, a year after the 2004 general elections.

 

So people expect this second round of direct election in 2010, or a year after the 2009 general elections, will be executed in a much more organized way. But, the fact shows the current management of local direct elections is much messier than in previous years.

 

One thing is certain. Nobody has learned from previous experiences and therefore the same problems will be repeated.

 

It has been discussed over and over that the most difficult challenge is how to ensure that people who have the right to vote will be guaranteed participation.

 

This can only be guaranteed if the majority of citizens are registered as valid voters on the electoral roll. The validity and the number of people registered in the final registration determine the validity and legitimacy of direct local elections.

 

A failure to ensure the validity of the electoral roll is likely to have an impact: Either the legitimacy of the winner will be doubted, or those who support the losing candidate will demand a revote.

 

Despite this, voter registration is still a serious problem. The root cause of the problem is the current practices of organizing the electoral roll lies in the hands of the Home Ministry whose job is to provide the election commission with population data. Meanwhile, the election commission is tasked to transform government data into a valid electoral roll.

 

So long as there are two responsible agencies in the data management, confusion will persist for years to come. The time has come to decide who should be responsible for the whole process.

 

Budget allocation is another problem. Allocation of the budget is determined by the request of Local Elections Commission. Nobody can deny the planning capacity of this agency is rather limited due to the inexperience of most of the commissioners and staff of its secretariat in organizing grand-scale events such as the local elections.

 

One can see this from the negotiation between the election commission and the local council as to the amount of budget that should be allocated for local elections.

 

However, the fundamental problem lies in the fact the capacity of the local government to allocate budget is extremely limited. It is publicly known that most of the local government budget is used to cover the expenditures of public services, especially the remuneration of civil servants.

 

The question is why the local government should be burdened with the expenditure of managing local elections, while most of them have limited capacity. The draft of the local election law needs to address this issue.

 

Out of the 244 regions that will have to organize local direct elections in 2010, 36 regions remain problematic. The 36 regions belong to the newly established regions. It is difficult to expect the preparation for local elections can be organized properly in these regions when even basic infrastructure facilities are still a serious problem.

 

The first five years of establishing the new regions have been spent on solving problems with their main region (daerah induk) concerning the assets that they have to divide.

 

In urban areas, this generally becomes a serious problem that the interference of the provincial government to mediate between the two is needed. In the later stage, the newly established regions needs to build basic infrastructure to really make their government function.

 

The government and the parliament need to review the functioning of local government especially for the newly established regions.

 

In the current 2004 Local Government Law, every new region that has been approved by the parliament will automatically bear the responsibility of managing 31 functions without taking into consideration their limited capacity. The new regions also need to conduct local direction once the acting heads of the regions complete their jobs.

 

Learning from the experiences of the New Order regime (under the 1974 Government Law) where there is step-by-step responsibility given to newly established regions, only after the central government regards that the newly established regions have the capacity to stand alone will the regions be given full autonomy.

 

Data has shown the leadership capacity of the region is a determining factor that will decide whether the region will succeed or not in managing its autonomy. Therefore, ensuring the management of local direct elections will be conducted without many problems is of utmost important.

 

Here lies the urgent need to clarify the position of the election commission and the Election Supervisory Agency that has been entangled in the selection process of election supervisors. The urgency is to review the 2007 Election Commission Law especially after clearly defining the boundary of responsibility between the two bodies.

 

The draft revision of the 2004 Local Government Law and the draft of the local election law has reached the final stage. The government and the parliament need to consider all the problems related to the management of the local government and the local election to prevent the same problems from occurring again and again.

 

The writer is the deputy senior team leader focused in the area of decentralization at the Home Ministry and a member of the drafting team for the revision of the 2004 Local Government Law and Local Direct Elections Law

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

A GLIMPSE INTO INDONESIAN SEXUALITY

L. MURBANDONO HS

 

The pros and cons on "Council mulls ban on aerobic exercise" (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 17, 2010, Reader's Forum) in which aerobic moves were criticized for a tendency to inflame sexual desire is one of many signs that sexuality in our country is not yet enlightened. But if we merely despair over it and take no action, our country could be pushed back centuries.

