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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

EDITORIAL 19.10.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month october 19, edition 000655, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. PERVERSION OF JUSTICE
  2. NOT CONGRESS'S FUNDS
  3. PARTY ABOVE CONSTITUTION - A SURYA PRAKASH
  4. FBI KNEW OF 26/11 BUT KEPT SILENT - B RAMAN
  5. NOT SUCH A BAD NOVEMBER FOR OBAMA - GWYNNE DYER
  6. INFLATION TAKES ITS TOLL ON RETAIL INDUSTRY - SHIVAJI SARKAR

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. PENDULUM SWING
  2. TIME TO MERGE THE TWO
  3. ELECTION AS OPPORTUNITY – TUHIN A SINHA
  4. RAILWAYS NEEDS ITS OWN PLATFORM - AJAY VAISHNAV
  5. DISCO FEVER
  6. DINYAR T DASTOOR

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. THE GIVING'S NOT EASY HERE
  2. NEWS YOU CAN USE
  3. THE GATHERING STORM - FAREED ZAKARIA
  4. MY TURKISH DELIGHT - DEREK O'BRIEN

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. KEEP PLAYING
  2. CARBON WATERMARK
  3. CHANGE OF TRACK
  4. CHARITY AT HOME? - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA POSTED
  5. THE PURSUIT OF THE POWERFUL - MANEESH CHHIBBER 
  6. 'MY UNCLE IS A VERY PRACTICAL MAN  AND KNOWS DIFFICULT DECISIONS COULD LEAD TO ELECTORAL LOSSES' - SHEKHAR GUPTA 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. DOLLAR DIP
  2. LUBED UP
  3. PLAYING TRADE GAMES - AMITENDU PALIT
  4. HOW LONG WILL INDIA'S COAL LAST?  - SK CHAND
  5. EAVESDROPPER
  6. LOTUS EATERS

THE HINDU

  1. FACING UP TO KASHMIR REALITIES
  2. IMPROVED DATA FOR POLICY MAKING
  3. CHILE COMES IN FROM THE COLD - JORGE HEINE
  4. MINERS' SECRECY PACT ERODES – ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO AND SIMON ROMERO
  5. SOCRATES — A MAN FOR OUR TIMES
  6. BETTANY HUGHES
  7. SPAIN ENDS PEACE MISSION

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. 1962 REDUX?
  2. CHARITY WITH A COLONIAL COMPLEX - JAYATI GHOSH

DNA

  1. PUBLIC SECTOR NEEDS MORE THAN JUST IPOS
  2. OUR STATES ARE NOT THE CENTRE'S SUPPLICANTS
  3. BE HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU HAVE - SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR
  4. LUCKNOW'S CHANGING SKYLINE TELLS A NEW STORY - PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
  5. IT'S TIME FOR INDIA TO EXIT THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH - RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
  6. MULTI-CULTURALISM AND ITS DOWNSIDES

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. ORDER ON ROADS
  2. GHOST OF KARGIL
  3. AMEND SELECTION PROCESS FOR SCHOOL LECTURERS - BY PROF SALEEM AYAZ RATHER
  4. SIGNIFICANCE AND HURDLES IN GST IMPLEMENTATION - BY V .K. GROVER
  5. GAMES CRITICS KNOCKED PUT - BY ALLABAKSH

THE TRIBUNE

  1. INDIA, US NEED EACH OTHER
  2. IT'S SAD
  3. ARUNDHATI'S CALL TO ARMS
  4. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING - BY B.G. VERGHESE
  5. REAL UNREAL - BY JUPINDERJIT SINGH
  6. PAID NEWS: THE SCOURGE OF DEMOCRACY - TRILOCHAN SASTRY
  7. PRESS COUNCIL REPORT HIDES MORE THAN IT REVEALS - JAGDEEP S. CHHOKAR

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. CRICKET'S GREAT BRADMAN BARRIER

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. REWORK THE MFI MODEL
  2. PLAY MISTRY FOR ME
  3. EUROPE IN THE IMF - DANIEL GROS
  4. SCRAP THE MMRCA, BUY US F-35S - AJAI SHUKLA
  5. INDIA CAN HAVE AN OILSEED EDGE - SURINDER SUD
  6. THE RATTING OUT OF ROHINTON - NILANJANA S ROY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. IT CUTS BOTH WAYS, UNCLE SAM
  2. AN UNWISE MOVE…
  3. PROVING LINCOLN WRONG
  4. MICROFINANCE, MACRO PROBLEMS? - ABHEEK BARMAN
  5. TH RO U G H TH E TH I R D EYE
  6. COOPERATION, BUT VIA BULLY OR PLEA? - SHUBHADA SABADE 
  7. KNOWLEDGE IS ALWAYS A SAFE BET - MUKUL SHARMA 

THE STATESMAN

  1. JOUST WITH JUDGES
  2. LUCKNOW IS THE POORER
  3. JUMBO JINXED
  4. STORY OF AN EVOLUTION - ASHIT BARAN AICH
  5. LOCAL TALENT CAN SOLVE RURAL PROBLEMS
  6. INDIA'S EFFORT TO BUILD TRUST
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. INDIA CAN'T BANK ON TIMELY US HELP
  2. 1962 REDUX? - BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
  3. LESSONS FROM THE RARE EARTH FRACAS - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  4. CHARITY WITH A COLONIAL COMPLEX – BY JAYATI GHOSH
  5. MAGIC BY NUMBERS - BY DANIEL GILBERT
  6. GOD IS CYPHER - BY J.S. NEKI

DECCAN HERALD

  1. US'S DUPLICITY
  2. ALARM BELLS
  3. NOTHING TO BE ALARMED - BY B G VERGHESE
  4. WHOEVER WINS, BIHAR NEEDS TIME TO EXCEL - BY SHASHIKALA SITARAM
  5. HANDS THAT HELP - BY AMBIKA ANANTH

THE JERUSALEM  POST

  1. THE URGENT IMPERATIVE TO TACKLE POVERTY
  2. REALITY CHECK: A NEW WAY FOR LABOR? - BY JEFF BARAK  
  3. YALLA PEACE: LONELY, OH SO (INCREASINGLY) LONELY - mBY RAY HANANIA  
  4. TERRA INCOGNITA: THE FAILURE TO SECURE HOME OWNERSHIP - BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN  
  5. NO HOLDS BARRED: THE JEWISH VIEW OF HOMOSEXUALITY - BY SHMULEY BOTEACH  
  6. THE WAR AGAINST THE JEWS - BY RUPERT MURDOCH  
  7. A HYPOCRITICAL PRIZE NOMINATION - BY MICHAEL DICKSON  
  8. PM'S IGNOBLE FAILURE TO FREE POLLARD IS OBAMA'S OBLIGATION - BY ESTHER POLLARD  

HAARETZ

  1. FORCE-FEEDING GEESE IS CRUEL, HIGH COURT RULES - BY MOSHE REINFELD
  2. ISRAELI ENVOY: GERMANY INCREASING EXPORTS TO IRAN, DESPITE SANCTIONS
  3. A CONVERSATION WITH AMY SINGER

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE COURT'S PRE-EMPTION TEST
  2. FRANCE, THE UNIONS AND FISCAL REALITY
  3. SINCE BIG BRANCH
  4. HICKORY RAIN - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
  5. DON'T FOLLOW THE MONEY - BY DAVID BROOKS
  6. THAT SINKING FEELING - BY BOB HERBERT
  7. TIME TO TALK TO THE TALIBAN - BY RICHARD BARRETT

USA TODAY

  1. OUR VIEW ON JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE: JUDGES FACE REPRISALS FOR
  2. UNPOPULAR RULINGS
  3. OPPOSING VIEW ON JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE: HOLD JUDGES ACCOUNTABLE - BY BRIAN S. BROWN
  4. OBAMACARE WILL CLOG SYSTEM - BY MARC SIEGEL
  5. WHAT'S AT STAKE IN MIDTERM ELECTIONS - BY DEWAYNE WICKHAM

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. MONEY, POLITICS DON'T MIX
  2. BRING HENS HOME TO ROOST
  3. CHICKAMAUGA'S COSTLY LOCK
  4. POLITICAL RACES COST TOO MUCH
  5. ELECTRIC 'SHOCK'
  6. 60 YEARS — MOSE, GARRISON SISKIN
  7. JUDGE CHRISTIE SELL HONORED

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - SCREENING HOPE IN GREEK CYPRUS
  2. GOVERNMENT FAILS PRESS FREEDOM TEST - SEMİH İDİZ
  3. FAREWELL TO JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE - CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER
  4. STRATEGIES OF DEVELOPMENT
  5. OBAMA'S NOT-SO-BAD NOVEMBER - GWYNNE DYER
  6. A PREDICTION OF EU-US-TURKEY RELATIONS IN NATO ISSUES - SERTAÇ AKTAN
  7. I ENCOUNTERED A TURKEY TOTALLY DIFFERENT IN MARRAKECH - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  8. THE BAD, WORSE AND WORST - YUSUF KANLI

THE NEWS

  1. WE HAVE TO DIFFER
  2. KILLING FIELDS
  3. THE MIRAGE OF TALKS WITH THE TALIBAN - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI

TEN ECONOMIC SOLUTIONS

  1. DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  2. WHAT STRATEGIC DIALOGUE? - TAYYAB SIDDIQUI
  3. A REGION UP FOR GRABS - SALEEM SAFI
  4. RESETTING PAK-US TIES - DR MALEEHA LODHI

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. GILANI ATTEMPTS TO DEFUSE CRISIS
  2. MNS FOR NEW SOCIAL CONTRACT
  3. POLITICAL POLARISATION GETTING DEEPER
  4. SINO-PAK NUCLEAR COLLABORATION - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  5. REALITY BEHIND INDO-US TIES - SAJJAD SHAUKAT
  6. WILLIAM BLAKE —BRITISH POET - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
  7. THE FOURTH RULE APPLIED - ALI SUKHANVER
  8. WARS THAT AMERICA FORGOT ABOUT - TOM BROKAW

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. WITH BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT . . .
  2. PATRONAGE AND PERSONALITY POLITICS LET DOWN LABOR
  3. MARATHON SERIES FITTED THE BILL

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. HASTEN SLOWLY ON THE CURRICULUM
  2. OKTOBERFEST OF ANGST
  3. COMPROMISE WON'T SAVE THE MURRAY-DARLING
  4. STATE'S EYE IN THE SKY OPEN TO ABUSE

THE GUARDIAN

  1. SCIENCE FUNDING: BACK THE BOFFINS
  2. SECURITY STRATEGY: THE AGE OF UNCERTAINTY
  3. IN PRAISE OF … TALK TO YOUR BABY

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. STANDING AGAINST THE EBB TIDE
  2. FORMER PROSECUTOR INDICTED
  3. THE RETURN OF MUSHARRAF - BY SHAHID JAVED BURKI

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. A NEGLECTED NECESSITY
  2. UPHOLDING OUR CHILDREN'S RIGHT TO EDUCATION - FRANS H. WINARTA
  3. THOROUGH LOOK INTO PAPUA AUTONOMY - NELES TEBAY
  4. SOEHARTO, A STEP AWAY FROM BEING NAMED A NATIONAL HERO - ASVI WARMAN ADAM

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. A NEW STRATEGY FOR UNITED RUSSIA - BY NIKOLAI PETROV
  2. EUROPE SHOULD BE CAREFUL OF SMILING BEARS - BY JANUSZ ONYSZKIEWICZ
  3. LUZHKOV'S WORM - BY VLADIMIR RYZHKOV 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

PERVERSION OF JUSTICE

PUNISH TEESTA SETALVAD FOR BLATANT PERJURY


Teesta Setalvad, high profile 'human rights' activist and head of the pompously named NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace, finds herself trapped in the elaborate web of deceit and lies she has relentlessly spun ever since the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat eight years ago. Her brazenly motivated and biased campaign against the Government headed by Chief Minister Narendra Modi with the sole intention of defaming him and the BJP, apart from maligning Hindus as a community, has been sustained by Left-liberal poseurs in the media and south Delhi's commentariat which believes it has monopoly over truth. That the 'truth' which Ms Setalvad and her admirers peddle with such vigour, and which has come to taint the Union Government's approach towards Gujarat, is no more than a concoction of stories that are more fiction than fact is fast coming to the fore. A Muslim associate of Ms Setalvad, whose conscience has rebelled against the latter's devious means to implicate individuals in manufactured cases, has gone public with details of how affidavits were drafted in a particular manner and 'victims' made to sign on them without being told of their contents. Earlier, this newspaper had published a documented report of Ms Setalvad handing over money to 'witnesses' whose affidavits she had drafted and who had willy-nilly become captive to her wiles. And now we have further evidence of how Ms Setalvad has sought to pervert the course of justice by tutoring witnesses and getting them to file affidavits that reflect her version of events that has no bearing at all with what transpired in Gujarat in the wake of the ghastly burning of Sabarmati Express coaches, in which kar sevaks were travelling, at Godhra.


One of the accused in the post-Godhra violence, who has been in jail on account of these tutored witnesses and their patently false affidavits, has filed an application in the Supreme Court, pointing out how the SIT during its investigations had stumbled across evidence of Ms Setalvad's perjury. In one particular case, 22 identical affidavits were filed by 'witnesses'. When asked to explain the remarkable similarity, the 'witnesses' said they had been made to sign on the affidavits by Ms Setalvad and were not aware of their contents. In yet another case, in which rape has been alleged, the 'witness' has disowned the contents of his affidavit and admitted that he was made to sign on it by Ms Setalvad after the so-called 'victim' indignantly told the SIT that she had not been raped. The Supreme Court will take up the application exposing Ms Setalvad for hearing later this month and it is hoped that justice will be done. If there has been a concerted effort by Ms Setalvad and her NGO to influence the course of justice, as the evidence overwhelmingly suggests, the Supreme Court should mete out exemplary punishment to her and her associates so that others are not tempted to tread the same path. Meanwhile, the apex court should halt proceedings in all courts till such time the issue of perjury is settled. 

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

NOT CONGRESS'S FUNDS

BIHAR WAS GIVEN ITS DUE SHARE OF RESOURCES


It is extremely unfair and unfortunate that the Congress, when in power in New Delhi, should fall back on its old practice of seeking to take credit for all the good work done by a State Government at the time of Assembly elections. By mocking at State Governments and insisting that the credit for development projects that have been implemented should go to the Union Government, the Congress has always sought to make out as if money is provided to State from its personal account. Worse, obvious lapses by the Union Government are palmed off, ever so effortlessly, as shortcomings of the incoming State Government. Of course, such propaganda is kept out of those States where the Congress is seeking re-election; there the Congress tells the voters how the party has worked in tandem with its Government for the welfare of the masses. In recent days, we have heard the Congress repeat its campaign theme song in Bihar where it has been seeking to undermine the achievements of the JD(U)-BJP Government headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar by claiming that the Union Government has been funding development projects and accusing the incumbent regime of not utilising funds. The first stone was cast by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi who, ignoring the significant development work undertaken over the past five years resulting in Bihar's turnaround which is conceded by all, strangely alleged that nothing had been done by the NDA Government in the State despite funds to the tune of `1 lakh crore provided by the UPA Government. The theme was picked up by Congress president Sonia Gandhi who blamed Mr Nitish Kumar for not utilising "crores and crores of rupees given by the Centre". Not to be left behind, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pompously claimed how his Government had been generous in giving Bihar `1,000 crore annually since 2004.


The truth of the matter is that the Congress-led UPA Government is doing no State any favour by giving funds. The States are entitled to a share of Central resources and there is a laid down procedure for this. It is obnoxious of the Congress to even remotely suggest that it has been providing funds to States — it has been doing no such thing; if anything, the Union Government has been fulfilling its obligations. This point has been stressed, and rightly so, by Mr Nitish Kumar and Mr Arun Jaitley. As for the utilisation of funds, it is absurd to suggest that the NDA Government has not been enthusiastic in pursuing a pro-development agenda with emphasis on rapid growth. The NDA regime inherited a State in deep crisis when it came to power in 2005: Fifteen years of 'jungle raj' by the Lalu-Rabri duo, in which the Congress was complicit, had reduced Bihar to a broke State with a derelict economy and virtually non-existent infrastructure where corruption was rampant and criminals ruled the roast. Bihar has been pulled back from the brink of disaster and resuscitated by the combined efforts of the JD(U) and the BJP under the leadership of Mr Nitish Kumar. Clearly, this has discomfited the Congress which thinks it alone can talk of development. That's just not true. 

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

PARTY ABOVE CONSTITUTION

THE PARTISAN DEEDS OF HR BHARDWAJ TO DESTABILISE THE BJP GOVERNMENT IN KARNATAKA PROVE THAT HE IS LOYAL TO THE CONGRESS AND NOT THE CONSTITUTION

A SURYA PRAKASH


The brazen partisanship of the Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj and the unconstitutional and perverse firmans that he has been issuing to Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa and the Speaker of the Assembly has once again revived the debate on whether we should continue with this anachronistic office that is often occupied by persons whose primary loyalty is not to the Constitution of India but to some political entity or family.

Mr Bhardwaj may have been right in asking the Chief Minister to prove his majority when some legislators announced withdrawal of support to the Government. However, he had no business to issue a diktat to the Speaker of the Assembly, who holds an independent constitutional office, on the qualification or disqualification of members.


The tone of Mr Bhardwaj's letter to the Speaker smacked of arrogance and gross constitutional impropriety. Luckily, the Speaker gave the Governor a fitting reply and redeemed the dignity of his office. But the drama did not end there, because the Governor rejected the vote on the first motion of confidence as a "farce" and recommended the imposition of President's Rule on the State.


All this is not to say that the Speaker's decision to disqualify the 11 members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and five Independent MLAs is unassailable. The matter is before the Karnataka High Court and much will depend on the court's view on the disqualifications. All that can be said at this stage is that the ruling BJP will have a tough time in establishing the bona fides of the action against the Independent MLAs.


Coming back to the Governor, it must be said that no person who is acquainted with the Constitution and the law in this area, specially after the Supreme Court's verdict in the Bommai case, would ever recommend President's rule with such haste and on such flimsy grounds.


However, the Union Government obviously has a better sense of the Constitution in the post-Bommai phase and nudged the Governor to make amends. This made the Governor eat his words and ask the Chief Minister to face a fresh trust vote on October 14. If only there were a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games for gubernatorial somersaulting, Mr Bhardwaj would have bagged it.


The unethical and unconstitutional conduct of Governors has been a recurring problem ever since we adopted the Constitution 60 years ago and, going by available evidence, the Congress must take a big share of the blame for appointing Governors who act as agents and spies of the party and turn Raj Bhavans into dens of political intrigue.

That persons of "character, calibre and experience" were not chosen for this office even when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister became evident when the Administrative Reforms Commission examined this issue between 1967 and 1969, when the Congress ruled at the national level and in most of the States. The ARC said there was "a widespread feeling" that some Governors were appointed on considerations extraneous to merit and that they were not able "to rise above party prejudices and predilections".


Thereafter, the most exhaustive and meaningful examination of the role of Governors in the country was done by the Sarkaria Commission, which examined the relations between the Union Government and the State Governments and submitted its report in 1987. It said the prevailing opinion was that Governors "came to regard themselves as agents of the Union Government" and they "failed to display the qualities of impartiality and sagacity expected of them". The Sarkaria Commission also, like the ARC, did an audit of the calibre of Governors. 

The results were far from encouraging. The Sarkaria Commission said its survey of the appointments of Governors since independence till October 1984 revealed that persons who were "eminent in some walk of life" constituted less than 50 per cent of the appointees. This percentage of "eminent persons" among Governors, however, showed a "steep fall" after 1980. 


This is a very significant observation made by the Sarkaria Commission because Mrs Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980 and packed the Raj Bhavans with sycophants, some of whom like Mr Ram Lal in the Hyderabad Raj Bhavan were even willing to participate in a coup against NT Rama Rao, who had won a thumping majority in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly election in 1983.


If we reflect on the calibre, political background and the conduct of Mr Bhardwaj, we begin to wonder whether Justice Sarkaria had somebody like him in mind when he wrote the commssion's report. The commission said that the burden of the complaints against Governors was that they "promote the interests of the ruling party" in New Delhi, particularly if the Governor "was earlier in active politics".


In response to the commission's questionnaire, respondents said "discarded and disgruntled politicians from the party in power in the Union (Government), who cannot be accommodated elsewhere, get appointed". Such persons, while in office, tend to function as agents of the Union Government.


The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, which was headed by one of India's most eminent judges, Justice MN Venkatachaliah, endorsed the Sarkaria Commission's recommendations and said a Governor "should be a person who has not taken too great a part in politics generally, and particularly in the recent past".


Those acquainted with Mr Bhardwaj's legal and political background are aware that he has rendered yeoman's service — as the hackneyed phrase goes — to the Nehru-Gandhis since the Emergency days. In recent years, he has displayed extraordinary enterprise and unwavering loyalty to Ms Sonia Gandhi by working through the legal maze and ensuring that the case against Ottavio Quattrocchi, accused of taking a huge commission in the Bofors field gun deal, was quashed. He also ensured that the Government of India withdrew its demand for freezing Quattrocchi's bank account in the UK, thus enabling the Italian businessman to pocket $ 7.3 million which he had received as payola from Bofors. As past commissions have reported, since independence the Congress has always chosen persons who remain loyal not to the Constitution or the people but to the Nehru-Gandhi family as Governors.


If we do not want Raj Bhavans to become extensions of 10 Janpath, we must press for a bipartisan approach to the selection of Governors or for scrapping the office of Governor altogether. This may not be the ultimate panacea, but if we do not want more Bhardwajs in our Raj Bhavans, we must begin somewhere. 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

FBI KNEW OF 26/11 BUT KEPT SILENT

B RAMAN


The former wives of David Coleman Headley, alias Daood Gilani, the Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative, had told FBI agents that he was in touch with terrorists in Pakistan after being indoctrinated with jihadi ideology. The FBI agents were also told that he was planning terrorist attack. Yet the American agency failed to act in time. Why?


More disclosures relating to David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba embarrassing to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation have been brought out in two detailed investigative reports by Sebastian Rotella of ProPublica, a public service website which specialises in investigative reporting. These two reports titled "FBI was warned years in advance of Mumbai attacker's terror ties" and "Feds confirm Mumbai plotter trained with terrorists while working for DEA", which were published on the website on October 15 and 16, 2010, have also been used by the Washington Post, thereby adding to their credibility.


About three-fourths of these reports are based on a study of the court documents filed by the prosecution against Headley. The remaining is fresh information gathered from two former wives of Headley — one an American based in the US and the other a Moroccan based in Pakistan — and serving and retired officials of the FBI and other agencies whose identities have not been revealed for valid reasons.


The salient points in the investigative reports are: 


"In three interviews with federal agents, Headley's wife (based in the US) said that he was an active militant in the terrorist group LeT, had trained extensively in its Pakistani camps, and had shopped for night vision goggles and other equipment, according to officials and sources close to the case. The wife, whom ProPublica is not identifying to protect her safety, also told agents that Headley had bragged of working as a paid US informant while he trained with the terrorists in Pakistan, according to a person close to the case. Federal officials say the FBI "looked into" the tip, but they declined to say what, if any, action was taken. Headley was jailed briefly in New York on charges of domestic assault, but was not prosecuted. He wasn't captured until 11 months after the Mumbai attack, when British intelligence alerted US authorities that he was in contact with Al Qaeda operatives in Europe."


"On Saturday (October 16), The New York Times reported that another of Headley's wives — he apparently was married to three women at the same time — had also warned US officials about his terrorism involvement. In December 2007, the Moroccan woman met with officials at the US Embassy in Pakistan and told them about Headley's friendship with Lashkar members, his hatred of India and her trips with him to the Taj Mahal Hotel, a prime target of the Mumbai attacks, The Times reported. On Saturday federal officials said the women's tips lacked specificity. "US authorities took seriously what Headley's former wives said," a senior administration official said. "Their information was of a general nature and did not suggest any particular terrorist plot."


"Headley's relationship with the US Government is especially delicate because the investigation has shown that he also had contact with suspected Pakistani intelligence officials and a Pakistani militant named Ilyas Kashmiri, who has emerged as a top operational leader of Al Qaeda."


The following conclusions emerge from the two investigative reports:


First, Headley was initially an informant (source) of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. He was being used for the collection of intelligence about the activities of the LeT in Pakistan. For this purpose, he used to visit Pakistan.


Second, in August 2005, his US-based former wife had alerted an FBI task force about Headley's links with the LeT, his training by the LeT in Pakistan and his helping the LeT in the procurement of equipment like night-vision glasses. She had also told the FBI about his e-mail and other contacts in Pakistan. She had also complained that he was ill-treating her and beating her. The FBI questioned him about her allegations of ill-treatment, but did not seriously follow up her tips about his ties with the LeT. (My comment: The FBI probably did not question him about his links with the LeT on the basis of her tips because it was already aware of the details since he was its source).


Third, in December 2007, his Moroccan former wife complained to the US Embassy in Islamabad about his links with the LeT. (My comment: It is not clear what action the US Embassy took on her complaint )


Fourth, during 2008, the FBI came to know about the plans of the LeT to launch a sea-borne terrorist strike on certain targets in the Mumbai sea-front, including the Taj Mahal Hotel. It promptly passed on the information to the Indian agencies. (My comment: The FBI could not have been expected to tell the Indian agencies that the information came from Headley. This was a specific piece of information complete in many respects except the date of the planned attacks. No intelligence or investigation agency would reveal the name of a source giving such specific information.)


Fifth, Headley had visited India five times on behalf of the LeT to collect operational intelligence and to help the LeT in the selection of targets and the landing point for the boat. (My comment: Before starting his visits to India, he had taken a new passport under the name David Coleman Headley in place of his previous passport under the name Daood Gilani in order to conceal his Pakistani origin from the Indian consular and immigration authorities. The FBI would have been expected to share this information with the Indian authorities, but it did not do so. Had the FBI done so, the Indian authorities might have been able to establish the details of his Indian network, arrest and question him and pre-empt the attack ).


Sixth, he visited India once again after the terrorist strike under the name Headley. Even then, the FBI did not alert the Indian authorities.


Seventh, why did the FBI not arrest and interrogate him immediately after the Mumbai terrorist strikes? It seems to have arrested him only after it intercepted messages about his being used by the LeT and Ilyas Kashmiri of the 313 Brigade for planning a terrorist strike in Copenhagen against a newspaper which had published cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in 2005. The arrest was made actually after the British intelligence came to know of his contacts with some assets of Ilyas in Europe for planning the attack in Copenhagen. The FBI moved against him seriously only after coming to know of his role in the planned attack in Copenhagen. It did not show the same seriousness in respect of his role in the Mumbai attack.


How helpful was the FBI in helping the Indian agencies in this case? It would be difficult to answer this question unless one knows the following details: 

 

When did the FBI first take the initiative in informing the Indian agencies about the arrest of Headley and the information obtained from him?

 

Why did the FBI delay its response to the Indian request for permission to interrogate him?

 

Why did the FBI insist on his being interrogated in US custody in the presence of FBI officers and did not allow Indian officers to question him in their custody?


During the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington DC, in November last year for talks with President Barack Obama, the two countries had reached what was described as a Joint Counter-Terrorism Initiative to promote counter-terrorism co-operation between the agencies of the two countries. The suspicious conduct of the FBI in keeping the Indian agencies in the dark about all relevant aspects of the involvement of Headley with the LeT and his role in helping the LeT in carrying out the terrorist strikes, delaying their interrogation of Headley and imposing conditions on the way he was interrogated would add to the suspicions of the Indian agencies that the Joint Counter-Terrorism Initiative was an eye-wash sold to India to cover up the sins of commission and omission of the FBI and to conceal from the American families whose members were killed by the LeT in Mumbai the extent of the FBI's knowledge which could have been used to prevent the strikes.

While this issue may not have any major impact on the forthcoming visit of Mr Obama to India next month, it will definitely add to the traditional distrust nursed by the Indian agencies about their US counterparts.

-- The writer, a former senior officer of R&AW, is a strategic affairs commentator. 


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THE PIONEER

OPED

NOT SUCH A BAD NOVEMBER FOR OBAMA

GWYNNE DYER


With the US economy expected to grow strongly again by 2012, the US troops gone from Iraq and on their way out of Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama stands a good chance of getting re-elected in 2012


About eight months ago I was visiting an old friend in San Francisco, and for reasons I couldn't then explain I found myself betting him and his son $100 each that the Democrats would lose their majority in both houses of Congress in the US mid-term elections this November. It seemed like easy money to them then — surely the Democrats wouldn't lose the Senate — but I think they are going to owe me $200.


Much is being made of this in the media at the moment: How disappointed Predsident Barack Obama's former supporters are, how angry and mobilised the Republican "base" are, how extremely hostile to him the new Republican-controlled House and Senate will be. How can he be so calm about this? Why doesn't he get out there and fight?


Well, he has made a few fairly fiery speeches recently, but basically he knows speeches won't do much good. His supporters are disappointed because it has been a long, grim recession, and for most Americans it is still not over. Mr Obama couldn't get another economic stimulus Bill through Congress at this point even if he thought it was a good idea, so he can't hurry the recovery up.


Some of the people who voted Democratic in 2008 are also very cross because Mr Obama has not brought American troops home from Afghanistan as fast as they hoped, or hasn't got any legislation about climate change through Congress, but he can't deliver on those things this year either. All he actually has at his disposal is words, and they won't be enough to re-motivate disillusioned Democrats.


The Democrats lack all conviction, while the Republican base is filled with passionate intensity. Mr Obama's approval rating of 44 per cent is not especially low for a US President two years into his first term — Mr Ronald Reagan and Mr Bill Clinton were considerably lower at this point in their presidencies — but most of his supporters won't bother to vote in this election, while almost all of his enemies will.


If you really believe that your country has been hijacked by a Muslim Communist who was born in Kenya (or a cannibal troll who was born in Mordor, or whatever), then you will certainly get out and vote. If all of the retired white people vote, and only the usual mid-term proportion of all the other demographics does, then the Democrats will lose both Houses of Congress. So why isn't Mr Obama more worried about it?


He will certainly regret that so many long-serving Democratic senators and congressmen are going to lose their seats this autumn, but it really does not much matter to him who controls the Congress for the next two years. He can't hope to get any more legislation even through the current Congress since the Democrats lost their "super-majority" of 60 seats in the Senate last January, so what's the difference?


Getting majorities in both Houses of Congress will leave the Republicans nowhere to hide on the critical issue of cutting the huge federal deficit. They have already said that they will not raise taxes — even for those earning more than $2,50,000 a year — and they have pledged not to cut defence spending. What's left? The only other big-ticket items in the budget are entitlements: Health care and pensions.


The US has not yet gone through the painful debate about how to tame the deficit that has already happened in most European countries, but it will have to do so soon. That poses a particular problem for Republicans, because if they will not raise taxes on the rich or cut defence spending, then they have to support brutal cuts in health care and pensions or lose all credibility as deficit-cutters.


But cutting entitlements would alienate the Republicans' own most important demographic: Older white people. They will not risk that. By contrast, the Democrats would not be alienating their own base if they cut defence spending and raise taxes on the rich, so they can be coherent and consistent on the topic. A Republican-controlled Congress may well come to be seen as an obstacle to fiscal responsibility even by many Republicans.


Make the further, quite reasonable assumptions that the US economy will be growing strongly again by 2012, and that US troops will be gone from Iraq and on their way out of Afghanistan, and you have a credible scenario in which the Democrats win back both Houses of Congress as well as re-electing Mr Obama.


Meanwhile, Mr Obama can veto any Republican attempt to repeal the legislation he has already got through Congress, and he will retain a free hand in foreign affairs. He could even try to get new legislation on immigration through Congress: It wouldn't pass, but he could thereby lock up the Latino vote. No wonder he looks calm.


-- Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist. 

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

INFLATION TAKES ITS TOLL ON RETAIL INDUSTRY

SHIVAJI SARKAR


High and persistent inflation has impacted input costs and the consumption pattern resulting in the compromise of quantity and quality of products to offset profit decline. The Prime Minister's expectations of tiding over the crisis has yet to show any results


Rising prices and input costs are taking a toll on the retail and fast moving consumer goods sector. Many of them are gasping for survival and looking for new strategies. 


Many neighbourhood retail grocers or confectioners have quietly closed down as consumers were unable to support the higher prices — a natural corollary of higher input or manufacturing costs. The trend is not restricted to small shops alone. Big Fast Moving Consumer Goods groups are looking for ways to remain in the market. They either take a hit on profitability or hike prices and risk losing market share. 


The inflation is not showing any signs of going away. A good monsoon has only seen the price of vegetables — raw material for many FMCG products — skyrocketing. Food grains and pulses continue to remain expensive. 

Despite the Prime Minister's oft-repeated expectations of tiding over the crisis, prices have not shown any downtrend. The new wholesale price index with a wider base of over 600 items against 400 of the previous one has not helped correct the political spectrum. If at all, it showed a marginal fall of less than one per cent from the previous WPI. 


Nobody is sure that prices would fall in the near future. The Reserve Bank of India announced recently that though inflation rates have reached a plateau compared to last year — the result of the high rise last year, they are likely to remain at "unacceptably high levels" for some months. The food article prices, which rose by 15 per cent in September, are still contributing to the pressure. That means, the average rise is much more than that. 

Since the basic food prices decide other cost factors for all goods, there has been a fall in overall consumption pattern. As per the result of the last economic survey, people are buying fewer garments and footwear and spending less on recreation and leisure activities. 


This is reflected in the performance of the allied sectors. Many footwear companies have either closed down or moved to some other areas. Many garment manufacturers have also gone out of business. Their strategies at reducing prices were not of much help as losses mounted. 


The middle class — the so-called engine of growth — is apparently not spending much. The expenses on food hover between 35 and 40 per cent, as per official statistics, taxes take away another 30 to 40 per cent, leaving little to spend on other necessities. 


Recreational expenses are cut to 3.4 per cent at the maximum. This has resulted in fall in growth of hotels, restaurants and the travel sector. Growth has come down from 12.4 per cent in 2005-06 to 6.5 per cent now. In fact, small restaurants are finding the going tough and they have either closed down or have compromised on the quantity of service. In rare cases, they could afford to increase prices as that proved counter-productive. 

The middle class is also not using the credit card much. The banks have virtually nothing outstanding against credit cards hinting that the middle class is withdrawing from the consumer market. The malaise is not restricted to small capitalists. Some of the big retail chains have been looking for buyers. 


FMCG companies are seen devising methods to survive. Some are increasing prices on the sly. Others are substituting expensive raw materials with cheaper ones. There are quite a few who are reducing the weight of each pack to tide over inflationary times. 
The profits of one of the largest FMCG companies dipped as its rival reduced rates of its competitive detergent and hair care products. The company has now shot back by increasing prices of two its most popular soap brands and shampoo and reducing the weight per pack. 


Finding it difficult to conduct the price war, the rival has ostensibly upgraded (read re-branded) its detergent and other products. It raised prices by over 20 per cent. As compensation to the consumers, it said that it was giving 10 per cent free. Another cosmetic brand did both — increased prices of its products and reduced weight per pack. 


An international confectionery brand has rounded up its price to the nearest larger number — in reality in some cases doubled it and compensated by producing thinner and lighter chocolate bars though it has maintained the length and width of the product. 


A pharmaceutical-cum-cosmetic goods producer is also contemplating going the same way. The executive director of another says commodity inflation has been in double digits and its getting impossible to manage. 


The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India has come out with a study saying that input costs are rising and this would impact the prices of manufactured goods. In many cases price hikes would be margin neutral. One silver lining is that most FMCG companies work at very high profits, some going up to 40 per cent. If they decide to compromise on that — meaning very high consumer prices even otherwise — their survival would not be at stake. But would they learn? 


A Morgan Stanley report in August said that the sharp increase in input costs amid continuing competitive intensity puts added pressure on the FMCG industry. It said that operating margins of most FMCG firms could fall by almost nine per cent this fiscal. 


It would be interesting to see how the nation maintains its growth rate if FMCG groups start faltering. They are one of the large employers — direct and indirect. If the inflationary trend persists, it might even see the exit of some of the groups. 

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

PENDULUM SWING

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel's strong remarks about the utter failure of multiculturalism in Germany are symptomatic of a wider, uncomfortable trend sweeping across Europe. From the UK to France, from Spain to Italy, positions about immigration and the integration of foreign-born workers into the mainstream are becoming more strident. Contributing factors include the post-9/11 rise of Islamophobia, the surge to power of right-wing parties and a battered European economy. This in turn has cultivated an 'us-versus-them' mentality as manifest in several issues such as the French ban on the burqa or the Swiss ban on minarets. For Germany, which has a significant Turkish migrant population, the political articulation of the anti-immigration sentiment was just a matter of time. However, it is shaky ground. As an ageing society, Germany depends on skilled migrant workers to fulfil its economic needs. Any policy that imposes German Christian values on immigrants is bound to create flashpoints and hurt the German economy. Multiculturalism is a boon that Europe would do well to preserve. 


Having said that, multiculturalism does not mean creating cultural ghettos. The demand of certain British Muslim groups of having separate sharia courts for England's Muslim citizens or the refusal of some to learn the local language is what strengthens the anti-immigration logic. Some degree of acceptance of the cultural ethos of the host country is inherent in a multicultural set-up. Learning the local language and submitting to the law of the land are the bare minimums expected of immigrants. It would be best to realise that multiculturalism is a far more nuanced, give-and-take concept than earlier thought one that political jingoism won't help to unravel.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

TIME TO MERGE THE TWO

 

The reported call to merge the Railway Budget with the General Budget is justified. The Indian example of a separate Railway Budget has no parallel elsewhere. Railways is just another infrastructure ministry and must be treated as such. Railway finances are shown in the General Budget and there is no case to continue with a British-era tradition that had its own logic then. Tradition is no holy cow and must be dispensed with if it has no relevance today. 


The practice of a separate Railway Budget dates back to 1924, when 70 per cent of total government expenditure was meant for the Railways. Since then, the Indian economy has diversified and budgetary priorities have shifted. So, why is the Railways treated in a special category? Clearly, it is not for economic or administrative reasons. The Railways is perceived by politicians as an entity useful to dispense patronage and further their political career. The ministry is among the world's largest employers and the minister who lords over it is seen as someone able to provide jobs. Similarly, announcement of new railway routes and trains are dovetailed to the political concerns of the railway minister and his party. The Railway Budget speech provides a great stage for the minister to address his constituents directly. Populist announcements, often with an eye on impending elections, most often characterise the railway minister's budget speech. There is no reason to continue with this political spectacle. 


Railways ought to be seen as a crucial infrastructure ministry, like aviation, shipping, roads and telecom, and its working transformed. It's a public utility and the prime concern of the railway minister must be rail safety and quality service for maximum number of customers. The habit to treat it as an office to further political careers must be ended.


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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

 TOP ARTICLE

ELECTION AS OPPORTUNITY

TUHIN A SINHA

 

Elections in Bihar are peculiar. On the face of it, the forthcoming assembly polls are quite clearly a battle between a man who 'devoured' Bihar and one who resurrected it. Beneath that simple assessment lies a complex dynamics that chief minister Nitish Kumar's development card may not fully succeed in eliminating. 

So while people are generally happy with the improved law and order situation, the vast improvement in infrastructure and increased opportunities for employment and business, caste-specific grouses persist. On my visit last year to an upper-caste hamlet in Chhapra, which lies 80 km north of Patna, i was unpleasantly surprised to hear a common refrain: "Nitishbabu has definitely done good work but he too seems to back only the backward castes." 

 

This backward-bend of Bihar is an interesting subject in itself. Two of Bihar's greatest leaders, Rajendra Prasad and Jayaprakash Narayan, never espoused caste consciousness or the politics associated with it. The seeds of this shift were sown by Karpoori Thakur, a socialist leader who became Bihar CM twice in the 1970s. Interestingly, both Lalu Prasad and Nitish consider Thakur their guru. A champion of Dalits and backward castes, Thakur's espousal of caste politics is what probably set the precedent for its more vicious variants to surface in the succeeding decades. 


Since the politics of Bihar and UP are often intertwined, the socialism of the 1970s led to the emergence of a host of powerful Yadav and Dalit leaders in the 1980s and 1990s in both states. What is disappointing is that these leaders had little to offer by way of principles and instead made socialism their first casualty. 

So, in 1990, when Lalu became CM, he virtually created a separate electorate referred to as MY: Muslims and Yadavs. Social engineering became so overriding in his politics that development was systematically shunned and crime encouraged, by turning a blind eye to it. Patna's upper middle class and rich residents still recall horror stories of extortions, kidnappings, threats and murders. The ghastly twin murders of lovers Shilpi Jain and Gautam Singh, who was said to be a friend of Sadhu Yadav, refuse to fade from public memory. It is worth noting that the migration of Bihari professionals to other states touched unprecedented figures during these years. So much for the lofty ideals of socialism our leaders never ceased to glorify! 


The people of Bihar have thus witnessed both the non-governance and lawlessness of the period 1990-2005 and the state's revival between 2005-10. A day in Bihar makes the difference clearer. The condition of roads connecting Patna to multiple towns surrounding it on a radius of 100 km has improved remarkably, making travel easier. Patna itself buzzes with activity till late evening, with women, children and the rich going about their chores fearlessly. Improved business opportunities have led to increase in real estate prices. In many areas, prices are at par with, say, the Mumbai suburb of Mira Road. Considering the gloomy prospects that prevailed just before the 2005 elections, the change is enormous. 


These positive changes notwithstanding, people's ingrained proclivity of being conscious of the caste of elected representatives can't yet be wished away. These elections in Bihar will, therefore, be a watershed in many ways. They provide the Bihari janata a clear choice between 'caste loyalty' and development. These elections provide an opportunity to Nitish as well. To understand this opportunity though, one needs to differentiate between Nitish the administrator and Nitish the politician. 


Nitish the administrator has been exemplary, be it his handling of law and order or the way he has set the state on the path of development. He is a hands-on CM who leads by example. Nitish the politician, however, has an opportunistic streak that surfaces from time to time. 


Last year, for instance, just before the counting for the Lok Sabha polls began, Nitish created shockwaves by telling mediapersons he would support the coalition that served the interests of Bihar the best. In June this year, he almost rocked the JD(U)-BJP boat by putting his foot down on Narendra Modi campaigning in the state. Those who know Nitish well knew he was merely ensuring that Lalu didn't get any scoring points ahead of the elections. 

But then, Nitish is a master in the art of killing several birds with one stone. He recently inducted the infamous Mohd Taslimuddin into his party, an obvious move to counter BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain's clout in the Seemanchal belt of Kishanganj-Purnea-Araria. So far as the JD(U)'s ticket distribution goes, quite expectedly it has accorded due consideration to Nitish's variant of social engineering. 


Thus, the disparity between Nitish as administrator and as politician is quite apparent. With the turnaround that Bihar has seen in the last five years, there isn't much reason to dispute that he might have booked his place in history among the state's best leaders. However, Nitish the politician often courts the danger of running down Nitish the administrator. 


In as much as they provide an opportunity to voters, these elections also provide an historic opportunity to Nitish to emerge as a leader of the stature of Rajendra Prasad or Jayaprakash Narayan. But for that, he will have to look beyond his own mentor, Karpoori Thakur. 


The writer is author, columnist and scriptwriter.


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                                                                THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

RAILWAYS NEEDS ITS OWN PLATFORM

AJAY VAISHNAV

 

Pranab Mukherjee reportedly wants to scrap the practice of presenting the Budget for the Railways in the Lok Sabha. Apparently, his plea for a consolidated budget is based on the reasoning that figures relating to the receipt and expenditure of the Railways are also shown in the General Budget. This is to neglect that the Railways is the bedrock of India's public transport system. Its balance sheet may have thinned relative to other elements in the General Budget, but the scale of its activities has massively increased since Independence. 

Statistically, with a 63,327-km network, 18 million passengers and two million tons of freight, the Railways deserves special treatment. It is still the biggest employer in the country with around 1.6 million employees. Through a separate budget, it is able to chart its growth plan better and promote inclusive policies. Given its role in infrastructure development, the Railways may suffer from lack of funds, planning and execution as an independent player in the national economy under a consolidated budget. Also, parliamentary debate allows intense public scrutiny, which isn't possible under a consolidated budget. A public utility that significantly impacts livelihoods, especially those of the poor and people living in remote areas, should be allowed to maintain that distinction. 
India doesn't have good road networks yet, and travelling or sending goods by air is out of reach for most people. 


Populism is not confined to the Railways. The General Budget too often becomes an annual exercise to blow the trumpet of the government of the day and to announce a plethora of populist measures. Look at bloated food and fertiliser subsidies and other assorted giveaways. Bringing the Railway Budget under its fold will be no antidote to populism.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

DISCO FEVER

DINYAR T DASTOOR

 

The recent visit by John Travolta reminded one of how it all began with the release of Saturday Night Fever in the late 1970s, heralding the disco boom in the country. The story of a young Italian-American living in Brooklyn, who lived to dance, took the world by storm as did his white suit that went on to become an icon. Girls in Bombay would supposedly let down their hair in theatres when the opening credits flashed with 'Staying Alive' playing, as Travolta jauntily walked down 86th Street in his bright red shoes, chasing skirts, a can of paint in each hand. With its unique, nasal vocals by the Bee Gees and a beat that immediately got you into the groove, the song remains one of the ultimate chartbusters of its kind. 


For some, after all the hype, the initial reaction to the movie may have been a bit of a let-down given the actor's raspy, croaked voice. Also, unlike in a desi movie, the songs weren't played out loud, but in part and in the background. However, the album went on to be the second best-selling of all times, beaten only by Michael Jackson's Thriller six years later. In many ways, the movie epitomised most young men's dreams to be the ultimate dancer while everyone cleared the floor and stood around and stared. It also spoke of the escapism of youths from underprivileged backgrounds to a world they could call their own; where they could carve out a niche for themselves, even if only for a few hours. 


Kids all over the world were striking the classic pose with one arm bent, the other pointing up. Coiffed hair, polyester shirts, broad belts, platform shoes, strobe lights and blinking tiles were ushered in. SNF also had a couple of classic lines: one of a lecherous dance instructor who, when pulled up for hitting on someone's girl, yells, "I didn't know you hung your label on her!" In another, one of the gang, after spending time in the backseat of a car with a female, asks her, "What did you say your name was?" 


As the movie reached cult status, even the white suit got parodied. In the vampire spoof, 'Dracula: Dead And Loving It', Leslie Nielsen throws the jacket into the crowd only to have it thrown back at him! Feroze Khan followed suit soon after with Nazia Hussain's 'Aap Jaisa Koi' and the disco craze had officially arrived. Every desi movie had to have a disco number after that with contorting wannabes jumping into the fray, led by Mithunda himself. Studio 29 was launched by Sabira Merchant along the lines of New York's Studio 54. Of course, the two-syllable word was too much of a strain for Indian youth, and was subsequently shortened from disco to disc. (Fortunately, compact discs not being invented yet, there wasn't too much confusion.) 

For trivia buffs, in Brazil, 'maneiro' is a widely used word meaning 'cool', taken from Travolta's character, Tony Manero. Johnny boy had originally wanted his suit to be black until it was pointed out that his co-star's red dress would make her more visible. He also threatened to quit when the studio suggested the song 'You Should Be Dancing' be shot in close-up instead of full body. The original title was changed from Tribal Rights of Saturday Night to Saturday Night to Saturday Night Fever after a song called 'Night Fever' was added. Finally, director 
John Badham was given a lifetime supply of a brand of contraceptives by its manufacturers for product placement in the movie, which he claimed to have "donated" to someone else - a real Saturday night favour if there was one!

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

THE GIVING'S NOT EASY HERE

 

Indian businessman Ratan Tata has made a $50 million donation to Harvard Business School, one of the largest individual endowments the US school has ever received. Earlier, Mr Tata, through a family trust, had donated $50 million to his alma mater, Cornell University.

 

In between, Anand Mahindra donated $10 million for a humanities centre at Harvard.

 

It is praiseworthy that India's richest corporate chieftains are endowing educational institutions with such generosity. Whether they give in India or overseas is a moot point, giving is a personal decision and rightly giving is not seen as being constrained by borders.

 

India is experiencing a nascent culture of corporate philanthropy. Several big business houses were synonymous with corporate philanthropy at one time. But during the country's socialist heyday, this culture died out, not least because of a sense that social welfare was the monopoly of the state.

 

Post-liberalisation India has seen a resurgence of corporate giving. Almost every information technology corporate head has established a foundation to promote education. A 2006 study by Bain & Company indicated how long a path lies ahead.

 

Philanthropic donations in India are about 0.6 per cent of gross domestic product and, of this, only a tenth is from corporations and individuals. America's figures are 2 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively. However, India is well ahead of other emerging economies like Brazil and China.

 

Former Infosys tsar Nandan Nilekani, for example, gave $5 million to his alumni IIT, Mumbai in 2000. The Tatas, too, have given generously to institutions of academic excellence in India.

 

While there are strong cultural reasons why America has such a strong philanthropic culture, a key reason is strong institutional support in the form of tax breaks and administrative receptivity. This is largely lacking in India.

 

The fact is that no one would feel confident about donating millions to many Indian educational institutions. Most of them lack detailed plans for absorbing even smaller amounts of money and even fewer can provide audit trails for how they use their money.

 

The Human Resources Development ministry is infamous for finding bureaucratic means to either deter such donations or redirect the funds to itself. A culture of obstruction is often replicated at the local level.

 

Telecom magnate Sunil Mittal once noted that Africa had better philanthropic programmes than India.

 

Experts say it can take a century to develop a culture of giving at the civil society level.

 

At a time when its private sector is growing and individual wealth is rising at such a rapid clip, India can greatly advantage itself as a nation by telescoping this process by making itself a more comfortable and painless place to give.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

NEWS YOU CAN USE

 

The internet has become a source of utter confusion. Thanks to its democratic nature, these days everyone can have a say on any topic under the sun. This mind-boggling amount of opinion puts even the very opinionated among us on the backfoot.