 

Whatever peculiar religious interference on matters of sexuality, it must be taken as a catalyst to think more clearly about Indonesian sexuality today.

 

Of course this formulation can be very broad and this article is limited to exploring two parts of it: (1) Does Indonesian sexuality today differ from medieval sexuality? (2) What is the difference between Indonesian sexuality and contemporary Western sexuality?

 

Middle Age was a period when law and order in relation to sexuality was determined by preconceptions, assumptions and the interests of the elites, especially religious rulers. The principles in which laws and rules were based on included, among others, fairytales, myths, legends, magic spells, the scripture verses and religious dogma.

 

These principles cannot be measured and tested by rational minds today. Moreover, the success stories of these laws always had to do with iron-fist rulers.

 

In medieval times, key words defining right and wrong in terms of sexuality included dichotomous pairs such as sacred-sin, good-bad, faith-damned and the like.

 

They were dedicated to discourse on abstract things, such as heaven, hell and eternal punishment, with all its variations. These became social and moral principles in which positive law-making processes were based. In many cases this occurred both in the West and the East.

 

However, the socio-religious morals of that time, as principles for the rule of law in medieval sexuality actually collapsed a few centuries ago with two waves of civilization.

 

First, science. With the dawn of science - physics, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, psychology, astronomy, philosophy, theology, etc - the positive law regarding sexuality as part of social law, then, was processed and determined by rational thought. Religious faith still had its place insofar as it could be objectively tested and measured with reason.

 

Second, was the cultural impact of the first. Because of knowledge, the mystical shifted to the technical and

functional, which influenced sexuality. In the mystical stage, absurdity was impossible (forbidden) because it was considered taboo.

 

In the technical and functional stage, absurdities and all taboos were broken. A free rational mind requires that all things must and could be clarified, measured and tested.

 

All the above descriptions passed a long time ago. We are talking about the universal history of sexuality especially in the Western world, about three or four centuries ago.

In later centuries, there was the 1960's sexual revolution in the West. Any sexual taboo - gay, lesbian, free sex, extramarital sex, infidelity, pornography, prostitution, masturbation and a long series of abnormal behavior - was (de)formed! It became part of education: An obsession with clarifying discourses of sexuality in science, law, criminology, medicine, sociology, psychology, etc.

 

Our country has no experience of this. And, it is not necessary to have it! Moreover, the sexual revolution in the West itself has passed. And, as a cultural dynamics of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, it has become a new thesis.

 

In the new thesis era of the post-sexual revolution - I lived in the Netherlands from 1983-2008 - "horrible" things about Western sexuality as imagined by many people did not actually exist in general. If it did, it remained an exception.

 

Therefore, the Indonesian people who have lived in Western countries have not necessarily faced a cultural shock in terms of sexuality. Contemporary Western sexuality, in my opinion, is nothing but in harmony with our Pancasila (state ideology).

 

Of course, the latest Western sexuality - the sexuality following the sexual revolution in the 1960s - is complicated, but in short, it simply leads to the following four points.

 

First, Western sexuality today is based on the impact of the sexual revolution in the 1960s which is "more sensible" and allows for many "sexualities".

 

All elements of sex are considered in line with morals as long as they are honest, faithful, happy, and liberate everyone, enrich others, and respect life. It means that those involved get a good result and no one suffers from "bad" consequences.

 

Second, human sexuality is based on the individual. It is more individual than social. Very biological in nature, sexuality is natural and exceeds the social reality.

 

The "good" and "bad" elements of sexuality are based entirely on individual morality. It is impossible to regulate sexuality with outside elements. Because, "good" or "bad" from outside elements are always a social construction: A fib! Religion? It could play in the individual morality, but is not automatically part of public policy.

 

Third, regarding the public sphere, such as sexual crimes, there is a right and wrong, which can be measured and tested rationally. Sexual crimes are nothing but ordinary crimes that should be handled by law.

 

Fourth, human sexuality is personal wealth, which is biological, physiological and psychological. Through this, a person expresses his or her freedom in a social order that respects people's different choices.

 

Finally, in front of the medieval and the contemporary Western sexuality formulated above, where is the position of the Indonesian sexuality today? And, what is the real basis of the pros and cons dealing with religious fatwas (edicts) saying this and that on sexual matters.