 

Take for example, the "value" of gossip. Without any backing of multi-million dollar research, we could have told you that it is, like retail therapy, a mood-elevator and a couple of hours of exchanging silly notes with friends can be extremely good for the heart.

 

Gossiping is not a 20th century innovation: a couple of years ago Egyptologists uncovered hieroglyphics that contained sensational gossip about everything from "the baldness of the queen to the sexual orientation of the king"; or gender-specific: recently, American researchers found that men love it just as much as women.

 

But now a latest discussion note on the internet has left us a bit perplexed.

 

John Newton, head of Taunton School, Somerset, Britain, says that social networking websites are a "serious threat" because they encourage children to spread gossips.

 

To which we may add: why blame the children? Even adults are known to indulge in it.

 

However, we firmly stand behind the need for our daily dose of gossip. How else can we add some colour to our otherwise mundane lives? Without gossip, would any of the Page 3 and Bollywood magazines survive? Or for that matter, our beloved politicians, or political diary writers?

 

As for us, that daily natter with friends and family perks us up after a hard day's work. And, more often than not, it pays to stay in the loop.

 

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.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

THE GATHERING STORM

FAREED ZAKARIA

 

The most important lesson to have come out of the financial crisis is to worry about "black swans". These are, in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's formulation, events that are unlikely but with the potential to cause major disruption. In geopolitics there is one such event that should have us all thinking hard — the collapse of North Korea.

 

Most of Washington's attention has been devoted to the Pyongyang regime's small nuclear arsenal. But perhaps a more likely scenario, and possibly one that would be even more disruptive, is a complete meltdown of the regime.

 

As Christopher Hill, the veteran diplomat who led American team that negotiated with the North Koreans, pointed out to me in Seoul last week, the current situation in North Korea sounds like a story out of medieval Europe.

 

An aging king, who rules in strange ways but with total power, finally names an heir — his youngest son. The 27-year-old has little experience with arms or government, so his father appoints a regent. The regent is his brother-in-law and, further consolidating the family's tight grip, the king gives his sister a high military rank.

 

That's North Korea today. Kim Jong-Il, the country's "Dear Leader," has finally appointed a successor, his son, Kim Jong-Un, and given new powers to his sister and brother-in-law. The Shakespearean drama would be entertaining if it did not portend trouble.

 

"This looks like a succession designed to stabilise a situation that is not stable," says Hill.

 

North Korea is showing many signs of instability. It has had a bad year economically with a disastrous revaluation of its currency. Food shortages and famine are still part of the landscape. Internal political tensions, perhaps relating to the succession, produced external belligerence, most dramatically with the sinking of the South Korean navy ship, the Cheonan, last March.


Perhaps most telling, North Koreans are beginning to learn more and more about the outside world. There are now about 200,000 mobile phone subscribers in the country and DVDs are selling widely on the black market. If North Koreans truly get a picture of life in the South — modern, prosperous, democratic — it will surely produce social discontent and perhaps more. North Korea's per capita GDP is $1,900; South Korea's is $28,100.

 

At some point, North Koreans are going to start moving south, to jobs, money, opportunity and freedom. And at that point, unless there is careful planning among South Korea, China and America, all hell will break loose.

 

South Koreans don't want to think about this problem. The questions I put to South Korean politicians about these issues were met with nervous laughter, hurried responses, and a change of topic. Last month, President Lee Myung-bak wisely raised the prospect of a reunification tax to deal with the inevitable. But the public was strongly opposed and the issue quickly disappeared.

 

This is understandable. Koreans remember the world's last such experiment. Ten years after the reunification of Germany, there remain deep scars and persistent tension between the two lands. Five per cent of German GDP has been devoted to unification — for a decade! The Korean case is far more dramatic. North Korea is much bigger and much poorer than was East Germany.

 

Beijing has resisted efforts to put serious pressure of North Korea, both out of some sense of solidarity with the regime but mostly out of genuine horror over the possibility of the regime collapsing (with refugees streaming not just South but also north into China).

 

Washington has been mostly preoccupied with North Korean nukes. But to solve that problem, it will need to discuss with China the rules of the road when Pyongyang falls.
 
There are big issues at stake. Does a unified Korea retain its close alliance with America? Does it keep the North's nuclear arsenal? Do the US troops stay in the country?

 

If the answer to all three questions is 'yes', then a unified Korea will be a US ally, with American troops, and nuclear weapons — sitting on China's border. How is Beijing likely to react to that fact? Would it move troops in to shore up the regime? What would South Korean and American forces do then?

 

When North Korea collapses, it is easy to imagine chaos on the Korean peninsula that triggers a series of reactions from Beijing and Washington that are competing and hostile. Forget genteel rows over the yuan's value; this is what could produce serious geopolitical instability. And that's why it's crucial that America, China and South Korea start talking about "black swans".

 

(Fareed Zakaria is a columnist with Newsweek and the author of The Post-American World. The views expressed by the author are personal.)

 

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.                                                                  HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

MY TURKISH DELIGHT

DEREK O'BRIEN

 

'Stop it! You seem like a schoolgirl about to meet her favourite pop star.'

 

My wife's words are sharp but, as usual, accurate. I wolf down lunch and am clearly nervous, hands shaking and all. I am also very excited as we drive down to the Upper West Side. The Riverside is a shimmering New York neighbourhood and when we hit the 'number 14' button in the lift — elevator, if you prefer the Americanism — of the building that is our destination, I wonder what he'll be like: stern, arrogant, hurried or just plain nice?

 

In my 40 odd years, I've never met a Nobel laureate for literature. Better still, I've never been invited home to share coffee with one. As we step out on the 14th floor, my wife rings the copper doorbell. I wait. Am I the next MTV bakra? Nope. This is the real thing. Kiran is gracious as ever and before I can say Alfred Nobel I've shaken hands with the literary rock star from Turkey.

 

Our charming hostess offers us a choice of coffee, tea and juice. I'd normally knock down a cup of coffee in under 15 minutes. This one is drunk in slow mo: 55 minutes. It gives me more time with a man whose writing has been translated into 50 languages and whose name appears on a hallowed list of literary gurus. About 100 years before him, in 1912, there was a fellow Calcuttan, Rabindranath Tagore. That's a good start to the conversation: smell the coffee, and talk Tagore to the Turk.

 

Orhan tells me he's visited Calcutta and India about five years ago. It's amusing listening to his tales of "too many meetings". Or: "Oh oh, I did not go all the way to Calcutta to see the movies of the great Satyajit Ray. I could have done the same sitting in Istanbul or New York." I promise his second trip will be more memorable. We could get him there in time for the Tagore Museum opening in Shantiniketan.

 

That's if he can fit it into his jet-set itinerary. I love his life, I tell him. Four months in heaven on the 14th floor in NYC, two months in Goa, five months at home — and what does home mean for such a global citizen? I almost wonder — in Istanbul and a month of writing anywhere he chooses.

 

My mother-in-law devoured My Name is Red in one week flat, I tell Orhan. Now I'm waiting to dive into Snow after she's through with it. I thank him for autographing our copy of his new book. It'll be auctioned, I promise, at the charity ball to raise funds for that splendid organisation Children's Hope. We leave with the hope of future meetings, in New York, in Calcutta and elsewhere.

 

As we exit, my wife taps me on the shoulder. It's the grin she's worried about; I'm so lost I could walk into a wall. What can I tell her? I'm the kid who's just had his Turkish delight.

 

(Derek O'Brien is a Kolkata-based quiz master and writer The views expressed by the author are personal.)

 

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

KEEP PLAYING

 

It is always instructive to mark out the amazing success of a clutch of athletes by ranking them as a separate entity on the medals table. That pastime has focused on Haryana in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Were it a stand-alone contingent, it would have stood fifth overall, behind an India-minus-Haryana. Without the contribution of Haryana's sportspersons, India would have been 15 short of the 38 golds that eventually took it to the second spot. The point is not to indulge in any sort of chauvinism, but to find clues to replicate the success story elsewhere.

 

A substantial part of Haryana's success comes from its sports strategy, whereby any sportsperson to reach the podium at an international or domestic championship is eligible for a cash reward and a government job. Analogous to the athletic scholarships that transformed the demographic character and success rate of the US sports contingents, this approach recognises the need to divest promising young men and women of the worry of finding a job and income when the days of competition are over. Coupled with a policy of encouraging every child to pursue at least one sport — and therefore providing the grassroots infrastructure — the outcome is revealing. By way of comparison, four years ago, Haryana's contribution at the CWG was unremarkable.

 

Yet, it's not a simple case of investing right, and getting the medals. The individual profiles of the wrestlers, boxers, track and field competitors, hockey players, etc are reiterations of the empowering potential of sport. It's about nourishing aspirations, not for the sake of parochial assertions, but for spreading an ethos of achievement and self-belief. The sight of women wrestlers and discus throwers being feted is especially valuable in a state unable to completely break the shackles of regressive practices like khap panchayats. It is also a timely signal to the rest of India that to find success you have to pervade the grassroots.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CARBON WATERMARK

 

If trade is an instant reminder of the importance of the seas, the global imperative to curb greenhouse gas emissions adds a dimension to the usefulness of waterways. The decision, as reported in The Financial Express, of the shipping ministry — in conjunction with the commerce and environment ministries — to frame a policy to award carbon credit points to firms ferrying goods between domestic ports, is therefore sound. On the face of it, coastal shipping will get a boost and add to its meagre 6 per cent share of India's total domestic cargo movement, leveraging the 7,500 km-plus coastline and 200-odd ports. A substantial transfer of domestic cargo to the waterways will not only reduce our carbon footprint from surface transportation but companies prioritising coastal transport will also find this to be immensely cost-effective.

 

However, intent is not action. Nor are quantifiable statistics synonymous with qualitative realities. Along that staggering 7,500 km coastline, 200 ports count for little, especially when only 12 of these are major ports, only one of which, Ennore, is corporatised and therefore enjoys an efficient administrative and business model, and when many of the 187 non-major ports are not functional. If firms are to benefit from using the coastline in transporting goods domestically, they must have functioning and well-equipped ports. So it's good that the Directorate General of Shipping, entrusted with shaping the policy, is also looking to build port infrastructure.

 

Nevertheless, it's a tall order.

 

The infrastructure as well as manpower skills at even our major ports is poor, which compromises not merely the shipping sector's potential to add to global maritime trade and fuel growth but also traders' choices. That's why, along with the environmental alignment of coastline shipping, there's a need to convert ports trusts into PSUs, like the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust scheme, and eventually to corporatise them and allow private capital to build, rebuild and develop ports. An approach — under the auspices of the ambitious National Maritime Development Programme, that integrates shipping, ports and our inland waterways — will multiply our shipping tonnage and reduce our carbon trail.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CHANGE OF TRACK

 

In 2000, Yashwant Sinha became the first finance minister post-Independence to present the Union Budget in the morning — until that year the Budget was always presented at 5 pm, a convention started by the British more than five decades earlier to suit their own Parliament, which was as a result able to tune in to the Indian Budget at 11.30 am GMT. Now, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee seems set to overturn another outdated convention from the British era — the separate presentations of a Railway Budget and a General Budget, mandated for the first time in 1924. Unlike the change in the timing of the speech, the abolition of a separate Railway Budget will have more than just symbolic value.

 

The fact is that there's little rationale left for a separate Railway Budget. Back in 1924, the Railway Budget comprised 70 per cent of government expenditure. Now, the Railway Budget, at Rs 16,000 crore, is a minuscule proportion of the total Budget compared even with, say, defence which is Rs 1.75 lakh crore. The Railways are thus just one other department of the government of India and their accounts should be stated in the General Budget as is the practice for all other departments of the government. Why then does the practice continue? For the simple reason that the Railways have for sometime now been viewed as a source of patronage and largesse by politicians — and there's nothing better than an attention-grabbing annual speech in Parliament through which the incumbent minister can make a variety of populist announcements.

 

Anyone who travels regularly on the Railways will of course know how little things have changed in terms of the quality of services on offer — Indian Railways are at best stuck in the '80s, lagging behind global best standards by three decades. The populism hasn't really translated into much. In fact, it often can't translate into much. The Railways have made project announcements worth around Rs 1 lakh crore at the moment while the gross budgetary support for the Railways is around Rs 15,000 crore. That is a massive gap. What is worse is that the limited budgetary support often gets spread thinly among the various pending projects with the result that few, if any, actually get completed properly. It would be much more rational for the Railways to function like a regular department than as a political tool. Abolishing the Railway Budget could be a small, but important, first step in that direction.

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

CHARITY AT HOME?

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA POSTED

 

Recently two items signalled an increasing trend in Indian philanthropy: investment in institutions of higher education abroad. Ratan Tata announced a $50 million gift to Harvard Business School and Anand Mahindra has provided $10 million to a humanities centre, which follows Narayana Murthy's $5 million gift to Harvard for the Clay Sanskrit Library. Recently, several American universities have been the beneficiaries of Indian philanthropy: Cornell, Penn, Stanford, Yale, just to name a few, have been the beneficiaries of Indian largesse, as have several American think-tanks. The scale of these donations is staggering. What does it portend?

 

It would not be appropriate to comment on the motivations that drive particular individuals. But there are larger trends that call for attention. Obviously, in several cases, alumni are expressing gratitude to their alma maters. But the sad fact is that in the coming years the identification of India's elites with institutions abroad is only going to deepen. As any fund raiser at an American university will tell you, the most propitious time to target any philanthropist is when their children are about to enter college; and all the trends are indicating that Indian elites are more likely to send their children abroad rather than less. There is also the simple fact that the top echelons of Indian capital are becoming increasingly global, jockeying for access and influence. What else explains why CII was so keen to donate to the Clinton Foundation, when its discharging of its own commitments in India has been, at best, very reluctant? So, some of this giving will be an inevitable corollary of the character of Indian capital. But there is still something discomfiting about what the shape of Indian philanthropy is revealing.

 

To be fair, several new entrepreneurs have invested in Indian institutions as well. IITs, in particular, have been beneficiaries of IT entrepreneurs like Nandan Nilekani and Narayana Murthy amongst others; as have ventures like the New India Foundation which promotes the writing of current history. There are initiatives to set up universities here and there, but frankly, none has displayed the kind of ambition India is capable of. There are at least 20 to 30 Indian entrepreneurs who can singlehandedly create world-class universities by philanthropic efforts of the right scale. But even the ones who have ventured into this area have done so on a modest scale. They have created world-class companies. But they do not ask how their philanthropy might create world-class institutions in India.

 

Even by historical standards, contemporary Indian philanthropy in Indian higher education is falling short. It is simply false to claim that India had no tradition of professionally oriented philanthropy. Anyone who knows the history of all our early great universities, Delhi, Calcutta, Annamalai, Madras, knows the serious role that philanthropy played in their creation. And the social base of this was wide. It included the exemplary Tatas, but also drew in communities such as the Chettiars and Marwaris. Gujarat's industrial prowess has a lot to do with the extraordinary philanthropy that grew around Ahmedabad. The brilliant research structure at Calcutta University, for example, was sustained largely by private endowed professorships, such as the Palit Chairs, whose first two incumbents were C.V. Raman and P.C. Ray. Even by the benchmark of our own tradition, philanthropy in India is not scaling heights it did. Indian capital has the resources to transform India's higher education and research space, if it shows a genuine philanthropic commitment.

 

Second, all of us know the difficulties of operating in the Indian environment: the institutional hassles, the difficulty of finding the right people and so forth. But there is a danger that we are letting this argument become a self-fulfilling one. The fact is that if resources were available, in the right kind of way talent can be attracted. And the reverse is also true. We are letting brand names become a self-fulfilling signal of quality. Some of the universities to which Indian gifts are going are exceptional. But many of the programmes they are subsidising are of dubious intellectual value, products of a trendy fashion in academia rather than programmes of lasting value. In short, there is in the way we approach brand names in higher education, a little bit of herd behaviour that often overlooks genuinely promising work at the expense of pedigree. This will put Indian institutions at a disadvantage.

 

Third, we know knowledge knows no boundaries. But we also know that knowledge is a stratagem in the creation and maintenance of power. And we also know that the questions we ask, if not the validity of the claims we advance, are shaped by context and location. India has two challenges. It must move from being a mere consumer of knowledge produced elsewhere to a producer of knowledge. And its self-image needs to be constituted by a confident free-flow of ideas internally. But ironically, just at the juncture at which Indian capital is ready to shape the world, India's sense of itself, its own history and past, its own problems, is even more likely to be shaped by knowledge produced elsewhere.

 

Fourth, as a businessman there is some value to appreciating the marginal return on investment. To put things in perspective, typically endowing a single chair at a top American university costs between $7-15 million. The intellectual return on that money, properly invested in India, will still be considerably higher. Just to dramatise the point, the total annual budget of India's leading institutions in the realm of culture, whether it is the Sahitya Akademi, or Lalit Kala Akademi, or Sangeet Natak Akademi, is close to what it takes to endow a single chair in the humanities in the US.

 

Some might think that there is a form of poetic justice in Indian philanthropy going abroad on a large scale. The latest figures show that FCRA contributions to Indian education (as a whole, not just higher) are somewhere in the range of Rs 500 crore. If that is so, India is giving almost as much as it is receiving! But it makes it even more a scandal that Indian research institutions have to rely so much on foreign funds, because genuinely philanthropic funding is domestically still scarce. And there is also the curious phenomenon of why we continue to think that universities with endowments in the tens of billions of dollars need more money. Indian capital is poised to transform the world; it can also transform the philanthropic space in India, if it only tried.

 

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE PURSUIT OF THE POWERFUL

MANEESH CHHIBBER 

 

Even four decades after the first Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) strongly recommended setting up a two-tier system of a Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in the states, an Indian version of the ombudsman, first set up in Sweden in 1809, remains a pipe-dream.

 

The reason why successive governments failed to install the system was disagreement within the government as well as lack of consensus among political parties over the Lokpal bill's template. While most governments were against the prime minister's inclusion in the list of Central government functionaries whose actions would be within the purview of a probe by the Lokpal, opposition parties stressed the need for such a clause. (In the latest bill, which has received thego-ahead from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the PM is under the purview of the Lokpal.) Some political parties also played spoilsport, demanding that members of the higher judiciary should also be under the Lokpal's purview . However, the Constitution does not allow such a provision. Other obstructing arguments hold that there already exist many independent agencies such as the Central Vigilance Commission and Central Bureau of Investigation, which perform similar functions.

 

There was also serious debate over whether the Lokpal should be provided its own investigative wing or whether it should take the assistance of the much-maligned CBI to probe complaints received by it. Another point of conflict was whether the Lokpal should be given the authority to take suo motu cognisance of government actions or wait for somebody to file a formal complaint before initiating a probe.

 

Originally conceptualised as a "bulwark of democratic government against the tyranny of officialdom", the ombudsman is an independent officer appointed to probe complaints of corruption against the high and mighty, including members of the legislature and judiciary.

 

In its report, the first ARC headed by Morarji Desai said it was convinced that the Lokpal would not only remove any sense of injustice from the minds of adversely affected citizens, but would also go a long way in instilling public confidence in the efficiency of the administrative machinery. While 17 of the total 28 states have put in place the system of Lokayuktas, the results have been far from satisfactory, and the Central government continues to lack one.

 

The only time a serious attempt was made to set up a Lokpal office was in 1969, when a bill was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha. However, before the bill could be passed by Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha was dissolved, leaving the matter unresolved. Since then, while attempts were made to get the bill passed in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001, differences within the government and changes sought by the opposition led to its demise.

 

Those opposing the inclusion of the PM in the bill also point to the 2002 report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution headed by the former chief justice of India, M.N. Venkatachaliah. The commission observed that in the parliamentary system, the PM occupies a unique position: "He is the kingpin of the entire government structure. It is his personality, his image and his leadership that drives the government and, indeed, other major institutions of the state. Major threats of destabilisation and subversion of democratic governments cannot be ignored. In this context, the prime minister as the symbol of the stability and continuity of the regime, should not be exposed to the risks of well-orchestrated and well-planned attempts to malign his image and reputation on which the entire functioning of government depends. The entire structure can be undermined by malicious character assassination..." It strongly recommended the office be kept out of the purview of the Lokpal.

 

Among most states that have appointed Lokayuktas, the post has come to symbolise a post-retirement perk for retired judges. Consider this: no minister has ever been prosecuted in Punjab after being indicted by the Lokpal for acts of corruption and nepotism. So much so that after the death of the then-Punjab Lokpal, Justice D.V. Sehgal (retd), in office, the Congress government kept the post vacant for over two years.

 

In neighbouring Haryana, the Indian National Lok Dal government headed by Om Prakash Chautala repealed the Haryana Lokpal Act, 1997 through an ordinance in 1999 just to get rid of the incumbent Justice I.P. Vashisth (retd) after less than a year of his appointment.

 

Recently, the Karnataka Lokayukta, Justice N. Santosh Hegde (retd), put in his papers after expressing frustration at the state government's indifference to the institution. Though he was later cajoled to continue in office, questions persist over the support that an elected government would extend to a body whose main job is to probe corruption allegations against the government itself.

 

maneesh.chibber@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'MY UNCLE IS A VERY PRACTICAL MAN AND KNOWS DIFFICULT DECISIONS COULD LEAD TO ELECTORAL LOSSES'

SHEKHAR GUPTA 

 

 Shekhar Gupta: I am at this very touching war memorial in Chandigarh. The last time I was here, my guest was Parkash Singh Badal, one of the great veterans of Indian politics, and today, a couple of years later, we have his nephew, Manpreet Singh Badal, former finance minister of Punjab.

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Yes, I resigned about 48 hours ago. In the last four years that I was finance minister of Punjab, I had a running battle with the Cabinet and my government. I wanted to cut down on populism and subsidies— not because per se I would want to cut down on them but because Punjab was running a huge debt, a public debt of about Rs 70,000 crore.

 

Shekhar Gupta: It must be one of the highest per capita debts in the country.

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:We are probably the most debt-stressed state in India, but it is not just a question of public debt, it is also a question of pride. You know, I come from rural Punjab and when you owe somebody money, you can't look that man in the eye. Punjab has to live in India with its head held high. We have to eliminate our public debt.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So, was that your main difference of opinion with your party—over how to handle Punjab's indebtedness?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Even a class V student will tell you that if you don't have the money, you either reduce your expenses or you increase your income. I couldn't get my way on both.

 

Shekhar Gupta: That's what our mothers always told us.

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Yeah. Additional resource mobilisation was denied to me and at the same time, cutting down on expenses was denied. My position was untenable. I clung onto a very slender thread for four years, thinking I will bring them around, but then I realised about 48 hours ago that I will not be able to do so and that I had lost the confidence of the chief minister and my Cabinet and I had to just go.

 

Shekhar Gupta: What happened 48 hours ago?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:There was a debate on Punjab's finances in the Vidhan Sabha and I told the three principal political parties in Punjab—the Congress, the Akali Dal and the BJP—that we have had this debate on Punjab's finances 10 times in the last four years. I said the litmus test is not to pay lip service to Punjab's economy, finances, but actually to debate the solutions and see if we can bite the bullet or not.

 

Shekhar Gupta: What responses did you get in this debate since you raised it from a certain position?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:When I raised these issues, they accused me of indiscipline. But I told them this wasn't political indiscipline. 'Political indiscipline' is if I attend a meeting of the rival political party, if I meet leaders of the rival political parties or if I defy the whip. But these were financial issues which I was trying to raise and they were very much within the domain of the finance minister and I have been talking about them for the last four years. But they said, 'No, this is gross indiscipline when you raise these issues, elections are very close' and so on and so forth. They issued me a show-cause notice and they expelled me from the party. So, I had no option.

 

Shekhar Gupta: At an intellectual level, when you made this argument, what was the response? That you don't know politics, you are naïve or you are a conspirator?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:To be honest, even during the previous government, when I was in the Opposition, I had been constantly harping that Punjab needs—at least in the financial domain—to develop a common economic platform, an economic consensus between both the Congress as well as the Akalis. And I have written articles and so on. So it is not something new that I said just because I became finance minister and the state's finances were stressed. Even when I was an MLA, when I was in the Opposition, I had been constantly saying that for Punjab to progress, we must take care of our public debt. So as I said, it is a question of izzat, question of honour; not a question of mere finances... Let me tell you, just to give you an idea. We give away something like Rs 5,000 crore in subsidies under various populist schemes... and Punjab is short of 32,000 school teachers.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right now?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Yeah, right now.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And it is a very small state.

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:It is a very, very small state. If I were to employ 32,000 school teachers, it would cost the exchequer Rs 300 crore a year. So, I am foregoing Rs 300 crore to employ 32,000 teachers, yet I am ready to pay Rs 5,000 crore for free power and many, many such schemes. That is the tragedy.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Mr Parkash Singh Badal comes from the politics of the 1940s—socialist give-aways, with the belief that everybody is poor and the sarkar has to be the mai baap. I understand that. But your cousin Sukhbir Badal and you are the same age, had the similar sort of schooling, you said you played with the same toys... Why could the two of you not converge in terms of your views and politics?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:This is a question a lot of people ask and I guess it is the different schooling. He went to Lawrence School, I went to Doon. He came to Punjab University, I went to St Stephen's College. He went to the US to do an MBA, I went to England to do law. As a young man, I was heavily influenced by Marxism, so actually, it is almost different ideologies. So that could be one reason. And I guess I am more idealistic, more philosophical, he would be a more practical man, a man of the world, he would know that you could lose elections.

 

Shekhar Gupta: When did you last have a clear discussion with Sukhbir on this?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Well, not in the last three-and-a-half years, except for informal meetings. We meet in core committees or Cabinet meetings but it is always the majority which carries the view. But truth can be held by a minority too. I mean, people used to criticise Galileo because he said the earth goes round the sun but now every guy knows that. So truth could be held by a minority.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So in the last three-and-a-half years, you and Sukhbir did not discuss any of this?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:No, not really, except in informal meetings and Cabinet meetings...

 

Shekhar Gupta: Was there a tension?

Manpreet Singh Badal:There was no tension, there was no personal tension, but there was impatience on my part.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So when did you start seeing this tension?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Well, this tension has been building up for the last four years because the day I became finance minister, I had a fair idea—because this is my fourth term as MLA—of Punjab's economic situation. But the moment I took over, I knew that we will have to take some steps. But those were not conceded by the Cabinet, so that was the source of tension.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And you were always told to hang on, wait?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Wait. Sometimes in private they would concede that it was a mistake, that we shouldn't have gone for this kind of thing. But my point is not just on subsidies, there was also a problem of additional resource mobilisation. You can carry on with the subsidies as long as there is money coming in. I think the breaking point came when I introduced a proposal of the government of India where they (Centre) agreed to revisit our debt, provided Punjab followed a roadmap of fiscal prudence. (The party) said no, the conditions are stringent, we will not adhere to these conditions. And I was telling them, 'Listen, Greece was bailed out but not without conditions, General Motors was bailed out but not without conditions. So, it would be naïve of us to expect that our debt will be written off and we carry on with the same extravagant ways.' So, I think that became political and people started taking political postures and I was in a huge minority in the party, in the Cabinet.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did you also look, feel like an outsider in the party? The way you talk, the way you dress, the way you think.

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:No, you don't choose your religion. I am a Sikh because I was born in a Sikh family. The choice is not given to an individual. I was a born Akali, I speak better Punjabi, I know the history better, my idiom is better, my jokes are better, so...

 

Shekhar Gupta: And certainly your Urdu is better...

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:That is because my father's generation, from pre-Partition Punjab, studied Urdu. I had to write to my father in Urdu because in Punjab, the official language was Urdu.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Let me give you Sukhbir's logic. Sukhbir's logic is, there are two ways of handling financial problems: one is to spend less, which is to eat less, dress in cheaper clothing. The other is to earn more, raise more resources. He says his view is that he wants to do this by raising more resources so that we can afford more subsidies because that creates positivity. Have you thought that through?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Sure, if you have the money. But at the moment, Punjab doesn't have the money.

 

Shekhar Gupta: He says your VAT collection has more than doubled, your excise collection has more than doubled...

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:We have doubled our VAT collections... Punjab has been very good in the last four years on these parameters, but still, the fact is that to service our debt, it takes about Rs 8,200 crore.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Just to service your debt?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Just to service our debt, the interest payment and the principal. And there are huge spikes coming in the next few years.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So, what do you do now?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Well, I don't want to go into my grave thinking that I could have done something for the people of Punjab and I didn't do it. I want to put forth an agenda for the people of Punjab which may be difficult but which is doable... They may not accept it but that menu should be on the table. You know, people may still prefer butter chicken and not go for the health food menu which I have but at least my conscience can be clear, I can die in peace that I did whatever I did.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So, what do you do now? Do you set up another party, do you join another party or do you wait for the Akali Dal to take you back?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:No, I think I am pretty much done with the Shiromani Akali Dal. You know, there is a finality to things in life...

 

Shekhar Gupta: I am surprised you are calling it Shiromani Akali Dal, you have been calling it something else.

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:ukhbir Akali Dal. But anyway, I am going to my constituency right now and I am going to spend a week there. I am going to explain my conduct to the people who elected me, they are very large-hearted. They came to me and they told me, 'Listen, you are a minister and if you feel that you no longer enjoy the confidence of the chief minister, you can give it back. This is something the chief minister gave to you, the ministership. But so far as an MLA is concerned, this is something you hold in trust for us, so you come back to us, ask us.' So I am going to ask them today what do I do, should I resign or should I continue or what do I do. Actually, I want to knock on every door in Punjab, I want to prick their conscience that Punjab must be a beacon of light for this country.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Manpreet, Mr Badal is a veteran, one of the doyens of our politics. He is also your uncle who loved you so much. As you wrote in your resignation letter to him, you campaigned for him at the age of five. Did you ever sit across the table with him and find any sympathy for these views or did he ever tell you to be patient, that the time for these views will come later?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:He is a great leader of men. He can carry people with him but I think he is again a very practical man and he knows that sometimes difficult decisions could lead to electoral losses, so I guess that was the reason why he...

 

Shekhar Gupta: Or did he face the tough choice that Balasaheb Thackeray faced or that sometimes Karunanidhi faces: choosing between the son and the nephew?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:I had already conceded point that Sukhbir was the leader, he was the party president and in case somebody would succeed, then he would. I was not in that game.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Was there ever a sibling rivalry between you and Sukhbir because I was intrigued by the comment you made earlier—that your minds developed along different paths because of the different tracks your schooling and education took?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:No, not really. There was no rivalry as such but sure, it could be small rivalry like Doon is better or Sanawar is better, a schoolboy kind of thing.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Did people also tell you that you are alien to this business, not just the way you dress and talk, par aap Urdu main baat kartey ho, politics Punjabi main chalti hai? Or could you tell them poetry in Punjabi as well?

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:Well, I am a student of Punjabi poetry. I am reminded of Munir Niazi, this great Punjabi poet from Hoshiarpur who migrated to Pakistan as a young boy. He says, "Kuch taan raavaan unj vi aukhiyan san, kuch taan gal vich gamaan da tauk vi si, kuch sheher de log vi zaalim san, kuch sannu maran da shauk vi si (The path I was treading was difficult/I was tied down by my own worries/It was also that the people of the city were cruel/It's also that I had a death wish in me)". I knew I would stake everything for my convictions, for my beliefs...And that is what I have done.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Death wish or not, Manpreet, the line you have chosen in politics is unusual and a tough one because to tell people to eat one roti is tough enough by anybody wanting to run a government. The path that you have chosen, I can only say good luck to you.

 

Manpreet Singh Badal:It is a hard and a lonely road but I am going to persevere, I am going to defend my convictions and persist with it.

 

Shekhar Gupta: I am sure we will meet again and have many such conversations to review the progress.

 

Manpreet Singh Badal: Thank you.

 

Transcribed by Mehraj Lone

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

 DOLLAR DIP

 

The unexpected quantitative easing being resorted to by the US Fed is bound to keep the world currency markets swinging sharply for quite some time. Of the $24 trillion of international bonds and notes in circulation globally, the greenback accounts for just less than 38%, a slightly higher percentage being accounted for by the euro. So the effective devaluation being carried out by Washington to give US manufacturers a competitive edge against overseas competitors is obviously of serious concern to the rest of the world. While the concerns about the US economy about its persistent double-digit unemployment are obviously the top concerns of the Obama government, attempting to export the problem is something which the US itself has lectured against in several trade forums over the years. The reign of the dollar as the global reserve currency since 1940s gave the US economy an unprecedented leeway to spend against the world savings, which it cannot abdicate when the downside implications are opening up. Because of the role of the US dollar, the US Fed had become the de facto central banker for the world, and so the quantitative easing is even more unfortunate.

 

In the face of such an onslaught, it is worth wondering what RBI can do. An obvious answer the Indian industry has raised in chorus is to check the appreciation of the rupee, by purchasing dollars from the market. Signals coming from the government indicate this might be the course of choice. But it is a very costly choice. It immediately risks raising domestic inflation as there is little indication as of now, that the storm will pass soon. How long can RBI stay the course, especially as the supply of bonds from the government to finance such an operation, even in a year of large deficit is not too much. Some years earlier RBI was faced with a lesser pressure and had got the finance ministry to issue special bonds that were sequestered outside the government budget. The government might revisit that option. The other is to issue quantitative safeguards like a withholding tax or to force the Indian industrialists to park excess dollars abroad. All these have costs, which will have to be factored in. To illustrate the cost of the choices involved, this week the SBI has begun its largest ever sale of bonds. The income for the holders will become better with a rising rupee. But at the same time, the investors in equity as in CIL, will be profitably surprised, if the rupee appreciation is stemmed. The choices for RBI are tough.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LUBED UP

 

The impact of the petrol price deregulation and fall in international petrol prices in the last six months has been significant with the under-recoveries of oil marketing companies declining by almost half to Rs 11,000 crore by the end of the second quarter of the fiscal year. The marginal hike in prices in recent days and the sharp deceleration in the projected pick-up of oil prices in 2011 would help further reduce the margins. What is disturbing is that one-third of the retailers' under-recoveries yet continue to be compensated by upstream oil companies, which provide large discounts on crude supplies, in turn, reducing their margins and the surplus so essential for mobilising new investments. The macro impact of this would be even more severe as the failure to pass through the high international prices would cause a disproportionate increase in oil consumption, which would not only have an impact on the environment but will also bloat the trade deficit to excessively high levels, and further worsen the steadily deteriorating current account deficit.

 

In such a scenario, it is only apt that the government should now sustain the momentum of reforms in the sector by ensuring that the hidden subsidy paid for by the upstream oil companies is fully eliminated. This will happen when all price discounts to oil marketing companies are cut out so that the retail prices move up to cover the gap and help restrain oil consumption through the use of market forces. More action is also warranted on kerosene and LPG subsidies through a proper targeting mechanism for these. Steps in this direction should be synchronised with the extension of the Aadhar scheme, so that the undeserving are eliminated at the earliest.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

PLAYING TRADE GAMES

AMITENDU PALIT

 

India will soon sign a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with Malaysia. This will be the second bilateral CECA that it signs with a Southeast Asian country. Earlier, in August 2005, India had signed a CECA with Singapore. The agreement with Singapore has been one of India's more successful bilateral trade deals. India also has a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Thailand and is negotiating a bilateral trade pact with Indonesia. These are in addition to an FTA in goods with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that came into force earlier this year. The Asean FTA is expected to assume a much more comprehensive proportion by including services and investment in its fold. Negotiations on services are currently under way.

 

It is perplexing for many that India is simultaneously engaging in both regional and bilateral negotiations with Southeast Asia. Its efforts to build a comprehensive framework agreement with the Asean has been accompanied by equally, if not more pressing efforts to strike bilateral deals with individual Asean members. In terms of negotiating strategy, this does appear confusing.

 

What could be the possible reasons behind the apparently paradoxical posture? One of the reasons is the realisation that talks at the WTO are unlikely to yield much benefit. This is not to suggest that India will dissociate itself from the multilateral trade framework. But the failure to get the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) moving indicates poor prospects of obtaining breakthroughs in market access negotiations. As a result, India, like many other developing countries, has been forced to devote more emphasis on regional and bilateral negotiations. This explains India's eagerness to not only build bridges with Southeast Asia but also with other parts of the world, particularly Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

 

In so far as simultaneous engagements in regional and bilateral trade negotiations are concerned, they are again results of India's keenness to not leave any stone unturned in gaining market access. In terms of the ease of thrashing out contentious issues, bilateral negotiations are more effective than regional ones, which, however, are probably more effective than multilateral discussions. Several sensitive issues have better chances of being resolved bilaterally than regionally. In earlier negotiations with Asean on the FTA, India had major differences with Malaysia and Indonesia over tariff rates on palm oil exports to India. There were also differences with Vietnam on the import of spices. Though the issues were finally resolved within the operational framework of the trade pact with Asean, it was clear that Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam were Southeast Asian economies with whom India's trade interests could conflict. Such differences experienced at regional negotiations, however, have not stopped India and Malaysia, or India and Indonesia from talking trade with each other bilaterally. All countries realise the importance of expanding the frontiers of trade and are prepared, if necessary, to have parallel negotiations for achieving quicker and better results.

 

There is another benefit in the simultaneous pursuit of bilateral and regional negotiations. India's success in clinching a trade deal with Malaysia, for example, can help it in future negotiations with Asean. Bilateral trade pacts forged by a country with individual members of a regional block can be effective confidence-building measures for facilitating trade talks between the particular country and the regional block. India's CECAs with Singapore and Malaysia give all involved partners confidence and trust in each other that can be carried forward to the regional talks. As India develops more bilateral links with individual Asean members, it can look forward to less obstructions and delays in the ongoing trade negotiations with Asean.

 

While there are benefits of engaging simultaneously on bilateral and regional fronts, there are downsides as well. Parallel efforts require negotiating strengths and capacities of the country doing so to be spread thin. The same negotiators have to double up at different forums. Often they have to defend contradictory postures in different forums, which, however, might include the same members. An Indian negotiator, championing a defensive strategy in bilateral trade talks with a particular Southeast Asian country, for example, might need to push an offensive posture at the regional trade talks with Asean, where the earlier trade partner being negotiated bilaterally will also feature. Switching between such postures with the same members on different occasions is not easy and can affect the quality of negotiations. The second problem in simultaneous negotiations pertains to cost. Multiple discussions increase costs, both in terms of involvement of manpower as well as in the frequency of talks.

 

Nonetheless, India's preference is obviously for a strategy that combines 'one-to-one' with 'one-to-few' and 'one-with-all'. That should be good as long as it lasts.

 

The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

 HOW LONG WILL INDIA'S COAL LAST?

SK CHAND

 

The ensuing IPO of Coal India Limited (CIL) is the best thing to happen to the Indian coal industry. CIL, a mammoth monopoly for several decades, will now be held accountable to scores of shareholders. After the nationalisation of the coal industry in the early 1970s, the coal sector has remained opaque under CIL, with minimal reforms compared to other energy sectors.

 

The CIL's advertising campaign for the IPO, which opiates us with a feeling of great coal-richness, is a powerful one. "We are the world's largest coal reserve holder" shouts the advertisement quoting from a Credit Rating and Information Services of India Ltd (Crisil) report. Crisil and some others including Credit Analysis and Research (CARE) have rated the IPO a Grade 5 on the basis of, inter alia, dominance of CIL in the Indian coal industry (read monopoly), high turnover, low cost of production and strong fundamentals.

 

The reports and advertisements convey that there are huge domestic coal reserves with CIL and the energy security of India is, and would remain, intact for decades to come. Though there are serious shortages of coal in India currently, this is a passing phase and, therefore, there is no cause for worry.

 

Are we really as coal-rich as made out by the advertisements? The facts seem to be at a variance with the claims made.

 

The fact is that instead of using an internationally acceptable procedure for reporting geological resources, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) continues to report the coal resource base annually on the basis of Indian Standard Procedure (ISP) code of 1956 vintage. ISP is a purely geological classification system, with total disregard to the economic or technical feasibility of extraction of the reported resources. Various categories of reserves (such as 'proved', 'indicated' and 'inferred') are based only on the density of exploratory boreholes drilled in the ground. The resources (and not reserves) as reported under ISP are cumulative and gross geological information, which includes even the coal that has been extracted and burned during the last couple of centuries of coal mining in India. Thus, this figure would continue to increase year after year and stands at 276.81 billion tonnes (BT) as on April 2010. However, being highly inflated, this figure cannot and should not form the basis for future energy planning for the country.

 

There is a range of numbers for coal reserves in India mentioned in the draft red herring prospectus (DRHP), filed by CIL, which is quite confusing. It quotes the Integrated Energy Policy Report of Planning Commission, (August 2006) wherein it is mentioned that "known coal reserves are projected to last for over 80 years at the 2006 levels of production", which again gives a picture of abundance of domestic coal resources.

 

Various sources in the recent past have estimated the country's total extractable reserves (including over 200-odd captive coal blocks allotted to private parties and others) to last for only 40-50 years. The Tenth Five-Year Plan estimated it at less than 18 BT in 2002. The Central Mine Planning and Design Institute estimated it to be less than 40 BT in 2001, later revised to 52 BT in 2005. Planning Commission estimated that at a 5% rate of growth of coal consumption, India's domestic coal reserves may last only for 45 years, which translates to about 50 BT. The Expert Committee on Road Map for coal sector reforms and the Integrated Energy Policy: report of the Expert Committee, indicate that India has an estimated 56-71 BT of extractable coal.

 

CIL in its DRHP has also posted a figure of 64.8 BT as the total coal resources available to it as on April 2010, as classified under ISP guidelines with geological reserves of proved, indicated and inferred categories being 52.55 BT, 10.3 BT and 1.94 BT, respectively. From the total coal resources of 64.8 BT, only 30.36 BT had been considered for mining studies (mine planning and feasibility studies) from which CIL finally estimates extractable reserves to be only 21.8 BT.

 

The meagre extractable reserves are the result of decades of cherry-picking by CIL. In its effort to maximise profits and cover up inefficiencies, CIL has been exploring and exploiting only shallow deposits, which is evident from the fact that almost 90% coal production comes from opencast mines from a depth of less than 200 metres. A GSI report shows that over 60% of gross geological resources lie within 300 metres. CIL has no plans for digging any deeper than 300 metres for more coal.

 

However, with burgeoning energy demand led by the power sector, CIL, in the near future, will be forced to explore and exploit deeper seams for maintaining its production levels. It will become essential for the 'world's largest coal producing company' to invest heavily in the very near future if it is to remain the numero uno. This would mean that future cost of coal production would be much higher compared to what CIL is currently incurring and with much reduced profits.

 

The writer is senior fellow, energy regulation and practice, Teri

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EAVESDROPPER

 

Line is busy    

 

Former telecom secretary S Behura has been trying to get the government's permission to waive the cooling period so that he can take up a private sector job. Several others have got such permission, since the idea is really to ensure retired babus don't take up jobs in the companies they dealt with while in office. Communications minister A Raja, however, has yet to clear the file. Possibly Behura's questioning of some of the ministry's decisions didn't go down well with the powers that be.

 

No longer friends

 

Top city hotels used to cooperate on a friendly basis and exchange information on occupancy rates and room tariff. In the last few months, with the tourism trade slowing, this cooperation has stopped. Now hotels don't want to divulge information to the competition.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

LOTUS EATERS

 

French kids and truckers have taken to the streets. In defence of their right to retire early

The French, so goes the stereotype, live the good life. Numbers confirm this tale. French women spend 28 years in retirement and French men 24 years, which is six years more than the OECD average. The problem is that it's becoming increasingly burdensome for the state to finance this good life. Note that the French now live 15 years longer than they did in the 1950s. Union leaders who have urged 15-year-old schoolchildren to join up the protests against government plans to raise the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60 and the age to receive a full pension to 67 from 65 have a cute take on this statistic—that a decreasing proportion of people in active employment support a larger number of pensioners is human progress, French style. The problem is, 10% of the pensions received today are already financed by debt. The problem is, France is adding 7,00,000 pensioners every year, with tax revenues declining dramatically. A lot of the blame rests with the economic downturn. And a lot of the blame rests with the European welfare system. But a generation that's grown up not knowing anything but this system is going to go all out to defend it.

 

Plus, this is a rather nice party going on. Nostalgia 1968 is playing. There are helium balloons, chanting and drums (yes, kind of like the CWG closing ceremony). When the Senate votes on pension reforms on Wednesday, it will be balancing the cold numbers against the passion of the protesters. Note that the latter had stalled reforms in 1995 and 2006.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

FACING UP TO KASHMIR REALITIES

 

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's observations in the State Assembly recently on the Kashmir crisis must be appreciated as much for their candour as for the honest acknowledgment that it is essentially a political problem requiring a political solution. His point that Kashmir is a dispute between two neighbours and must be recognised as such has evoked an angry outcry from Opposition parties, which implicitly accused the Chief Minister of pandering to secessionist sentiment. The volatile situation in the Valley is slowly returning to normal thanks to the concerted efforts of the Central and State governments to ease up security measures and to heal the wounds of the recent agitations, by making gestures such as ex-gratia payments to the families of those killed in the disturbances. It is evident that the turbulence has left Mr. Abdullah somewhat chastened and he appears to be hastening to address the core elements of the longstanding dispute over Kashmir's status in the Indian Union. His observation that Kashmir had not merged with the Union of India but had only acceded to it under an agreement was not just historically accurate; it also provides the key to the concept of a special status for the troubled State. By underlining the fact that while Kashmir had adhered to the Indian Union, it had been promised by the makers of India's Constitution that the unique circumstances of its accession would be respected, the Chief Minister was building the case for a substantive devolution of powers to the State.

The second important aspect that Mr. Abdullah has not shied away from addressing is that Kashmir is decidedly an issue between India and Pakistan and that this is an inevitable aspect of any process of finding a solution. The Chief Minister's emphasis on these two points is designed to open up strategic space for negotiations with the other political forces within the State and with Pakistan for a permanent solution that can bring peace to the Kashmir Valley. New Delhi's approach has been deliberately low key, preferring to let Mr. Abdullah lead from the front. This explains the choice of its three non-political interlocutors who, it is hoped, will open up a dialogue with Kashmir's civil society as well as politicians. But given that there have been three round tables that served as fact-finding missions, the expectations of the people have been dampened by the prospect of witnessing another low-key fact-finding exercise. It is vitally important to reverse the mood of cynicism and lack of faith in a political solution that is widespread in Kashmir today. Chief Minister Abdullah's candour and boldness in outlining the key features of the required approach must be welcomed as a constructive basis for substantive negotiations towards a permanent solution.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

IMPROVED DATA FOR POLICY MAKING

 

There have always been concerns over the integrity of official economic data, although lead indicators are now updated more frequently, thanks to the official efforts at complying with the IMF's Special Data Dissemination Standards. But, as some recent instances show, there are big question marks over their accuracy. The index of industrial production (IIP) figures for August indicated a growth rate of just 5.9 per cent, in sharp contrast to the July tally of 15.2 per cent. Such a steep fall could call into question the sustainability of the high growth the country has been registering or some part of the fluctuation could well reflect flaws in data gathering and assessment. This is not the first time that the IIP has fluctuated by such a wide margin over successive months. During April and May 2010, industry grew at a scorching pace, only to fall sharply to 5.8 per cent in June. Going by the numbers, the trend line for industrial growth does not point firmly towards any one trajectory. Also, based on such uneven performance, it will not be possible to extrapolate growth accurately for the whole year.

 

Besides, there have been frequent and fairly substantial revisions. The July figure was marked up from 13.8 per cent to 15.2 per cent, while that of April was brought down equally sharply. The figures for sub-sectors too have seen inexplicably large fluctuations. For instance, growth in capital goods came down from an unbelievable 63 per cent in July to minus-2.6 per cent in August. Even allowing for some bunching of production, a fluctuation of this magnitude calls into question the very reliability of the IIP data. A GDP growth rate of 9 per cent for this year is said to be within reach. A glaring discrepancy in the GDP data for the first quarter (April-June) was noticed immediately after they were released. At factor cost, the growth was estimated at 8.8 per cent but the number slumped to 3.65 per cent when reckoned at market prices. The error, attributed to the use of wrong deflators, was quickly corrected and GDP growth at market prices is now placed at 10.1 per cent. With India's growth story so keenly watched, it is essential that official statistics do not lose any of their credibility and become more contemporary. Nearly a decade after the National Statistical Commission headed by C. Rangarajan produced a comprehensive report, many of its recommendations still remain unimplemented. Policy-making clearly needs more accurate data than have been available in the recent period.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

CHILE COMES IN FROM THE COLD

TEAMWORK AND LEADERSHIP, AIDED BY THE ACTIVE ROLE OF THE GOVERNMENT, MADE THE SAFE RESCUE OF THE MINERS POSSIBLE.

JORGE HEINE

 

To Chileans abroad, it is a familiar routine. You introduce yourself as hailing from that long sliver of land at the end of the world, once mockingly described by Henry Kissinger as "a dagger pointing straight at the heart of Antarctica." The response often is: "Where is Chile, exactly?"

 

Mexico is known for its vibrant popular music and impressive pre-Columbian Aztec civilisation; Brazil for its carnival, samba and multiethnic bricolage; Peru for Macchu Picchu and Cuzco, and Argentina for the tango, the gaucho and Buenos Aires. Chile's diffuse image, despite all the country it has going for it, seemed forever associated with General Augusto Pinochet.

 

That is, until October 13-14, when the rescue of 33 miners in the San José mine galvanised the world. In a time of war, recession, terrorism, pandemics, floods and earthquakes, this was the ultimate story of hope. The miners' endurance and fortitude are an example to all. The miner's lot is a harsh one. These men, from Florencio Avalos (the first one to come out) to Luis Urzúa (the last to do so) proved their mettle and ability to cope with the 69-day ordeal. Praise should also go to Greg Hall, the American mining engineer who figured out how to bore through 500 metres of volcanic rock to reach them, in the bowels of the earth underneath the Atacama desert.

 

Without teamwork they would not have survived. For 17 days, they shared scraps of food, parsed out in minimal daily rations. The international mining community, from Calgary to Calama, pitched in with their best men and women, tools and know-how. NASA stepped up to the plate, helping the Chilean Navy to build the rescue capsule, "Phoenix 2". Australians, Americans, Canadians, Russians and South Africans were all there.