 

The writer is a journalist.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

CHASE OUT POLICE BRUTALITY

 

Last year, a criminal suspect in Yunnan province reportedly died while playing duo mao mao, or hide-and-seek.

 

Now another suspect in Henan province was announced dead after allegedly "drinking plain boiled water" in police custody.

 

We wonder if local police chiefs can convince themselves that the causes of the mysterious deaths at detention facilities were just. For us common folk, drinking a glass of plain boiled water is, just like playing hide-and-seek, perfectly safe. That is why the official explanation for the death of the Henan suspect has stirred up another round of online ridicule.

 

Criticism is exactly what the authorities deserve - the excuses they have concocted are too porous for anyone with some common sense to believe. What's more, there is evidence of bodily harm on the dead suspect so with or without the whole truth as well as a credible account by the higher authorities, it's easy to tell that torture was involved.

 

To our great relief, the higher authorities in Henan did not challenge us to test the lethal potentials of plain boiled water. Instead, they shared our suspicion, dismissed the deputy police chief involved, and ordered the chief to resign. And they have promised a thorough and complete investigation.

 

With high-profile intervention by higher authorities, the case may be sealed shortly afterward. And chances are most of the questions raised will get an answer. But a more important question is how to prevent this from being repeated in the future.

 

We have heard rumors of police officers resorting to torture for confessions. We have seen them corroborate evidence in detention houses. And we have witnessed vows of commitment to eradicate torture, and to so-called "civilized law-enforcement." The latest death in police custody, however, showed something rather barbaric.

 

This case might be too extreme and thus viewed as an isolated case, but we would rather see authorities not take it that way.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

LESSON FOR ALL CARMAKERS

 

The press conference Toyota chief Akio Toyoda held on short notice yesterday in Beijing highlighted the increasing importance of the Chinese auto market.

 

Days after receiving harsh scrutiny from the United States Congress, the president of the world's largest automaker visited China to reassure consumers about the quality and safety of its cars.

 

Compared with its response in the US after the Japanese carmaker announced a US recall of about 2.3 million vehicles in January, Toyota's current efforts to salvage its reputation appear more timely.

 

The company seems to have realized that it must make clear that it will assume no less responsibility for Chinese consumers than for drivers in developed countries.

 

For Chinese automakers, one lesson they can draw from the recall is that the flawed management of a crisis can make the situation much worse. This is a useful lesson for domestic automakers who are just beginning to build up their own brands at home and have yet to tap into overseas markets.

 

But more importantly the implication of the Toyota crisis is that quality control can never be overemphasized.

 

The past success of Toyota once made it a role model for numerous Chinese companies. But now China's quality control regulator has issued notices warning consumers about Toyota vehicles.

 

Since even a giant can't avoid quality problems, fledgling domestic carmakers have no reason to delay any effort in making their products safer.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

TEMPER GOVT TIES WITH ECONOMY

BY YANG YAO (CHINA DAILY)


Policies that induce private investment and don't favor producers are key to sustained growth in the future

 

The essence of the so-called China model - if the Chinese experience can be labeled a model in the first place - rests on four requirements: social equality, a strong and effective bureaucracy, pragmatism and a disinterested government. These maxims have a lot to offer other developing countries and challenge the wisdom on state governance and methods of reaching economic growth.

 

Social equality is a result of revolutions in the twentieth century. It helps China avoid the politics of strong interest groups and elitism that plague many other developing countries. A strong and effective bureaucracy is both an historical heritage and a result of the current government led by the Communist Party, which has strong organizational capabilities. Pragmatism allows China to adopt imperfect but working solutions that answer the most urgent issues at the time.

 

Western countries often try to impose the first solutions on developing countries, but the results are usually unsatisfactory. China has adopted market institutions at its own pace but has made significant progress in a relatively short period of time.

 

Finally, a disinterested government is a government that is neutral to the conflict of interests among social groups. The Chinese government has acted in a disinterested way that allows it to concentrate on long-term economic growth instead of being swayed by short-term or biased interests.

 

Many observers believe the core of the China model is authoritarianism. Although there are elements of authoritarianism in China, people are generally confusing authoritarianism with meritocracy - a hierarchical system that rewards individual performance and embraces the culture of elitism - which has helped China to align the interests of government officials with the broad interests of society.