 

]It even managed to bring Chile and Bolivia closer. One of the 33 miners, Carlos Mamani, the fourth to come up, is Bolivian. He had only been working at San José for 24 hours. Bolivian President Evo Morales paid a visit to greet him and told him Bolivia would provide him with a house. The miner responded to say that what he really wanted was a house in Chile.

 

Yet, this is also a story of the indispensable role of government in today's world. The potential tragedy was abetted by the irresponsible behaviour of San Esteban, the company that owns San José. With a history of safety violations, it pushed the limits in cost-cutting, though the high price of copper and gold would have been bringing in hefty profits. The mandatory exit shaft for any such emergencies was absent. And, after it was discovered that the miners were still alive, San Esteban announced it would stop their salaries, since the mine was no longer in production — impeccable management-speak logic.

 

Without the active role of government, the operation, this "brilliant example of human excellence" as Peggy Noonan put it in The Wall Street Journal, would not have happened. It was a collective endeavour, but in the end somebody has to take charge. After the mine fell in, Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne spent 50 of the next 70 days in Campamento Esperanza, the make-shift tent-city that came up. At one point it had a population of 3,000. His open, accessible style helped establish rapport with the miners' families. His logistics management and attention to detail (he is a former chief executive officer of a large Latin American retail company) ensured that everything went according to plan — from the sunglasses the miners wore when they came out to the suits prepared for their 15-minute, spiralling capsule journey.

 

Health Minister Jaime Mañalich played a critical role, camping out there. He supervised the monitoring of each miner's health. Issues such as the diabetic condition of one of them, José Ojeda, and their diet, were managed with microscopic care. This is why they emerged in good shape. One of them, Edison Peña, even kept up his jogging, clocking three to six miles a day in the underground corridors. He has been invited to the New York Marathon.

 

From Katrina to the Gulf oil spill, from the Pakistan floods to the chemical spill in Hungary, governmental response to emergencies has often been found wanting. It was thus only half in jest that Michael Moore told CNN's Larry King: "Next time there's an oil spill in the Gulf, let's call the Chilean government."

 

And this takes us to the role of leadership. Though I did not vote for him, after his election last January I wrote that if President Sebastian Piñera was able to set aside his wealth-acquiring instincts and deployed his managerial-organisational talents for Chile's benefit, he could make a real difference. Having finally sold his stake in LAN-Chile and in the TV channel Chilevisión, he has proceeded to do just that.

 

The happy outcome of San José was not pre-ordained. The government could have taken a "hands-off" attitude, leaving the matter to the company. Yet, against the advice of some, Mr. Piñera took the bull by the horns. He cut short a visit to Colombia and flew directly to San José. From thereon, his government's No. 1 priority was finding the miners. After 17 days, it happened. And then, the task was to get them out.

 

In contrast to the Gulf oil spill, expectations were kept under control. Although Chile is a major mining country (the leading exporter of copper; about half of its nearly $70 billion in exports comes from mining), overseas help was enlisted. Whatever the engineers and rescue specialists requested was provided, no matter how expensive: the total cost of the rescue is around $20 million. If something had gone wrong, the political fallout would have been devastating. But Mr. Piñera's concern was to get them out, period. That is how the project jelled, as its components fell into place.

 

The minute-by-minute planning, control and execution, on the one hand, and maximum transparency, on the other, that marked the operation, should become a mandatory case study in business and public management schools. The counterpart to the crowd and media control on-site (1,500 journalists from 300 media outlets were kept several hundred metres from the spot the miners were to emerge from) was the live TV feed from the mine-bottom provided in real-time across the world. This technological feat (that took viewership to an estimated one billion: BBC World had 6.8 million, and the three main U.S. news cable channels of Fox, CNN and MSNBC reached 11 million) was the result of a presidential choice. Several of Mr. Piñera's collaborators (including Ministers Mr. Golborne and Mr. Mañalich) opposed it, on the ground that, if something went wrong, there was no going back. Yet, as a former TV station owner, Mr. Piñera knew only too well the difference between live and pre-recorded programming. He seemed certain that things would work out.

 

For 20 years, Chile has been one of the great, if largely unheralded, success stories. With an average annual growth rate of five per cent, it has had the best economic performance for any country outside Asia, and the fourth best anywhere. It has cut its poverty rate from 39 per cent in 1990 to 15 per cent today. In early 2010, it became the first South American country to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Mr. Piñera has promised that by 2018, Chile would be a developed nation with a per capita income of $20,000 (it is now at $15,000 in purchasing power parity terms). Some people attribute Chile's success to its natural resources, others to its educational standards. The real reason is different. Over the two decades, Chile has developed a culture of doing things well, of designing and applying imaginative and effective public policies, and of getting things done.

 

Mr. Piñera, the first centre-right leader to rule Chile in 20 years, was elected on a platform of continuity and change. He promised to pursue many of the policies of the Concertación, the centre-left coalition that ruled Chile from 1990 to 2010, but more effectively and efficiently. Whether that happens remains to be seen. But for now, he has shown that he means what he says when he proclaims he can get things done, and do them well. The 33 miners whose lives were saved know as much.

 

( Jorge Heine, a Chilean, holds the Chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, is Professor of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University and a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario. His book (with Andrew F. Cooper), Which Way Latin America? Hemispheric Politics Meets Globalization, is published by U.N. University Press.)

 

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THE HINDU

NEWS  ANYLYSIS

MINERS' SECRECY PACT ERODES

MANY HAVE MADE CLEAR, HOWEVER, THAT BIDDING HAS BEGUN FOR 'PERSONAL ACCOUNTS'.

ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO AND SIMON ROMERO

 

Family members of the 33 miners who were trapped for 69 days had said a special Mass on October 17 would be a chance for the miners to find closure and understanding.

 

As one of them, Omar Reygadas, 56, left the service and walked with his family to the tent where they had lived while the men were trapped, cameramen and photographers surrounded him. His two-year-old great-granddaughter was pushed in the mob and began to cry. As Reygadas picked her up, cameramen moved closer, zooming in.

 

Wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, Reygadas remained calm in the media glare, but he revealed little of what the world had been waiting to hear: the miners' own stories about life in their subterranean prison.

 

'A nightmare'

 

"I've had nightmares these days," Reygadas said from the cramped tent, as reporters jostled for space. "But the worst nightmare is all of you."

 

Saying they had signed a pact not to reveal details about their ordeal, the miners have said little since the October 13 rescue. Many have made clear, however, that the bidding had begun for their personal accounts, reflecting the complexity behind a feel-good story of hope and perseverance that was always encumbered by the economic challenges faced by Chile's miners.

 

On October 16, in an area of squatter homes in the Juan Pablo Segundo slum of Copiapo, a city about an hour from the mine, reporters milled in front of the home of Carlos Mamani, 24, a Bolivian.

 

Veronica Quispe, his wife, said they were charging for interviews, even from reporters from Bolivia, where Mamani is considered a national hero. She said they were travelling there this week to discuss a job offer Mamani received from President Evo Morales.

 

"We're poor look at the place we live," Quispe said, squinting under the desert sun. "You live off our stories, so why can't we make money from this opportunity to feed our children?"

 

Miners have asked for as little as $40 and upward of $25,000 for interviews. Some media outlets have offered to fly miners to Japan, Germany or Italy for exclusives. Some reporters who spent weeks living in Camp Hope, the tent village that sprang up when families gravitated to the site, exchanged letters with miners underground and were asked for large sums for interviews once the miners were out.

 

On October 15 night in Copiapo, reporters and photographers gathered outside the home of Florencio Avalos, the first miner to be rescued. A man identifying himself as Avalos' cousin told them that access was possible for a price.

 

"We paid $500 for the interview," Ari Hirayama of Asahi Shimbun of Japan, said upon exiting the house. "And it felt like he was withholding details."

 

Jessica Chilla, the wife of Dario Segovia, was equally direct. "He is charging for interviews as compensation. He is physically and psychologically exhausted and will not recover for at least a month," she said.

 

She added, "He will not give interviews for free, not now or later."

 

As of October 16 Segovia had given two interviews, one for half an hour to a German TV station for 500,000 pesos, about $1,040, and another to a Japanese media outlet for about $417.

 

Cash is king, Chilla said. The family is not asking for trips or other gifts because, she said, they have been promised so many already.

 

Even one miner, Marcos Aciares, who was supposed to have been part of the fateful shift on August 5, has been cashing in. Aciares, 43, said he charged a Chilean TV station 2 million pesos for an interview.

 

Other miners at the San Esteban Mining Co., which shut down the San Jose Mine after the accident, have felt left behind. A few dozen protested on October 17, demanding their severance payments. Not all the miners have refused to speak at all without payment.

 

A short walk from Mamani's home in a patchwork of slum housing, Susana Valenzuela, 52, the companion of one miner, Yonny Barrios, 50, had no problem talking.

 

"Just bring me a bottle of sidra!" she told an Argentine news crew, referring to a popular tipple in Argentina. The Argentines promptly dispatched a producer to purchase a bottle. Later, the soft-spoken Barrios appeared on his porch to say hello, under a sign reading, "I love you, my Tarzan."

 

"I lost hope several times," he said of the first 17 days before rescuers found the miners were all alive. "But I had God to speak with," he added. "I can't really say much more." The oft-mentioned pact among the 33 men seems to be fraying. For instance, ABC News said it was preparing to broadcast an exclusive interview with Mario Sepulveda, 40, who emerged from the mine ebullient and leading cheers among rescue workers. "ABC licensed material from the family," Alison Bridgman, a spokeswoman, said, disputing the idea that ABC had paid for the interview. Sepulveda spoke to the British tabloid The Mail on Sunday because the newspaper had treated his family "with dignity and kindness," the article based on the interview said.

 

The 3,365-word story delved into the desperation the men felt during the first 17 days they were trapped.

 

"The batteries in our helmet lights faded and then they went out completely on Day 3," Sepulveda said.

 

In the interview, he described his desperate search for a way out amid the rockfall. "I walked for hours," he

said. "I found a ventilation shaft. It was a shaft that should have had a ladder in it. It did have a ladder so I started climbing."

 

But after a climb of about 150 feet, the ladder ended. The men were 2,060 feet below the surface.

 

 © New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

SOCRATES — A MAN FOR OUR TIMES

HE WAS CONDEMNED TO DEATH FOR TELLING THE ANCIENT GREEKS THINGS THEY DIDN'T WANT TO HEAR, BUT HIS VIEWS ON CONSUMERISM AND TRIAL BY MEDIA ARE JUST AS RELEVANT TODAY.

BETTANY HUGHES

 

Two thousand four hundred years ago, one man tried to discover the meaning of life. His search was so radical, charismatic and counterintuitive that he become famous throughout the Mediterranean. Men — particularly young men — flocked to hear him speak. Some were inspired to imitate his ascetic habits. They wore their hair long, their feet bare, their cloaks torn. He charmed a city; soldiers, prostitutes, merchants, aristocrats — all would come to listen. As Cicero eloquently put it, "He brought philosophy down from the skies." For close on half a century this man was allowed to philosophise unhindered on the streets of his hometown. But then things started to turn ugly. His glittering city—state suffered horribly in foreign and civil wars. The economy crashed; year in, year out, men came home dead; the population starved; the political landscape was turned upside down. And suddenly the philosopher's bright ideas, his eternal questions, his eccentric ways, started to jar. And so, on a spring morning in 399BC, the first democratic court in the story of mankind summoned the 70-year-old philosopher to the dock on two charges: disrespecting the city's traditional gods and corrupting the young. The accused was found guilty. His punishment: state-sponsored suicide, courtesy of a measure of hemlock poison in his prison cell.

 

The man was Socrates, the philosopher from ancient Athens and arguably the true father of western thought. Not bad, given his humble origins. The son of a stonemason, born around 469BC, Socrates was famously odd. In a city that made a cult of physical beauty (an exquisite face was thought to reveal an inner nobility of spirit) the philosopher was disturbingly ugly. Socrates had a pot-belly, a weird walk, swivelling eyes and hairy hands. As he grew up in a suburb of Athens, the city seethed with creativity — he witnessed the Greek miracle at first-hand.

 

But when poverty-stricken Socrates (he taught in the streets for free) strode through the city's central marketplace, he would harrumph provocatively, "How many things I don't need!" Whereas all religion was public in Athens, Socrates seemed to enjoy a peculiar kind of private piety, relying on what he called his "daimonion", his "inner voice". This "demon" would come to him during strange episodes when the philosopher stood still, staring for hours. We think now he probably suffered from catalepsy, a nervous condition that causes muscular rigidity.

 

Putting aside his unshakable position in the global roll-call of civilisation's great and good, why should we care about this curious, clever, condemned Greek? Quite simply because Socrates's problems were our own. He lived in a city-state that was for the first time working out what role true democracy should play in human society. His hometown — successful, cash-rich — was in danger of being swamped by its own vigorous quest for beautiful objects, new experiences, foreign coins.

 

Fundamental questions

 

The philosopher also lived through (and fought in) debilitating wars, declared under the banner of demos-kratia — people power, democracy. The Peloponnesian conflict of the fifth century against Sparta and her allies was criticised by many contemporaries as being "without just cause". Although some in the region willingly took up this new idea of democratic politics, others were forced by Athens to love it at the point of a sword. Socrates questioned such blind obedience to an ideology. "What is the point," he asked, "of walls and warships and glittering statues if the men who build them are not happy?" What is the reason for living life, other than to love it? For Socrates, the pursuit of knowledge was as essential as the air we breathe. Rather than a brainiac grey-beard, we should think of him as his contemporaries knew him: a bustling, energetic, wine-swilling, man-loving, vigorous, pug-nosed, sword-bearing war-veteran: a citizen of the world, a man of the streets.

 

According to his biographers Plato and Xenophon, Socrates did not just search for the meaning of life, but the meaning of our own lives. He asked fundamental questions of human existence. What makes us happy? What makes us good? What is virtue? What is love? What is fear? How should we best live our lives? Socrates saw the problems of the modern world coming; and he would certainly have something to say about how we live today.

 

He was anxious about the emerging power of the written word over face-to-face contact. The Athenian agora was his teaching room. Here he would jump on unsuspecting passersby, as Xenophon records. "One day Socrates met a young man on the streets of Athens. 'Where can bread be found?' asked the philosopher. The young man responded politely. 'And where can wine be found?' asked Socrates. With the same pleasant manner, the young man told Socrates where to get wine. 'And where can the good and the noble be found?' then asked Socrates. The young man was puzzled and unable to answer. 'Follow me to the streets and learn,' said the philosopher." Whereas immediate, personal contact helped foster a kind of honesty, Socrates argued that strings of words could be manipulated, particularly when disseminated to a mass market. "You might think words spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them they always say only one thing . . . every word . . . when ill-treated or unjustly reviled always needs its father to protect it," he said.

 

 

When psychologists today talk of the danger for the next generation of too much keyboard and texting time, Socrates would have flashed one of his infuriating "I told you so" smiles. Our modern passion for fact-collection and box-ticking rather than a deep comprehension of the world around us would have horrified him too. What was the point, he said, of cataloguing the world without loving it? He went further: "Love is the one thing I understand." The televised U.K. general election debates earlier this year would also have given pause. Socrates was withering when it came to a polished rhetorical performance. For him a powerful, substance-less argument was a disgusting thing: rhetoric without truth was one of the greatest threats to the "good" society.

 

Interestingly, the TV debate experiment would have seemed old hat. Public debate and political competition ( agon was the Greek word, which gives us our "agony") were the norm in democratic Athens. Every male citizen over the age of 18 was a politician. Each could present himself in the open-air assembly up on the Pnyx to raise issues for discussion or to vote. Through a complicated system of lots, ordinary men might be made the equivalent of heads of state for a year; interior minister or foreign minister for the space of a day. Those who preferred a private to a public life were labelled idiotes (hence our word idiot).

 

Socrates died when Golden Age Athens — an ambitious, radical, visionary city-state — had triumphed as a leader of the world, and then over-reached herself and begun to crumble. His unusual personal piety, his guru-like attraction to the young men of the city, suddenly seemed to have a sinister tinge. And although Athens adored the notion of freedom of speech (the city even named one of its warships Parrhesia after the concept), the population had yet to resolve how far freedom of expression ratified a freedom to offend.

 

A scapegoat

 

Socrates was, I think, a scapegoat for Athens's disappointment. When the city was feeling strong, the quirky philosopher could be tolerated. But, overrun by its enemies, starving, and with the ideology of democracy itself in question, the Athenians took a more fundamentalist view. A confident society can ask questions of itself; when it is fragile, it fears them. Socrates' famous aphorism "the unexamined life is not worth living" was, by the time of his trial, clearly beginning to jar.

 

After his death, Socrates' ideas had a prodigious impact on both western and eastern civilisation. His influence in Islamic culture is often overlooked — in the Middle East and North Africa, from the 11th century onwards, his ideas were said to refresh and nourish, "like . . . the purest water in the midday heat". Socrates was nominated one of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his nickname "The Source". So it seems a shame that, for many, Socrates has become a remote, lofty kind of a figure.

 

When Socrates finally stood up to face his charges in front of his fellow citizens in a religious court in the Athenian agora, he articulated one of the great pities of human society. "It is not my crimes that will convict me," he said. "But instead, rumour, gossip; the fact that by whispering together you will persuade yourselves that I am guilty." As another Greek author, Hesiod, put it, "Keep away from the gossip of people. For rumour [the Greek pheme, via fama in Latin, gives us our word fame] is an evil thing; by nature she's a light weight to lift up, yes, but heavy to carry and hard to put down again. Rumour never disappears entirely once people have indulged her." Trial by media, by pheme, has always had a horrible potency. It was a slide in public opinion and the uncertainty of a traumatised age that brought Socrates to the hemlock. Rather than follow the example of his accusers, we should perhaps honour Socrates' exhortation to "know ourselves", to be individually honest, to do what we, not the next man, knows to be right. Not to hide behind the hatred of a herd, the roar of the crowd, but to aim, hard as it might be, towards the "good" life.

 

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

 

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THE HINDU

SPAIN ENDS PEACE MISSION

 

Spanish Defence Minister Carme Chacon announced on October 18 that Spanish involvement in the European peacekeeping mission in Bosnia had come to an end after 18 years. She made the declaration in the city of Sarajevo after presiding over the transfer of authority of the Mission from Spanish to Austrian hands.

 

The ceremony finished with almost two decades of Spanish presence in the region and comes just a year after the country also ended its presence in Kosovo.

 

"What happened in the Balkans should serve to remind us all that international missions are necessary," said Chacon.

 

Spain's involvement in the peacekeeping mission there began in 1992 during the civil war in the region and the 18-year commitment has seen 23 Spanish troops lose their lives.

 

 Xinhua

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

1962 REDUX?

SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

 

All wars commence in the mind, and escalate with words. "Zhang Nan" or "Southern Tibet", the designation bestowed by the People's Republic of China on India's state of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Tibet, is one such example. China now claims Arunachal Pradesh as its historic territory comprising the three southern districts of the Tawang Tract unilaterally acquired by the then British Empire after the Treaty of Simla in 1913. New demands, which were first articulated around 2005, initially concerned Tawang as a traditional tributary region of Lhasa, being the birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama (Tsangyang Gyatso, enthroned 1697, probably murdered 1706 by Mongol guards who were escorting him to Beijing under arrest). Subsequently, a day prior to the visit of China's President Hu Jintao to India in 2006, Sun Yuxi, the then Chinese ambassador to India, stridently reiterated in public China's claims to the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh in a deliberately provocative gesture designed to put New Delhi on notice of Beijing's intention to dominate the agenda of interaction according to its own priorities. In a longer-term perspective, these needlessly provocative claims could escalate to a flash point with the potential to provoke a major confrontation between the two countries, and create an existential crisis for the entire region, a contingency for which India has to prepare itself adequately.


Indian reaction has been characteristically muted, constantly choosing to soft pedal and play down the issue — a unilateral gesture of restraint regardless of the degree of blatant provocation, which exasperated many in this country. It is seen as making a virtue out of necessity, because India has neglected to build up the requisite capabilities to adopt stronger alternatives. This is surely an unenviable position for a country seeking to promote itself as a major power for a permanent seat on the Security Council.


The present Sino-Indian equation is almost irresistibly reminiscent of the run-up to the Sino-Indian border war of 1962, and provides a fascinating playback of China's postures at that time with its disconcertingly similar sequence of claims along the McMahon Line in North East Frontier Agency (Nefa), as well as along the Uttar Pradesh-Tibet border and in Ladakh, as relics of historic injustices perpetrated in earlier days by British imperialists. A naive and militarily ill-prepared India, with an exaggerated self image of its own international relevance as a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, had sought to dissuade a determined China with platitudinous Nehruvian philosophies of anti-colonial solidarity, all of which were contemptuously disposed of by "a whiff of grapeshot" on the desolate slopes of the Namkha Chu and Rezang La. India's collapse and comprehensive downsizing in short order in 1962 was primarily because it lacked military capability vis-a-vis China, a fatal flaw which has a disconcerting tendency of repeating itself when lessons of earlier debacles wear off from the country, as they seem to be doing now. "1962 redux" is slowly grinding into gear again, with end results unforeseeable, except that an enhanced replay at some stage (2020?) can never be totally discounted. India must not repeat its follies of the past because this time around it has been adequately forewarned.
In starkly contrasting national attitudes, the People's Republic of China has never swerved from its "sacred duty" to recover and reunify what it perceives as its lost territories, notably Tibet and Taiwan. China's other such claims pertain to areas along the Sino-Soviet and Sino-Indian borders, besides smaller island entities in the South and East China Seas, to which has now been added the complete territory of India's Arunachal Pradesh under its new Chinese appellation.


India has to evaluate the threat potential of the situation dispassionately but realistically, having reference to China's demonstrated determination to set its own history in order. Tibet was successfully concluded in 1950 when the People's Liberation Army marched into the country against a feeble and disjointed resistance, and re-established China's authority. Taiwan has been an infructuous effort so far only because of the massive support and protection of the United States, which has guaranteed the independence of that country with the presence of its Seventh Fleet.


If similar Chinese pressures develop regarding Arunachal Pradesh, and cannot be resolved through diplomacy and mediation (again as in 1962), India will be left with starkly limited options — either capitulation to China, or military defence of its territory.


In the latter contingency, even a speculative overview would suggest that for India a full fledged Sino-India war would likely be a "two-and-a-half front", with Pakistan and China combining in tandem, and an additional internal half front against affiliated terrorist networks already emplaced and functional within the country. For India it would be a combination of 1962, together with all of India's wars against Pakistan (1947-65, '71 and '99), upgraded to future dimensions and extending over land, aerial, maritime space and cyberspace domains. Nuclear exchange at some stage, strategic, tactical or both, would remain a distinct possibility, admittedly a worst case, but one which cannot be ignored. The magnitude of losses in terms of human, material and economic costs to all participants can only be speculated upon at present.


China is obviously very much ahead of India in military capabilities, a comparative differential which will be further skewed with Pakistan's resources coming into play. India has to develop its own matching capabilities in short order, especially the ability to reach out and inflict severe punitive damage to the heartlands of its adversaries, howsoever distant. There would be national, regional and international repercussions that would severely affect the direct participants as also close bystanders like Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, if not countries further afield as well.


Any future Sino-Indian conflict is a doomsday scenario, straight out of Dr Strangelove, a zero-sum calculus that must not be allowed to occur. China must restrain itself regarding its alleged claims to India's Arunachal Pradesh. History has moved on — attempts to reverse it are futile.

 

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament

 

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

CHARITY WITH A COLONIAL COMPLEX

JAYATI GHOSH

 

India has not really had a vibrant tradition of philanthropy. In feudal times, like everywhere else, the rulers scarcely bothered to use this tool of social legitimacy, so secure were they in their power secured by other means. The wealthy in general, when they did spend for charitable causes, concentrated their efforts and resources on religious institutions rather than any secular activities designed to benefit the needy or deserving at large.


In terms of capitalist philanthropy, the early pioneering industrialists of the late 19th and early 20th century were probably the best that we have had in this regard. The Jamshetji Tatas, Lala Shri Rams and a few others set up educational and cultural trusts and created institutions that the country still benefits from. But since then, the record has been patchy and generally poor. Estimates of the contributions made by the wealthy of India to charitable causes regularly find that they are well below international averages, and usually completely minuscule in relation to the large surpluses generated by the population, which accrue disproportionately to such individuals.


In fact, evidence of the reverse flow of wealth was evident in colonial times. Specifically, it was common to find major and minor princes and other feudal title holders using the wealth extracted by exploiting the peasantry of India to purchase expensive real estate in England, live in luxury there and hold large and flamboyant parties for the upper classes of the colonial power, in efforts to acquire the social acceptance that was made so difficult by the colour of their skin.


Since the colour of money generally dominates other shades, some of these princes did indeed gain entry into elite social circles. But contemporary accounts still reveal the rather amused, ironic and patronising nature of such acceptance, even as the guests had no difficulty in partaking of the lavish hospitality provided by the Indian hosts.


But the new 21st century is supposed to be different from those rather pathetic old days when our ruling classes were slavishly devoted to signs of acceptance from the old white societies. We are now an emerging power, aren't we, with a rapidly growing economy, a young population that provides lots of potential, and some of the richest and most ambitious capitalists to be found anywhere in the world. So we are now supposed to be much more self-confident, more able to look inwards and to our neighbours and use our resources to benefit our own society and people, right?


Wrong, unfortunately. Our dynamic new bourgeoisie unfortunately seems to have even less self-confidence than the brave individuals who managed to build industrial empires starting from a heavily colonial and difficult context. Some recent moves on the "charitable" front in particular suggest how far this bourgeoisie has to go before it will behave in even the most obvious ways that capitalists across the world have done in order to acquire legitimacy in their own societies.


Our new corporate leaders are mostly those who have inherited wealth, and also have benefited from a wide range of explicit and implicit subsidies provided by the government, ranging from free or cheap land to tax holidays of rebates, access to public institutional credit and little accountability on repayment. Even the "self-made" among them have benefited from the highly subsidised system of public higher education that gave them the skills to conquer the world.

Yet the record of corporate or individual donations is embarrassingly paltry, despite all the tax sops offered for contributions to educational and charitable institutions and all the expansive talk about corporate social responsibility. Representatives of foundations that seek such donations are full of stories about the churlish and penny-pinching ways of our donors. It is not just education in general that has failed to attract sufficient such funds. The extremely constrained ability of several major educational institutions to attract large funds even from the most economically successful alumni tells its own story.


But the surprising thing is that it is not as if such high-wealth individuals do not want to give their charity to education. They do, indeed, but to the biggest and richest and most famous institutions abroad rather than a struggling institution in their own country. It now seems that major donors are competing with each other as to how much each can outdo the other in contributing to these foreign institutions. If one gives $5 million to Yale University, another seeks to provide the same amount to Columbia University and yet another provides $10 million to Harvard. The most recent aggrandising gift has involved $50 million going to Harvard University. Meanwhile, the fuss that the London School of Economics has made over the spouse of another magnate, inviting her to deliver a lecture presided over by academic luminaries despite her evident lack of any academic achievement, suggests that we may soon see a flow of funds to that institution.


None of these donors has given anything like an equivalent amount to any Indian higher education institution, and several of them have shaken off eminently deserving requests for a fraction of these amounts to improve the facilities and quality of existing Indian universities. Of course there may be some direct quid pro quos involved in such donations, such as admission of progeny, but this seems like an excessively high price to pay for what is after all a relatively small matter.


It seems that the same lack of confidence that propelled our feudal princelings to spend the rents extracted from starving peasants to provide munificent hospitality to the sniggering English elite in colonial times still pervades our new bourgeoisie. The urge is to use the resources generated at home to seek foreign acceptance and legitimacy, rather than build in the society which enabled the enrichment.


This particular trait seems to be particularly developed among the Indian bourgeoisie. It is hard to imagine the pioneers of American philanthropy, who created foundations that are now international (like Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur and so on), spending their money in England rather than in the US. So it is not about capitalism in general but the peculiar Indian variant, which unfortunately still bears the marks of colonised minds in a globalised setting.

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DNA

            REPORT

PUBLIC SECTOR NEEDS MORE THAN JUST IPOS

 

Coal India's Rs15,000-crore-plus initial public offering (IPO), which opened on Monday, has excited the investment community. Most analysts gave it a good rating and foreign investors have reportedly put in bids for this public sector behemoth. Since the assumption is that the issue is fairly priced, with an upper limit of Rs245 a share, investors who get allotments will be able to book a simple profit on listing.

 

Two concerns are worth noting. One, given the size of the offering, the worry is that the market may tank after the issue. History shows that both in 2006 and 2008 the market tumbled after mega issues: the first one was by Reliance Petroleum in May 2006, and the second one by Reliance Power in January 2008. Including Coal India, several other companies are planning to raise over Rs80,000 crore over the next six months. There is little doubt that some of the money going into the primary market will come from sales in the secondary market. One hopes that foreign inflows will be enough to soak up the sales.

 

The second concern relates to the kind of limited stake sale being proposed in public sector units instead of full privatisation. While the former brings in money for the exchequer, it does little to really free public sector units from being run like ministerial fiefdoms. In company after company, it has been proved that the heavy hand of government ends up robbing shareholders. In the oil sector, the publicly-listed companies have had to bear the brunt of the subsidies for cooking gas and kerosene. The public sector telephone company MTNL is a dying duck, thanks to its inability to compete without autonomy. The unlisted, but larger, BSNL, is also struggling to hold its own in a competitive market where private players are having a field day.

 

In the case of Coal India, no such immediate calamity is likely since it is a near-monopoly. But the broad principle still holds: the government has to give it complete autonomy or privatise it if it wants to ensure maximum returns to taxpayers and shareholders.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

OUR STATES ARE NOT THE CENTRE'S SUPPLICANTS

 

Election time offers opportunities for partisan sniping. It does not matter whether it is unfair or inaccurate, or even plain wrong. Parties and politicians have to stoop to conquer. It is not surprising then that even prime minister Manmohan Singh, despite his sober veneer, chose to hit out at the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government for inefficient use of Rs1,000-crore of Central assistance. Nitish Kumar hit back by reminding the prime minister-economist that the package was part of the compensation for Bihar when mineral-rich Jharkhand was carved out as a separate state. The money was given to central agencies for executing projects like building roads.

 

Other insinuations and innuendoes are flying on all sides. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi have harped on the old theme of how the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is providing funds for Bihar's development. BJP's senior leader Arun Jaitley shot back saying that Central funds come from taxes collected from the people of the state and the Central government had no proprietorial right over them.

 

Congress leaders have always been imperious about the good they do for the country when holding the reins of power at the Centre, especially when non-Congress parties are in office in the states. There is a basic flaw in the Centre-state relationship in India's ostensibly federal system — constitutional experts choose to describe it as quasi-federal — which leans towards the Centre rather than the states. This is obvious from the sharing of national taxes, though a complicated system has been put in place and improvised on by successive finance commissions. The move to have a goods and services tax (GST) from 2012 is another attempt to rationalise Central and state taxes and the sharing of revenues between the two.

 

There are two other points of contention. One is when states seek Central assistance to deal with natural calamities like drought and flood, it gives the Central government and the party in power the option of playing benefactor when, in reality, it is little more than a constitutional mechanism. The other point has to do with foodgrain procurement and storage. The state governments are supposed to draw whatever is due to them from the centrally-managed storage system. Again, it is made to appear that the Central government is doling it out to supplicant states. This distorts the federal balance. A dispassionate debate on the functioning federalism is much needed now.

 

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DNA

REPORT

BE HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR

 

The wise are happy with what they have and happy with what they don't have. Fools are unhappy with what they have and what they don't have. Misery is not given by anyone or anything in life. It is your own mind which makes you miserable or happy and uplifted.

 

If you are absolutely content with what you have there is no aspiration in life. It is important to have aspirations but if you are feverish about your aspirations, that itself becomes an impediment. If a cup is held under a tap that is running at full force that cup will never be full. Run the tap water at the right speed and the cup fills up. This is what happens with people who are too ambitious or feverish. Just have the intention, "This is what I want" — and let go.

 

Your whole life, every breath you take is a form of worship. Worship means loving with regard and honour. Adoration alone is not worship. Adoration is loving a person because of certain qualities they have. The truth is always simple and it permeates the simplest forms of creation. Know the change and see the non-change. Know that which is changing and you suddenly become alive; with this you can overcome inertia or death. The changing universe charms you by lifting you away from death; the unchanging universe gives you a glimpse of immortality.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

LUCKNOW'S CHANGING SKYLINE TELLS A NEW STORY

PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR

 

Public architecture tells a lot about a city. That is why the Reserve Bank of India's building in Lucknow is interesting. It is the predictable glass-and-granite structure with a curious portico-like structure jutting with a small cupola, giving it a slightly eccentric facade, but not entirely out of place. The National Bank of Agricultural Development (NABARD) building next to the RBI has a simple, even uninteresting, look. Compare these new buildings with the main post office in Hazrat Ganj, or with the building of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court and that of the state assembly, which carry marks of the neo-classical colonial architecture. Unlike them, the shopping arcades of Hazrat Ganj show some character but there are clear signs of disrepair.

 

The malls have come up with their predictable uniform glass fronts. The houses are, of course, the saddest lot. For example, the houses in Gomti Nagar cannot be distinguished from similar houses in residential colonies in other towns and cities of India.

 

With their nondescript and timid frontages, they show the middle class desire for solidity that is at once limited and limiting. The houses have the assembly line look of products that are replicated ad nauseam.

 

Lucknow has moved into the present from the past with the attendant problems of lack of imagination and vision. The buildings from the different eras sit uneasily along with each other.

 

The imambaras and the palaces of 19th century remain intact and do lend a bit of a romantic aura to Lucknow of the old times, but they do not dominate either the skyline or the consciousness of the people in the city anymore.

 

Chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati's grandiose public parks with their larger-than-life statues of the Buddha, BSP founder Kanshiram and of the chief minister herself present a strange mix of vulgarity and pomp. But what stands out about these public parks named after the Buddha and Kanshiram are the large platforms crowned by stupa-type structures. The stupa is an abstract form and there is an echo of modernity in it though that is not what it is intended to be. The overall impact of these monuments-in-parks is that it has created huge public spaces, giving the people plenty of space to move around.

 

There is a parallel track of the people. The markets and thoroughfares remain crowded and congested. Cars, rickshaw, cyclists and pedestrians jostle. The people move with a certain energy and purpose. Housewives in Gomti Nagar are managing cybercafes. Young boys and girls are flocking to the new, posh coffee houses. The new skyline is in sync with the flow of people in the city. Lucknow is no more the sedate city of a faded culture of nawabs and their retinues. There is frenetic movement of the people, surging ahead.

Modernity may seem like a sickness to many because it seems to be a run to nowhere and some places like Lucknow seemed safely immune to such contagion. But the people are ready to grab new opportunities and new ways. There is no quarrel with the old ways. They have just been quietly dumped. Chinese and Thai food are finding a place alongsideMughlai and south Indian dishes.

Coffee and computers are gaining ground in this city of Urdu poetry and siesta. Many people will now have to revise their old perceptions about the Hindi heartland. Here the ground is literally shifting from beneath one's feet. Change has taken charge of Lucknow.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

IT'S TIME FOR INDIA TO EXIT THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH

RAJEEV SRINIVASAN

 

The Commonwealth Games (CWG) are finally over, and they were not as disastrous as we feared. There were moments of epiphany: for instance, the brilliant running of Ashwini Akkunji in the 4 x 400m women's relay — she caught up with a surging Nigerian, and enabled anchor Mandeep Kaur to pull away to an unexpected and well-deserved win. But such sublime moments were few and far between. The persistent image that remains is the collapse of the foot overbridge, or the muddy pawprints of a dog on a mattress. How long do you actually expect these structures to survive? The answer: not long.

 

Why was India able to hold the 1982 Asian Games — a much bigger and more significant event — with less fuss and more competence? That was at a time when India was hermit-like, insulated from the world, yet it wasn't a fiasco. Why was it so much worse in this globalised era?

 

Is there tangible value in hosting major events? The Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 did much for Spain's economy; but Los Angeles in 1984 just about broke even, and it is believed the losses from Athens in 2004 almost caused Greece's subsequent near-bankruptcy. These games are risky: no wonder there are only three bidders for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

 

In Delhi's case, estimates are that Rs70,000 crore (about $15 billion) were spent, and the official claim is that the Games will have an 'impact' of $5 billion. In other words, $10 billion vanished!

 

That's the difference between the 1982 Asiad and the 2010 CWG: the professionalisation of grand larceny.

 

And it is money that this country could ill afford. The new Global Hunger Index suggests that India is worse off than eight of the poorest African nations. How many schools, universities, and kilometres of road could Rs70,000 crore have built? Where is the government's touching concern for the alleged aam aadmi?

 

The absurdity of India's so-called 'hybrid economy' is in full view: a bizarre chimera of capitalism and socialism. It combines the worst elements of both — crony capitalism and the dead hand of central planning — with the virtues of neither.

 

There is also a combination of large-scale corruption and incompetence. This is the true downside of the 'mixed economy'. People will tolerate corruption if there is competence — for instance, China is very corrupt, but they do get things done. India is unique in being extremely corrupt, and extremely inefficient at the same time.

 

The incompetence has become systematised in jugaad, that is ingenuity in the face of obstacles. But this is not innovation. In fact, jugaad is the enemy of progress, because it lulls you into a false sense of complacency. It is the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter on the eve of the exam, while the more organised student would have finished earlier and slept well. The inability to plan is endemic in India. It is a clear result of the lack of leadership.

 

British imperial rule has been replaced by the rule of brown sahibs who are equally adept at looting India. Perhaps this is why it makes a weird sort of sense for India to continue in the British Commonwealth: the empire continues, except that the dramatis personae have changed.

 

Otherwise, there is a good question as to whether India should be in the Commonwealth at all. It is, after all, a club that celebrates perhaps the most brutal empire the world has ever seen: it is astonishing how callously the British caused up to 30 million famine deaths in the 1890s (see Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino famines and the Making of the Third World by Mike Davis) and several million famine deaths in the 1940s (see Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II by Madhusree Mukherjee).

 

Why does India need this club? India has other connections with many of the major countries there. Britain counts for increasingly little: it is a non-entity. Canada is important for its mineral wealth, so is Australia, but let us note that both are refusing to provide uranium for India's misbegotten nuclear plans.

 

South Africa is a potential great power, but India is already engaged with them in the South-South palavers. Then, going by the medals table at the CWG, there's Nigeria, Kenya, Malaysia, Singapore, Scotland, Samoa, mostly in the G77.

 

All in all, it is abhorrent that India should willingly embrace an empire that treated it most brutally. It is time to exit the Commonwealth: India gains little from it. Moreover, it is time the government stopped wasting taxpayers' money on quixotic projects that end up merely fattening the offshore accounts of the well-connected. It is time to demand accountability and performance, not mere slogans, from the government.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

MULTI-CULTURALISM AND ITS DOWNSIDES

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel has admitted that the multi-cultural approach has "utterly failed" in her country, bringing us back on how to make immigrants fit in. Europeans are increasingly concerned about how to make their growing "Muslim" communities merge with existing social mores, but this argument applies equally to every non-white, non-European migrants. The multi-cultural approach has been used by Great Britain for a number of years. But it is only lately that the rest of Europe has seen large-scale migration from the rest of the world, particularly the developing world. Therefore, there is concern, especially among conservative elements — to which Merkel belongs — that indigenous customs are under threat.

 

It may make sense for such societies to follow the American system, where all migrant populations are free to follow their customs, but when it comes to certain basics, they must conform to the American way of life. This has worked because the immigrant communities came in small numbers — which is the case with most of Europe today. But even American multi-culturalismcould face a challenge when the proportion of immigrants starts rising beyond a certain threshold.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

ORDER ON ROADS

 

The experience elsewhere in the country is that an administrative measure alone is not enough to restore badly needed discipline on our roads. In the national capital, for instance, the traffic police enjoys enormous powers. It does not have to stop an erring or speeding vehicle. It has just to take down its number and post an order to the registered address of its owner asking him to deposit the prescribed fine by a due date. Penalties for various offences are well described. There is a widespread network for collecting them. Any default leads to an appearance before a court of law. The judiciary at one time intervened and substantially hiked the monetary punishment. Its intention was to curb rash and negligent driving. Instead, what transpired actually in the field was to the contrary. The cops felt emboldened to stop each and every means of transport on one pretext or the other. It turned out that there was gradually more corruption in the entire apparatus than ever before. Not surprisingly the increase was subsequently withdrawn. This does mean that the existing system is without flaws. A colleague in Delhi once found two traffic policemen brusquely coming to his residence with bailable summons for having jumped a red signal. The colleague argued that he was in Leh on the day of the alleged wrongdoing and also produced his air ticket to substantiate the argument. He took up the matter in the concerned court and was exonerated. Informal queries with the police later revealed that it believed that its men could not be faulted if they were not able to exactly see the number of each and every motor vehicle! There was absolutely no concern or remorse for having put an innocent citizen to the inconvenience of going through a legal rigmarole for no fault of his. 


With this background in view it is doubtful whether the new traffic regime being put in operation in the State from November 1 will yield the desired outcome. It seeks to discontinue the present dispensation of on-the-spot collection of fines by ensuring that the money thus obtained is deposited in banks. The other highlights are the installation of equipment to assess speed; formation of special squads to keep tabs on unscrupulous traffic policemen; rotational transfer of the staff so that they don't remain posted at one place for a long time; advice to transporter operator unions not to pay "hafta" (weekly extortion money) to the police just in case they are pressurised to do so; and, setting up close-circuit television at major crossings and additional such apparatus at a cost of Rs 10 crore. 


There is no novelty in any of these moves. The only innovation may be that we are being rather late in adopting them. As the example we have cited in the beginning reveals that the stringiest steps have not been worked to satisfaction even in metropolitan cities. It is our firm belief that the problem of reckless driving will disappear if the drivers and operators know that there is an honest cop waiting at a corner. It is necessary for the people in authority to evoke respect. On their part we as citizens should take the right route both while driving and in the face of pressure tactics. 

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

GHOST OF KARGIL

 

The ghost of the Kargil war goes on to haunt Pakistan especially its self-professed key architect and the neighbouring country's former President Pervez Musharraf and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is an open secret that the audacious move to cross the Line of Control (LoC) had seriously boomeranged on Islamabad . Mr Musharraf has never hidden his role in having engineered the armed excursion as the Army chief in 1999. Mr Sharif, on the other hand, has claimed that although he was the Prime Minister at that time he was kept in the dark --- an assertion which Mr Musharraf has dismissed as a pack of lies. There is a strong reason for Mr Sharif not to forget and forgive Mr Musharraf. He was overthrown in a military coup led by the latter. It was the deafening political fall-out of the Kargil battle. The two leaders (Mr Musharraf had not only usurped power but also made himself the President of country and has now floated a political party) continue to exchange barbs on the issue. Once again in London recently Mr Musharraf has said that Mr Sharif was in the know of the Kargil war. At the same time he has stated that Mr Sharif's efforts to make peace with India at the cost of "selling Kashmir" had resulted in the Kargil war. His statement may appear to be contradictory. If Mr Sharif was indeed interested in befriending India why then should he have gone on to stab India in the back? Unless, of course, the then Pakistani Premier was playing his country's familiar game of talking of peace only to stab India in the back (one has just to recall all that had followed the Tashkent Declaration, Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration leave alone the 1947 Standstill Agreement). For his part the General-turned-politician has maintained: ""What makes you think I declared war without the Prime Minister's knowledge? Please don't think so. Whatever had been done was in the knowledge of everyone…If you are going for peace by selling Kashmir and giving up your national interest, is that the peace that you want? No sir. Honour and dignity demand that you have peace with honour and dignity." 


It is not small wonder than that Mr Sharif too has fired a salvo in his direction. His party --- Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Sharif) has come out with a 17-point charge-sheet against the former military leader. It is part of its exercise to mount pressure on the federal government to get Mr Musharraf back to Pakistan for trial for high treason, murder of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti and corruption. What should be of interest to us is that Kargil figures at the centre of the charge-sheet. Mr Musharraf is accused of planning and undertaking the "misadventure", concealing it from the elected government and sacrificing the lives of 800 army officers and men. It is added that in doing so Mr Musharraf caused irreparable damage to the cause of the Kashmiri people and also a "very honourable peace process which was started by Mr Sharif in the shape of the Lahore Declaration." With this background in view there is only one conclusion that can be safely reached. It never pays to rush in like fools where angels fear to tread.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

AMEND SELECTION PROCESS FOR SCHOOL LECTURERS

BY PROF SALEEM AYAZ RATHER

 

After graduation students join university or PG colleges to pursue higher education i.e. Masters degree in the subject of their choice with an aim that a time will come when they will be able to apply for the post of a lecturer in School Education Department or as an Assistant Professor in the colleges. The eligibility criteria is not the same for colleges and schools. In colleges for the post of Assistant Professor, a Candidate Must be either Ph.D in the concerned Subject or should have cleared SLET OR NET with 55% marks in Masters Degree while as for the post of Lecturer 10+2 a candidate must be simply Postgraduate in the concerned subject. 


Now have a look at the selection Process for 10+2 Lecturer. There are two ways of selection.


* In service postgraduate Teachers having at least three years of permanent service to their credit are considered for promotion as +2 Lecturer through DPC but preference is given to those postgraduates working in the master grade in case master grade is not available in a particular subject then post graduate teachers are considerd for promotion irrespective of length of service.


* Through direct recruitment by state public service commission


Previously applications used to be invited by State Public Service Commission for 10+2 lecturer and candidates were called for interview and then on the basis of performance of candidates in the interview select lists were released because during those days no. of postgraduate candidates were not much more.


But today the number of postgraduate candidates is much more than the number of posts advertised even twenty to thirty times more and thus Public Service Commission is left with no other option but to conduct the screening test in order to short list the number of candidates to be called for interview. There is no doubt that state public service commission has launched fast tract recruitment programme and a large number of posts of +2 lecturers were filled in the shortest possible time and some select lists were released within 24 hrs of the interview conducted.


Public Service Commission invites experts from out side the state to conduct the interview of the short listed candidates so that only the best talent available is selected for this noble profession and transparency is maintained throughout the selection process but still a large no of candidates who are not selected complain of favouritism in the interview part of the selection process as most of the candidates selected are only having masters degrees while as candidates with higher qualification like M.Phil, SLET/NET, and Ph.D are ignored.There are large no. of candidates whose name not figure in the select list complain of favoritism in the selection process inspite of having higher qualifaction than those of selected candidates.


A candidate despite being Gold medalist in masters degree besides M. Phil and NET qualified appeared in the interview for +2 Lecturer twice but was not selected.Thus it justifies the proverb "the higher you go the cooler it is'' since proper weightage is not given to higher qualification. Is it justified that a candidate who puts his 2 to 5 years precious period of his life in acquiring higher qualification goes unrewarded in the hands of State Public Service Commission.


Teachers are said to be the builders of nation and a layman knows what will be the fate of that nation where incompetent hands are selected for this jobThe following suggestions can be taken into consideration in order to make the selection process more transparent.

(a)50 marks meant for interview part be reduced to 20 marks in order to minimize the chances of favouritism in the selection process.


(b)The weightage for academic merit(Masters Degree which is basic qualification for Lecturership) is presentlty30 marks be raised to 50 so that the candidates having higher percentage in masters degree are benefitted. The weightage for other higher/additional qualifications should be as under.


The weightage for Phd which is presently 05 be raised to 10 besides this the weightage for M. Phil/SLETorNET, though SLET/NET is now compulsory for Assistant professor in the colleges but if a candidates applies for +2 lecturer weightage must be given to the candidates who have qualified SLET or NET
Thus the candidates who are M. Phil or SLET /NET qualified be given 05 marks as weightage.The weightage for publications, extra curricular activities and the experience is ok i.e. 05 marks for each.


(c)There should be recording of the interview part of the selection process in order to make the selection process more transparent and also if a candidates feels that he was not awarded better in the interview part and thus could not make it to the select list, the whole record should be made available to the candidates after completion of certain formalties as may be prescribed by the Public Service Commission that also in the presence of an expert either from within the state or from outside the state.Thus there will be no room left for any favouritism and selection process will become transparent one.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SIGNIFICANCE AND HURDLES IN GST IMPLEMENTATION

BY V .K. GROVER

 

Missing its implementation deadline of April 2010, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime is now expected to be introduced anytime in fiscal 2011 as a part of the impacting structural tax changes. Undoubtedly, it is patiently awaited as the single most important tax reform initiative in India since independence. It is expected to provide a significant boost to investment and growth of the economy and will have a far reaching impact on virtually all aspects of businesses operating in the country. The GST is proposed to apply to both Goods and Services, covering virtually all sectors and industries. The system is all set to replace the complex mechanism of levies on goods and services at the Central and State levels.


The economic reforms which were initiated in 1991 by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister and now Prime Minister, will culminate with the introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) and a new Direct Tax Code (DTC). 


Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a part of the proposed tax reforms that centre round evolving an efficient and harmonized consumption tax system in the country. Presently, there are parallel systems of indirect taxation at the central and state levels. Each of the systems needs to be reformed to eventually harmonize them. World over, Goods and Services attract the same rate of tax but for India. That is the foundation of a GST. Goods and Services Tax is nothing but a step forward towards progressive convergence of the service tax rate and the CENVAT (central VAT) rate. Under the GST, there will be no distinction among manufacturers, traders and service providers. At present, traders don't get credit for anything other than state VAT. The world over, retailers get credit on the taxes they pay in creating infrastructure. In India, they don't. 

Officials say the proposed switch over to GST would be an even greater challenge than the move to Value Added Tax (VAT) at the state level earlier, as the rollout of the GST throws up issues in key areas of business such as; pricing of products and services, supply chain optimization, accounting and tax compliance systems, cash flow management, investment planning besides, transitions to new tax 
The 13th Finance Commission has been mandated to prepare a road map for the GST, after the fulfillment of government's obligation under the FRBM Act. Since the Commission is appointed every five years, its recommendations are mandatory for the Centre and States. Recommending the deferment of the implementation of GST, the Finance Commission reasoned it delay saying, 'it would be appropriate for the Council (empowered committee) to postpone the implementation. The Commission stressed on the need for strong political consensus and significant role of the finance ministers, the commission's task force report has pointed out that the benefit to the poor from the implementation of GST will flow from two sources: first through increase in the income levels and second through reduction in prices of goods consumed by them'. The proposed switch over to the 'flawless' GST should, therefore be viewed as pro-poor and not regressive, it has said, 'hence, the switchover will improve the vertical equity of the indirect tax system'. The last meetings of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers in early January and thereafter could not reach a consensus on what the revenue neutral rate (RNR) of a GST should be (the rate which would leave the states with at least same level of tax revenue as at present). Despite some differences the Finance Ministers of various states constituting the Empowered Committee including that of Jammu and Kashmir Mr. Abdul Rahim Rather have been making relentless and vigorous efforts to make GST venture a success and working for smooth transition of VAT regime to that of GST.


In January 2010, Department of Revenue replied to various points stated by empowered committee of state finance ministers in their report. The reply of the DOR (Department of Revenue) can be classified into three groups, i.e. 

i) Where DOR seconded the views of Empowered committee;
ii) Where DOR rejected the views of Empowered committee; and 
iii) Where DOR made additions to views of Empowered committee.
A lot more clarity is required on the proposed design of the GST with a number of issues yet to be settled, particularly, as to which taxes will be subsumed under the new tax? The GST task force of the 13th Finance Commission has recommended a revenue neutral rate of 12 percent rate on all items. While States would get 7%, the remaining 5% would go to the Centre, according to the task force. Such a low rate will be feasible only if the GST base expands by such extent that even after compensating for various loses (due to elimination of CST and the increase in input tax credit in an integrated GST), the additional revenue would be large enough to be able to bring down the rate substantially.


The discussion paper prepared by the Empowered Committee of state finance ministers had however suggested four rates under GST. The Centre and States are still in consultation, and they are almost reaching a consensus on how to implement the ambitious GST scheme. Besides the rate to be fixed for GST, the quantum of compensation to be paid to the states during implementation of the system was a thorny issue which has almost been resolved. One must appreciate the contentions of the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee when he said, 'we should look at a full-fledged rollout of GST. Let it take as much time as required'. Dolling out exemptions and special provisions would kill the spirit of harmonization under GST. 


Yet another area of concern under the GST appears to be the preservation of the principle of 'fiscal federalism' as enshrined in the Constitution of India, which would require significant amendments to empower both the Central and State Governments to levy GST. Until recently, states such as Tamil Nadu had openly expressed reservations about moving to the GST regime. To what extent the states will have to be compensated for the loss of revenues due to the abolition of the central sales tax is yet to be decided. Unless, a formula for compensation of losses is worked out quickly, the consensus to move to GST is inconsequential. Since the success of the GST would depend critically on the rate of taxation, an urgent need is to have a very realistic estimate of the RNR, which would be based on accurate data and to reconcile various estimates that are already available, including various state estimates. It may be recalled that the implementation of VAT at the state level was delayed on this account in the past. 


It is, by now, well recognized that successful implementation of GST is based on substantive IT capability; both at the tax administration level and at the tax payer level. GST being a destination-based consumption tax, capturing details of inter-state transactions could be important. A comprehensive IT system is, therefore, imperative to share the tax-related information among the various states in order to check revenue leakages and to ensure compliance. Accordingly, companies are working with their information technology vendors on the changes needed to capture a lot of data that would be required to claim credits. As Bobby Parekh, partner, BMR Advisors, puts it, 'Everything you purchase will be available as credit; accounting systems will have to reconfigured to capture the data'. 


Moreover, with GST draft law not ready, the Companies have formed internal teams to understand how GST will affect their bottomline, working capital, supply chain, manufacturing, long term contracts, and new investments. Companies fear that the impact on working capital could be significant, as all transactions, including stock transfers, will be subjected to GST. A company pays excise when it manufactures and ships its goods and VAT when it sells. When GST comes, it will have to be paid as soon as there is a stock transfer. But the company will be able to claim credit on tax paid only when it finally sells the goods, which could take months. The company's money will be blocked in this period 


The fact that GST as an efficient modern tax system would curtail inefficiency of VAT, compel better compliance, reduction in transactional cost and confirm buoyancy in revenue. Quite notably, bringing of GST into being will result in automatic compliance and also encourage documentation. Surely, this one piece of legislation is going to have a significant impact on our economy.


(The author is a practicing senior taxation lawyer)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

GAMES CRITICS KNOCKED PUT

BY ALLABAKSH

 

The Commonwealth Games in Delhi will be long remembered for the knockout punch India gave to all the Cassandra's who were writing obituaries of the biggest gathering of sportsmen and women from Britain and its former colonies right till the moment the games were formally opened a day after Gandhi jayanti.
And what a fatal blow it was for the Indian and foreign critics of the games. The 60,000-capacity Jawaharlal Nehru stadium erupted into spontaneous burst of joy and excitement as the ceremonies started with mass dancing and singing, colourful fireworks and a huge Rs 40-crore helium balloon lifting off the ground, not to speak of the march past by the athletes.


The audience included the President of India, Pratibha Devi Singh Patil, Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne and his wife, and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Also present were many representatives of sports bodies and media personnel, including those who had issued grave warnings of impending disaster because India was not prepared, they said, to host the big sporting event.


While nobody can claim that everything went off perfectly well in organising the games, what matters is that India was not let down. The games started on schedule and despite continuous carping by a handful, everything looked good, even the 'filthy' and 'unliveable' games village and the 'incomplete' stadiums. 
It was neither the first time that India was playing host to a big event nor was it the first time that some quarters were ridiculing the country's competence and the ability to stage those events. Take a few examples of big sporting events.


In early 1950s, India was just emerging from the shadows of a long past of slavery and foreign rule that had no interest in promoting India or the talent of its people. Yet, the first Asian Games were held in Delhi and quite successfully too, though the biggest landmark of that event was what is today known as Major Dhyan Chand Hockey Stadium- a modest sporting monument of the early days of independent India. Decades later, the same Asian Games returned to Delhi in 1982, this time staged with panache and precision. 
Similarly, the first big international event held in India (Delhi) was the UNCTAD conference when despite uncertainties and fear the country was able to build a big meeting hall of international standard (Vigyan Bhavan), construct multi-storeyed flats on Curzon Road (now Kasturba Gandhi Marg) near India Gate for the hundreds of UN employees who were to be part of the conference and also give Delhi its first royal-size five star hotel, the Ashoka, in what was then a still developing diplomatic enclave (Chanakyapuri). 
It is not the place to recount the occasions in the past when India, a free country with strong democratic institutions and practices, was able to rise to the occasion, meeting challenges squarely. The remarkable thing was that till well into the 1990s, India was hardly considered better than the average 'third world' country.
India then lacked the confidence in its capabilities that it exudes today when it is counted as a major international player and a rising economic power. The effect of the criticism hurled at the organising committee of the Commonwealth Games was to show or suggest that India's present acclaimed status is undeserving. One Australian worthy had said that India did not 'deserve' to be allotted the Commonwealth Games. 
Speaking of Australia, it must still be fresh in the memory of many that an enterprising and particularly imaginative Australian reporter had done a 'sting' operation in Delhi to inform audiences all over the world that security was so lax at the main stadium of the Commonwealth Games that he could walk through with a suitcase filled with explosives that could devastate the stadium and many surrounding areas. 
All he did, according to a section of the Australian media, which exposed him, was walk through a road barrier put up to slow down vehicles with an empty suitcase along a road that was quite some distance from the main stadium. If that was an example of how 'entertaining' the media could be when it comes to denigrating a country, the more 'absorbing' stories came from the 'sanitary inspectors' who were obviously so dazzled by the dirt, filth and disease they saw everywhere in Delhi that they had little time to write about the facilities for the big event. 


India was much criticised by some of the 'rich' Commonwealth nations for not providing all the facilities their players are used to. But these very countries would be hard put to explain how they have never cared to even find out from visiting Indian teams and delegations if they have any special dietary or other needs. 
As they do often, a section of the Indian media critics did a somersault after the 'spectacular' (their word) opening of the games as they poured out all the adjectives and superlatives. But a section of the foreign media deserves praise for being absolutely steadfast in giving precedence to the 'negative' news even when reporting the progress of the games event.


The BBC, for instance, would rarely begin its news bulletins without mentioning something that damages the image of the organisers of the games. It included the 'concern' being felt when workers were found cleaning a stadium hours before an event and the technical glitches that occurred as though this was a totally novel experience.


The biggest worry for that voice of the British establishment was the fact that the sporting events were not attracting enough spectators. It came with the suggestion that the head of the organising committee had breached a code when he announced that he would allow students and 'poor' people to attend the games events free of charge. Most Indians would find it puzzling that thin attendance is a sign of poor management of a sport event and it is a cardinal sin to open the gates free to spectators. 


But irony or ironies! Many Indians and foreigners are now being heard saying that after hosting the Commonwealth Games, India can now legitimately aspire to bid for the Olympics. One can bet, if India does do that, the scenes preceding the 19th Commonwealth Games would be replayed-for the benefit of latecomers. (Syndicate Features)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

INDIA, US NEED EACH OTHER

THEIR TIES MUST HAVE OLD WARMTH

 

THE Centre for New American Security, a US think tank, has rightly assessed that the relations between India and the US need a fresh infusion of life. The Obama administration has been less forthcoming in supporting India's aspirations than the erstwhile Bush administration did. President Bush gave India its deserved placed in the emerging global order. He realied that the US would not be able to play the desired role on the global stage, particularly in Asia, without India's active cooperation. He agreed to enter into a civilian nuclear deal with India by acknowledging the fact that New Delhi had an unblemished record as a nuclear weapons state. India has contributed immensely to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation despite not being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

 

However, since the very beginning President Obama has been looking up to China, though India and the US as two great democracies have some common factors to strengthen their relations. The Obama administration is unnecessarily worried about the provisions of the Nuclear Liability Bill, passed by Parliament with a view to operationalising the Indo-US nuclear deal. The US President should not overlook the fact that no law can be enacted in a democracy without taking into view the concerns of the people. India is not unfair in having a law which fixes responsibility on the suppliers of nuclear reactors and other equipment in case of a nuclear disaster.

 

President Obama's talk of denying tax benefits to those US companies which outsourced their jobs also reflected his negative approach vis-à-vis India. American IT firms and other companies have been outsourcing jobs because this suits them economically. They have been doing no favour to India. If the development has benefited India it is because of the suitable skills acquired by Indians, who are satisfied with far less remuneration compared to what is demanded by US professionals. These facts must be made clear to President Obama during his coming visit to New Delhi. Besides the issues related to commerce and economics, what can bring Indo-US relations to a higher level is the Obama administration's support for India's case as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Let us hope the US President will utilise the opportunity of his India visit to make such a commitment.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

IT'S SAD

NEEDLESS TARGETING OF MANPREET

 

IT was tough for the Shiromani Akali Dal leadership to deal with Mr Manpreet Singh Badal when he was the Finance Minister. He had pushed for the acceptance of the Central conditions for availing the Rs 35,000-crore debt relief. However, the party and the government seem to find it tougher to tackle him after he has left the government. All the recent developments – the alleged bugging of his house and mobile phone, the ransacking of his erstwhile office, none-too-covert attempts to thwart his first public meeting in his constituency, Gidderbaha, and the locking up of the gurdwara at Kahnuwan in Gurdaspur district to stop his interaction with the gathering – show in poor light the functioning of the SAD-BJP government.

 

In fact, by continuously targeting Mr Manpreet Badal soon after his departure from the government, the SAD leaders have raised his stature in the eyes of the people. There were some who had earlier believed it might be a battle of succession between the two cousins for the political legacy of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. But the recent obstructive tactics are bound to help him win more public sympathy. The impressive response to Mr Manpreet Badal's first public meeting at Gidderbaha despite official hurdles, it seems, has unnerved the political leadership.

 

Besides, the young rebel is sober in his speech, talks of the larger economic issues confronting the debt-ridden state and avoids personal attacks on his detractors. On the contrary, the government is gunning for him. It first ducked the loan waiver issue, then denied there was any offer (how can there be when the issue is at the discussion stage?) and now the use of official machinery and party apparatus to stop him from exercising his democratic right to address public meetings. The Akali Dal government badly needs mature advisers to meet the challenge posed by the ousted Finance Minister.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ARUNDHATI'S CALL TO ARMS

VIOLENCE IS NO ANSWER TO TRIBALS' PROBLEMS

 

BOOKER Prize winner Arundhati Roy's deep concern over the plight of the poor and downtrodden people is understandable and unexceptionable. So is her revulsion for any form of state repression. But the way she has tried to justify violence by Maoists and Naxalites while she addressed functions organised by the Anti-Operation Green Hunt Democratic Front at Jalandhar and Ludhiana recently is hardly justifiable. In fact, such call to arms can be counterproductive, considering that it may encourage some hot-headed persons to massacre policemen — as has happened many times in the past — and may strengthen the state's case for resolute action against those indulging in mayhem and violence. 

 

Ironically, she has at the same time pooh-poohed the "satyagraha", the non-violent Gandhian form of protest, calling it "political theatre". If she has her way, the State will have to surrender before terrorists, extremists or separatists, be it in Manipur, Nagaland, Punjab, Kashmir or any other part of the country. In her scheme of things, the entire blame lies with the Army and the police which have been used to suppress armed struggles. According to her, the state agencies are always wrong; the Maoists and other such groups are always right.

 

Her voice would have carried more weight if she had steered clear of endorsing extreme measures. The ideal remedy lies in adequate socio-economic development of the neglected areas and adequate firmness by the government so that the poverty-stricken people do not fall a prey to any form of extortion, be it at the hands of the corporate houses or the administration itself. These two goals should form the core of the wish list of people like her who have their hearts at the right places and have the intense desire to do something for the have-nots.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

OMAR MERELY REAFFIRMED THE J&K STATUS

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

THE frenzy that followed Omar Abdullah's statement in the J&K Assembly on October 6 was much ado about nothing, based on a poor understanding of the facts and process of the post-Independence integration of the princely states. The Assembly was in turmoil and BJP and Panthers Party MLAs had to be ejected from the Chamber for unruly behaviour.

 

The chief minister was accused of challenging Kashmir's accession and its status as an integral part of India. He did nothing of the kind. Outraged Pandits accused him of fostering separatism. Syed Ali Shah Geelani hailed Omar's statement as a belated admission of the bitter truth of a "dispute" that required a "political settlement" and hailed it as a great separatist "victory". Poor man! His delusions grow by the day.

 

What are the facts? Article 1(2) of the Constitution read alongside the First Schedule (and the corresponding provisions of the J&K constitution) names J&K as a constituent unit of the Union and as much an integral part of India as Bihar or Gujarat. Omar did not question this.

 

The BJP has consistently misinterpreted and misunderstood Article 370. This falls under the chapter governing "temporary, transitional and special provisions". It defines the special relationship between the Union and J&K and the mechanism for modifying it.

 

Much anger was aroused by Omar's statement that J&K acceded conditionally in 1947 but did not merge with India like other princely states. He is perfectly correct. Accession, in the case of all states, was limited to the three heads of defence, foreign affairs and communications. This was followed in one or more steps by merger agreements that were concluded individually with larger states and collectively with smaller states brought together to form coherent units like Kathiawar, PEPSU, Matsya, Chhattisgarh and the Eastern (Orissa) and Deccan states union.

 

V.P. Menon explains ("The Integration of the Indian States") that the peremptory merger of any state after accession would have been contrary to Sardar Patel's assurances to the Princes on July 5, 1947, and the subsequent commitment formally made by the Viceroy in the Chamber of Princes on July 25, 1947. He comments, "it was true that at that time we were anxious by the policy of accession on three subjects to preserve the integrity of the country, thus preventing the states from becoming so many 'Ulsters' in the body-politic". The rulers of the Eastern States Union and of Chhattisgarh signed the merger agreement on December 15, 1947. On January 26, 1948, at its very first meeting, the Constituent Assembly of the United Deccan States resolved that it merge with Bombay province. Kohlapur, a stand-out, merged some weeks later. Saurashtra, Matsya and Vindhya Pradesh followed

 

In the case of the Rajasthan Union, Menon notes it was made obligatory on the Rajpramukh "to accept all the subjects in the Federal and Concurrent Lists for legislation by the Dominion Legislature, excepting entries relating to taxation and duties". Financial integration followed. This was repeated in regard to Travancore-Cochin and Mysore. J&K remained the only exception. It acceded but did not merge. Article 370 survives.

 

Omar Abdullah merely reaffirmed the special status of J&K. If Geelani takes comfort in this it means he accepts that the state is an integral part of India. Critics took umbrage at Omar's referring to the "dispute" over J&K. Nothing wrong there. It is not the fact but the nature of the dispute that is in contention. From the Indian point of view, the dispute revolves around Pakistan's failure to vacate its aggression which India took to the UN Security Council in 1948. If Omar called for a political resolution of the matter, he merely stated the obvious.

 

Pakistan has now fired its annual broadside in the UN, going back on the Manmohan-Musharraf formula that General Musharraf has again insisted was fairly close to becoming a done deal — when he backed off after messing things up at home. His statement that Islamabad had sponsored terror groups in Pakistan to operate against Kashmir (read India), later crudely retracted (but recently confirmed by the UN Commission that inquired into Benazir Bhutto's killing), merely conforms to the familiar pattern of Pakistan's rulers living a lie since 1947. His justification of the Kargil war and jihad — to make India talk on Kashmir — further confirms Pakistan's reliance on aggression and terror as legitimate instruments of state policy!

 

Meanwhile, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind and the Darul Ulema Deoband have described J&K as an integral part of India and that Kashmiri demands must be addressed within the framework of the Indian Constitution. This apostasy has drawn fire from Kashmir separatists who would deny Muslim Indians any locus standi in J&K.

 

A commentary on some of Geelani's collected writings, "Kashmir: Nava-e-Hurriyat", originally published in Pakistan, by Yoginder Sikand in the October 2, 2010, issue of the Economic and Political Weekly, reveals the totally warped thinking of the man. His thesis is that Partition was based on religion and Muslim-majority J&K and the Indus waters therefore rightfully belong to Pakistan and not to "Hindu India". He does not explain the referendum in the NWFP to determine its future and why Pakistan claimed several Hindu-majority principalities, invaded J&K when it was independent between August 15 and October 22, and refused to vacate its established aggression as required by the UN in 1948 preparatory to a plebiscite.

 

Geelani, like many Pakistanis, has not read Jinnah's repudiation of the two-nation theory in his August 11, 1947, address to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, discounting any commonality between Muslims even within Pakistan. Geelani is like an unabashed Pakistani for whom the Kashmir jihad is a duty imposed by Islam on the worldwide Muslim ummah. These are the rantings of a sick mind. Let us all get our facts and history right.

 

The new J&K non-political interlocutors, Dileep Padgaonkar, M.M. Ansari and Radha Kumar, and the two task forces for Jammu and Ladakh, just appointed, have knowledgte, balance and experience and must now be given a chance to get a quiet dialogue going. Political endorsement will necessarily have to follow. If anyone wishes to stay out of the dialogue, let them not think they command a veto. The caravan must move on.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

REAL UNREAL

BY JUPINDERJIT SINGH

 

SHORTLISTED from among lakhs of enthusiastic applicants, I entered the last interview board with swollen chest and my head held high. But the frown on the face of the interviewer wasn't encouraging, to say the least.

 

"I think there has been some mistake in shortlisting you," he began.

 

"Why, sir, I think I am a fit candidate for your reality show," I exuded confidence thinking they must be checking my nerves and making me uncomfortable. After all, that is what they do in reality shows, putting one in an uncomfortable situation.

 

"No, my dear gentleman. You just don't fit the bill," he said firmly, "and I will just prove it now."

 

I was shaken but readied myself for the onslaught. "Please do, sir," I said hoping it was all a trap for me and I will not fall in it.

 

"Have you ever been caught driving rashly, or running over a cop or sleeping labourers?"

 

"No, sir, I follow all the traffic rules," I said, proud at myself.

 

"Did you ever beat a colleague or a senior?"

 

The answer was again a proud no.

 

"Are you in an abusive relationship? I mean do you beat your wife?"

 

"No, absolutely not. Only a coward uses his might on a woman," I said, again with pride.

 

"Oh, then does your wife beat you?" he retorted.

 

"God forbid, sir, what are you saying. We have a healthy relationship." I said much to his disappointment.

 

"Were you caught in an immoral activity? Were you ever involved in any national or international controversy? Were you ever caught stealing, were you a master swindler or something, or were you or any of your forefathers dacoits in the Chambal ravines?

 

He asked all those in one breath. I again replied in the negative, adding: "Sir, I am a journalist. Can't I fit in?"

 

"Oh, you are a journalist? So were you part of any international / national scandal," he asked hoping to get some celebrity status out of me.

 

"Sir, I did some investigative stories," I said hoping to make a mark now but he cut me short.

 

"No, no, were you part of a scandal, means were you involved in it and blew it off when you were chucked out of the elite group?"

 

"Sir….."

 

"Did you pose naked ever or were you ever involved in a sleazy MMS, drug scandal?" he fired more salvos. "No," he answered himself, "then why would people see you?"

 

"Sir, I have tried to follow a straight line in life."

 

"Ha ha ha ha…then, my dear commoner, just turn back and follow the straight line back to your house. And when you do so, think of doing something exciting in life." His words echoed for long.n

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

PAID NEWS: THE SCOURGE OF DEMOCRACY

PAID NEWS DURING ELECTIONS HAS BECOME A BIG THREAT TO DEMOCRACY. EVEN AS POLITICIANS ARE GUILTY OF SUBVERTING DEMOCRACY, MEDIA HOUSES ARE ENTERING INTO CLANDESTINE DEALS WITH CANDIDATES AND POLITICAL PARTIES. A CLOSE LOOK BY TWO EXPERTS ON ELECTORAL REFORMS.

TRILOCHAN SASTRY

 

THE report of the Press Council of India's (PCI) Committee on Paid News needs to be appreciated. The problem is not new. Anyone with money or power — high net worth individuals, corporations, powerful trusts in health, education and so on, and people in power — always had some degree of influence. They could control advertisement revenue flows to a particular media house.

 

There is also a natural reluctance to take on the rich and powerful. For instance, Professors from a leading Business School in the US say in private that it is not advisable to expose the dealings of some of the big corporations in India. Here we look at only one aspect of it — paid news during elections.

 

The phenomenon existed for at least a decade, but recent exposures by the media and the PCI's detailed report show the extent to which it has spread.

 

]We ask three simple questions. What are the roots of this problem? How does this affect good governance? What if anything can be done about it? The roots of the problem are clear. Both the media and the political system need money. On the one hand, there is intense competition in the media with hundreds of newspapers, magazines and TV channels. They are under pressure to earn profits. Some of the reporters, journalists and editors are also exposed to temptation when money is offered. Beyond individual corruption, media houses are entering into clandestine deals with candidates and political parties.

 

On the other hand, elections have become a very high stakes game as candidates and parties pour in huge sums of money to ensure a win. There is a proliferation of political parties, spending more and more money to woo smaller and smaller vote banks. For a fraction of what they spend on wooing voters, they can buy some sections of the media. The roots are, therefore, in the intense competition and complete commercialisation of media and politics. This was inevitable, and the trend was clear for several years. We as a society did not sufficiently anticipate how big the problem would become.

 

The impact of paid news during elections and its long-term implications also need to be clearly understood. Debates on paid news seem confined to the English media. The majority of voters in the country are exposed to the Indian language media. Selected candidates or political parties are built up by the media. Political parties or their leaders own newspapers and TV channels. In this situation, there is a good chance that voters are influenced.

 

While we can debate the extent of money involved and its influence on the eventual outcome, the real question is: what kind of governance can we expect from someone who wins using dubious means? They are either the rich and powerful, or people who will stop at nothing to further their ends. Once in power, they will use it to recover their investments, and to manipulate the system in the interests of those who support them.

 

High stakes, high investment elections have become the norm. Big money was perhaps always ready to accommodate those in power, a few honourable exceptions apart. But now they find that the balance has tipped — they need not humour those in power. Those in power are now eager to humour them.

 

Big money is also flirting with directly entering politics instead of merely manipulating it from behind. This is a dangerous tipping point in the life of a nation, and we have reached it. In a two-part nation like ours, with India and Bharat on different sides, the implications are not difficult to see. On the one hand, politics will increasingly become populist, with more subsidies and concessions to vote blocks. That is because we have a very fragmented political system with small vote banks, and those in power often do not have the stamina or political strength to tackle the real problems of the country. They find it easier to build vote banks.

 

On the other hand, there will be further sell out to corporate interests. This is not to paint the entire corporate sector as greedy and manipulative. But sections of it are definitely putting pressure on governments to bend rules, get tax concessions and get new laws passed. We will also see bigger and bigger mega projects coming up (that is already happening) involving huge sums of money. If the government cannot pay for it, we will use the PPP (Public Private Partnership) model, with some deals clearly favouring the investor over the consumer.

 

Large-scale scams periodically hit the headlines. And the recent Commonwealth Games is only a case in point. Behind all this, the problem of black money will further spiral upwards. The real danger ahead is whether we will end up tarring the moral fabric of our society itself. In short, paid news contributes significantly to bad governance.

 

Tackling the problem of paid news is not easy, and even if we succeed, the nexus between money and power will not entirely go away. One radical solution is to change the structure of media from a profit-making one, to a not-for-profit model, either as a society or trust, much like educational and religious organisations.

 

There is also a crying need for more credible, honest media houses that are independent of big money and power. The Press Council of India's detailed report also has some excellent suggestions, and we need to consider them seriously. It includes an enforceable code of conduct, complete and transparent disclosure of paid news, inclusion of the electronic media under the PCI's jurisdiction, disclosure of all interests and share holdings of the media house and its owners, and strengthening the Election Commission to tackle this issue during elections. With the political system and the judiciary under a cloud, we cannot afford to soft-peddle the issue of media reforms.

 

The writer is Dean, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

PRESS COUNCIL REPORT HIDES MORE THAN IT REVEALS

JAGDEEP S. CHHOKAR

 

PAID news amounts to a media outlet such as a newspaper, news magazine, or a TV channel printing or telecasting something purported to be news not because it is or is considered to be newsworthy but because someone pays them to do so. The 2009 elections to the Lok Sabha and some State Assemblies brought it to full glory.

 

Since paid news has the clear potential to vitiate the electoral process and thus undermining the very basis of democracy, the first agency to take action is considered to be the Election Commission of India (ECI). While it is true that the ECI does have the overall responsibility of "the superintendence, direction and control" of the conduct of elections to Parliament and State Assemblies, under Article 324 of the Constitution, the ECI has to function within the limits laid down in the Constitution and its interpretation by the judiciary, specially the Supreme Court.

 

The ECI's powers are not completely unfettered and that is the way it should be in a democracy with no one institution being above any other or the law.

 

The main, statutory media-related institution is the Press Council of India (PCI), set up under the Press Council Act, 1978. The PCI did take up the matter of paid news and appointed a two-member committee to study the phenomenon. An extract from the PCI's final report of July 30, 2010, reads as follows:

 

"Having realised the dangers of 'paid news' to democracy as well as the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution of India, on June 9, 2009, the Press Council of India appointed a Sub-Committee comprising Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Kalimekolam Sreenivas Reddy 'to examine the phenomenon of paid news observed during the last Lok Sabha elections…' The report of the Sub-Committee was discussed in detail by the Press Council in its two meetings … on March 31, 2010 and April 26, 2010. Members gave a number of suggestions and thereafter, the Press Council of India Chairman appointed a (12-member) Drafting Committee to prepare a final report for the consideration of the Council…The Drafting Committee considered the views expressed during various meetings of the Press Council and has drafted a report for the consideration of the Council."

 

While the above quote reads as a straightforward one, it hides more than it reveals, as is sometimes said of statistics. What it hides is that a 71-page document which describes in considerable detail how exactly the phenomenon of paid news operates, has been watered down to a 13-page non-controversial statement which gives four recommendations, all requiring action by the government by amend two existing laws, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and the Press Council Act, 1978, giving the Press Council more powers.

 

There are two ironies in the PCI seeking more powers for itself. One is its exercise of its existing powers. This can be expressed no better than written by a journalist, P. Sainath, "Thus a body entrusted with 'Preserving the freedom of the Press and improving the standards of Press in India' has set an appalling standard. The guardian of Press freedom stands as an arbitrary censor of truthful journalism. It has acted less like the 'watchdog of the Press' that its ideals call for. And more like the lapdog of the powerful media owners who stood to be exposed by the report of its own sub-committee. (emphasis supplied)."

 

The other irony is that this body the stated objective of which is "to preserve the freedom of the Press" is, itself, and in effect, asking for more governmental interference! The Press Council Act was enacted in 1978, in the afterglow of the lifting the infamous Emergency, and one of its stated functions is "to concern itself with development such as concentration of or other aspects of ownership of newspapers and news agencies which may affect the independence of the Press." To what extent has it fulfilled this function is left to the judgment of the reader.

 

A new strain of the same phenomenon has been reported from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar by Mrinal Pande. This took the form of some "of the most dreaded dons" of the area, and some "noted criminal of the area who has been on the run from the police for three years and carries a hefty reward on his head" inserting full and half-page advertisements in the leading newspapers of the area conveying their good wishes to the people at large on festival days.

 

Being pretty much identical to hoardings one sees on street corners, at least in major cities, put up by so-called "political workers" wishing people on festivals, this is nothing but building up a public image which then can be cashed in on election times. The nexus between "buying" newspaper space either covertly as paid news or overtly as advertisements, to influence electoral outcomes is thus clear.

 

No agency or institution seems to be willing to take it on. It will have to be done by those who stand to lose the most by desecration of the media, and those are people who really believe they belong to the profession of journalism. It finally has to be the professionalism, or the commitment to the integrity of their profession, that will have to carry the day.

 

The writer is a former Dean, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad


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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

CRICKET'S GREAT BRADMAN BARRIER

HE WAS LABELLED THE NEW DON YEARS AGO, BUT IT'S ONLY NOW THAT SACHIN HAS MANAGED TO ATTAIN INIMITABILITY


How do you begin writing an article on Sachin Tendulkar? Do you start with his 21 years in international cricket? His 32,000 runs? His 95 centuries? Do you skip the tangible altogether and focus on his impact, first on a nation flirting with liberalisation and then emerging as a potential economic power? Or do you reject that cerebral line and launch a sincere exploration of not what Tendulkar means to cricket but what cricket means to him? 

 

Over the years I've gone down each path on multiple occasions in an attempt to interpret the life and times of Sachin Tendulkar – thinking each time that it was my last such analysis. 


But somehow Tendulkar keeps adding new dimensions, not just to his cricket but to the larger debate about his place in history. These aren't mere statistical additions – like another ton in his inexorable march towards 100 international centuries, or another match-altering knock in a career where every few innings would qualify as one. With Sachin, it's not more of the same; the longer he's playing, the scope of his achievements is increasing proportionally. 

 

While a number of my colleagues had long ago dubbed Tendulkar the next Don Bradman, and then over the last few years described him as greater than the Australian, I strongly believed that the two names did not belong in the same sentence. For too long we've been a country obsessed with Sachin's greatness, and I felt such an unreasonable, lofty comparison took away from his true place in cricket history rather than manifesting it more strongly. 

 

But today, with him not stopping despite age and injury, even the cynic inside me cannot deny that there is something Bradmanesque about Tendulkar. This change of heart, mind you, is not based on a statistical point about an unbelievable average versus an insane number of runs. It is neither a study of modern-day batting as opposed to the uncovered-pitch, nohelmet '30s and '40s, nor a hypothetical study of what Bradman would've done if not for the war and what Tendulkar might've achieved against just one opposition. 

 

What Bradman did, apart from galvanising a nation in the time of Empire, was push the boundaries of cricket beyond what was considered plausible. Before him, it would've been silly to talk of an average of 99.94, or 29 centuries in 52 Tests, or multiple hundreds before lunch, and triple-centuries in a day's play. All of a sudden, Bradman took the game to a dimension hitherto inconceivable, and his lasting superiority is that what heachieved, and how he did it, is impossible to replicate even today. 

 

Several other players since Bradman helped batting evolve. New shots were introduced, new statistical highs achieved. Runs were scored faster, under more pressure, on pitches uncharted, and in lands unconquered. Each era had its own great player – Len Hutton, Garry Sobers, Greg Chappell, Sunil Gavaskar, Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting – who changed the art of batting in his own special way. Even until a year ago, I felt that Tendulkar belonged to this list of batsmen. That any scale used to measure his greatness should be exclusive of Bradman, and see where he stands in relation with Richards, whom I considered the best of the lot. 
    By achieving all that he has in 2010 – the ODI double-century, the Test hundreds, the ICC Player of the Year award (in itself meaningless but in the context of his career momentous) – Tendulkar has forever changed the paradigm. 

 

Over the last 10 months, he has managed to transcend his own era, like only Bradman before him. No other player in cricket history has played at his peak for longer than Tendulkar. In his 21 years, it is impossible to pick one, or two, or three, or even five years, that stand out from the rest. He's put his foot on the pedal, and just not taken it off. There've been some lows, naturally, but even after all this time, they were bouts of poor form rather than signs of permanent decline. His skill, temperament, hunger for runs, somehow remain undiminished. That is his lasting legacy. 

 

It was always impossible to do a Don. Now, it's impossible to do a Sachin.

 

KUNAL PRADHAN LOOKS AT THE FLIP SIDE OF WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE WORLD OF SPORT

 

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******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

REWORK THE MFI MODEL

THE MORE AGGRESSIVE ARE ROCKING THE BOAT

 

The woes of micro-finance institutions (MFIs) have multiplied after the Andhra Pradesh government issued an ordinance imposing all manner of do's and don'ts, and sharp penalties for non-compliance. Paperwork will increase, without any certainty that the poor will be better protected, so there is a danger of micro-finance becoming both costlier and harder to come by. But is the original sin that of the MFIs? Did they invite the regulatory attention that will now burden the whole sector? If matters are not to get worse, they need to address the concerns created by reports of suicides resulting from coercive recovery. And Andhra Pradesh will set the lead for the rest of the country, as it has the largest share (23 per cent) of micro-finance clients in India. If micro-finance is to become a nationally successful model for providing institutional credit for the poor, it has to get its act right in Andhra Pradesh.

 

There are three issues that MFIs need to address. The first is the rate of interest. Most of the public discussion is over whether MFIs are overcharging, but it is not clear what they are charging in the first place. MFIs have to come forward and declare the effective rate of interest, all things considered, that borrowers have to pay. They have not done this till now, and large MFIs which are constituted as NBFCs are as culpable as the rest. Since these latter are the ones that matter — making up the bulk of MFI lending — and come under the supervision of the Reserve Bank of India, the regulator has to act promptly to promote both transparency and informed public discussion. Questions have been asked in the SKS context, of how high interest rates can be justified if profit margins are also high; if the high interest rates are warranted by the risky nature of the business, the high profit margins don't support the argument about risk.

 

 Second is the issue of multiple lending. Large, aggressive MFIs have earned the hostility of the state administration by seeking to entice members of self-help groups which come under a state-sponsored micro-finance programme. Multiple lending is the bane of the micro-finance movement, and it is rampant. Leading MFIs which have already formed the Micro-finance Institutions Network have to announce a road map to roll back multiple lending.

 

The third issue is group guarantee. The recent suicides have been attributed to coercive recovery methods. The recovery rate is one of the criteria that go into calculating the incentives for MFI field staff, so it is easy to see how pressure can build up. Micro-finance has to get out of the group guarantee format, as the path-breaking Grameen Bank of Bangladesh has done. Group guarantee has enabled MFIs to achieve a nearly perfect recovery rate, allowing them to flaunt a level of distressed assets which is far lower than that of commercial banks. But that too undercuts the defence of high interest rates.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

PLAY MISTRY FOR ME

ADITYA THACKERAY HAS CHOSEN THE LOW ROAD INTO POLITICS

 

If nothing else, Aditya Thackeray as the head of the newly minted Yuva Sena must be applauded for his consistency in upholding the tradition of cultural intolerance that masquerades as the ideology of the mother party, the Shiv Sena. His campaign to excise Rohinton Mistry's novel Such a Long Journey from Bombay University's curriculum, for containing what he considers remarks derogatory to his grandfather and father's party, probably helped him pass a loyalty test that the eldest Mr Thackeray can no longer take for granted from his family. Never mind if he hasn't actually read the book he has deemed offensive. Much criticism has been heaped on the eagerness of the vice-chancellor of Bombay University — a nominally autonomous institution — for the alacrity with which he acceded to one pupil's demand, as conveyed by the Sena's students' wing. No doubt, he is eager to avoid the kind of treatment to which Mr Mistry's novel refers — and which has been the fate of other academics who have cared to oppose fundamentalist protestors. Tacit support from Maharashtra's Minister of Education Rajesh Tope — who is not even from any Sena party — will strengthen their case.

 

If the youngest Mr Thackeray were to apply himself to a study of recent world history — and he appears to hail from St Xavier's history, not English, department — he would see that exclusionary ideologies are not viable in democracies, and mostly gain ground in times of economic stress. Hitler's Nazism — which the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper once described as "bestial Nordic nonsense" — fed on Germany's inter-war economic disintegration and built on latent anti-Semitism. Maharashtra's problems are not of the same magnitude, of course, but the stresses of globalisation on India's second-most populous state are all too evident. Maharashtra is one of India's fastest-growing states but its public finances are increasingly under stress, as are its industrial and agricultural infrastructure. That is why neither the private nor the agricultural sector has been able to fill the gap in employment left by the state government.

 

 This has, inevitably, created social tensions of the kind that created the ideological space for Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navanirman Sena, with its one-point agenda of reserving jobs for Maharashtrians — and establishing itself with calculated violence. Yet he has gained enough traction for the ruling Congress to consider it prudent to extend a cautious hand of support. West Bengal's Left Front government, presiding over an even greater economic decline, has in the past thought fit to waste its time banning Taslima Nasreen's writings if only to pander to one section of conservative voters. Aditya Thackeray has shown himself to be an ambitious politician, so he too has chosen an easy entrée into state politics. But if he were a serious one, he would be better off exerting himself to solving the many problems that afflict Maharashtra's shaky economic future. The state, after all, accounts for 13 per cent of the country's GDP and can ill-afford politicians — especially young ones — who waste their energy on pointless causes.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

 

COLUMN

EUROPE IN THE IMF

THE MANY EUROPEANS IN THE FUND DEFEND DIVERGENT NATIONAL INTERESTS, LEAVING COMMON INTERESTS UNREPRESENTED

DANIEL GROS

 

Europe's leaders never tire of reminding their constituencies, almost like a mantra, that the major emerging-market countries are overturning the existing global economic order. But when it comes to recognising that reality in the world's international financial institutions, they adopt a different tune. This is particularly true of the eurozone.

 

The eurozone as such has no representation in the international financial institutions. Instead, 12 eurozone countries are represented on the board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) via six different "constituencies", or country groups. The two largest, Germany and France, have a constituency all their own. Ten other eurozone members are part of four other constituencies headed by Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. However, these four constituencies also contain more than 20 other countries, most of which are not even EU members.

 

 Together with the Scandinavian and British constituencies, there are thus eight EU representatives on the IMF's executive board. Given that the IMF's Articles of Agreement stipulate that there can be only 20 board members, this means that 40 per cent of all the IMF's executive directors are from the EU, with one-third coming from the eurozone.

 

The IMF is a prime example of the over-representation of Europeans in international fora. Counter-intuitively, however, the excessive number of Europeans actually diminishes Europe's influence, because they usually defend national interests, which are often divergent. The net effect is that common European interests are not represented at all.

 

Contrast this current condition of extended misery with the only sensible, long-term solution: a pooling of IMF quotas by all eurozone countries. The eurozone would then have one constituency, or seat, on the Fund's executive board, filled by a candidate nominated by the eurozone group of finance ministers.

 

The European Central Bank could also, perhaps, be involved, nominating the deputy of the eurozone executive director at the Fund. In this way, Europe's fiscal and monetary authorities would be forced to cooperate in shaping their input into IMF decisions. Many countries (including Germany) already follow this "double-headed" approach.

 

The eurozone representative would be very influential, because she would represent an even larger quota than that of the US. Indeed, the US Treasury's de facto dominance within the IMF would become a thing of the past.

 

But, given the scant interest of European Union members in transferring further competences (and juicy international positions) to the EU level, the chances that this solution will prevail seem remote. Germany, in particular, feels that it has no reason to share its IMF representation with other, fiscally weaker eurozone members. And the French seem scared of contagion: once France agrees to a common eurozone seat at the IMF, others could cite it as a precedent to be applied to the United Nations Security Council, where France would then risk losing its permanent seat to a common EU representative.

 

Until now, the rest of the world could only grumble at Europe's obstinate refusal to recognise its relative decline. Since no European country would agree to give up its seat on the IMF's executive board, the only way out was to add more and more temporary seats for the dynamic and under-represented emerging economies.

 

Such a process, however, cannot go on forever, because with each increase in size, the IMF's board becomes less effective. This is why the US has now decided to throw a cat among the European pigeons.

 

The US (which has veto power) has now taken the stance that it will no longer approve the higher number of executive directors (24 at present). This has confronted the Europeans with a quandary: if they do not agree to give up some seats on the IMF board, some emerging countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, and perhaps even India, would lose theirs. The EU does not want to be held responsible for this. The pigeons are thus fighting among themselves over who should be sacrificed.

 

Until now, it could be argued that the eurozone did not have a common fiscal agency that could represent common eurozone interests. But this has changed with the creation of a European rescue fund in the form of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

 

Funding the next intra-eurozone rescue will be rather cumbersome and costly, because financial markets distrust complicated structures like the one set up to finance the EFSF. This suggests a golden opportunity for Europe to make a virtue of necessity by pooling its access to much-cheaper IMF funding.

 

If, for example, Ireland (or Spain) needed emergency support, the other eurozone countries could simply agree to lend it their IMF quotas. The troubled country could then rapidly obtain a large IMF loan, given that the eurozone countries' quotas total about €60 billion — and that IMF loans can easily reach multiples of the quota.

 

Creditor countries like Germany would also gain, because they would not need to extend vast sums in guarantees to the EFSF while still safeguarding their interests within the EFSF's existing structure. All eurozone members, then, have an interest in concentrating in a smaller number of constituencies, with the EFSF representing their collective interests within the IMF.

 

© Project Syndicate, 2010.www.project-syndicate.org 

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

SCRAP THE MMRCA, BUY US F-35S

THE F-35 WILL COMFORTABLY OUTCLASS EVERY ONE OF THE SIX FIGHTERS THAT THE IAF IS CURRENTLY EVALUATING

AJAI SHUKLA

 

Given the global buzz around the Indian Air Force's (IAF's) ongoing $10-billion procurement of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), my suggestion to scrap the process and, instead, go in for a straight buy of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightening II fighters is admittedly radical. But consider this: when the F-35 enters service, a couple of years from now, it will comfortably outclass every one of the six fighters that the IAF is currently evaluating. Thereafter, through the entire 30-40 year service life of the selected MMRCA, the IAF will fly a second-rung fighter when it could have gotten the best.

 

 The six fighters that the IAF has flight-tested over the last year — Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet; Lockheed Martin's F-16IN Super Viper; Dassault's Rafale; the Russian MiG-35; the Swedish Saab Gripen NG; and the Eurofighter — are categorised, even by their manufacturers, as Fourth Generation fighters. In contrast, the F-35 is globally acknowledged as a Fifth Generation fighter. The key to its superiority is stealth, making it effectively invisible to radar at longer ranges. This is a battle-winning advantage in aerial combat, where radars are the only way of "seeing" the enemy; the F-35 will detect enemy fighters and launch missiles at them, well before being detected. While attacking ground targets in enemy territory, the F-35 will remain undetected until it is too late to react. Unsurprisingly, each Fifth Generation fighter is the battlefield equivalent of three-four previous generation aircraft.

 

Since the IAF knows all this, why is the F-35 not in the MMRCA contest? Because, while framing the specifications for the 126-fighter tender in 2003, the IAF set the bar so low that the F-35 was overqualified. The Ministry of Defence (MoD), still nursing a hangover from the Tehelka sting expose, wanted to avoid potential controversy by having several vendors competing for the MMRCA order. Had the IAF been allowed to keep the long-term in mind, and to demand Fifth Generation capabilities, only the F-35 would have met the tender requirement. With that single-vendor situation an MoD bugaboo, the IAF''s specifications were dumbed down to bring in a clutch of Fourth Generation fighters.

 

When Lockheed Martin — one of the four vendors that received inquiries from the IAF in 2003-04 — studied the requirement, it offered the F-16 Super Viper, which it estimated met India's requirements. Offering the overqualified, and pricier, F-35 made little business sense: India's procurement rules give no credit for exceeding the tender requirements. The Defence Procurement Procedure mandates that the cheapest of the vendors that meets the technical requirements automatically wins a contract.

 

Price was just one reason for offering the F-16. With the F-35's prototype not even having flown then (it first flew in 2006), Lockheed Martin knew that the F-35 would not be available for flight-testing in the time frame that the IAF wanted. Senior IAF officers believe that Lockheed Martin made a strategic decision: to field the F-16 in the MMRCA competition; and later offer the F-35 as a Fifth Generation fighter, a logical follow-on to the F-16. But that offer (which officials confirm was made to the IAF later) was a non-starter: India had decided to partner Russia in jointly developing the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA).

 

Today, much has changed. The F-35 programme has moved into its production phase and will be flying operationally soon. Senior Lockheed Martin officials confirm that the US is more than keen to sell India the F-35. Meanwhile, a more confident MoD has demonstrated — through its single-vendor purchases of the C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft — that it has the political courage to buy American systems when they clearly outclass the competition.

 

Senior IAF officers, serving and retired, make two arguments against the F-35. Accepting that the F-35 far outclasses the other MMRCA contenders, they apprehend that scrapping the MMRCA purchase risks losing several years that the MoD will surely take for fresh evaluations and financial sanctions for buying the F-35.

 

This logic does injustice to the MoD, which has demonstrated in the C-130J and C-17 procurements that it is capable of acting decisively. Having shed its post-Kargil, Pakistan-centric mindset, and focusing on building credible offensive-defence capabilities against China, surely the MoD will not spend $10 billion on fighters that will be outclassed with the inevitable appearance of Chinese Fifth Generation fighters over the Himalayas.

 

The other IAF concern is that, with the F-35 still under development, there is little clarity on when it will become available or on what terms. But the announcement last week of Israel's purchase of 20 F-35s (with another 75 likely to follow) has dispelled much of the mist. Israel, which is not even one of the nine countries that funded the F-35 development, will be buying the fighters for $96 million each under the Foreign Military Sales programme, for not much more than the Rafale's and Eurofighter's estimated cost. Israel will get its F-35s between 2015 and 2017; several of the MMRCA contenders will need as long.

 

Significantly, defence analysts believe that Israel has obtained Washington's okay to integrate a variety of Israeli sensors and weaponry onto the F-35. The US has long resisted this since it involves passing on software source codes to the Israelis. With an order of 126-200 fighters, India too could demand this important concession.

 

Given India's deteriorating security environment, it must build a Fifth Generation air force, one that will remain the pre-eminent power in South Asia the next two decades. The Fifth Generation heavy fighter already in the works, in partnership with Russia, will only enter service towards the end of the decade. In the medium fighter segment, a Fifth Generation fighter is as essential, with strategic balance maintained by importing from the US. For obvious political reasons, the initiative to scrap the MMRCA and go in for the F-35 must come from the IAF; and the MoD must assure them of minimal delay.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

INDIA CAN HAVE AN OILSEED EDGE

FILLING THE EDIBLE OIL GAP IS POSSIBLE, AS SCIENTISTS RECENTLY DEMONSTRATED

SURINDER SUD

 

Going by the opinion of scientists working on rapeseed-mustard, this group of oilseed crops can help narrow, if not wholly bridge, the huge gap between the demand and domestic production of edible oils. Interestingly, it can be done with improved crop production technology that is already available. Besides, there is scope to expand area under rapeseed-mustard without displacing other crops to augment overall supplies.

 

What is needed, in practical terms, is to harness the untapped potential of the available high-yielding technology, utilise fallow arable lands for these crops and promote the cultivation of these crops between rows of other crops (also called inter-cropping).

 

 The rapeseed-mustard group comprises basically eight oilseeds. These include Indian mustard or sarson (the technical term is Brassica juncea), brown sarson, yellow sarson, black mustard, toria, taramira, gobhi sarson and Ethiopian mustard. Though most of these are indigenous to India, some were introduced from abroad. These crops are widely grown from the north west to the north east and in some pockets of the south. Together, they accounted for nearly 26 per cent of total oilseed output in 2009-10, with only 22 per cent of the area under oil-bearing crops.

 

A comprehensive status paper on rapeseed-mustard crops, prepared by Bharatpur-based Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research (DRMR) chief J S Chauhan and three other scientists, outlines the constraints these crops are up against and the strategies to overcome them. It brings out, unambiguously, the gap between the rapeseed-mustard yields obtained at front-line demonstrations held by experts using modern technology and those at the fields of the farmers using traditional methods of cultivation.

 

This yield gap was assessed at 29 per cent on an average (based on the yield data of 2007-08), indicating that the rapeseed-mustard harvest can be increased by up to 30 per cent simply by spurring farmers to use the same technology shown to them in field demonstrations. This will add 1.5-1.7 million tonnes of oilseeds to the country's overall vegetable oilseed kitty, reducing the need for imports to some extent.