 

Meritocracy should not be compared equally with authoritarianism. Some elements of meritocracy - such as a relatively autonomous bureaucracy and a system of rewards for government officials - have universal values, especially as a counterbalancing force against extreme populism in some democracies.

 

But upon closer examination, one will find that the authoritarian aspect of China's development, especially the government's heavy involvement in the economy, does more harm than good to China's economic growth. True, China's rapid recovery from the financial crisis owes a great deal to strong government initiatives, but government investments has crowded out private investments, creating the possible accumulation of new nonperforming loans. In the long run, direct government involvement in the economy is fraught with more serious problems.

 

One of the issues is that government intervention will aggravate China's economic structural imbalance, which is mostly due to a drop in spending and labor incomes. The causes of the problem are complicated, but a heavy government hand in the economy definitely is one of them.

 

To attract investors, local governments provide them with a number of kickbacks, such as reduced taxes, land that is nearly free of cost, subsidized loans, and a hands-off approach on labor and environmental rules. Government policies are heavily in favor of producers. In return, investors are required to sink their money into high value-added projects that also happen to be capital intensive. But China's comparative advantage is still in labor-intensive industries. According to the 2004 national economic census, capital intensity was 500,300 yuan per worker in domestic companies, whereas the figure was 314,000 yuan per worker in foreign-invested firms, most of which come to China to take advantage of the nation's abundance of labor.

 

In addition to putting downward pressures on labor income in one stage of income distribution, the government has not helped to increase the people's share of national income in another stage of income distribution. Government revenues account for 24 percent of the GDP, nearly half of which has been invested.

 

While government investment is generally a blessing for China, and an envy of countries stranded by excessive redistribution, a large fraction of it is wasteful.

 

Lastly, heavy government involvement opens the door for interest groups. A heavy emphasis on economic growth is pushing local governments to self-commercialization, which in turn pushes them to form alliances with business interests. This would change China's landscape of equal social structure, one of the foundations for its rapid growth, if it were allowed to continue.

 

Therefore, even if it exists, the so-called China model needs to be reformed. At its core, reform must denationalize the economy and induce more political participation from citizens. The first is aimed to neutralize the government in its handling of the economy so that its policies are less in favor of producers. The second is to restore the role of government budgets to serve the welfare of the people. Reforms in the last three decades have been mostly responses to crises or acute problems. Structural imbalances are pushing the Chinese economy toward a critical moment. But they have also created a chance for further reform.

 

The author is professor and director, China Center for Economic Research, Peking University.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

CHINA'S UNSTOPPABLE MOVE TO MODERNITY AS A CULTURAL STATE

BY FRANCIS C W FUNG (CHINADAILY.COM.CN)


China missed out on the 19th Century industrialization. This time she is moving towards modernity with determination as a Cultural State. Soon President Obama will go to Indonesia and Australia for state visits. He will be likely welcomed as a return of the favorite son and will be told that China's growth is good for Indonesia. In Australia he will hear that for the first time, a white Anglo-Saxon nation state's continuing growth is dependent on China.

 

In a Feb 1, 2010 PBS Charlie Rose interview, Larry Summers, economic adviser to President Obama, offered the following summary of his view on the 21st Century. First, the most momentous event in the 21st Century is the rise of the developing world, not the current financial crises. Second, the most important thing a major nation must do is to empower the growth of the vast middle class. Third, in the 21st Century we must know how to harmonize with the developing world, most of all with China.

 

Above vision seem in all respect a fit description of China's growing momentum as analyzed in detail by Martin Jacques's book "When China Rules the World". Contrary to the title of the book, Jacques's final conclusion is that China will not rule the world. He believes the rise of China will be the revival of the Chinese culture, and China will resume its heritage of a magnificent civilization as a Cultural State.