 

This apart, over 11 million hectares of rice-fallows (paddy lands kept unseeded for part of the year) are available in the eastern and north-eastern states for growing rapeseed-mustard to expand acreage under these oilseed crops. Even if 10 per cent of this land is actually used for this purpose, at least 1 million tonnes of extra rapeseed-mustard can be reaped, according to the DRMR estimates. The fact that a large proportion (over 70 per cent) of the land under rapeseed-mustard cultivation has irrigation facilities inspires further confidence in the adoption of improved technology for these crops. Over 125 superior crop varieties have been developed and officially notified over the years for cultivation under different agro-climatic situations. "They can play a critical role in enhancing production if they are chosen as per their suitability to various micro-farming and environmental situations," the DRMR scientists maintain.

 

Many of these varieties mature in relatively less time, thus enabling farmers to grow them during the short period available between harvesting one crop and planting the next. Some of these varieties also have useful traits, such as tolerance to high temperature, capacity to withstand soil salinity, resistance against important crop diseases and pests, and superior-quality oil.

 

Going a step further, the DRMR has initiated measures for creating awareness about better rapeseed-mustard technology among farmers, extension workers and other stakeholders to facilitate its quicker adoption. To harness the potential of information technology in knowledge dissemination, the DRMR has developed a couple of computer-based expert tools (software) to guide farmers on the proper use of fertilisers and combating yield dampeners like plant diseases.

 

However, scientists' efforts can bear fruit only if the government lends the policy and infrastructural support in areas like timely supply of good-quality inputs, hassle-free marketing and remunerative prices for the produce. Edible oil import-export policies, too, need to be tailored in a manner that can help keep domestic prices at levels that suit both the oilseed producers and edible oil consumers. Otherwise, the rapeseed-mustard growers will have little incentive to raise production.

 

surinder.sud@gmail.com 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE RATTING OUT OF ROHINTON

NILANJANA S ROY

 

That you say you are offended, insults me mortally. And if you insult one Rat mortally, you offend all Rats gravely. And a grave offence to all Rats is a funeral crime, a crime punishable by — Salman Rushdie,
Luka and the Fire of Life

 

In the city of Mumbai, once upon a time, there lived many storytellers. Some came from the slums, and wrote angry, anguished, beautiful poetry about their lives. Some collected memories of Mumbai with loving care, and set down tales that featured the stories of the real Marathi Manoos, the ones who were Hindu but also Anglo-Indian or had names like Sinai and Pereira.

 

 Some wrote of Firozesha Baag, chronicling the dying world of the Parsis, of ordinary men like Gustad Noble, stumbling from the tribulations of his quiet life into a larger conspiracy involving the corruption of the state, the venality and violence of its political parties. It must be remembered that at this time, Mumbai was also known as Bombay, and Bombay was a city that welcomed kahanis, opening its arms to stories and to storytellers. Some of the best found an ocean of seas of stories here: a young man who worked in advertising called Salman Rushdie, two men who knew the slums intimately, Kiran Nagarkar and Namdeo Dhasal, a banker, Rohinton Mistry, who returned to literature in Toronto, remembering and etching the Bombay he had loved so much.

 

Salman Rushdie spent years in darkness, at the hands of a villain much like the Khattam-Shud he wrote about in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. There were many other Khattam-Shuds in India, men who preferred "chup" to "gup", and since Rushdie had been unwise enough to write about religion, Islam and the Koran in a book called Satanic Verses, they placed his book under a seal of the blackest silence for 23 years.

 

Many argued that religion should not be beyond question, and that the point of a novel was that it was made up, and that perhaps those who didn't want to read Rushdie's ideas might want to stop buying and burning copies of the book and just tell all their friends not to read it. But a ban hung like a shroud over Satanic Verses, and in a very strange coincidence, few great novels about controversial religious matters have come out of India in the last 23 years. This is, of course, just a coincidence, brought about by the P2C2E described in Haroun and the Sea of Stories — a Process Too Complicated To Explain.

 

Meanwhile, Mumbai was changing too, and becoming a city of Rats, fearsome creatures with whiskers that sniffed out the merest hint of offence, and great sharp teeth called censorship laws, and the thing about Rats is that they were very good about calling up bands of agreeably violent fellow Rats at need. The Rats felt strongly about the Marathi Manoos, a mythical and apparently endangered species that was threatened in Mumbai by anything that was neither pure Maharashtrian nor a Rat. The Rats felt strongly about anything that was against the spirit of their ancient culture, which is to say anything that criticised Rattery in general and Ratty politics in particular. The Rats felt very, very strongly about books that were freely available, in bookshops or in local universities, that caused offence to Rattishness.

 

The second thing about Rats is that they are very slow readers. Someone needs to bring a King Rat, or a Crown Prince Rat, a book worthy of burning before he will turn its pages, and the vision of Rats is such that they can only see what offends them. And so, twenty years after Mistry first set down the tale of Gustad Noble, and after it had been not just acclaimed by critics, but loved by non-Rats everywhere, a young Rat read the book. And he was shocked to discover that it offended his sensibilities, by casting aspersions on Rattish behaviour (such as corruption and mob violence and other forms of Rattery), and that it offended particular political parties. It happened to be his political party, but he explained that all Political Parties, like Rats, needed to stand together against anything that might be Offensive, such as books that made people question the conduct of Political Parties known for their tendency to rule by thuggery. (Or Thuggeries, since there were three of them, a big Thuggery, a medium Thug and a little Thuggerish.)

 

It caused the Rats the greatest offence of all to discover that Such a Long Journey was being taught in Mumbai University — which, however, had a fellow Rat at its helm. It was the easiest thing in the world to organise a book-burning session followed by a book-banning session, and the niceties observed, the Rats went back to their holes.

 

They left us with a question, as Rohinton Mistry becomes the latest in a long line of authors to experience Rat censure and censorship. As Bombay becomes Rattistan, will the Rats chase all of its storytellers out of the city? Perhaps they'll be allowed to stay, if they promise to write only blank-paged books in Rattish, a language that has just three words: "Don't cause offence."

 

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com  

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT CUTS BOTH WAYS, UNCLE SAM

G20 MUST GO FOR MUTUAL ADJUSTMENT


THE report that the US is set to take up the issue of revaluation of the Chinese renminbi at the G20 meeting in Seoul is both good news and bad. The good news is that it reflects the growing acceptance of the G20, a group that is mostly seen as a toothless body, a talk shop, as a possible forum to hammer out a solution to currency misalignments. More important, it reflects a more pragmatic US position, a realisation that it can no longer call the shots on its own; it has to work with the larger comity of nations if the global economy is to ride out the consequences of the financial crisis. And that immediately improves the prospect of making progress at Seoul, something that has eluded the previous G20 meetings, on the vexed issue of global imbalances that underlies much of our present problems. The US is the world's most powerful economy, and without it there can be no meaningful resolution of multilateral issues. We've seen that in the case of both the Doha round of talks of the WTO and the talks on climate change where US unwillingness to lead from the front has resulted in a virtual stalemate. 

 

The bad news is that the US still seems to view the problem of global imbalances only from its own perspective. If there is an imbalance, the adjustment cannot be one-sided. It has to be mutual. So, if the Chinese need to be more willing to allow their currency to appreciate, the US on its part must be more willing to consider the global consequences of its easy monetary policy, especially since the US dollar is also the global reserve currency. Being numero uno brings with it both privileges and responsibilities, and the US must recognise this. It cannot expect smaller nations not to be concerned about what happens in their backyard while the US continues to look inward in framing its own policies. Protectionist moves, whether in the form of restrictions on outsourcing or levy of countervailing duties on Chinese imports, do not speak well of the world's foremost freemarket economy. The important thing is that all countries, the US included, must realise there are no domestic solutions to a global problem.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

AN UNWISE MOVE…

...TO PACK PSU BOARDS WITH BABUS


THE government is reportedly appointing retired bureaucrats as independent directors in public sector companies slated to hit the market this year. This is an unsound practice and cannot be justified simply because the government needs to fast-track these appointments to comply with Sebi's listing norms. PSUs need independent professionals and experts on their boards to uphold corporate governance and represent all stakeholders. The appointment procedure must be transparent. Sure, retired bureaucrats who are independent experts will make the cut. However, there can be no case to make cash-rich PSU boards parking lots for those who do not have the domain expertise to make positive contributions. The new Companies Bill lays down the qualifications of an independent director modelled on Clause 49 of Sebi's listing agreement. It says the person should have the relevant experience and expertise. Restrictions are in place to ensure that an independent director has no affiliation or influence that would conflict with the company's interests as well. The proposals are sound and should not be overlooked in practice. With many PSUs slated to hit the market this year, taxpayers have a vital interest in ensuring these companies are professionally run. That can happen only if public pressure is brought on the government to appoint directors from among qualified professionals. An independent director should act as a counsellor and watchdog. Proven expertise is needed at the helm to understand the business, oversee operations and vet investment proposals. Selecting candidates from a databank of professionals maintained, say, by the department of public enterprises makes eminent sense. 

 

The government should also consider the separation of PSUs from their administrative ministries to give them more autonomy. Delinking ownership from operations and enforcing good governance practices can enhance the efficiency and productivity of these companies. This will be in the interest of all stakeholders.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PROVING LINCOLN WRONG

THE AICC AT TALKATORA

 

YOU can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time," Abraham Lincoln stated in 1856. With its decision to host the November 2 meet of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium by dismantling the boxing arena where the country won three gold and four bronze medals at the just-concluded Commonwealth Games (CWG), the nation's ruling party appears to be bent on proving Lincoln wrong. Just a few weeks ago, the point had been repeatedly made that a corrupt coterie of politicians and contractors was making money in the name of the CWG even though it was officially stated that the infrastructure created for the event was state-of-the-art and would be used for promoting Indian sports. The idea was never again should detractors wonder why a country with a billion-plus population could only win one gold at the 2008 Olympics! 

 

 In the last few weeks before the CWG, when scam after scam was hitting the headlines, the Congress distanced itself by claiming that the party had nothing to do with the mess which had been created by the CWG Organising Committee (OC). And so what if the OC was headed by the Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi, the sitting Congress MP from Pune! And so what if thousands of crores of rupees of taxpayers' money was spent on creating the infrastructure for the Games and if all this was being monitored by the Congress-led coalition government ruling the country, and by the party government in Delhi! Even before the ink is dry on the PM's announcement of a probe into all the scams on the CWG front, India's pugilists will be prevented from training at the Talkatora Stadium for the November 20 Asian Games in China since the boxing arena will be dismantled for the AICC jamboree. Talk about politics knocking out sports!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

COLUMN

MICROFINANCE, MACRO PROBLEMS?

THE MICROFINANCE MARKET IS BOOMING AND IS LIKELY TO GROW TO A STAGGERING $50 BILLION SOON, BUT IT'S FUELLING A LOT OF WORRIES IN THE STATES AND NEW DELHI. ARE MICRO LENDERS GETTING OUT OF LINE, ASKS ABHEEK BARMAN

 

IS IT possible to make money while helping people out of poverty? In the last five years or so, one business — microfinance — seemed to suggest that the answer was yes. Look at the numbers: from merely $12 million in 2003, the market for lending tiny amounts of money mainly to groups of women has grown to more than $7 billion now. And analysts expect this to grow to a staggering $50 billion soon. 

 

It's easy to understand why. Many people in rural India don't have access to loans from formal banks. In any case, procedures are cumbersome, paperwork intimidating. That explains why people go to moneylenders, who charge them upwards of 50% for loans. Microfinance, based on a model borrowed from Bangladesh, was supposed to change all that. 

 

Micro-credit institutions would make small loans to groups of women at rates lower than what moneylenders charge. These would go into productive investments and defaults would be kept low because the entire community — or a group of women borrowers — would keep an eye on each other to make sure that the funds were used properly and repayments were on time. 

 

Today, it's reckoned that women's selfhelp groups (SHGs) reach about 50 million people. Another 20 million are covered by microfinance institutions (MFIs). That leaves about 100 million people who still rely on moneylenders or relatives for loans. That's a huge untapped market, which explains why analysts are falling over each other to talk up microfinance. 

 

A few months ago, India's largest micro-credit company, SKS Microfinance, had a hugely successful listing. But now, the whole micro-credit story seems to be fraying at the edges. And that's even if you discount the churn at the top in SKS. What's worrying many people is whether it's possible to keep poor borrowers happy while growing profits fast enough to keep shareholders smiling as well. 

 

In June, the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala asked MFIs to comply with local rules that regulate the money lending activity. A handful of MFIs are contesting this in court. And last week, Andhra Pradesh passed an ordinance to regulate MFIs, one which stops short of capping interest rates. 

 

These southern states are worried about two things: the interest rates charged by the institutions and the possibility that borrowers could be coerced by goons hired by MFIs to make repayments. Andhra Pradesh has good reasons to worry about micro lending. Numbers from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) show that over 53% of loans there are sourced from moneylenders. Tamil Nadu follows, with moneylenders accounting for 40% of all borrowings. Moneylenders account for more than 30% of all lending in four more states: Bihar, Manipur, Punjab and Rajasthan. 

 

MFIs borrow from banks at around 12% and lend at anything between 25% and 30%. This can be hugely profitable. The return on assets — a ratio used to measure profitability of financial institutions — is 6.8 for SKS Microfinance; it's 1.7 for HDFC Bank and 1.1 for SBI. Over the years, profits have grown at a fast clip: in the last two years, earnings per share at SKS shot up by 346% and 59% respectively; they expected to rise to 79% by March 2011. 

 

THESE profits are a powerful magnet for many players to enter the microfinance industry. Apart from India's largest banks, SBI and ICICI Bank, which were early birds, smaller banks like OBC have entered; and a great many non-bank finance companies are also in the fray. By last fiscal, there were more than 300 MFIs in operation. Lots of companies competing to lend to poor people can have a huge positive impact, broadening the spread of micro lending across India and keeping rates in check through competition. 

 

The reality is different. Much of this lending is concentrated in a few states or regions. For example, the largest MFI, SKS, concentrates on five states where it lends over 70% of its funds. Andhra Pradesh alone comprises 29% of its portfolio. West Bengal comes second, with 14% of SKS's total lending. 

 

There's a reason for this kind of concentration. All MFIs would like to lend to borrowers who're good investors and prompt in repayments, but the only way to find these people is through trial and error. Once they find good borrowers, MFIs tend to stick with them. In that scenario, an increase in the number of MFIs can turn into a problem, with most players trying to poach each other's better borrowers and trying to muscle in on the same territory. 

 

But isn't this competition good for borrowers? Initially it could be, as the same SHG or small businessman gets bombarded by loan offers. But this could — and sometimes has — lead to people going on a borrowing spree, overloading on loans and then finding themselves unable to pay. Liquidity makes markets; too much liquidity makes bubbles. 

 

In some states, local politicians and powerful people are beginning to worry about the effect MFIs could have on the existing lines of credit and patronage. This is not a bad thing, but there's a risk. If a few MFIs emerge as alternatives to moneylenders and local dadas, there will be a backlash with unpredictable outcomes. 

 

The disquiet over MFI lending is spreading from the states to New Delhi. The finance ministry is busy looking at the numbers and could soon start drafting legislation to create a watchdog for the sector. It's also suggested that lending rates ought to be capped at 24%. The RBI recommends that MFIs should be taken out of the list of borrowers who're classified as 'priority sectors' for banks by 2012. If that happens, banks will have lower incentives to lend to MFIs. That'll make the liquidity pool shallower. 

As the industry explodes, microfinance players must get their act together in their own best interests. The nearly 350-player sector must find a way to keep checks on each other's lending and recovery practices. Many believe that this is impossible in a sector that's high growth, fiercely competitive and operating in markets where the rules of play are different from formal credit markets. Well, if cooperation and selfregulation fail, then MFIs must face up to the alternative. The government will yank some of its regulatory levers.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

TH RO U G H TH E TH I R D EYE

OMINOUS SIGNALS 

 

AS THE probe begins into the alleged corruption in organising the Commonwealth Games, the public focus is on Suresh Kalmadi's fate. But the whisper in the Congress' corridors is about someone else. So, it is time for chief minister Sheila Dikshit to mount a 24X7 vigil. Given her experience, the CM wouldn't miss the ominous signals. An alert Dikshit camp has been talking about her desire to move to the Union Cabinet. The CM also tried a pre-emptive post-Games strike by going gaga about her solo show in cleaning the pre-Games mess only to get hit by a letter missile from the Delhi lieutenant governor. Now the muted in-house query is whether the L-G would fire at Dikshit without prior in-house prodding. That plot has now thickened after the battered Kalmadi also hit back at the once-invincible CM. At 72, the CM would not need an astrologer to tell her that the projected 'TINA factor' counts for nothing when the pitch is queered a good three years ahead of the assembly polls. The big rejig 

 

WITH the AICC session scheduled for November 2, the internal exercise for the reconstitution of the Congress Working Committee and the team of the party general secretaries has entered a delicate phase. A little bird says it could be a major reshuffle, both qualitatively and quantitatively. If the September 2007 reshuffle had signalled the formal entry of Rahul Gandhi into the party leadership, the upcoming rejig might herald the new order that will man the party in the next general elections, signalling a clear shift in the power structure. At least half a dozen present office-bearers are expected to make way for the new entrants. Apart from a significant pruning of the deadwood in the CWC, the exercise could also see more than a dozen states getting new PCC presidents. Some 'heavyweight redeployment' could also signal the party's new priority areas for the ensuing ground battles. One-way traffic 

 

THE self-respecting BJP faithfuls are mad at Nitish Kumar. After all, there is a limit for taking his unilateral veto orders against BJP leaders. After barring Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi, the CM has now even made LK Advani lay off the campaign. Even as senior BJP leaders are trying to be civil by underplaying this snub and hoping to get Advani an entry pass for the next phases of electioneering, the proud BJP foot-soldiers at 11, Ashoka Road are livid. They ask who Nitish is trying to fool when the whole world knows he owes his power to being a 'tactful OBC mask' to the BJP's upper-caste vote-bank's revenge against Lalu? Worse, they are seething at Nitish's 'audacity' in indulging in 'Muslim appeasement' right under the saffron flag! They are also asking what the guarantee is that Nitish will not backstab them if the voters, just in case, produce a hung House. But seasoned BJP leaders aver patience, tolerance and optimism are the only political tools, especially when caught in a tricky corner with no way out. Plot & subplot 

 

SO, THE CPI(M) has fielded slain party comrade Ajit Sarkar's son, Australia-returned Amit, to try and recapture his father's Purnia constituency. But that appears to be just a subplot of the real CPI(M) story. Amit was asked to return as ally CPI-ML was tightening its grip on Purnia. Though the CPI(M) once fielded Sarkar's widow Madhavi, she has made it clear that her commitment is firmly with the comparatively radical and rooted CPI(ML) which has done meaningful work in Purnia to stake a claim for the seat. Faced with the prospect of losing this seat to the ally, the CPI(M) played the emotional card by getting Sarkar Jr to step into his father's shoes. The CPI(ML) yielded, but with a murmur that grabbing the seat by engineering a family rift among the Sarkars isn't an act of camaraderie.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FI NANSTREET

COOPERATION, BUT VIA BULLY OR PLEA?

SHUBHADA SABADE 


COOPERATION can happen only between equals. Between unequals, it's either bully or plea behind the facade of cooperation. This was evident during the Bretton Woods agreement; during the German unification; and today, in the G20 appeal for cooperation against currency war. As all economies suffer in racing their currency values to the bottom and attempts for cooperation fail, the new economic growth model may be inward-looking rather than outward-looking. This article focuses on how it is difficult for countries to cooperate for others' benefit while themselves mitigating crises; and how economies should avoid aggressive export-pushing and try becoming self-sufficient, the theory of comparative advantage notwithstanding. 

 

In Bretton Woods agreement (1944) the US pledged to redeem $35 for one ounce of gold; ran expansionary monetary policy, inflation leading to overvaluation of the dollar. When the US, the world's biggest economy, asked various central banks to cooperate by buying and keeping dollar reserves, it was more bullying, which got further endorsed by the rude refusal by President Nixon in 1971 to honour the promised dollar rate. Today, when the US seeks cooperation from China and others to maintain their trillions of dollars' forex reserves in US T-bills, it's more of a plea to finance its mammoth double deficit. Tomorrow, if double-dip becomes a reality, will America overcome it again by creating a war somewhere? Hope not. 

 

After German unification (1990), West Germany got overheated while reconstructing East Germany and raised interest rates to rein in inflation. But since their trading partners were facing recession, yet also had to defend their currencies fixed against the Deutschmark, they pleaded the Bundesbank not to tighten. When the strongest eurozone economy, Germany, sought cooperation from European countries, it really was 'bullying'. Today, during the European debt crisis and Germany itself probably needing a bailout later, Berlin's call for cooperation by a stringent measure to reduce deficits is a plea,lest the euro should fall apart. 

 

The Bank of Japan has started (2010) suppressing the yen to aid exports and adapted the popular managed float. America and other advanced nations that did not earlier intervene, are also devaluing their currencies to keep jobs from going to the emerging economies via BPOs and for export advantage. China, India and other emerging economies anyway have undervalued currencies vis-à-vis their PPP levels. Thus, if all countries race their currency values to the bottom, it will be a zero-sum game with no winners. In the process, inflation would climb higher while sterilisation will load net loss on every dollar of forex reserves held in US bonds. SDRs could then probably replace the dollar as global reserve currency. 

 

To arrest this currency war, G20 countries are seeking global cooperation. The question is, why would countries themselves facing crisis cooperate for betterment of others? For instance, why should China keep holding US T-bills and finance the US deficit? Why should Japan let the yen appreciate while letting its exporters suffer? Why should India let rupee appreciate and lose huge employment in its IT sector? Why should the European Central Bank bail out its debt-ridden countries while exhausting all its resources and letting euro fall apart? For that matter, how long and why should the US keep its dollar on free float and overvalued when its own unemployment rate is close to 10%? All the answers, ironically, seem to support the logic of a currency war. 

 

If there is anybody who can arrest this currency war, it's the IMF by virtue of its supreme expertise and neutral position after wider representation from G20 countries and more. IMF must get the teeth to act tough. And yes, something else can arrest this currency war. Given that its underlying cause is export advantage and job protection, how about diverting attention from pushy exports to strengthening domestic economy, employment and hence demand? This will call for some protectionism, as is already evident in the hitherto open-market economies. 

 

The US has long been protecting its farmers and now doing so in industrial jobs. Japan is devaluing. Most advanced countries are adapting ways and means to protect domestic economies from the foreign onslaught. These new trends point to a paradigm shift from outward orientation of pushy exports, to inward orientation of self-sufficiency, less dependency on imports and exports. This calls for creating a strong domestic market which can happen only by raising the purchasing power of those who have a high income-elasticity of demand. And that is, the rural and urban poor. We, thus, come back to inclusive growth and probably more countries will follow suit. WTO-GATT will take a beating awhile, but in the larger interest, free capital flows across borders, unregulated markets and unprotected business will require a second thought. 

 

 (The author is visiting and guest faculty of     economics at Symbiosis, DMAT, IIPM)

 

History teaches us that it is difficult for countries to cooperate for others' benefit while they themselves are in crisis 


G20 is seeking cooperation to check the currency war, but no key actor is in a position to make concessions 
If there is anybody who can prevent the currency war, it's the IMF by virtue of its supreme expertise and neutral position

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

KNOWLEDGE IS ALWAYS A SAFE BET

MUKUL SHARMA 

 

RECENT research conducted in the US by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has found that Americans are often woefully ignorant not only of other religions, but about their own faith, too. (Turns out that the Florida pastor Terry Jones who had threatened to burn copies of the Koran in September had neither read the book nor knew what was in it.) Yet, somehow, the finding doesn't strike one as something very startling, does it? No, because the same thing's true anywhere. What seems surprising, however, is the research also discovered that atheists and agnostics are actually better informed about the religious world than even the über-faithful Mormons and orthodox Jews. 

 

So is that startling news now? Not really. One way to look at it is to believe that only by knowing about something can one combat it or reject it as the case may be, whereas ignorance is at best a static force. The New Testament informs us that Satan knew his Bible backwards and in fact was quoting from Scripture when he told Jesus to throw himself down because (according to Psalm 91:11) "He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." 

 

More than 2,500 years ago, a Chinese military treatise writtenby Sun Tsu, which is known today as The Art of War, said the same thing. "Know the enemy," wrote Tsu, "as only then is it possible to fight a hundred battles." Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the Africa Theatre of action during the Second World War where the German general Erwin Rommel came within an inch of hammering the Allied British forces before he was vastly outnumbered and his supply chain broke down. One of the main reasons he could make such stupendous headway was because he had studied the enemy well — a fact the British were acutely aware of since they constantly referred to the man as the "Desert Fox". 

 

Does this mean non-believers are evil? No. What it means is, evil has to be very knowledgeable in order to exist whereas good is not necessarily so. So far, good has prevailed in the world only because of the tremendous strength of might behind it and with the weight of force. Obviously, this needs to change if the war has to be reinvented. What did Jesus say when Satan quoted Scripture? He said: "Again it is written, you shall not test the Lord your God." He quoted Scripture against Satan's use of it, demonstrating that he knew the Bible much better than him.

 

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THE SATESMAN

EDIT

JOUST WITH JUDGES

PAKISTAN'S CLOAK-AND-DAGGER DEMOCRACY

 

THE simmering crisis in Pakistan deepens with the government attempting a swingback to the Musharraf era in terms of its dealings with the judiciary. In a development that is almost unparalleled, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has sought an explanation on the reported move to subjugate the judges once again. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Geelani has advanced a feeble denial, couched in the sanctimonious cant that the PPP leaders "have sacrificed their lives for the independence of the judiciary". There is no rebuttal of the late night TV reports that the government is planning to withdraw the notification of March 2009, reinstating Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges dismissed by Musharraf. It bears recall that President Zardari had delayed the reinstatement for as long as he could, relenting eventually under sustained Opposition pressure. At one stage, there appeared to be little or no difference between his agenda and that of Musharraf vis-a-vis the apex court. The meeting of the Supreme Court judges at an inhospitable hour and soon after the news was aired underscores the gravity of the brewing crisis. The government's move ~ even the Attorney-General is in favour of an inquiry ~ comes in the wake of the judiciary's pressure to implement its order that has annulled the National Reconciliation Ordnance. It was Musharraf's graft amnesty that had benefited no fewer than 8,000 officers and politicians, notably Asif Ali Zardari.


The sequence of developments makes it pretty obvious that the supposedly elected establishment views the judiciary as a somewhat inconvenient arm of governance. Out of necessity, it appears to have discovered an element of virtue in Musharraf's policies. A constitutional crisis is building up, irrespective of whether Mr Geelani sends a "signed explanation" to the Chief Justice. Unmistakable is the subtle shift in the goalposts. The government has ignored the court's order to reopen the corruption cases against Zardari, claiming presidential immunity under the Constitution. An overriding anxiety to protect those indicted on graft charges has prompted the move to recast the judiciary according to its lights. In self-imposed exile ~ itching to come back ~ Musharraf must be enjoying a quiet chuckle. His handpicked army chief may well be chewing over his next meeting with the President. Pakistan today showcases the trappings of a cloak-and-dagger democracy. The trends are portentous ~ a beleaguered government's possible showdown with the army as also the judiciary.

 

LUCKNOW IS THE POORER

GUIDED TOUR OF STATUES

HER politics are hers', unacceptable in most parts. Yet as Mayawati attempts to buttress tourism in Lucknow, she has effected a crass break with the city's past, famously the era of the nawabs of medieval India. Whether this exercise will in any way benefit the Dalits need not detain us just yet. Unwittingly or otherwise, it is of a piece with the relatively minor rating to history that is being accorded ~ one must add with respect ~ even in judicial verdicts. The UP chief minister's pronounced emphasis on Dalit icons may be concordant with her agenda of social engineering. It also reflects her almost defiant stance towards public criticism and Supreme Court strictures on the erection of statues at the cost of the exchequer.  Statues of Dalit heavyweights, including herself, already dot the landscape. The renewed construction spree is intended to overshadow the culture and history of Lucknow ~ famously the imambaras, the maqbaras (mausoleums), the Residency, the cuisine and the culture. It is hard to imagine a more bizarre essay towards promoting tourism.


Will the tourist be impressed? Unlikely. A city is fascinating because of its culture and heritage, not contemporary political leaders and social benefactors etched in stone. The perceived "new identity" of Lucknow with its "hot spots" of statues and parks will be a pathetic shadow of its historical grandeur. The tourism department's restriction on the cuisine of the nawabs, in deference to the chief minister's wishes, has already turned out to be counter-productive. While the menu is restricted to biryani and kebabs, there are few takers for the typical north Indian fare complete with the zarda and paan bahar. In tampering with Lucknow's culinary delights, the BSP government has stretched its agenda to the limits of absurdity. Mayawati may have protected the Dalit vote-bank, but history can never be relegated to the footnotes. Lucknow is the poorer. The inscription on her own statue can be as stark as that.

 

JUMBO JINXED

CONSERVATION NEEDS RE-RAILING

SHOCK was expressed when seven elephants were mowed down by a train speeding through the Dooars recently. Then came reports of elephants dying after falling into trenches dug around tea plantations as "protection". And now poachers appear to have been at work, again, on the fringes of Kaziranga. What that adds up to is the sad reality that despite the politically-correct statements there has been little "trickling down" of either the need to permit wild elephants to flourish, or the measures that are required on the ground to facilitate that. A meeting between officials of the railways and the ministry of environment and forest did not appear to have produced any operational remedies ~ some NGOs have, at least, done a little technical experimentation ~ but the railways and the forest guards have not progressed beyond a routine blame-game. What efforts have been made to "persuade" the planters to learn to live with the collateral damage from elephants crossing the estates? As for anti-poaching measures, little has been done to raise the number of forest guards, upgrade their equipment, training and service conditions. Since the problem on that particular section of the North-east Frontier Railway, and the tea gardens, are of relatively recent origin, it might be relevant to determine if there has been any "shift" away from the traditional "elephant walks". If so, why, and what should be the response?


Clearly a dangerous mismatch persists between what is articulated by the authorities in the national and state capitals and what is actually "delivered". The old excuse that the ministry of environment and forests does not wield direct authority over the local guards and game wardens is hardly an alibi ~ it reflects an inability to lead or inspire. Of late the union ministers have displayed a penchant to project themselves (securing much publicity in the process) as "green" by waving a red flag to controversial "development" projects but hardly concerning themselves with tasks requiring them to "get their hands dirty". With elephants going the tiger way ~ much talk, little action ~ is it not time to revive the proposal to create a separate, dedicated and focused ministry for forest and wildlife management?

 

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THE SATESMAN

COLUMN

STORY OF AN EVOLUTION

A COLLEGE GRADUATES TO A UNIVERSITY

ASHIT BARAN AICH

 

THIS is not the story of opening a new university. Rather it is the evolution of a college to a university. Presidency College was founded nearly 200 years ago. It has produced outstanding scholars in almost every discipline. They have done the country proud, and the institution occupies a special place in the Bengali psyche. The college has now been endowed with the crown of a university. This is a belated move, but will definitely provide freedom in academic as well as non-academic matters. The new university will have more space to function independently and without any external (aka political) interference.


To have survived for 200 years as an institution of higher learning with a standard that is almost unmatched in the country is itself a great achievement. Many centres of excellence abroad could not survive over time. They went into oblivion as they failed to meet the changing demands and aspirations of society. 


Presidency College, often referred to as the Oxbridge of the East, has, however, survived the test of time. It has established a glorious tradition of teaching and research in the country. This is possibly the first institution in British India that was founded in 1817 with the sole objective of propagating the natural philosophy of the West. The impact of this new system of learning culminated in the Bengal Renaissance.


Teaching at Presidency has never been a mundane exercise that follows a stereotyped syllabus, prepares students for examinations and produces graduates. On the contrary, teachers here have always tried to set before themselves an ambitious agenda of imparting knowledge of their respective subjects. Learning in this college has always been perceived as an intellectual adventure.


To inculcate scepticism in young minds has been an essential component of teaching. The exceptionally rich collection in its libraries has traditionally been an impetus. Students have been encouraged to think independently and also express themselves confidently at seminars and tutorials which are held routinely in every department. This probably explains why the college has always been the venue of spirited academic discourse and debates.


Why do people in general take considerable interest in Presidency College? Many who question its functioning have never studied in this college. The euphoria over its upgradation to a university indicates the average Bengali's degree of attachment to this hallowed temple of learning.  Presidency has traditionally acted as the conscience of Bengal.


The new university faces a challenge as society expects a lot. Higher education will be expected to ascend new heights through this university. While the quality of incoming students can still be maintained through the admission tests, the selection of talented faculty will not be easy. Will these faculties consist largely of researchers? Or will they comprise only dedicated teachers who spend most of their time with the students? The reality, of course, is that Presidency University will in fair measure require both categories of academics.
Presidency College has excelled through its eminently successful and innovative under- graduate programmes. There were legendary teachers who were distinguished for their pedagogy, pre-eminently Taraknath Sen of the English department. They excelled in the classrooms rather than on the pages of journals. In the process, they produced a galaxy of luminaries in their respective disciplines. A classroom lecture was almost a work of art.  Every word of a lecture was worth recalling long after a student had stepped out of its portals.
It is not easy to link good teaching with equally good research. A teacher can imbibe the two qualities only through years of struggle, practice and dedication. Successful  researchers might not have the time or temperament to attend regular classes. In this context, one recalls the words of Professor Richard P Feynman, Nobel Laureate in Physics: "I would never accept any position in which somebody has invented a happy situation for me where I don't have to teach. Never."


Presidency University should strive to have faculties that will make it a unique campus in terms of teaching and research. Never before has the creation of a university in West Bengal generated so much excitement, and also hope, among the masses. We should not forget the glorious legacy of the old Presidency College in sustaining the intellectual life of Bengal and India. Society  expects this legacy to be continued for the benefit of our future generations. This  is possible only if Presidency College of the good old days is at the core of Presidency University in its mission and vision.


The writer is Director, Study Centres, Netaji Subhas Open University and former Reader in Statistics, Presidency College. The views expressed are his own and not those of hisinstitution

 

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THE SATESMAN

LOCAL TALENT CAN SOLVE RURAL PROBLEMS

 

One of the most important aspects of development is the extent to which the creativity and skills of people are properly utilised. In the context of developing countries like India with high socio-economic inequalities, it is important that the creativity of neglected people in remote rural areas be recognised and encouraged. The bigger task of challenging inequalities and domination will also be helped when the creativity of neglected communities gets more and better opportunities to flourish.


In India an organisation which has made a pioneering contribution in this context is the famous Barefoot College of Tilonia (Ajmer district in Rajasthan), also known by the more formal name of Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC). Started over three decades ago by Bunker Roy and a handful of other social activists, the main centre is located in two campuses at Tilonia village. Several sub-centres and affiliated centres exist in Rajasthan and other parts of India. The Barefoot College works directly in about 200 villages but in terms of its training programmes and in other ways, it reaches many more villages in India and abroad, particularly Africa.
Baba Amte once said, "The poor and illiterate people of our villages don't need charity, they need opportunity". Many hidden and dormant skills of villagers can be tapped if only suitable openings are provided. Simple training is all that may be needed in terms of financial expenditure, but what is needed above all is a faith in the ability of villagers. This faith has been the strongest asset of SWRC. It tolerated some mistakes but ultimately led to successes which have surprised several city-based technocrats.


SWRC works on a wide range of issues - from solar energy to health, from rural water supply to education - but one common feature of all its programmes is the importance placed on tapping the potential of local villagers to solve the problems of these villages. That they don't have formal qualifications doesn't matter; what matters is that they have a better understanding of local problems, they are able to help their own people and are accountable to their own village community, they are a part of it.


Bunker Roy says, "The Barefoot College has proved on the ground that qualified, urban trained experts and professionals can easily be replaced by para-professionals from villages who have never been to college or do not have technical training of any kind. They have learnt their skills on the job and have upgraded their knowledge through practical experience which includes trial and error." 


Bhanwar Singh of Tilonia village doesn't have much of training in architecture, in fact he can just about manage to read and write a few words. But when he was given the opportunity to supervise the construction of the new campus of SWRC, he carried out the work so effectively that visitors marvelled at the low cost as well as the quality of construction. What is more, the entire work was carried out speedily without any hassles owing to the good relations Bhanwar maintained with all construction workers.


"When the building was ready and the cost estimate became known, a big contractor simply carried me away and pleaded that I should not give such a low estimate of building costs as then he will have difficulty in getting his own higher estimates for similar buildings accepted by the government," Bhanwar says with a laugh.
SWRC has earned a well-deserved reputation for discovering and utilising the hidden talents of villagers. In many cases, only a little training is all that villagers, including women, needed to perform tasks for which they were not even considered earlier.


An example is that of handpump repair. Till about three decades ago, it was common for a government jeep to come from a distance of over 40 km to repair the handpump of a village. This was a system which caused long delays. It was expensive without being effective. It had simply not dawned on anyone to train villagers themselves for this task.

SWRC took this initiative and pioneered the concept of handpump mechanics or mistries. SWRC and villagers carefully selected people, especially women, from within the local village community who had an interest in acquiring such skills and were accountable to the village community. After a three-month training, each one of these new handpump mistries was made responsible for the maintenance of about 30 handpumps within five km of his or her village. Existing government schemes for technical training of village youth were utilised.
This experiment proved so successful that, after some years, the Rajasthan government decided to extend it to the entire state and so nearly 6,000 young people got jobs as handpump mistries all over the state. SWRC continued to provide training to some of them. 


SWRC also runs several night schools which have proved very useful for children from poor families whose members cannot attend day schools. For children leaving these night schools, a vocational training programme was started about 20 years ago which has provided a wide range of technical skills. These skills include repair and maintenance of diesel pumpsets, tractors, motorcycles, metal work and handling mechanical equipment at the fabrication workshop.


A separate unit for making science toys out of waste material was started in 1990. This unit, in turn, has trained hundreds of persons in this creative work. This unit has been particularly successful in obtaining the enthusiastic participation of many physically challenged youth. At a time when plastic bags are being rightly discouraged due to environmental reasons, this unit has also provided the alternative of well-made sturdy paper bags.


A particularly heart-warming aspect of the Barefoot College's work is the faith reposed in physical challenged persons. Most visitors to the Tilonia campus take back memories of physically challenged persons moving around with confidence and discharging responsibilities like managing the telephone exchange, screen printing unit, water mapping, photocopying and lab tests. Nando is one such physically challenged woman who not only takes up a lot of photocopying work, but also manages maintenance and minor repairs. Giriraj cannot speak and hear, but amazingly runs the screen printing unit very efficiently and posters printed by him on socially relevant issues are sent out to distant places. Perhaps his most surprising achievement is that he has been actively involved in many screen printing trainings, imparting his skills to many other persons. This is one of the most heart-warming aspects of BC - that villagers who would have remained neglected, lonesome, deprived have not only learned valuable skills but also enthusiastically disseminated these to many others.


Several children studying in night schools are encouraged to come to its computer room and get familiar with computers and other gadgets. Women with educational levels of the sixth or seventh class have successfully used computers to catalogue the SWRC's collection of photographs.


Most of these photographs have been taken by villagers using simple cameras, yet some of these have been widely appreciated. Several exhibitions of these photographs have been held, and these have been compiled in a beautiful book. Writing the foreword of this book, Varada Palak Salim and Eyal Perry, photographers and curators from Israel, have commented, "We were particularly interested in finding out more how 'illiterate photographers' tracked down their subjects, how such captivating beauty arose amidst such a dearth of 'photographic awareness' and 'photographic aestheticism'."


It is for discovering and encouraging such hidden skills that SWRC is rightly called the Barefoot College. If such efforts are repeated with a similar dedication in other parts of the country, then a tremendous flowering of hidden rural talents can be achieved.

The writer is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

 

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THE SATESMAN

INDIA'S EFFORT TO BUILD TRUST

 

India got 187 votes, the highest for non-permanent seat category in the Security Council, out of 191, in a secret ballot with Germany, South Africa, Portugal and Colombia on board, according to information provided by UN spokesman Martin Nesirky in New York. India, South Africa, Colombia ran unopposed for the Asian, African, Latin America bloc after the only contestant, Kazakhstan, an Asian candidate, withdrew from the race in December last year.


They all secured the two-year terms in uncontested votes and will be replacing Japan, Uganda and Mexico whose two-year terms expire at the end of 2010. 


The Indian permanent representative to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, said that New Delhi would use the two-year term to build trust and give a sense of confidence to the five permanent members - the US, Russia, Britain, France and China veto powers. India is hoping that change comes in the next two years while it is in the Council. He noted that Brazil, a current member of the Security Council, South Africa and Germany, which got elected with India, are aspirants for a permanent seat.


India wanted to bring across to the Council the message that "we bring the voice of one-sixth of humanity, and 63 years' experience in nation building'', he said. "I think that's what the UN can use to handle international peace and security issues." 


As a mainstream country on "issues like human rights and other issues of a traumatic nature'', India would also "pursue these messages'', Mr Puri said. "We have experience in peace-keeping and we would like to transcend that into peace building," he said.


Ambassador Puri pointed out that India had contributed 100,000 troops in UN peace-keeping operations around the world. He said Pakistan had also voted for India. 

 

Pakistani in Liberia: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Major General Muhammad Khalid of Pakistan force commander of the UN Mission in Liberia, according to a statement issued in New York. The statement noted that Major General Khalid will replace Lieutenant General Sikander Afzal Pakistan, whose duty will end on 28 November this year.


The statement noted that Major General Khalid has had a distinguished military career since joining the Pakistani military in 1979, including significant command positions and prior experience with UN peace-keeping. Major General Khalid has served as the Commander of the Logistics Area in Quetta, since December of 2009. He served as the Chief of Staff of Command Headquarters in the Ministry of Defence of Pakistan. He commanded infantry formations at the divisional and brigade level.


Chilean miners: The Secretary General has said in a statement that the rescue of 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped below ground for two months is a testament to their bravery and perseverance. He said that "we join with the people of Chile and the families of these heroic miners to celebrate this extraordinary triumph of human ingenuity and the strength of the human spirit." 


Mr Ban hailed the miners for working together and for never giving up, the statement noted. "I join all who lent a hand in the rescue effort, all who hoped and prayed, in this moment of relief and happiness." 
He also spoke over the telephone with President Sebastian Piñera of Chile to congratulate him on his tireless efforts. 

Nepal impasse: Head of the political affairs B Lynn Pascoe has cautioned that swift action is needed to overcome Nepal's political impasse to meet the January 2011 deadline. The Security Council voted to wind up the UN's special political mission in Nepal on 15 January. Mr Pascoe told the Security Council that, despite some important steps, "no breakthrough has been achieved."


"The prolonged political stalemate in Nepal, most vividly symbolised by the continuing failure to elect a new Prime Minister, is compounded by persistent internal divisions within the main political parties, personal interests and calculations, and regional factors," Mr Pascoe underlined. "Nepal is undergoing a process of significant political and social transformation and consolidation of its democracy," he said. 


Financial obligations: Under-Secretary-General for Management Angela Kane has noted that it has been a difficult year for many countries owing to the global recession but has urged all states to meet their financial obligations to the UN so that it can continue to carry out its important work. 


She said that 13 of the 192 member states had paid  all the assessments that were due. 


Tuberculosis: The world health agency has said that a new initiative to combat tuberculosis, which claims the lives of two million people across the world every year, could accelerate progress towards eliminating the disease if governments and donors commit enough funds to the plan. 


The agency has said that, though TB is curable, the treatment requires taking a combination of drugs for six months. Laboratories in most countries are still using a century-old diagnostic method that involves searching for TB bacteria derived from a person's sputum under a microscope. There is still no vaccine able to prevent pulmonary TB, the most common form of the disease, it said. Some nine million people become ill with TB every year. 


Obstetric fistula: The Secretary-General has called for $750 million to treat some 3.5 million cases of obstetric fistula by 2015 in an effort to cure the debilitating injury caused by obstruction in giving birth. "Obstetric fistula is one of the most devastating consequences of neglect during childbirth and a stark example of health inequity in the world," he said in a report to the General Assembly.


He called for intensified investment in cost-effective interventions, including surgery, to address the problem that afflicts women with the leakage of bodily wastes. "Although the condition has been eliminated in the developed world, obstetric fistula continues to afflict the most impoverished women and girls who mostly live in rural and remote areas of the developing world." 


The report noted that constructive surgery can repair fistula injury and most women can be treated and, with appropriate psychosocial care, reintegrated into their communities, but few health-care facilities are able to provide high-quality fistula treatment owing to the limited number of health-care professionals with the appropriate skills. 

Terror campaign: The UN refugee agency has expressed concern over the displaced population after attacks perpetrated by the notorious Lord's Resistance Army rebels in the Central African Republic and neighboring countries. 


UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said that the latest raid occurred in the town of Birao in the north of the Central African Republic during which the rebels abducted a number of girls, looted property and set shops on fire. "The LRA's campaign of terror against civilians has intensified since September", he said. North-eastern DRC has seen six attacks and three ambushes in the last few weeks, the agency noted. 

 

Fight hunger: The Secretary-General has said that with, one billion people still suffering from food shortages around the globe, the world must take a united stand against hunger, as he marked World Food Day. He said in his message that the number of the world's hungry has dipped from its record high last year, but "we are reminded that the world's food systems are not working in ways that ensure food security for the most vulnerable members of our societies." 


anjali sharma.

 

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THE SATESMAN

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE INDIAN MUSHROOM 


A fresh mushroom is a sight, which is not often met with in the Bombay Presidency, says the Bombay Gazette. It is true these fungi grow in certain parts of the Presidency in certain quantities during the rains, but nowhere in sufficient quantities that one will find them on the stalls at Crawford Market. To those of us, therefore, who are fond of it but only know the Leicestershire variety, as found in tins, it is welcome news that at Pusa Institute they are making inquiries with the hope of creating a regular supply for the larger cities. This statement is made on the authority of Mr W. McRae, M.A., B.Sc., whose exhaustive paper on "The Edible Mushroom" is published in the Agricultural Journal of India. It appears that although the mushroom is a rarity in many parts of the country, in the fields of the Punjab it grows abundantly. It is universally eaten by the natives, either fresh or dried in the sun, and according to Dr Stewart, those Europeans who have tried it say it is excellent and equal to the English variety. The same writer thought a trade in the Punjab mushroom could be established, if they were improved in quality by cultivation. Mr McRae adds the opinion, with which we entirely agree, that there should be a very good demand for fresh mushrooms in the larger cities of India, if the product became a certain factor of the market. Further inquiries, he promises, therefore, will be made both as regards the ordinary edible mushroom and also other edible fungi such as truffles, morells and puff-balls.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

INDIA CAN'T BANK ON TIMELY US HELP

 

These things are never foolproof. But it is hard to dismiss the case that Mumbai would have been spared the trauma of 26/11 if David Coleman Headley, the American national of Pakistan origin who did the crucial reconnaissance work for the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba to mount the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008, had been arrested and duly investigated by the US authorities following tip-offs from his two former wives a whole year before the assault on Mumbai by Pakistani gunmen aided by the ISI. There can be a counter-argument that an ISI-inspired hit could have been undertaken even if Headley had been picked up, that quite simply the ISI and the LeT could have found a suitable replacement for Dawood Gilani (Headley's original name). This is, however, extremely unlikely. If Headley had begun to sing in the lock-up and reveal details of the nature that he has, disclosing the close involvement of serving and retired military officers as part of the ISI team that trained the LeT commandos, ISI would be busy concocting alibis to firewall itself, not mounting alternative plans for an attack in India. At any rate, the recent American media disclosures revealing the disdain with which the information offered by the two women was officially treated by the US is likely to strengthen the perception in this country that when it comes to Pakistan-based terrorism, India cannot truly bank on timely American cooperation. It is possible that Headley's wives didn't give the American authorities concrete, actionable, intelligence. This is the defence the US system has taken. However, since two women, not just one, in an intimate relationship with the man who so closely assisted with organising the Mumbai attack, came forward with details that Headley was a LeT man planning something horrible against India, the American agencies may have been expected to take a less cavalier attitude toward this country, considering they are meant to be hyper-active in the international war on terrorism, and they profess a relationship of partnership with India. In the event, they did wake up but only when it became clear that the Pakistani-American — after the success of his Mumbai enterprise — might be in the process of launching a major terrorist attack in Western Europe on behalf of Al Qaeda. It is hard to get away from the feeling that in a matter such as this the US system looked at India and Europe very differently; in short, it was not even-handed. True, before Mumbai was hit, the Americans did pass on some intelligence to India that a strike was possibly being planned. But in the intelligence business such general warnings are routine and numerous. Subsequently, the Americans also provided considerable assistance with their forensic expertise in investigating the Mumbai attack that helped us ascertain the role of the ISI in the 26/11 context. These instances of cooperation cannot, however, compensate for the lackadaisical US attitude earlier that came in the way of arresting Headley before the Mumbai carnage could materialise. The fresh details in the Headley affair have emerged weeks before President Barack Obama is due to arrive in India on a bilateral visit. This is a pity.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

1962 REDUX?

BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

 

All wars commence in the mind, and escalate with words. "Zhang Nan" or "Southern Tibet", the designation bestowed by the People's Republic of China on India's state of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Tibet, is one such example. China now claims Arunachal Pradesh as its historic territory comprising the three southern districts of the Tawang Tract unilaterally acquired by the then British Empire after the Treaty of Simla in 1913. New demands, which were first articulated around 2005, initially concerned Tawang as a traditional tributary region of Lhasa, being the birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama (Tsangyang Gyatso, enthroned 1697, probably murdered 1706 by Mongol guards who were escorting him to Beijing under arrest). Subsequently, a day prior to the visit of China's President Hu Jintao to India in 2006, Sun Yuxi, the then Chinese ambassador to India, stridently reiterated in public China's claims to the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh in a deliberately provocative gesture designed to put New Delhi on notice of Beijing's intention to dominate the agenda of interaction according to its own priorities. In a longer-term perspective, these needlessly provocative claims could escalate to a flash point with the potential to provoke a major confrontation between the two countries, and create an existential crisis for the entire region, a contingency for which India has to prepare itself adequately.

 

Indian reaction has been characteristically muted, constantly choosing to soft pedal and play down the issue — a unilateral gesture of restraint regardless of the degree of blatant provocation, which exasperated many in this country. It is seen as making a virtue out of necessity, because India has neglected to build up the requisite capabilities to adopt stronger alternatives. This is surely an unenviable position for a country seeking to promote itself as a major power for a permanent seat on the Security Council.

 

The present Sino-Indian equation is almost irresistibly reminiscent of the run-up to the Sino-Indian border war of 1962, and provides a fascinating playback of China's postures at that time with its disconcertingly similar sequence of claims along the McMahon Line in North East Frontier Agency (Nefa), as well as along the Uttar Pradesh-Tibet border and in Ladakh, as relics of historic injustices perpetrated in earlier days by British imperialists. A naive and militarily ill-prepared India, with an exaggerated self image of its own international relevance as a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, had sought to dissuade a determined China with platitudinous Nehruvian philosophies of anti-colonial solidarity, all of which were contemptuously disposed of by "a whiff of grapeshot" on the desolate slopes of the Namkha Chu and Rezang La. India's collapse and comprehensive downsizing in short order in 1962 was primarily because it lacked military capability vis-a-vis China, a fatal flaw which has a disconcerting tendency of repeating itself when lessons of earlier debacles wear off from the country, as they seem to be doing now. "1962 redux" is slowly grinding into gear again, with end results unforeseeable, except that an enhanced replay at some stage (2020?) can never be totally discounted. India must not repeat its follies of the past because this time around it has been adequately forewarned.

 

In starkly contrasting national attitudes, the People's Republic of China has never swerved from its "sacred duty" to recover and reunify what it perceives as its lost territories, notably Tibet and Taiwan. China's other such claims pertain to areas along the Sino-Soviet and Sino-Indian borders, besides smaller island entities in the South and East China Seas, to which has now been added the complete territory of India's Arunachal Pradesh under its new Chinese appellation.

 

India has to evaluate the threat potential of the situation dispassionately but realistically, having reference to China's demonstrated determination to set its own history in order. Tibet was successfully concluded in 1950 when the People's Liberation Army marched into the country against a feeble and disjointed resistance, and re-established China's authority. Taiwan has been an infructuous effort so far only because of the massive support and protection of the United States, which has guaranteed the independence of that country with the presence of its Seventh Fleet.

 

If similar Chinese pressures develop regarding Arunachal Pradesh, and cannot be resolved through diplomacy and mediation (again as in 1962), India will be left with starkly limited options — either capitulation to China, or military defence of its territory.

 

In the latter contingency, even a speculative overview would suggest that for India a full fledged Sino-India war would likely be a "two-and-a-half front", with Pakistan and China combining in tandem, and an additional internal half front against affiliated terrorist networks already emplaced and functional within the country. For India it would be a combination of 1962, together with all of India's wars against Pakistan (1947-65, '71 and '99), upgraded to future dimensions and extending over land, aerial, maritime space and cyberspace domains. Nuclear exchange at some stage, strategic, tactical or both, would remain a distinct possibility, admittedly a worst case, but one which cannot be ignored. The magnitude of losses in terms of human, material and economic costs to all participants can only be speculated upon at present.

 

China is obviously very much ahead of India in military capabilities, a comparative differential which will be further skewed with Pakistan's resources coming into play. India has to develop its own matching capabilities in short order, especially the ability to reach out and inflict severe punitive damage to the heartlands of its adversaries, howsoever distant. There would be national, regional and international repercussions that would severely affect the direct participants as also close bystanders like Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, if not countries further afield as well.

 

Any future Sino-Indian conflict is a doomsday scenario, straight out of Dr Strangelove, a zero-sum calculus that must not be allowed to occur. China must restrain itself regarding its alleged claims to India's Arunachal Pradesh. History has moved on — attempts to reverse it are futile.

 

- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LESSONS FROM THE RARE EARTH FRACAS

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

Last month a Chinese trawler operating in Japanese-controlled waters collided with two vessels of Japan's Coast Guard. Japan detained the trawler's captain; China responded by cutting off Japan's access to crucial raw materials.

 

And there was nowhere else to turn: China accounts for 97 per cent of the world's supply of rare earths, minerals that play an essential role in many high-technology products, including military equipment. Sure enough, Japan soon let the captain go.

 

I don't know about you, but I find this story deeply disturbing, both for what it says about China and what it says about us. On one side, the affair highlights the fecklessness of US policymakers, who did nothing while an unreliable regime acquired a stranglehold on key materials. On the other side, the incident shows a Chinese government that is dangerously trigger-happy, willing to wage economic warfare on the slightest provocation.

 

Some background: The rare earths are elements whose unique properties play a crucial role in applications ranging from hybrid motors to fiber optics. Until the mid-1980s the United States dominated production, but then China moved in.

 

"There is oil in West Asia; there is rare earth in China," declared Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's economic transformation, in 1992. Indeed, China has about a third of the world's rare earth deposits. This relative abundance, combined with low extraction and processing costs — reflecting both low wages and weak environmental standards — allowed China's producers to undercut the US industry.

 

You really have to wonder why nobody raised an alarm while this was happening, if only on national security grounds. But policymakers simply stood by as the US rare earth industry shut down. In at least one case, in 2003 — a time when, if you believed the Bush administration, considerations of national security governed every aspect of US policy — the Chinese literally packed up all the equipment in a US production facility and shipped it to China.

 

The result was a monopoly position exceeding the wildest dreams of West Asian oil-fuelled tyrants. And even before the trawler incident, China showed itself willing to exploit that monopoly to the fullest. The United Steelworkers recently filed a complaint against Chinese trade practices, stepping in where US businesses fear to tread because they fear Chinese retaliation. The union put China's imposition of export restrictions and taxes on rare earths — restrictions that give Chinese production in a number of industries an important competitive advantage — at the top of the list.

 

Then came the trawler event. Chinese restrictions on rare earth exports were already in violation of agreements China made before joining the World Trade Organisation. But the embargo on rare earth exports to Japan was an even more blatant violation of international trade law.

 

Oh, and Chinese officials have not improved matters by insulting our intelligence, claiming that there was no official embargo. All of China's rare earth exporters, they say — some of them foreign-owned — simultaneously decided to halt shipments because of their personal feelings toward Japan. Right.

 

So what are the lessons of the rare earth fracas?
First, and most obviously, the world needs to develop non-Chinese sources of these materials. There are extensive rare earth deposits in the United States and elsewhere. However, developing these deposits and the facilities to process the raw materials will take both time and financial support. So will a prominent alternative: "urban mining," aka recycling of rare earths and other materials from used electronic devices.

 

Second, China's response to the trawler incident is, I'm sorry to say, further evidence that the world's newest

economic superpower isn't prepared to assume the responsibilities that go with that status.

 

Major economic powers, realising that they have an important stake in the international system, are normally very hesitant about resorting to economic warfare, even in the face of severe provocation — witness the way US policymakers have agonised and temporised over what to do about China's grossly protectionist exchange-rate policy. China, however, showed no hesitation at all about using its trade muscle to get its way in a political dispute, in clear — if denied — violation of international trade law.

 

Couple the rare earth story with China's behaviour on other fronts — the state subsidies that help firms gain key contracts, the pressure on foreign companies to move production to China and, above all, that exchange-rate policy — and what you have is a portrait of a rogue economic superpower, unwilling to play by the rules. And the question is what the rest of us are going to do about it.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

CHARITY WITH A COLONIAL COMPLEX

BY JAYATI GHOSH

 

India has not really had a vibrant tradition of philanthropy. In feudal times, like everywhere else, the rulers scarcely bothered to use this tool of social legitimacy, so secure were they in their power secured by other means. The wealthy in general, when they did spend for charitable causes, concentrated their efforts and resources on religious institutions rather than any secular activities designed to benefit the needy or deserving at large.

 

In terms of capitalist philanthropy, the early pioneering industrialists of the late 19th and early 20th century were probably the best that we have had in this regard. The Jamshetji Tatas, Lala Shri Rams and a few others set up educational and cultural trusts and created institutions that the country still benefits from. But since then, the record has been patchy and generally poor. Estimates of the contributions made by the wealthy of India to charitable causes regularly find that they are well below international averages, and usually completely minuscule in relation to the large surpluses generated by the population, which accrue disproportionately to such individuals.

 

In fact, evidence of the reverse flow of wealth was evident in colonial times. Specifically, it was common to find major and minor princes and other feudal title holders using the wealth extracted by exploiting the peasantry of India to purchase expensive real estate in England, live in luxury there and hold large and flamboyant parties for the upper classes of the colonial power, in efforts to acquire the social acceptance that was made so difficult by the colour of their skin.

 

Since the colour of money generally dominates other shades, some of these princes did indeed gain entry into elite social circles. But contemporary accounts still reveal the rather amused, ironic and patronising nature of such acceptance, even as the guests had no difficulty in partaking of the lavish hospitality provided by the Indian hosts.

 

But the new 21st century is supposed to be different from those rather pathetic old days when our ruling classes were slavishly devoted to signs of acceptance from the old white societies. We are now an emerging power, aren't we, with a rapidly growing economy, a young population that provides lots of potential, and some of the richest and most ambitious capitalists to be found anywhere in the world. So we are now supposed to be much more self-confident, more able to look inwards and to our neighbours and use our resources to benefit our own society and people, right?

 

Wrong, unfortunately. Our dynamic new bourgeoisie unfortunately seems to have even less self-confidence than the brave individuals who managed to build industrial empires starting from a heavily colonial and difficult context. Some recent moves on the "charitable" front in particular suggest how far this bourgeoisie has to go before it will behave in even the most obvious ways that capitalists across the world have done in order to acquire legitimacy in their own societies.

 

Our new corporate leaders are mostly those who have inherited wealth, and also have benefited from a wide range of explicit and implicit subsidies provided by the government, ranging from free or cheap land to tax holidays of rebates, access to public institutional credit and little accountability on repayment. Even the "self-made" among them have benefited from the highly subsidised system of public higher education that gave them the skills to conquer the world.

 

Yet the record of corporate or individual donations is embarrassingly paltry, despite all the tax sops offered for contributions to educational and charitable institutions and all the expansive talk about corporate social responsibility. Representatives of foundations that seek such donations are full of stories about the churlish and penny-pinching ways of our donors. It is not just education in general that has failed to attract sufficient such funds. The extremely constrained ability of several major educational institutions to attract large funds even from the most economically successful alumni tells its own story.

 

But the surprising thing is that it is not as if such high-wealth individuals do not want to give their charity to education. They do, indeed, but to the biggest and richest and most famous institutions abroad rather than a struggling institution in their own country. It now seems that major donors are competing with each other as to how much each can outdo the other in contributing to these foreign institutions. If one gives $5 million to Yale University, another seeks to provide the same amount to Columbia University and yet another provides $10 million to Harvard. The most recent aggrandising gift has involved $50 million going to Harvard University. Meanwhile, the fuss that the London School of Economics has made over the spouse of another magnate, inviting her to deliver a lecture presided over by academic luminaries despite her evident lack of any academic achievement, suggests that we may soon see a flow of funds to that institution.

 

None of these donors has given anything like an equivalent amount to any Indian higher education institution, and several of them have shaken off eminently deserving requests for a fraction of these amounts to improve the facilities and quality of existing Indian universities. Of course there may be some direct quid pro quos involved in such donations, such as admission of progeny, but this seems like an excessively high price to pay for what is after all a relatively small matter.

 

It seems that the same lack of confidence that propelled our feudal princelings to spend the rents extracted from starving peasants to provide munificent hospitality to the sniggering English elite in colonial times still pervades our new bourgeoisie. The urge is to use the resources generated at home to seek foreign acceptance and legitimacy, rather than build in the society which enabled the enrichment.

 

This particular trait seems to be particularly developed among the Indian bourgeoisie. It is hard to imagine the pioneers of American philanthropy, who created foundations that are now international (like Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur and so on), spending their money in England rather than in the US. So it is not about capitalism in general but the peculiar Indian variant, which unfortunately still bears the marks of colonised minds in a globalised setting.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

MAGIC BY NUMBERS

BY DANIEL GILBERT

 

I RECENTLY wound up in the emergency room. Don't worry, it was probably nothing. But to treat my case of probably nothing, the doctor gave me a prescription for a week's worth of antibiotics, along with the usual stern warning about the importance of completing the full course.

 

I understood why I needed to complete the full course, of course. What I didn't understand was why a full course took precisely seven days. Why not six, eight or nine-and-a-half? Did the number seven correspond to some biological fact about the human digestive tract or the life cycle of bacteria?

 

My doctor seemed smart. She probably went to one of the nation's finest medical schools, and regardless of where she trained, she certainly knew more about medicine than I did. And yet, as I walked out of the emergency room that night with my prescription in hand, I couldn't help but suspect that I'd just been treated with magic.

 

Certain numbers have magical properties. E, pi and the Fibonacci series come quickly to mind — if you are a mathematician, that is. For the rest of us, the magic numbers are the familiar ones that have something to do with the way we keep track of time (seven say, and 24) or something to do with the way we count (namely, on 10 fingers). The "time numbers" and the "10 numbers" hold remarkable sway over our lives. We think in these numbers (if you ask people to produce a random number between one and a hundred, their guesses will cluster around the handful that end in zero or five) and we talk in these numbers (we say we will be there in five or 10 minutes, not six or 11).

 

But these magic numbers don't just dominate our thoughts and dictate our words; they also drive our most important decisions.

 

Consider my prescription. Antibiotics are a godsend, but just how many pills should God be sending? A recent study of antibiotic treatment published in a leading medical journal began by noting that "the usual treatment recommendation of seven to 10 days for uncomplicated pneumonia is not based on scientific evidence" and went on to show that an abbreviated course of three days was every bit as effective as the usual course of eight.

 

My doctor had recommended seven. Where in the world had seven come from?

 

Italy! Seven is a magic number because only it can make a week, and it was given this particular power in 321

AD by the Roman emperor Constantine, who officially reduced the week from eight days to seven. The problem isn't that Constantine's week was arbitrary — units of time are often arbitrary, which is why the Soviets adopted the five-day week before they adopted the six-day week, and the French adopted the 10-day week before they adopted the 60-day vacation. The problem is that Constantine didn't know a thing about bacteria, and yet modern doctors continue to honour his edict. If patients are typically told that every 24 hours (24 being the magic number that corresponds to the rotation of the earth) they should take three pills (three being the magic number that divides any time period into a beginning, middle and end) and that they should do this for seven days, they will end up taking 21 pills.

 

If even one of those pills is unnecessary — that is, if people who take 20 pills get just as healthy just as fast as people who take 21 — then millions of people are taking at least 5 per cent more medication than they actually need. This overdose contributes not only to the punishing costs of health care, but also to the evolution of the antibiotic-resistant strains of "superbugs" that may someday decimate our species. All of which seems like a rather high price to pay for fealty to ancient Rome.

 

Magic "time numbers" cost a lot, but magic "10 numbers" may cost even more. In 1962, a physicist named M.F.M. Osborne noticed that stock prices tended to cluster around numbers ending in zero and five. Why? Well, on the one hand, most people have five fingers, and on the other hand, most people have five more. It isn't hard to understand why an animal with 10 fingers would use a base-10 counting system. But according to economic theory, a stock's price is supposed to be determined by the efficient workings of the free market and not by the phalanges of the people trading it.

 

And yet, research shows that fingers affect finances. For example, a stock that closed the previous day at $10.01 will perform about as well as a stock that closed at $10.03, but it will significantly outperform a stock that closed at $9.99. If stocks close two pennies apart, then why does it matter which pennies they are? Because for animals that go from thumb to pinkie in four easy steps, 10 is a magic number, and we just can't help but use it as a magic marker — as a reference point that $10.01 exceeds and $9.99 does not. Retailers have known this for centuries, which is why so many prices end in nine and so few in one.

 

The hand is not the only part of our anatomy that gives certain numbers their magical powers. The tongue does too. Because of the acoustic properties of our vocal apparatus, some words just sound bigger than others. The back vowels (the "u" in buck) sound bigger than the front vowels (the "i" in sis), and the stops (the "b" in buck) sound bigger than the fricatives (the "s" in sis). As it turns out, in well over 100 languages, the words that denote bigness are made with bigger sounds.

 

The sound a number makes can influence our decisions about it. In a recent study, one group was shown an ad for an ice-cream scoop that was priced at $7.66, while another was shown an ad for a $7.22 scoop. The lower price is the better deal, of course, but the higher price (with its silky s's) makes a smaller sound than the lower price (with its rattling t's).

 

And because small sounds usually name small things, shoppers who were offered the scoop at the higher but whispery price of $7.66 were more likely to buy it than those offered the noisier price of $7.22 — but only if they'd been asked to say the price aloud.

 

The magic that magic numbers do is all too often black. They hold special significance for terrestrial mammals with hands and watches, but they mean nothing to streptococcus or the value of Google. Which is why we should be suspicious when the steps to sobriety correspond to a half turn of our planet, when the eternal commandments of God correspond to the architecture of our paws and when the habits of highly effective people — and highly trained doctors — correspond to the whims of a dead emperor.

 

- Daniel Gilbert is a professor of psychology at Harvard, the author of Stumbling on Happiness and the host of the television series This Emotional Life

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

GOD IS CYPHER

BY J.S. NEKI

 

When I was at school, in Class 7, I had a classmate, Faquir Bakhsh, who was 22-years-old, 11 years elder to most of the other boys in the class. The reason was that he was unable to join school till he was already 15. He was tall and had a flowing beard. When he came the first day, most students thought he was a teacher. Many of them shunned him when they realised he was a student. I was one among the few who befriended him. He told me that the great Sufi mystic Rumi of Iran was among his distant ancestors and that now he himself studies Sufi lore at home.

 

One day we both were returning from school and on the way he asked me, "Do you believe in God?"

 

"Yes, I do", I replied "What do you know about Him?" "He is very big." "How big?" I spread out both my arms full length and said, "That big!" "Your arms make a straight line . Is God only a straight line?"

 

I circumrotated my arms around me, and joining my hands behind, I said, "God is that big".

 

"You have now made a circle by circumrotating your arms. Is God bound in limits like a circle?"

 

I knew I was wrong, but did not know any other answer. I looked at him with questioning eyes. He smiled and said, "God is cypher". "A cypher?" I asked sceptically. "Yes, a cypher. A cypher can neither be increased nor decreased. So too God."

 

His logic was perfect. But I wasn't convinced. "How can God be cypher?" I thought.

 

Years passed. I was then studying in a Christian college at Lahore where an American professor used to teach us Divinity. All of us used to feel that he taught us spirituality rather than Christianity. During one of his classes, he asked us, "Tell me boys, what is all there in this room?" "Besides you, Sir, there are 30 boys and the furniture." He said: "Imagine that I go out of the room and you boys bring all the furniture out of the room. Then what will be left in the room?" "Nothing sir, the room will be completely empty." "You are quite right; but we can also say that the room will be full of emptiness." We shook our heads in affirmation. Then he said, "Emptiness is the basic stuff. Things will not find room for themselves if there were no emptiness." We again shook our head in the affirmative. "Mind you", he said, "emptiness not just surrounds things, it is also within them". That perplexed some of us, but those who were science students again indicated their affirmation. "Now", he said, "imagine that there are no walls around us and no obstacles even outside to block this emptiness. Would this emptiness not spread out infinitely?" "Yes!" we all said aloud. "Now imagine that within this infinite emptiness are located all the terrestrial bodies, the suns and the stars of the cosmos, and this emptiness also percolates into their interiors." He paused and then asked us, "Do you know of anything else that surrounds all the bodies in the universe and even the entire universe, at the same time also pervading within all these bodies?" One of us got up and said, "God, sir!" "Thank you! Yes, God is the infinite emptiness." I was then reminded of Faquir Bakhsh who had once said, "God is cypher".

 

Sometime later, when I studied the Systems of Indian Philosophy, I happened to learn that in Vedanta, Brahman, the Supreme Absolute Reality is described as "neti, neti", that is, "neither this nor that". I then thought, "from wherever we may start, we come to the same conclusion that God is cypher".

 

— J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was director of PGIMER, Chandigarh. He also received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contribution to Punjabi verse. Currently he is Professor of Eminence in Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.

 

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

EDITORIAL

US'S DUPLICITY

'IT RAISES SERIOUS DOUBTS ABOUT US'S COOPERATION.'

 

Fresh information that has become public about US double agent David Coleman Headley's role in terrorist action directed at India is a damning indictment of the conduct of US anti-terrorist organisations. It has now been revealed that Headley's suspicious activities had been brought to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by his two wives much before the 26/11 attack in Mumbai. One of his wives had told the FBI three years before the attack that he was an active militant with links to the Lashkar-e-Toiba and had received training in Pakistan. Evidence, including cassettes and other material of his activities, were also presented. Another wife had told the FBI of his activities and even shown the agency's officials of his pictures in the Taj Mahal hotel which he visited for reconnaissance and to prepare the ground for the attack. This was one year before the attack.


If the US agency had taken the warnings seriously, the attack might not have even taken place. Instead, it dismissed the information and refused to alert India about the conspiracy which was taking shape then. The US State Department says that there were no specific details about the timing of the attack or details which could be passed on to India. The time of the attack may not have been finalised at that time but what prevented the US agency from alerting India on the plan and the man who was involved in it? The FBI even refused to consider the details provided by the women and almost told one of them not to approach them in future with her concerns.

It is now known that Headley was a double agent who was also working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and that may have made the FBI protect him and show leniency to him. It was after much diplomatic pressure that the US even gave access for Indian officials to Headley and allowed them to question him after he was held for his activities. Therefore there is reason to presume that the reports about him were deliberately ignored because he might still have been of use to the US. That casts serious doubts on the quality of US intelligence co-operation with India and the sincerity of US officials in practising such co-operation. If the warnings were ignored for any other reason, that also raises questions about the efficiency of the US counter-terrorism machinery.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

ALARM BELLS

'GERMANY SHOULD BECOME OPEN IN ITS APPROACH.'

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's statement that Germany's attempts at building a multicultural society have 'absolutely failed' is a worrying sign that the country could go the way of France ie down the road of cultural and social intolerance. Her observation comes amidst a rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany. Recent surveys provide pointers to the depth of hostility that immigrants evoke in Germany as 30 per cent of those surveyed said they believed the country was 'overrun by foreigners.' 


Germany has a large number of immigrants, mainly from Turkey. That this hostility is rooted in suspicion of Islam is obvious from the fact that 60 per cent of respondents were in favour of restrictions being imposed on the practice of Islam in the country. However, the phenomenon is broader. Anti-Jewish feeling too seems to be mounting as 17 per cent of the respondents said that the Jewish community has too much influence. That 13 per cent would welcome a 'Fuhrer,' a German word for leader that is explicitly associated with Adolf Hitler, should send alarm bells ringing through Germany if not Europe.


Economic crisis and unemployment together with ignorance underlie this hostility towards 'foreigners.' Political leaders, unable or unwilling to tackle the root cause, prefer to deflect anger away from themselves by directing public attention towards immigrants and blaming them for the shortage of jobs. This has resulted in the surge of sentiment against foreigners and their cultures. Multiculturalism has not failed in Germany. Rather it has not been allowed to succeed by vested interests who have worked to keep society divided. Those who are blaming immigrants for their economic woes should bear in mind that the German economy depends on the hard work, knowledge and skills of immigrants. Hate speech could trigger an exodus of immigrants that would in turn deepen economic problems.


Merkel has blamed immigrants for the failure of multiculturalism in Germany. She is wrong. The onus of building a multicultural society lies with the German state that must be more inclusive and open in its approach to immigrants. Those who are announcing the demise of multiculturalism must bear in mind that it cannot be built overnight. It happens over generations. Learning German will not by itself contribute to building a multicultural society. Immigrants need to feel included to achieve that.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

NOTHING TO BE ALARMED

BY B G VERGHESE


Syed Ali Geelani is an unab-ashed Pakistani for whom the Kashmir jihad is a duty imposed by Islam on the worldwide Muslim ummah.

 

The frenzy that followed Omar Abdullah's statement in the J&K Assembly on October 6 was much ado about nothing, based on a poor understanding of the facts and process of the post-Independence integration of the princely states. The Assembly was in turmoil and BJP and Panther MLAs had to be ejected from the chamber for unruly behaviour.


The chief minister was accused of challenging Kashmir's accession and its status as an integral part of India. He did nothing of the kind. Outraged Pandits accused him of fostering separatism. Syed Ali Shah Geelani hailed Omar's statement as a belated admission of the bitter truth of a 'dispute' that required a 'political settlement' and hailed it as a great separatist 'victory.' Poor man. His delusions grow by the day.


What are the facts? Article 1(2) of the Constitution read alongside the First Schedule (and the corresponding provisions of the J&K constitution) names J&K as a constituent unit of the Union and as much an integral part of India as Bihar or Gujarat. Omar did not question this.


The BJP has consistently misinterpreted and misunderstood Article 370. This falls under the chapter governing 'temporary, transitional and special provisions'. It defines the special relationship between the Union and J&K and the mechanism for modifying it.


Much anger was, aroused by Omar's statement that J&K acceded conditionally in 1947 but did not merge with India like other princely states. He is perfectly correct. Accession, in the case of all states, was limited to the three heads of defence, foreign affairs and communications. This was followed in one or more steps by merger agreements that were concluded individually with larger states and collectively with smaller states brought together to form coherent units like Kathiawar, PEPSU, Matsya, Chhattisgarh and the Eastern (Orissa) and Deccan states union.


V P Menon explains (in 'The Integration of the Indian States') that the peremptory merger of any state after accession would have been contrary to Sardar Patel's assurances to the princes on July 5, 1947, and the subsequent commitment formally made by the Viceroy in the Chamber of Princes on July 25, 1947. He comments, "it was true that at that time we were anxious by the policy of accession on three subjects to preserve the integrity of the country, thus preventing the states from becoming so many 'Ulsters' in the body-politic."


The rulers of the Eastern States Union and of Chhattisgarh signed the merger agreement on December 15, 1947. On January 26, 1948, at its very first meeting, the constituent assembly of the United Deccan States resolved that it merge with Bombay province. Kohlapur, a stand-out, merged some weeks later. Saurashtra, Matsya and Vindhya Pradesh followed.


Accession

In the case of the Rajasthan Union, Menon notes it was made obligatory on the Rajpramukh "to accept all the subjects in the federal and concurrent lists for legislation by the Dominion Legislature, excepting entries relating to taxation and duties." Financial integration followed. This was repeated in regard to Travancore-Cochin and Mysore. J&K remained the only exception. It acceded but did not merge. Article 370 survives.

Omar Abdullah merely reaffirmed the special status of J&K. If Geelani takes comfort in this it means he accepts that the state is an integral part of India. Critics took umbrage at Omar's referring to the 'dispute' over J&K. Nothing wrong there. It is not the fact but the nature of the dispute that is in contention. From the Indian point of view, the dispute revolves around Pakistan's failure to vacate its aggression which India took to the UN Security Council in 1948. If Omar called for a political resolution of the matter, he merely stated the obvious.

Pakistan has now fired its annual broadside in the UN, going back on the Manmohan-Musharraf formula that Musharraf has again insisted was fairly close to becoming a done deal — when he backed off after messing things up at home. His statement that Islamabad sponsored terror groups in Pakistan to operate against Kashmir (read India), later crudely retracted (but recently confirmed by the UN Commission that inquired into Benazir Bhutto's killing), merely conforms to the familiar pattern of Pakistan's rulers living a lie since 1947.


Meanwhile, the Jamait Ulame-e-Hind and the Darul Ulema Deoband have described J&K as an integral part of India and Kashmiri demands must be addressed within the framework of the Indian constitution. This apostasy has drawn fire from Kashmir separatists who would deny Indian Muslims any locus standi in J&K.


Geelani, like many Pakistanis, has not read Jinnah's repudiation of the two-nation theory in his August 11, 1947, address to the Pakistan constituent assembly, discounting any commonality between Muslims even within Pakistan. Geelani is an unabashed Pakistani for whom the Kashmir jihad is a duty imposed by Islam on the worldwide Muslim ummah. These are the rantings of a sick mind. Let us all get our facts and history right.


The new J&K non-political interlocutors, Dileep Padgaonkar, M M Ansari and Radha Kumar, and the two task forces for Jammu and Ladakh, just appointed have knowledge, balance and experience and must now be given a chance to get a quiet dialogue going. Political endorsement will necessarily have to follow. If anyone wishes to stay out of the dialogue, let them not think they command a veto. The caravan must move on.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

WHOEVER WINS, BIHAR NEEDS TIME TO EXCEL

BY SHASHIKALA SITARAM


Nitish is one of the best CMs. But the ethos in Indian politics does not profess to link perfor-mance with votes.

 

Bihar is due for Assembly elections; in a six-phase schedule spread over a month, 243 legislators will be elected. The speculation on which of the two main contendors will win — Lalu Prasad's RJD or Nitish Kumar's JD(U) — is making the rounds.


Bihar elections always draw attention because of its flavour, much of which is contributed by Lalu and his zestful remarks. Lalu has already proclaimed that he will be the next chief minister.


Bihar has much to offer now than earlier. It has shown 11 per cent GDP growth and remarkable increase in agriculture production. The fund flow from the Centre has increased from Rs 37,341 crore in 2000-06 to Rs 55,459 crore in 2006-09. The transformation of the state —from being 'backward' to becoming 'booming' — has been remarkable, especially given the flood and the drought situation that rocks the state frequently.


Nitish Kumar claims that Bihar is shining because of him. He promises to take Bihar to newer heights, if given another term. He is, at present, considered one of the best performing chief minister in the country. But then, the ethos in Indian politics does not profess to link performance with votes. Two of the one-time contenders to this title Chandra Babu Naidu and Digvijaya Singh, lost subsequent elections in their home states on various 'other'  grounds.

Panchayats' role

Post-debacle analysis of the aforesaid chief ministers indicates negligence of panchayats as one of the contributing factor. In contrast, Nitish Kumar, has been making efforts to strengthen the panchayats. He has raised the constitutionally mandated 33 per cent reservation for women in the local bodies to 50 per cent. With the panchayat elections held in 2006, Bihar has placed 63,983 women representatives at 38 zilla parishads, 531 panchayat samithis and 8,463 grama panchayats.


Women's representation in politics is, however, resented by men representatives with comments on surrogating by the spouse. Bringing in gender role changes is difficult, given the role model at the state from 1997 to 2005 as chief minister was Rabri Devi, who in reality, extended Lalu's term of 1990. In the ensuing elections, Rabri is contesting from two constituencies — Raghopur and Somepar. That this is to facilitate Lalu's backdoor entry remains a foregone conclusion.


Remnants of Lalu's rule remains impinged on people's psyche. As a rule, the grama panchayat mobilises local resources by levying tax. The mukhiyas — panchayat presidents — are reluctant to impose tax. They fear that this would invite public displeasure, much of which would be fuelled by the opponents. They however affirm the need for resources — to build drains, get electricity and other amenities to the villages but have resigned to the situation — 'ye Bihar hai, yeha aisa he chalega' (this is Bihar, things will go on like this).


But change is what Bihar needs. The left-party run West Bengal has a case to prove as effective decentralisation, combined with land reforms has enabled reduction in poverty from 73 to 26 per cent over three decades. Like West Bengal, Bihar too is predominantly rural — with 89 per cent of the population living in villages. The rural poverty ratio is 44.3 per cent, second highest in the country, after Orissa. The landless and marginal agricultural households contribute to the rural poverty. The skewed land distribution remains a major problem. Many of the local feuds are because of this.


The feuds do not get sorted locally though there are grama katcheris (justice tribunals). This is another uniqueness of the panchayat raj system in Bihar, continued from its earlier tenets. Grama katcheris have the limited use of equalising political forces at the grassroots level.


Bihar has also introduced legal measures to curb criminal and anti-social elements at local body elections. Disqualification to contest in elections and hold the office, if found corrupt, if convicted by a criminal court and sentenced to imprisonment and so on.


This election will be a small pointer to which way the state will move in the near future. Whether the now-teething panchayats will support Nitish Kumar or will Lalu return like the proverbial aalu in Bihar's samosa — one of his famous cliché — remains to be seen. The social stratification leading to caste wars have been apparent at the panchayat elections too, proving Bihar's maxim of 'voting the caste — not casting the vote.' Bihar poses hoards of other problems too that need to be addressed. The Report of the Special Task Force on Bihar, 2008 points to 55.9 per cent of children being underweight, the national average is 42.5 per cent. The Human Development Index of the state ranks 32.


It would take decades for any of the political parties to bring back the glorious past to Bihar. It has become increasingly difficult to remember Bihar as the place where Vardhamana Mahavira was born and Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

HANDS THAT HELP

BY AMBIKA ANANTH


His mission is to equip them with education and help them lead their lives.

 

On phone, his voice sounded terrible and sad — that is very unlikely of him. Usually when he calls, he's cheerful. I would always feel rejuvenated and happy with the affection he showers. But hearing him sound so low this time around, I got worried.


"She needs surgical intervention, doctors found some congenital cardiac anomaly — she is very depressed," he said. The calls made earlier, in the past, were to report happy news — "he passed with good percentage," "she got a seat in BEd," "he joined the hot favourite course of youngsters — BBM," so on and so forth. He would add cheerfully "Namma Makkalu" are making me very proud...! He was very worried for this young girl of 16, who needed immediate surgical intervention.


This man, a polyglot, a writer, a translator, a teacher, above all a compassionate person, started an orphanage for destitute children and children from under privileged families, naming it aptly 'Namma Makkalu.' His mission as a true teacher, is to equip them with education, to help them lead their lives as civilised, educated citizens. Some of the children have completed graduation, some have even reached PG level and have found employment too. One girl is a high school teacher now, she emulates her mentor totally. He is prepared to give his time, energy, attention to the children, despite his own constraints and crises. He funds 'Namma Makkalu'  by royalties from the books he has authored and translated and through donations by philanthropic people. "For what we need, I am ready to beg anywhere," when he says so, I see a saint in him. He says "Baduku kathe alla, kavithe alla…" life is neither a story nor a poem — life is a hard reality.


He lost his leg in a freak accident sometime back, but that has not 'crippled' his ideals. God makes some people with stronger stuff I believe. "Scatter kindness along the way and you will never walk alone." How very true... when he moves around, the children with smiling faces are around him. I feel truly proud of my friend and his selfless initiative. I am sure, loads of love is growing everyday to be given away in my friend's giving heart.
Trying to do my best to the emergency situation being faced by 'Namma Makkalu' to save the young life, I sent an email to all my friends and relatives — instantaneous replies filled my inbox,  promising help to the young girl. Surely, we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

EDITORIAL

THE URGENT IMPERATIVE TO TACKLE POVERTY

 

It is possible to fight poverty without increasing welfare transfers that discourage people from getting off the dole and into the labor market.

 

Data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Sunday to mark the UN's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty should serve as a wake-up call for the government's economic policy- makers.


Socioeconomic indicators show that Israel ranked worse than any of the 27 countries that belong to the EU. For example, in 2008, 29 percent of Israelis were at risk of poverty, compared to an EU-27 average of 17%.


This means that after various welfare benefits nearly one-third of Israelis were living under the "poverty threshold," which is defined as 60% of a country's median income. Only Latvia (26%), Romania (23%), Bulgaria (21%), Greece, Spain and Lithuania (all 20%) came close to Israel's worryingly high poverty rate.


Another problematic figure was income inequality. Israel ranked highest in this category as well. In 2008, the top 20% of wage earners made 7.5 more than the bottom 20%. In contrast, the EU average was just 4.9.


Israel's struggle with rising poverty and income inequality is nothing new. In January of this year, Mexican OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, a friend of Israel, presented his organization's economic survey as a precursor to Israel's acceptance to the OECD. Gurría criticized the fact that one-fifth of Israelis live under the poverty line, which is defined as half of the median income. This is much higher than the OECD average of 11%.

Particularly unsettling is the fact that nearly half of all Israeli Arabs are poor. And though they make up just a fifth of the population, one-third of Israel's poor are Arab.


The low level of participation in the labor force, particularly among Arab women and among older Arab men, is a partial explanation. Over the past few years, Arabs' poverty rates have gradually fallen due to higher employment rates. But more needs to be done to provide the Arab population with better and more education. High-school dropout rates, while falling, are still over four times higher, at 36%, among Arab Muslims aged 25 to 34 than among Jews.


Also, though the 2000 Fair Representation Law was supposed to integrate more Arab Israelis into the public sector, they remain just 6% of a work force of about 57,000, about the same proportion as a decade ago. Security concerns might explain part of the underrepresentation, but not all.

 

Haredim are another chronically poor population. About 60% live below the poverty line, due in large part to low employment rates. This week's declaration by haredi spiritual leaders that they would refuse to introduce English, math and science into their schools' curricula was the latest reminder that our fastest growing population sector – which will soon make up a quarter of all Israeli 18-year-olds – is producing students unequipped for the modern labor market.


Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer warned in July that the high rates of haredi unemployment were "unsustainable,' and it is clear that considerably more efforts need to be made to streamline the transition of yeshiva students into the job market, after they perform military or national service.


IN THE past decade, economic policy-makers – including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – have successfully reduced inflation, introduced fiscal discipline and improved competition in the economy. Now a concerted government effort must be made to fight poverty.


It is possible to fight poverty without increasing welfare transfers that discourage people from getting off the dole and into the labor market. Expanding implementation of a negative income tax – which we have advocated in the past – and enforcing wage laws for Israeli as well as foreign workers are just two examples.


Sadly, the government has postponed until 2013 a plan aimed at fighting poverty by ensuring that the net incomes of our lowest wage earners would grow no slower than GDP per capita. The plan was an example of how the government should set a specific goal and take steps to realize it.


We hope that the CBS's poverty figures and the upcoming National Insurance Institute's Poverty Report will persuade economic policy-makers that the time has come to adopt a coherent, goal-oriented plan of action to reduce, if not eradicate, poverty in Israel.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

EDITORIAL

REALITY CHECK: A NEW WAY FOR LABOR?

BY JEFF BARAK  

 

Isaac Herzog's decision to run for the leadership is the best news this embattled and dispirited party has had in a long time.

 

Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog's decision to run for the Labor Partyleadership is the best news this embattled and dispirited party has had in a long time. Indeed, given that recent polls have Labor sinking to six seats in the next Knesset elections, Labor has been very short of anything remotely resembling a positive development since mistakenly joining Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition.


Labor has lost its way, and party chairman Ehud Barak is not the person to lead it back to electoral success. Labor needs a leader with a firm voice and a clear direction, and Barak, as shown in his pathetic zigzagging last week over the loyalty oath for non-Jews wishing to become citizens, provides neither.


Herzog called it right: The decision to force a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state on non-Jews (and not all would-be citizens) reflects, as he told Army Radio, the "whiff of fascism on the margins of Israeli society. The overall picture is very disturbing and threatens the democratic character of the State of Israel. There has been a tsunami of measures that limit rights."


(And you don't have to be a card-carrying leftist to see the danger of the loyalty oath. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, whose loyalty to the Land of Israel is unquestionable, also spoke out against the measure, arguing that the proposal brought no benefits and "could arm our enemies and opponents in the world in an effort to emphasize the trend for separatism or even racism within Israel.") 


BARAK STAKED his, and the Labor Party's future on a partnership with Netanyahu. Now, 18 months down the road, it's becoming clear that all the talk of Netanyahu truly being ready to make a historic compromise with the Palestinians is just talk. The prime minister's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for extending the settlement freeze for another two months is a feeble attempt on his part to shift the blame for a breakdown in the peace process to the Palestinians. Netanyahu, it seems, is not prepared to pay the territorial price of a two-state solution.


In this situation, there is no point in Labor staying in the government. In fact, there have been numerous times when Labor should have left, the latest being Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's embarrassing speeches at the United Nations last month, in which he basically called for the expulsion of Israel's Arab citizens.


Netanyahu's limp response to an address by his foreign minister which totally undermined the government's official position, followed by his support for the racist loyalty oath, should make it abundantly clear to anyone who professes to support the values of the Labor movement that there is no place for Labor in a government headed by Netanyahu and heavily influenced by Lieberman.


Barak's argument that Labor can lead Netanyahu toward peace no longer holds water. At the beginning of this government's term, with Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech and maybe as recently as his own speech to the UN, in which he reaffirmed his determination to reach a two-state solution, there was hope that Netanyahu had thrown off his ideological shackles and was prepared to seek a deal.


The events of the past few weeks, unfortunately, have shown that Netanyahu has returned to the Bibi of old. The loyalty oath brings back memories of his racist 1996 election slogan "Bibi is good for the Jews," while his refusal to extend the settlement freeze is reminiscent of the way he successfully used settlement building to torpedo any chance of revitalizing the Oslo process during his first term. The decision to announce a building tender for new housing in east Jerusalem at the end of last week casts further doubts on Netanyahu's sincerity when it comes to the peace process.


NOW THAT Herzog has thrown down his marker, he must immediately work to change the Labor Party's constitution, that has the next leadership elections scheduled for 2012. Labor cannot wait that long.


Herzog should also resign his cabinet portfolio and join the other Labor MKs on the backbenches who want to see the party leave Netanyahu's coalition.


By leaving the government, Herzog won't bring about its immediate collapse, but it will be the first sign that the coalition is beginning to crumble.


Labor needs a spell in opposition to reinvigorate itself and shape a new message to take to the voters.


With Kadima siphoning off the center and the center-right vote, Labor needs to return to its social-democratic roots and tack leftward, offering a comprehensive vision, both diplomatically and economically.


This will be no easy task, but Israel is in desperate need of a social-democratic party that will close the ever-widening gaps between the haves and the have-nots, as well as one which will snuff out the "whiffs of fascism" Herzog has detected. The disturbing poll in this weekend's Yediot Aharonot, which showed that only 63 percent of the Jewish population believe that non-Jewish (i.e. Arab) citizens should have the right to vote, shows that the lurch to the far Right is not confined to the country's political margins.


The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

YALLA PEACE: LONELY, OH SO (INCREASINGLY) LONELY

BY RAY HANANIA  

 

Israel's standing in int'l community continues to falter as country becomes more isolated. But things could easily change with help of its only real reliable ally, the US.

Talkbacks (9)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's refusal to freeze settlement expansion during the direct peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reinforced a reversal of Israel's relations with many countries in the Middle East.


As long as it insists on placing its desire to hold onto lands that would become part of a future Palestinian state above reaching a permanent peace accord, that reversal will grow.


This week, Moroccan King Muhammad VI reportedly declined to meet with President Shimon Peres, writing in his letter to him that such a meeting was "impossible at the moment."


The Arab League is backing Abbas's refusal to sit down with Netanyahu as long as he continues to authorize settlement construction on lands that would presumably be exchanged for a secure Israeli future.


Relations between the Arab world and Israel are getting chillier by the moment and Turkey, once a close ally, continues to distance itself. Britain and Spain recently announced that they will not send representatives to the OECD conference in Jerusalem later this week, though the UK denied that this was a boycott. Norway last month divested from Elbit because of its reported ties to the security barrier in the West Bank. Singers and artists are canceling their scheduled performances and trips, the most recent incident involving British director Mike Leigh.


When Arab states boycotted Israel after the Six Day War, it had far many more friends in the world. Today, Israel's standing in the international community continues to falter and the country is becoming increasingly isolated.

But things could easily change with its only real reliable ally, the US.

PRESIDENT BARACK Obama is a weak president these days, not because of his insistence on pushing for compromise in the Middle East, but because of continued economic challenges in the US.


Obama's Democratic Party is expected to lose control of Congress in the November 2 general elections, but traditionally a president's party almost always loses control of the Congress in midterm elections. It has happened to his predecessors, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

 

Losing that control doesn't mean that Obama will not be reelected in November 2012. The man is different from his predecessors in many ways, including his insistence on tackling the Middle East conflict as soon as he came into office. His predecessors usually took on this task toward the end of their terms, never giving themselves enough time.


If Obama is elected a second time, he would be in a far different position politically and not subject to the pressures of Israel's political climate. He will have another four years to reposition the Palestinian question in a new way that could change how Americans view the conflict.

Americans today generally support Israel but more and more are seeing the imbalance for what it really is and are showing sympathies to the Palestinians. The only thing stopping Americans from making a full conversion are the Arab fanatics and extremist activists.


These extremist activists' policies make it easy for Americans to support Israel. Their street protests and their virulent anti-Semitism have strengthened Israel's standing, and their failure to achieve any swing in American votes only pushes them to bully their community and to target moderate voices.


They won't change the political dynamics in the US, but Israel's obstinate refusal to give up lands designated for a future Palestinian state alongside it is becoming increasingly clear to many Americans. It's not significant now, but it will be if Obama is sworn in for a second term.


Things are changing and some Israelis either don't see it or have buried their heads so deep in the sand, they can't see it. They have allowed their own extremist voices to take over their country and reject a way for peace that the country's founders had always claimed was their goal.


Israel is becoming a nation from which many of its international allies are finding it easier to walk away.

Ending settlement expansion is a simple choice, one that would lead to permanent peace. Israel must decide, once and for all, between building on more land and taking its place among the countries of the Middle East, countries that would include a sovereign and free Palestine.


It cannot have both.


The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.


www.YallaPeace.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

TERRA INCOGNITA: THE FAILURE TO SECURE HOME OWNERSHIP

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN  

 

This was supposed to be a country of hope for the world's Jews. But when it comes to buying a home, the Jewish citizens have little hope of obtaining this essential lifestyle.

 

Afascinating set of statistics were presented by Channel 2's Oren Aharoni on October 13. The report was titled "In Israel people work the hardest to buy a house."


According to the data, it takes just 30 months of work for the average Swede to buy a house. The American works 60 months, while the Israeli is burdened by 129 months.


The information is not based on how much a person might actually work and save or whether he can secure a mortgage to finance a house, it is just raw math calculated on a person working without spending any money and saving every penny toward the home. Consider the American numbers: 60 months multiplied by an average salary of $2,000 a month equals $120,000. That is the cost of a home in the type of market where the average salary is $2,000 (i.e. Arizona). So the numbers make sense.


What is happening here? Based on the math it seems that a person making NIS 5,000 a month can achieve his dream of buying a home for NIS 645,000 in 11 years. Of course he won't ever achieve his dream because when one factors in all the expenses the person must pay out every month, including utility bills, rent and taxes, he is left with a tiny sum to save toward buying a home. Even with the possibility of obtaining a mortgage, which in reality is the only reason average people in any country can ever purchase a home, the Israeli is not only behind his peers in other countries but he faces an increasingly uphill battle to obtain propertied independence.

Why is this the fate of Israelis? This was supposed to be a country of hope for the world's Jews, a place they could call their own and put down roots. But when it comes to home ownership, which is a large part of identifying with one's landscape, the Jewish citizens have little hope of obtaining this essential lifestyle.

One must write "Jewish" here because all things are not the same when it comes to home ownership. The Arab community owns most of the fully private land (5 percent roughly) and home ownership is held in high esteem in Arab culture (one oftrepeated ditty is "have a son, build a house, plant a tree"). The Arab community suffers from perceived building restrictions and overcrowding, lack of planning, infrastructure and other issues, but owning one's own property is not one of the factors mentioned by Arab rights groups as an issue of discrimination.

SO WHAT is it that has turned the Zionist dream of living in one's own land on its head? One oft-repeated excuse for the lack of affordable housing and steep prices is that there is a lack of land. Obviously relatively wealthy countries with a high population density tend to have housing price problems. In the 1990s the business world was abuzz with stories of the "100-year Japanese mortgage" or what was called the "three generational loan."

In the society of the "salaryman" (the Japanese term for the lifetime employee in a business suit) such exotic financial instruments, while not necessarily the norm, shine a light on what befell Japanese urban society due to rising real estate prices.

Home ownership was not only out of the grasp of the Japanese though. Under communism in Russia newlyweds told nightmare stories of waiting years to get the "right" to live in small dingy apartments.

But Israel isn't Russia under the stagnation of the Brezhnev years, nor is it crazily hitech urban Japan. Even in the worst development towns or peripheral communities, home ownership remains a tough call.


In Beersheba the statistics tell us that one must work full time for 58 months and save every penny.


How is it possible that in the rural periphery, in the desert where there are millions of empty dunams, that people cannot afford to buy a simple apartment, let alone a house? The answer is partly salaries. Public salaries are abysmal. Police are paid a paltry starting wage of NIS 4,400 a month. Private salaries aren't any better except in some industries in Tel Aviv, and there they still don't compensate for the ridiculous price of real estate (216 months of work to purchase an apartment).


Some of those interviewed on Channel 2 pointed to a government solution. Dov Henin, the Hadash MK, complained about lack of government support for more housing. Another man voiced anger that the government sends people to army reserve duty but "gives them no hope" afterward.


Government can't solve all our problems.


Artificially low prices for apartments or building more flats isn't the only answer. Some hidden problems affecting the real estate market can be found elsewhere. One issue that doesn't always exist in other countries is that the rural property market is very frozen. To put it simply, Arabs and Jews are not able to relocate. No Jew can move to an Arab neighborhood and in many cases can't even gain admittance to Jewish rural communities, like kibbutzim and moshavim. Arabs also are generally unable to buy homes anywhere but within their own communities.

This creates, for better or worse, a frozen market, one artificially structured to allow only certain groups to live in certain places, the opposite of a free and open real estate market. Obsession with planning – the resulting eyesores can be seen in every development town and suburban or urban community – leads to building plans being approved that have nothing to do with the private demand for housing.


How else to explain the absolute scandal that is the Jerusalem housing market where the statistics tell us one must work 151 months, in one of the poorest cities in the country, to buy a property? Government regulation, the inability of ethnic groups to mingle, the domination of the rural environment by communes from another era and other factors have conspired to crush the dream of home ownership.


The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew university and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

NO HOLDS BARRED: THE JEWISH VIEW OF HOMOSEXUALITY

BY SHMULEY BOTEACH  

 

I have numerous gay friends whose greatest fear, like so many straight people, is to end up alone. Should we merely throw the book at these people?"

Talkbacks (6)

 

Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, sparked controversy last week by declaring in a speech at an Orthodox synagogue that children shouldn't be "brainwashed" into considering homosexuality acceptable. He later apologized, saying that he supports gay rights but opposes gay marriage.