 

Martin Jacques also argued strongly that modernity is not necessarily Westernization specifically in reference to China. China is so immense, following her major developed cities and regions, her rural areas still have a lot of room to grow. Jacques with in depth analysis to differentiate China from the European Political States also defined China as a Cultural State and not a Political State because of her long civilization. Of interest, Jacques pointed out that China as a Cultural State in her development will revisit her ancient cultural heritage and rediscover her cultural roots such as Confucianism and Daoism and all their teaching of Harmony. Also China in her move towards pluralism will invent her own democracy. This is supported by John and Doris Naisbitt, in their 2009 book China's Megatrends. John and Doris detailed in their book that a top down and bottom up convergence democracy is emerging in China that is holding the government accountable.

 

China's move to modernity is unstoppable despite America's intervention with the so called Smart Diplomacy. China's growth will benefit not only her but the whole world. Further, China will not challenge America's military hard power rather in soft power because she is a cultural state. Within China as a cultural state various political systems are allowed. That was the terms on which Hong Kong returned to China as one country two systems. In the same way the mainland extends her hand to Taiwan for reconciliation.

 

China's growth is unstoppable because the momentum she has generated within and the vast potential she has created for her continuing growth together with the world. The Western media in its eagerness to be politically correct still writes with deep rooted Cold War mentality. Is China really a communist state according to our Cold War definition? Will bring back the Cold War work to stop China growth? America took her eyes off the ball because of preoccupation with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars during the last ten years. During that time China achieved unprecedented growth in human history in scale and speed. In the future we have no choice but to harmonize with China for win-win mutual growth as implied by Larry Summers. Any Smart Diplomacy in criticizing China's Internet management, selling Arms to Taiwan and meeting with Dalai Lama will only demonstrate to the developing world that we are interfering in China's internal affairs. Such is the affinity of the developing world with China as the leading developing nation.

 

China's growth for our own healthy perspective should be seen as the simultaneous growth of a massive collection of Chinese regions such as Pearl Delta, Yangtze Delta, Beihai Delta and cities like Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Wuhan, Jilin, Xian and even Urumqi among many. Imagine this incredibly large number of formidable regions and cities are growing in the tradition of Japan and the four Asian Tigers with Confucian work ethics? The Chinese government today sans any political agenda, is single mindedly focused on bringing 1.3 billion citizens to the goal of better life with dignity according to Chinese Premier Wen JiaBao in a recent chat with Chinese net citizens. China is developing with the concept of scientific development towards a harmonious society. Harmony Renaissance is China's development as a cultural state.

 

There has been heavy criticism by Western media that China's economy grows by less desirable autocratic capitalism because the West believes modernization means Westernization. This is our double standard of passing our judgment onto China when the Chinese move towards modernity is actually very similar to the way the four Asian Tigers in their move to modernity during the 20th Century. They all follow Confucius tradition with heavy borrowing of technology from the West. In China's case however, her development model consists of a hybrid system of government guiding both State and private industries according to Martin Jacques. This Chinese innovation and success is remarkable due to the ability of the State owned enterprises can also go public and raise private capital and the private industries at times also get federal funding. This two way flexibility is what turned around the failing Chinese State Owned Enterprises and helped many private industries to flourish. This flexibility is what Deng Xiaoping called "Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones" and is quite a stroke of Chinese genius.

 

China is not a political nation state. She is a cultural state. She goes through all measures to prove non interference in other nation's politics. She has neither political agenda nor a development model to enforce on others. This is what makes her attractive to developing nations as a partner. China has 5,000 years of cultural tradition and preeminence. Her ancient cultural influence was extended mostly through harmony rather than outright conquest. A long lasting continuous culture like China's cannot be subject to broad criticism from a young dynamic country such as America without America appearing rude and hubris to other developing ancient cultures.

 

China development in harmony with Asian, African and developing nations of the world is particularly worth mentioning. Today China is the largest investor in Asia and Africa according to Martin Jacques. China's labor and technical teams are also busy working to build badly needed infrastructure in Africa. China's complementary development and affinity with the developing world will thus continue to grow with the rise of the developing world during the 21st Century. This move towards world harmony and mutual development is totally unstoppable.

 

The author is the General Director of World Harmony Organization. The opinions expressed are his own.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

REMEDIES FOR REAL ESTATE PRICES IN NEED OF OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE

BY CHAN CHOI-HI


The central government has taken the soaring real estate prices seriously. To provide people with more affordable housing, stabilize the realty market and solve the existing and potential problems in the sector, the government has taken five measures. They are: Increasing supply of low-cost houses for low-income families, encouraging reasonable house buying while restraining purchase for speculation and investment, strengthening real estate project loan risk management and market supervision, expediting the construction of protected homes, and specifying responsibilities of local governments.

 

But are these measures enough to tackle the problems of the property market? Or, should more be done?

 

Local officials, financial institutions and property developers have formed an "unholy alliance" in the realty sector. They maneuver within the system to exploit it. Most of the time they get what they want, ending up with huge profits. They complement each other in unscrupulous deals and thus hamper the stability of the real estate sector.

 

Local interests play a big role in determining the property market. Officials transfer land use rights to enrich local government coffers and/or promote their personal careers. So it is important to fix the crux of the problem in order to stabilize the realty market.

 

The ill-gotten wealth accumulated by unscrupulous developers and corrupt or overambitious officials will aggravate the country's poverty problem. It will widen the rich and the poor divide further, and could cause social and political problems. In short, if the central government does not check the situation, the control of the real estate market could fully pass on to the "unholy alliance".

 

The central government's policies should be consistent and focus on consistency to arrest the runaway property prices and ensure that the realty market develops in a healthy and orderly way. If the government does not rein in the property sector, it could grow into a "monster" holding not only the economy at ransom, but also the entire society.

 

The central government has to have a comprehensive plan to prevent that from happening. It already has all the tools it needs to prevent bubbles from being created in the property market. Now it just needs to use them effectively. That is the demand of the people - and that is what the government has to do to prevent the situation from worsening and snowballing into social unrest.

 

Since the coordination of different government departments (from central to local) is needed to solve the real estate problem, the central government should set up a working team, headed by a high senior official, to oversee the implementation of the rectification measures. This is important to ensure that all the proposed measures are implemented timely and effectively.

 

But the realty problem is not only economic. It is a social and political problem, too. Hence, it can't be solved without the help of political and social policies.

 

That brings us to the need for a sustainable housing policy in China. Like anywhere else in the world, providing affordable houses to the poor and low-income families in China is the responsibility of the Chinese government. The role of the central government is mainly to pass and supervise the implementation of the housing policies and regulations, and to set up a foolproof monitoring system.

 

But additionally, it could set up a welfare housing system to provide affordable houses to low-income families at low or concessionary rent and start "social housing" schemes.

 

Family incomes, for example, could be used as the best criterion to determine the number of households in need of low-price houses. But there has been no nationwide survey to find out how many households fall in this category. It's high time the government undertook such a survey that, for example, could begin from cities with a population of more than five million.

 

The author is chairman of Hong Kong Public Governance Association and member of Hong Kong's Central and Western District Council.

 

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CHINA DAILY

EDITORIAL

IRAN OFFERS US A LEARNING EXPERIENCE

BY HUA LIMING (CHINA DAILY)


The United States has been mobilizing its massive foreign influence to impose new sanctions on Iran. Before submitting the list of the new sanctions to the United Nations Security Council for a vote, it is trying to convince the international community that only sanctions can make Teheran change or scrap its nuclear program.

 

But can new sanctions really resolve the Iranian nuclear issue? For the answer we have to turn to history.

 

Given the non-transparent nature of Iran's nuclear program, it is understandable that the international community is suspicious of its intentions. After Iran's nuclear program came to light in 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed a resolution asking Teheran to make its nuclear program transparent and allow surprise inspections of its installations.

 

Thanks to the mediation of the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany) Iran signed the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on Dec 18, 2003 and promised to allow IAEA to conduct surprise checks on its nuclear facilities. After that, Iran reached the Paris Agreement with the EU-3 and agreed to suspend all uranium enrichment.

 

In March 2004, Iran submitted its program to limit uranium enrichment activities to the EU-3 after the expiry of the previous suspension period. But the George W. Bush administration rejected it outright, forcing the Iranian nuclear issue to take a turn for the worse. Iran restarted its uranium conversion facilities in Isfahan in August 2005 and resumed uranium enrichment six months later.

 

The result: the international community missed a chance to settle the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully. The political development in Iran after 2005 contributed to the change in its stance from one of compromise to h