The rabbi who hosted Paladino's speech then retracted his endorsement of the candidate. Likewise, the Jewish Standard in New Jersey recently sparked a community-wide uproar by publishing a gay wedding announcement.

People of faith insist that homosexuality is the most serious of sins because the Bible calls it an abomination.

But the word appears approximately 122 times in the Bible. Eating nonkosher food is an abomination (Deuteronomy 14:3). A woman returning to her first husband after being married in the interim is an abomination (Deut. 24:4). And bringing a blemished sacrifice on God's altar is an abomination (Deut. 17:1.). Proverbs goes so far as to label envy, lying and gossip as that which "the Lord hates and are an abomination to Him" (3:32, 16:22).


As an Orthodox rabbi who reveres the Bible, I do not deny the biblical prohibition on male same-sex relationships. Rather, I simply place it in context.


There are 613 commandments in the Torah. One is to refrain from gay sex. Another is for men and women to marry and have children. So when Jewish gay couples come to me for counselling and tell me they have never been attracted to the opposite sex in their entire lives and are desperately alone, I tell them, "You have 611 commandments left. That should keep you busy. Now, go create a kosher home with a mezuza on the door. Turn off the TV on the Sabbath and share your festive meal with many guests. Put on tefillin and pray to God three times a day, for you are His beloved children. He desires you and seeks you out."


Once, I said to my friend Pat Robertson, whom I have always found engaging and open in our conversations, "Why can't you simply announce to all gay men and women, 'Come to church. Whatever relationship you're in, God wants you to pray. He wants you to give charity. He wants you to lead a godly life."


He answered to the effect that homosexuality is too important to overlook, seeing as it poses the most grave risk to the institution of marriage. Other Evangelical leaders have told me the same. Homosexuality is the single greatest threat to the family.


BUT WITH one of two heterosexual marriages failing, with 70 percent of the Internet dedicated to the degradation of women through pornography and with a culture that is materially insatiable even as it remains all-too spiritually content, can we straight people say with a straight face that gays are ruining our families? We've done a mighty fine job of it ourselves.


The extreme homophobia that is unfortunately to be found among many of my religious brothers and sisters – in many Arab countries being gay is basically a death sentence – stems from an even more fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of sin. The Ten Commandments were given on two tablets to connote two different kinds of transgression, religious and moral. The first tablet discusses religious transgressions between God and man, such as the prohibitions of idolatry, blasphemy and desecrating the Sabbath. The second tablets contains the moral sins between man and his fellow man, like adultery, theft, and murder.


The mistake of so many well-meaning people of faith is to believe that homosexuality is a moral rather than a religious sin. A moral sin involves injury to an innocent party. But who is being harmed when two, unattached, consenting adults are in a relationship? Rather, homosexuality is akin to the prohibition of lighting fire on the Sabbath or eating bread during Passover. There is nothing immoral about it, but it violates the divine will.


For the record, I am in favor of gay civil unions rather than marriage because I am against redefining marriage.


But I hardly believe that gay marriage is the end of Western civilization.

 

For me the real killer is the tsunami of divorce and the untold disruption to children as they become yo-yos going from house to house on weekends.


The American religious and electoral obsession with all-gay-marriage-all- the-time has led to a values-vacuum where it is near impossible to discuss real solutions to the erosion of family life. For instance, making marital counselling tax deductible would do infinitely more to bolster the crumbling institution of marriage than any opposition to gay relationships.


Likewise, promoting a code of gentlemanly conduct for men on American college campuses and negating the prevailing hook-up culture where sex even precedes dating could spark a return to romantic and long-term commitments.

Finally, getting more families to sign up for our international "Turn Friday Night into Family Night" would give children in general, and girls in particular, greater self-esteem as they are focused on by their parents for at least two hours each week without any electronic interference. And children with self-confidence later create stronger adult relationships.


I have numerous gay friends whose greatest fear, like so many straight people, is to end up alone. Should we merely throw the book at these people? Does not the same book, the Bible, also say, "It is not good for man to be alone?" And all I'm asking from my religious brethren is this: Even as you oppose gay relationships because of your beliefs, please be tortured by your opposition. Understand that when our most deeply held beliefs conflict with our basic humanity, we should feel the tragedy of the conflict, rather than simply find convenient scapegoats upon whom to blame all of America's ills.


The writer is the author of Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life and is founder of This World: The Values Network, a national organization that promotes universal Jewish values to heal America. Follow him on Twitter@Rabbishmuley and at www.shmuley.com.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

THE WAR AGAINST THE JEWS

BY RUPERT MURDOCH  

 

When people see a Jewish prime minister treated badly by an American president, they see a more isolated Jewish state.

Talkbacks (12)

 

We live in a world where there is an ongoing war against the Jews. For the first decades after Israel's founding, this war was conventional in nature. The goal was straightforward: to use military force to overrun Israel. Well before the Berlin Wall came down, that approach had clearly failed.


Then came phase two: terrorism. Terrorists targeted Israelis both home and abroad – from the massacre of Israeli athletes at Munich to the second intifada.


The terrorists continue to target Jews across the world. But they have not succeeded in bringing down the Israeli government – and they have not weakened Israeli resolve.


Now the war has entered a new phase. This is the soft war that seeks to isolate Israel by delegitimizing it.


The battleground is everywhere: the media, multinational organizations, NGOs. In this war, the aim is to make Israel a pariah.


The result is the curious situation we have today: Israel becomes increasingly ostracized, while Iran – a nation that has made no secret of wishing Israel's destruction – pursues nuclear weapons loudly, proudly, and without apparent fear of rebuke.


For me, this ongoing war is a fairly obvious fact of life. Every day, the citizens of the Jewish homeland defend themselves against armies of terrorists whose maps spell out the goal they have in mind: a Middle East without Israel. In Europe, Jewish populations increasingly find themselves targeted by people who share that goal. And in the United States, I fear that our foreign policy sometimes emboldens these extremists.

 

THERE ARE two things that worry me most. First is the disturbing new home that anti-Semitism has found in polite society – especially in Europe. Second is how violence and extremism are encouraged when the world sees Israel's greatest ally distancing itself from the Jewish state.


When Americans think of anti-Semitism, we tend to think of the vulgar caricatures and attacks of the first part of the 20th century.


Today it seems that the most virulent strains come from the Left. Often this new anti-Semitism dresses itself up as legitimate disagreement with Israel.


Back in 2002 the president of Harvard, Larry Summers, put it this way: "Where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated rightwing populists, profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities. Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent."

Mr. Summers was speaking mostly about our university campuses. Like me, however, he was also struck by alarming developments in Europe.


Far from being dismissed out of hand, anti-Semitism today enjoys support at both the highest and lowest reaches of European society – from its most elite politicians to its largely Muslim ghettoes. European Jews find themselves caught in this pincer.


We saw a recent outbreak when a European Commissioner trade minister declared that peace in the Middle East is impossible because of the Jewish lobby in America. Here's how he put it: "There is indeed a belief – it's difficult to describe it otherwise – among most Jews that they are right. And it's not so much whether these are religious Jews or not. Lay Jews also share the same belief that they are right. So it is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East."


This minister did not suggest the problem was any specific Israeli policy. The problem, as he defined it, is the nature of the Jews. Adding to the absurdity, this man then responded to his critics this way: Anti-Semitism, he asserted, "has no place in today's world and is fundamentally against our European values."

Of course, he has kept his job.


Unfortunately, we see examples like this one all across Europe. Sweden, for example, has long been a synonym for liberal tolerance. Yet in one of Sweden's largest cities, Malmo, Jews report increasing examples of harassment. When an Israeli tennis team visited for a competition, it was greeted with riots. So how did the mayor respond? By equating Zionism with anti- Semitism – and suggesting that Swedish Jews would be safer in his town if they distanced themselves from Israeli actions in Gaza.


You don't have to look far for other danger signs: The Norwegian government forbids a Norwegianbased, German shipbuilder from using its waters to test a submarine being built for the Israeli navy.


Britain and Spain are boycotting an OECD tourism meeting in Jerusalem.


In the Netherlands, police report a 50 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents.


MAYBE WE shouldn't be surprised by these things.


According to one infamous European poll a few years back, Europeans listed Israel ahead of Iran and North Korea as the greatest threat to world peace.


In Europe today, some of the most egregious attacks on Jewish people, Jewish symbols, and Jewish houses of worship have come from the Muslim population.


Unfortunately, far from making clear that such behavior will not be tolerated, too often the official response is what we've seen from the Swedish mayor – who suggested Jews and Israel were partly to blame themselves.


When Europe's political leaders do not stand up to the thugs, they lend credence to the idea that Israel is the source of all the world's problems – and they guarantee more ugliness. If that is not anti-Semitism, I don't know what is.


That brings me to my second point: the importance of good relations between Israel and the United States.

Some believe that if America wants to gain credibility in the Muslim world and advance the cause of peace, Washington needs to put some distance between itself and Israel. My view is the opposite. Far from making peace more possible, we are making hostilities more certain. Far from making things better for the Palestinian people, sour relations between the United States and Israel guarantees that ordinary Palestinians will continue to suffer.

The peace we all want will come when Israel feels secure – not when Washington feels distant.


Right now we have war. There are many people waging this war. Some blow up cafes. Some fire rockets into civilian areas. Some are pursuing nuclear arms. Some are fighting the soft war, through international boycotts and resolutions condemning Israel. All these people are watching the US-Israeli relationship closely.

In this regard, I was pleased to hear the State Department's spokesman clarify America's position last week. He said that the United States recognizes "the special nature of the Israeli state. It is a state for the Jewish people."


This is an important message to send to the Middle East. And when people see a Jewish prime minister treated badly by an American president, they see a more isolated Jewish state. That only encourages those who favor the gun over those who favor negotiation.


Back in 1937, a man named Vladimir Jabotinsky urged Britain to open up an escape route for Jews fleeing Europe. Only a Jewish homeland, he said, could protect European Jews from the coming calamity.


In prophetic words, he described the problem this way: "It is not the anti-Semitism of men," he said. "It is, above all, the anti-Semitism of things, the inherent xenophobia of the body social or the body economic under which we suffer."


The world of 2010 is not the world of the 1930s. The threats Jews face today are different. But these threats are real. These threats are soaked in an ugly language familiar to anyone old enough to remember World War II. And these threats cannot be addressed until we see them for what they are: part of an ongoing war against the Jews.

Edited from a speech Rupert Murdoch gave in New York last Wednesday at an Anti-Defamation League dinner.

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

A HYPOCRITICAL PRIZE NOMINATION

BY MICHAEL DICKSON  

 

The Sakharov Prize is intended to honor the memory of the late Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist.

 

Orit, a female combat medic in the IDF, was awakened one night to see a patient. She found herself face-to-face with one of the most notorious terrorists in the West Bank. He had just orchestrated an attack on a restaurant where his sister killed 21 civilians of all ages. Orit was asked to treat his wounds and save his life. Such challenges occur every day for Israeli soldiers, whose service is mandatory.


Today, Orit is with a group of young ex-soldiers currently on a US speaking tour to share real-life stories of their army service. There was no shortage of volunteers for this tour. Those who served recently see that far too often, the media skews the reality that they know. The misrepresentations fill them with a deep sense of injustice because they risked their own lives and lost friends while doing their utmost to protect both Israeli and Palestinian civilians. They know their military service is vital to a small country like Israel, which is constantly endangered by terrorists and hostile neighbors.


If I had a prize to give, I would give it to Orit and to her friends, who, together with thousands of young people and tens of thousands of citizen reservists give up their time and risk their lives for the safety of people on both sides of a complex conflict.


MOST LIKELY, Orit won't be receiving any prizes, but another group of former soldiers has been short listed for the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov Prize. The group, Breaking the Silence, undermines and defames Orit and her fellow soldiers. The group made its name by promoting a distorted and unfair portrait of the IDF via its website and tours.


It lobbied to get this nomination for the prize worth 50,000 euros, and was supported by the Greens and United Left.

The Sakharov Prize is intended to honor the memory of the late Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist. Among Sakharov's comments: "Israel has an indisputable right to exist." "Israel has a right to existence within safe borders."


"All the wars that Israel has waged have been just, forced upon it by the irresponsibility of Arab leaders."


Breaking the Silence is hypocritical about its aims and even its name. If it wanted to present a true picture of the IDF, it would not blatantly omit the context of terrorism, the goals of Israel's enemies, the deadly rocket fire from Gaza. It would not omit how the enemy hides behind Palestinian civilians and attacks Israeli civilians. It would raise awareness about the moral dilemmas the IDF faces. But instead, it omits this vital context in its reports, which often consist of anonymous, unverified testimony.


There isn't even any "silence" to "break." Israel is an open and democratic society that regularly criticizes its own actions, and anyone is free to present complaints and findings to government officials and the courts.


Funders of Breaking the Silence have included the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, Christian Aid and OXFAM, two charities which have in the past launched vitriolic anti-Israel campaigns, as well as the European Union, which gave them $75,000 to "contribute to an atmosphere of human rights respect and values" and "to promote prospects for peace talks and initiatives."


The EU is deceiving taxpayers if it is telling them that the funds used to support this organization help promote peace.

Indeed, the work of Breaking the Silence is part of a wave of efforts to attack Israel recently referred to by Tony Blair as "traditional and insidious forms of delegitimization."


Blair's message for world leaders was "don't apply rules to the government of Israel that you would never dream of applying to your own country."


He was talking about the kinds of double standards that Breaking the Silence presents.


In a powerful address to the Oslo Freedom Forum last year, Sakharov's widow, Elena Bonner, chose to focus on how the world unfairly targets Israel for defamation. She reminded the audience, "throughout the years of Israel's existence there has been war. Victorious wars, and also wars which Israel was not allowed to win. Each and every day – literally every day – there is the expectation of a terrorist act or a new war."


Awarding a prize named after Sakharov to an organization that demonizes the IDF is an exercise in hypocrisy which goes against the grain of his legacy. European political leaders, when dealing with Israel, ought to heed the words of the man they seek to honor and his wife, and avoid pandering to those who seek to misrepresent and delegitimize the Jewish state.


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

 

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THE JERUSALEM  POST

OPED

PM'S IGNOBLE FAILURE TO FREE POLLARD IS OBAMA'S OBLIGATION

BY ESTHER POLLARD  

 

Pollard's wife says dramatic "revelations" in 'Post' that "high level discussions in Israel are under way" to secure his release are nothing but smoke and mirrors to deceive public.

 

Dramatic "revelations" in The Jerusalem Post by a high-ranking Israeli minister that "high level discussions in Israel are under way" to secure the release of my husband Jonathan Pollard are nothing but smoke and mirrors to deceive the public.


These revelations confirm that the Israelis are still talking only to themselves about Pollard, not to the Americans. Once again there is a nefarious move afoot, according to the Post, to bury the Pollard case in committee.

Unprecedented charges of US government malfeasance recently made by two senior officials with first-hand involvement in the case, former US assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb, and former minister Rafi Eitan, underscore the injustice of the life sentence Jonathan is serving and the urgency of securing his immediate release. Their statements also provide Israel with the golden key to open Jonathan's jail cell.


Incredibly, Israel apparently plans to toss the golden key away, once again.


But no matter how morally bereft the behavior of successive governments toward Jonathan may be, this does not absolve President Barack Obama of his responsibility to exercise his powers of presidential clemency to right a 25-year injustice in a case where no other avenue of relief exists.


The unlimited powers of clemency the US Constitution grants to the president are his solemn responsibility.


The Constitution grants these powers as part of the president's duty to safeguard the rights of all American citizens in those cases where the judicial system either cannot or will not correct itself.


In the case of Jonathan Pollard, where the ends of justice have been ill-served, where the judicial system has been subverted to prosecute one American citizen excessively and where there is now clear evidence of government malfeasance, it is imperative that the president intervene.

 

THE MEDIAN sentence for the offense Jonathan committed is two to four years. Jonathan is now in his 25th year of a life sentence with no end in sight.


In addition to Korb and Eitan, after numerous security briefings on the issue, Rep. Anthony Weiner recently wrote in a letter to the president: "The life sentence which Jonathan Pollard is now serving is not a reflection of the severity of the crimes he committed, but rather the result of... a damage assessment report written by an intelligence community that was badly shaken by unrelated espionage cases..."


Even former secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger who drove Jonathan's grossly disproportionate sentence, admitted in a 2002 interview that the Pollard case was in fact "a minor matter" that had been exaggerated to serve other ends.


Nor is parole an option, as Jonathan's attorneys have explained: "Applying for parole is not an option for Mr. Pollard, because of a severe impediment which has been unilaterally imposed by the Department of Justice (DOJ)... The DOJ has refused to allow Pollard's security- cleared attorneys to see their client's entire court file, which is partly under seal. Without access to that file, persons opposed to parole know that they have free rein to say absolutely anything about Mr. Pollard without any risk that they will be contradicted by the documents."

This impediment has hamstrung all of Jonathan's efforts to bring his case back to court, and in the process all legal remedies have been exhausted.


Whether it is ineptitude, calculation or expedience that prevents the government from discharging its responsibility to seek Jonathan's immediate release on the compelling legal and moral grounds that now exist is irrelevant. Whatever the reason, clearly no initiative is forthcoming from the Netanyahu government, and no effort is likely to ever be made to bring Jonathan home alive.


Having served 25 years in the harshest conditions the American penal system has to offer, Jonathan is ill, his immune system depleted and his very survival is at stake.


The petition for executive clemency, filed last week by Jonathan's American attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, is my husband's avenue of last resort to resolve a travesty of justice that now threatens to end his life in prison.


At a time when the people of Israel are being asked to believe Obama's claims about America's strong ties to Israel and of the US's special friendship with the Jewish state, it is too great a leap of faith to rely on words alone.

With one stroke of his pen, President Obama can restore honor to the American system of justice, regain the confidence of the American Jewish community, and reassure the people of Israel, that in spite of the Netanyahu government's failure, America can be relied upon to do what is right.


Netanyahu's ignoble failure to act to rescue Jonathan Pollard is now Obama's supreme obligation.


The writer is the wife of Jonathan Pollard, an American-born Israeli citizen who is currently serving his 25th year of a life sentence in an American prison for espionage charges. He worked for Israel's Ministry of Defense.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

FORCE-FEEDING GEESE IS CRUEL, HIGH COURT RULES

BY MOSHE REINFELD

 

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the force-feeding of geese for the production of goose liver is illegal, and that the temporary clauses in the animal welfare laws allowing geese to be force-fed are to be annulled.

 

The majority decision was handed down by Justices Tova Strasberg-Cohen and Eliezer Rivlin, with Justice Asher Grunis providing the minority opinion. The justices ruled, however, that the new law will only come into effect in March 2005, in order to give the Agriculture Ministry and those who make their living from goose liver to adequately prepare for the new situation.

 

The regulations that allow force-feeding are due to expire in seven months, and the Agriculture Ministry is entitled to extend them by one year.

 

During this period, all those involved in the industry will have to consider the future of goose liver production in Israel, without force-feeding. If it is decided to continue with production, the Agriculture Minister will have to formulate new regulations ensuring a significant reduction in the suffering of the geese. In addition, the minister will have to set up adequate supervisory procedures to ensure that the law is adhered to.

 

Animal welfare groups protest

 

The Justices' ruling upheld a petition filed by Noah - The Israeli Association of Animal Protection Groups, which claimed that force-feeding geese contravenes a clause in the animal protection laws that prohibits cruelty to animals. Noah's petition focused on the fact that geese are fattened by means of a tube inserted into their throat, through which a special food is pumped into the stomach, leading to an unnaturally bloated liver. The process severely impedes the goose's movements and renders it incapable of independent movement.

 

The animal welfare organization's case was argued by attorneys Ehud Peleg and Danny Sherman. The decision was handed down after nearly ten years of deliberations.

 

The Agriculture Ministry and breeders claimed that the entire goose liver industry would be wiped out if the petition were upheld, since the only way to obtain the desired end product is to force-feed the geese.

 

Income on the line

 

They pointed out that the hundreds of families who have earned a living through rearing geese for many years would lose their only source of income. In addition, they claimed that the regulations implemented by the Agriculture Ministry reduce the suffering of the geese, and that many European countries have also ruled not to outlaw force-feeding. So far, a dozen European countries have outlawed the practice, and Italy is due to do so in January 2004.

 

Justice Strasberg-Cohen ruled that the petition should be accepted, primarily because the current regulations are fundamentally flawed.

 

She stated that despite the fact that when the regulations were drawn up it was claimed that they were in keeping with a special European Union committee on the subject, it later became clear that they do not fulfill all of the recommendations made by the committee.

 

One example, she wrote, is that any country which allows geese to be force-fed must also carry out research to try and increase the animals' welfare and to develop alternative methods of fattening. The Israeli regulations, she wrote, make no mention of this.

 

Justice Rivlin, who also backed the petition, added that he was in no doubt that the animals are sentient, especially when pain is inflicted on them.

 

Minority view

 

Justice Grunis, who did not side with the petitioners, wrote that while force-feeding caused suffering to the geese, it is neither torture nor cruelty as defined by law.

 

Grunis stated that the main issue is whether a suitable balance could be found between the means (the force-feeding of animals) and the end (the production of food). In his opinion, the current situation maintains such a balance. He pointed out that there were similar examples of feeding processes that raise similar questions. As an example, he wrote that calves are often held in cages that do not allow them any freedom of movement, in order to soften their meat.

 

Grunis added that since the current regulations are only in force until March 2004, the industry could introduce new laws to reduce the geese's suffering, without depriving the breeders of the ability to earn a living. "There is no justification for reducing the geese's suffering at the expense of the breeders' suffering," he wrote.

 

This story is by: Moshe Reinfeld

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

FORCE-FEEDING GEESE IS CRUEL, HIGH COURT RULES

BY MOSHE REINFELD

 

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the force-feeding of geese for the production of goose liver is illegal, and that the temporary clauses in the animal welfare laws allowing geese to be force-fed are to be annulled.

 

The majority decision was handed down by Justices Tova Strasberg-Cohen and Eliezer Rivlin, with Justice Asher Grunis providing the minority opinion. The justices ruled, however, that the new law will only come into effect in March 2005, in order to give the Agriculture Ministry and those who make their living from goose liver to adequately prepare for the new situation.

 

The regulations that allow force-feeding are due to expire in seven months, and the Agriculture Ministry is entitled to extend them by one year.

 

During this period, all those involved in the industry will have to consider the future of goose liver production in Israel, without force-feeding. If it is decided to continue with production, the Agriculture Minister will have to formulate new regulations ensuring a significant reduction in the suffering of the geese. In addition, the minister will have to set up adequate supervisory procedures to ensure that the law is adhered to.

 

Animal welfare groups protest

 

The Justices' ruling upheld a petition filed by Noah - The Israeli Association of Animal Protection Groups, which claimed that force-feeding geese contravenes a clause in the animal protection laws that prohibits cruelty to animals. Noah's petition focused on the fact that geese are fattened by means of a tube inserted into their throat, through which a special food is pumped into the stomach, leading to an unnaturally bloated liver. The process severely impedes the goose's movements and renders it incapable of independent movement.

 

The animal welfare organization's case was argued by attorneys Ehud Peleg and Danny Sherman. The decision was handed down after nearly ten years of deliberations.

 

The Agriculture Ministry and breeders claimed that the entire goose liver industry would be wiped out if the petition were upheld, since the only way to obtain the desired end product is to force-feed the geese.

 

Income on the line

 

They pointed out that the hundreds of families who have earned a living through rearing geese for many years would lose their only source of income. In addition, they claimed that the regulations implemented by the Agriculture Ministry reduce the suffering of the geese, and that many European countries have also ruled not to outlaw force-feeding. So far, a dozen European countries have outlawed the practice, and Italy is due to do so in January 2004.

 

Justice Strasberg-Cohen ruled that the petition should be accepted, primarily because the current regulations are fundamentally flawed.

 

She stated that despite the fact that when the regulations were drawn up it was claimed that they were in keeping with a special European Union committee on the subject, it later became clear that they do not fulfill all of the recommendations made by the committee.

 

One example, she wrote, is that any country which allows geese to be force-fed must also carry out research to try and increase the animals' welfare and to develop alternative methods of fattening. The Israeli regulations, she wrote, make no mention of this.

 

Justice Rivlin, who also backed the petition, added that he was in no doubt that the animals are sentient, especially when pain is inflicted on them.

 

Minority view

 

Justice Grunis, who did not side with the petitioners, wrote that while force-feeding caused suffering to the geese, it is neither torture nor cruelty as defined by law.

 

Grunis stated that the main issue is whether a suitable balance could be found between the means (the force-feeding of animals) and the end (the production of food). In his opinion, the current situation maintains such a balance. He pointed out that there were similar examples of feeding processes that raise similar questions. As an example, he wrote that calves are often held in cages that do not allow them any freedom of movement, in order to soften their meat.

 

Grunis added that since the current regulations are only in force until March 2004, the industry could introduce new laws to reduce the geese's suffering, without depriving the breeders of the ability to earn a living. "There is no justification for reducing the geese's suffering at the expense of the breeders' suffering," he wrote.

 

This story is by: Moshe Reinfeld

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

ISRAELI ENVOY: GERMANY INCREASING EXPORTS TO IRAN, DESPITE SANCTIONS

 

German exports to Iran has risen 10% this year, expected to total 4 million euros.

 

By Assaf Uni and Haaretz CorrespondentTags: Germany Iran Iran sanctions Israel news

 

BERLIN - German exports to Iran are up 10 percent this year, prompting Israel's ambassador to Berlin to say the German authorities are "not doing enough" to keep Tehran isolated until it abandons its alleged efforts to develop nuclear arms.

 

"Germany is doing something [to isolate Iran], but apparently it is not doing enough," Ambassador Yoram Ben Ze'ev told Haaretz last week.

 

Germany's Federal Statistical Office released data showing the increase occured over the first three quarters of 2008. Germany's exports to Iran are expected to total 4 million euros this year, close to the record it set in 2004 and 2005.

 

During the first seven months of 2008, the German government approved 1,926 transactions with Iran, a 63 percent increase over last year. This has further cemented Germany's position as Iran's largest trade partner.

 

"The Germans are providing less insurance for Iran-bound merchandise, and they claim they are making life very difficult for those who want to do business with Iran," Ben Ze'ev said. "This approach may work on businesses that have export targets other than Iran, or on small businesses that cannot afford to invest the effort and resources to overcome the difficulties. But it's doubtful whether these measures will work on large businesses that view trade with Iran as strategically significant."

 

When asked about the increase in exports, the German treasury replied that it is due to increased metal prices, and noted that steel is up 17 percent in Europe.

 

However, export data show that metals make up only a small part of the increase. Another explanation offered by the German government is that the sanctions on Iran prohibit it from launching large new projects, which means the Iranians are more dependent on spare parts to maintain existing infrastructure.

 

"As a result of the tightening sanctions on Iran, our office expects the volume of our exports to Iran to decrease in the future," a spokesman for the treasury said.

 

This story is by:

Assaf Uni

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HAARETZ

OPINION

ISRAELI ENVOY: GERMANY INCREASING EXPORTS TO IRAN, DESPITE SANCTIONS

 

German exports to Iran has risen 10% this year, expected to total 4 million euros.

 

By Assaf Uni and Haaretz CorrespondentTags: Germany Iran Iran sanctions Israel news

 

BERLIN - German exports to Iran are up 10 percent this year, prompting Israel's ambassador to Berlin to say the German authorities are "not doing enough" to keep Tehran isolated until it abandons its alleged efforts to develop nuclear arms.

 

"Germany is doing something [to isolate Iran], but apparently it is not doing enough," Ambassador Yoram Ben Ze'ev told Haaretz last week.

 

Germany's Federal Statistical Office released data showing the increase occured over the first three quarters of 2008. Germany's exports to Iran are expected to total 4 million euros this year, close to the record it set in 2004 and 2005.

 

During the first seven months of 2008, the German government approved 1,926 transactions with Iran, a 63 percent increase over last year. This has further cemented Germany's position as Iran's largest trade partner.

 

"The Germans are providing less insurance for Iran-bound merchandise, and they claim they are making life very difficult for those who want to do business with Iran," Ben Ze'ev said. "This approach may work on businesses that have export targets other than Iran, or on small businesses that cannot afford to invest the effort and resources to overcome the difficulties. But it's doubtful whether these measures will work on large businesses that view trade with Iran as strategically significant."

 

When asked about the increase in exports, the German treasury replied that it is due to increased metal prices, and noted that steel is up 17 percent in Europe.

 

However, export data show that metals make up only a small part of the increase. Another explanation offered by the German government is that the sanctions on Iran prohibit it from launching large new projects, which means the Iranians are more dependent on spare parts to maintain existing infrastructure.

 

"As a result of the tightening sanctions on Iran, our office expects the volume of our exports to Iran to decrease in the future," a spokesman for the treasury said.

 

This story is by:

Assaf Uni

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS / A CONVERSATION WITH AMY SINGER

THE TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR WHO'S JUST PUBLISHED A BOOK ON CHARITY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD.

BY DAVID GREENTAGS: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY ISLAM ISRAEL NEWS

 

The philanthropic tradition is as old as Islam itself. This is one of the principal messages of Prof. Amy Singer's sweeping survey of the subject, "Charity in Islamic Societies" (Cambridge University Press, 246 pages, $33). Singer, a Princeton-educated professor of Ottoman history at Tel Aviv University, says in the book's introduction that she was in part motivated to write it because, since September 11, 2001, "Muslim charity has... received some very bad press, with analysts and observers frequently emphasizing the links between charity and extremist violence." But charity is an integral part of every Muslim's life, with one of several types of charitable giving in the faith, zakat (the obligatory alms tax), belonging to the five pillars of Islamic practice. As the book demonstrates with copious examples from the 1,400-year history of the Muslim world, acts of philanthropy turn up at every level of society - from relations between neighbors to the relationship between the sovereign and his subjects - with the role played by the recipient no less important than that played by the giver.

 

Weaving many anecdotes and personal experiences into her narrative, in addition to careful textual readings, Singer captures the psychological subtleties that characterize nearly all aspects of charitable giving, and demonstrates how these have manifested themselves throughout history. As a consequence, her book has a freshness and relevancy that is not always found in scholarly works. Haaretz spoke with Amy Singer by phone from her home in Tel Aviv.

 

Q: Your CV includes several books either edited or written by you on charity in Islam. How did you come to this area of study?

 

A: It's been an interesting historical journey. My doctoral dissertation was about relations between peasants and government in the Jerusalem area in the 16th century. While I was working on that, many villages I was studying became part of the revenue-producing properties of an Ottoman Waqf (that is, a charitable endowment) in Jerusalem. The endowment was for a large public kitchen and was set up in the Old City by the wife of the Sultan Suleiman, Hurrem Sultan. It was still operating as late as the 1950s as a public kitchen, where a few older Jerusalemites told me they remember stopping as children on the way to school. The endowment still exists, though today I think it's a vocational school for boys.

 

Once I started researching this, I became interested in the whole subject of endowments and philanthropy, and that led me to the general subject of charity and philanthropy in Islam. I realized that nothing had really been written on the subject, nothing that could serve as a one-stop-shopping kind of book. My book tries to introduce people who are interested in Islam to the subject of charity in Islamic societies, as well as to issues that would interest people involved in charity in general, such as the hierarchies created between givers and receivers, general questions about giving, about transparency, about the destination and origin of funds - all of these are part of an older discussion that has gone on for centuries in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as in other ideological traditions.

 

Q: How much of this conversation is taking place within the Muslim world?

 

A: Well, I just came back from the second World Conference of Muslim Philanthropists, in Abu Dhabi. The

WCMP was founded by Muslims in the U.S. as a forum for donors to discuss and promote effective and sustainable ideas and practices of philanthropic giving as part of the international community of humanitarians. But these sorts of discussions are going on worldwide. ... Just as we assume that tzedakah is a fundamental part of Jewish identity, faith and practice, this is true in equal measure for Muslims. And so they're having the same discussions that are taking place elsewhere. There are big transnational Muslim philanthropies, like Islamic Relief or the Aga Khan Development Network, working on a global scale, just like CARE or Doctors Without Borders.

 

Q: How were you, an Israeli and a Jew, received in Abu Dhabi?

 

A: This was a conference of practitioners, rather than academics, principally. But people were interested in and accepting of my work, and in some instances told me they were grateful that there's a book that talks about all this in one place. I'm not a scholar of Islamic law and not a Muslim, but the book brings together 14 centuries of historical examples, and is not based solely in the Middle East or even the Arabic-speaking world. Even Muslims who know the Koranic traditions and the hadith [oral traditions about the Prophet] on the subject, aren't necessarily familiar with many of these historical examples.

 

Q: You describe the centrality of assistance to the weak in Muslim society. It made me wonder if there is any tradition in Islam similar to the Protestant ethic, of holding the individual responsible for his or her own fate?

 

A: I haven't seen that aspect emphasized. In general terms, Islam is much more akin to Catholicism than to Protestantism, stressing compassion and the efficacy of beneficence. In giving, Muslims are in part trying to make amends, to restore the balance for misdeeds. However, there is also a hadith that says, "It is better for one of you to take a rope and cut wood and sell it than to beg from someone who might or might not give."

 

There are two points here. One is to encourage people to take up even menial labor to sustain themselves. The other is actually a caution against testing the beneficence of others. However, in other texts, scholars maintain that people of means who have lost their wealth should not be shamed by their poverty. This is one of many examples of the dynamic discussions ongoing among Muslim jurists.

 

To the extent that there has been a meaningful change in attitudes toward the poor, it took place largely in the 19th century, and was part of the discourse in the Muslim world on modernization. It's hard to disentangle that discussion from the impact of foreign Western ideas, advisors, occupiers or colonial powers. It's more of an import. Which doesn't mean that there aren't real discussions about which people are more or less deserving of help. Gypsies, for example, are sometimes explicitly excluded, as were criminals or prostitutes. ... Sultan's wives and sisters had funds to help orphan girls get married. This was all part of an ethic of beneficence. Of course, the social context of this was that this was a way to help these women be provided for, so they would not become a social problem - just as helping a man get a job is based on a social logic. Perhaps in that sense, charitable practices had an element of the Protestant ethic, but it wasn't accompanied by the kind of censure that went along with that ethic.

 

Q: The book also made me think of the vast network of self-help organizations that exist within ultra-Orthodox society, the gemach system.

 

A: Yes, the Orthodox community provides an important parallel. In history, it's hard to get a look below the top echelons of society, hard to learn about those who live on the edge of survival. But the Orthodox communities offer an example of how even people who we would call poor also act as donors, and how this is an important part of their lives. One finds this today, but it is conceivably what was going on historically. You have tiny stories of people giving in small amounts. This might be part of what makes it possible for people to accept the giving as a part of what the community is about. Perhaps it takes the sting out of being on the receiving end: Now I'm getting something, but maybe tomorrow I'll be in a position to give. It gives you a much greater sense of humility about what the trajectory of life is going to dish up.

 

Q: I read that you head the Women's Studies Forum at Tel Aviv University. How does your interest in charity connect with that?

 

A: I'm not actually involved in women's studies as a discipline. The NCJW [National Council of Jewish Women] Program in Women and Gender Studies is a degree-granting program at the university today, but the forum predated that by 15 or 20 years and actually gave birth to it. It was a place where people interested in women and gender studies collected and worked together. What I can say is that I think the impact of feminist theory has contributed to creating new avenues of research that look below or beyond politics and diplomacy and intellectual history, to people who don't seem obviously empowered, and asks how our understanding of history changes when you write those people back into it. You look at war and say, what are the roles of women during war? For example, if you don't understand the way women are being affected by today's downturn, you won't understand more general trends in society.

 

Q: How has your work on this book affected your own charitable giving?

 

A: It has made me much more careful in investigating to whom I'm giving money. I find myself thinking much more about not just the structure of a particular philanthropy, but also about what seems to work. Honestly, I think I'm more worried about where I invest my charitable funds than I am in the returns I'm getting on my financial investments, to the extent that I have any.

 

It's complicated to balance all the considerations. What is it you want your money to achieve? What's important to you, what matters most - this is something that takes a while to figure out. I find the whole idea of micro-finance, for example, to be incredibly compelling. It creates capacity and independence among people who are otherwise condemned to be poor. You see examples of this in South Asia, where it was first introduced by Nobel Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, but also in Africa.

 

More and more, I'm persuaded that capacity building is the most persuasive way to go. But there are also questions like: Is it right to give money overseas if there are people in south Tel Aviv who are hungry? That's a fair question. You don't necessarily have to answer it, but at least you should ask it of yourself. My research has raised these and many more questions, which ultimately affect the way I consider the reality of the world I live in. That's what's so persuasive about the study of history and societies seemingly unlike your own: It enlarges your world.

 

This story is by:

David Green

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE COURT'S PRE-EMPTION TEST

 

In the Supreme Court last week, oral arguments in a case called Bruesewitz v. Wyeth turned on the meaning of the word "unavoidable," but the real issue was something much bigger. The case is about whether the family of a girl, who they said was badly injured by a vaccine, can sue the manufacturer in a state court. Or are they barred by a 24-year-old federal law that blocks this sort of lawsuit if "the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable?"

 

That prohibition is called pre-emption, a hot issue in constitutional law because it is at the heart of the balance of power between states and the federal government — the meaning of federalism. At stake is the ability of states to protect their citizens, by regulating health, safety, the environment, and other primary interests and by giving victims of wrongdoing redress in court, as long as a state law doesn't conflict with a federal law.

 

The vaccine issue is only one area where pre-emption disputes have enormous practical effect. The Bush administration declared the pre-emption of state law scores of times where Congress said nothing about it. It tried to stop California from raising the bar on auto emissions and giving greater protection to consumers.

 

After reviewing this brazen record, President Obama issued a memorandum halting the practice. The difference is sometimes explained by saying Mr. Bush favored shielding corporations from liability while Mr. Obama backs consumers. That's half-right: the Obama administration recognizes the legitimacy of pre-emption as a way to avoid conflicts between state and federal law and enforce national standards when the federal government has set them.

 

Most statutes, however, don't include clear statements about pre-emption. That's the source of the controversy. The issue is of sufficient gravity that the American Bar Association recommended last summer that Congress address "foreseeable pre-emption issues clearly and explicitly" when it passes a law that has the potential to displace state law.

 

There is one big problem with this approach. Even when Congress is not as dysfunctionally partisan as it is now, it is rarely deliberative enough to get to that level of lawmaking. It would be unrealistic to expect Congress to address, or anticipate, each instance that state law is pre-empted. That leaves an important role for courts to engage in statutory construction, the close analysis used to decide what a statute means, to glean the purpose of a federal law and whether it pre-empts state law.

 

When the Roberts court, the most conservative in half a century, rules on pre-emption cases, the more conservative justices have sometimes taken an anti-federalist position in support of business, the more liberal ones a federalist stance in favor of vindicating people's rights in state courts.

 

Because almost every pre-emption case turns on the particulars of the statute in question, however, these cases provide an important test: whether the court's members can do what justices do at their best by reasoning their way through challenging thickets and, in each instance, winning the public's confidence that the ruling strikes the right balance of power.

 

Supreme Court law provides a significant element of guidance: as the reach of federal law was extended, the court articulated a principle called the presumption against pre-emption. Under the Constitution's supremacy clause, state laws can't interfere with the operation of the federal government. But where state efforts to protect citizens and compensate victims don't conflict with federal law, pre-emption should not be used as a weapon to defeat them.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

FRANCE, THE UNIONS AND FISCAL REALITY

 

France has been rocked by strikes and protest marches over President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to raise the legal retirement age from 60 to 62. Social Security reform is a difficult issue everywhere, and the brash and increasingly unpopular Mr. Sarkozy has not made much of an effort to woo union support. Yet raising France's retirement age is an urgent necessity.

 

France's current retirement age of 60 is among the lowest in the developed world — some six years younger than in this country and more than four years below the average for the European Union. The national pension system in France already runs a deficit of roughly $15 billion per year, and the ratio of active workers paying in to the system to retirees drawing from it is shrinking steadily.

 

With no change in the retirement age, the deficit would increase almost tenfold by 2050 as the population ages and the baby boomers retire. Even with the age raised to 62, further painful adjustments would be needed before the end of this decade.

 

While Mr. Sarkozy has done a terrible job of selling his reform, the opposition Socialist Party was reckless in pretending for weeks that the retirement age could stay unchanged. The real battle has been with the unions, which have unleashed six weeks of marches and disruptive strikes in national transportation and fuel delivery.

 

Despite the widespread inconvenience and economic losses, public opinion has remained sympathetic to the unions. Mr. Sarkozy has built a reputation for being far more concerned with protecting the wealthy than ordinary people. Protest movements are also deeply ingrained in the French national tradition. Sentiment and tradition cannot be allowed to prevail over fiscal reality.

 

France's Parliament should give final approval to the retirement age reform bill this week. Mr. Sarkozy should open talks with both union and opposition leaders on how to make the transition as fair to the vulnerable as possible. It is not too soon to appoint a broadly representative national commission to recommend the further changes that will be needed to keep France's pension system solvent after these initial reforms go into effect.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SINCE BIG BRANCH

 

Nine American miners have been killed in eight little-noted accidents since April, when an explosion in rural West Virginia left 29 dead. Lawmakers, claiming to be scandalized by the failures in safety enforcement, vowed sweeping reforms. That's all they've done.

 

A new inspector general's report is one more reminder of how all of Washington has shamefully shirked its responsibility time and time again. In the more than 40 years since Congress passed what was supposed to be a landmark safety law cracking down on industry's repeat offenders, not a single serial violator has faced the law's maximum penalties. Instead, a rope-a-dope regulatory process has let companies game enforcement through years of violation appeals.

 

The Obama administration is tightening enforcement, bolstered by additional funds to untangle the appeals. Much more is needed from Congress if mine safety is to advance convincingly beyond 1969. A proposal by Senator John Rockefeller IV, a Democrat of West Virginia, includes subpoena power for investigators, job protection for whistle-blowing miners, and stronger penalties. It remains trapped in the Senate's partisan standoff.

 

Mining money is talking especially loudly in this year's midterm campaigns. The White House has rightly committed itself to new initiatives to regulate and, we hope, eventually end the ruinous practice known as mountaintop mining. Yet these initiatives are now being challenged in court by West Virginia's Democratic governor, Joe Manchin III. Governor Manchin — grandstanding as much as running for the United States Senate seat of the late Robert Byrd — has bagged $81,000 in industry contributions with alarums that environmental protections threaten the coal industry and miners' jobs.

 

Meanwhile, the Upper Big Branch mine victims are poised to slip off into history where they will join the 78 who perished in the big Farmington disaster of 1968, and the 38 killed in the Hurricane Creek disaster two years later. When does it end?

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

HICKORY RAIN

BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG

 

It's well before light, and I'm listening to the rain, watching every now and then the flicker of headlights coming down the hill. I no longer have custody of Ethel the border terrier, so I'm up early on my own.

 

She was itemized in a divorce settlement and now lives in Iowa, where I know she's happy. I hope she misses me, but not nearly as much as I miss her.

 

Without her, the rhythms of the day ahead are different. Somehow there's more time for the horses, which is perhaps why Nell the mustang let me catch her when the farrier was here. At first she shied away, to keep up appearances. When the other horses had been trimmed she presented herself to my arms, and it was a much more beautiful day after that.

 

I have new chickens — layers eight weeks old. When they were living under lights in the mudroom as chicks, I made a practice of picking them up, those that would let me. And now when I enter the poultry yard, I feel like a one-man midway at the chicken fair, birds standing in line waiting to be picked up.

 

No good can come of lifting chickens. I can almost hear my dad thinking that, though he is gone now, too. And yet the birds churr and cluck, and I leave the yard happy.

 

The chicken house my dad and I built soon after 9/11 has begun to sink on one end, thanks to the woodchucks. That gave me an excuse to buy a bottle jack, which I'll slip under the sill and, with it, jack the house back to level. The place will feel more trim, and it will keep water from running out of the chicken waterers, which will matter once the freeze begins.

 

It's hard to explain where happiness comes from when so much has been lost and misplaced and set aside. But come it does. This is one of those mornings when I think I have a farm just to surround me while I work. The chickens will be darting in and out of the rain, the fall of hickory nuts will continue, and the horses will stand around an upended hay bale in the shed on the hill, looking as though they've got a game of three-handed pinochle going.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

DON'T FOLLOW THE MONEY

 

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

Over the past few months, there's been a torrent of commentary about political donations and campaign spending. This lavish coverage is based on the premise that campaign spending has an important influence on elections.

I can see why media consultants would believe money is vitally important: the more money there is the more they make. I can see why partisans would want to believe money is important: they tend to blame their party's defeats on the nefarious spending of the other side. But I can't see why the rest of us should believe this. The evidence to support it is so slight.

 

Let's start with the current data. The vast majority of campaign spending is done by candidates and political parties. Over the past year, the Democrats, most of whom are incumbents, have been raising and spending far more than the Republicans.

 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats in the most competitive House races have raised an average of 47 percent more than Republicans. They have spent 66 percent more, and have about 53 percent more in their war chests. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, between Sept. 1 and Oct. 7, Democrats running for the House and the Senate spent $1.50 on advertising for every $1 spent by Republicans.

 

Despite this financial advantage, Democrats have been sinking in the polls. I suppose they could argue that the conditions could be even worse if they didn't have the money edge, but this is a weak case. It's more plausible to argue that the ad buys just didn't make that much difference.

 

After all, money wasn't that important when Phil Gramm and John Connally ran for president. In those and many other cases, huge fund-raising prowess yielded nothing. Money wasn't that important in 2006 when Republican incumbents outraised Democrats by $100 million and still lost. Money wasn't that important in the 2010 Alaska primary when Joe Miller beat Lisa Murkowski despite being outspent 10 to 1. It wasn't that important in the 2010 Delaware primary when Mike Castle, who raised $1.5 million, was beaten by Christine O'Donnell, who had raised $230,000.

 

The most alarmed coverage concerns the skyrocketing spending of independent groups. It is true that Republicans have an edge when it comes to outside expenditures. This year, for example, the United States Chamber of Commerce is spending $22 million for Republicans, while the Service Employees International Union is spending about $14 million for Democrats.

 

But independent spending is about only a tenth of spending by candidates and parties. Democrats have a healthy fear of Karl Rove, born out of experience, but there is no way the $13 million he influences through the group American Crossroads is going to reshape an election in which the two parties are spending something like $1.4 billion collectively.

 

Moreover, there's no real evidence that independent expenditure is any more effective than candidate expenditure. Year after year, independent money follows passion but doesn't ignite it. In 2008, Democrats had a huge independent advantage; now the Republicans do.

 

The main effect of this money is to make the rubble bounce. Let's say you live in Colorado. Conservative-leaning groups have spent $6.6 million attacking Michael Bennet, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, according to OpenSecrets.org, a nonprofit site that monitors spending in politics. Liberal-leaning groups have spent $6.9 million attacking his Republican opponent, Ken Buck. Over all, there have been 5,358 pro-Democratic ads and 4,928 pro-Republican ones in their race, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

 

This isn't persuasive; it's mind-numbing. No wonder voters tune it all out. Amid this onslaught, there is no way a slightly richer ad campaign is going to make much difference.

 

Political scientists have tried to measure the effectiveness of campaign spending using a variety of methodologies. There is no consensus in the field. One large group of studies finds that spending by incumbents makes no difference whatsoever, but spending by challengers helps them get established. Another group finds that neither incumbent nor challenger spending makes a difference. Another group finds that both kinds of spending have some impact.

 

But there's no evidence to suggest that campaign spending has the outsize role that the candidates, the consultants and the political press often imagine.

 

So why is there so much money in politics? Well, every consultant has an incentive to tell every client to raise more money. The donors give money because it makes them feel as if they are doing good and because they get to hang out at exclusive parties. The candidates are horribly insecure and grasp at any straw that gives them a sense of advantage.

 

In the end, however, money is a talisman. It makes people feel good because they think it has magical properties. It probably helps in local legislative races where name recognition is low. It probably helps challengers get established. But these days, federal races are oversaturated. Every federal candidate in a close race has plenty of money and the marginal utility of each new dollar is zero.

 

In this day and age, money is almost never the difference between victory and defeat. It's just the primitive mythology of the political class.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THAT SINKING FEELING

BY BOB HERBERT

 

Barack Obama seems to think he's done a pretty terrific job as president, but maybe he hasn't trumpeted his accomplishments effectively enough.

 

He told The Times's Peter Baker, in an interview for the Sunday magazine, "Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration — and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular."

 

This assessment by the president is debatable, but it won't be among the things that are front and center in the minds of voters as the November elections approach. The problem for Mr. Obama and the Democrats is the widespread sense among anxiety-riddled Americans that the country is still in very bad shape and headed in the wrong direction.

 

A Gallup poll last week found that 62 percent feel that economic conditions are deteriorating.

 

The president and his party may have racked up one legislative victory after another — on the bank bailouts, the stimulus package, the health care bill, and so forth — but ordinary Americans do not feel as if their lives or their prospects are improving. And they don't think it's a public relations problem.

 

Nearly 15 million are jobless and many who are working are worried that they (or a close relative) will soon become unemployed. The once solid foundation of home ownership has grown increasingly wobbly, with the number of foreclosures this year expected to surpass a million. And the country is still at war.

 

The voter unrest that is manifesting itself in myriad (and often peculiar) ways reflects a real fear that not just family finances but the country itself is in a state of decline. "I don't know where we're headed," said a businessman named Chuck Carruthers, who chatted with me in a coffee shop in Atlanta last week. "But I'll tell you the truth, I don't think it's anyplace good."

 

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have come to grips with this fear, although the Republicans have done yeoman's work exploiting it.

 

President Obama and the Democrats blew an important opportunity at the beginning of the president's term. That was the time, with the economy in virtual free fall, to rally the American people behind a grand plan to rebuild the nation and its economy for the long term. Yes, the emergency had to be dealt with. And, yes, the bailouts and the stimulus package (however flawed) were essential.

 

But even in the midst of the crisis, the public needed to be presented with a clear idea — a vision, to use the term once derided by President George H.W. Bush — of where the Obama administration wanted to take the country.

 

Job creation was the most important issue. With his sky-high approval ratings and the economy hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of jobs a month, a bold and creative employment initiative, tied to long-term investments in infrastructure and green energy, was the issue that President Obama could — and should — have used to trump Republican obstructionism.

 

But Mr. Obama wanted his health care bill, and had a misplaced faith in the willingness of the G.O.P. to work with him on that and any number of other issues. He would also escalate the monumentally debilitating war in Afghanistan. Employment never seemed to be the top priority.

 

What ordinary voters see is an economy that is not working for them and an increasingly dismal outlook for their children. From that perspective, the enormous budget deficits don't seem to be providing much of a tangible return.

 

Democrats are making the seemingly logical argument that the policies pushed by their Republican opponents will only make matters worse. They are constantly urging voters to remember that it was conservative Republican laissez-faire policies that landed us in this horrid mess in the first place.

 

The problem for President Obama and his party is that logic does not always rule the electoral roost. Voters want the same thing they wanted in 2008: change.

 

However the elections turn out, the Obama administration needs to begin focusing much more intently on the economic plight of ordinary Americans. Nearly 44 million are living in poverty. A third of all Hispanic children and more than a third of black children are poor.

 

Job security and benefits like paid vacations, health insurance and a secure retirement are going the way of the typewriter. More than 11 million new jobs would have to be created just to get us back to where we were when the Great Recession began. No one sees that happening anytime soon.

 

Democrats are in trouble because they have not been nearly aggressive enough in confronting this profound economic crisis facing so many millions of ordinary Americans.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

TIME TO TALK TO THE TALIBAN

BY RICHARD BARRETT

 

SPECULATION is growing both inside and outside Afghanistan that the government in Kabul is about to open reconciliation talks with the Taliban. Indeed, Taliban leaders, however hesitantly, are beginning to look at alternatives to fighting. They no doubt realize that a military victory is as remote and as hard to define for them as it appears to be for President Hamid Karzai and his NATO allies.

 

This is unsurprising. Time, rather than resources or appetite for fighting, is beginning to run out for the Taliban. Until recently, they have argued that they will continue to fight until all foreign troops leave the country. Their other conditions are that certain Taliban prisoners must be freed from detention and that the United Nations Security Council should remove the names of Taliban members from its Qaeda-Taliban sanctions list.

 

But as it becomes increasingly clear that there will be only a limited drawdown of United States troops starting next July, and that the current intense air campaign and other attacks on Taliban leaders are likely to continue, waiting until the foreigners leave is no longer such an attractive option.

 

The Taliban's command-and-control networks have stood up relatively well since their resurgence in 2006, but the campaign against their senior and middle leadership by American, Afghan and other special forces, aided by a much-improved intelligence picture and supported by drones, has taken a huge toll. The Taliban have not just lost many key commanders; the surviving senior leaders are forced to keep out of sight and now rarely travel within Afghanistan.

 

This lack of face-to-face contact with their subordinates and the enemy is sapping their authority. Taliban leaders have also had to limit their telephone communications for fear of giving away their locations, and have had to find less reliable and efficient ways to discuss strategy and pass orders to the field.

 

Personal connections, which have been essential to the cohesion of the movement, have been broken by the deaths of many mid-ranking commanders and their replacement by younger and lesser-known successors. Regional and local commanders have become more independent and less likely to follow orders that go against their personal interests; for example, in the way that they raise and use money, often keeping it for themselves rather than passing it back to their leaders for redistribution. Following Afghan tradition, local commanders are building independent fiefs that they will be reluctant to relinquish.

 

This disaggregation of the Taliban, who have always been held together more by a common enemy than a shared ideology, may seem like good news for Kabul and Washington, but it also creates some difficulties. The Taliban leaders' weakening position will make it tougher for them to carry through any agreement — and not just to stop the fighting and ensure observance of a national constitution, but to make a clear break with Al Qaeda.

 

Many of the Taliban's new leaders are being courted by Al Qaeda and other extremists who do not support making a deal with President Karzai. Those in the south and the east of the country are also likely to have links with the Pakistani Taliban and their hard-core affiliates.

 

The weakening of the Afghan Taliban also puts time pressure on Pakistan, which will certainly be involved in any reconciliation process. In addition to dealing with the aftermath of this summer's floods, the Pakistani Army is embroiled in a draining fight with well-armed militants in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.

 

The army urgently needs to tamp down the Pakistani Taliban, and a settlement in Afghanistan would help — especially if it resulted in more effective control of the Afghan side of the border. Furthermore, while at present there are still senior Afghan Taliban who have longstanding contacts with the Pakistani military and recognize common interests, the younger Taliban leadership that is emerging will be less likely to cooperate with Islamabad.

 

Thus Pakistan's leaders may well support reconciliation, deciding that stability in Afghanistan is more important than angling for the creation of a pro-Pakistan administration in Kabul.

 

Other regional powers, including Iran and Russia, will not want to see a full-fledged return of the Taliban to power, but nonetheless would welcome a settlement. The trade in Afghan-produced drugs has created a huge internal market in Iran, with all the attendant problems of health and crime, and is becoming an increasing problem in Russia. It cannot be stemmed without greater stability in Afghanistan.

 

Tehran may delight in America's struggles in the war, but its long-term interest will be to help establish a balance of power in Kabul that provides border security and protects its fellow Shiites in Afghanistan, the Hazara. Russia may also see advantage in a power-sharing agreement, which could limit the opportunity for fundamentalist groups to use Afghanistan as a base to undermine the fragile governments of its Central Asian neighbors.

 

So, what would negotiations with the Taliban entail? On their prime demand — the immediate withdrawal of foreign forces — we can expect some flexibility. Their leaders must understand that a precipitate departure by Western troops would lead to more fighting rather than less, as the ethnic and clan rivalries that have prevented stability for the last 30 years re-emerged. What they really want now is simply an end to aggressive operations. As for taking Taliban members off the sanctions list, they must accept that this will come only as a result of peace, not as an incentive to make it.

 

The big issue is Al Qaeda: the Taliban will have to agree, and show that they can enforce their agreement, that Al Qaeda will not be able to pursue its terrorist agenda from any part of Afghanistan under their control. Theoretically, this should be possible. The Taliban leadership has said repeatedly that when back in power it will neither interfere itself in the affairs of other states, nor allow anyone to do so from its territory.

 

]The Afghan government may need to give ground on a few issues as well. For one, its insistence that the Taliban lay down their arms will probably have to mean just that, rather than that they turn in their weapons. And Kabul's insistence that the Taliban support the Afghan Constitution suggests that parts of it may need to be changed.

 

The Taliban, for all their retrogressive conservatism, are pragmatic Afghans. They have grown up in a culture of negotiation where no one gets everything but no one leaves with nothing. Unlike Al Qaeda, they are a nationalist movement with national objectives, and while they will fight to the last man, they would far prefer to rule. If talks are to begin, let alone succeed, the Taliban will need to show that they are also prepared to govern.

 

Richard Barrett is the coordinator of the United Nations Al Qaeda-Taliban monitoring team.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE: JUDGES FACE REPRISALS FOR UNPOPULAR RULINGS

 

Most people go to court looking for a fair shake. But some special interest groups think they have a better idea: ensuring they'll win in court by spending big money to elect judges who agree with them and to oust those who don't.

 

Over the past decade, the groups' efforts to buy justice have corroded scores of state Supreme Court races from Alabama to Illinois and beyond. This election season, new twists are emerging. Social conservatives are stepping up their attacks, and special interests of all sorts are working to influence "retention" races, where judges stand for election, unopposed, and voters pick "yes" or "no."

 

In Kansas, anti-abortion forces want to oust four of the state's seven Supreme Court justices. In Illinois, business interests are gunning for the chief justice, who ruled to eliminate a cap on malpractice damages.

 

Perhaps the most pernicious campaign is in Iowa, where last year the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a law limiting marriage to a man and woman violated the promise of equal protection under Iowa's constitution.

 

The 7-0 ruling put the Iowa judges at the center of the nation's tumultuous battle over same-sex marriage. This fall, the Washington-based National Organization for Marriage and the political arm of the American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Miss., have joined with local groups to spend more than $300,000 to unseat three Iowa justices on the ballot next month.

 

We've long supported civil unions over gay marriage, but that doesn't mean we think judges who rule in favor of same-sex marriage should lose their jobs. If single-issue groups get their way, judges everywhere will start looking over their shoulders every time they vote in a controversial case or rule in a way that is unpopular. That will undermine impartial justice.

 

Over the past decade, special interests have chipped away at that ideal. State Supreme Court races have often degenerated into nasty battles with corporate interests on one side and trial lawyers on the other. Such groups have pushed spending on what once were low-profile elections from $83 million in the 1990s to nearly $207 million in the past decade. Scurrilous attacks and nasty ad campaigns are now routine in judicial races. Judges themselves raise money from lawyers, doctors, union chiefs and business executives who then appear in their courts, an obvious conflict of interest.

 

A few methods exist to lessen special interest influence in judicial races. Iowa is one of about two dozen states that use "merit selection," where judges are appointed then run for retention. North Carolina and New Mexico use public financing, which can help insulate judges from special interest money. But these latest campaigns challenge even those safeguards.

 

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, spoke recently in Iowa about the importance of judges' independence and the need for "one safe place, the courtroom ... where judges are not subject to outright retaliation for their judicial decisions."

 

If judges commit malfeasance or display gross incompetence, they should be subject to removal. But if they are ousted simply because powerful groups disagree with a decision, no one will be able to enter a courtroom without wondering whether justice has been bought by the highest bidder or the special interest with the loudest voice. Everybody loses if the judiciary becomes perceived as just another politically partisan branch of government.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OPPOSING VIEW ON JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE: HOLD JUDGES ACCOUNTABLE

BY BRIAN S. BROWN

 

Are we a nation of the people, by the people and for the people? For critics of judicial elections, the answer seems to be that we are not.

 

This year in Iowa, three judges on the state Supreme Court come before voters in a judicial retention election. Many Iowans oppose their retention because these judges — against all precedent, all reason — imposed same-sex marriage on the state of Iowa.

 

Not surprisingly, the ruling elite is now criticizing groups such as the National Organization for Marriage for "hijacking" the process of "merit selection" by running TV ads and other communications in an effort to encourage a "no" vote on these judges.

 

USA TODAY claims that it is not against judicial retention elections, but against "outside groups" (we have more than 50,000 supporters in Iowa, so we hardly fit this bill) running advertising campaigns opposing judges based on a single decision. This position is essentially the same as opposing judicial elections completely.

 

Why? Because put simply, an election is an election. Elections will have people and groups standing on both sides of the aisle communicating with voters on why they should vote yes or no. You cannot constitutionally have an election and then limit the participation of key groups or determine that citizens can only vote against the judges if there is more than one issue at stake.

 

This is the United States of America, not the former Soviet Union. If we have an election, we allow individuals and groups to make their cases before the people, and then the people decide.

 

But many elites don't trust the people. They don't trust the voters to make up their own minds after hearing and seeing all of the ads and arguments. On this we profoundly disagree.

 

"Of the people, by the people, for the people" is not just a pleasant sounding patriotic phrase. Judges derive their authority from the people, who are truly the sovereign in this great country.

 

Judges are not above the citizenry. The voters of Iowa have the civil right, and duty, to hold their judges accountable. And because we trust the voters to do the right thing, we look forward to Iowans voting "no" on all three judges.

 

Brian S. Brown is president of the National Organization for Marriage, anon-profit group based in Washington, D.C., that seeks "to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it."

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OBAMACARE WILL CLOG SYSTEM

BY MARC SIEGEL

 

A month ago, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to the president of America's Health Insurance Plans stating that the impact on insurance premiums from "the new consumer protections and increased quality provisions" of the new health reform law "will be minimal ... no more than 1% to 2%." Sebelius warned Karen Ignagni that there would be "zero tolerance" for insurers blaming unjustified premium increases on the new law. Talk about subtle.

 

Sebelius' threat, though, obscures a larger problem: The new health care law mandates and extends the kind of insurance that breeds overuse, thereby driving up costs and premiums. And here I thought the reform intended to reduce costs.

 

As the details of this massive government-led health care overhaul begin to trickle out, let me be clear (to borrow the president's go-to phrase): The medical system is about to be overwhelmed because there are no disincentives for overuse.

 

A free-for-all

 

ObamaCare was lauded by many for covering all Americans with pre-existing conditions. That's not the issue. We're going to get into trouble because of the kinds of coverage that the new law mandates. There are no brakes on the system. Co-pays and deductibles will be kept low, and preventive services will have no co-pays at all. That sounds like a good deal for patients, yes? But without at least a pause to consider necessity and/or cost, expect waiting times to increase, ERs to be clogged and longer lead times needed to make an appointment.

 

Patients with new Medicaid cards who can't find a doctor will go where? To emergency rooms. The escalating costs of these visits (necessary and unnecessary) will be transferred directly to the American public, both in the form of taxes as well as escalating insurance premiums.

 

Beginning in 2014, insurance exchanges will be set up in every state so that individuals can choose a health insurance plan. This will help control costs, right? Wrong. Don't expect to find individually tailored plans or those with higher deductibles or co-pays. They won't be there because they can't receive the government stamp of approval.

 

In the new system, my patients will be able to see me as often as they'd like. But will they get the same level of care? I don't think so. I anticipate that more expensive chemotherapies and cardiac stents or transplants, for instance, will have a tougher time being approved, as is already the case in Canada.

 

Over on the public side, the new Independent Payment Advisory Board — established by the health reform law to "recommend proposals to limit Medicare spending growth" — will advise Medicare that some treatments are more essential and more cost-effective than others. I believe that value judgments inevitably will have to be made, reducing my options as a practicing physician. Private insurers will follow suit, as they often do.

 

During the battle over this reform, you often heard, even from President Obama, that you'd be able to keep the plan you have. What he didn't say — but what we now know — is that because of this new law, the private markets will have to remake their plans, that the costs will rise and that the plan you were told you could "keep" is in all likelihood no longer available. But when your plan changes, backers of reform will simply blame it on those evil private insurance companies.

 

The truth is, private health insurance is a low-profit industry, with profit margins of 4% compared with over 20% for major drug manufacturers. With the additional costs of no lifetime caps and no exclusion for pre-existing conditions, these companies will be compelled to raise their premiums in order to stay in business. The individual mandate is supposed to be the tradeoff by providing millions of new customers, but there is no guarantee that this additional volume will preserve profits with all the new regulations. This is what occurred in New York state in 1992, when a new law denied exclusion on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

 

Every scratch or dent

 

None of this is terribly surprising. I mean, imagine if your car insurance covered every scratch or dent. Wouldn't you expect your premiums to rise to meet the expanded coverage? And wouldn't you expect your auto repair shops to become clogged with cars that didn't really need to be repaired, competing for time and space with other cars with broken transmissions or burnt-out motors?

 

If we want lower insurance premiums, we will need to return to a system that favors high deductible, high co-pay catastrophic-type insurance with a built-in disincentive for overuse, such as the kind that some employers have provided as an option up until now. Patients could pay for office visits from health savings accounts or other flexible spending tax shelters. More than 10 million Americans already have such accounts.

 

Unfortunately, the new law is taking us away from the kind of insurance that compels patients to have more skin in the game. As a result, we'll all pay in the long run — both financially and with less efficient, perhaps even lower quality, care.

 

The kind of insurance the new law mandates will, over the years, wear out the health care system in the same way that overuse in orthopedics wears out an elbow or knee joint. This won't be fun for doctors or, most important, for patients.

 

Marc Siegel is an associate professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

WHAT'S AT STAKE IN MIDTERM ELECTIONS

BY DEWAYNE WICKHAM

 

WASHINGTON — As I watched Barack Obama walk alone across the south lawn of the White House to his waiting helicopter, I had something of a political awakening.

 

It was in that moment, following the president's one-hour meeting with me and nine other black columnists, that I understood the campaign strategyRepublicans have cleverly crafted and theirDemocratic counterparts are struggling to counter. For the GOP, the central issue of the midterm elections is Obama.

 

It didn't start out that way. Early on, the Republicans' strategy was to avoid any mention of the president as they probed the political landscape for vulnerable House and Senate Democrats whose defeat would put control of the Congress in Republican hands. Back then, Obama's job approval rating was high and most Americans thought the nation was headed in the right direction.

 

But after months of withering, right-wing attacks on the Obama-led efforts to bail the nation out of the economic mess that took root when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress, and a nagging concern about broken promises among elements of Obama's political base, Republicans are using the president's declining popularity to rally support for GOP congressional candidates.

 

They are buoyed in this effort by those on the rabid fringe of the right wing who chant: "I want my country back," as if slaves have taken over the plantation. And they are financed to a great degree by right-wing donors who pour money — much of it untraceable — into the GOP coffers.

 

"If the election is posed as a choice between Republican policies that got us into this mess and (my) policies that are getting us out of this mess, then I think we can do very well," Obama said during his meeting with members of The Trotter Group, an organization of black columnists. "And, frankly, I would feel very confident about our position right now if it weren't for the fact that these third-party independent groups, funded by corporate special interests and run by GOP operatives, without disclosing where that money is coming from, are outspending our candidates" by big margins.

 

Obama said the floodgates were opened for this massive infusion of money into political campaigns by what he called the Supreme Court's "profoundly faulty" decision this year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Now money, gushing in from right-wing donors who want their country back, is fueling Republicans' hope of winning control on Congress this year — and the White House in 2012.

 

To stop them, Democrats must energize their base. They've got to get young whites and Hispanics to the polls in numbers that are not usually seen in midterm elections by making them understand what's at stake if Republicans win the Congress. And they've got to make blacks understand that while Obama is not on the ballot next month, his presidency is under attack.

 

"Our numbers and our ability to organize the grassroots have to counter those millions of dollars" Republicans are using "to try to take this election," Obama told the black columnists.

 

A day earlier, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies said a large black turnout could put a big dent in the loses Democrats are expected to suffer in the midterm elections.

 

But that won't happen unless Democrats make it clear that what is at stake in this election, more than the Congress, is Barack Obama's presidency.

 

DeWayne Wickham writes weekly for USA TODAY.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

MONEY, POLITICS DON'T MIX

 

Both Tennessee and Georgia will elect a governor next month to replace current officeholders who are prevented by term limits to run again. The absence of an incumbent has prompted a no-holds-barred, political battle in each state. One result is that money likely will play a far greater role in determining who will be governor in each state than platform and policy. That is unfair to residents and voters worried about the future of their state. It also distorts and undermines the election process.

 

Money is playing a major role in the Tennessee gubernatorial race to succeed Phil Bredesen. Republican front-runner Bill Haslam has a lot of it and has spent it freely. He's already invested millions from his own pocket during the GOP primary in which he defeated two well-known opponents and in the general election. He's apparently willing to spend more to augment funds from outside donors. He denies that he's trying to buy the election, though one can understand why Tennessee residents might think otherwise — given the millions Haslam has spent so far to keep his name and his candidacy before the public.

 

The investment apparently has paid off. For the moment at least, he's won a relatively comfortable lead over Mike McWherter, the Democratic nominee who earned the endorsement of this page. Still, those looking to the Haslam TV ads for insight into how he will move the state forward and how he will pay to do so it will find it tough going. There's a lot of flash in the presentations, but there's relatively little substance.

 

McWherter's ads pointedly question Haslam's priorities and background, but they do provide at least some ideas about the Democrat's platform and policies. McWherter, who admits to being financially comfortable, doesn't have the personal resources of Haslam, whose family founded the Pilot chain of truck stops. He says his fundraising efforts lag behind that of Haslam, a fact borne out by reports which indicate the amount he's raised and the amount he has on hand to spend to be significantly lower than that of the Haslam campaign. That, of course, limits his ability to present his message to the public.

 

The campaign between Nathan Deal, the GOP nominee, and Ray Barnes, the Democratic flagbearer, to succeed Sonny Perdue in Georgia involves less money than that being spent in Tennessee, but that's relative. The Georgia candidates already have spent several million dollars between them in a race in which Deal has a lead in polls. They both say they'll spend more in coming days in what already is an increasingly distasteful campaign. Indeed, the campaign's nastiness and personal attacks likely will escalate.

 

The public in both states deserves better. It should insist that ads provide information and insight, not invective. It should demand, as well, that an accounting of who or what groups are bankrolling the candidates and their ads be made public. Until it does, money will continue to pervert politics and to diminish the role of the voter.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

BRING HENS HOME TO ROOST

 

A few years ago, the idea of allowing city residents to keep and raise chickens in their backyards would have been unthinkable. Since then, however, local food and sustainable food movements — like Chattanooga's Gaining Ground movement — have taken root in cities and towns across the country . If the City Council gives the concept of raising hens due consideration today, Chattanoogans also should soon be able to enjoy fresh eggs from their own backyard hen coops.

 

Some City Council members may find the idea of re-introducing chickens — specifically hens, not dawn-heralding roosters — an unusual idea. Most cities eschewed such practices many decades ago when they sought to fence farm animals out of cities. Some residents may still associate having a clutch of hens in a neighbor's backyard with a disagreeable relic of our agricultural past.

 

Fortunately, advocates of allowing chicken coops in neighborhood settings are well equipped to refute old myths about unpleasantness of keeping chickens, and to educate us anew to their value.

 

Research, it turns out, has shown that chickens are not noisy nor are they inherently messy, smelly, prone to carry diseases or apt to attract rodents. Indeed, cats and dogs, and their worms, waste and diseases, are a lot more troublesome and problematic than are hens that are properly kept and cared for. The benefits of allowing hens to be raised in an urban family setting, on the other hand, are enormous.

 

Among the primary benefits are the potential for fresher, healthier eggs and meat, for family lessons in sustainable and healthier foods, and for the introduction to the broader range of food-source issues that are needed to combat obesity and addiction to fast foods. In fact, the connection of backyard hen coops and gardens to a range of fresher, healthier foods may be immensely helpful in building a healthier population.

 

Many communities across the nation support the inherent value of local food movements specifically to improve health and local economies. Re-establishing our local-food economy (i.e., choosing local produce and meats instead of lettuce from California, tomatoes from Mexico, apples from Chile and beef from Montana) would keep hundreds of millions of dollars circulating at home that otherwise is sent away.

 

It also would reduce the energy cost and pollution of the 1,500-mile average distance for food transported to our stores. And it would help reduce reliance on large factory farms, tightly caged animals given unhealthy doses of hormones and antibiotics, and preservative-laden foods.

 

Seen in that context, the ordinance related to raising hens that the city is being asked to approve is not just a step toward a new type of backyard pets. It actually is milestone on the way back to more healthful, fresher foods, and learning why that is important both to our health and our pocketbook.

 

In any case, the new ordinance to be taken up today should allay any concerns about chicken keeping, health issues and property values.

 

It calls for a limit of 15 chickens, and use of chicken-friendly/rodent-proof coops that are no higher than eight feet and no larger than 40 square feet; that have a footprint that allows each hen at least three square feet per coop; and that are located in backyards and fenced from view. It also would require secure feed containers, standards for waste control and a permit issued by the McKamey Animal Center.

 

The standards, and the concept, make sense, and should make the ordinance acceptable. The larger benefits will become more apparent as more people here move from fresher, tastier eggs to a host of other fresher, healthier, local foods.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

CHICKAMAUGA'S COSTLY LOCK

 

Most of us don't often think about the Chickamauga Dam lock that allows Tennessee River traffic to pass through Chattanooga on the Tennessee River, unless we drive on the bridge over the dam. But the Chickamauga lock is of very great economic importance, not only to Chattanoogans, but to countless people and businesses over a large area.

 

The Chickamauga lock "unlocks" Tennessee River traffic 318 miles upstream from Chattanooga and hundreds of miles downstream to the Ohio River, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico and the rest of the world. Chickamauga Dam, with its lock, was constructed as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the '30s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt came here to dedicate the Chickamauga Dam in 1940.

 

In the past 70 years, much water has gone through the dam's generators, producing electricity. And many barges and other boats have passed through the lock with vital economic cargo.

 

We must keep the very important river traffic moving.

 

Engineers and others have been aware for a number of years that a natural water and chemical reaction has caused the Chickamauga lock concrete to deteriorate — threatening to make the current lock inoperable within a very few years.

 

That's why work has been under way for several years to replace the deteriorating, and really inadequate, 60-by-360-foot lock with a new 110-by-600-foot lock that will beneficially handle a great deal more barge traffic in the future.

 

The 2001 cost estimate of $268 million for the new lock has grown, largely because of inflation, to $630 million for completion in 2015.

 

Where will the money come from? Since the nation's major waterways are federal government responsibilities, money appropriated by Congress is being matched by a river traffic diesel fuel tax of 20 cents a gallon. But that's not producing enough money as costs rise. So Congress is considering raising the diesel tax to 29 cents a gallon.

 

We certainly can't afford to have the project stop for lack of funding.

 

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said: "It would be shortsighted for the United States to allow the lock to close. That would hit not only Chattanooga, but all of East Tennessee because of the jobs it would threaten and the additional traffic it would create on I-75."

 

It has been noted that every 15-barge tow is equal to 216 railroad cars or 1,050 tractor trailers on our roads.

 

Replacing the Chickamauga lock is very expensive — but delaying or limiting Chickamauga Lake's connecting river traffic would be terribly more expensive.

 

This important though economically painful work should continue, to finish the new lock five years from now.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

POLITICAL RACES COST TOO MUCH

 

We value our free elections, "of, by, and for the people." But political campaigns aren't free of big costs for advertising, manpower, signs and other things that are legitimately involved as candidates try to get their message to the people.

 

But isn't it disconcerting when we are reminded that campaigns cost millions of dollars?

 

Some preliminary cost reports for the elections coming in just a few days are shocking.

 

We are told that in just the past three months — separate from House of Representatives races — the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised a record $27 million.

 

That's $6.4 million more than the comparable Republican committee.

 

The Democratic campaign fund committee for the House of Representatives campaign reported having $41.6 million in the bank — more than twice the cash reported by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

 

Of course, there is lots of other money floating around in varied campaign funds and the presidential contests.

Isn't it sickening to think that money may decide our elections, put many politicians in office, and thus determine the policies that will take effect in our nation?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

POLITICAL RACES COST TOO MUCH

 

We value our free elections, "of, by, and for the people." But political campaigns aren't free of big costs for advertising, manpower, signs and other things that are legitimately involved as candidates try to get their message to the people.

 

But isn't it disconcerting when we are reminded that campaigns cost millions of dollars?

 

Some preliminary cost reports for the elections coming in just a few days are shocking.

 

We are told that in just the past three months — separate from House of Representatives races — the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised a record $27 million.

 

That's $6.4 million more than the comparable Republican committee.

 

The Democratic campaign fund committee for the House of Representatives campaign reported having $41.6 million in the bank — more than twice the cash reported by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

 

Of course, there is lots of other money floating around in varied campaign funds and the presidential contests.

Isn't it sickening to think that money may decide our elections, put many politicians in office, and thus determine the policies that will take effect in our nation?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

ELECTRIC 'SHOCK'

 

Electricity lights, warms and cools our homes and businesses. It also lights our streets at night. It powers countless machines that make possible many thousands of our jobs.

 

Fortunately, through the Tennessee Valley Authority and our local distributor, the Electric Power Board, electric rates are generally pretty reasonable.

 

But once in a while, if we use a lot of electricity for heating or cooling, depending upon the weather, we may have (pardon the pun) a "shocking" power bill.

 

But that's nothing like the shock that one local business, Intersign Corp., got recently.

 

The firm was told its power bill was doubling — and it owed $121,000 for electricity over the past three years!

 

What had happened?

 

The Electric Power Board reportedly had a transformer problem that caused erroneously low electricity billing for the past five years.

 

(It was reported that 200 other meters also have had such errors since 2005.)

 

EPB surely must collect for its power service, to be fair to all customers. And all customers have to pay. But since EPB apparently had the transformer error that caused the big power bill — and the customer was unaware at the time — shouldn't reasonable and fair-minded people get together to resolve this unique problem in an economically reasonable way?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

60 YEARS — MOSE, GARRISON SISKIN

 

It is not possible to calculate the benefits done for many people and our whole community over the past 60 years by Mose and Garrison Siskin through their Mose and Garrison Siskin Memorial Foundation.

 

The generous and energetic brothers are being memorialized with a luncheon Sunday, at the Silver Ballroom of the Sheraton Read House, under sponsorship of Siskin Steel & Supply Co., the Siskin Children's Institute and the Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation, noting the 60th anniversary of their wonderful foundation's service.

 

There will be limited seating for the $50 tickets, with information available by calling 648-1706.

 

This will be a fitting remembrance of these good citizens and their good work, that will have much beneficial lasting effect.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

EDITORIAL

JUDGE CHRISTIE SELL HONORED

 

It is always a pleasure to see outstanding local citizens honored for good reasons that positively affect our whole community.

 

Such is the case of General Sessions Court Judge Christie Mahn Sell, who has been chosen for the 2010 Leadership Award presented by the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

 

It is unfortunate there are so many problems of domestic and sexual violence in our society. Sell does a conscientious job in her position to protect people in need.

 

She was nominated for her efforts in developing a pilot plan concerning domestic violence in Hamilton County.

 

She is to be commended for her efforts in dealing with this very serious social and legal problem.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - SCREENING HOPE IN GREEK CYPRUS

 

Pondering the significance of a Turkish film being screened in Greek Cyprus, the words of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead strike us as appropriate:

 

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world," she said. "Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

 

Her sentiment reflects ours on this small step, which we reported in a small way in Monday's Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

 

The film, "Başka Dilde Aşk," or "Love in Another Language," was to have competed Monday might on the southern half of the divided island. Frustratingly, our deadlines prevent us from telling you how the film fared in today's newspaper. But that really is of little matter.

 

The movie, by Turkey's İlksen Başarır, is only inferentially political. It is the story of a love affair between two young people and the challenges they face in communicating. In their case, the divide is not nationality or religion. It is the fact that one is deaf, and their relationship turns on their success at sign language. One of the most internationally acclaimed Turkish films in years, "Love in Another Language" has already collected 15 awards from international film festivals.

 

In Cyprus, it was to compete for the festival's best actor, best director and best scenario awards.

 

We say it is inferentially political, because an awkward sign language is not a bad metaphor for how Turkish and Greek Cypriots have communicated for years. It is a single island and really a single culture. But the winds of hatred have often swept across its shores and after nearly four decades of division, two peoples struggle to communicate through a dense prism of regional politics, European Union bureaucracy and emotional symbolism.

 

We believe that the decision to screen a Turkish film in a country that Turkey does not formally recognize can serve in a small way to illustrate the hopeful potential. The decision itself is an effort to bridge two polemical languages.

 

We have seen time and time again how it is the work of civil society that paves the way for politicians to follow. This has been the case in Turkish-Armenian relations, where a now-stalled diplomatic initiative was enabled by years of work by academics, artists and journalists.

 

It is certainly been the experience of Turkey and Greece proper, two countries long ensnared in shallow polemics that were startlingly overcome in the wake of civil reaction to two 1999 earthquakes on either side of the Aegean.

 

We don't want to overstate the importance of a single film, a single festival. But we do note the sagacity of Mead. Only small steps that begin with small groups of committed people can truly bring change. That a group of film enthusiasts in Greek Cyprus are demonstrating the truth of this adage is not only encouraging. It is also inspiring.

 

And we will let you know if Başırır comes home with another prize.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

GOVERNMENT FAILS PRESS FREEDOM TEST

SEMİH İDİZ

 

A short time ago I asked whether the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was really liberalizing Turkey following an attack on an art gallery in Istanbul by an Islamic rabble on the grounds that those attending the opening of an exhibition there were drinking wine.

 

My implied conclusion was that it is not, and that those who attacked the exhibition were getting the strength from the pro-Islamic AKP's political successes to carry out such an act of violence against secular people. A similar question now emerges as to whether the AKP is genuinely democratizing Turkey.

 

The key litmus test here is of course the question of press freedom, which is the kernel of a genuine democracy by any count. Looked at from this perspective there should be much for those EU officials, who continue to give this government the benefit of the doubt at the expense of overlooking glaring violations, to be concerned about.

 

The short of it is that the conditions of press freedom in Turkey today, let alone having been resolved in any way, are in fact getting worse under the present government,  and this is happening in a manner that is reminiscent of the worst times of military dictatorship in this country.

 

The Turkish Union of Journalists, or TGS, issued a circular in August that indicated there were no fewer than 48 journalists in prison at the time, with the number increasing almost on a daily basis. It also highlighted the large number of journalists facing court cases even if they had not been detained (yet).

 

Bad enough as this picture is, the situation is in fact much worse, as clearly indicated in a recent article by Hürriyet columnist Sedat Ergin, a former editor-in-chief of the influential daily Milliyet.

 

Ergin pointed out in his Oct. 16 column that article 285 of Law 5237 of the Turkish Penal Code – introduced by the current government in 2004 – has resulted in over 4,000 cases against journalists.

 

These mostly involve the "Ergenekon" case, and the charges are that those being tried violated the secrecy of the investigation of the case. What makes matters worse is that the figure concerning the number of cases opened under article 285 comes from Minister of Justice Sadullah Ergin, (no relation to Sedat Ergin) and relates to the situation as it was last November.

 

This means in effect that the number of journalists being tried under this article is now most probably over 5,000. If we look at the breakdown of the cases against journalists (not all of them because of the Ergenekon case) according to the media group they belong to, the figures given by Sedat Ergin show that the Doğan Group – to which this paper, including such major dailies as Hürriyet and Milliyet are attached – has 644 journalists who are being tried.

 

Neither is the problem just article 285, as Ergin points out. For example Kemal Göktaş, a reporter for daily Vatan, is being tried under article 336, on the grounds that he revealed secret documents relating to the investigation concerning the murder of Hrant Dink, the Turkish journalist of Armenian origin.

 

Similarly, Namık Durukan of Milliyet is being tried under the Prevention of Terrorism Law, for reporting on something that he took from the web page of the terrorist group the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The prosecutor wants 7.5 year for Durukan who, like Göktaş, was simply doing his job as a journalist.

 

These are some concrete examples, and there are plenty more example that demonstrate that any claim by the government that the AKP is "democratizing the country" is a travesty of the truth. Quite to the contrary, Turkey is becoming a country where life is increasingly difficult if you are a journalist who is reporting on matters that the government is touchy about.

 

How this fits in with Prime Minister Erdoğan's claim that Turkey is moving towards an "advanced democracy" is of course a mystery. How the government can reconcile this claim with the fact that there are thousands of journalists on trial is another mystery.

 

Government officials of course hide behind the argument that the judiciary is independent, and that even Prime Minister Erdoğan was imprisoned at the time for merely reciting a poem. There is however a half truth involved here.  

 

If Prime Minister Erdoğan was honest about the freedom of expression, he would have included stipulations in the AKP's package of constitutional changes, voted for in the Sept. 12 referendum, which guarantees this the way the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does. But it clearly did not suit him to do so, which is not surprising since his intolerance of criticism by the written media or of caricatures portraying him is well known.

 

The question however is why is the same Europe that raised hell over article 301 at the time is not making its displeasure more apparent now,  seeing as there are other articles that are as restrictive, if not more, of the freedom of the press as article 301 was.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FAREWELL TO JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE

CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

 

When I described the chairmanship of the justice minister on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, and the membership of the Justice Ministry undersecretary on the board as the last residue of the Sept. 12, 1980 military takeover that the government is benefiting from today, pro-government newspapers rushed in with responses such as, "But the number of HSYK members is increased to 22 and elections will be made across a wide spectrum."

 

In Sunday's elections, seven permanent and four reserves were determined by judicial representatives and three permanent and two reserves were determined by administrative justice. And the candidate list supported by the Justice Ministry won.

 

Newspapers had already published the list, and I kept it. The entire list was elected on Sunday, with no exception.

 

The probability of predicting the election of all 10 members in a list is almost equal to winning a jackpot.

 

Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary İbrahim Okur, Justice Ministry Personnel Director Birol Erdem and Turkey Justice Academy President Ahmet Kaya are civil servants and newly elected members of the HSYK. As the daily Milliyet put it nicely, the civil servants of the ministry will leave the ministry's door and enter the HSYK building!

 

I think the personnel director will most likely move the entire "directorate" to the HSYK and orchestrate promotions, rewards and punishments as well as the appointments of the "ministry personnel" who are judges and prosecutors!

 

Ten members were elected on Sunday. The minister and undersecretary are "board members as of right."

 

Twelve of the 22 members are already in the government's pocket, so to speak.

 

But the bitter thing is that a total of 12,000 judges and prosecutors have hit the final blow to the independence of the judiciary. Their independence ought to be guaranteed by the Constitutional Court. In accordance with the principle of separation of powers, they were supposed to be the guardians of judicial independence on behalf of the people.

 

The independence of the judiciary ended on Oct. 17, 2010.

 

Farewell to it!

 

The singularity of the issue is so obvious that even the co-chairman of the Judges and Prosecutors Association for Democracy and Freedom rages against the judicial elections. The Constitutional Court's rapporteur, Osman Can, formed the association as a counter-structure to the Judges and Prosecutors Association, or YARSAV. And Can did not hesitate to misinform public opinion and exert tremendous efforts for judicial amendments before the Sept. 12 referendum.

 

He says that they have claimed the amended article on the HSYK allows democracy in the structure, but in fact "appointments" were made in Sunday's judicial elections.

 

Even they have lost hope!

 

Let's see how newspapers close to the Justice Ministry will defend the situation?

 

Justice Ministry Undersecretary Ahmet Kahraman said: "The accumulation of knowledge so far at the ministry, which was in service of the board, might help the civil servants during the entire transfer of information and experiences to the board. I believe there is nothing wrong with nominating bureaucrats to the board." (Milliyet, Oct. 17, 2010)

 

And I here ask the undersecretary:

 

Where on earth is the collection of knowledge and memory built on behalf of judicial independence transferred to bureaucrats?

 

Based on which HSYK decision could you, as the ministry undersecretary, express your views in contradiction with that of the minister? Could you give me one little example, please?

 

The Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, have already been ruined, literally. The Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association, or TÜSİAD, is under threat.

 

The Constitution has been tamed (See: the latest statements of the chief justice of the Constitutional Court). The HSYK is rectified!

 

Welcome to civilian tutelage!

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

STRATEGIES OF DEVELOPMENT

 

Some economists, politicians and writers have been defending the idea that after 1980, Turkey shifted from a development strategy that depended on an import-substitution policy, preferring to implement an "export oriented-outward looking" economic policy in order to give a boost to economic growth. These circles also insist that this policy has been the main reason for the emergence of all economic problems that followed. Whenever sufficient financial resources were obtained from international institutions and from foreign banks, economic growth gained momentum; otherwise it slackened.

 

Is it true? To test the consistency of this claim, it would be wise to examine historical data. On the contrary to this thesis, in years when sufficient foreign financial resources could not be reached, growth rates were higher than the growth rates of the foreign-money rich years. As a result, instead of insisting on the so-called mistakes of the export-oriented growth strategy, which was intended but never implemented, it is better to identify the elements which induced the growth rate from time to time and sometimes put a brake on it. There's another important question: countries that implemented export-oriented growth policies have generally attained current account surpluses. Why, then, has Turkey been facing large deficits?

 

The first point to discuss is whether Turkey, during the last 30 years, has been implementing an export-oriented policy without interruption. The answer to this question is negative. A short time after 1980, mainly because of political reasons, the governments preferred to abandon tight monetary and fiscal policies which were the core elements of the export-oriented policy package. This resulted in huge budget and current account deficits and a rapidly rising inflation.

 

Because of the domestic political turmoil after 1990, short-lived governments could not plan and implement rational economic policies to rebalance the macro economic imbalances. At last in 1999, it was understood that it would be impossible to roll over foreign debt without a foreign touch; the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, was called for help. After returning to tight monetary and fiscal policies, and a semi-flexible foreign exchange rate regime, everything seemed all right for a while. However, as if to prove that it would be very difficult to change the habits of a nation, another serious crisis started in 2001; this time with the help of important statesmen (!).

 

The rest of the story is history; of a new austerity package was implemented that looked like the packages that some European countries are trying to implement today. However, there were no general strikes, no street clashes, but only condemnation of the IMF – not even the governments.

 

During the following years, after satisfactory increases in production, the economic growth rate began to decrease again even as the inflow of foreign money continuously rose.

 

As such, it is time to discuss why Turkey is not able to sustain a reasonable growth rate. The recent worldwide crisis can explain only the poor performance of the recent years. To make a more sophisticated analysis, one must look for other elements that undermine sustainable growth. Which social, political and economic elements have been shaping unsuccessful and unsustainable growth performances?

 

It is very easy to put the blame on the strategies and the policies implemented by various governments. However, it must be accepted that in a modern democracy, there is not a fixed, unchanging growth strategy, but changing economic policies of changing governments. Then, it is better to try to analyze the structural (and maybe historical) problems of Turkish society.

 

The problem is we Turks do not like to discuss the deep-rooted structural problems of society. Most people think that even trying to discover a weakness in social behavior amounts to treason. It is so hard to explain that without understanding the reasons of frequently repeated instabilities, it is impossible to cure structural maladies which prevent sustainable economic growth.

 

ealkin@iticu.edu.tr

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

OBAMA'S NOT-SO-BAD NOVEMBER

GWYNNE DYER

 

About eight months ago I was visiting an old friend in San Francisco, and for reasons I couldn't then explain I found myself betting him and his son $100 each that the Democrats would lose their majority in both houses of Congress in the U.S. mid-term elections this November. It seemed like easy money to them then – surely the Democrats wouldn't lose the Senate – but I think they are going to owe me $200.

 

Much is being made of this in the media at the moment: how disappointed President Barack Obama's former supporters are, how angry and mobilized the Republican "base" are, how extremely hostile to him the new Republican-controlled House and Senate will be. How can he be so calm about this? Why doesn't he get out there and fight?

 

Well, he has made a few fairly fiery speeches recently, but basically he knows speeches won't do much good. His supporters are disappointed because it has been a long, grim recession, and for most Americans it is still not over. Obama couldn't get another economic stimulus bill through Congress at this point even if he thought it was a good idea, so he can't hurry the recovery up.

 

Some of the people who voted Democratic in 2008 are also very cross because Obama has not brought American troops home from Afghanistan as fast as they hoped, or hasn't got any legislation about climate change through Congress – but he can't deliver on those things this year either. All he actually has at his disposal is words, and they won't be enough to re-motivate disillusioned Democrats.

 

The Democrats lack all conviction, while the Republican base is filled with passionate intensity. Obama's approval rating of 44 percent is not especially low for a U.S. president two years into his first term – Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were considerably lower at this point in their presidencies – but most of his supporters won't bother to vote in this election, while almost all of his enemies will.

 

If you really believe that your country has been hijacked by a Muslim Communist who was born in Kenya (or a cannibal troll who was born in Mordor, or whatever), then you will certainly get out and vote. If all of the retired white people vote, and only the usual mid-term proportion of all the other demographics does, then the Democrats will lose both houses of Congress. So why isn't Obama more worried about it?

 

He will certainly regret that so many long-serving Democratic senators and congressmen are going to lose their seats this autumn, but it really does not much matter to him who controls the Congress for the next two years. He can't hope to get any more legislation even through the current Congress since the Democrats lost their "super-majority" of 60 seats in the Senate last January, so what's the difference?

 

 

Nor does Obama actually have to get more legislation through Congress right now. It would be nice to have a tough climate-change bill, no doubt, but from a political point of view there is no new law that he simply must pass before he faces re-election himself in 2012. Indeed, he stands a very good chance of winning a second term in 2012, in large part because of what is going to happen this November.

 

Getting majorities in both houses of Congress will leave the Republicans nowhere to hide on the critical issue of cutting the huge federal deficit. They have already said that they will not raise taxes – even for those earning more than $250,000 a year – and they have pledged not to cut defense spending. What's left? The only other big-ticket items in the budget are entitlements: health care and pensions.

 

The United States has not yet gone through the painful debate about how to tame the deficit that has already happened in most European countries, but it will have to do so soon. That poses a particular problem for Republicans, because if they will not raise taxes on the rich or cut defense spending, then they have to support brutal cuts in health care and pensions or lose all credibility as deficit-cutters.

 

But cutting entitlements would alienate the Republicans' own most important demographic: older white people. They will not risk that. By contrast, the Democrats would not be alienating their own base if they cut defense spending and raise taxes on the rich, so they can be coherent and consistent on the topic. A Republican-controlled Congress may well come to be seen as an obstacle to fiscal responsibility even by many Republicans.

 

Make the further, quite reasonable assumptions that the U.S. economy will be growing strongly again by 2012, and that U.S. troops will be gone from Iraq and on their way out of Afghanistan, and you have a credible scenario in which the Democrats win back both houses of Congress as well as re-electing Barack Obama.

 

Meanwhile, Obama can veto any Republican attempt to repeal the legislation he has already got through Congress, and he will retain a free hand in foreign affairs. He could even try to get new legislation on immigration through Congress – it wouldn't pass, but he could thereby lock up the Latino vote. No wonder he looks calm.

 

* Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A PREDICTION OF EU-US-TURKEY RELATIONS IN NATO ISSUES

SERTAÇ AKTAN

 

A very important turning point in EU-U.S.-Turkey relations is ahead. The NATO Foreign and Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels was a powerful sign of it. The forthcoming November NATO Heads of States Summit to be held in Lisbon will be the place for this turning point. There will be several important agendas. The 'official' top agenda of NATO will be the 'new strategic concept' which has to take account not only of the way in which security challenges have evolved, but also of how NATO has adapted and transformed in the last decade to be able to better tackle these challenges, and NATO's core tasks for the 21st century.

 

The 'real' top agenda, on the other hand, will be the 'missile defense system' the U.S. wants to deploy against Iran and North Korea. The U.S. does not want to undertake this project on a 'coalition of the willing' basis like it did in the Iraq War. The U.S. has actually already persuaded Czech Republic and Poland and would have no difficulties persuading Romania and Bulgaria to continue with this missile defense system project. However, disputes with Russia on the subject and a desire for more support and fewer doubts from Europe and Asia, the U.S. wants NATO to back the project – and even more than that wants NATO to own the project. Russia's threat to deploy long-range Alexander missiles to Kaliningrad also surely helped Washington consider this step.

 

In September 2009, after several talks with Russia, President Barrack Obama announced that the missile defense strategy was on hold and will be differently structured and it may not be in Poland or Czech Republic. Nowadays, together with Romania these countries are still potential future hosts of the system. What's new is the situation of Turkey. It currently looks as though Washington still sees Turkey as the most geo-strategically logical place to deploy the system and expects Turkey to agree to the prospective NATO project. First, Turkey is expected to vote in support of the missile system and second, it is expected to cooperate with the project as a host. This was on the table in Brussels where both foreign and defense ministers of Turkey and the U.S. had a private meeting for half an hour after a meeting of the North Atlantic Council. After this meeting Robert Gates, the U.S. defense minister, said: "We do not put any pressure on the Turks but we are having continuing conversations as one of our allies."

 

Now the trouble is Turkey has just started to boost its economic, social and political ties in the region and it already supplies the U.S. and NATO with military bases in its territory. Deploying new missiles for the sake of Europe? The Europe we so much want to be in but just can't get in? Well, Washington thought about that 'possible sentimentalism' too and that is why one of the top agenda items of the U.S.-EU summit set to take place in Lisbon right after the NATO summit is going to be Turkey's EU membership – as important an agenda item as it was at the last U.S.-EU Summit in Prague where French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both clearly announced that although they respect Washington's position on Turkey's membership it was still the EU's decision to make.

 

I predict the following will happen:

 

Turkey will be forced to vote 'yes' and become a host of the missile system if it wants its EU bid backed by Washington – or even it merely wants the subject to feature on the agenda of the U.S.-EU Summit. Turkey will agree to vote in favor of the system but will reject becoming its host. Although the U.S. will seem to be unpleasant about the outcome they will actually endorse it as a great result because actually it does notmatter. Let me explain why; the real trick will be the 'new strategic concept' where NATO will agree on using a more aggressive mixture of weapons, consisting of both conventional and nuclear warheads, to become a stronger deterrent in the region. Although it will be named as a 'mixture,' weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, will outnumber conventional weapons and become the major part of this mix in no time. Again Gates' statements were very clear in Brussels that, there were no linkage between 'missile defense' and 'reduction of nuclear weapons' and as long as we live in a world of nuclear weapons that it is important for NATO remain a armed alliance. Today, there are unofficially known to be 90 WMD in Turkey belonging to the U.S. The U.S. will simply transfer this capacity to NATO on any time it's needed and make it look like as if it is a NATO strike because actually there is no need to have a long range missile defense against Iran if you are already in the East of Turkey. Turkey knows that, the U.S. knows that and NATO knows that. The only thing that matters for both Turkey and the U.S. is the concept of 'openly naming specific countries as threats' in the new strategic concept. This struggle will be the 'clash of titans' moment in Lisbon and I can say that the rest 26 NATO members are very much divided in this matter. Some think that doing so, will ease the relations with Russia and make NATO much more deterrent and effective on the region. Others believe using 'cold war terminology' would be a mistake and simply start this stressful era all over again.  

 

Apart from the result of this last element, it will still be a 'win-win' situation for every party because Turkey won't be rejecting the U.S. for the second time on Iran after the United Nations sanctions voting and it won't be showing hostility to Iran by hosting any long-range missile defense system. Turkey will also get its standard support for EU membership in the EU-U.S. summit and the leading EU figures will again point out the same 'respectfully opposing' statements they did last year. The U.S. will have its 'yes' and its 'credibility' by making it a NATO project and still be able to use whatever type of weapon it wants under NATO by the 'new strategic concept' in a possible warfare. Continental Europe will be protected with a stronger umbrella then ever once again by using non-EU states. 

 

Once it becomes a NATO project it is also possible that members will agree to coordinate it with the NATO-Russia Council, and then maybe the system will also be even deployed to Azerbaijan -as Russia suggested earlier.

 

Naturally these are my opinions for now. What is going to happen I will witness myself in Lisbon. One thing is for sure, any other scenario will not be much of a 'win-win' situation.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION