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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month december 13, edition 000701, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- INDIA BREEDS CORRUPTION - JOGINDER SINGH
- CALCULATED CALUMNY
- DEALING WITH THE REALITY
- CONFIDENTIALITY COMPROMISED - RAJIV DOGRA
- IT'S POLITICS OF SOUND AND FURY - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- STAVING OFF A 21ST CENTURY COLD WAR - ILYA KRAMNIK
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- NO VOLTE-FACE FOR INDIA
- DOMINATING PERFORMANCE
- THE SURVEILLANCE SOCIETY - N D BATRA
- 'SPANISH-SPEAKING COUNTRIES DON'T FEEL THE NEED TO LEARN HINDI'
- A TASTE OF HONEY - NAMITA DEVIDAYAL
- NOT BUBBLING WITH ENERGY
- THE PLANT SLANT
- ENTER THE WATCHDOG - KP SHASHIDHARAN
- ONLY THE PM CAN GET THINGS MOVING AGAIN - PANKAJ VOHRA
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- A NEW BRIEF
- REPORTED SPEECH
- CHANGE THE CLIMATE
- THESE DIFFICULT YEARS - JAITHIRTH RAO
- THE BORDER OF DISCONTENT - HARSH V. PANT
- READING THE RUSSIANS - INDER MALHOTRA
- WHAT HIS OWN SIDE DOESN'T GET ABOUT OBAMA
- ART OF THE STATE - GEORGINA MADDOX
- THE END OF OFFICIAL SECRETS?
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- REASSURING TRENDS
- DESPITE UNCERTAINTIES
- IGNOBLE CHINA
- IS SOVEREIGN DEBT RISK FREE? - MEGHNAD DESAI
- STOCKHOLM, KYOTO, COPENHAGEN, CANCUN - RENUKA BISHT
- A NEW BEGINNING
- SCANDALS AND STOCK MARKETS
- TAKING STOCK OF CANCUN - T. JAYARAMAN
- PUBLISHING ONLY WITH GOVERNMENT APPROVAL - JOHN NAUGHTON
- AL-JAZEERA RESPONDS TO LEAKED CABLES - WADAH KHANFAR
- BURIED IN PERU'S DESERT, FOSSILS DRAW SMUGGLERS - SIMON ROMERO AND ANDREA ZARATE
- ABU DHABI, YEMEN FIRMS AGREE TO COOPERATE ON OIL
- OPEC MINISTERS MAKE NO CHANGE IN OUTPUT - ISSUES IN HIGHER EDUCATION
THE ASIAN AGE
- WORRY INCREASES: IS INDIA DRIFTING?
- SAVE THE GANGA - VANDANA SHIVA
- PRIVATE SPACE FLIGHT ADDS A BUSINESS EDGE
- TATA-CHANDRASEKHAR WAR BARES DARK NEXUS
- WE WALKED SIMPLY WALKED IN THE CITY - ABHAY VAIDYA
- CANCUN CLIMBDOWN WAS NOT NECESSARY
- IDENTIFYING THE NATURE OF THE SELF - CHANDRIKA
- THE MEDIA IS ALMOST THE LAST TO REPORT ON CORRUPTION - ANIL DHARKER
- BIG LOSS, NO DOUBT
- COMPOSITE JEWEL
- LEARNING FROM CHINAREGIONS AS ENGINES OF GROWTH - BY D SUBA CHANDRAN
- END OF GLOBALIZATION AS WE KNOW IT - BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
- JPC ISSUE PUTS STRAINS ON POLITY - BY KALYANI SHANKAR
- CORRUPTION IN JUDICIARY
- NEW HIGH IN INDIA-EU TIES
- JUSTICE DELAYED ONCE AGAIN
- HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN TIBET - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- MIND YOUR BUSINESS - BY CHETANA VAISHNAVI
- LOST OPPORTUNITIES GURMEET KANWAL
- THE OPERATION
- DIGVIJAY'S CYNICAL WRONG TURN
- CANCUN COMPROMISE
- BANKERS' ARRESTS AND FALLOUT
- SCOUNDREL TIMES - SANJAYA BARU
- IS BAMBOO A TREE OR A GRASS? - SUNITA NARAIN
- EUROZONE: THE SECOND DOMINO FALLS - A V RAJWADE
- PARTNERS IN TRADE, PARTNERS FOR GROWTH - ANAND SHARMA & KAREL DE GUCHT
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- A TOOTHLESS CLIMATE DEAL
- A SAD TALE
- VIP RULE BOOK
- THE PROBLEM WITH BEING RATAN TATA - SANTOSH DESAI
- 'CLOUD COMPUTING MAKING WAVES' - CHIRANJOYSEN
- A CASE FOR SPECTRAL EFFICIENCY - JAIDEEP MISHRA
- SPEECH IS SILVER, SILENCE IS GOLDEN - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
- CAN OF WORMS
- SOUND PROPOSAL
- LANGUAGE, PLEASE
- GREAT FEDERAL GAMBLE - ACHINTYA RAY
- SAVE THE GANGA - BY VANDANA SHIVA
- AMERICA, GET OUT OF WEST ASIA PICTURE - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- WORRY INCREASES: IS INDIA DRIFTING?
- HUMOUR IN PUBLIC SPEAKING
- STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART
- IN GOD'S COMPANY BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
- A TRIP FOR STUDENTS OF LIFE - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- A STEP FORWARD
- NOT ENOUGH JUSTICE
- NOISE AND SILENCE - M J AKBAR
- BHUTAN SAYS YES TO BIOPLASTICS, HAPPINESS - BY GUNTER PAULI
- SNAIL SMILE - BY NAMITHA ANNAIAH
THE JERUSALEM POST
- ZIONISM, NIXON-STYLE
- THE 'MEHDAL' WE URGENTLY NEED TO FIX - BY TZACHI HANEGBI
- FOR SALE IN 'THE 72 VIRGINS' - BY BARRY RUBIN
- EDITOR'S NOTES: ON THE ROAD TO A BETTER PLACE - BY DAVID HOROVITZ
- FROM ISRAEL TO COLOMBIA WITH LOVE - BY MEIR JAVEDANFAR
- THE GLOVES ARE OFF - BY KATIE GREEN
- A DISTURBING DESECRATION OF JEWISH VALUES - BY DAVID ROSEN
- NEEDED: AN OPPOSITION
- WE NEED A COMMISSION OF INQUIRY - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
- ONE NEW CLAUSE BY YITZHAK LAOR
- GUIDELINES FOR SMART DRINKING - BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THEY HAVEN'T LEARNED
- JUDICIAL SCRUTINY BEFORE DEATH
- PREYING ON VETERANS
- SHUT THOSE DOORS
- A SERIOUS MAN - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
- DRAWING A LINE IN THE WATER - BY SELIG S. HARRISON AND JOHN H. CUSHMAN
- BONES OF CONTENTION - BY ROBERT L. KELLY
- BLOCK THOSE METAPHORS - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- AFTER 25 YEARS, TIME HAS COME TO CLEAN UP THE TAX CODE (AGAIN)
- WHEN'S THE RIGHT TIME FOR CHRISTMAS CAROLS? - BY LAURA VANDERKAM
- ADVENT: LET'S START TO HEAL OUR PLANET - BY MALLORY MCDUFF
TIMES FREE PRESS
- HOW TO SELECT A NEW MAYOR
- A HOLLOW VICTORY FOR CHINA
- THE COST OF 'UNCERTAINTY'
- THE DANGER OF BEING SOFT ON CRIME
- INJUSTICE TAKES A NEW TURN
- ADMITTED WIND ENERGY FLOP
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - ISRAEL'S EQUAL STAKE IN JUSTICE
- LIU XIAOBO VS JULIAN ASSANGE - ARIANA FERENTINOU
- BURNT BY THE WINTER SUN - EMRE DELİVELİ
- THE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST ASSANGE - GWYNNE DYER
- KILIÇDAROĞLU'S EXISTENTIAL FIGHT - YUSUF KANLI
- NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED: INDIA'S MICROCREDIT CRISIS - MBURCU GÜVENEK ARASLI
- WIKILEAKS' IMPACT ON TURKISH-AZERBAIJANI RELATIONS: THE IMPORTANCE OF TERMINOLOGY ADİL BAGUİROV
- A STEADY DECLINE
- PRICE OF SAFETY?
- CHILD LABOUR
- LA VERITE EN MARCHE - ROEDAD KHAN
- EXPOSED - ASIF EZDI
- OUR RULERS AND THE PUBLIC - DR A Q KHAN
- IT'S ALL A MYTH - HUSSAIN H ZAIDI
- KASHMIR AND THE FUTURE - ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI
- TALK OF TIGERS-0 CHRIS CORK
- RGST: PARLIAMENT IS THE RIGHT FORUM
- TAPI: A DIFFICULT BUT IMPORTANT PROJECT
- LET THE CURRICULUM REMAIN WITH THE CENTRE
- DO WE DESERVE TO BE A MOUSE?- DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
- MYTH OF HUMAN RIGHTS! - AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)
- TAPI: THE DESIRED ESSENCE - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
- COMMERCIALISING THE EDUCATION! - SHAUKAT MASOOD ZAFAR
- A COMING SINO-TURKISH AXIS? - MICHAEL AUSLIN
- A POPULIST PACKAGE, BUT WILL IT DELIVER ON RATES?
- WIKILEAKS: MR RUDD STAYS COOL UNDER PRESSURE
- TAKE A RAIN CHECK, BOB
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- BACK TO MID-EAST DRAWING BOARD
- THE CARS THAT ATE BUSES
- GOVERNMENT LOSING ITS WAY ON WATER REFORM
- AN EMPTY CHAIR LADEN WITH MEANING
- CANCÚN CLIMATE SUMMIT: YET ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY LOST
- TAX JUSTICE: BACK ON THE AGENDA
- IN PRAISE OF DR SPOONER
THE JAPAN TIMES
- VACCINATION POLICY FALLS SHORT
- TALKS WITH IRAN JUST A START
- PREPARING THE GROUND FOR THE EGYPTIAN HEIR - BY GWYNNE DYER
THE JAKARTA POST
- GRACIAS CANCUN
- LAW REVISION IS KEY TO PROTECTING WORKERS - PALMIRA BACHTIAR
- RI DOMESTIC HELPERS EXPECTED TO WORK WITH NO TOOLS OF TRADE - DEWI ANGGRAENI, MELBOURNE
- BDF: RI'S IMAGE CAMPAIGN? - MARIO MASAYA
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- SEETHING CAULDRON OF CORRUPTION - BY ALEXEI BAYER
- THE CONSCIENCE OF MANKIND - BY PATRICK WORSNIP
- WIKI DRIVES A WEDGE INTO THE TANDEM - BY VICTOR DAVIDOFF
INDIA BREEDS CORRUPTION
There are any number of rules and laws to prevent corruption but these are followed in the breach because there's profit in that. The result is obvious
Last week on December 9 we observed the United Nations-designated 'International Anti-Corruption Day'. Unfortunately, corruption has become the reigning deity in India. There are temples raised to all kinds of gods and goddesses some well-known, some obscure. But corruption, which is worshipped by most politicians and a large number of bureaucrats, is officially unacknowledged as one. With mounting political corruption, bureaucrats are now expected to anticipate both overt and covert wishes of their bosses and accordingly prepare notes for orders. If they do not follow the implied and unspoken wishes of their political masters, they are sidelined and given jobs where there's no work to do.
When an incident of corruption comes to light, instead of taking action the standard ploy is to set up an inquiry committee or commission although in reality everybody knows the facts. Sometimes these are known months, if not years, before a scam becomes public. This is especially applicable to scams like those involving the preparations for and organisation of the Commonwealth Games, the land grab by Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society and the 2G Spectrum loot. If 'Halls of Shame' were to be set up in New Delhi and our State capitals, they would probably be the biggest buildings in these cities.
A study authored by Dev Kar, a leading economist and a former official of the International Monetary Fund, on the flight of illicit money from the country perhaps the first ever attempt at shedding light on a subject steeped in secrecy concludes that India has been drained of $462 billion or over Rs 20 lakh crore between 1948 and 2008. The amount is nearly 40 per cent of India's gross domestic product and nearly 12 times the size of the estimated loss to the Government because of the 2G Spectrum scam.
Mr Dev Kar is now with the US-based Global Financial Integrity, a non-profit research body that has long crusaded against illegal capital flight. According to his observations, illicit financial outflow from India has been growing at 11.5 per cent per year and nearly 50 per cent of the total illegal outflows occurred since 1991. Around a third of the money exited the country between 2000 and 2008.
With the days of single party rule over, Union Governments now survive on the support of coalition partners. A new term has been coined called 'coalition dharma', which means that the portfolios given to coalition partners literally become their fiefdoms, almost independent empires. It is more so if the allies have enough MPs to bring down the Government. Yet, it should not have been so. The party leading the coalition is expected to stand by good governance instead of being blackmailed by allies simply for the sake of staying in power.
If the CAG is to be believed, the Government has suffered a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore in the auction of 2G Spectrum in 2008. When petrol is not being sold at 2008 prices today, why was spectrum sold at 2001 prices in 2008? On November 2, 2007, the Prime Minister wrote to Mr A Raja that in the backdrop of inadequate spectrum and unprecedented number of applications for licenses', there should be a fair and transparent auction. He also pointed out that the revision of the entry fee, which was benchmarked on an old figure, needed to be considered.
On November 5, 2007, S Tel wrote to the Prime Minister and the Telecom Minister, offering Rs 6,000 crore for a pan-India licence. On December 27, 2007, S Tel enhanced the offer to Rs 13,752 crore and further agreed to increase the bid price in the event of a counter-bid. If S Tel's offer had been considered, the exchequer would have got Rs 65,909 crore.
So what was the motivation behind selling spectrum benchmarked on an old figure? Whether it was love for money or done in good faith is anybody's guess. Raiding the former Telecom Minister's house and subjecting his close associates to an inquiry by the CBI after two years of the 2G Spectrum scam is unlikely to serve any purpose. It's more of eyewash than a genuine effort to get to the bottom of the scandal and pin responsibility.
Rules and laws do exist. But most people who are supposed to enforce them do not do so as there's profit in that. How else do you explain the death of 70 people and injuries to another 300 in a building collapse in the national capital? That the building had been illegally constructed with poor material was known to civic authorities. Nor did the Delhi Government do anything to enforce the law which would have prevented the disaster and saved these lives.
To cover up its lapses, the Delhi Government has appointed a one-member judicial commission of inquiry to probe the disaster "in view of the scale of the mishap, the large number of casualties and the number of complex issues connected with the incident". This is an executive function; outsourcing the work to commissions and committees has become a standard ploy to calm popular outrage which eventually dies a natural death, only to surface all over again when another similar disaster takes place.
The job of the commission of inquiry set up by the Delhi Government will be to probe all aspects of the incident, including whether there was any procedural, administrative and statutory lapses that led to the tragedy. That's a joke. Those heading such commissions are neither investigators nor do they have any legal power to punish anybody. They ask for affidavits to be filed and then use these to prepare their reports. Surely the Government does not need a commission of inquiry to find out whether the construction of this particular building was approved or not by the agencies concerned and whether the structure was sound enough to take the load of so many floors. The whole purpose is to deflect discomfiting questions by saying that the matter is being investigated.
A simple point will show how serious our politicians are about inquiring into scams and scandals. Till date no party has agreed to confer constitutional status, like that of the CAG or Election Commission, on the CBI. Under the present system, cases have to be referred to the CBI and then Government sanction is required to prosecute individuals for violating the law. Thus, the CBI has no independent powers of its own.
Corruption flourishes in our country because Government lacks the political will to fight corruption. All talk of zero tolerance towards corruption is meaningless unless there is appropriate follow-up action. Politicians know this well.
DIGVIJAY SINGH STANDS EXPOSED AS A 'LIAR'
Digvijay Singh is more than just another general secretary of the Congress. His proximity to 10 Janpath and his role as mentor to Mr Rahul Gandhi vest him with power and authority that are far in excess of that which is wielded by other general secretaries of the party. When he speaks from a public platform, it is presumed, and rightly so, that he has to say enjoys the sanction of the highest level in the Congress and it can't get higher than the party president or the general secretary in charge of Youth Congress affairs. Hence, it would not be incorrect to suggest that Mr Digvijay Singh spoke with great deliberation when he claimed Mumbai's slain ATS chief, Hemant Karkare, who died fighting terrorists on November 26, 2008, during the city's night of horror, was killed by Hindu activists. This was not a casual comment. Nor was it an off-the-cuff remark. The occasion and venue for this shocking statement was carefully selected: The launch of a book called RSS ki Saazish 26/11 authored by a little known editor of an Urdu newspaper at the India Islamic Cultural Centre. The audience, comprising individuals who practice rank communal politics and peddle Islamic fundamentalism as the sole cure for the problems that confront India's Muslims, completed the picture. That event was ignored by media, so Mr Digvijay Singh chose a friendly newspaper to repeat his wild allegations, including the story that Karkare called him to say he was being hounded by certain people. The implication was that Hindu activists were after him for his inquiry into the Malegaon bombing. Strangely, the call came just a couple of hours before Karkare went down while leading the counter-assault on the Pakistani fidayeen from the front. This jaundiced story of Karkare being killed by Hindu activists was first floated by home-grown Islamists; it was repeated by the then Minister for Minority Affairs AR Antulay, and, it has now been raked up by the Congress's most powerful general secretary after Mr Rahul Gandhi. Mr Digvijay Singh's campaign of calumny has been nailed by none less than the widow of the martyred police officer; she has not only repudiated his claims but also poured scorn on him for seeking to play politics over 26/11 in a crude manner which can only help Pakistan. But that's unlikely to either shame Mr Digvijay Singh or force him to abandon crass minority appeasement. He has repeatedly demonstrated his capacity to articulate nonsense as profound wisdom. Perhaps his strength stems from this ability.
However, that need not deter the people of India from castigating him. He has not only insulted the memory of Karkare and treated the nation's sensitivities with contempt but also sought to sully the image of this country's Muslims whom the Congress treats as alien citizens whose hearts beat for Pakistan. That's far from the truth. And Mr Digvijay Singh and his ilk are wide off the mark when they try to fish for Muslim votes by taking recourse to Hindu-baiting: This trick doesn't work any more or else the Congress would not have fared so poorly in the Bihar Assembly election of the Uttar Pradesh panchayat polls. Or is Mr Digvijay Singh, who is in charge of Uttar Pradesh, is showing signs of desperation at the Congress failing to emerge as a contender for power? For, if the party scores low in the next Assembly election, he will be shown up for what he is: A politician past his prime and of no use to anybody.
DEALING WITH THE REALITY
OLD ECONOMIC MODELS WON'T SUFFICE
The 2008 economic crisis that has left the world scarred major financial institutions have crumbled in developed economies, triggering recession across the world and bringing growth to almost a standstill has served to highlight the need to shift economic and development paradigms to match the new world order. The world is fast moving towards a future where emerging market economies in Asia and Latin America will play an important role in shaping the global economy which for long has been dominated by Europe and the US. Even as the crisis-ridden developed nations are making a slow, laboured progress towards recovery, trade volumes in most Asian countries have touched the pre-crisis levels. While China's economy is growing at an annual pace of 9.6 per cent, India is looking at 8.75 per cent GDP growth this fiscal, backed by double-digit industrial output. With emerging markets leading the recovery in world trade, India and China together, with nearly 40 per cent of the world's population, are expected to dominate the global economy in the next decade. Since such tectonic shift is imminent, a time has come, according to World Bank president Robert B Zoellick, when "a new multi-polar economy requires multi-polar knowledge". It has become imperative for policy-makers of the developed nations to consider taking a lesson or two from developing nations. For instance, India could handle wild swings in the global economy successfully because of its inbuilt systems. While there is Government control on capital flows, the economy has been opened up to the world slowly and the current account convertibility is not allowed.
The fact that developing nations have dealt with the economic crisis better, showing far more resilience and registering faster recovery, alone should lead to a greater degree of cooperation between the developed and the developing economies and among the G20 nations. More so because there appears to be little consensus on how to ensure sustained growth whether by resorting to greater fiscal austerity as favoured by the European countries, or getting more expansionary like the US desires. Since growing current account imbalances and insufficiently regulated financial markets threaten a repeat show of fiscal nightmare, there is a pressing need to follow differentiated policy approaches rather than a 'one-size-fits-all' policy. Research grounded in the key knowledge gaps for economic policy can give a lead to policy-makers to frame more practical approaches. For instance, American economists are suggesting that a financially weakened US needs to adopt a new approach by marrying foreign policy with national and international economic issues. On their part, the developing nations need to understand how access to economic opportunities can be broadened to ensure inclusive and sustainable development.
There's nothing devastatingly new about the contents of the 'Secret' US cables that have been placed in the public domain by WikiLeaks. But what Julian Assange has achieved is two-fold. First, he has shown that the Internet makes it virtually impossible for states to maintain absolute secrecy. Second, the cables prove American power is on the decline
Julian Assange's fatal mistake was the interview he gave last month to a journalist. In this, he claimed to have information about a major American bank that would cause a scandal to rival the one about Enron. Mr Assange had already taken on the establishment, now he was daring big business as well. But if Governments vacillate in face of a challenge, big business is unforgiving. For the latter, every threat has an existential dimension. Still, locking up Mr Assange has not stemmed the flood; the leaks continue like the TV series Dallas to give us our daily dose of surprises.
Perhaps at some point the general public may tire of the cables, but professional diplomats across the world would be delighted by the abundance of material that this flood from WikiLeaks has provided to them. Never before was it so easy to get first hand and candid information about people, places and policies in such enormous quantities.
Once, not too long back, spies would stake their lives to get just a single secret document concerning a foreign state, especially a hostile one. They would trawl the waste-paper bins outside an Embassy for shredded and discarded documents to get just one tiny link that could lead them to a whole chain. Spies stopped at nothing; from money to honey traps, all this was fair game in this battle for illicit information. Nor is it a matter of remote past, in fact the trade craft is alive and thriving even now.
Recently the Americans discovered to their horror that a Russian spy ring, inclusive of a femme fatale, had been operating for years on American soil. And the British are just beginning to discover that their bearded black-cab driver is actually an off duty Taliban marking his time till he makes his next bombing run on behalf of the Taliban/ISI. And why just the West, we ourselves were duped by a reverse honey trap when a female staffer at our mission in Islamabad finally confessed to being run by the Pakistanis for years.
It is true that intelligence agencies around the world continue to regard human intelligence as invaluable. But look at what the Internet has done; America's contribution to the world is now threatening to turn its own world upside down. With just a single effortless click of the mouse anyone, and that includes the Chinese hackers as well, will be able to access close to a quarter million diplomatic cables. Some of them trash the leaders they are commenting on; from the obvious ones like Berlusconi the stallion and arrogant Sarkozy to mercurial Gadaffi who prefers being nursed by a blonde bombshell from Ukraine.
All this is delightful stuff, of course. Much of it was already public knowledge to a greater or lesser extent; yet when one reads it in communications marked 'Secret' the voyeuristic pleasure multiplies, and there is also the stamp of authenticity that comes with it being diplomatic stuff. But the cable traffic wasn't just about proving that the leaders of men have feet of clay, and that much else in their bodies was made of common stuff. These cables were meant to serve a purpose; despite their low intelligence potential they provided a valuable psychological profile of the person.
There is a large quantity of other despatches that concern the more serious affairs of state. It is another matter that many of them end up substantiating what is increasingly being whispered around the globe that America is no longer the omnipotent power that it has long pretended to be. As a matter of fact, a quick sampling of some of the cables only proves the point:
Since 2007, the US has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.
Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the "worst in the region" in counter-terrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December. Qatar's security service was "hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the US and provoking reprisals," the cable said.
Cables describe the US's failing struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hizbullah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel. One week after President Bashar al-Assad promised a top US State Department official that he would not send 'new' arms to Hizbullah, the US complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.
These instances serve to prove the point that America is no longer feared; that chancelleries sometimes listen to American diplomats only to defy them. But the variety of problems that they detail also point to the complex, often deceitful and dangerous world that we are living in. The issue, therefore, is twofold whether the publication of these cables will make the world a less dangerous place, and second whether the sanctity of sharing information with the foreign diplomats in general, and the Americans in particular, has been compromised forever?
The answer to the first derives from the age-old battle between the censors and those who believe that societies can truly flower in an atmosphere free from fear and censorship. To the latter, freedom of expression means axiomatically the ability to share all that becomes available. And a main quality of internet is availability of information in large dollops. To take just one example, isn't it in public good that the world now knows that some Saudi nationals continue to be major financers of terror groups. Isn't it for the larger good that people across the globe are now armed with this knowledge? Let them now make a conscious decision whether they will conduct business with the likes of them.
The second issue concerns the confidentiality of diplomatic communication. There is no doubt that people will be on their guard at first. Some leaders may be hesitant to open up. But in the end, need overcomes all obstacles, even the risk of exposure to public scrutiny.
The loss of credibility, if any, suffered by American diplomats after these leaks will be temporary. America is still enormously powerful, and leaders around the world need it, and its representatives, not just as their sounding boards but often also as their confidants and advisers. But long after the cables have been read by the curious, they will continue to serve as instruction material to succeeding generations of new diplomats; because they are a fine example of brevity and a uniformly high standard in the information they convey. It is just too bad if in the process some dramatis personae appear sans clothes.
The writer is a former Ambassador.
IT'S POLITICS OF SOUND AND FURY
THE TRINAMOOL CONGRESS HAS CREATED A SITUATION WHERE THE LAW DOES NOT MATTER BY IGNORING DUE DILIGENCE IN TESTING THE LEGALITY OR ILLEGALITY OF THE LEFT FRONT GOVERNMENT'S ACTIONS. SUCH OBSTRUCTIONISM MAY PROVE COSTLY
If there is any agreement on what constitutes due diligence then the politics of opposition will be meaningful, otherwise it'll be all sound and fury signifying nothing. This is the moral that rival political parties in West Bengal, in as much as elsewhere in the country, need to keep in mind, instead of setting off in crazy pursuit of unknown objectives.
The battle over due processes has been fairly joined in strife-torn West Bengal. The initial aggressor, namely the Trinamool Congress is being thwarted by the original victim, namely the Communist Party of India (Marxist). At Sankrail, where the Railways had acquired land decades ago, a freshly minted "Save Farmland, livelihoods and life Committee" blocked the process of taking possession of the land. At Siliguri as in Dankuni, similar organised opposition has sprouted overnight to prevent the Railways from going ahead with construction.
Clearly the Trinamool Congress had not anticipated the fight back from the CPI(M). It picked on the new township at Rajarhat to continue its political campaign against the past sins of the West Bengal Government. It represented itself as the crusader and saviour of land owners duped by the high handed and corrupt 'CPI(M),' which is the erroneous but populist short hand for the Government of West Bengal. By blurring the difference between Government and party, the CPI(M) created the conditions that the Trinamool Congress has used to heap the sins on one on the other and produce a potent punch.
Now that the CPI(M) is serving the Trinamool Congress a dose of its own poison over Sankrail, Siliguri and Dankuni, the Railway Ministry is complaining about the malice behind it all. The CPI(M) is making no secret of the fact that it is actively engaged in pointing out to the Trinamool Congress that it needs to conform to the processes it espoused during its successful "Ma, Mati, Manush" campaign that ended with the ouster of the Tata Motors project from Singur.
Having stormed the red bastion on the plank of protecting the rights of peasants from unjust processes of land acquisition, even though the acquisition was done under the existing 1894 Act, the Trinamool Congress is now required to defend its actions on exactly the same issue. The issues in Singur as declared by the Trinamool Congress were as follows the West Bengal Government had acquired, to please the Tatas, more land than was strictly necessary for the Nano project; fertile, double-cropped and multi-cropped land shall not be acquired for industrialisation; compensation to the land losers was unjustly low; not all land-losers or persons who earned a livelihood from the land were not being assured permanent full time employment.
In Sankrail, the CPI(M)'s opposition is strikingly similar to the line taken by the Trinamool Congress in Singur. The Railways acquired land decades ago, far in excess of its requirement. The land was fertile and double-cropped. The compensation paid was a paltry `150 per cottah, that is `2,400 an acre. Not one person from among the families that lost the land in Sankrail has ever been employed by the Railways.
In Siliguri and Dankuni, the CPI(M) is using the green card to block the Railways designs, claiming that the land acquired earlier is now in violation of the environment norms in force at present. Given the politically sensitive nature of environment violations, with large and prestigious projects from Lavasa to Nayachar, where the Trinamool Congress raised the environmental impact issue to try and block clearances from New Delhi.
The Ma, Mati, Manush campaign was a game changer in West Bengal politics. It broke the hegemony of the CPI(M). It converted land and its acquisition into an iconoclastic movement. The campaign leveraged emotion to foil the CPI(M) and overturn the West Bengal Government's image from being "visionary," and its Chief Minister "the best" in the country to the most hapless and least effective. The campaign of opposition paid absolutely no attention to whether the processes followed by the West Bengal Government matched the due diligence norms prescribed under the law.
By ignoring due diligence as the mechanism for testing the legality or illegality of the West Bengal Government's actions, the Trinamool Congress created a situation where the law did not matter; what mattered was political will. Now that the CPI(M) and the newly minted committees to protect and save people and land from the Trinamool Congress's designs have taken up the same tactics, all complaints regarding the obstructionist and destructive politics pursued by the defiant does not hold water.
Whether the CPI(M) eventually benefits politically from the campaign at the Trinamool Congress's cost is not the issue. After Singur, political parties can disregard the existing law, disregard due diligence as a process, wilfully declare that their interpretation is only justified one and convert the institutional processes into individual decrees. The obvious effect of this past sin is the obstructions that have been raised to the Railways plans in Sankrail, Siliguri and Dankuni. The obvious effect of this is also the dead-end campaign of the Trinamool Congress over acquisition of land for the new township at Rajarhat.
Whether it is the Government in the State or it is the Union Government, the fact of the matter is that the same law has to be applied by both. The acts of various Governments cannot be declared illegal because of political rivalry. The wilful disregard for the processes of governance of which due diligence is a critical part is harmful, quite how much is what the political parties need to calculate. Disregard for the law is tantamount to disregard for the Constitution; disregard for the law is disregard for the principles that underpin democratic politics, where misleading the public is almost a criminal act of irresponsibility. West Bengal's future, therefore, is in jeopardy and the sooner the voters recognise this the faster they will learn to distrust the politics of destruction that is underway.
STAVING OFF A 21ST CENTURY COLD WAR
To prevent such a hypothetical threat from becoming a reality, Russia and Nato must find common ground in fighting real dangers like terrorism, nuclear proliferation, drug trafficking and weapon smuggling
British newspaper The Guardian has published diplomatic cables that reveal secret Nato plans to defend the Baltics against an attack by Russia.
According to the cables, obtained by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, nine Nato divisions US, British, German, and Polish have been tasked with conducting combat operations in the event of armed aggression against Poland or the three Baltic states. In addition, ports in the north of Poland and Germany have been selected to receive naval assault forces and British and US warships.
The Guardian reports that the decision to draft contingency plans for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was made secretly earlier this year at the urging of the US and Germany at Nato headquarters in Belgium.
This is the first Nato document laying out a military plan in the event of a war between Russia and the Baltic states.
The Baltic countries, which joined Nato during its fifth round of expansion in 2005, continue to seek assurances from Nato and the US that they will be protected from Russian aggression.
The Guardian writes that while Germany and other large Nato countries were improving relations with Russia and officially termed it a "partner" and not an adversary, the Baltic countries called "for hard security guarantees" against the threat posed by "a resurgent Russia".
Their calls intensified after the five-day Georgian-Russian war over South Ossetia, when speculation about a new Cold War was running rampant in Russia and the West. By that time, there had remained disagreement between Russia and Nato on a number of issues, from the CFE Treaty on conventional forces in Europe to the proposed missile defence shield. However, it was the war in South Ossetia that prompted Nato to draft a relatively detailed plan for defending Poland and the Baltic states from their eastern neighbour.
Earlier this year, the US started "rotating Patriot missiles into Poland in a move that Warsaw celebrates publicly as ... demonstrating American commitment to Poland's security," according to the cables.
However, it was a symbolic gesture rather than concrete support. According to the leaked cables, "the Patriot battery, deployed on a rotating basis at Morag in north-eastern Poland, 40 miles from the border with Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, is purely for training purposes, and is neither operational nor armed with missiles."
The value of the contingency plan for the three Baltic countries, drafted in 2009 and adopted in early 2010, is likewise symbolic. The Baltics's best protection is agreements between Nato and Russia that make a military conflict in Europe extremely unlikely.
A hypothetic threat
It is a fact that both Nato and Russia continue to draft such contingency plans. But while Nato is focussing on the defence of the Baltics, the Russian military is working out a strategy to suppress a US missile defence shield in Eastern Europe in the event that it poses a threat to Russia.
The details of the Russian plans remain classified. However, it can be assumed that a conflict between Russia and Nato would involve the Baltic countries, Poland and likely other East European countries.
Such plans are usually based on the principle of preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. No one in the leadership of Russia or Nato is capable of launching a war out of a misguided understanding of national interests or for messianic reasons. The simple fact is that such a war would mean the end of modern civilisation.
But there is always a possibility that dangerous people will come to power, especially during times of economic turbulence, which fuels radical sentiments. I'm not claiming that John McCain would have launched a war against Russia had he been elected President in 2008, but tensions in Europe would have certainly increased.
... and real dangers
To prevent such a hypothetical threat from becoming reality, Russia and Nato must find common ground in their fight against real dangers, such as instability in the West Asia and Central Asia, terrorism, trafficking in drugs and weapons, sea piracy, natural and man-made disasters, and lastly, nuclear and WMD proliferation.
These are the real threats guiding the activities of Nato and Russia today. The situation in Eurasia depends on what will happen in Central Asia in the next three to five years, and only joint actions by Nato and Russia can prevent the Afghan conflict from spreading throughout the region.
Unlike the Cold War, the current situation is far less controllable. In the past, the Soviet Union, represented by the Warsaw Pact, and the US, working through Nato, could focus on plans for an all-out war, using local and regional conflicts to influence the other side and to bolster their position.
But the United States and the Soviet Union created a monster in the process. Now the national liberation fronts and fundamentalist movements that the two sides unwisely fostered have taken on a life of their own.
The process accelerated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Russia lost its grip on the situation. Uncontrollable processes in the developing world have become the main threat to stability worldwide, unlike the hypothetical threat of a Russia-Nato war.
Against this backdrop, militant Cold War-style rhetoric will only distract Washington, Brussels and Moscow from the real problems at hand.
-- The writer is a Moscow-based military analyst.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
NO VOLTE-FACE FOR INDIA
It is incorrect to read the environment minister's comment at Cancun that India must agree to binding commitments on carbon dioxide emissions, as a compromise on the interests of one-sixth of humanity and a dramatic turnaround on our long-standing policy of opposing such cuts. The minister's comment is primarily a negotiating tactic, designed to change perceptions to help solve a global problem. Our earlier policy did not engender confidence, especially amongst the rich who questioned the global benefits of their making cuts if the developing world continued to pollute at ever increasing rates.
Our new position changes all that. By offering to address the developed world's concerns we have broken a pointless stand-off, have become the initiator of solutions and demonstrated our attitude that we are quite willing to make compromises for the sake of humanity. The flexibility, adaptability and ability to think not only on the spot but ahead of everyone else has been mistaken by some at home as a capitulation to US pressure. While details of the environment minister's proposals are vague - which combined with their presentation suggests a lack of organised thinking - India's offer should not be seen as a carte blanche by other powers, nor indeed by Indian negotiators. There are some important caveats. We are not accepting binding commitments now, but are open to negotiating the subject because it is so dear to the rich and because we are intent on securing a comprehensive climate treaty.
India's policy change ought to facilitate negotiations that rope in more nations than the Kyoto Protocol. The government must carefully devise India's negotiating position in accordance with the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibility' whereby the rich accept responsibility for their historic and current pollution. In practical terms this means that the rich must set up a fund to aid the poor, who suffer disproportionately from climate change. The fund should not only help mitigate the effects of climate change, but also work in tandem with efforts to make green technology accessible to developing nations.
Ultimately, India's acceptance of a binding commitment must be contingent on equality. While states are equal under international law, some have more humans than others which means the base unit cannot be states, but has to be people because we are all the same regardless of where we are born. By joining the debate, India has demonstrated its willingness to take the concerns of the rich seriously. It is time they engaged ours.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
There are huge positives to take away from the Indian cricket team's emphatic 5-0 victory in the one-day series against New Zealand. With a tough tour of South Africa around the corner, the commanding performance put up by debutant captain Gautam Gambhir and his squad of youngsters will certainly be a boost for Team India. There is evidence of a hitherto struggling Yuvraj Singh finally showing signs of form. Yusuf Pathan is definitely back in the reckoning. Virat Kohli is maturing with each game. Parthiv Patel has done his prospects no harm by his recent performance and R Ashwin has become a serious candidate for the No. 2 spinner's spot in the team. With so many youngsters stepping up to the plate and delivering in the absence of the big guns, India's bench strength ahead of the 2011 World Cup is indeed looking formidable.
But the biggest enemy of the team at this stage is complacency. It is worth noting that a New Zealand team facing perhaps its worst crisis of confidence was never really going to pose a serious challenge. Comparatively, the upcoming South African series will be a far tougher scrutiny of Team India's strengths and weaknesses. And one area that definitely has scope for improvement is fielding. If Team India is to lift the World Cup next year, it needs to take those sharp catches. Having said that, it is welcome that batting issues, especially in the middle order, have been sorted out with so many players coming good. The bowling too looks strong provided the bowlers stay injury-free. India is definitely a serious contender for the World Cup. But being No. 1 means it can't afford to take its eyes off the ball.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE SURVEILLANCE SOCIETY
N D BATRA
Air travellers in the US have been protesting about the humiliating choices they have to make: full body electronic strip searches that leave nothing to imagination, or bodily pat-downs by security agents that some feel amount to sexual assaults. Even people with orthopaedic shoes, appliances or medical devices - insulin pump, feeding tube, ostomy or urine bag, or exterior component of cochlear implant - have not been spared the screening or pat-downs. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton has said that she would avoid it, if she could. But topmost US public officials are not subject to such enhanced screening procedures. The experience of Indian ambassador to the US Meera Shankar has been different: she faced a pat-down at an airport in Mississippi.
Whether you live in New York, Amsterdam or Mumbai, the fear contagion is everywhere. Fear has become a constant travel companion, thanks to newer and more ingenious methods terrorists have been using lately. Experts say that eventually we will become used to newer physical intrusions into our privacy as it has happened in other aspects of our lives. In fact, we have been slipping into a low-intensity surveillance society since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Our sense of insecurity, both physical and economic, has increased manifold and we have been quietly submitting to whatever brings us a feeling of certainty.
Protests against intrusiveness by employers and businesses into our personal lives have, in fact, become muted. Employers watch us all the time. Since most office workers use the internet and communicate via email, companies watch closely how their employees use office electronic resources, including whatever they save on their laptops, iPads or access through their smart phones. Several court decisions regarding workplace privacy confirm that, in the US, employees have very few privacy rights if information is stored in the company's system.
Employers do have legitimate concerns especially regarding the confidentiality of trade secrets; ongoing contractual negotiations; sexual harassment messages exchanged among employees that might lead to legal liabilities for the company; and whistleblowing activities that may affect the reputation of the company. These concerns are not new but the speed with which transactions are done on the internet has created a state of constant mistrust.
There has always been some multitasking in the workplace. But mobile web has created new avenues for multitasking, which is now becoming a common occurrence. With continuous restructuring and layoffs, many working people keep networking and looking for new opportunities. Companies, especially in the field of information and communications technology, fear brain drain and are watching who is applying for jobs. If anyone is trying to cross over to a competitor, he should not expect the boss to be sympathetic. Some contend that subjecting employees to digital surveillance generates a coercive environment and might eventually affect productivity negatively. If monitoring is being done for preventing fraud, protecting intellectual property and trade secrets, or maintaining a harmonious workplace environment, the rational must be explained to employees and the policy clearly stated.
Web bugs and other online surveillance devices are being increasingly used by businesses to track users when they surf their websites. Advertisers surreptitiously place small software programmes called cookies on our hard drives to track where we surf so that they can customise the most appropriate advertising message for us. It's called target marketing, reaching the right person with the right message. But web bugs are different. They can be programmed to collect data without the knowledge of the user. For example, a web bug can be programmed to look at a data file on a networked desktop without leaving a trace that the data has been touched at all. When you look at your bank balance online, the web bug too could be monitoring it.
Some companies use web beacon, a single-pixel picture, to identify users. A beacon can track whether a particular message, including junk mail, has been opened, acted upon or not. Any electronic image that is part of a webpage, including an ad, can be programmed to act as a beacon and spy on the user. Companies claim that the information enables them to personalise the surfing experience when a frequent user visits their portal, but they assure us that no personally identifiable information gathered from the beacon research is shared with the clients. Unfortunately, that is not always true.
Some companies use biometrics, face recognition, radio frequency identification (RFID) and global positioning system (GPS) technologies to keep a watch on their properties and track clients. Car rental companies in the US use GPS to keep track of their rental cars. If a car is stolen or is involved in an accident, the company would know the exact location of the car.
Do you see the future? Along with our luggage, we too might have to wear RFID tags so that we can be monitored via GPS as we move from one airport to another, from country to country. Perhaps it would enhance security but surely it is going to be a multibillion-dollar business. Homeland security and corporate global will determine how much privacy we will have whether at the airport or office, in mobile devices or our homes.
The writer teaches communication and diplomacy at Norwich University.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Q & A
'SPANISH-SPEAKING COUNTRIES DON'T FEEL THE NEED TO LEARN HINDI'
Madrid-based academic Enrique Gallud Jardiel compiled the first of its kind Hindi-Spanish-Hindi dictionary. Besides various papers on India and Indian culture, Jardiel is also the author of books like India in Spanish Literature, and Spain ki Sanskriti. He currently teaches at the university of Alfonso X el Sabio, Madrid, and runs Instituto de Indologma (Institute of Indology), a non-profit cultural organisation. He spoke to Kim Arora :
How did you get interested in learning Hindi?
My mother worked with the Spanish embassy, and i had come to Delhi with her when she got posted here. I really liked the place, and stayed here from 1967 to 1994. I picked up Hindi at JNU where i completed my PhD and taught at the School of Languages later. I realised learning Hindi was essential if i were to live here.
Was that when you compiled the Spanish-Hindi-Spanish dictionary?
Yes, it got published in 1990, but was never reprinted after that. It was the first and the last of its kind. Most major university libraries in India and Spain stock it, but there was never a real market for it. Spanish-speaking countries don't feel the need to learn Hindi. All diplomatic functions in India anyway take place in English.
Spanish travel writers and novelists like Jose Ortega y Gasset and Adelardo Fernandez Arias were very interested in India during and right after the struggle for independence. What do you think was the reason for this interest?
Well, Spain and England had been rivals for a long time. By the 19th century, Spain had freed all its colonies, while Britain was still holding on to India. Another thing that interested them was the way the British kept their distance from the colonised while the Spanish preferred to mix with the local South American population. They were very critical of all this and became interested in India's decolonisation process. Arias, in fact, was very sympathetic towards India, and wrote extensively about Gandhi, even compared him to Buddha. His book La Virgen de Benares (The Virgin of Benares) is sort of an apology for Indian women.
And the interest in Tagore's works?
I'd say it was a matter of chance. Yes, Tagore did become very popular in Spain with Juan Ramon Jimenez's translations after the First World War. Those were good years for Spanish poetry, it was a time of a cultural revolution in Spain and Spanish writers were predisposed to look at newer things outside Europe.
Do literature courses in Spanish universities prescribe Indian authors?
Hardly. In fact, even the comparative literature course has authors from within Europe. The average Spaniard's knowledge about India, in fact, is quite low. As a matter of fact an education ministry approved geography school textbook has mixed up the location of Calicut and Calcutta. Such is the situation.
Is there much presence of India or Indians in contemporary Spanish literature?
There aren't many references or mentions to India. Fernando Sanchez Drago wrote El Camino del Corazon (The Way of the Heart) back in 1990, which is based in India. Then there is Javier Moro's El Sari Rojo (The Red Sari). But otherwise, there isn't enough representation of India within contemporary Spanish literature. But yes, there are some Indian authors who are popular there - Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy have been translated into Spanish. Any Indian author writing in English who becomes popular in the UK finds marketability in Spain. But sadly, these books disappear from the shelf within a month and don't make reappearance. Also, the quality of translation of these books is really bad - sometimes up to seven translators translate different parts of the same book and completely spoil it.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A TASTE OF HONEY
Sometimes, an unexpected twist to a travel itinerary can make a holiday more special. The initial plan was to visit the Taj Mahal - that most gorgeous, romantic, magnificent wonder. It was a perfect Saturday afternoon. The temperature had been set just right by the weather gods; the children were well-fed and excited; and we were being escorted by arguably Agra's most amiable guide, one Mr Babloo. He had already given us a breathtaking tour of the Agra Fort, peppering history with juicy Bollywood trivia about how the Jodhaa Akbar set had been replicated arch by arch.
As we stood in front of the Taj, we learned that its Turkish architect had tilted the minarets just slightly so that in case of an earthquake, they would not fall on the central monument. We learned that it took 22 years to build. We ambled towards the white
jewel, passing the azure pools that once sparkled with the reflections of so many princes and concubines. We got funny pictures taken, holding the tip of the dome. We were suitably mesmerised.
Suddenly, while entering the main mausoleum, we were rudely jolted by many sharp whistles. A battalion of khaki-clad cops appeared, shouting, and shooing the hundreds of visitors out. The reason? France ka leader was coming to see the Taj Mahal. President Nicolas Sarkozy and his beloved had decided to pop in, so the place had to be cleared of lesser mortals. People protested that they had come all the way from Kerala, from Canada, but too bad. Everyone was unceremoniously herded out and the Taj Mahal was left in stunning silence for Europe's Shah Jahan and his beguiling Mumtaz.
As we dejectedly walked out, we saw the hoarding for the Agra bear sanctuary and decided to turn our sights away from dead monuments into living sanctuaries. Just a few kilometres from the Taj, away from the crummy dusty city, spread over several hundred forested acres, is this remarkable collaboration between an organisation called Wildlife SOS and the Uttar Pradesh forest department. The sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates dancing bears who have been unspeakably tortured and mutilated by their keepers. We walked into the protected forest, where more than 400 furry creatures have rediscovered that they are actually slothful happy bears, not performers.
The children's voices went down to a whisper as they crunched on twigs and dry leaves. A spotted deer stopped in her tracks and gazed at us with calm confidence. There were numerous porcupines and snakes ensconced invisibly in the grass, creating happy animal karma to make up for human misery. Swings and jungle gyms made of wood and rope had been set up to help rehabilitate the bears, many not much older than toddlers. Some were too far gone, and visibly depressed, like Reshma, who had danced for six years before she was rescued. She rocked back and forth in manic motion, like a distressed orphan who had long lost her bearings. We watched the bears attack their fruit and honey with desperation and relief.
A vet told us that the bear poachers, who came from the poor Kalandar tribe, had also been rehabilitated and were being taught alternate skills to earn a living. But there are still many dancing bears out there and that wildlife crime is still rampant. Some are gradually surrendering on their own. Perhaps cruelty is part of the human condition. But whether it is inflicted on animal or man, it finally destroys the perpetrator.
I asked my eight-year-old to write in his journal about his recent holiday, expecting him to gush on about the eighth wonder of the world. Instead, he chose to write about the bear park and its wise, soft-spoken inhabitants and how he was happy that they had come back home where they belong.
NOT BUBBLING WITH ENERGY
An unusually harsh winter in the northern hemisphere is making the world turn its gaze on crude oil prices that are now within kissing distance of $100 a barrel. The nervousness is entirely warranted. The International Energy Agency estimates the world will have consumed 2.47 million extra barrels of crude oil a day in 2010, a big reversal from last year when demand actually shrank by 1.15 million barrels every day. Between July and September, the West almost matched rising energy demand from industrialising countries like China and India, a theme likely to be played out recurrently as more nations climb out of recession. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the most powerful cartel on earth, is reluctant to expand its spare capacity that set in after the 2008 financial meltdown. Analysts see the supply buffer evaporating as soon as 2012. Oil price projections are naturally being revised upwards.
India is just about recovering from a year-long struggle with food inflation. A spike in crude prices now could undo much of the work that went into slowing the rise of food prices to under 9%. Though on the face of it the government has greater control over oil prices at home than it has over food, the simple expedient of imposing a price ceiling on, say, diesel works counter to the objective. By not allowing crude oil prices surges to Indian consumers of diesel, the government encourages wasteful expenditure that ignores market signals. India's petrochemicals demand grows nearly 1.7 times as fast as the gross domestic product; it does not matter who foots the oil bill, it will keep growing unless we find cleverer ways to burn the energy we need.
A move to review diesel prices is, therefore, a step in the right direction when oil companies are losing R4.8 a litre by selling it below market rates. In the 12 months to March 2010, the government paid out a fuel subsidy of R71,300 crore. Free fuel prices are a precondition to reducing the tax burden petroleum carries in India. Although the government does not put out numbers, conservative estimates suggest half the excise duty collection in the country is from petroleum products. Even with a subsidy in place, diesel costs much more at an Indian gas station than it does in the US. Part of the reason for India's relative lack of competitiveness among Asian manufacturing exporters is its expensive energy. India needs to focus more on dismantling its high-cost energy economy.
THE PLANT SLANT
We never tire of reminding ourselves how unfortunate it is that we are not able to choose our geographical neighbours. But pesky, neurotic, obsessive neighbours often serve useful purposes. Pakistan, of course, is the case in point here, its newspapers having published fake Wikileak-like diplomatic cables that defame India in a tone remarkably similar to its own nationalistic tirade. The hoax having been unearthed (and the error attributed conveniently to an insignificant Islamabad-based news agency), Pakistan has ended up contributing new dimensions to the grand Wiki-discourse: that such leaks can serve as the stuff that propaganda wars are made of, and that piecemeal exposures are fertile grounds for such mischief.
Having lapped up the planted, wish-fulfilling details about 'geeky', 'incompetent' Indian generals, the Indian 'genocide' in Kashmir and India's sponsoring of militants in Waziristan and Baluchistan, a section of the Pakistani media have gone into a soul-searching mode, embarrassed at their gullibility to such malicious fodder. That act itself being an indulgence that the Pakistani press does not allow too much of, we can only offer our gratitude at the Wiki-altar for evoking reactions that rampaging terrorists on Indian soil have not been able to provoke.
The task is not over, though, for our neighbour who can help us prepare for the post-Wiki world where people will be forever watching their words as Wikileaks-clones are planted on unsuspecting family, friends and colleagues. Finally, when humanity falls silent and every man becomes an island, you, reader, would know who to thank.
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
ENTER THE WATCHDOG
Recently an interesting article appeared in The New York Times on how after the completion of a social audit at Nagarkurnool in Andhra Pradesh, villagers punished a local official for swindling funds allocated to the central government's flagship project, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. The irate villagers tied the official's hands and paraded him around the neighbouring villages. This is not a one-off incident; similar accounts have appeared in the media from other states too.
By now, social audits have become critical to enforce the proper implementation of development programmes and reduce corruption. The poor are joining hands with the government and NGOs to achieve socio-economic justice through inclusive community governance. Over the years, social audits have emerged as a powerful tool to demand the legitimate rights of marginalised villagers. The time is now ripe for them to get the right kind of information, skills and knowledge to question and take action against corrupt practices and officials.
Though the concept of social audit was first used in the West, it was in a different context. The auditing process that has evolved in India has been meticulously nurtured and developed by social activists. People's audit is a powerful tool because it can tackle the root causes of corruption by scrutinising accounts and documents and corroborating them with physical verification, fact-finding inquiries and interrogation and roll out remedial and preventive actions without any delay. They can also help in finding details of corruption like payment of commissions, frauds in material management, fake or ghost job cards, delay in payments, threat by authorities including panchayat heads, arrange public hearings to decide on suitable action and file FIRs against the corrupt persons. It has by now become the audit of the people, by the people, for the people.
The NREGA's Section 17 provides for social audits and makes people aware about their rights and entitlements. It provides a formal platform for articulation of the perceptions of wage seekers and brings out the strengths and weaknesses of the programme.
Understanding the advantages of people-led audits, the Andhra Pradesh government a state where social audits are conducted most effectively has established the 'Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency'. The Society will be responsible for training as well as facilitating audits to ensure transparency and accountability.
The state extends certain minimum facilities to the social audit teams and issues guidelines for regulating and training the trainers. If it is allowed to function properly by creating an enabling environment, the system will ensure social and public accountability of the elected representatives, government and non-government organisations and other stakeholders who operate in villages.
It is important to strengthen social audits as a nation-building movement for effectively implementing all flagship development programmes for the poor and, thereby, achieving inclusive economic growth. The government has now extended audits to Basic Services for Urban Poor and Integrated Housing & Slum Development Programme under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission covering 63 mission cities, comprising 70% of the country's urban poor, involving specific responsibilities to central and state governments, urban local bodies and parastatals with a big push for the development of slum-free states and slum-free cities within a specified timeframe.
Unless supported by the stakeholders, social audits will remain a legal formality since there's an inherent risk that vested interests may hijack the entire process and not allow the villagers to raise their voice against corruption. There needs to be elaborate training programmes to train social auditors to conduct the audit systematically. There is need for effective interaction and relevant information flow from all sources relating to the specific village, block or district forming the three tier-Panchayati Raj Institutions.
In order to make these audits effective, information from ministries and accounts of the units certified by chartered accountants and audit observations of the CAG of India on the schemes relevant to the audit should be made available on the web. At present, accounts and audit-related information on the government's flagship development programmes, central and state government enterprises, and local, urban bodies and utilities are available in different reports on the official website of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Now, we need to make this information available to social audit units. This may need customisation and a change in how the data is presented. This may be true in case of administrative ministries too.
Besides, it is important to provide adequate powers to the gram sabhas (village councils) so that they can work as self-reliant republics and appoint an ombudsman to look into complaints against mala fide intent of local administrations. It is important to ensure that rural whistleblowers also get adequate protection.
A meaningful partnership should develop among civil society organisations, government agencies, budgeting, accounts and audit departments of the schemes and people's representatives under the Panchayati Raj Institutions to enforce an accountable regime at the grassroots level so that inclusive community governance becomes a reality.
KP Shashidharan is director-general, Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The views expressed by the author are personal.
. HINDUSTAN TIMES
ONLY THE PM CAN GET THINGS MOVING AGAIN
The winter session of Parliament will end on Monday with the deadlock over the constitution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the 2G spectrum scam still unresolved. The prospect of a mid-term poll sometime next year has added to the air of uncertainty.
It is still not clear why the government and the opposition parties have not reached a breakthrough on the constitution of a JPC. But, it is obvious that both sides are playing politics. The manner in which an impasse has been created indicates how some forces on both sides are working to destabilise the government.
It is significant that in the last one month, two top Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have thrown their full weight behind the prime minister despite stories which had earlier been doing the rounds about a disconnect between the party and the government. The two Congress leaders have perhaps detected a conspiracy and have concluded that Manmohan Singh is a better bet than anybody else in the UPA, at least for the time being.
But the crisis refuses to go away. Senior leaders in the UPA and in the NDA have started talking about the possibility of a mid-term poll. However, why would any government which came to power a year-and-a-half ago want a snap poll knowing that its chances of coming back to power are slim?
The BJP/NDA had learnt this the hard way when they went in for elections six months before schedule in 2004. It is unlikely that the Congress will have an early poll just because an impasse in Parliament continues. The party had increased its seats from 145 in 2004 to 206 in 2009 and many of its stalwarts including some who may be hinting at an early poll will find it difficult to return to the Lok Sabha.
There is an argument that since most MPs do not want polls, a threat of elections will force them to return to Parliament. But it is also clear that Lok Sabha MPs who are going to be affected do not decide when mid-term polls are to be held. Both in the Congress and the BJP, there are a number of Rajya Sabha MPs who wield tremendous influence over their party heads. These MPs will get the decisions taken from a secure platform since they do not have to face the people.
The JPC demand has united the opposition parties and even some constituents of the UPA like the Trinamool Congress and the DMK are not averse to such a demand. The impotence of Parliament seen together with allegations of corruption or impropriety in the judiciary, bureaucracy and in the fourth estate and the amplified role of the corporate sector following evidence of infiltration by so-called lobbyists (fixers is a better word) in our various institutions have left our people demoralised.
It is time for all our institutions to introspect and ensure that transparency and probity in public life are sacrosanct. Our Constitution's fathers could not have imagined that allegations of corruption would shame our institutions and that MPs would not rise above narrow interests.
The deadlock cannot be allowed to persist. The Prime Minister must take centre-stage to get matters under control. If the impasse remains unresolved, it is his chair which will fall first. Even the talk of a snap poll is to ensure his ouster. Between us.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A NEW BRIEF
Good things should not be curbed. Certainly not a legislation to which so much is owed by so many. The Right to Information Act is a fundamental democratic achievement for India, one that took a long time in coming for a proclaimed democratic state. And when it did, the system became more transparent, if not cleaner. Ordinary citizens, urban and rural, with little or no ability to negotiate their way through bureaucratic information labyrinths whether something that affects them personally or some policy matter or law could make use of the RTI Act, to either put relevant information in the public domain or act on it or both. A brief recollection brings to mind illegal mining in Karnataka, allegations of corruption in the Commonwealth Games, or even something as recent as the Adarsh Society scam. The power and necessity of the RTI Act was common knowledge, akin to the UK's Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Certainly, the RTI can do with streamlining to enable the law to serve citizens better. Any empowerment of citizens to exercise vigilance and demand systemic accountability has to be balanced against unnecessary or frivolous citizen activism, as taxpayers' money and the state's time are taxed in the process. However, can the department of personnel and training's proposal to introduce radical restrictions on RTI applications be welcomed with enthusiasm? Unfortunately not. Limiting a single RTI application to a single subject may be open to debate. But the 250-word cap that the DoPT proposes for a single query sounds like a gag order that could compromise the efficacy and hitherto success of the landmark legislation.
This ridiculous appeal to, or constraint of, brevity is too arbitrary. Where RTI applications are filed by citizens of vastly differing degrees of literacy and financial solvency across the expanse of this vast country, the 250-word cap and the limitation to a single topic can all add up to derailing a still new and immensely empowering law that's been operating more or less without a hitch. The government needs to reconsider not the need to smoothen the RTI Act but the particulars of this proposal.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
It appears odd that just as the Congress is busy working out who speaks what for the party and when, it believes it can get away by putting a mile between itself and a general secretary's statement on Hemant Karkare by saying it was a report of a private conversation.
Leave aside the semantics of what's private in a high political functionary's words uttered at a book release function and then again in an interview to this newspaper. That would merely invite the charge that the party was muddling through the storm. What must be of concern is that this refusal to take a stand and thereby do right by India's people, most of all its Muslims, draws from an ingrained instinct to allude to a communal divide and then reach out to the minorities by offering a healing touch. This pattern asserts itself after major terrorist incidents. Recall a similar two-toned whistle that another Congress leader attempted after 26/11, or the aftermath of the Batla House encounter in New Delhi. The pattern is familiar: someone from the Congress suggests a conspiracy to wrongly implicate some persons in an incident, and the party suddenly becomes coy and equivocal. This kind of strategy to test the political waters is sure to be found out. The Congress, it is too commonly known, is not a party given to an internal argument for argument's sake. Today's Congress is too managed as an organisation for leaders to even think of provoking political storms without at least tacit consent from those who matter.
This is, of course, not fair to this country's Muslims. It attempts to mainstream a politics of suspicion and with the radicalisation of the minority and majority communities at the extreme fringes, we must know the dangers this carries. It is also patronising. The Congress has not been able to contend with an increasingly sophisticated and aspirational electorate, across caste, region and religion, for whom these issues of identity and resentment don't resonate in the way intended. As the ultimate establishment party, the Congress might be more comfortable with old tricks, but it desperately needs to rethink its repertoire.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
CHANGE THE CLIMATE
India's transformation is a work in progress. Nearly twenty years after liberalisation, this country has seen a vast expansion in aspirations and capabilities; much of that is because the retreat of the state in some areas has vastly increased the space for individual initiative. And yet it will not be an exaggeration to say that, in a few short weeks, that space has come newly under threat. There is a compact between wealth-generators in the private sector and the government, and society more broadly, that is fragile it depends upon a climate with moderate political risk, where investment is welcomed, where the successful are not targeted, where initiative is not bound back by red tape. This is the climate that allows them to flourish; and it is precisely this, as Deepak Parekh said on NDTV's 'Walk the Talk', that is today felt to be under threat.
Parekh's attempt to frame the broader picture should serve as a wake-up call for a UPA government whose agenda depends on a high-growth path. As an example, he argued that environmental regulations were being applied selectively, making it difficult for new entrants to expand and improve economic sectors. In each such case, what was affected was the spread and deepening of India's private sector. Policy pulls in different directions. So does politics. And "tough times" for private sector expansion will affect us all.
The expansion of horizons for India's citizens today is irreversible. Aspirations, once discovered and nurtured, will not vanish. Yet to make those aspirations a reality, we need continued, sustained growth, and the bubbling entrepreneurial, wealth- and idea- creating private sector that has become so associated across the world with India. That effervescence, however, can be all too reversible. India's companies have shown that they can compete with the best. Few countries would hesitate to invite in wealth- and employment-creators such as they are especially since many of them are known for their responsibility. But if India's climate turns unfriendly, as Parekh and others have shown they sense it could, the ebullience that defines the India story will die. Our companies might still be world-beaters but they'll create employment, jobs, and ideas somewhere else. For the aspirational citizens of India, that would be a tremendous tragedy.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THESE DIFFICULT YEARS
The scandals surrounding the 2G spectrum and the so-called Radiagate tapes have resulted in the usual Indian clamour. "Let us get someone." "Some heads need to roll." Such are the predictable responses. There is very little talk about placing the issues within a theoretical framework of political economy. In the absence of such a framework, we are left with inept and compromised law enforcement agencies making largely symbolic attempts to pick on individuals while ensuring maximum publicity for their actions. The legal cases, we know, will drag on for decades and then end with a whimper, if that. The more important matter is to understand the underlying issues and evolve a set of institutional processes that makes the workings of the Indian Republic more efficient and less prone to loot with official connivance. The economist Raghuram Rajan has made an interesting point: we need to take a look at the sectors where wealth is being created at an accelerated pace and based on this analysis, come up with a sound response grounded in valid theory. Otherwise we will be a nation of ineffectual angels beating our wings in the void, to quote what Andre Maurois said in a different context.
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of businesses: "competitive" and "cosy". One could argue that in the decade leading up to the year 2000, as we experienced the Narasimha Rao-led liberalisation, wealth was created in competitive industries like IT, retail and automotive. In the next decade, wealth creation seems to have shifted to industries where the firmans of our sultans (how else can we describe our rulers ensconced in Delhi?) have been the drivers, that is, in "cosy" industries. Extractive businesses (iron ore, gas, bauxite) or real estate (where billions of rupees of value hinge on one land use or FSI directive) or public works (for example, highways) or SEZs (land-grabs with a reverse Robin Hood logic where the tyrant state takes from the poor peasant Peter to give to the rich magnate Paul), telecom (where a common resource is made artificially scarce by reserving large portions for the so-called defence of the realm and is then doled out bit by bit to favoured courtiers) these are the areas of the economy that have taken the lead in wealth creation. Our babus do not need to visit Mauritius or Cyprus to find out how this wealth is salted away in benami instruments. Just taking a look at the market capitalisations of listed public companies will suffice.
"Regulatory capture" is an idea first articulated by the Nobel-prize winning economist George Stigler who made detailed studies of regulated industries like railroads. He concluded that there was a strong incentive for companies in these industries to "persuade" regulators to write seemingly innocuous rules in a manner that favoured the companies rather than consumers or the country at large. Stigler showed that in many cases the same individuals went back and forth between the companies where they were senior executives and the regulatory agencies where they were now senior officials. The pattern of erstwhile regulators turning into lobbyists for the regulated companies is repeating itself in India. The only way to prevent this outcome, which is both morally unfair and economically inefficient (as total value and output gets reduced), is to try and evolve institutional processes that are consciously transparent and designed to encourage competition, easy entry and easy exit.
The question then is how, despite all the cosy alliances that exist in the US, wealth creation has still remained to such a large extent in competitive rather than cosy industries. After all, the richest Americans still are persons who have created value in fiercely competitive industries like IT. Think of Gates. Jobs, Ellison and so on. These names have not been replaced by the founders of Halliburton or Blackwater. No one argues that there is no crony capitalism in the US. It just appears that in relative terms it has less weightage. To attempt to eliminate crony capitalism in India is not a task that even Lord Krishna would agree to undertake. What we can aim for though is to try to reduce its importance. In India, autonomous agencies created by constitutional mandate (for example, the Election Commission, the Supreme Court, the Comptroller and Auditor General) or by statute (for example, the Reserve Bank, Sebi) have so far functioned well and have even survived periods of aberrant and compromised leadership. We need to set up more of these and bring them under the direct supervision of Parliament rather than the existing system where ministers and permanent civil servants exercise excessive control. Edmund Burke was in favour of parliamentary oversight. He felt that this would ensure a greater degree of transparency and popular legitimacy. There is nothing in the Constitution of India that prevents us from having the Trai being genuinely autonomous and being grilled every quarter by a permanent Oversight Committee of Parliament. We should give this option serious consideration.
Can one be optimistic that the cathartic effects of the present crisis will lead to systemic corrections that move more of our economic value creation into competitive rather than into cosy areas? Unfortunately recent developments give no case for any such sanguine expectation. Even in the US, the separation of banking and commerce is a basic feature of the economic system. The Dutt and Hazari commissions' reports of the '60s (who remembers them?) produced so much evidence that banks controlled by "business houses" (a uniquely Indian English expression) were involved in incestuous dealings. And yet, the powers that be are now contemplating giving banking licences to these same business houses and are trying to justify this as being in line with free-market ideas. Such ironies are inevitable when history is forgotten.
But one still hopes for the best. Having been a prime mover of the economic liberation of India, one hopes that our prime minister would not like to go down in history as having presided over an era of regulatory capture and crony capitalism.
The writer divides his time between Mumbai, Lonavala and Bangalore email@example.com
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE BORDER OF DISCONTENT
HARSH V. PANT
As New Delhi prepares to welcome Prime Minister Wen Jiabao next week, there is a new robustness in its dealings with China. India has not only made it clear that it will be attending the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, but has also moved towards linking Tibet with China's handling of the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. This came after the Indian government drew a lot of flak for kowtowing to China on a whole range of issues over the last two years.
With the world riveted by Chinese assertiveness against Japan and Southeast Asian states in recent months, one country was not surprised: India. Bilateral ties between China and India had nosedived so dramatically last year that some Indian strategists even predicted that China would attack India by 2012 to divert attention from its growing domestic troubles. This suggestion received widespread attention from those in India interested in sensationalising rather than interrogating the claims; meanwhile, the official Chinese media argued that while a Chinese attack on India was highly unlikely, an aggressive Indian policy towards China about their border dispute could force China to take military action. The Chinese media went on to speculate that the "China will attack India" line might just be a pretext for India to deploy more troops in the border areas.
This curious exchange reflects the uneasiness between the two Asian giants as they continue their ascent in the global inter-state hierarchy. Even as they sign loftily worded documents year after year, distrust is actually growing at an alarming rate. True, economic cooperation and bilateral exchanges are at an all-time high; China is India's largest trading partner. Yet this cooperation has done little to assuage each country's concerns about the other's intentions. The two sides are locked in a classic security dilemma, where any action taken by one is immediately interpreted by the other as a threat to its interests.
At the global level, the two sides have worked together on climate change, global trade negotiations and demanding a restructuring of global financial institutions. Mounting bilateral tensions, however, reached an impasse last year, when China took its territorial dispute with India all the way to the Asian Development Bank. There China blocked India's application for a loan that included money for development projects in Arunachal Pradesh, which China continues to claim. Also, the suggestion by the Chinese to the US Pacific fleet commander last year that the Indian Ocean be recognised as a Chinese sphere of influence raised hackles in New Delhi. China's attempt to block the US-India nuclear deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group further strained ties.
China has upped the ante on the border issue. It has always protested Indian prime ministerial visits to Arunachal; but what caught many by surprise was the vehemence with which Beijing contested recent Indian administrative and political action there, even denying visas to Indian citizens from the state. The recent rounds of boundary negotiations have been a disappointing failure, with a growing perception in India that China is less willing to adhere to earlier political understandings about how to address the boundary dispute.
India's challenge remains formidable. While it has not yet achieved the economic and political profile that China enjoys regionally and globally, it is increasingly bracketed with China. Indian elites, obsessed with Pakistan for more than 60 years, have suddenly found a new object of fascination. India's main security concern now is not the increasingly decrepit state of Pakistan but an ever more assertive China, a shift widely viewed as one that can facilitate better strategic planning.
India's defeat at Chinese hands in 1962 shaped the elites' perceptions of China, which are unlikely to alter anytime soon: China is viewed as a growing, aggressive nationalistic power whose ambitions are likely to reshape the contours of the regional and global balance of power with deleterious consequences for Indian interests. China's recent hardening towards India could well be a product of its own internal vulnerabilities, but that is hardly a consolation to Indian policy-makers who have to respond to a public that increasingly wants India to assert itself in the region and beyond.
India is rather belatedly gearing up to respond with its own diplomatic and military overtures, setting the stage for a Sino-Indian strategic rivalry. Both India and China have an interest in stabilising their relationship by seeking out issues on which their interests converge, but pursuing mutually desirable interests does not inevitably produce satisfactory solutions to strategic problems. A troubled history coupled with the structural uncertainties engendered by their simultaneous rise is propelling the two Asian giants into a trajectory that they might find rather difficult to navigate in the coming years. Sino-Indian ties have entered turbulent times, and they are likely to remain there for the foreseeable future.
Pant, who teaches at King's College, London, is the author of 'The China Syndrome' firstname.lastname@example.org
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
READING THE RUSSIANS
So pleased were the leaders of the Soviet Union with Jawaharlal Nehru's sojourn in their country in June 1955 ('HEPY to see Nehru', IE, Nov 1) that within four months they decided to return the visit. Nikolai Bulganin, the then prime minister of the USSR, was nominally the leader of the Soviet delegation. But it was Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who wielded the real power, though it took the Indian hosts some time to tumble to this conclusion. In any case, of the B&K duo, it was the ebullient K who did most of the talking.
Independent India did not yet have the infrastructure for hosting world leaders. What made the logistics even more difficult was that the Soviets brought a stunningly huge contingent. Hotels in Delhi were few. However, everyone was accommodated comfortably enough in various government guesthouses and even in some newly-built bungalows, hurriedly furnished. The leaders stayed, of course, at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
On November 18 when the visiting dignitaries arrived, all roads led to Palam since early morning. Excited crowds far exceeded the expectations of the authorities concerned, and since the standards of discipline in Moscow and Delhi vary widely, Delhi got its first taste of virtual chaos. Surging crowds indeed became the hallmark of the entire journey of B&K across the country, including Kashmir, which rattled Pakistan. Perhaps inevitably, the apogee was reached in Calcutta, now Kolkata.
In Nehru's own words, the gathering that welcomed the Soviet leaders in that city was the "largest anywhere in the world". He estimated that at least two million people had made the city's famous maidan unimaginably congested. No wonder the open car carrying the Russian leaders broke down. So, unfortunately, did West Bengal's top cop. General I. A. Serov, the KGB chief, panicked and demanded that the troops be called out and the crowds converging on his leaders be fired upon. He had to be restrained. Ironically, it was in a police van that B&K eventually reached Raj Bhavan.
Nehru's explanation for the mass enthusiasm for the visitors as articulated in letters to various people, including Lady Mountbatten, as well as a long note he recorded was twofold: that this was no endorsement of communism but an expression of friendship with the Soviet Union; and a feeling among the Indians that they must reciprocate the very warm reception the Soviet people had given him.
Popular emotion apart, the Soviet leaders' visit was undoubtedly a path-breaking event. For the first time since the start of the Cold War, top Soviet leaders were visiting a developing country that was not socialist. Moreover, non-aligned India provided B&K with an appropriate forum for hinting to the world that important changes were in the offing in the post-Stalin Soviet Union even though the extent of these became obvious only after Khrushchev's famous secret speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU.
The core of the historic visit, however, were the long talks between Nehru and his two guests on three separate days. The tour d'horizon they had was substantive and shorn of any disagreement, except that Nehru was not uncritical of Soviet policies, and advised his guests to take note that whatever John Foster Dulles's approach, President Eisenhower wanted peace.
Nehru's decision to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and take up with the Soviet leaders his problems with the Communist Party of India was the piece de resistance of the entire exchanges. Politely but candidly, the prime minister made three pertinent points. First, that the role of the CPI because "it was often coming in conflict with nationalist sentiment" bred ill-feeling in the country and even came in the way of Indo-Soviet relations.
Secondly, the communists who until a year earlier were saying that India was not independent and were engaged in insurrection in 1948-49 also stated openly that whenever in doubt about the "right line of action", they took instructions from the Soviet Union. On one occasion in 1951-52, Nehru added, four communist leaders had gone to Moscow "illegally and without passports", and on return had said they had got "directions from Mr Stalin". Last September, one of their "principal leaders", Ajoy Ghosh, went to Moscow and said he had come back with "fresh instructions" to "play down opposition to the government" but remain "ready to start insurrection again when necessary". Thirdly, Nehru said, the communist party got "considerable sums of money from outside", that Indian communists wrote "misleading" articles in Soviet magzines like New Times about their country, and so on.
The minutes of the conversations, now mercifully in the public domain, show clearly that Khrushchev was, for once, on the back foot and chose to be either evasive, or in denial mode. He began by saying that it was "difficult" for him to say anything on the subject because there was "exaggeration in regard to the part which the Soviet communist party was supposed to be playing in leading the communist parties in other countries". He did not know where the CPI got its money from, nor had he seen the articles the prime minister had spoken about. Indeed, Khrushchev said at one stage, "on his word of honour", that the CPSU had "no connection with the Indian communist party". It knew few communist leaders in India except those who went to attend the CPSU Congress, and he personally knew Ghosh only by name and had never met him.
Nehru was greatly irked by Khrushchev's habit of making "propagandist" speeches in which he attacked countries that had friendly relations with India, but was too polite to tell him to desist. However, the reaction this evoked in the West, especially in Britain, was so venomous that Nehru was constrained to write to Lady Mountbatten: "I have been wondering if there has been a basic change in the character of those who write in the newspapers in England. I associated some restraint and some balance of mind with them but evidently this is lacking now. I am distressed because this kind of thing has big reactions on our own people and, out of anger and bitterness, little good can come."
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHAT HIS OWN SIDE DOESN'T GET ABOUT OBAMA
Not all of my white teachers viewed me as a discipline problem. To the annoyance of my fellow students, one teacher selected me regularly to lead assembly programs. A high school teacher insisted that I learn about the theatre. She was an America-firster who supplied me with right-wing pamphlets and magazines that I'd read at breakfast and she didn't seem bothered by my returning them with some of the pages stuck together with syrup. But most of them did see me as an annoyance, and gave me the grades to prove it.
I've been thinking recently of all those D's for deportment on my report cards. I thought of them, for instance, when I read a response to an essay I had written about Mark Twain that appeared in A New Literary History of America. One of the country's leading critics, who writes for a prominent progressive blog, called the essay "rowdy," which I interpreted to mean "lack of deportment." Perhaps this was because I cited Huckleberry Finn to show that some white women managed household slaves, a departure from the revisionist theory that sees Scarlett O'Hara as some kind of feminist martyr.
I thought of them when I pointed out to a leading progressive that the Tea Party included neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers and he called me a "bully." He believes that the Tea Party is a grassroots uprising against Wall Street, a curious reading since the movement gained its impetus from a rant against the president delivered by a television personality on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
And I've thought about them as I've listened in the last week to progressives criticise President Obama for keeping his cool. Progressives have been urging the president to "man up" in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.
One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he'd be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. His grade would go from a B- to a D.
What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called "paranoid," "bitter," "rowdy," "angry," "bullies," and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years. Very few of them would have been given a grade above D from most of my teachers.
When these progressives refer to themselves as Obama's base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter and a way to lose the black vote forever.
Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
ART OF THE STATE
Buying art currently seems to be the prerogative of the well-heeled art collector with plenty of disposable income. Which is great news for the art market and also for the artist, even if the latter prefers not to be directly linked with the buying and selling of art. In the West, however, some of the best and most expensive art is housed in museums, not private collections. This is the way it should be, given that public accessibility of art is an important concern and no matter how grand and exciting a private museum may be we see two fine examples in the Devi Art Foundation and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), both located on the outskirts of Delhi they are not always as accessible as established government structures like the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) or the National Museum.
It is a great pity then that in our capital city, the acquisition of art by government art bodies seems to have been stuck at a standstill for almost a decade. The NGMA has not been able to acquire a new work of art for the last six years, while the National Museum hasn't for the last nine years. Meanwhile the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) is "glad" that it does not have an art acquisition policy in place because out of its 8,000 pieces, 6,000 are not worth displaying because of poor quality of the work. Ashok Vajpeyi, the director of LKA, openly states this over cocktails and even at official closed-door meetings. And while the line between being truthful and blasé is a thin one, what has happened to bring on this dormancy? As it turns out, nothing but a fine exercise in bureaucratic ballet where the blame does not rest with anyone it is "simply" an unfortunate series of non-events that has led to this state of ennui.
One year ago, the NGMA, along with the Ministry of Culture, had set up a committee that would act as an advisory body for the evaluation and purchase of new artworks for the permanent collection. One of the primary tasks allocated to the committee was to come up with a finance-worthy proposal that would encourage the government to loosen purse strings. In the words of Jawhar Sircar, the culture secretary, "What we need is a good 10 to15 page report that will help me convince the government to be willing to spend 20 crore on an artwork!" As it turns out, the said committee never met during the entire year and the "report" that Sircar awaited is a two-pager that outlines the desire to have an acquisition policy in place.
Rajeev Lochan, the director of the NGMA, is of the opinion that the director should have more autonomy. "My hands are tied for most part of the year and I cannot take any decisions on my own whether that involves hiring more staff or in this instance, acquiring more art." Until she was unceremoniously removed from her post as the honorary director of the NGMA in Mumbai, Saryu Doshi seemed to have managed to have more than five to six exhibitions a year at the gallery and was looking to expand.
And just for the record, every national museum or gallery has an acquisition policy that outlines the principles under which the museum buys art objects for its collection. This policy spells out the nature of the collection, the reasons for acquiring a particular work and whether it is in keeping with the nature of the museum and its intentions.
Another way of acquiring art is through the gifts and bequeaths policy. These donations are also favourable for the donor since it results in tax rebates. There are also short-term, mid-term and long-term loans of artworks from private collectors. This, of course, requires the institute to be discerning, since every loan and every donation is not always worth its salt and professional advice needs to be taken. However this is a sure-shot way of evading spending whopping amounts on acquiring art one wonders why it is not being explored.
On the opening night of Anish Kapoor's long-awaited retrospective at the NGMA, Sonia Gandhi's speech on getting the renowned artist to create a public artwork for India was very inspiring. However, one can see why the British-born Kapoor has held back and not gone ahead with the venture, given the red tape he would have to wade through to even get a budget approved. As the recent incident with sculptor Subodh Gupta proved, it takes more than a proposal to get the government to give from its coffers. His proposal for a public installation near the airport during the Commonwealth Games was declined for 'being too expensive'. Besides, who wants a pile of utensils at a bill of two crore when you can get an inflatable balloon for twenty times the price?
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE END OF OFFICIAL SECRETS?
Can the government still keep a secret? In an age of WikiLeaks, flash drives and instant Web postings, leaks have begun to seem unstoppable. That may be just a first impression. Sobered government officials are scrambling to stop the haemorrhage of documents, even as anti-secrecy radicals are discovering that some secrets may be worth protecting after all.
Still, there's been a change. Traditional watchdog journalism, which has long accepted leaked information in dribs and drabs, has been joined by a new counterculture of information vigilantism that now promises disclosures by the terabyte. That accounts for how, in the three big WikiLeaks document dumps since July, the usual trickle of leaks became a torrent. All of it, disguised as a Lady Gaga CD, was smuggled out of a military intelligence office, according to government prosecutors, by Pfc. Bradley Manning, a soldier now imprisoned and charged with the leak.
Indeed, within hours of American missile strikes in Yemen against suspected Al-Qaeda camps last December, amateur video of the destruction was on YouTube. The videos labelled the strikes "American." The strikes have never been publicly acknowledged by the Defence Department.
Long before WikiLeaks, of course, reporters often met bureaucrats with troubled consciences or agendas, and produced sensational disclosures. The Pentagon Papers is the iconic case. More recently, the classic muckraking model unveiled closely guarded programs that the Bush administration put into place after September 11, 2001: the Central Intelligence Agency's secret prisons; waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods; the National Security Agency's eavesdropping without court warrants on American soil.
All those disclosures led to public debate and to action: the prisons were closed; coercive interrogations were banned; the NSA program was brought under court supervision. But the disclosures also fed a bipartisan sense in Congress and across the intelligence agencies that secrets were too casually whispered to reporters. One unexpected result in the first two years of the Obama administration has been four prosecutions of government employees on charges of disclosing classified information, more such prosecutions than under any previous president.
That is a reason to suspect that the openness of this new era will have limits. Would-be leakers can, presumably, be dissuaded; they can be outmanoeuvered in the technological cat-and-mouse game; they can learn self-restraint. And there are signs that all of that may be happening in the WikiLeaks case.
WikiLeaks set out with "a 'Field of Dreams' philosophy for inviting leaks 'If we build ist, they will come,' " said Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which obtains and publishes declassified government documents. "They tried to create a safe place for disclosures. But with Bradley Manning behind bars, who's going to rush to follow his example?"
Now, with the third WikiLeaks collection linked to Private Manning in the news, members of Congress have called with new ferocity for punishing the group and its provocateur-in-chief, Julian Assange. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut has called for an investigation of The New York Times because it has published some of the material obtained by WikiLeaks.
Whether or not the Obama administration tries to prosecute those who disseminated the information, it is determined to use technology to preserve its secrets. The defence department is scaling back information sharing, which its leaders believe went too far after information hoarding was blamed for the failure to detect the September 11 plot. The department has also stripped CD and DVD recorders from its computers; it is redesigning security systems to require two people, not one, to move large amounts of information from a classified computer to an unclassified one; and it is installing software to detect downloads of unusual size.
Yet even as the government seeks to rein in WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks is reining in itself. The confidential diplomatic cables it disclosed have unquestionably turned the discreet world of diplomacy upside down. But the disclosures have been far more modest than WikiLeaks' self-proclaimed dedication to total transparency might suggest.
Had it chosen to do so, WikiLeaks could have posted on the Web all 251,287 confidential diplomatic cables about six months ago, when the group obtained them. Instead, it shared the cables with traditional news organisations and has coordinated the cables' release with them. As of Friday, fewer than 1 per cent of the cables had been released on the Web by the antisecrecy group, The Times and four European publications combined. "They've actually embraced" the mainstream media, "which they used to treat as a cuss word," Blanton said. "I'm watching WikiLeaks grow up. What they're doing with these diplomatic documents so far is very responsible."
When the newspapers have redacted cables to protect diplomats' sources, WikiLeaks has generally been careful to follow suit. Its volunteers now accept that not all government secrets are illegitimate; for example, revealing the identities of Chinese dissidents, Russian journalists or Iranian activists who had talked to American diplomats might subject them to prison or worse.
In an op-ed essay for The Australian last week, Assange, a 39-year-old Australian citizen who is currently being held in Britain on sex charges from Sweden, declared his devotion to some core Western press values. "Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media," he wrote. "The media helps keep government honest."
But WikiLeaks has not quite joined the ranks of traditional publishing, and it may yet cast all restraint aside. Reaching back to his hacker roots, Assange has created what he calls an "insurance" plan for his own future and that of WikiLeaks. The group has put on the Web, for download, encrypted files containing a huge trove of documents that have not yet been released. Thousands of people have downloaded the files. If the United States moves to prosecute, Assange has said, the group will release the encryption key, in effect making public tens of thousands of unredacted cables and who knows what other dangerous secrets.
It is a 21st-century threat, and one the Obama administration is taking very seriously.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The sharp pick-up in industrial output, as measured by the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), to 10.8% from just 4.4% in the previous month is reassuring as it confirms the optimistic projection in the mid-year review of the economy released last week. National account data, in fact, show that industrial growth, which peaked in the last quarter of 2009-10, has been gradually weakening during the calendar year. Though one-month figures need not necessarily point to a trend, the prospects of sustaining the industrial growth momentum are encouraging as both the investment and consumer demand have bounced back despite the erratic trends. This is best borne out by the fluctuating growth of capital goods production, where output picked up by 22% in October, after registering a 4% shrinkage in output in the previous month, primarily due to the demand generated in shipbuilding, oil platforms and the power sector. More reassuring is the upswing in the consumer goods sector where output picked up by 9.6% in October, which was more than double the growth rate in the previous month. The only cause for concern is that the consumption pick-up is heavily skewed, with most of the demand coming from products like passenger cars, two-wheelers and television sets, which has pushed up the growth of the consumer durable goods to 31%almost treble the pace registered in the previous month. However, the demand for consumer non-durables, which mainly constitute items like food, medicines, clothing and other essentials, and constitutes more than three times the share of the consumer durable sector, continues to falter, with growth shrinking to decimal points despite the good kharif crop, which has pushed up agriculture growth close to a respectable 4% in the first half of the year. The higher volumes and prices of agriculture products have apparently not provided the expected traction to industrial demand.
So, sustaining the growth momentum will be largely dependent on maintaining investor confidence, to push up demand in the capital goods sector, and ensuring stable growth in the resurgent consumer durable goods sector. The stable performance of the intermediate goods sectors and the slow pick-up in the basic goods also bolster the prospects. And double-digit growth would require large additions to capacities in core and infrastructure industries and their financing, and also improvement in the availability of skilled workers. A deepening of reforms in such structural areas and improvement in services, which have not received much attention in recent times, need emphasis.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The world investment and political report launched by the multilateral investment and guarantee agency (MIGA) of the world bank groupthat developing countries can expect a 17% increase in FDI in 2010should set alarm bells ringing for the government. Though such a large increase in FDI to developing countries in the current year is commendable, especially given the sharp 40% fall in flows in 2009, it is bad news for India, as the numbers show that FDI inflows into the country do not match such sentiments and have, in fact, declined by more than a quarter in the first 10 months of 2010. In fact, the RBI numbers show the FDI inflows in January-October 2010 were only $17.4 billion as compared to $23.6 billion in the corresponding period of the previous year. Most recent trends show that FDI inflows have fallen below last year's levels in almost all months in the second half of the year. This is in sharp contrast to the Chinese trends where FDI inflows have picked up in each of the last three months. This implies that FDI flows into India are likely to decline for the second consecutive year, even when the developing countries group was able to reverse the negative trends following the recession within a single year. The disparate trends between the actual FDI inflows into India and the MIGA findings, which is based on a survey, is intriguing, as almost 45% of the firms surveyed have already invested in India.
So, the big question is why are FDI inflows into India not in sync with the trends in the developing countries, even when the overall recovery in the Indian economy has been substantial and GDP growth is edging closer to previous peaks? One would have to wait till the numbers on the actual inflows into developing countries come out, to take any definite views. But a proactive approach to ensure a sustained increase in FDI flows should certainly be a top priority now, especially since the current account deficit (CAD) seems all set to touch a new high. And India's FDI potential is second to none, given that India's inflows have gone up more than 9-fold in the current decade from just around $4 billion in 2000-01 to $37 billion in 2009-10, even when the total inflows to the developing countries went up only around 4-fold.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
Chinese Liu Xiaobo, the first Chinese citizen to receive a Nobel peace prize, was conspicuous by his absence at Friday's ceremony in Oslo. In addition to barring Liu, currently serving an 11-year prison sentence in China, from collecting the award, the Chinese government also placed his wife and other supporters under house arrest in fear that they would travel to Oslo for the ceremonyonly one of the 140 Chinese activists personally invited by Liu's wife was able to attend. But even though they succeeded in keeping their own citizens from participating in the celebration, the Chinese government's threats of "bearing the consequences", issued to the world at large, could not dissuade diplomats from 46 countries from standing in support of Liu. The laureate's picture was greeted with a standing ovation as his diploma and prize were placed in the chair meant for him.
The Chinese government could have little imagined the battering to its international image via its boycott of the award ceremony. Although it may have expected to draw comparisons to the junta's ire at Aung Suu Kyi's award, it probably didn't expect to be equated with Nazi Germany. Even so, the Chinese government has refused to reconsider its position, taking the battle to a new ground in refusing to negotiate with Norway during the climate summit in Cancun. But in this case, the actions are not those of an apartheid regime or military junta but a rising global superpower.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
IS SOVEREIGN DEBT RISK FREE?
Barack Obama has made his truce with the changed mood in the Congress and decided to extend the Bush tax cuts for two more years. Democrats wanted him to extend all tax cuts except the top income brackets above $250,000. The Republicans threatened a meltdown since after January they will have a majority in the House and Democrats will not be able to break a filibuster in the Senate. Obama saw the beauty of expediency and extracted a payroll tax- a boon to the middle income earners in exchange.
Purists like Paul Krugman wanted Obama to stand firm, and threaten that if the Republicans did not give him the tax cut except for the top slice he would let the tax cuts expire. That would mean higher taxes for everyone. That would be a principled stand. But while this is redistributive, it is also deflationary. The fragile recovery in the US would be reversed and a double -dip recession will no doubt be the result. What is more, the voters would not blame Congress; they would blame Obama and he would have to kiss a second term goodbye.
Politics is like that. It does not afford first-best solutions and often not even second-best ones. Obama has secured a fiscal boost without having to pass a Bill. That is the best he could hope for. But this also means that the US deficit will rise and the debt/GDP ratio will definitely get worse. The markets saw this immediately and so the yields on US bonds went up.
Obviously, the solution of the debt burden is left for another term or for (more realistically speaking) another President. The hope must be that growth will pick up, thanks to the tax cut being continued. That would reduce welfare expenditure and ease the budget deficit.
This is a delicate tradeoff. Keynesians would, of course, prefer a spending boost with a tilt towards those who are lower paid. This would increase the deficit but may also have a larger multiplier effect. However, political economy has intervened to make for tax cuts for the higher earners instead and one has to live with that.
The strange thing is that in Europe there seems to be no taste for such spending or tax cuts. Europe is into debt reduction, with a drastic cut in government spending. First it was Greece and then it was Ireland that faced serious attacks from the market, where the debt has had to be serviced with a higher interest rate. The contagion is likely to spread to Portugal and Spain as well. Note that these two governments have already cut their budgets drastically. Similarly, the UK has embarked on a strict programme of reducing the deficit to zero over five years from the current level of 11% of GDP.
What explains this contrasting approach to the recovery? The US is being Keynesian while Europe is being very classical. The Eurozone countries have, of course, signed up to an orthodox budget stance with a targeted limit of budget deficit being less than 3% of their GDP. However, the Eurozone countries cannot devalue nor can they pursue quantitative easing individually. After all, they have no degrees of freedom whatever. But the Eurozone, instead of offering them protection, has actually burdened them with extra costs. There is now, belatedly, a stabilisation fund.
But to apply for this fund is an admission of failure and really alarms the markets.
The Eurozone crisis has made it clear that there are no risk-free sovereign debt issuers. Governments can default, will default and indeed in case of Greece and Ireland ought to default if they do not want to sentence their people to untold misery. Debt holders' sentiments always command respect in financial markets but sovereign debt issuers have other responsibilities, namely to their citizens. Those who buy sovereign debt ought to factor in all this or lose their money. In a globalised world, sovereigns are players just like all others in the global financial markets.
The US's is a different case and this is due to the dollar being a reserve currency. The euro began to be a substitute in many central banks but now it has taken a back seat. The RMB is not yet available for these purposes, though the Chinese are experimenting with a RMB bond in the Hong Kong market. The US markets are deep and highly liquid. This is a strong reason for people to hold on to US debt since they can always sell it. The US, therefore, enjoys a seigniorage advantage. This allows the US fiscal discipline to be looser than elsewhere.
]This advantage, however, is a mirage. The longer-run trends are that the US and other OECD countries are losing their growth momentum and the emerging countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa are speeding up. Eventually, capitalism demands high savings and high investments, innovations and rising productivity to generate higher growth. Financial manipulations offer short-run gains. Keynesian ditch-digging is only a temporary palliative. The world, in the long-run, is classical. Even sovereign debt has to be paid back in real resources and not in funny money.
The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
STOCKHOLM, KYOTO, COPENHAGEN, CANCUN
Posted online: 2010-12-13 00:29:07+05:30
When Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham turned up in Zurich to push the UK's Fifa 2018 bid, only to embarrassedly fail, critics said this would not have happened if only they had paid heed to the press. Well, Cameron heeded the press over Cancún. As did Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Hu Jintao, Manmohan Singh, Naoto Kan, Nicholas Sarkozy et al. None of these august leaders bothered to turn up at a forum that had been forecast to be an even bigger failure than Copenhagen. Indeed, the omens had been rightly read.
The EU's top climate negotiator Connie Hedegaard warned, "If we do not get things done here in Cancún, ...I think multilateralism has a problem." Well, this is no longer conjecture but certainty, with a really long tail. Think the 1992 Kyoto Protocol. What kept the Americans from climbing abroad back then was their resistance to the idea of a treaty that imposed strict emissions cutbacks on the rich but let developing countries go scot-free. Even when riding an economic boom in the following years, the US refused to compromise. George Bush took a lot of flak for that but even Barack Obama (admittedly under electoral constraints) hasn't been able to shift a stance that Ronald Reagan took back in 1981, which was actually already in place at the 1972 UN environment conference in Stockholm.
In 1992, the US was the unequivocal bad boy as it was the world's biggest polluter by a wide margin. The developed bloc was emitting up to three-quarters of the world's CO2. By contrast, today, developing countries' emissions look set to shoot ahead by 2030. Those of China, Russia and India are already growing faster than those of the US. It's this changed reality that Jairam Ramesh has been rightly referencing. Historically differentiated responsibilities sound fair, but untrammelled emissions by Indians and Chinese don't. Ramesh, therefore, made a constructive contribution to getting a Cancún Accord through. This document promises to keep talks of extending the Kyoto Protocol alive instead of unceremoniously shelving it. Given that countries like Bolivia (one of the few whose leaders have bothered to turn up at Cancún) are still insisting on developed countries going the extra mile, this is an appreciable accomplishment.
Yet, no one claim that the Cancún Accord is a global game-changer. While die-hard optimists may have hoped otherwise, the world now appears to have been resolutely abandoned to the mercies of bilateral and case-by-case pacts. Think about the home of Absolute Vodka. In Kristianstad, Sweden, people have managed to completely reverse how they get their heat. With a lot of energy now being generated from potato peels, manure et al, the city's CO2 emissions have been reduced by one-quarter in the last decade. In another notable instance, the Nissan Leaf has come forward with almost non-existent tailpipe emissions as well as the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon mileage. The "can be done" universe on mitigating climate change is expanding on an almost daily basis.
Still, there is little to counteract the allegations that Cancún has been anything other than a "zombie conference". By contrast, consider the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. The US led from the front in that instance, a position that no country can claim today. The goals were limited but realisable. Compensations and technologies given over to developing countries more than made the grade. Similar success looks remote today, which is not to say that the world will not end up paying a cost for its obdurateness.
Between the Ice Age and pre-industrial times, global mean temperature rose by about 6°C. By contrast, the world warmed by about 0.7°C in the 20th century alone. The new millennium's climate negotiations have popularised the goal of keeping the world within a 2°C radius of pre-industrial times. Without binding commitments to this goal, it is predicted (by IEA among others) that the world will warm by 3.5°C by 2100. While Cancún has predictably failed to deliver such commitments, 2010 is on pace to become the warmest year on record. WMO says the Saharan/Arabian, East African, Central Asian and Greenland/Arctic Canada sub-regions have all had 2001-10 temperatures 0.7°C to 0.9°C warmer than in any previous decade (thus exceeding a century's worth of average global rise). This year alone, global warming has been linked to extreme weather events ranging from the Pakistan floods that displaced around 20m people and the record-breaking heatwave that destroyed 26% of Russia's wheat crop. So, while policymakers stay too stuck in their national camps to really move any global agreement forward, the climate change spiral keeps gaining strength, keeping pace with man's actions rather than collective inactions.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
Eat, drink, play
Now that India's MPs don't have much to do, but can't leave town either since they have to be in Parliament, they're finding new ways to keep themselves occupied. Some like Rajeev Chandrasekhar are doing this by writing letters to Ratan Tata, others are organising all manner of foodie nights. The other day Asaduddin Owaisi, Member of Parliament from Hyderabad, invited fellow MPs Sandeep Dikshit and Neeraj Shekhar to his home and treated them to Hyderabadi food. And then Shantaram Naik, Rajya Sabha MP from Goa, invited people for Goan fish to his place. And then it was overheard that Bharat Solanki, MoS for Textiles, invited people at his place for some sumptuous Gujarati food.
If power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is confident, he'll achieve his target for creating fresh power capacity of 60,000 MW in the current Plan period, it's because he's got an ace up his sleeve. He's got monitoring committees at various levels, but the one at his level is the most powerful. It has several former power secretaries on it, who are familiar with every aspect of the power sector.
He's a Gandhi, too
The BJP's Venkaiah Naidu has been provided a secretary from Parliament whose surname is Gandhi. Naidu is careful to call him Gandhigaru or Gandhiji. "I respect Gandhiji, so how can I just call him Gandhi?" he asks.
A NEW BEGINNING
The United Nations Climate Conference at Cancun has done well to strengthen the multilateral process and restore much-needed momentum to negotiations on one of the biggest challenges faced by all countries. The preceding summit at Copenhagen dealt a severe blow to consensus-building by allowing rich countries to dominate the proceedings but Mexico has commendably steered the discussions at Cancun, providing an opportunity to the developing world to articulate its concerns. No major breakthrough was expected but the outcome of the conference is forward-looking. Two important decisions set the stage for measures to be taken beyond 2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends. Under the Cancun Agreements, the targets set by industrialised countries for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are recognised as part of the multilateral process. They must now draw up low-carbon development plans and strategies and also report their inventories annually. In the case of developing countries, actions for emissions reduction will be recognised officially; a registry will record and match their mitigation actions to finance and technology support from rich countries; and they will report their progress every two years. These form a good preamble for target-setting for all member-countries under an agreed framework at Durban next year.
India's Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh has suggested at the Cancun conference, apparently taking the long view, that some form of binding cuts on carbon emissions would have to be accepted by all countries in legal form. It would be wrong to read too much into this statement, since India has not acceded to any agreement. Both India and China have responsibly recognised their absolute carbon emissions and pledged voluntarily to transit to a green development path. India wants to cut its intensity of emissions relative to GDP. There is a grand national solar power generation plan for 2022 and a goal to double the share of nuclear power in a decade. That is positive but much more has to be done in policy terms to raise efficiency and reduce emissions in, say, building and transport. China backs up climate goals with active support for low carbon technology development. Beijing recognises quite rightly that carbon cannot be cheap and that the bar for efficiency must rise constantly. For perspective, it needs to be borne in mind that by one measure, the United States is responsible for 27 per cent of historical emissions and China for 9.5 per cent. This underscores the point that the U.S. must lead the developed world in technology transfer and funding through the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Only then will big players such as Japan and Russia, which have misgivings about a future role for the Kyoto Protocol, remain in the fold.
SCANDALS AND STOCK MARKETS
The question whether the stock market is an adequate barometer for gauging the direction and pace of growth and the strength of an economy is far from settled. Economic fundamentals such as the rate of GDP growth, inflation, and export performance are no doubt closely watched by the markets but they are, at best, just one set of factors that drive stock prices. In a globalised environment, markets around the world take cues from one another. It would be difficult to correlate market behaviour with specific economic or political developments, however significant they might be. Yet, as seen in India, stock markets do appear sensitive and react to scandals even within a relatively short-time frame. The Sensex, which rose above 21,000 in early November and has had a roller-coaster ride since then, is now hovering around 19,500. Its latest show of volatility is largely attributed to the profusion of scandals. The ongoing investigations into the telecom scandal, the alleged bribery involving some public financial institutions, and a recent market ban on some company promoters for insider-trading have all depressed sentiment and contributed to a fall in market capitalisation.
An evidence of the depressed sentiment was available in the 454-point drop in the Sensex on December 9, its steepest one-day fall in six months. Analysts see in the recent, lacklustre performance of some older telecom stocks the effects of the controversial policy changes in allocating spectrum. Real estate companies have fallen from grace in the wake of allegations that they received loans by corrupt means. Given the opacity in the real estate business such allegations gain credibility. The scam is seen to be encompassing not only the real estate companies but also the banking system, which might be stuck with large non-performing assets. However, none of the gloomy prospects need necessarily materialise. All lenders to the real estate companies have vouched for the safety of their loans. Telecom companies, whose stock prices have fallen, might actually benefit from a revamped telecom policy that is fair and transparent. Stock exchanges will immensely benefit once up-to-date surveillance and monitoring systems are put in place and the manipulative practices curbed. The negative impact of scams on stock prices will be tempered if the markets take into account the benefits that will flow from an overall clean up of the regulatory system.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
TAKING STOCK OF CANCUN
SAVING THE INTEGRITY OF THE MULTILATERAL PROCESS IN CLIMATE NEGOTIATIONS, WITH AN OUTCOME AGREED TO BY BOTH THE GLOBAL NORTH AND THE SOUTH, IS PERHAPS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT GAIN FROM CANCUN.
For several months now the oft-repeated litany was that little was expected of the climate negotiations at the 16th session of the Committee of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the associated Meeting of Parties of the Kyoto Protocol. In the event, the Cancun meet has thrown up some surprising lessons. It ended on a far more upbeat note than was anticipated even as late as midway through the two-week conference.
The main achievement of the Cancun meet has been, as UNFCCC secretary-general Christiana Figueres emphasised, to restore some degree of faith in the multilateral process. A good deal of the credit for securing a qualified positive outcome at Cancun must go to the Mexican presidency of the Committee of Parties in the person of Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa Cantellano. The overall transparent conduct of the negotiations, even during the final ministerial phase, was a far cry from the rude, ham-handed, and strong-arm tactics of the Danish presidency at Copenhagen last year. Although the official and non-official contingents of the developing countries were understandably worried about a repeat of Copenhagen in the final days, this was not really on the cards. As Ms. Espinoza pointed out at one of the informal plenary sessions, the name plate of every country was available outside the rooms where the facilitators, drawn from among the Ministers of various countries, were holding consultations on various sections of the text of the final outcome. Jairam Ramesh for India and Xie Zhenhua, leader of the Chinese delegation, were undoubtedly correct in calling on the Mexican president of COP 16 to congratulate her on the outcome.
It is certainly true that, given the current state of play in climate policies across many nations, such a multilateral outcome that has the approval of both the developed nations and the majority of developing nations falls short in many ways in terms of concrete, far-reaching solutions on the critical issues in global climate governance. Critical red lines that various countries and groups laid out even during the meeting at Cancun have been quietly modified. But the fact of agreement between the developed and developing nations is not insignificant and to deny it would be to miss the critical feature of the climate issue as a global problem. To put it differently, the absence of an outcome at Cancun would have launched the multilateral process into uncharted waters with the risk, and its incalculable consequences, that the process itself would be scuttled or rendered effectively non-operational.
Cancun was also marked by a relatively self-confident approach from the large developing countries, particularly China and India. China had a strong campaign to project what it was already committed to in its domestic climate agenda, which the large U.S. contingent had little to counter with except for erudite discussions on climate policy by its NGOs. India had a much more muted presence (perhaps even staid in style), apart from the media-savvy Jairam Ramesh, but nevertheless there was much interest in its policies and attitudes.
The nature of the final outcome was also determined by the fact that the recession-hit developed countries had little to offer. The United States in particular came to Cancun with empty pockets, unable to go beyond hand wringing by its NGOs over the state of its domestic politics. Japan and the Russian Federation distinguished themselves with a querulous obstructionism that was mitigated towards the end. The European Union was relatively better but was not above the temptation to launch an abortive, and briefly worrying, attempt in collaboration with the small island states (the so-called AOSIS grouping) and some others (including, surprisingly, South Africa) to try and corner India and China. Their proposal for a decision calling for a legally binding instrument to be adopted at COP 17 next year was countered by India and China pointing out that it was unreasonable to demand a legally binding outcome without any idea of what such an outcome would contain.
It was also evident at Cancun that the smaller developing nations that make up the bulk of the G77 and China grouping have a sense of feeling squeezed in the middle between the big developed nations on the one hand and the large developing economies on the other. It is true that many of the G77 respond with more alacrity to blocking Indian and Chinese proposals, locking the discussions down to bland generalities, than to countering the positions of the developed nations on issues such as a global emissions reduction goal or that of a global peaking year. Others like the island states fall for the ploy of portraying China and India as equally responsible for the climate crisis and seeking solutions that ignore the development needs of these large nations. On the other hand, China and India also need to reach out much more effectively to these nations amidst the twists and turns of the negotiations. They must carry them along without creating tensions that will weaken the trust factor in the G77.
The concrete positives in the final Cancun decision are limited. The numbers on a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol are still missing. There is only the assurance to "aim" to ensure that there will be no gap between the first and second commitment periods of the protocol and a general appeal to the developed countries to raise the quantum of their emissions reduction commitments, in line with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the pet project of the developed countries the formulation if global goals for emissions reduction has been firmly linked to considerations of equity in formulating these goals. There has been advance in areas such as adaptation and technology transfer; there are specific recommendations with some give and take marking progress in the contested area of monitoring, reporting, and verification.
The full import of the Cancun decisions will need further careful evaluation. There is substantial work to be done in the future. What is clear is that a legally binding outcome that meets the demand of equity as well as the need for truly combating climate change will not be easily achieved.
It would be a pity if the post-Cancun domestic climate policy debate in India were to be confined to the somewhat misplaced fireworks regarding Jairam Ramesh's statement at Cancun that all countries must accept "binding commitments in some appropriate legal form." Given the wide latitude of meaning in the official Indian interpretation of "appropriate legal form," it is clear that the statement has given away little of substance, while responding to the concerns of the small island states that provoked this statement. But the plain truth is that even if the developed countries were to miraculously cease their emissions by the end of this decade, developing countries would still need to eventually accept legally binding commitments to ensure that temperature increase above pre-industrial levels stays below 2° Centigrade.
The Kyoto Protocol is critically important in ensuring that developed countries take the lead in emissions reduction and must continue. But the protocol has also fed the complacent view that developing countries need not do anything at all. A climate policy perspective for India cannot be fashioned overnight; it needs careful preparation and extensive discussion. A domestic consensus in climate policy needs to be more carefully constructed if India is to go to Durban next year with the right mix of firmness and flexibility.
The outstanding lesson of Cancun, if there is indeed such a single one, is that it is the wisdom of the developing countries, and in particular the leadership of China and India, in articulating a way forward in a united way that will carry significant weight in achieving more at Durban next year. For its part, South Africa, in its presidency at COP 17, will need to rise above the distractions imposed by the developed countries in order to go significantly beyond the limitations that were perhaps inevitable at Cancun.
]( Dr. T. Jayaraman is Professor at the Centre for Science, Technology and Society, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He was at Cancun as a speaker at a side-event, a seminar on equity and climate change, sponsored by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.)
PUBLISHING ONLY WITH GOVERNMENT APPROVAL
AMAZON'S DECISION TO ABANDON WIKILEAKS SENDS OUT A CLEAR MESSAGE: YOU CAN PUBLISH WHAT YOU LIKE AS LONG AS IT MEETS WITH THE GOVERNMENT'S APPROVAL.
One of the most interesting aspects of the WikiLeaks controversy is the light it has shed on the providers of cloud computing. One after another they have fallen over like dominoes when the going got rough. First, some of the ISPs hosting WikiLeaks caved in; then EveryDNS, the company that mapped its domain names (e.g. wikileaks.org ) on to machine addresses, dropped it; then Amazon, which had enough computer power and bandwidth to resist even the most determined cyber-attacks, took it off its computers; then PayPal and later Mastercard, the online conduits for donations, cancelled its accounts. The rationalisations these outfits gave for dropping WikiLeaks had a common theme, namely that it had violated the terms and conditions under which the terminated services had been provided.
Amazon is the most interesting case. It provides so-called "cloud computing services" by renting out some of the thousands of computers used to run its online store. WikiLeaks moved its site on to Amazon's cloud to ensure that it would not be crippled by the denial-of-service attacks that had brought other ISPs to their knees. But then the company received a call from Senator Joseph Lieberman, the kind of politician who gives loose cannons a bad name, who had been frothing about WikiLeaks being "implacably hostile to our military and the most basic requirements of our national security". Some time after that, Amazon terminated WikiLeaks's account.
Lieberman then declared: "I will be asking Amazon about the extent of its relationship with WikiLeaks and what it and other web service providers will do in the future to ensure that their services are not used to distribute stolen, classified information."
Amazon denied that it had caved in to "a government inquiry" but declared that it had kicked WikiLeaks out because it was not adhering to the company's terms and conditions which require that "you warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content" and "that use of the content you supply... will not cause injury to any person or entity".
"It's clear," pontificated Amazon, "that WikiLeaks doesn't own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren't putting innocent people in jeopardy."
The more you think about it, the more disturbing this becomes. What gives a U.S. senator the right to ask anybody about "the extent of its relationship" with WikiLeaks? His declaration led the New Yorker's Amy Richardson to wonder "if Lieberman feels that he, or any senator, can call in the company running the New Yorker's printing presses when we are preparing a story that includes leaked classified material, and tell it to stop us".
And what about Amazon's assertion that WikiLeaks "doesn't own or otherwise control" all the rights to the classified cables that it published? As Markus Kuhn, a computer security researcher at the Cambridge Computer Lab, pointed out to me, any work "prepared by an officer or employee of the U.S. government as part of that person's official duties" is not entitled to domestic copyright protection under U.S. law. So, in the U.S. at least, the leaked cables are not protected by copyright and it doesn't matter whether WikiLeaks owns the rights or not.
But, in a way, that's the least worrying aspect of Amazon's behaviour. More troubling is what its actions portend for democracy. Rebecca MacKinnon, a scholar who has written incisively about China's efforts to censor the net, wrote a sobering essay about this last week. "A substantial, if not critical amount of our political discourse," she points out, "has moved into the digital realm. This realm is largely made up of virtual spaces that are created, owned and operated by the private sector."
As far as the law of contract is concerned, Amazon can do what it likes. But this isn't just about contracts any more. "While Amazon was within its legal rights," MacKinnon warns, "the company has nonetheless sent a clear signal to its users: if you engage in controversial speech that some individual members of the US government don't like... Amazon is going to dump you at the first sign of trouble."
Yep. For years people have extolled cloud computing as the way of the future. The lesson of the last week is simple: be careful what you wish for. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
AL-JAZEERA RESPONDS TO LEAKED CABLES
AL-JAZEERA REPORTERS HAVE BEEN TORTURED AND KILLED IN DEFENCE OF THEIR VALUES. THAT'S WHY THE WIKILEAKS STORY MUST BE CHALLENGED.
A lot can change in five years. In December 2005 the Guardian opened its pages for me to respond to a leak the Bush-Blair memo in which both leaders discussed the possibility of bombing al-Jazeera's Qatar HQ, where more than 1,000 people work. While those who leaked the memo were imprisoned, its detailed contents were never disclosed. Earlier this year I learned from a senior U.S. official that the discussions had indeed taken place.
I was not surprised. Our bureaus in Kabul and Iraq had previously been bombed by the U.S. in an attempt to stifle the channel's independence; one of our journalists in Iraq was killed. But this did not deter us from our mission to provide "the opinion and the other opinion" our motto; to give a voice to the voiceless; to hold centres of power to account; and to uphold our editorial independence no matter what the cost. We maintained these values even as the U.S. bombed our offices, continuing our coverage of both sides of the story.
The Arab world, the region in which we are located, continues to see its share of bloodshed and war. Our audience, often the victim of these conflicts, demands honesty, credibility and integrity. If we get a story wrong, or are biased, it could mean the difference between life and death for viewers. They have come to expect independence as a standard. Recently, our independence was once again called into question. Cables from the U.S. embassy in Doha were made accessible by WikiLeaks, alleging that Qatar was using al-Jazeera as a tool for its foreign policy. While nothing could be further from the truth, U.S. diplomats had the freedom to express their opinions. But they focused on the source of our funding rather than our reporting. Judgments made in the cables are plainly erroneous, such as the assertion that we softened coverage of Saudi Arabia and Iran's elections due to political pressure one needs only to look at our reporting of these events to see that this is not the case. We are not driven by political agendas, for or against anyone. Journalists across the world picked up the story, and while some were careful to place it in context, many took the claims as fact.
The Guardian's report went well beyond even what was stated in the cables; the article clearly misunderstood the rhetorical statements reportedly made by Qatar's Prime Minister, which then fed the false claim that al-Jazeera was a "bargaining chip". Those who understand the Middle East also know that al-Jazeera's coverage is no obstacle to peace in the region. Without these, journalism is another unwitting tool for centres of power.
This region is host to some of the most repressive governments in the world, where freedom of expression is silenced, journalists languish in prisons, and independent civil institutions are rare. Allegations that we lack independence are part of our daily routine. But we take measures to protect our editorial integrity, in spite of intimidation from governments and regimes. Our journalists have been banned, imprisoned, tortured and killed. Al-Jazeera's bureaus have routinely been closed, many times by Arab regimes with which Qatar has good relationships. However, we continue to cover their stories with depth and balance. To institutionalise our independence we have ensured diversity among our staff, and have more than 50 nationalities represented with no majority of any one nationality.
Independence and Qatar
Questions about al-Jazeera's independence and its relationship with Qatar, our primary source of funding, are asked in almost any interview I give. Because the region has a history of state-controlled media it's assumed our host country must impact upon our editorial policy. But the Qatari government has kept its distance it is similar to the model one sees in other publicly funded arm's length broadcasters such as the BBC. Qatar's Prime Minister openly criticises al-Jazeera, and has talked about the "headaches" caused by our independence. But we subject state officials to the same hard questions and journalistic standards we have for everyone else. Al-Jazeera has strong editorial policies to protect its independence from the influence of power one only has to look at the screen to witness this.
While we don't claim to get it right all of the time (we are only human), we have got it right most of the time, placing great value on reporting from the field. Had the U.S. diplomats actually watched al-Jazeera's reports, they would have heard the voices and players who were shaping conflicts, wars and emerging democracies. By analysing our content they would have gained real insights into the region.
When George Bush declared "Mission accomplished" in Iraq and most media outlets echoed his simplistic version of events, al-Jazeera was providing pictures and analysis that predicted the coming storm. At the time we were roundly criticised, often by states who had friendly relations with Qatar. And in Afghanistan, while others broadcast images of progress and calm, al-Jazeera highlighted the growing influence of the Taliban. In these cases and many others, time has vindicated our reporting. Had these diplomats listened to the voices in our coverage perhaps some of their mistakes could have been averted.
Those who lobby against al-Jazeera seek to delegitimise the work of dedicated and courageous journalists who put their lives on the line. For 14 years we have committed ourselves to safeguarding our editorial independence. Our audiences rely on us for this, and we will not be affected by pressure from regimes, states, media or other centres of power. We have full confidence in our mission as journalists. ( Wadah Khanfar is director general of the al-Jazeera network) © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
BURIED IN PERU'S DESERT, FOSSILS DRAW SMUGGLERS
SIMON ROMERO AND ANDREA ZARATE
Nestled between the Andes and the Pacific, the sparse desert surrounding this outpost in southern Peru looks like one of the world's most desolate areas. Barren mountains rise from windswept valleys. Dust devils dance from one dune to the next.
But to the bone hunters who stalk the Ocucaje Desert each day, the punishing winds here have exposed a medley of life and evolution: a prehistoric graveyard where sea monsters came to rest 40 million years ago. These parched lands, once washed over by the sea, guard one of the most coveted troves of marine fossils known to palaeontology.
Discoveries here include gigantic fossilised teeth from the legendary 50-foot shark called the megalodon, the bones of a huge penguin with surprisingly colourful feathers and the fossils of the Leviathan Melvillei, a whale with teeth longer than those of the Tyrannosaurus rex, making it a contender for the largest predator ever to prowl the oceans.
"This is perhaps the best area in the world for marine mammals," said Christian de Muizon, 58, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in Paris who led an expedition here in November. He ranks the Ocucaje and adjacent sections of desert with top fossil areas like Liaoning Province in China, where ashfall famously preserved plumed dinosaurs.
But beyond the boon to science, the discoveries here have attracted the attentions of another class of fossil hunters as well: smugglers. Officials in the capital, Lima, say seizures of illegally collected fossils are climbing.
Peru is astonishingly rich in archaeological and palaeontological sites, so much so that the issue is part of a delicate political debate here. The loss of national treasures to collectors from abroad has set off concerns about sovereignty, perhaps best exemplified by the feud between Peru and Yale University over Inca artefacts taken by Hiram Bingham, the American explorer typically credited with revealing the lost city of Machu Picchu to the outside world a century ago.
For now, the Ocucaje remains open to just about anyone who wants to search for fossils here. Peruvian law, while vague, classifies fossils as national patrimony and requires fossils found in the country to remain in Peru, unless special permission is granted.
But enforcement and preservation here seems like a distant dream. The government controls the desert but leases parts to mining companies, which could damage or destroy fossils. Looters have already ravaged archaeological burial sites on the desert's fringes. The police rarely even enter the area.
Almost the only four-wheeled vehicles one sees traversing the desert are trucks carrying workers who spend weeks on the coast collecting seaweed. They sell to dealers, who then export it to Asia.
"This desert is horrible," said Yolanda Gutiérrez, 35, a seaweed harvester. "The only things a person sees are dirt and rocks and bones."
An assortment of fossil hunters have their own visions of how the Ocucaje should be managed. One prominent view comes from Roberto Penny Cabrera, 54, a former naval officer who says he is a descendant of Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, the conquistador who founded the nearby city of Ica in 1563. Mr. Penny Cabrera, who guides both backpackers and palaeontologists into the Ocucaje, lives in his aristocratic family's crumbling yellow mansion on Ica's square.
"I am a patriot, a Peruvian, and where my foot steps that is patrimony," he said, contending that some of the Ocucaje's fossils should be left in the ground. Another option, he said, would be to create a museum not in Lima, much less Berlin or Paris but in Ica.
On the streets of Ica and nearby towns, visitors can already see such fossils and buy them. Merchants sell fossilised shark teeth, about the size of a man's hand, at prices from $60 to $100 apiece. They say other fossils are available, at higher prices. "Ocucaje yields many bones," said one merchant, Marcos Conde, 35.
Meanwhile, seizures of illegally obtained fossils are increasing, surpassing 2,200 this year, compared with about 800 last year, largely at Lima's international airport, said José Apolín of the Ministry of Culture's office of recovery. Sometimes officials stumble upon large fossils by chance; in 2008 the police found a jawbone thought to be that of a mastodon in the cargo hold of a bus.
Recent discoveries elsewhere in Peru are raising interest in the country's fossils and the potential for more trafficking. Almost 14,000 feet high in the Andes, for instance, a mining company controlled by Australian and Swiss investors announced a startling discovery last year: more than 100 dinosaur footprints embedded in walls of stone. © New York Times News Service
ABU DHABI, YEMEN FIRMS AGREE TO COOPERATE ON OIL
An Abu Dhabi state firm says it will deepen ties to Yemen's oil industry as the Arab world's poorest country looks to boost output from its dwindling reserves.
Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development Company and the Yemen Company for Investments in Oil and Minerals said on December 12 that they had signed a memorandum of understanding to share technical information and possibly cooperate on oil production projects. The companies will consider both new investments and retooling or expanding existing production sites. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Yemen relies heavily on oil revenues to pay for government services. The World Bank and others estimate its wells could run dry as early as 2017 unless new reserves are found. AP
OPEC MINISTERS MAKE NO CHANGE IN OUTPUT
Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) ministers decided on December 11 to keep oil output at current levels, citing ample inventories amid persisting global economic uncertainty and a price of just under $90 a barrel.
The 12-member cartel said after an unusually short meeting that it had based its decision on projections showing demand for crude would grow more slowly in 2011 than this year.
It's statement also cited the "challenging risks to the fragile global economic recovery" including "fears of a second banking crisis in Europe."
The world's major industrialised nations continue to face "lower industrial output, lagging private consumption as well as persistently high unemployment," the ministers added.
"The market is in balance and is stable," Oil Minister Ali Naimi of Saudi Arabia, OPEC's biggest producer, told reporters. "The fundamentals are good." OPEC's next scheduled gathering is June 2 in Vienna, its home. Asked whether it could convene earlier if prices were to shoot up, the group's secretary-general, Abdulla Salem El-Badri said that is always a possibility.
"OPEC is always ready to meet when there is important change in the market," he said.
There was much discussion about whether oil would soon broach the psychological price barrier of $100, or even climb nearer its 2008 historic peak of $147 a barrel.
Venezuela's Minister, Rafael Ramirez, said he thought such a price was "proper" considering how much
producers invest in removing crude from the ground.
The "no-change" announcement was widely anticipated and four of the cartel's ministers, from Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and Nigeria, did not even make the trip, sending lower-level delegates.
OPEC, which is responsible for 35 per cent of global oil production, has not changed its output quotas since late 2008.
Last month, Naimi said prices from $70 to $90 per barrel were tolerable for consumers. On December 11, he lowered the high end to $80 when asked.
The 50-year-old cartel has had a good year, with prices hovering in the mid-$80 range and profits up 32 percent over 2009 to $750 billion, according to U.S. Energy Department estimates. OPEC does not release profit numbers.
Issuing its global oil demand forecast, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) said it anticipated a rise in demand next year to 88.8 million barrels a day, 260,000 daily barrels more than previously forecast. AP
ISSUES IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Two recent judgments, one by the Delhi High Court, the other by the Madras High Court, have paved the way for the Union Ministry for Human Resource Development to go ahead with its much-delayed scheme to revamp the country's higher education system.
All that the Ministry could do, during the first few months of the second United Progressive Alliance government, was to take a policy decision that a pass in the National Eligibility Test (NET) or State Level Eligibility Test (SLET) would be the sole, mandatory qualification for being appointed as Lecturer/Assistant Professor in colleges, irrespective of possessing any additional academic certification, other than a post-graduate degree in the relevant subject. The All India Researchers' Coordination Committee challenged the Ministry's decision in the Delhi High Court. Groups of petitioners and appellants, who hold research degrees such as M.Phil. and Ph.D., approached the Madras High Court to get the decision reversed.
Upholding the Ministry's decision, which had been made in consultation with academic experts, a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court comprising Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Manmohan observed: "The courts should not venture into the academic arena, which is best suited for academicians and experts."
In the Madras High Court, the First Bench consisting of Chief Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice T.S. Sivagnanam dismissed the petitions as well as the appeals. The Judges said that the regulation and the decision of the Union Government that a pass in the National Eligibility Test or the State Level Eligibility Test would be the sole route to appointment as teachers in colleges, could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be held to be illegal, arbitrary, or whimsical. They held that the decision was rational and based on the public interest, and that it was also a national policy inasmuch as it aimed at upgrading the standard of higher education in the country.
In both the courts, the University Grants Commission figures properly as a respondent. When the NET/SLET selection was in operation, many aspirants with higher academic qualifications and a research background, were interested in opting for a teaching career. The recruitment rules were then relaxed to accommodate the researchers as teachers. Those with M.Phil. and Ph.D. qualifications were exempted from writing the NET/SLET. The UGC was involved in this exercise by framing the regulations for the recruitment scheme. The exemption was continued by the UGC for several years.
Now that the HRD Ministry was keen on raising the bar in institutions of higher learning, the UGC had to fall in line. The petitioners/appellants in the two cases challenged the new rule of recruitment on the grounds that the UGC had framed it on a direction from the Union, which is in violation of the UGC Act, 1956. Another contention of the petitioners was that the UGC and the government had been consistently granting exemption, as a matter of policy, to those with M.Phil. and Ph.D. qualification, who prefer teaching in colleges. These contentions were, however, rejected by both high courts. The argument that the grant of exemptions to those with Ph.D. and M.Phil. qualifications had given rise to "legitimate expectations" that they could succeed in getting jobs without undergoing tests did not cut much ice.
The HRD Ministry deserves praise for its firm stand on a strict recruitment policy with a view to improving the standards of higher education. However, it needs to do much more for those who sweat and toil to acquire research qualifications; they can't be left to languish without any hope of stable employment. It is clear that the recruitment of talented teachers does not automatically raise the quality of education. Unlike teachers in primary and secondary schools, who undergo a two-year or one-year course before they take to teaching, those who become college teachers generally lack training. Filling this gap must be made a high priority.
The news media can certainly play a major role in raising awareness within the teaching community of the need for instituting consistent pedagogic standards in colleges and universities across the country. There is plenty of coverage in Indian newspapers of trends and opportunities in the professional streams of higher education. There is even some discussion of quality issues and of the need for academic benchmarking. But teacher education and training, what goes into the making of a good teacher, remains a neglected area. It would certainly be worthwhile for the UGC to conduct workshops basic as well as advanced on this subject for journalists who wish to specialise in the field of higher education. Journalism schools can also play their part in turning the sights of their students towards the subject and the issues at stake for rising India.
THE ASIAN AGE
WORRY INCREASES: IS INDIA DRIFTING?
The events subsequent to the exposure of the Niira Radia tapes have led respected figures from the world of industry and finance to worry about the state of affairs in the country. Top banker Deepak Parekh reflected in a recent television interview if the India story might not be over when everything seemed to be going just right. His worry is that the Manmohan Singh government might not be pulling as a team, or why would the tapping of Ms Radia's phone which showed up many in politics, business, journalism and the bureaucracy in poor light be done for two long years. Does this not amount to deliberate and concerted invasion of privacy? If the government suspected the corporate communication honcho of violating laws, why was the tapping not focused and limited to a specified time period? Mr Parekh appears to imply that irritants such as unnecessary phone taps could deter future investments in India. This is conceivably true. However, an appeal to facts would suggest that Ms Radia's phone was not tapped for two long years but for specified periods of time in two consecutive years. There is a world of difference between the two. Mr Parekh has also spoken of the business community's other concerns. He fears the climate is getting less conducive: decisions by one arm of government are set to nought by disapprovals emanating from others. He cites in this regard the absence of clearances from the environment and mining ministries, and difficulties over land availability for industry, obstructing investments.
Before Mr Parekh, top industrialist Ratan Tata had spoken out in rather strong terms against the "banana republic" syndrome of rules and laws being disregarded and privacy being encroached upon. It is true we have seen considerable evidence of late of systemic corruption in a number of sectors. The 2G scam, in particular, appeared a case of match-fixing being merrily indulged in on account of promiscuity involving sections of industry and politicians and unscrupulous bureaucrats, with elements of the media too drawn in, willingly or otherwise thus exposing the rotten underbelly of the Indian elite. It is a sorry state of affairs, but a banana republic? To suggest that is to disparage the panoply of our democratic institutions which seem to be holding up rather well, all things considered, and which are sometimes an object of envy by other countries. True, the environment ministry has held back in some prominent cases, but are these decisions born of caprice? At least that has not been pointed out so far, though many have fretted. The same ministry, after a rethink, has cleared the second airport in Mumbai. The issue of acquiring land for industry the mining issue is a subset of it, especially in Orissa where the phenomenon has taken on a high profile is an important one and has been raised in other countries as well. There are ways around it, although the land question is a tricky one, especially in a democracy, as it typically involves marginal or small farmers and sometimes tribal populations, as in the case of Orissa.
A balanced articulation of the country's difficulties on several fronts is certainly in order. Identifying problems is after all the first step in finding solutions. Those in high positions indeed have a special responsibility in this regard. It was therefore surprising to see finance minister Pranab Mukherjee speak at a recent Ficci programme of our democracy getting "too noisy", and appealing for some "silence". The observation appeared directed at the world of business. This was hardly called for. If politicians and the media possess the democratic licence for ceaseless chatter, so do ordinary citizens and that includes business leaders, whose general public profile is one of reticence.
THE ASIAN AGE
SAVE THE GANGA
I am travelling with the Ganga yatra which is a pilgrimage to save the river Ganga. The Ganga is India's ecological, economic, cultural and spiritual lifeline. That is why we are undertaking the Ganga yatra.
The threats to our Mother Ganga, or "Ganga Ma", are many. Deforestation was a major threat to the catchment of Ganga in the 1970s. The myth of the descent of Ganga is, in fact, an ecological tale.
Ganga, whose waves in swarga flow,
Is daughter of the lord of snow.
Win Shiv, that his aid be lent,
To hold her in her mid-descent.For earth alone will never bear
These torrents travelled from the upper air.
The story of the descent of the Ganga is an ecological story. The above hymn is a tale of the hydrological problem associated with the descent of a mighty river like the Ganga. H.C. Reiger, the eminent Himalayan ecologist, described the material rationality of the hymn in the following words: "In the scriptures a realisation is there that if all the waters which descend upon the mountain were to beat down upon the naked earth would never bear the torrents In Shiv's hair we have a very well-known physical device which breaks the force of the water coming down the vegetation of the mountains".
That is why the Chipko Movement, which was initiated to protect the Himalayan forests, was important for India's ecological security. I started my ecological activism with Chipko. After nearly a decade of Chipko actions, logging was banned in the high Himalaya in 1981.
The women had given the slogan: "What do the forests bear: soil, water and pure air", to replace the slogan of commercial forestry: "What do the forest bear: timber, resin and revenue".
After the 1978 flood in the Ganga, it became clear that water conservation was the first gift of the Himalayan forests. The wisdom of the peasant women of Garhwal is today called the economies of ecosystems.
The Ganga is threatened at its very source the Gangotri glacier. Climate change has led to the decline in snowfall and an increase in the rate of melting of snow. From 1935 to 1956, the retreat of the Gangotri glacier was 4.35 metres per year. In the period 1990-1996 it is 28.33 m/yr. The average rate of retreat is 20-38 m/yr. If this retreat continues, the Ganga would become a seasonal river, with major ecological and economic consequences for the entire Ganga basin. This is why we need climate justice for water justice.
The Ganga's tributaries are threatened by dams and diversions in the upper reaches. The 260.5-metre-high Tehri dam, built at Tehri on the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana, submerged the ancient capital of Tehri Garhwal, destroyed the lush and fertile fields of the valleys and displaced 1,00,000 people from 125 villages of which 33 were completely submerged. But the displacement due to the dam continues.
At the shore of the reservoir, people were flooded from below and above simultaneously. Fields and homes by the dam shore were submerged as the water level rose from 820 to 835 metres. The authorities of the Tehri Hydropower plant were not willing to release excess water from the dam even though the water levels were affecting the surrounding villages. From their point of view, release through the slush gates was spillage. Mooni Devi, who lives at water level, says: "This used to be such a great place with great farms. The dam builders have turned us all into beggars".
A chain of hydroelectric projects have stopped the "aviral" flow of the Ganga and in many stretches the Ganga runs dry. The Government of India has been proposing hydroelectric projects on Loharinag-Pala, Pala-Maneri and Bhaironghati on Bhagirathi to tap their hydropower potential. In addition to the already-built Tehri dam and Maneri Bhali-2 dam, a series of dams were planned between Gangotri and Uttarakashi on the river Bhagirathi. It took penance and fasting by today's "Bhagirath", Prof. G.D. Agarwal, to stop the dams on the Bhagirathi.
In the plains a big threat to the Ganga and Yamuna is pollution both from industry and sewage. And even as billions are poured into cleaning the Ganga and the Yamuna through the Ganga Action Plan and the Yamuna Action Plan, the pollution of our sacred river increases because of a combination of corruption and inappropriate technologies.
Industrialisation and urbanisation have turned our sacred rivers into sinks for pollutants. The Yamuna is clean before entering Delhi. In 22 km of its journey through Delhi, it picks up 70 per cent of the pollution of the river in its total length. Various action plans have set up centralised sewage treatment plants that do not work and 70 per cent of untreated sewage is dumped into the river. The river dies because of pollution, the land dies because it is deprived of rich nutrients. As Sunderlal Bahuguna reminded me, Mahatama Gandhi called this "golden manure". Intelligent zero-waste-sewage treatment systems like those evolved in IIT-Kanpur by Dr Vinod Tare would clean the Ganga and also fertilise the soil. We would not be wasting `130,000 crore on fertiliser subsidies and thousands of crore on river action plans. Organic farming can be a major action for cleaning the Ganga.
The final threat to the Ganga is privatisation. Privatisation of water reduces it to a commodity, makes giant corporations owners and sellers of water and ordinary citizens, buyers and consumers. The role of citizens and communities as conservers and caretakers is destroyed. The human right to water, which was recognised by the United Nations in April 2010, is undermined. That is why when the Ganges water which has been brought to Delhi from Tehri was being privatised to Suez through a World Bank project, we built a Citizens Alliance for Water Democracy and told the World Bank and the Delhi government that our "Mother Ganga is not for sale". The World Bank project was withdrawn and the privatisation stopped.
The movement to Save the Ganga and its "nirmal (clean)" and "aviral (uninterrupted)" flow is not just a movement to save a river. It is a movement to save India's troubled soul that is polluted and stifled by crass consumerism and greed, disconnected from its ecological and cultural foundations.
If the Ganga lives, India lives. If the Ganga dies, India dies.
Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
PRIVATE SPACE FLIGHT ADDS A BUSINESS EDGE
Last week, an American private company, Space Exploration Technologies Inc (Space X), achieved a breakthrough when it sent a capsule into space that orbited the earth and returned safely.
Till now, it was the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), funded directly by the US government, that handled space flights.
It is the same arrangement that prevails among members of the exclusive space club, which includes Russia, Japan, China, India, and the European Union.
Private sector participation in space flights had to happen at some time or the other. What was needed were high technology and huge funds.
SpaceX has mustered both. The US government did not demur at the diffusion of technology, which might well be the case in Russia, China and India that see space as too strategically important to allow the private sector.
But Americans have lived up to their reputation of entrepreneurial daring. The implications are significant.
Nasa is going to outsource the ferrying of astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) to SpaceX. This could open up the sector to other players, and hopefully other countries will soon follow the example.
TATA-CHANDRASEKHAR WAR BARES DARK NEXUS
The ongoing letter war between Ratan Tata and Rajeev Chandrasekhar has opened one more front in the 2G scam investigations.
Both businessmen were part of an earlier battle over mobile phone technology a decade ago and now each is accusing the other of benefiting from government policy. This battle is being fought in full public view, which is unusual for our normally tight-lipped businessmen.
The spectrum scam has become too big a beast to be controlled by silence.
Preliminary investigations have revealed not just a close nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and business tycoons but also between the media, lobbyists and other fixers and operators. Not only are the stakes too big, but the manner in which India operates has now been laid bare for everyone to see. Much of this was suspected or even known but the sheer brazenness of it all is shocking even to the cynical.
There are several lessons from this and apart from the tendrils of corruption having wound their way through every crevice, we also see how systems are easily subverted to make way for vested interests and how arrogance eventually leads to tragedy. The telecom policy can be used as a case study here as the patterns are sure to repeat themselves across all aspects of our lives.
Of course, this does not take anything away from the tremendous difference that the communications revolution has made in our lives. Telecom is key to India's spectacular growth story. But the scam does raise the question: had spectrum been sold transparently, would we not have been an even richer and better connected nation today? In short, it is not the loss to the exchequer that matters, but the potential loss of growth.
The opposition parties have held up the democratic process over the scam but the Tata-Chandrasekhar pow-wow suggests that culpability spreads across the political spectrum. It is possible, given the way our system works, that we will never get to the bottom of this. But one thing is clear.
When government is sitting on a scarce resource (spectrum, land), transparency and public accountability is the only way to go.
WE WALKED SIMPLY WALKED IN THE CITY
In the hurry-burry of our stressed urban lives, enveloped in a wealth of affordable conveniences, our loss on some fronts has been immense.
In many of our towns and cities, people have lost the art of walking and cycling. And along with it, tragically, the immense health benefits associated with these simple yet critical elements of a healthy lifestyle.
People no longer walk or cycle the way they did in the past. What came naturally, effortlessly and happened seamlessly during the routine activities of the day, is now seen as entirely unnecessary. For the health conscious, these are tasks which figure on the "to do" lists and consume time.
An aunt, barely in her 60s, held some of us spellbound when she spoke of her childhood.
The meandering discussion touched on the epidemic proportions of diabetes and hypertension among young Indians today and soon focused on how people walked and cycled in our cities in the not-too-distant past.
Many of our senior citizens are rather healthy and developed diabetes or hypertension only later in life, if at all. Was it the routine walking and cycling that insulated them from these 'lifestyle' diseases?
"We simply walked and walked and thought nothing about it. We would climb the Parvati hill every morning and come running down.The horse-buggy fare from the railway station to our home (about three-four km away) was just 10 paise. But we didn't take that and instead walked. We walked all around in the city. Schooling and college happened entirely on the bicycle," the aunt recalled.
This was the story till about four decades ago when cycling to school was a habit in many cities, particularly in smaller ones like Pune.
Today, those who cycle on our city roads, do so at the risk of their lives, overwhelmed by the heavy traffic, poor urban infrastructure and the complete or partial absence of mass transportation. This loss is a generational loss and therefore fewer and fewer people cycle today. The much greater loss is of an urban population that has lost some healthy habits.
Children can't cycle in our cities and the elderly can't walk because the footpaths are non-existent or broken. Crossing the road in heavy traffic is virtually impossible.
Thus, the seniors stay imprisoned in their homes or housing colonies because visiting friends or attending public events has become hazardous. An unforgettable anecdote relates to an elderly woman who, after waiting patiently to cross a Pune road to go to a nearby shop, returned home, pulled out her car and completed the errand.
Following the global trend, India too is getting rapidly urbanised and therefore, the urgency to fix our cities. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) launched in 2005 to improve the quality of life and infrastructure in our cities, seems to have lost steam five years down the road. It has got caught in red tape and lethargy.
The Bus Rapid Transport System, inspired by the phenomenal success in reducing personalised transport in Bogota, has been successful, just partly, in Ahmedabad. Elsewhere it is a disaster, marred by poor implementation.
We need to take ownership of our cities and demand change from our leaders and bureaucrats. We need to demand and pursue better urban planning. Not so much to beautify our cities as much as to beautify the lives of our citizens the young and the old with healthy lifestyles.
CANCUN CLIMBDOWN WAS NOT NECESSARY
The minister of environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, did a U-turn at the UN Framework for Convention on Climate (UNFCC) at Cancun when he said that India would accept legally binding cuts on emissions though not now.
Having changed the country's stand of not giving binding commitments, Jairam defended himself saying it was done to prevent India's isolation from its natural allies, the developing countries represented by G77.
The minister's shifting stance is not entirely his fault. The UPA government under Manmohan Singh is confused. Currently distracted by the spectrum scam and various corruption scandals, it seems keen to play a larger global role rather than just defend the country's interests. There is nothing wrong in this, but if it is planning to take risks with our economic interests, the strategy better be well thought out.
Jairam's statement at Cancun suggests that pressure is building from the rest of the world for legally binding curbs. The US and China will be isolated, but sooner or later both will have to agree to legal limitations, with or without international monitoring.
Ramesh has sensed the winds of change and responded with his wit to go over to the other side. He has revealed that even Brazil and South Africa were in favour of legal limitations. But what he said in his defence is a tepid generalisation at best.
After the Copenhagen disaster, where no agreement could be reached, the government had agreed that there was need for voluntary curbs on greenhouse emissions and that there should even be domestic laws in place.
India would, of course, never agree to international legal restrictions in the matter. That stand was both sound and sensible, and Ramesh should have stuck to it instead of trying improvisations.
The turnaround stems from the mistaken notion in the Indian establishment that flexibility is what will make the country more respected in the international arena.
This is wrong-headed. A powerful country needs to be credible and it should marry principle with pragmatism. There is need for vision and values that should then be articulated with flair.
It is not necessary to bend with every passing wind. Ramesh's U-turn thus appears to be little more than an effort to stay with the herd of international opinion. Climate change is an important issue for the world, but poor countries like India should not be made to pay a heavy price for it.
IDENTIFYING THE NATURE OF THE SELF
Like the body discards worn out garments to don new ones/ the soul casts off the body when its work is done." (Bhagavad Gita, 2:22)
We aren't bodies within which souls abide. We are souls wrapped in a body. The body is merely the role the soul plays. Our nationality, gender, age or name is not our self. We are eternal spirits immortal, pure, peaceful. And that is our identity.
A Buddhist monastery fell into disrepute, the monks became lazy and quarrelsome.
To set matters right, one of them went to a sage for advice. He said, "The Buddha lives in disguise amidst you". Startled, the monk carried back this message. At once, each monk looked at the others, wondering which of them was the Buddha.
It would not do to be rude to him. So, every one was on his best behaviour. The atmosphere changed as did the monastery's reputation. Finally, the sage visited them. The monks asked, "Now tell us, which of us is the Buddha?" "Each one of you," he replied. "You'd only forgotten it for a while."
The Gita explains, "The soul is perennial, steadfast, immanent, primordial". (2:24) It is said, that a woman's soul went to heaven. She was asked, "Who are you?" She said she was a woman. But that was her gender. She then said she was a mother, a Christian, an officer, an Indian.
But those were only her role, religion, occupation, nationality. Finally, she had to be sent back to earth to find out who she really was. That probably is the only worthwhile quest.
THE MEDIA IS ALMOST THE LAST TO REPORT ON CORRUPTION
You media people " when a close friend began a sentence like that and assailed journalists for focusing on scam after scam, it gave me pause.
This was especially so because the speaker is a non-political industrialist, not given to analysis of the media. His irritation started with the Commonwealth Games muddle and continued through the 2G scam, the Radia tapes and so on. "Don't you guys ever find anything good to report?"
One wouldn't give this so much importance if it were an isolated view. It isn't. You hear statements like this expressed every other day. Readers of newspapers and viewers of TV news are fed up of the corruption in the country, that's for sure. But they also want to shoot the messenger.
My view is that the media isn't giving corruption enough importance. Look at the 2G scam. It hit the headlines big time only when the CAG report came out with a massive figure of loss to the exchequer.
Shouldn't the media have been pursuing the case earlier, from the time A Raja fixed the first-come, first-served process? The CAG report then would only have been additional ammunition.
Other scandals like corruption in the Allahabad high court have not been revealed by the media; in this particular case, it is the Supreme Court itself which has brought it in the news.
The Adarsh building got sanctioned, constructed and occupied without the media sniffing anything rotten in it; it was only when an internal letter from a senior naval officer got leaked that the media got hold of the story. Then again, what about the depredations of the Reddy brothers? The land scam in Karnataka? Has the media been leading the investigations or living off scraps of information from political parties?
A recent case of corruption highlights the passive role the media generally plays in most such cases.
This relates to former UP chief secretary Neera Yadav and Flex Industries chairman Ashok Chaturvedi in a multi-crore land scam. The story was carried everywhere last week when a special CBI court sentenced both of them to four years' imprisonment.
Now here are some interesting details. Yadav is a 1971 batch IAS officer. The UP IAS officers' association, in its annual secret ballot to name the state's most corrupt officers, put Neera Yadav at No 2 in 1995.
Yet she was promoted to the chief secretary's post by Mulayam Singh Yadav in 2005. When Mayawati took over from Mulayam Singh, she retained Neera as chief secretary.
The Noida plot scam in which Yadav has been named was neither unearthed nor followed-up by the media.
It was the Supreme Court that directed the CBI to start an inquiry. This was as far back as 1998. Even the CBI's charge-sheets are seven years old. Yet there was no hint in the media all these years. And Neera was hardly being discreet.
She owns bungalows in Noida, Delhi, Ghaziabad, Mumbai and Bangalore. She even owns a bungalow in Glasgow, Scotland! Her net worth is said to beabout Rs500 crore!
There is more: the CBI director wrote to UP governor Umesh Bhandari Singh about immovable property worth crores that Neera had acquired as CEO of NOIDA Authority.
An earlier CBI director too had asked the governor's permission to inquire into her land allotments and private assets. But the sanctions never came.
The UP government wrote to the Centre that there was no need for any action at all.
Obviously, political games were being played and if both Mulayam Singh and Mayawati promoted and retained a known corrupt person in the highest administrative post in the state, it was because it suited them. The point is that the media does not need the governor's sanction to proceed with an investigation.
Neither does the media need the government's approval to expose the corrupt. But it didn't do any such thing.
There is news now of the foodgrain scam in UP which is believed to be big, really big.
Estimates of its size range from Rs35,000 crore to Rs2,00,000 crore, which would make it bigger than even the 2G scam. It is said to spread over five countries and involves half the districts in UP and over 1,200 class I and other officials.
The scam has been going on for nearly 10 years siphoning off grain meant for the poor in schemes like the public distribution system, the mid-day meal schemes for children and several schemes meant for those below the poverty line.
The grain was sold off to private retailers while showing it in the books as being distributed. This is being reported only now because the case has come up in the Lucknow high court. asking for the court's intervention in getting the case investigated. What did the media do all these years?
Of late, there has been a lot of back-patting by the media for uncovering this scam or the other. In truth, the media uncovers nothing of real note. It only reports corruption when it comes out in the open through other's intervention. That is why the corrupt are still corrupt. They are afraid of no one. Least of all the media.
It is a pity that a forest area of ten square kilometres has been lost to development activities in the State during the last two years. By all yardsticks it is a huge chunk of land. According to a recent report in this newspaper --- it quotes official sources --- forests are mainly losing to roads particularly those being constructed under the Prime Minister's Gramin Sadak Yojna (PMGSY). Well, it can't be our case that roads should not be built. We live in a tough terrain and suffer from poor connectivity. We do require an extensive road network for the sake of smooth life and development. What is incomprehensible is why we are not able to compensate for the damage done to green wealth to the extent we eat into it. There is a system of compensatory afforestation. It is a widely accepted practice so that forests remain intact even while we proceed to develop a territory. Actually, our State has sufficient funds available for the purpose. Why are we not able to put them to good use? All proposals for diverting the use of forests are cleared by a high-powered body called the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), which is headed by the Chief Secretary. A perusal of some of its meetings suggests that it does go through the details, is circumspect while taking a decision but stops short of suggesting alternatives to compensate for the trees that will have to be cut. The Committee makes it incumbent upon the user agency not to dump debris on forest land and also sets the imposition of a heavy fine as a pre-condition for any damage caused. There is a clause by which it makes sure that there is no change in the ownership of the forest land "which shall return to the forest department free of any encumbrances when it is no longer required by the user agency and after rehabilitated properly by the user agency."
There does not seem to be any provision, however, by which the FAC seeks or can seek immediate raising of forests at alternative sites. In this context it is good to note that the draft State Forest Policy does have a healthy proposal. It notes that "significant forest area is lost due to diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes" and recommends: "(a) Diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes will be considered only as a last resort, after exploring all other alternatives, and not in a routine manner; and (b) in order to compensate for the loss of forest area on account of diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes, other unutilised state lands appropriate for forestry land-use will be brought under compensatory afforestation."
It puts the issue in a better perspective and goes beyond merely roads: " development processes have resulted in loss of forest area accompanied by an overall degradation of forest crop and forest soils Further, due to continuous and unrestricted grazing, most of the forests in the State are deficient in regeneration. Other factors like forest fires, invasive weeds, unregulated tourist movement and lack of timely silvicultural operations also contribute towards failure of regeneration. Resultantly, more than 40% of forests in the State have slipped into the category of open forests." In brief, we have to reverse the present trend.
As and when there is a development about the twin lakes of Surinsar and Mansar in this region we feel thrilled. This is because it is a rare jewel in our planes which are starved of the likes of it. Gradually more and more people wanting a relief from the hustle and bustle of their urban habitats are visiting it. Only recently there has been reiteration in the State's official circles of the commitments made in the past to not only preserve it but also expand greenery all around it. The Union Government is said to have provided Rs 3 crore for the purpose. Its fascination for the task is evident from the fact that it has got the site included in the Ramsar list thereby joining a global pledge to rescue it as a wetland. Many of us may be aware that Ramsar is the Caspian seaside resort in Iran where a convention was adopted way back in 1971 for saving wetlands all over the world. The Ramsar Convention as the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance is called is the only worldwide environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem: "the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world". The "wise use" has been defined as "the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development". "Wise use" has at its heart the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources, for the benefit of humankind. For us it will be quite relevant and informative to recall the information about Surinsar-Mansar lakes, mentioned as a composite lake, in the Ramsar description: "Wildlife sanctuary, Hindu sacred site, freshwater composite lake, adjoining the Jhelum basin with catchment of sandy conglomeratic soil, boulders and pebbles, Surinsar is rain-fed with permanent discharge and, Mansar is primarily fed by surface run-off and partially by mineralised water through paddy fields, with inflow increasing in rainy season. The lake supports CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention) and IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) red-listed Lissemys punctate (flap-shelled turtle), Aspideretes gangeticu (soft-shelled turtle), and Mansariella lacustris (medusoil colelentrate). This composite lake is high in micro nutrients for which it is an attractive habitat, breeding and nursery ground for migratory waterfowls like Fulica atra (coot), Gallinula chloropus (common moorhen), Podiceps nigricolli (black-necked grebe), Aythya fuligul (medium-sized diving duck) and various Anas (dabbling gucks) species. The site is socially and culturally very important with many temples around owing to its mythical origin from the Mahabharata period. Although the lakes support variety of fishes, fishing is discouraged for religious values. The main threats are increasing visitors, agricultural runoff, bathing and cremation rituals. Conservation is focused on awareness-raising."
It is recognised that wetlands constitute "a resource of great economic, scientific, cultural and recreational value for the community." The above short description tells us that we are in possession of unique aquatic wonder. By all means let us enjoy it. At the same time our approach towards it should be of utmost care. It will serve us only if we treat it with due respect.
IN AND AROUND J&K
BY D SUBA CHANDRAN
While China has been under extreme criticism in the national and regional media, during the recent months, there are lessons that India could learn on certain matters. Especially, in terms of how China has developed its peripheries; today cities like Kashgar, Kunming and Chengdu - capitals of Xinjiang, Yunnan and Sichuan respectively are world class cities. More than the growth in the urban centers of these regional provinces in China, what is amazing to notice, is the policy space - domestic and foreign, that these regions enjoy vis-à-vis Beijing.
Beijing, over the years has invested heavily on the regions, especially in terms of building the regional towns into cities of world class; thanks to the infrastructural investment and better planning, these cities, far away from Beijing, are as colorful as any other major European or American cities. One could see, all the major international business organizations trying to find a space in these cities and expand their operations. Obviously, twenty years back, these cities were not anywhere close to what they are today. How did this change come about in the last two decades?
Three primary reasons could be identified for this transformation. First, a deliberate policy by Beijing, with a long term vision, backed by adequate investment at the ground level. Beijing over the years have made huge investments in all its provincial cities, with an objective, they will become the engines of provincial growth. Of course, there are critics, who will point out, such a strategy was implemented at the cost of rural China. In retrospect, one would agree, that the Chinese plans have succeeded - in making these cities as engines of growth in the provinces. One should visit these cities to understand the change, they have brought about.
Second, Beijing also allowed these provinces to become engines of regional growth. In particular, in terms of economic investment and foreign policy, the provinces were given space to pursue what is in their interest and desirable, as long as they do not affect the overall policy of Beijing. As a result, the provinces, could attract foreign direct investment and even pursue certain strategies vis-à-vis their neighboring regions outside China. For example, both Sichuan and Yunnan were given greater degree of freedom to work with the neighbouring Southeast Asia. Today, in fact, the Chinese foreign policy vis-à-vis Myanmar and the Mekong region, are pursued by these two provinces.
Third, and more importantly, the provinces grabbed the opportunity both vis-à-vis Beijing and the neighbouring regions. Both regions have been extremely successful in improving the infrastrutre, attracting foreign direct investment and more importantly, working with Myanmar and the Mekong region. The Kunming initiative, for example was the brainchild of Yunnan province, and Sichuan wants to improve relations with Myanmar, Bangladesh and India's Northeast. Not only in terms of infrastructure and foreign policy, but also in terms of intellectual investment, these provinces have gone much ahead. In variably, these Universities have specialized centers to study South and South east Asia, economic interactions, and Silk Route. The Sichuan University, even has a programme on Pakistan, when none of the Indian Universities have one!
What can India and J&K learn from this Chinese strategy? First and foremost, New Delhi should try to decentralize its foreign policy and look through India's sub regions - north, northeast and south. Each of these sub-regions have an important role to play vis-à-vis Pakistan and Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Sri Lanka and Maldives respectively. Unfortunately, India's foreign policy is tightly woven from New Delhi's perspective and based very strongly in the South Block. India's Northeast, for long has been demanding a role in New Delhi's "Look-east Policy"; the Seven Sisters play a very crucial role vis-à-vis Bangladesh and Southeast Asia. Perhaps, they also have a major role to play vis-à-vis China, especially along the Stilwell Road.
New Delhi should also learn from Beijing in terms of treating its regions as engines of growth. How many cities in India's sub-regions in the north and northeast are world class cities? Are there any Kashgars, Kunmings and Chengdus in India? For long, in J&K and Northeast, New Delhi, invested more in terms of fire fighting - to address the insurgency situation, than to make them engines of growth. Accountability was not stressed and corruption was indirectly allowed to seep through; investment was more in terms of buying loyalty, than making the region - an engine of growth. Though the state capitals were flooded with funds, it went to fatten certain individuals, than creating world class cities in these regions. As a result, the state capitals even today remain merely a "town", congested, with no real economic opportunity.
Similarly, J&K can play a positive role vis-à-vis the Northern Areas, Tibet, Silk Route and even Central Asia. Is J&K ready and willing to play such a role? How can J&K contribute, and in return gain from such an interaction? Irrespective of New Delhi providing such a role to the regions, it will not hurt the State to make a set of proposals, based on a serious home work in terms of costs, benefits, advantages etc. New Delhi may ultimately see the logic in pursuing such a strategy - providing more space to the sub-regions in framing external relations; it may take place during the next decade or as Obama said in a different context - not during our life time. But it may and hopefully, it does.
J&K should prepare and pressurize New Delhi for such a strategy. Internally, it should start preparing for the intellectual investment. This is where the Universities have a major role to play; with the much experienced and forward looking Vice Chancellors like Prof Varun Sahni, Prof Riyaz Punjabi and Prof Siddiq Wahid in the helm of affairs in three Universities, J&K has a huge potential to make this intellectual investment now. It is important that the Universities invest in studies - from language, religion to economies, not merely in terms of teaching a course for a degree requirement, but from a perspective of knowledge. The State, then will have to make adequate space for this knowledge to be utilized; there is a need for more specialized research institutions and think tanks in J&K, which could attract the students from the Universities and provide policy inputs to the governments - both in the State and in New Delhi.
For long, J&K has become inward looking; historically, it has always been interacting with other regions. It is time, we start reading history and recreate that old magic. And pressurize New Delhi to ensure, that there are world class cities in J&K as well. Before doing that, let us do our home work and make the first investment.
(The author is Deputy Director Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies) New Delhi.
BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
The world economy is showing some signs of revival. But this may be a false start. Globalization has encouraged the developed countries to transfer their advanced technologies to the developing countries. They no longer have absolute control of these technologies. As a result their erstwhile monopoly on advanced goods like computer servers, rockets, nuclear reactors, etc. has evaporated into this air. They are getting some royalty payments from the export of these technologies. But these decline with time. It is necessary to continuously generate new technologies to maintain the stream of income from royalty payments. This does not seem to be happening. In the fifty odd years after the Second World War many decisive technologies were developed. These included rockets, jet airplanes, computers, nuclear reactors, etc. But there has been no such development since the internet in the nineties. Thus they are now receiving fewer royalty payments but they have to compete with hi-tech goods produced in India and China. The low cost of labour provides a deep advantage to these developing countries. Developed countries will not be able to compete with hi-tech India. As a result the problems of the developed countries will only get worse.
This is inherent in the model of free trade on which present model of globalization is built. Globalization has actually made things difficult for the developed countries. It has encouraged them to transfer advanced technologies to the developing countries. For example, American and French companies are excited about transferring advanced nuclear power reactors to India upon the successful culmination of the nuclear agreement. In the result, American economy is fast losing its technological advantage and that country is slipping as seen in the hue and cry over outsourcing.
Globalization removes the comparative advantage of advanced technologies enjoyed by the developed countries till recently. Say the cost of production of nuclear power is Rs 2 per unit against Rs 4 per unit for thermal power. The cost of nuclear energy in the U.S. will be Rs 2. On the other hand India will have to produce thermal power at Rs 4 per unit if the U.S. does not export the technology of nuclear reactors. Consequently the cost of production of goods in India will be more and the U.S. can pay higher wages to its workers to that extent. But companies producing nuclear reactors will be deprived of profits from the export of their reactors. Corporations have an inherent tendency to make profits. They do not examine the long term consequences of their actions. In the result, they will supply advanced nuclear reactors to India, the cost of energy in India will also get reduced to Rs 2 per unit, and the U.S. companies will not be able to compete with India. Cheaper production in India will make it impossible for the U.S. companies to pay higher wages to their workers as they were paying previously.
Free trade has added to the woes of developed countries in another way. The daily wage of an unskilled worker in India is about Rs 200 against Rs 5,000 in the U.S. It has become profitable for U.S. companies to produce in India and export the manufactured goods to their home economy. Wal-Mart is procuring about 80 percent of its goods from China. Production of garments, toys and footwear has practically come to an end in the U.S. Such has happened because China and India have got the winning combination of advanced technologies and cheap labour. This is giving them a comparative advantage in a global marketplace. Wages of American people are under pressure for this reason.
Developed countries were protected against such competition previously. Advanced technologies were closely guarded. For example, India virtually begged for cryogenic engines for its space missions and super computers for its meteorological applications. These were denied at that time. Such restrictions are now passé. Instead Western companies are engaged in a fierce competition as to who exports most advanced nuclear technologies first to India. Developed countries had previously insulated themselves from competition from China and India in two ways-exports of advanced technologies was prohibited and imports of goods were subject to larger import taxes. It was possible for American companies to pay higher wages to their workers behind this protective shield which has since been dismantled.
The U.S. Government made a huge $700 billion stimulus package to bailout U.S. banks from the present crisis. The U.S. Government has indirectly bought these loans from crisis-ridden banks. This package was successful in lessening the immediate pain but it will wholly fail in solving the long term crisis. The stimulus package had has the consequence of artificially maintain high wages in the United States. The cost of production of American companies continues to be more than that of Chinese companies. American companies will therefore not be able to compete with India and China and the resulting downward pressure on wages of American workers will persist.
The solution for developed countries will come from adopting a protectionist stance. Developed countries will be better off if they impose high import tariffs. Such import taxes, when imposed on garments, for example, will lead to high cost of garments in the U.S. and, accordingly, it will become possible for U.S. companies to pay higher wages to the extent of import taxes. Import taxes will also put brakes in the penchant for exporting advanced technologies. Presently American companies are transferring advanced technologies, in part, because they want to import the goods produced. Use of advanced technologies lowers the cost of production in China and enables cheaper import of goods into the U.S. Higher import duties will lead to lesser imports and correspondingly lesser incentive for the export of advanced technologies. It is clear that present model of globalization has reached its end because there is no solace here for workers of the developed countries.
Where did the model go wrong? My reckoning is that there was misplaced trust in continuous development of new technologies. The U.S. left no stone unturned in having the TRIPS agreement included in the WTO. The underlying idea was that gains from exports of advanced technologies will be huge and more than compensate for loss of employment due to cheap imports. The gains were indeed huge-but only as long as new technologies were being developed. The model failed because new technologies failed to appear and the expected benefits from export of new technologies failed to materialize. The assumption that new technologies will continue to appear and provide a continuous stream of incomes to the developed countries has failed leading to collapse of globalization, as we know it.
BY KALYANI SHANKAR
The winter session of Parliament has ended without transacting any business with a frozen relationship between the ruling UPA and the opposition.
Both stuck to their position on the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2 G scam. The opposition and the government disappointed the public by not adopting a give and take policy but the rigidity is not going to pay in the long run as the issues are not going to go away. Chickens always come home to roost. If the political parties do not care about squandering public money there is bound to be more sessions like this.
Why is the government shying away from setting up a JPC? No proper explanation has come from the government or the Congress in this regard.
If the government has hardened its stand, the opposition too is equally adamant on accepting any other option. Reminding of the Bofors days, both are behaving in an uncompromising manner and the loss is to the exchequer, which is estimated to be more than Rs.150 crores.
The Congress has taken a conscious decision, even as it is under pressure from its UPA allies like Trinamool Congress and DMK (Both Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are going for Assembly polls next year) for considering a JPC. They would rather avoid corruption as a poll issue.
Why does the opposition want a JPC and why the government does not? The Parliamentary history shows that the opposition smells a rat when it finds that there is some prima facie case for demanding a JPC. The record shows that the outcome of Parliament's earlier JPCs had been not very successful on both establishing what had happened and punishing the guilty.
The Congress had setup two JPCs and the NDA had its share of two. In 1987, Parliament witnessed uproarious scenes resulting in the formation of a JPC, which was boycotted by the Opposition. Ultimately, the opposition rejected the JPC report and resigned en masse in 1989, a few months before the Lok Sabha polls.
The JPC setup to inquire into the Harshad Mehta stocks scam in 1992 did not succeed in its purpose. While Harshad Mehta was given a four-year sentence in 1999, the recommendations of the JPC were neither accepted in full nor implemented. However the government recovered the money owed by Mehta by selling his shares in the market.
The 2001 Ahmedabad share market scam involving Ketan Parekh resulted in formation of a JPC during the NDA rule. This too recommended sweeping changes in stock market regulations but they were diluted later but the money was recovered. The 2003 Cola JPC headed by NCP chief Sharad Pawar also did not pinpoint the defects in the system.
The government has said no to the JPC demand as most governments did earlier. With a four hundred plus majority the Rajiv Gandhi government learnt a lesson on the Bofors JPC. The usual tactics of the government is to resist the demand as long as possible just as the NDA did on the Kargil coffin scam or Tehelka.
Secondly, the Congress fears that the issue may be kept alive by the opposition for several months when the JPC would look into it and may lead to embarrassing media leaks.
Thirdly, there is an apprehension that a JPC could summon the Prime Minister but this may or may not happen. The JPCs formed on Harshad Mehta case and Ketan Parekh securities scam show that although they wanted to summon the then Prime Ministers, the idea was dropped and instead the Finance Ministers were called.
Fourthly, the real reason could be that the UPA may be in a minority in a JPC because of the strange arithmetic. According to the Congress calculations, in a 30 member JPC, the party may get just 14 members as the UPA has now 259 out of 545 as the others like the SP and the BSP support from outside. In the Rajya Sabha the UPA has only 91 out of 243. Ultimately, the two regional parties SP and BSP may hold the key, which the Congress wants to avoid.
The opposition is getting ready to take the corruption issue to the streets as elections to half a dozen assemblies are scheduled for next year. Secondly, this would give an opportunity for the left, right and centrist parties to come together on an issue which affects the public. They are planning for Bharat bandh, demonstrations and rallies. Thirdly, the opposition can keep the issue alive even in the next budget session and continue to stall the house. Fourthly the opposition argues that a JPC had wider powers than a PAC.
Parliament had been paralyzed on several occasions in all these years but is it good for democracy? There are so many vital issues like floods, price rise, inflation and even some of the laws are not debated. While it is true that the opposition has a right to demonstrate in the house there are other ways of making a point. Increasingly the members seem to believe that walking out and running to the well of the house give them media attention rather than making a good speech. While the Congress is talking of no work no pay concept, it needs a reform to bring in this culture. The government, on the other hand should realise that it is the job of the ruling party to run the house.
The winter session shows that there is lapse on the part of the government as well as opposition as they could have always found a via media. There should be some efforts to run the Parliament at least during the budget session rather than choosing the easy option of freezing it. (IPA)
CORRUPTION IN JUDICIARY
NEED TO SET THE HOUSE IN ORDER
THE Supreme Court's observations on November 26 over the rampant corruption in the Allahabad High Court have kicked off a major controversy in the higher judiciary. The judges of the Allahabad High Court took serious exception to the remarks and appealed to the apex court to expunge them. However, in its order on December 10, the Supreme Court Bench consisting of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra refused to expunge the remarks, maintaining that it had not painted all of them with the same brush. It clarified that there were "many excellent and upright judges" who were keeping the flag of the High Court flying high. Justice Katju, in particular, dismissed the High Court's contention that his observations would seriously damage its reputation and sully its image.
The Bench said the reputation of an institution was damaged when some of its members passed shocking orders and behaved in a totally unacceptable manner. It was referring to a specific ruling by a High Court judge flouting his territorial jurisdiction and allowing a circus owner to hold his show on a dargah ground without hearing the other party, the wakf board. It said it had received several complaints against certain High Court judges relating to their integrity. The "uncle judge" syndrome in this court was equally disturbing and the Allahabad High Court, including its Lucknow Bench, needed house cleaning, it said.
However, the image of the judiciary has taken such a beating today that all courts, including the apex court, need to do serious introspection. The onus is much more on the Supreme Court itself because it is probing mega scams like the 2G spectrum allocation, the Niira Radia tapes, Mr Ratan Tata's petition on protecting his right to privacy and the Commonwealth Games. The apex court has always been questioning any infraction or infirmity in the system, its pro-active role in Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas' controversial appointment and Dr Subramanyam Swamy's petition against former Telecom Minister A. Raja, to mention a few. When it is not sparing even those holding high constitutional posts like the Prime Minister, it is expected to be above suspicion. Moreover, after former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan alleged that eight of the 16 former Chief Justices of India were corrupt, his advocate son, Prashant Bhushan, filed another affidavit in the Supreme Court listing alleged instances of corruption against six of them. Though the Supreme Court is currently seized of this petition, the complaint as such reflects poorly on the apex court's image. Nonetheless, as it still commands people's respect, it should take appropriate measures to repair the damage caused to its reputation.
NEW HIGH IN INDIA-EU TIES
THEY HAVE MUCH TO GAIN FROM COOPERATION
INDIA and the European Union (EU) have had great expectations from each other for some time. Both can contribute substantially to each other's economic growth, provided there are comprehensive agreements covering trade and other areas. Viewed from this perspective, last week's India-EU summit in Brussels gave sufficient indications that they were confidently moving ahead on the road to realising their broader goals. The most interesting development was the disclosure that the prolonged discussions that began in 2007 on the proposed Free Trade and Investment Agreement could be concluded by March-April next year. The joint declaration issued last Friday made it clear that the "contours of a final package" have been agreed upon. Hopefully, the issues related to child labour, human rights, climate change, etc, will no longer work as deal breakers. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out, India's concerns are being addressed with proper safeguards in the agreement to ensure that marginal farmers and small investors in this country are not adversely affected.
There is also hope that the issue relating to the free movement of professionals and other people will be sorted out soon. The EU, which has been reluctant to end its protectionist policies in this regard, appears to have finally realised that its 27 member-countries, too, will be the gainers along with India. If skilled and professionally qualified people come to work in the EU countries or set up shop there, they will be contributing to the economic growth of the countries concerned. In any case, the time has come when protectionist policies cannot be defended on any pretext.
The EU can make enormous gains by investing in India's fast-expanding sectors like infrastructure, high technology, research and education. Another area in which the EU can benefit a lot from India's experience is fighting terrorism. During the wide-ranging discussions Dr Manmohan Singh had with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, the two sides agreed to strengthen their cooperation not only for combating terrorism but also having more cultural exchanges to increase people-to-people contacts for better understanding of each other's concerns and aspirations. All this makes one believe that their relations are set to reach a new high.
JUSTICE DELAYED ONCE AGAIN
PCS OFFICERS GET RELIEF AFTER EIGHT YEARS
THE Punjab and Haryana High Court has reinstated 17 PCS judicial officers eight years after their selection was questioned in the wake of the cash-for-jobs case. The then Chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission, Ravinderpal Singh Sidhu, had been charged with making appointments for extraneous considerations. The shady goings-on went unchecked during the previous term of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The scandal was unearthed in 2002 by the next Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, who turned a crusader against corruption, exposed the PPSC's real face, and proceeded against the Badals too. But, to what result? The dilatory judicial system has let him down.
Since children of some of the judges were alleged to be involved in the scandalous selections the High Court appointed a committee of four judges to go into the murk affairs of the PPSC. The committee found fault with the appointments of PCS judicial officers made in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and recommended the termination of their services. What has been found wrong on the administrative side has not been deemed so on the judicial side. That is why a Full Bench of the High Court has set aside the termination orders and given back jobs to the officers they were entitled to in the first place.
Has justice been done in this case? Eight years is a long time, especially for the young selected officers on the threshold of starting a career. Quite naturally, many of them have moved on with life. So many innocent youngsters have suffered heavily for the wrongs of one discredited individual, who got the top post because he was close to a Chief Minister. Has the political leadership learnt any lessons? Fingers have again been pointed at the overhauled, Congress government-appointed PPSC's selection of doctors. The Haryana Public Service Commission's PCS selections too have come under judicial scrutiny. The rot starts at the top.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN TIBET
INDIA SHOULDN'T KEEP QUIET
BY KULDIP NAYAR
CAMP Hale at Colorado in the US is a long way from Tibet. But what joins them together is the training of some 2000 Tibetan warriors who have been taught the art of guerrilla warfare to fight the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China. The warriors have failed to deflect China from consolidating its position in the Buddhist kingdom which it annexed in 1947.
Yet they have not given up fighting. They continue to put up resistance here and there and harass at times the Chinese soldiers even at Lhasa, Tibet's capital. Beijing sees the hands of New Delhi in the independence war that the people in Tibet have waged against China. Beijing is more convinced about New Delhi's hand after Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told China the other day that Tibet was like Kashmir, "our core problem". The two governments discussed last week the delineation of the border but Tibet appears to have been settled as far as New Delhi is concerned.
But the Tibetans nourish a grievance against India, which accepted China's suzerainty over Tibet after the British left India in 1947. Their complaint is that New Delhi declared China's suzerainty over Tibet without consulting its people. This is also the complaint of the Dalia Lama, who took refuge in India in 1954 when he could not tolerate the Communist shoes trampling upon the spiritual and traditional ways of his people. He, too, believes that since India had no locus standi in Tibet, it had no right to accept China's suzerainty over it.
Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, could see that the Dalai Lama was not safe in Tibet and, therefore, sent Indian officials to receive him on the border. This was a great gesture which was applauded throughout the world. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leaders accompanying him, too, saw in India a country which gave shelter to the persecuted in the world.
But it became apparent to them soon that for good relations with China they, particularly the Dalai Lama, would have to face a bad time. He was placed at Dharamsala, a tiny hill station in Himachal Pradesh, and told not to have any contact with the outside world without permission from New Delhi.
A similar fiat was issued on his pronouncements. Understandably, Nehru was going through a bad patch with Chinese Prime Minister Chou-en-Lai, who talked of Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai but forcibly built a road at Aksai-Chin, part of Ladakh, to connect Sin-Kaing with Tibet. It was Beijing's betrayal which Nehru tried to cover up, lest the common man in India should get disillusioned with the build-up of friendly relationship with China that Nehru had done.
But even during the 1962 war with China, initiated by Beijing, Nehru did not utter a word about Tibet. Nor did he draw the world's attention to the ethnic cleansing going on in Tibet. And that has been the policy of all his successor governments. At times, the Dalai Lama has felt "suffocated" and has complained against it to New Delhi. But there has been no change in its policy even when Beijing is hauling thousands of Chinese to Tibet to settle them there to change the complexion and convictions of the population.
A lonely Dalai Lama has pointed out that the centuries old Buddhist culture in Tibet was being destroyed with the influx of Chinese. But except for odd protests here and there, nothing concerted or concrete has come out. And the Chinese are squeezing out even the semblance of lofty religious practices that the Tibetans have defiantly followed.
Washington is said to be willing to appeal to the conscience of the people in the world to save the centuries' old culture in Tibet. But how far it is willing to go is not known. After all, President Obama kept the Dalai Lama waiting to placate Beijing. Even when he met him, he looked like going over an exercise. The strong Chinese economy gives more laughter to the US citizen than a few drops of tears that the irking of conscience might do.
There are continuous reports of China nibbling at our territory. India is annoyingly quiet. But when Beijing puts its claim on Arunachal and when the visa for the people of Jammu and Kashmir is not stamped but given on a separate stapled paper, India should introspect why it accepted China's suzerainty over Tibet without getting any assurance on the future. Today it is like an occupied territory, without the Tibetans having any say in governance. Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama is thinking of retiring at a time when he is needed the most to put pressure on China to honour at least the religious rights of the Tibetans.
Essentially, it is India which has to come out of its make-belief world and realise that good relations with China do not depend upon the curbs on the Dalai Lama or the silence over what is happening in Tibet. Beijing would probably respect New Delhi more if it were to find later saying openly what it feels about Tibet. Beijing should also realise that 80 per cent of India's population, the Hindu, has always considered Tibet as part of the Kailash, the mountains where Lord Shiva rests. The Hindus have religious ties with Budhhism and see in the Dalai Lama a religious head.
No doubt, India accepted China's suzerainty over Tibet in the wake of departure by the British because that was how they dealt with Lhasa. After more than five decades New Delhi cannot question the suzerainty but it can at least raise a voice against the atrocities committed in Tibet and the recurring violation of human rights.
New Delhi should realise that a suzerain is a ruler or a government that exercises political control. But a suzerain cannot claim the hold over the way the Tibetans want to live and the religion they want to follow. When China is changing the very complexion of the population in Tibet and when the ethnic population is being annihilated, it is not suzerainty but an act of suppression by a dictatorial regime. Power can eliminate anything, more so tiny Tibetan protest, but it cannot silence the humanity over the extinction of people, however small in number.
When India, with all its traditions of tolerance, buttressed by Mahatma Gandhi's example of dignified defiance, fails to speak out, it only proves the dictum: the weakest is pushed to the wall. New Delhi can still protest against the misrule in Tibet.
MIND YOUR BUSINESS
BY CHETANA VAISHNAVI
IN a premier institute the entrance to a large hallway has the sign "Mind Your Head". Every time I read it I wonder what it really means. I do not believe it has been written to warn any unusually tall person that he would hit his head, because the ceiling is really not that low. If it means to say, "Your mind is your head!" then a punctuation mark would have been needed. Therefore, it can be construed as a request to control one's arguing capability after one enters the hallway leading to lecture theatres where brainstorming sessions take place.
In short, one should mind one's head and not enter into any irrelevant debate, thereby implying that we have to mind our own business.
We may or may not mind our own business. But come to think of it, our mind is our own business. We all speak of our mind, yet we do not know what the mind is. The 19th century satirist, Ambrose Bierce, defined mind as a curious form of matter secreted by the brain. The dictionary meaning of mind is human consciousness that originates in the brain and is manifested especially in thoughts, perception, emotion, will, memory and imagination.
Thus a mind is an organ of intelligence, closely associated with the brain, though many people believe it is same as the brain. We know that without brain the mind cannot exist. Does it mean that mind is synonymous with the soul?
We have oft and again been told to keep our mind open. However Rick Warren says: "Some people are so open minded, their brains fall out". We know by now that minds are like parachutes which only function when open. But Terry Pratchett believes that the trouble with having an open mind is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it. And once things are put into it, you will start hallucinating.
Hallucinations are experiences that confuse reality and imaginations. All this results in abnormal emotions. We must remember that emotions are not made by the mind, but they can colour or cloud its operation.
We do mindless things when we fail to apply our mind and people say we are out of our mind. But one can bear in mind that experience is the name we give to our mistakes. We must thank God for being kind enough to give us a mind. Mind is something that is exclusively ours and no one can fathom it. A psychologist may believe that he can read your mind. But very soon he will change his mind about this, because mind you, your mind belongs only to you. Oh yeah! Nobody can really read it till you speak it out! And I am sure you are no blonde.
For a blonde becomes speechless after she speaks out her mind!
TODAY MARKS THE NINTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE HORRIFIC ATTACK ON PARLIAMENT WHICH SPARKED OFF INDIA'S ATTEMPT AT MILITARY COERCION VIS-A-VIS PAKISTAN. BUT THE LESSONS LEARNT SEEM TO HAVE BEEN IGNORED. LACK OF POLITICAL WILL AND A COHERENT DECISION MAKING PROCESS ARE STILL LACKING, THEREBY UNDERMINING THE NATION'S CREDIBILITY
INDIA'S first attempt at military coercion achieved only limited success. Operation Parakram, launched in the wake of the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament, was the first full-scale mobilisation since the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It began on December 15, 2001 after the Cabinet Committee on Security's (CCS) decision and was completed on January 3, 2002. It finally ended on October 16, 2002 when CCS belatedly recognised that the law of diminishing returns had been operative for many months already. In a face-saving move, CCS declared that troops were being "strategically relocated" and constant vigil would be maintained, especially in J&K.
Though the 10-month deployment ended without a conflict, the two nations came close to war on at least two occasions. The first window of opportunity came in the first week of January 2002 soon after the Indian Army had completed its slow-paced mobilisation. In the snow-bound areas of J&K the army had relatively few options to launch offensive operations across the LoC, but in the plains of Punjab and Rajasthan the climatic conditions were ideal.
The United States and other Western governments, however, stepped in with astute diplomatic manoeuvres resulting in General Musharraf's ashen-faced commitment in a nationally telecast speech on January 12, 2002, that Pakistan "will not permit any terrorist activity from its soil". India backed-off, but troops remained in place in their deployment areas on the international border (IB) and the three strike corps remained poised in their concentration areas.
The second opportunity presented itself after a terrorist attack on the family quarters in the Indian army garrison at Kaluchak near Jammu on May 14, 2002. The summer weather was conducive for offensives across the LoC in Kashmir Valley as well as the Jammu division south of the Pir Panjal mountains. In Punjab and Rajasthan, though the 40-degree plus temperatures were hard on man and machine, the disadvantage was common to both the sides and major offensive action was possible. By this time the Pakistan army had also mobilised and was poised in defence. Despite high-pitched rhetoric and extensive saber-rattling, the government did not approve military strikes across the border.
Slow Pace of Strike Corps Mobilisation
While the formations responsible to defend the border - "holding" or "pivot" corps - were ready for battle within 72 to 96 hours of receiving orders, the three "strike corps" (1, 2 and 21 Corps) took almost three weeks to complete their mobilisation because their fighting echelons are based at long distances from the border. Hence, it was only in the first week of January 2002 that major offensive action could have been undertaken by the land forces.
This time the mobilisation was total. All leave was cancelled and the soldiers re-called for active duty. Almost all training establishments were closed down. Extensive operational familiarisation exercises were conducted and operational plans war-gamed, updated and refined. Ammunition trains brought reserve stocks to forward ammunition points. In the first week of January 2002, expectation about the impending offensive action had reached fever pitch and morale was at an all time high. However, the troops had no way of knowing that the national aim was to practice coercive diplomacy.
The army also addressed shortcomings in training that initial mobilisation had revealed. There were unacceptably large casualties and it was officially stated that till March 15, 2002, the army had lost 176 men in the operation due to mishaps in minefields, mishandling ammunition and explosives and traffic accidents. The defence minister reportedly stated in Parliament, that up to July 2003, the army suffered 798 casualties. It clearly emerged that the army's mine laying methodology and training and the system adopted for marking minefields to keep civilians and cattle away needed substantial improvement.
The cost of sustaining Operation Parakram was reported to be have been pegged by India's National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) at Rs 7 crore a day. This works out to approximately Rs 2,100 crore over 10 months and, presumably, does not include the cost of mobilisation and de-induction. The minister told Parliament in October 2002 that Operation Parakram had cost Rs 8,000 crore, excluding Rs 300 crore compensation paid to people in border states where troops were deployed.
Lessons Learned - and not Learned
Perhaps the most important lesson emerging from the standoff was the inordinately long time that strike corps needed to mobilise for war. By the time these elite formations were ready to deliver a massive punch, the international community had prevailed upon India to give General Musharraf an opportunity to prove his sincerity in curbing cross-border terrorism. These strike corps are designed to penetrate deep into Pakistan and run the risk of crossing Pakistan's nuclear threshold early during an offensive campaign.
The lack of coherent politico-military decision-making was clearly evident. It is not at all clear whether any military objectives were actually assigned by the political leadership. Asked whether the deployment was aimed at attacking Pakistan, the then army chief Gen S. Padmanabhan, said, "There were many aims, which were fulfilled." However, he also said, "Whenever there is a situation calling for the army's help, the latter's role should be well defined to avoid confusion."
Gen V. P. Malik, General Padmanabhan's predecessor wrote in the Tribune: "Despite speeches and international commitments . Musharraf's efforts to rein in Jihadi groups remained cosmetic and tactical Infiltration across the LoC and other ISI operations continue There is no let up in terrorist acts " When mobilisation began, Vijayanta tanks of 1970s vintage, artillery guns that were even older and many other obsolete equipment were in frontline service. Analysts pegged the overall Indo-Pak combat force ratio at approximately 1.15:1.0 in India's favour during the Operation. Speaking as an MP in the Rajya Sabha less than a week after mobilisation began, former army chief Gen Shankar Roychowdhury blamed the "recurrent political controversies on military procurement in the last 15 years" for having "crippled the army's modernisation programme." Sadly, not much has changed in the last decade despite well-intentioned reforms in defence procurement procedures. Inordinate delays in decision-making and bureaucratic red tape continue to mar acquisitions, a large chunk of the defence budget is still surrendered year after year, large equipment shortages continue to persist and a CDS is yet to be appointed.
Strategic analysts in India were concerned at the adverse impact of the lack of resolute action on the credibility of India's deterrence. Former air chief A. Y. Tipnis said at that time: "We have shown enormous patience, now it is time to show we have resolve too. Inaction is damaging our credibility; people have begun to believe India incapable of taking any action." Brahma Chellaney wrote: "The harsh truth is that the government played a game of bluff not just with Pakistan but also with its own military When a nation enjoys credibility, it can usually achieve its objectives with a mere threat to use force. However, when there are serious credibility problems, even modest objectives are difficult to accomplish. Vajpayee ended up practising coercive non-diplomacy."
The aim of politico-military coercion is to induce a change in an adversary's policies and actions through a credible threat of devastating punitive action in case of non-compliance. While trans-LoC terrorism from Pakistan continued, there was a definite reduction in its intensity. On the other hand, Pakistan steadfastly refused to either terminate the activities of the LeT and the JeM, detain their leaders and block their funds or to hand over even one of the 20 terrorists India had demanded. Training camps and other facilities for terrorists also continued to operate in POK. Hence, the government's aim of launching Operation Parakram was only partially achieved and the credibility of India's coercive diplomacy and military superiority was seriously undermined. Also, the opportunity to strike at the roots of terrorism in POK was once again squandered. Lack of political will was again demonstrated after the terror strikes in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, despite credible evidence that these had been launched by the LeT at the behest of the Pakistani army and the ISI.
As long as the Pakistani army continues to exercise a tight stranglehold over Pakistan's polity, unbridled control over its nuclear weapons, retains its unjustifiable size of 500,000 personnel in uniform and enjoys American patronage as a frontline state with MNNA (major non-NATO ally) status - which brings with it new military equipment, loan waivers and the rescheduling of loan payments on easier terms over longer periods - it will have no incentive to move towards genuine peace with India. The Kashmir issue is only the symptom of a much larger fundamental malaise. The Southern Asian region is likely to continue to witness periodic bouts of hostility between India and Pakistan, tempered by short interludes of tentative peace.
The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi
OPERATION Parakram was the second major military standoff between India and Pakistan since both countries achieved nuclear weapons capability in 1998. The 1999 Kargil conflict had been the first. The episode had also focused the world's attention on the possibility of a nuclear conflict in South Asia, and the impact any conflict would have on US operations in Afghanistan.
Following Indian deployments, Pakistan moved a large numbers of troops from the border with Afghanistan, where they had been trying to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, to the Indo-Pak border. In late December, both countries moved ballistic missiles close to the border, and mortar and artillery fire was reported along the LoC. By January 2002, India had mobilised around 500,000 troops and three armored divisions. Pakistan responded by deploying around 120,000 troops. This was the largest buildup in the subcontinent since the 1971 war.
Tensions decreased somewhat following Mushraff's January 2002 speech, but shot up again in May, when three terrorists killed 34 people iin an army camp near Jammu. On May 18, India expelled Pakistan's High Commissioner. The same day, thousands of villagers fled Pakistani artillery fire in Jammu sector. Separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone was assassinated on May 21, and the next day Prime Minister Vajpayee warned troops to prepare for a "decisive battle." Beginning May 24, Pakistan carried out a series of missile tests. On June 7, an Indian UAV was reportedly shot down near Lahore in Pakistan.
Alarmed at the possibility of a nuclear war, the US asked all its non-essential citizens to leave India on May 31. A visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin could not mediate a solution. But by mid-June, the Indian government accepted Musharraf's pledge to end militant infiltration into India, and on June 10, restrictions on over-flights from Pakistan were removed by India. Indian warships were also recalled from deployment from the vicinity of the Pakistani coast.
While tensions remained high throughout the next few months, both governments began easing the situation in Kashmir. By October 2002, India and Pakistan had begun to demobilise their troops along their border and in November 2003 both countries agreed to ceasefire along the Kashmir border.
DIGVIJAY'S CYNICAL WRONG TURN
IN HIS LATEST COMMENT ON KARKARE, EVEN HIS SUPPORTERS WILL SEE A WHIFF OF POLITICS RISING OUT OF REGURGITATION OF AN OLD CONTROVERSY
Whatever one's views about Julian Assange and the damage done to international diplomacy through his mega-anarchist notion of a boundary-less world, the WikiLeaks disclosures have done one thing: they have broken the myth about the clue-less American diplomat. Cables like the one about American diplomats being asked to spy on credit card numbers of fellow colleagues at the UN may have revealed the seamy underside of American diplomacy, but, for the most part, the picture that emerges from the leaked diplomatic traffic is one that bursts the stereotype of the ignorant, arrogant American blustering around with little idea of local sensitivities. The US State Department has certainly been given a bloody nose but most seasoned international observers agree that the language in the cables such as the one about the Chechen President gifting gold bars at a drunken wedding celebration in Dagestan largely show intelligent professionals doing what they are supposed to be doing: reporting on what is happening around them, striking deals and pursuing their national interest.
In the same vein, former US Ambassador Mulford's reported December 2008 cable about Digvijay Singh and the Congress party's "crass political opportunism" in flirting with what he called the "outlandish views" about a possible right-wing Hindu conspiracy to kill Hemant Karkare during the 26/11 attacks, is absolutely spot on. As George Bush's appointee in New Delhi, Mulford was always distrusted by some in the political establishment, especially by those on the Left. Ironically, his cables on then Minority Affairs Minister A R Antulay and Digvijay Singh's attempts to politicise what was a national tragedy have leaked in a week when Digvijay Singh has again cynically reopened that can of worms.
Home Minister Chidambaram had categorically denied the allegations inParliament but as Mulford noted at the time, "the entire episode demonstrates that the Congress Party will readily stoop to the old caste/religious-based politics if it feels it is in its interest". That is the crux of the matter. The Ambassador's assessment would arguably hold true for any other political party in the country as well, but in this context, you don't have to be a supporter of Hindutva politics to see this for what it is.
Digvijay Singh insists that in his latest comments this week, he was not talking about Karkare's killing, simply about a conversation he had with the police officer earlier on that fateful day. Even if that were so, why raise it now? Even his most ardent supporters will see a cynical whiff of politics rising out of this regurgitation of an old controversy. Is the Congress trying to divert attention from the scams that have paralysed its government?
Ironically, Digvijay Singh's latest intervention also comes in a week when the Congress has just announced a pool of 18 leaders, who alone are authorised to speak for it on TV debates. The party is trying to control its messaging in the wake of the damage done by the telecom scam but Digvijay Singh has long been above the usual rules.
His proximity to the Gandhi family and his role as a confidante to the party's heir apparent has often given him a leeway that others don't have. He has, at times, acted as a weighty conduit to float trial balloons that others couldn't. At the height of the Naxal debate, for instance, Mr Singh wrote a signed newspaper article criticising Home Minister Chidambram's tough-minded approach, even calling him rigid and intellectually arrogant. It allowed the Congress to at once appear accommodating and to those voters in the tribal regions it thought were getting alienated while at the same time continuing with the militaristic approach that seemed suitable in Delhi.
The problem with this kind of politics of being ruling party and opposition rolled into one is that the time for it has passed. It might have been smart politics when the Opposition was a mess. Not now when the Parliament is logjammed and government is embattled amidst a host of corruption scandals.
If the Congress wants to regain the initiative, it should be focusing on concerted action to remove the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the Manmohan Singh government, not a diversionary tactic that is calculated to open a new front and divert attention.
Digvijay Singh is a consummate politician who chooses his words carefully. The Raja of Raghogargh knows exactly what he is doing with this cynical manoeuvre over Karkare's death. Such guerrilla tactics may even have limited tactical value in cynical political terms. Strategically, though, it shows that instead of learning some lessons in humility in the past few days especially after its Bihar debacle the Congress is not above toying again with older, discredited forms of politics to get out of a tough spot. The faster it gets back to the key issues confronting it, the better.
HAS INDIA YIELDED WITHOUT SECURING ANY BENEFIT?
Was it poor strategy or smart tactics? India's eagerness to reveal its hand at the global climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, has angered critics at home, and the government must explain its flip-flops to carry conviction. The "Cancun package" is the outcome of an unhappy compromise, even though it reiterates the commitment of all to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. But it sets no binding targets or deadlines for doing so. This, like most other contentious, yet crucial, issues, has been left to be decided at the next summit under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) to be held in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 or the subsequent one in 2012. Besides, it does not leave anybody wiser about the future of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change which expires in 2012. The impression one gets from the text of the agreement is that the Kyoto accord, which nailed developed countries to mandatory and time-bound emission cuts, is as good as dead. It is on the deathbed of the Kyoto Protocol that the United States has breathed life into the Cancun package!
The Cancun package has also reaffirmed some other commitments made at previous climate summits, and awaiting fulfilment, such as raising $100 billion annually by 2020 for a green climate fund to help less developed countries adapt to climate change and limiting rise in average world temperatures to below 2° Celsius over pre-industrial revolution levels. The package additionally provides for sharing of clean energy technologies by developed countries with developing ones and protecting tropical forests which serve as useful carbon sinks. The Kyoto Protocol had provided for carbon trading under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to take care of such objectives. The new text is quiet on the fate of this arrangement. Critics of the Cancun package will see it as a victory of rich industrial nations over developing and emerging economies, while its supporters will see it as a pragmatic compromise. While commitments have been undertaken on emission reductions, targets are to be determined voluntarily and announced later. Significantly, domestic actions taken to fulfil non-binding pledges are also to be subjected to international scrutiny. Developed countries have secured a breather by securing parity with the developing countries in this regard. They will also take on only voluntary, rather than globally mandated, emission reductions.
The change in India's stance began when it agreed to join the effort to cap temperature increase at 2° Celsius and went ahead to announce voluntary domestic emission reduction targets, further consenting to global supervision of its voluntary actions even if these are not supported by external financial or technical assistance. The biggest and the most surprising climb-down from the stated position came when Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced that India was willing to take on "binding commitments in appropriate legal form". Though this was sought to be sold to domestic critics as a mere nuancing of an existing position, it may well have given away India's right to take independent decisions on climate change policies without getting any concession from developed countries in return.
BANKERS' ARRESTS AND FALLOUT
WHY SHOULD ANYONE PAY ANY SPEED MONEY?
The arrests of several senior public sector bank officials for alleged graft do not appear to reveal any systemic flaws in the way the institutions in question operate. The relevant loans were disbursed by following due procedure and have not turned doubtful. But this itself reveals a deeper systemic flaw. Why do people have to be paid under the counter, if they in fact have been, to do what is right and in the right way? If public money is lost, then that is wrong. But if speed money has to be paid for public machinery to deliver what it is supposed to, then that is extremely disturbing. What is worse is the way the whole matter has been handled. There is a chance that it may end up making decision-makers in public sector financial institutions even more risk averse than they are now, thus creating further disincentives for large-ticket loans to be sanctioned. If excessively large commissions have to be paid by borrowers to loan syndication firms to get quick credit when their business so demands and when such loans are within the institutions' prudential norms, then there is something wrong with the system. If nothing else, it means that the institutions are losing out on a premium they could have charged for responding to the needs of business with necessary speed.
By all accounts, the level of wrongdoing does not appear to be excessive in relation to the total volume of loans disbursed. Even under the best possible circumstances, there will be a minimum of wrongdoing in administrations run by fallible human beings. The remedy for that exists and is routinely followed. The question is: were the simultaneous arrests and the attendant publicity out of proportion to the alleged level of wrongdoing? This is important at a time when the 2G investigations are on and there is a feeling among a section that attempts are underway to divert public attention from the real thing. This section holds that there appears to be more than one red herring around be it the selective leaking of the Radia tapes or the bankers' arrests followed by their quick release on bail. If sanctioning authorities become unduly risk averse, then credit disbursement suffers, with clear negative economic consequences. The existence, and robustness, of loan syndication firms is itself a consequence of the risk-averse approach of officials. They are wary of going out and canvassing for business as they fear the fallout on them if such business comes under a cloud in the future. So firms, which are effectively middlemen or brokers bringing borrowers and lenders together, have a window of opportunity to do good business which also makes the system more efficient. To seek to ban them will be as pointless as the effort to ban middlemen in defence deals after the Bofors episode. There can be a provision to register them to keep dubious or lightweight elements out of the business, but that is unlikely to deliver any significant benefits. The long arm of the law can and should keep a watchful eye on the receipt of illegal gratification, but doubts will be raised when there appears to be considerable zeal in going to town over such action.
REVITALISING GOVERNMENT AND REGAINING PEOPLE'S TRUST ARE CRITICAL TO RESTORING FAITH IN INSTITUTIONS
Never have these words of William Yeats rung more true than in these scoundrel times:
Turning and turning in the
widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intens
Yeats: The Second Coming
Last week, the committee to select next year's Padma award winners met in New Delhi. It remains to be seen how many businessmen will make it to that list this coming year. Two decades after J R D Tata became the first and the only businessman so far to be conferred a Bharat Ratna, India's business leaders have come under a cloud. An atmosphere of suspicion and despair has gripped India Inc. This was best exemplified by the words of HDFC chairman Deepak Parikh who said in a TV interview over the weekend, "Everything that was going so well a few months ago seems to have suddenly snapped."
He described the prevailing political and business environment in India as "tough times". He may well have used that famous phrase of Lillian Hellman, describing another era of despair, rumour-mongering, back-stabbing, mutual suspicion, fear and cynicism the McCarthy era in American politics "scoundrel times". Truth, wrote Hellman, "made you a traitor as it often does in a time of scoundrels". (Scoundrel Time, 1976.)
But, this is no time for despair. In crisis, there is an opportunity. Once the wasted winter session of Parliament comes to an end, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can still retrieve the situation and reclaim the ground fast slipping from under his feet.
The falconer must regain his voice. The blood-dimmed tide must turn. The innocent must resurface. The best must regain conviction. The passion of the worst exposed. Things need not fall apart, if the Centre can hold.
In days to come, a three-track approach will have to be followed for the current state of drift to end. First, the processes of justice and administrative action already set in motion will have to move forward and come to their logical conclusion. Many issues are now in front of the judiciary, the Supreme Court, and these will have to be addressed and judgements delivered. The sooner this is done the better. Delayed justice can harm the body politic.
It has been a long time since the politics of the country has been shaped by the judiciary. The verdicts the courts give can alter the medium-term course of Indian politics. The highest court of the land must demonstrate wisdom and maturity in arriving, as soon as it can, at its view on an assortment of issues relating to government policy which can impact on the nation's political stability.
Second, there are a series of administrative decisions waiting to be taken which can have the effect of either re-affirming public trust in government or further weakening it. Various institutions of governance have come under intense and almost coordinated attack. Public faith in these institutions has to be re-secured. Who becomes the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), what happens to the "tainted" heads of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and Prasar Bharati will be closely watched. If news reports that incumbent Sebi chief C B Bhave will be given another two-year term, fulfilling the aim of giving a five-year term to such offices (since Mr Bhave has completed only three years), that CVC P J Thomas and Prasar Bharati CEO B S Lalli will voluntarily step down are indeed true, then public faith in three important institutions will be restored.
Going forward, the government must inject a greater degree of transparency into the appointment of such functionaries, and regulators, rewarding competence more than loyalty. The central government and the Prime Minister's Office are in desperate need of revitalisation.
This is an administrative agenda that can be immediately acted upon and would have a huge positive impact on public sentiment, altering for the better the prevailing environment of deep cynicism, especially in the media.
Finally, the Manmohan Singh ministry needs a major reshuffle. Rarely in a democracy do ministers remain in the same job for such long periods of time as has been the case with the United Progressive Alliance government.
That a reshuffle has direct relevance to the agenda of good governance is now amply demonstrated by l'affaire Raja-Radia. The sum and substance of the Radia telephone tapes of May 2009 is that there was both an attempt to retain Mr Raja in the same ministry and a simultaneous attempt to prevent Mr Dayanidhi Maran from returning to that ministry. The best thing that Prime Minister Singh could have done in that fateful week of May 2009 would have been to name someone with impeccable credentials, a young, fresh face, a politician with a clean record, say someone like Sachin Pilot, for the job!
Constant reshuffle of ministers, with stability of tenure at the level of secretaries to the department, chosen on the basis of their record and competence, can easily reduce the scope for subversion of government by vested interests.
A radical reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers, moving all those who have been in one ministry for more than a period of two years, dropping those who have acquired a reputation for repeated wrongdoing or sheer incompetence, even as realpolitik considerations are not entirely ignored (for they have to be considered to ensure the stability and durability of a coalition) would make a huge difference to how UPA-II is perceived.
IS BAMBOO A TREE OR A GRASS?
IF BAMBOO IS A TREE OR TIMBER, IT BELONGS TO FOREST DEPT; IF IT IS A GRASS, THEN IT WOULD BE CLASSIFIED AS A MINOR FOREST PRODUCE
The definition is contested as the answer has immense economic implications. If bamboo is a tree or timber, it belongs to the forest department and can be auctioned to the paper and pulp industry, often at throwaway rates. If it is a grass, then it would be classified as a minor forest produce and people would have the right to cut bamboo for sale or for value addition by making furniture or baskets.
The Indian Forest Act 1927, the Bible for forest managers in the country, says "forest produce" is what is found in or brought from a forest. This includes trees, leaves and plants that are not trees. Furthermore, trees include palms and bamboo. Timber is defined as trees, fallen or felled. Over the years, foresters have interpreted these provisions to mean that bamboo, being a tree, is timber and, therefore, under the control of the department. The legacy passed down from generations of forest managers has meant that this grass-like tree is not even included in the list of minor forest produce.
The minor produce of forest is everything valuable that is not timber. This produce, from tendu used in beedi manufacture to lac resin and tamarind, is big bucks business. It is also the main source of earning a living for the people who live in and around the country's forests. The opportunity is to use this ecological wealth for building economic well-being of the people, mostly poor, in these rich regions. But forest policy has worked deliberately to destroy this option.
So, over the past years, different state governments have nationalised different produce and differently handed them over to either federations or contractors or corporations to collect and sell. People who live in the forests have no right to sell the nationalised minor forest produce other than to governments. They are wage labourers and collectors for contractors and forest departments.
In 1996, the Central Act for panchayats in Scheduled V (tribal) areas was passed. It directed state governments to ensure that in these areas gram sabha (the village assembly) would be given the "powers of ownership of minor forest produce". But even before the ink on the Act was dry, the resource battle was lost again.
First, the forest department objected, saying PESA (as this Act is known) did not define what constitutes minor forest produce. As Sanjay Upadhyay, a lawyer working in this area, points out, this is when the Indian Forest Act does not define minor forest produce. Secondly, states made rules to bypass these provisions.
The fight for the minor produce does not stop here.
In 2006, the Forest Rights Act (FRA) for the first time defined minor forest produce as including bamboo and tendu, and many other things. It also gave tribals and other traditional forest dwellers the "right of ownership, access to collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce, which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries".
Now the fat is in the fire. Tribals and other traditional forest dwellers have the right to both collect and sell bamboo.
What happens now? As my colleagues found when they traversed the country's tribal districts, the right exists only on paper. Of the 2.9 million claims settled under the FRA, only 1.6 per cent pertained to community rights. Worse, virtually no right of any community has been recognised for minor forest produce. They noted the missing right was deliberate. Governments across the tribal districts ensured no information was ever provided to people that this right was available. The technique was simple: the form issued to people to ask for rights left out this provision.
Two villages did ask. Menda Lekha and Marda in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra asked for the community right over their forest and its produce. The right was recognised. But as Mohan Hirabai Hiralal, an activist working with the villagers, will tell you, this legal right is still not worth the paper it is written on. The forest department now says that people can indeed have control over the sale of the bamboo, but they cannot take it out of the forest. The transit rules for forest produce do not allow for transportation of any produce unless it has been "authorised". The state forest department is busy inserting provisions to say that people have rights over the minor forest produce, but only if it is for self use.
The forest department will tell you these controls are needed to protect forests. But forests in India are the habitats of millions of people. The conservation of forests will require more productive benefits. The challenge is to use the green wealth and also regenerate it and increase it for the future. Putting a fence around it and negating its value as the livelihood of millions will not do.
So, let us hope that this time the definition of bamboo will remain settled. It is a tree-grass, one that can give a million new shoots and provide a million new jobs to the people.
EUROZONE: THE SECOND DOMINO FALLS
IRELAND IS UNLIKELY TO BE THE LAST EUROZONE MEMBER REQUIRING A MASSIVE RESCUE - PORTUGAL COULD BE NEXT
A V RAJWADE
One rationale for the US' misadventures in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s was that, if Vietnam was "lost" to communism, other countries in Asia would also succumb to the disease, falling like dominos. As it happened, they all moved rapidly towards globalisation and a private sector-based growth model, even after Vietnam was "lost". In the 1990s, the domino effect was seen in East Asia with the balance-of-payments crisis in Thailand quickly engulfing Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea. In the eurozone, after Greece a year back, it is now the turn of Ireland; more ominously, bond yields and credit default swap (CDS) spreads on Portuguese and Spanish sovereign debt have gone up, even as their ratings have been revised downwards.
After trying to avoid a rescue package as long as it could, Ireland finally bowed down to the inevitable last week, and negotiated a euro 85 billion loan from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), accompanied by the usual conditions of fiscal compression. Though both Greece and Ireland have been forced to seek multilateral assistance, the root causes of their problems are different. In the case of Greece, ultra-loose fiscal policy and a huge current account deficit led to the crisis. In the case of Ireland, the problem is its bloated banking system, which needs public support on a massive scale thanks to its huge exposure to weak assets. Ireland still has a surplus on the current account.
For students of economics and finance, Ireland is a very interesting case. Until lately, it was the fastest growing economy in the EU, hailed as the "Celtic miracle". The economy was extremely competitive, attracting a lot of foreign investment (thanks partly to the EU's lowest corporate tax rate, 12.5 per cent) and immigrants, and boasting fast growing manufacturing and IT sectors. So what went wrong? In one word, a huge and wasteful investment in the real estate sector financed by the commercial banks who, in turn, were borrowing money from non-residents and in the capital markets. The aggregate bank assets increased to much more than the country's nominal GDP, with non-resident deposits exceeding domestic deposits. The government had also encouraged property development, tempted by the tax revenues generated by a fast growing sector. Today, acres of brand-new commercial and residential property are lying vacant with no buyers or renters. At the height of the boom, as much as 60 per cent of the Irish banks' assets, amounting to 250 per cent of the country's nominal GDP, comprised loans to the real estate and construction segments. After the Lehman collapse, there were worries of a run on the banking system. This led (forced?) the government to guarantee all liabilities of Irish banks, to residents and non-residents, to depositors and capital markets.
Having guaranteed the liabilities, the government took prompt steps to cut expenditure and increase taxes, even as the economy shrank 11 per cent in 2009, and unemployment increased well into double digits. Ireland's pre-emptive actions since before the Greek crisis helped reassure the financial markets for some time, but were obviously not enough once the aggregate scale of the baking problem became known, forcing the government to go in for a humiliating bailout from the EU and IMF. This loan should cover the Irish government's borrowing requirements for two years provided the revenue and expenditure projections hold. It is, however, anybody's guess whether the brutal fiscal compression would lead to an even sharper fall in economic activity, thus upsetting all projections.
Ireland is unlikely to be the last eurozone member requiring a massive rescue. Portugal could be next (a euro60 billion package?). The big worry is whether Spain (the fourth largest eurozone economy, bigger than the other three PIGS taken together) would be forced to follow suit. Hedge funds have taken huge bets on both these countries. To be sure, Spain's fiscal position is much stronger, but unemployment is 20 per cent and there is a current account deficit in excess of 4 per cent of GDP, necessitating reliance on foreign savings.
Many European countries are facing social unrest, union agitations, strikes and so on in protest against the measures aimed at fiscal compression. Recently, France faced weeks of agitations and strikes against the decision to increase retirement age from 60 to 62, which, one would have thought, was a relatively harmless measure. Overall, problems in the eurozone are looking increasingly intractable, with the very future of the supranational currency in its present form, coming under question, a point I will revert to later.
Tailpiece: As country after country in Europe takes steps to cut public expenditure and benefits, and increase taxes, across the Atlantic, US President Barack Obama was forced to agree to extend tax concessions on dividends, capital gains, and to those earning more than $250,000, which he was committed to eliminating. He had already frozen public sector wages for two years. All this is the political price for seeking the opposition Republican Party's support for extending unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks, as unemployment remains stubbornly near double digits.
PARTNERS IN TRADE, PARTNERS FOR GROWTH
THE BENEFITS OF THE EU-INDIA TRADE AGREEMENT WILL GO SIGNIFICANTLY BEYOND THE ELIMINATION OF DUTIES.
ANAND SHARMA & KAREL DE GUCHT
The EU-India Summit last Friday sent a clear signal that the European Union (EU) and India are jointly tackling one of the key challenges facing us all: how to find new sources of economic growth. We are not sitting idly by in the face of sluggish global growth but are working together to find new markets and break down barriers to foreign trade.
The EU and India have already taken great strides towards the conclusion of a broad-based trade and investment agreement. This agreement will be highly ambitious and will not be limited to the elimination of duties on most of our bilateral trade, but cover trade in services, investment, regulatory issues and many more.
Friday's Summit has demonstrated our joint determination to make a success of this deal. Significant progress has been made and the contours of an ambitious deal are emerging. We now need to put the final touches in place so that we can conclude in the spring of 2011.
We engage in trade because it is mutually beneficial. Any deal we conclude will be a deal that benefits us both, as otherwise the effort is not worthwhile. We reject the idea that trade is a zero-sum game. Our vision of trade negotiations is a cooperative one, where only win-win solutions are on the table. Global markets are increasingly integrated and this needs to be reflected in creating closer trade ties between us.
For example, three quarters of imports into the EU and India are essential inputs for the manufacturing and services sectors, often ending up in exports themselves. So accessing goods at the best price, in fact, helps our industries stay competitive in the global marketplace. We import to export. In the global economy, no country is an island.
Indian and European consumers will also benefit from cheaper imports, which are often in different market segments to our own production. Similarly, both India and the EU would benefit from facilitating the temporary provision of services by highly qualified professionals.
This trade deal would be the largest and most significant deal ever concluded by either the EU or India. A trade deal of this magnitude and ambition would generate sizeable benefits for both our economies with substantial growth in GDP of both India and the EU. It would be of global economic importance.
Our current trade performance clearly falls far short of its potential. Both our economies, therefore, stand to benefit from shifting foreign trade up a gear. The agreement is designed to make it easier for Indians and Europeans to do business with each other and for workers as well as consumers to feel the benefit.
Some people have suggested that our trade deal would endanger India's role as pharmacy to the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We agree that nothing should prevent the poorest people from accessing life-saving medicines. This remains a core principle and will be reflected explicitly in the trade agreement. The agreement will in no way limit India's scope for developing and exporting life-saving medicines. Specifically, it will not stop India from using its flexibilities under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), in particular the possibility of manufacturing generic medicines under compulsory licence for export to other developing countries facing public health problems. The intellectual property chapter of our trade deal would promote innovation and investment in the knowledge economy.
Trade can raise and spread prosperity. We are determined to make a success of the EU-India free trade agreement (FTA) so that it can raise living standards. Friday's Summit has demonstrated that the EU and India are able to find solutions that benefit us both. We will now be exerting ourselves and intensify our efforts to solve the remaining issues. At last week's Summit we came one step closer to finalising this deal. We now need to go the extra mile to ensure the benefits of such an agreement are translated into real opportunities for people and businesses on the ground.
Anand Sharma is Union Minister for Commerce and Industry and Karel De Gucht is European Trade Commissioner
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A TOOTHLESS CLIMATE DEAL
IS BETTER THAN GIVING UP TRYING
PRELIMINARY reports make it clear that the climate talks at Cancun have yielded an agreement essentially to continue talking and not give up the effort to curb man-made global warming. There is no successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol that obliged some 40 developed countries to reduce their absolute levels of greenhouse gas emissions over 2008-12 with reference to the base levels in 1990. Yes, there is agreement to cut developed country emissions by 25%-40% by 2020, but in the absence of any concrete mechanism to achieve the goal, the agreement stands in the company of sentiment, if not sanctimony. In any case, the United States, the biggest culprit in terms of emissions, if you factor in consumption and not just production, is pretty much determined not to do anything on the climate front, under pressure from Republican theologists. China, the other major emitter of gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, is also chary of any binding agreement. So, the best possible outcome at Cancun was to continue talking, and not give up the fight altogether as a hopeless project. This has been achieved, with the agreement keeping hope alive that the next Conference of Parties (CoP) in Durban in 2011 would achieve what Cancun could not. There is the added sweetener that there would be a global fund that developing countries can draw on to aid their mitigation/adaptation projects. What is increasingly clear is that a real breakthrough on the climate front would come from technological breakthroughs in creating renewable energy. Various ways of tapping the energy of the sun, the wind, ocean waves and of the earth's inner heat need to be explored with greater vigour, along with advances in nuclear energy, both fission and fusion. The bulk of India's funds for combating climate change must go to fund research and development in these areas.
Much has been made of India's offer at Cancun to accept binding obligations. Most critics have automatically assumed this to mean accepting emission cuts. India cannot curtail growth, so emission cuts are ruled out. But India can and should boldly accept verifiable, binding cuts in emission intensity.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A SAD TALE
IN SEARCH OF A HAPPY ENDING
INDIAN Institute of Management-Ahmedabad don and ET columnist T T Rammohan made a telling critique of the functioning of independent directors on company boards, on this page last week (Dec 9). Research shows that standard prescriptions to raise corporate governance have all failed: separation of the offices of the chairman and the CEO, having a quota of independent directors, having directors with domain knowledge, knowledge of finance and auditing, etc. Corporate governance, despite the best efforts of the regulators and policymakers, remains a check-the-box exercise. Prof Rammohan then goes on to critique a solution offered by Harvard Business School senior lecturer Robert C Pozen, of making independent directorships a profession itself, and of reducing the size of the board to seven: the CEO and six independent directors. Four of them should have domain expertise, one should have expertise in accounting and only one should be generalist. But how can a director be expected to act in a truly independent manner when the remuneration and perks for his services are borne by the company? In many instances, remuneration includes all-expenses paid holidays for self and spouse, loads of stock options and other goodies. What could, however, help is independent thinking and action by nominees of the institutions who have invested in the company, suggests Prof Rammohan. Nominees of institutions are considered independent directors under Clause 49 of Sebi's Listing Agreement. Corporate governance in India could get a big boost if some of the institutional investors took to shareholder activism like the California Public Employees' Retirement System. As Prof Rammohan points out, sincerity, commitment and willingness to rock the boat in the pursuit of management accountability to shareholders count more than knowledge and expertise.
An added dimension in the Indian context is the compulsion on most companies to fund the political process, willingly or otherwise, in return for being allowed to do business. In most cases, such funding is kept off the books of companies, vitiating corporate governance from the word go. Only political reform, including funding of parties, can address this structural deformity.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
VIP RULE BOOK
BE SEEN TO BE DIFFERENT
TRAFFIC jams are not what VIPs ever get stuck in here in India; it is what they leave in their wake. Getting jostled, threatened, shoved and poked are also not what happens to VIPs here; it is what happens to the aam aadmi if he gets anywhere near one of them, thanks to their phalanx of security staff. Therefore, Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles, getting waylaid and attacked by a mob of irate students on Friday and newly elected Prime Minister David Cameron's car getting stuck in a traffic jam en route to Buckingham Palace a few months ago show that despite being a monarchy, the British are more democratic than we Indians are. To be sure, one part of Britain does quite shamelessly cash in on its classridden past, but mainly to feed the feudal fantasies of tourists from deprived democracies like the US. The April 2011 wedding of the son of the very same royal pelted on Friday is, after all, expected to net a billion pounds in tourist spending. But another part of British society paradoxically revels in a forced egalitarianism wherein even the PM has to take paternity leave lest he is thought to be unworthy of running the nation because he cannot burp his newborn. We are pragmatic enough to not expect important people to act like the rest of us or, indeed, be in any way like us at all. And it is unlikely that we would ever pelt our heir apparent with milkshakes as they did theirs.
Clearly, Britain needs a few lessons about VIP culture from India, even though they have taught us a thing or two about pomp and show back in the day. Our Indian VIPs' reasoning is simple: Why should the people let VIPs be different from the rest of us if they don't show that they are? Britain should internalise it.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE PROBLEM WITH BEING RATAN TATA
THE BIGGEST ISSUE FOR BRAND RATAN TATA IS NOT WHETHER HE HAS AN ANSWER TO THE QUESTIONS THAT ARE BEING ASKED REGARDING THE RADIA TAPES, RATHER IT IS THE FACT THAT THERE IS AT ALL A QUESTION, SAYS SANTOSH DESAI
ON THE face of it, Brand Ratan Tata is a very difficult brand to sully. Built on the back of India's most-trusted business brand, Ratan Tata has come to represent all that is right with the world of business. The cries of 'Ratan Tata for Prime Minister' that some sections of the population lapse into every time they are upset with our system of governance might be the wishful thinking of a politically naïve group, but the fact that a business leader is seen to be fit to handle the onerous responsibilities of leading the country is certainly a testament to the high regard in which Mr Tata is held. Which is why the events of the last few days following the publication of the Radia tapes become extremely significant for they threaten to potentially derail one of India's most iconic brands.
If we think of brands as stories about products, services or people that buyers believe in, then the Tata brand has been through a series of narratives. In its early life, it offered a powerful counterpoint to the prevailing culture of traditional Indian business. It sought to show us that enlightened business was not a contradiction in terms as it successfully reconciled diverse, often conflicting, interests. The Tatas showed us how it was possible to reconcile profit with compassion, marry the needs of the business with those of its employees and directly benefit communities in which it carried out its business. The idea of business as a righteous enterprise based on a concern for goals cherished by society at large was at the heart of the Tata ethos.
The Tata brand story went into less exalted territory in the 1980s where plagued by its own internal problems and left behind by a new wave of aggressive Indian entrepreneurs who worked the system to their advantage, Tata began to look like a fading aristocrat hanging on to a sense of past glory. Its adherence to its values began to look like an excuse for its sluggish performance and the dominance of a few satraps that showed greater interest in their own fiefdoms than in the larger brand did not help its cause.
Ratan Tata's great triumph was to impart velocity to the venerable and inject ambition in the amiable. In the last decade, brand Tata has again reconciled the notions of probity and aggression, ambition and compassion, a feat which is remarkable considering the times we live in. Ratan Tata's low-key style and understated persona has added considerably to the aura that has come to surround him. The Tata brand in general and that of Ratan Tata in particular has helped the group tide over situations which would have damaged others much more significantly.
The Singur issue is particularly significant because here for much of the country, the Tatas were presumptively in the right because of the reputation the group and its leader enjoyed. The importance of the Radia tapes and itsmessy aftermath cannot be overstated precisely because of what it might potentially damage.
FOR any other business brand, the current controversy is challenging, but unlikely to be particularly damaging. Even in this instance, there are other business houses involved, and arguably there is greater evidence of the role they have tried to play in managing the system, but it is noteworthy that their actions have received virtually no comment. For the others, behaviour of this kind is not vastly out of line with people's expectations about them. The problem, in the case of the Tatas, is that they have so much more to lose. Belief in the Tata brand borders on superstition, and while in ordinary circumstances, it safeguards the brand against being seen negatively when things go wrong, in this case what is at stake is that fundamental belief itself.
What we are seeing here is the possibility of Tata as a business house with its own commercial interests coming unglued from Tata as a brand that is owned by society at large. Ratan Tata is acting as a business leader should in a crisis he is leading from the front and tackling questions head-on and that is perhaps the best way of looking after the group's business interests. But for the Ratan Tata brand, which stands for an almost ascetic belief in doing the right thing, and which is seen by people at large as one of the few sources of hope in a rotten system, the damage is potentially a very significant one. The separation of these two dimensions of the Tata brand the business and the human creates two very different imperatives for Ratan Tata. The Tata business operates in the real world with its share of influence peddling and deal-making while the Tata brand lives in a moral fantasy where righteousness and straightforwardness are still valued and pay dividends. In one world, without engaging in lobbying and various ways of managing the government, success is impossible while in the other, any act of associating with murkiness becomes a blot on a spotless reputation.
The absolute nature of faith in the Tata brand and in Ratan Tata himself makes any engagement with dodgy issues, even if it is by way of spirited refutation, damaging for the brand. For the Tata business, Ratan Tata's detailed defence in his reply to Rajeev Chadrashekhar may have been the appropriate move, but for the brand it mires him further in a controversy that can only muddy his reputation regardless of what is defence is.
The more Ratan Tata engages with this question, the less it matters what he says. For the biggest issue for brand Ratan Tata is not that whether he has an answer to the questions that are being asked, it is the fact that there is at all a question. That is a problem unique to him for we hold very few other business leaders in such high esteem. But it is a problem nevertheless.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ET I N T E R A CT I V EWERNER VOGELS
'CLOUD COMPUTING MAKING WAVES'
ITHASbeen almost five years that the world's largest online retailer, Amazon, decided to move into the web infrastructure services space, offering a new way to run any business that used technology. No upfront expenses or longterm commitments and pay only what you use was what Amazon proposed. That may sound familiar today, thanks to cloud computing but it was a novel, unheard of concept then. And for Werner Vogels, chief technology officer of Amazon Web Services the cloud computing provider born out of the e-retailer the adoption rate of this new technology services has been breathtaking, beyond expectations. "It is happening much faster than it was anticipated," he says.
What's the unique selling proposition of these services? "Our technology infrastructure services have grown rapidly since the first launch. Looking at the launches over the years, a few things are unlike old world technology companies. Our pace of innovation is quick because our approach to innovation is to release a service when it is useful to developers and businesses, then quickly adding new features and services based on customer feedback. Moreover, with our pricing model and pay-as-you-go, customers can flexibly choose the payment structures and services that best meet their business requirements," Vogels says.
The pace in adoption is tied to tech executives' changing perception about cloud computing. Vogels explains: "Now, chief information officers of firms are thinking about cloud computing strategically. Many CIOs are initially attracted to cloud by the financial model; it eliminates the need for capital and also reduces operational cost, because if you no longer need resources you can release them. But as soon as enterprises begin to use cloud in a big manner, they start citing flexibility and unconstrained thinking as the major advantages, " adds Vogel.
"The financial services industry is among the early adopters of Amazon Web Services as the firms at Wall Street need the flexibility to instantly access and scale the capacity up and down whenever they require to run their mission-critical applications. They also benefit from the cost efficiencies for completing more of their processing at a lower cost. They need not over-provision excess capacity," points out Vogels. Elaborating, he says investment banks and hedge funds are heavy users of algorithmic trading, while a rising number of trading houses run overnight modelling simulations on Amazon Web Services to get a competitive edge for the next trading day.
With the e-commerce market evolving in India, Vogels says, "there are fast growing interests in India, especially with millions of SMEs, start-ups as well as software developers in India who are developing and testing new ideas." The early adopters for Amazon Web Services in India, says Vogels, have grown fast because they have enabled them to test ideas quickly, innovate fast and reach out to a wider range of customers. Redbus.in and Hungama Mobile are major examples.
But what about the bigger enterprises in India? "They are beginning to realise the benefits and taking steps to test development work and projects to learn how to work on the cloud. What most enterprises are doing is they are moving more methodically. They pick up diverse applications to try as proofs of concepts in the cloud. They run them from a few weeks to a few months to see how the cloud is different and understand how they could operate inside the cloud," says Vogels.
Amazon has, meanwhile, taken steps to ease the migration to cloud. "A typical medium to large enterprise easily has between a few hundred and a few thousand applications to maintain," he says. "Many of these applications have dependencies on each other. Teasing those dependencies apart, and finding out which pieces of the puzzle are suitable for moving to the cloud, is not a trivial operation. I see companies investing a lot of effort trying to classify what those dependencies are, what the risks are associated with moving applications to the cloud, and how much work it would take to move an application into the cloud," he adds.
Technology spend in the North America and Europe have picked up. There is great momentum happening across the world now and that is because there is a change in the way companies have acquired IT, Vogels says. The cloud services market, to boot, is likely to grow to $148.8 billion in 2014 from $58.6 billion in 2009.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A CASE FOR SPECTRAL EFFICIENCY
THE availability of the so-called Radia tapes in the public domain does seem to reveal a thing or two about policymaking processes in the Capital, including their apparent implementation and follow through. The transcripts do point at arguably questionable practices taking place in the process of policy formation. A course-correction is surely called for. We do need transparency in the very process of policy design, and the way it is subsequently enforced.
Otherwise, there would be perverse incentive to cut corners to bend and tweak the rules. Prof Jagdish Bhagwati, who spoke the other day in Parliament, has coined an apt phrase for such activities. He calls them directly unproductive profit-seeking. As a general rule, we really must nip in the bud the scope to change the norms and guidelines to suit select, interested parties seeking to make big-ticket investments, for instance in oil and gas production.
But there's also the need for policymakers to have an open mind to factor in technical changes underway, say, in a technology-intensive field like telecom, and call for appropriate policy changes, such as spectrum sharing, for instance. The tapes do bring to the fore select loud-thinking on formulation of recent telecom policy, including the issue of spectrum allocation for second-generation 2G read 'basic' or no-frills mobile telephony. Also, there's mention of last year's headline hogging topic of natural gas pricing and allocation from the Krishna-Godavari basin. Now in telecom, there's much to suggest gross arbitariness lately in the process of awarding spectrum to select service providers, in the way the cut-off date for new licences was arrived at, and the opacity involved generally in carrying out the firstcome, first-served policy.
However, the policy decision not to auction 2G spectrum, and to levy an administrative fee instead, the quantum of which was arrived at when the 'fourth' slot for mobile operator licences was auctioned back in 2001, cannot necessarily be faulted if the objective was to raise and significantly increase teledensity. Note that as late as 1998, the total mobile subscriber base pan-India was just about 8 million. And fast-forward to the here and now, it's quite normal for the subscriber numbers to increase by a similar figure every month. Actually, the trend rate has been maintained for many months. It's possible that there may have been incentives in the past to fudge subscription figures, as the issue of spectrum has been based on such numbers. But with strict know your customer norms now in place, the telecom figures should now be much more reliable, and already number half a billion. It implies vastly improved teledensity. Additionally, post-2008, service providers have begun to charge 1 paisa per second or less as tariff, the cheapest anywhere. So, it can well be said that the policy purpose of 2G has been quite substantially met.
It cannot also be gainsaid that the recent auctions for the third-generation or 3G telecom licences (and added spectrum availability) are for a quite different play, namely value-added services like streaming video calls, etc which can command premium tariffs. It is definitely noteworthy and credible that the Centre has garnered almost . 1 lakh crore by auctioning spectrum for 3G services. Purists may take the position that in a country with poor diffusion of computers, even 3G spectrum ought not to be put up for bidding and instead be allocated based on criteria like 'beauty contests' of service providers, rollout record, etc as it would help shore up fast, broad-band internet access via handheld devices. But the fact is that there is enough international experience of 3G auctions, and a major non-tax revenue item does need tapping.
Moreover, to extrapolate 3G auction revenues into 2G spectrum allocations and compute the latter as loss to the exchequer would scarcely make policy sense, as it would not be comparing like to like. The public policy goal of 2G is after all very different. It's a related matter that even without a one-off auction price, the Centre does collect spectrum fee, revenue share, etc each year from service providers allocated spectrum for 2G. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report that non-auction of 2G did mean a loss to the exchequer of . 1.7 lakh crore has caught the nation's attention. But we do need to keep in mind public policy objectives and goals, and also have a nuanced perspective on the benefits, costs and burdens in the use of scarce national resources.
Of course, allegations of ministerial corruption do need to be followed up on, expedited and requisite action taken against all involved. In tandem, going forward, instead of continuing with exclusive licensing of blocks of spectrum for different telecom operators, we need to have a policy of spectrum sharing, given various technologies available to boost spectral efficiency and tide over routine scarcity. Telecom experts already envision dynamic sharing of spectrum and avoiding interference, by using new tools like cognitive radio and neural networks.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CO S M I C U P LI N K
SPEECH IS SILVER, SILENCE IS GOLDEN
THE virtue of speaking well, rightly and effectively also includes the capacity to stay silent, when situation demands so. Besides earning respect and acceptance, needless problems can be obviated because one is a slave of the words he utters while being a master of those he chooses not to speak. No wonder, in India, the observance of staying silent for a full day, once in a while (mouna vratha) has been practised with a view to change instinctive and impulsive habits.
In 'When to Keep Your Mouth Shut' (Reader's Digest, July 1991), Jean Parvin refers to particular instances where restraint on needless actions orspeech have gone a long way to obtain, for oneself, the needed benefits. The Bible, too, (Proverbs: 17, 28) notes, "Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace is counted wise; and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding."
Thomas Carlyle once observed, "Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves." Inner stillness aided by understanding of and conscious practice of the 'law of powerful silence', enables the creative mechanism within to empower itself in its natural manner.
It is in the above regard that the Bible (Psalms: 46, 10) reminds, "Be still and know that I am God."
While the great ancient Tamil scholar, Avvaiyar, describes this inward stillness and solitude as the most sublime experience, Paul Brunton, in his A Message From Arunachala, elaborates on the efficacy of such virtues. These attain fulfilment when one also desists from boisterous laughter and vain chatter. Oliver Goldsmith refers to the "loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind", while Benjamin Franklin exhorts, "speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation."
Doubtless, silence and being 'a man of few words' have their rightfulplaces. This, however, does not mean that one should choose to be an introvert, stoic or being tongue-tied and listless. Great is the gift of communication, good laughter and conversing well. These have been dealt with elaborately by the great saint Tiruvalluvar (Kural: 91 to 100).
However like gold, silence, in its right place and time, lends charm and grandeur to life and living. An appropriate blend of good speech which is silver and this golden silence, would indeed go to create an ornament, unparalleled in its enduring beauty!
CAN OF WORMS
WHY WE NEED TO DEFINE OURSELVES
SEVERAL crooked people must be secretly relieved at the turn the corruption saga plaguing the government in New Delhi seems to have taken. From having been a tale of ministerial loot, with sub-plots involving tainted public officers and dodgy journalists, it has now degenerated into a slugfest between two corporate houses, with each accusing the other of batting for a political party. Indeed, had Ms Niira Radia counted among her very impressive list of clients, the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee and the Government of Maharashtra, her taped conversations might well have provided us a neatly packaged chronicle of almost everything that we know is wrong with this incredibly corrupt country. Sadly for the cause of probity in public life, neither Mr Suresh Kalmadi nor Mr Ashok Chavan thought fit to hire a public relations consultant, even though both evidently needed services that Ms. Radia claims to provide ~ media management, crisis management and issues management being among those listed by her. As things stand, they must be relieved that Ms. Radia's clients are keeping the focus away from them.
Beginning this summer and running into the winter, prominent Indians have disgraced themselves as seldom before. Yet, it was always known that companies ~ some more than others ~ used fixers in New Delhi to get their work done. Yes, it was known that some journalists allowed their views to be coloured. And yes, it was known that many politicians, several bureaucrats, some soldiers and a few judges were, if we are allowed the luxury of understatement, bent. But it was beyond belief to imagine that all worms would flee the can at the same time, and lay bare the intricate and immoral linkages between big business, politics and media. Or that so many once-respected folk would be exposed as shallow and unprincipled.
The time for piecemeal solutions is past. Dependence on the judiciary, or on elements in the media to tackle society's ills, while not always misplaced, would be to pit a terminally-ill David against a rampaging Goliath. Some elements in civil society have joined the battle, through chain mail, blogs and social networking sites. But this is hardly enough. More, much more needs to be done and must involve more, many more people. Considered choices will have to be made at every stage of life, between the good and the bad, the honest and the corrupt, the principled and the unscrupulous. And yet because labels can be deceptive, as we have learnt to our cost, robust processes will have to be used to identify the good and the honest. It's a tough ask, but before we consider abandoning the project, we might like to consider the alternative.
MARINE POLICE SCHOOL NEEDED
A PARALLEL can be drawn between the old verse about little drops of water making up the ocean and the post-26/11 effort at establishing a marine policing and surveillance network. While there are still gaps in the electronic screening system and in fitting medium-size craft with identification transponders, a chain of coastal police stations is slowly being linked up. Success has also been registered in the drive to involve fishing communities in the security effort, essentially by serving as "eyes and ears" ~ the information they have provided has helped nab a number of smugglers. Yet all that is merely a beginning. Against that backdrop there is every reason to commend the Gujarat government's initiative for setting up a national marine police academy to provide a range of specialised training to personnel deputed to the coastal police units now coming up in all maritime-frontier states. Presently, the art of seamanship and the relevant security-related skills are the preserve of the Navy and Coast Guard: the academy will be tasked with ensuring that a degree of the expertise trickles down to the coastal police. Some of the requirements can be basic: a report from a coastal police unit in another state spoke of a cop falling out of a boat, and who can forget the several drowning deaths when policemen rushed to one side of a river-ferry, causing it to capsize, when the vessel came under Maoist fire. Indications are that Union home ministry officials are impressed with the proposal, as well as the manner in which the state has implemented the scheme for marine police.
Sure there are parochial interests. Gujarat has a 1,600 km coastline (the longest of all the states), considerable marine assets in the shape of a series of ports, ship/boat building facilities, perhaps the world's most active ship-breaking business, a flourishing fishing fleet, and massive industrial complexes along its seafront. It has as well as a major security "issue" in the creek-ridden marshes/mudflats of the Rann of Kutch. Yet the development of the human capabilities to face those challenges has utility in other marine police units too. The home ministry will do well to examine the proposal in favourable light, it is not every day that a state takes a pro-active posture on a police upgrade. Gujarat has long enjoyed a reputation for relatively good governance ~ the present chief minister has merely enhanced that. What must not influence New Delhi's decision on a marine police academy is a negative "Modi factor".
A RECKLESS WAR OF WORDS
THE quality of television debates confirms that Bengal sadly misses political leaders who can speak in public and do so in a manner that preserves the dignity of their positions. It is worse when venom injected into speeches becomes an extension of policy because lines of communication between arch rivals have been so abruptly snapped that it is no longer necessary to respect the norms of public conduct. Only such antipathy can explain a Trinamul leader warning members of the ruling party that the time is not far off when those now close to the centre of power would have to move around with notices hanging from their necks reading "we don't belong to the CPI-M" as an act of penance. If this is the level to which the election campaign is likely to descend, the present crop of leaders won't take long to dispel the impression elsewhere that politicians in Bengal are academics, thinkers and professionals. It may be difficult to keep traditions alive. But today there is the alarming prospect of such confrontations between those expected to set examples descending to the level of gang leaders.
When bitterness has struck deep roots, it is perhaps impossible to expect rivals to play by the rules of decency. But when the chief minister himself threatens to "break the heads'' of his opponents (it is immaterial for what reason), it goes beyond the immediate need to breathe fire into the hearts of cadres who may have been shattered by the Left's recent performances. It demonstrates a fall in ethical standards that has nothing to do with the outcome of the poll. Biman Bose, of course, outdoes himself by threatening that the campaign will be awash in a "river of blood'' with no indication that the Left regrets such an irresponsible outburst. Where will all this end? If the rivals have consciously chosen the language of hate, it will not really matter who wins the election because neither side will admit to the possibility that those who lose also deserve political space in a democracy. That will be a sad day for Bengal.
GREAT FEDERAL GAMBLE
AMERICA'S GIFT TO THE LARGEST TRADING PARTNERS?
THE American Federal Reserve's recent decision to buy long-term debt worth $ 600 billion has resulted in widespread global concern. Many countries have accused the US of actions that may result in the devaluation of the dollar. If the concern is true, then this might improve the US competitiveness in a global economy and fuel US exports thereby helping to narrow American trade deficit possibly at the expense of other countries.
The most notable protestors include China and Germany since they run the greater risk of being affected. To an outsider, the Federal Reserve's decision might seem complicated. How can the dollar be devalued if the American Central Bank decides to buy long- term debt? Let us examine why.
One of the fundamental and robust observations that economists have made for a long time is that things that are in relatively greater supply, compared to their demand, must see their prices declining. It is after all the relative magnitude of demand and supply that determines the direction of price changes. If the demand for a commodity is relatively less than supply, then there exists excess supply and its price is bound to decline. The opposite happens if demand is relatively more than supply. In this case, lower volumes exist in the market than the amounts people are willing to buy. Hence, competitive bidding will increase the price of that commodity.
The rules of demand and supply are puzzling because the price may not always reflect the intrinsic value of the commodity or the crucial role that it might play in sustaining life. For example, gold and diamond are very expensive because many more people want to buy these commodities than there are supplies available. On the contrary, water is much cheaper or practically free since the supply usually exceeds the demand. Very few people will argue against the proposition that water is more important than gold or diamond when it comes to sustenance of life on this planet.
The rules of demand and supply apply to currencies as well. Those currencies, that are in relatively greater demand, will appreciate in value. Currencies, whose availability is higher than the demand, will depreciate. It stands to reason, therefore, that an increase in the currency supply ~ other things remaining constant ~ will eventually lead to the depreciation of the currency. This is precisely why the Federal Reserve's decision has caused concern.
Central banks have the powerful authority to print money, plain and simple. They also have the authority to control money supply. If central banks want to mop up money from the system then they can do it by selling bonds. People pay with money to buy the bonds. In that way, the amount of money in circulation gets depleted resulting in an appreciation of the value of the money. If the central banks want to increase the money supply then they can simply do it by printing more money and using the same to buy bonds. That way more money flows into people's pockets, eventually reducing the value of the money.
If the Federal Reserve ends up printing $ 600 billion and uses that newly-created money to buy back bonds, then this fresh release will flow into the economy. People will have $ 600 billion more to buy goods and services or save and make investments. The bottomline is that the action is expected to result in increased demand. The increase in demand is temporarily expected to increase prices, making business more lucrative for the producers. They are expected to react by producing more. To produce more goods and services, the producers are expected to hire more people and that is expected to increase employment. More employed people are also expected to increase demand in a second round. One would expect that the action will ultimately result in a virtuous cycle of growth and prosperity.
This is not the reason why many countries are criticising the USA. After all, a growing American economy should augur well for even its critics since they might be able to sell more to the Americans and augment their own coffers in the process. But countries fear that this may not happen in reality.
All said and done, the US dollar is still the dominant currency used in international trade. An increased supply of the dollar, critics fear, may lead to lower value of the dollar. If that happens, American exports will become cheaper and become more competitive in the world economy.
A cheaper dollar also means that imports from the rest of the world may become less attractive for the Americans. It may be cheaper to buy locally using a weaker currency than buying goods and services from abroad. For example, people in China may end up buying more of "Made in the USA" products and Americans may buy less of "Made in China" commodities. International critics of American policy fear that in this situation, American prosperity may eventually come about through their own losses.
There are, however, several shortcomings of the American action. Six hundred billion dollars, in all fairness, is too little and too late. It is hardly expected to have a serious impact. The European Union and China have enough power to mop up this excess money by buying more dollars in the open market. China may be already moving in this direction since it has recently increased the reserve requirements for the commercial banks and the country's central bank may be planning to use this extra money to buy dollars in the open market. This will neutralise the Federal Reserve's actions to a great extent.
America has lost its comparative advantage in mass manufacture to other emerging countries, most notably China. It takes time to build a manufacturing back-up. A few questions will arise if the Americans want to buy more of mass manufactured products because it makes them feel richer and if those products are not immediately available within the country. Will they postpone their consumption? Or will they go ahead and buy the costlier foreign products? Will American prosperity come at the expense of other countries or will other countries benefit because of Federal Reserve's actions?
Some might argue that this $ 600 billion package is a major gift from America to its largest trading partners. Could it be true? Only time will tell.
SAVE THE GANGA
BY VANDANA SHIVA
I am travelling with the Ganga yatra which is a pilgrimage to save the river Ganga. The Ganga is India's ecological, economic, cultural and spiritual lifeline. That is why we are undertaking the Ganga yatra.
The threats to our Mother Ganga, or "Ganga Ma", are many. Deforestation was a major threat to the catchment of Ganga in the 1970s. The myth of the descent of Ganga is, in fact, an ecological tale.
Ganga, whose waves in swarga flow,
Is daughter of the lord of snow.
Win Shiva, that His aid be lent,
To hold her in her mid-descent.
For earth alone will never bear
These torrents travelled from the upper air.
The story of the descent of the Ganga is an ecological story. The above hymn is a tale of the hydrological problem associated with the descent of a mighty river like the Ganga. H.C. Reiger, the eminent Himalayan ecologist, described the material rationality of the hymn in the following words: "In the scriptures a realisation is there that if all the waters which descend upon the mountain were to beat down upon the naked earth would never bear the torrents In Shiva's hair we have a very well-known physical device which breaks the force of the water coming down the vegetation of the mountains".
That is why the Chipko Movement, which was initiated to protect the Himalayan forests, was important for India's ecological security. I started my ecological activism with Chipko. After nearly a decade of Chipko actions, logging was banned in the high Himalaya in 1981.
The women had given the slogan: "What do the forests bear: soil, water and pure air," to replace the slogan of commercial forestry: "What do the forest bear: timber, resin and revenue."
After the 1978 flood in the Ganga, it became clear that water conservation was the first gift of the Himalayan forests. The wisdom of the peasant women of Garhwal is today called the economies of ecosystems.
The Ganga is threatened at its very source the Gangotri glacier. Climate change has led to the decline in snowfall and an increase in the rate of melting of snow. From 1935 to 1956, the retreat of the Gangotri glacier was 4.35 metres per year. In the period 1990-1996 it was 28.33 m/yr. The average rate of retreat is 20-38 m/yr. If this retreat continues, the Ganga would become a seasonal river, with major ecological and economic consequences for the entire Ganga basin. This is why we need climate justice for water justice.
The Ganga's tributaries are threatened by dams and diversions in the upper reaches. The 260.5-metre-high Tehri dam, built at Tehri on the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana, submerged the ancient capital of Tehri Garhwal, destroyed the lush and fertile fields of the valleys and displaced 1,00,000 people from 125 villages of which 33 were completely submerged. But the displacement due to the dam continues.
At the shore of the reservoir, people were flooded from below and above simultaneously. Fields and homes by the dam shore were submerged as the water level rose from 820 to 835 metres. The authorities of the Tehri hydropower plant were not willing to release excess water from the dam even though the water levels were affecting the surrounding villages. From their point of view, release through the slush gates was spillage. Mooni Devi, who lives at water level, says: "This used to be such a great place with great farms. The dam builders have turned us all into beggars".
A chain of hydroelectric projects have stopped the "aviral" flow of the Ganga and in many stretches the Ganga runs dry. The Government of India has been proposing hydroelectric projects on Loharinag-Pala, Pala-Maneri and Bhaironghati on Bhagirathi to tap their hydropower potential. In addition to the already-built Tehri dam and Maneri Bhali-2 dam, a series of dams were planned between Gangotri and Uttarakashi on the river Bhagirathi. It took penance and fasting by today's "Bhagirath," Prof. G.D. Agarwal, to stop the dams on the Bhagirathi.
In the plains a big threat to the Ganga and Yamuna is pollution both from industry and sewage. And even as billions are poured into cleaning the Ganga and the Yamuna through the Ganga Action Plan and the Yamuna Action Plan, the pollution of our sacred river increases because of a combination of corruption and inappropriate technologies.
Industrialisation and urbanisation have turned our sacred rivers into sinks for pollutants. The Yamuna is clean before entering Delhi. In 22 km of its journey through Delhi, it picks up 70 per cent of the pollution of the river in its total length. Various action plans have set up centralised sewage treatment plants that do not work and 70 per cent of untreated sewage is dumped into the river. The river dies because of pollution, the land dies because it is deprived of rich nutrients. As Sunderlal Bahuguna reminded me, Mahatama Gandhi called this "golden manure". Intelligent zero-waste-sewage treatment systems like those evolved in IIT-Kanpur by Dr Vinod Tare would clean the Ganga and also fertilise the soil. We would not be wasting `130,000 crore on fertiliser subsidies and thousands of crores on river action plans. Organic farming can be a major action for cleaning the Ganga.
The final threat to the Ganga is privatisation. Privatisation of water reduces it to a commodity, makes giant corporations owners and sellers of water and ordinary citizens, buyers and consumers. The role of citizens and communities as conservers and caretakers is destroyed. The human right to water, which was recognised by the United Nations in April 2010, is undermined. That is why when the Ganga water which has been brought to Delhi from Tehri was being privatised to Suez through a World Bank project, we built a Citizens Alliance for Water Democracy and told the World Bank and the Delhi government that our "Mother Ganga is not for sale". The World Bank project was withdrawn and the privatisation stopped.
The movement to save the Ganga and its "nirmal (clean)" and "aviral (uninterrupted)" flow is not just a movement to save a river. It is a movement to save India's troubled soul that is polluted and stifled by crass consumerism and greed, disconnected from its ecological and cultural foundations.
If the Ganga lives, India lives. If the Ganga dies, India dies.
- Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
AMERICA, GET OUT OF WEST ASIA PICTURE
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
The failed attempt by the US to bribe Israel with a $3 billion security assistance package, diplomatic cover and advanced F-35 fighter aircraft if Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu would simply agree to a 90-day settlements freeze to resume talks with the Palestinians has been enormously clarifying. It demonstrates just how disconnected from reality both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaderships have become.
Oil is to Saudi Arabia what unconditional American aid and affection are to Israel and what unconditional Arab and European aid and affection are to the Palestinians: a hallucinogenic drug that enables them each to think they can defy the laws of history, geography and demography. It is long past time that we stop being their crack dealers. At a time of nearly 10 per cent unemployment in America, we have the Israelis and the Palestinians sitting over there with their arms folded, waiting for more US assurances or money to persuade them to do what is manifestly in their own interest: negotiate a two-state deal. Shame on them, and shame us. You can't want peace more than the parties themselves, and that is exactly where America is today. The people running Israel and Palestine have other priorities. It is time we left them alone to pursue them and to live with the consequences.
They just don't get it: we're not their grandfather's America anymore. We have bigger problems. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators should take a minute and put the following five words into google: "budget cuts and fire departments". Here's what they'll find: American city after city Phoenix, Cincinnati, Austin, Washington, Jacksonville, Sacramento, Philadelphia all having to cut their fire departments. Then put in these four words: "schools and budget cuts". One of the top stories listed is from the Christian Science Monitor: "As state and local governments slash spending and federal stimulus dries up, school budget cuts for the next academic year could be the worst in a generation".
I guarantee you, if someone came to these cities and said, "We have $3 billion we'd like to give to your schools and fire departments if you'll just do what is manifestly in your own interest", their only answer would be: "Where do we sign?" And so it should have been with Israel.
Israel, when America, a country that has lavished billions on you over the last 50 years and taken up your defence in countless international forums, asks you to halt settlements for three months to get peace talks going, there is only one right answer, and it is not "How much?" It is: "Yes, whatever you want, because you're our only true friend in the world".
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, what are you thinking? Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli Prime Minister, offered you a great two-state deal, including East Jerusalem and you let it fritter away. Now, instead of chasing after Obama and telling him you'll show up for negotiations anywhere under any conditions that the President asks, you're also setting your own terms. Here's some free advice: When America goes weak, if you think the Chinese will deliver Israel for you, you're wrong. I know China well. It will sell you out for a boatload of Israeli software, drones and microchips so fast that your head will spin.
I understand the problem: Israeli and Palestinian leaders cannot end the conflict between each other without having a civil war within their respective communities. Netanyahu would have to take on the settlers and Abbas would have to take on Hamas and the Fatah radicals. Both men have silent majorities that would back them if they did, but neither man feels so uncomfortable with his present situation to risk that civil war inside to make peace outside. There are no Abe Lincoln's out there.
What this means, argues the Hebrew university philosopher Moshe Halbertal, is that the window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing. Israel will end up permanently occupying the West Bank with its 2.5 million Palestinians. We will have a one-state solution. Israel will have inside its belly 2.5 million Palestinians without the rights of citizenship, along with 1.5 million Israeli Arabs. "Then the only question will be what will be the nature of this one state it will either be apartheid or Lebanon", said Halbertal. "We will be confronted by two horrors."
The most valuable thing that US President Barack Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton could do now is just get out of the picture so both leaders and both peoples have an unimpeded view of their horrible future together in one state, if they can't separate. We must not give them any more excuses, like: "Here comes the secretary of state again. Be patient. Something is happening. We're working on a deal. We're close. If only the Americans weren't so naïve, we were just about to compromise... Be patient".
It's all a fraud. America must get out of the way so Israelis and Palestinians can see clearly, without any obstructions, what reckless choices their leaders are making. Make no mistake, I am for the most active US mediation effort possible to promote peace, but the initiative has to come from them. West Asia only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them.
WORRY INCREASES: IS INDIA DRIFTING?
The events subsequent to the exposure of the Niira Radia tapes have led respected figures from the world of industry and finance to worry about the state of affairs in the country. Top banker Deepak Parekh reflected in a recent television interview if the India story might not be over when everything seemed to be going just right. His worry is that the Manmohan Singh government might not be pulling as a team, or why would the tapping of Ms Radia's phone which showed up many in politics, business, journalism and the bureaucracy in poor light be done for two long years. Does this not amount to deliberate and concerted invasion of privacy? If the government suspected the corporate communication honcho of violating laws, why was the tapping not focused and limited to a specified time period? Mr Parekh appears to imply that irritants such as unnecessary phone taps could deter future investments in India. This is conceivably true. However, an appeal to facts would suggest that Ms Radia's phone was not tapped for two long years but for specified periods of time in two consecutive years. There is a world of difference between the two. Mr Parekh has also spoken of the business community's other concerns. He fears the climate is getting less conducive: decisions by one arm of government are set to nought by disapprovals emanating from others. He cites in this regard the absence of clearances from the environment and mining ministries, and difficulties over land availability for industry, obstructing investments. Before Mr Parekh, the top industrialist, Mr Ratan Tata, had spoken out in rather strong terms against the "banana republic" syndrome of rules and laws being disregarded and privacy being encroached upon. It is true we have seen considerable evidence of late of systemic corruption in a number of sectors. The 2G scam, in particular, appeared a case of match-fixing being merrily indulged in on account of promiscuity involving sections of industry and politicians and unscrupulous bureaucrats, with elements of the media too drawn in, willingly or otherwise thus exposing the rotten underbelly of the Indian elite. It is a sorry state of affairs, but a banana republic? To suggest that is to disparage the panoply of our democratic institutions which seem to be holding up rather well, all things considered, and which are sometimes an object of envy by other countries. True, the environment ministry has held back in some prominent cases, but are these decisions born of caprice? At least that has not been pointed out so far, though many have fretted. The same ministry, after a rethink, has cleared the second airport in Mumbai. The issue of acquiring land for industry the mining issue is a subset of it, especially in Orissa where the phenomenon has taken on a high profile is an important one and has been raised in other countries as well. There are ways around it, although the land question is a tricky one, especially in a democracy, as it typically involves marginal or small farmers and sometimes tribal populations, as in the case of Orissa. A balanced articulation of the country's difficulties on several fronts is certainly in order.
HUMOUR IN PUBLIC SPEAKING
STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART
Not many people know that VVIPs from Presidents to Prime Ministers and ministers have ghost writers. MP Mani Shankar Aiyar and minister for environment Jairam Ramesh have, at one time, been ghost writers for VVIPs. Of course, none of these worthies ever told us so yet everyone or at least a lot of people were in the know.
So it was really beguiling when at a business meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy mentioned in Mumbai that he had not written the speech he was to deliver. He took India Inc, that was present in full force, by surprise when he began by saying: "I am not going to read my speech. Anyway I did not write it. I want to speak from my heart. But you will be given it (official speech)", adding, "I agree with everything in it. I didn't write it and anyway I can't write as well as that". And he then went on to deliver a wonderful from-the-heart speech.
Once bitten, twice shy
At a function held in New Delhi to celebrate the release of Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram and writer Shashi Tharoor got the stick when he took a dig at US President Barack Obama who had criticised India for not doing enough to promote democracy in Burma.
Mr Tharoor had barely finished saying that India didn't need "outside encouragement" (read Mr Obama) when Madhu Kishwar, women's rights activist and editor of Manushi magazine, intervened to say that India's policy of engaging with the Burma military junta was shameful and the country does need to be reprimanded.
Sensing the mood on the dais and in the audience, Mr Tharoor replied that Mr Obama's remarks might "not" have been entirely "ill-deserved".
Probably recalling how he got into trouble with his party and government for his previous utterances, Mr Tharoor carefully added that "we are capable of spanking ourselves".
Imagine the amount of explanation that he would have had to give if a headline in the next morning's newspaper had screamed, "Cong MP criticises govt's Burma policy"!
Jethmalani and Liz Taylor
Legal luminary Ram Jethmalani sure does know how to engage his audience, even if he is one of several speakers.
Speaking at the function where Burmese exiles had gathered to celebrate the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Mr Jethmalani began by comparing himself to American actress Elizabeth Taylor's fifth husband.
"Being the fifth speaker, I feel like Elizabeth Taylor's fifth husband, who confided in a friend, 'I know what I'm supposed to do but I don't know how to make it interesting.'" Needless to say, the audience's attention had been arrested.
Proliferation of cells
Ask any senior BJP leader how many votes the party got in any of the past general elections and the reply will come within a few seconds.
Some of them even remember the votes the party got in some of the important parliamentary constituencies.
But there is one question that most of the party leaders prefer not to be asked and that is how many cells the BJP currently has.
In his effort to give the BJP a "social outlook", party chief Nitin Gadkari had ended up creating so many new cells (like the good governance cell) that most senior leaders are unaware of which party colleague is heading which.
Recalling a recent meeting of cells in-charges, a senior BJP leader said: "I was surprised to see many new faces in that meeting. It was only when I enquired that I found that they were handling the new cells. I have no idea how many cells the party has".
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
The wildlife managers in Madhya Pradesh are desperately trying to repopulate the Panna Tiger Reserve after this wonderful habitat went the Sariska way and lost all its tigers due to poaching and excessive biotic pressure.
After the last Panna tiger vanished by mid-January 2009, two female tigers, one each from Bandhavgarh and Kanha, were relocated to Panna. A male tiger was later brought from the Pench Tiger Reserve in November 2009.
After the successful mating of this tiger with one of the female tigers, there was a futile attempt to relocate two more female tigers from Kanha on December 5.
This exercise was abruptly abandoned as the decision of the "wildlife experts" to toss the dropping of one of the tigers from Panna inside the Kanha tigers' enclosure to familiarise them with their "would-be mate" ended with both tigers becoming too excited and fighting each other menacingly.
Now the foresters are making another bid to relocate these tigers though it raises one big question: Is it being done to meet the objective of conservation or just to fulfil the demand of wildlife tourism?
I&B comes of age
The government is often blamed for being slow and living in a bygone era when it comes to adopting new technology. The information and broadcasting ministry, however, was able to break away from this mould recently.
It was at the high-profile International Film Festival of India in Goa that the ministry decided to enter the hi-tech age with a flourish.
As part of this, the ministry kept sending SMSes to journalists, even those sitting in Delhi, about the ongoing conferences, major happenings and events at the festival.
The SMS alerts were so prompt that even cynical journalists confessed that the ministry had come of age.
Diggy Raja's briefcase
The reappointment of the AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh as in charge of Assam affairs may have come as good news for many Congressmen but at the same time his detractors within the party have started reminding everyone of the "briefcase controversy".
Mr Singh was in charge in the 2006 Assembly elections also. The controversy began after a local daily claimed to have spotted him carrying many briefcases on his return journey to New Delhi.
Though it was not known what was in the briefcases, he was replaced with Union law minister M. Veerapa Moily immediately after the formation of the Gogoi government.
With Mr Singh back in the arena, the detractors have dusted the episode so that they can use it again if they find him getting too active for their comfort.
IN GOD'S COMPANY
BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
Those of us who have the task of teaching pupils in schools find ourselves dinning into them to improve their handwriting or their pronunciation, saying, "practise and keep practising, for practise will make you perfect". Similarly, every athlete is told by his/her coach that if s/he wants to excel in one's field s/he needs to simply work hard. There we see how practice leads to perfection. This is also true of music. A famous study of music students in Berlin's elite Academy of Music has shown that those who emerged as elite musicians practised almost 10,000 hours.
While different individuals practise special art and acquire perfection in the specified field including a few who achieve great degree of perfection in prayer and meditation by constant practise, one rarely hears people being reminded by anyone to keep working so as to be able to "live in the presence of God". One sometimes learns the art of "living in the presence of God" either at the feet of some guru in an ashram or during a spiritual retreat. And those who do it are often told to do so by detaching themselves from the world or the normal activities of family life. But ordinary mortals rarely hear someone telling them to practise living in the presence of God as they go about doing their daily business and household chores.
When, as part of my priestly training, I was going through a year of "novitiate", our novice master constantly reminded us to learn to be conscious of God's presence all the time around us, in all the activities that we were involved with and to be aware that even during our sleeping moments God's presence was real.
One should be clear that practising the presence of God is not to somehow make God become present. Understanding that one is practicing the "awareness of the presence of God" puts responsibility in the right place.
We could start by spending a little more time in learning about God, ourselves, and the world by personal study; we could learn to see work as part of our worship, which could also help us keep away from those types of occupation which dishonours God; we could choose companions and friends who can be our spiritual buddies; we could learn to use our income in a way that glorifies God and helps the needy; we need to learn to have adequate sleep, exercise, and practise healthy eating habits; to learn to use our sexual energy in healthy ways that is in keeping with God's design for us; to learn to avoid being a workaholic but do things that relax us; to learn to participate in God's mission to redeem the earth spiritually, socially, and environmentally and so on. At
In the back of our mind, we are concerned about making the right impression in God's eyes. We watch carefully over every word instead of speaking simply and from the heart; we try to live up to standards that we imagine God is expecting of us; we are afraid that if we don't meet those extra expectations, God will be displeased with us. This mindset discourages us from living in God's presence, because we can't relax, we can't be ourselves if we are trying to live up to artificial expectations. Practising the presence of God helps us maintain and deepen our communion with God even in the midst of trials and tribulations of life in a world with a fallen human nature.
We are created to live in communion with God and that we could achieve by being constantly aware of God's presence.
Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India. He can be contacted at email@example.com 
A TRIP FOR STUDENTS OF LIFE
BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Each time I announce my annual "win-a-trip contest", to take a university student with me on a reporting trip to the developing world, I get indignant letters.
"Why put such a confining restriction as 'university students'?" asked Laura McNamara. "How about students of life?"
Betty Michelozzi wrote that she got her first passport at age 63 to go to Guatemala on a Habitat for Humanity team and spent the next 15 years leading such groups. And Peggy from Oregon asked tartly what I was going to do for "us old folks, who aren't dead yet?"
Point well taken. So for this fifth anniversary trip, I'm going to take not only a university student but also someone over 60. Seniors, dig out your anti-malaria mosquito netting now.
But first, a caution: Colleagues are sadly suspicious of these trips. Maybe it goes back to a night a co-worker and I spent in an abandoned hut in Congo.
My friend noticed a huge tarantula in the thatch roof directly above him and objected to turning out the flashlight. I scolded him for his timidity, suggested the tarantula was probably dead, mocked the idea that it would fall on him, noted dismissively that it would be absurd to switch places, and bullied him into silence. We turned off the light and the next thing I heard was a small "thud" beside me. And then a scream.
I'm not sure where we'll go on this win-a-trip, but one possibility is overland to Timbuktu, another is across either Sudan or Malawi, and a third is to Pakistan, India and Nepal. We'll explore education, health and nutrition, and you'll blog on NYTimes.com and record video diaries.
On the very first win-a-trip in 2006, we were held up at gunpoint in the Central African Republic. But we also were able to shine a powerful spotlight on maternal mortality when we came across the wrenching scene of a woman dying in childbirth in Cameroon.
One point of these trips is that there are solutions. Helping people is hard, and plenty of interventions fail. But we're getting smarter at figuring out what makes a difference. In Congo, we saw how deworming children once a year for about 50 cents per child reduces anaemia and sickness, and leaves children more likely to attend school.
(In case our win-a-trip cuisine has shortcomings, I offer each companion a special bonus: a free deworming pill.)
While one aim of the win-a-trip contest is to focus attention on global issues, another is to encourage Americans to travel in the developing world. That's why I started with young people: arguably, the single biggest failing of American universities is that they are parochial and don't adequately expose students to the one-third of the world that lives on less than $2 a day.
Each year, some of the luckiest entrants in my contest are those who lose and are so miffed at me that they organise their own trips. It's crazy to spend college tuition studying Spanish on campus, for example, when you can learn the language far more cheaply in Peru.
If you're graduating from college, think about the Peace Corps, Princeton in Africa, or other chances to work or live abroad. I recently met Molly Fay, who spent a year after college in Kenya helping with "camel clinics" health clinics that travel to remote villages by camel. That experience transformed her life. She resolved to become a doctor and is now at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
If you're a high school senior, think about taking a "gap year" nearly all colleges will defer admission and exploring the world. It'll be cheaper than a year of college and may well be more educational.
I took a gap year myself, working for the Future Farmers of America youth organisation and then picking peaches on a farm in France. My eldest son is taking a gap year in China right now.
Look up Global Citizen Year, which places gap-year students in Africa and Latin America. Or find a country to teach English in through WorldTeach.org. Or volunteer through omprakash .org.
It used to be that it was mostly young people who wanted to change the world. But increasingly older generations are joining in and doing extraordinary work the winners of the annual "Purpose Prize" for people over 60 are extraordinarily inspiring. And an "encore career" a post-retirement job, possibly volunteer allows seniors to do meaningful work on their own schedule. Encore.org is an excellent resource.
So, whether you're a student or a senior, apply for my win-a-trip contest, and together we'll try to spotlight some of the world's neglected problems. To apply, visit my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground, and thanks in advance to the Centre for Global Development for helping screen applications.
But even if you don't win my trip, I hope that you'll go out and fashion your own.
A STEP FORWARD
'THE DECISIONS ARE IMPORTANT FOR MANY COUNTRIES.'
The agreement reached at the Cancun climate conference by most of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on a new plan of action is a small step forward, if the failure of the conference to address the most contentious issues is ignored. The deal represents a consensus on some issues and ideas to which no country had any serious objection. It has been variously described as a modest achievement, a historic breakthrough and a good augury. There is a positive element in the outcome, compared to the result of last year's Copenhagen summit which was a failure. The absence of any great expectations also made the Cancun decisions all the more welcome.
The agreement envisages a plan to set up a Green Climate Fund with an annual contribution of $100 billion from developed countries, steps to protect tropical forests and ways to provide poor countries with clean energy technologies and help them to adapt better to climate change. However details about the mobilisation of the fund and its utilisation have not been made known. Much of the multi-billion dollar fast track finance promised at Copenhagen has still not been made available to developing countries. The meeting has reiterated the call to limit rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius but no firm emission targets have been set. No commitment has been made to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 when it is set to expire. The declaration that there should be no gap between the first commitment period and the second phase does not dispel all fears about the fate of the protocol. There is also no progress towards a legally binding treaty to cut emissions.
India, Brazil, South Africa and China, which form a strong group, have said that three issues the second commitment period, disbursement of the funds promised at Copenhagen and addressing he intellectual property rights issues in technology transfers are non-negotiable. There is a long way to go before all the important issues that are involved a global climate change deal are addressed. There are sharp divisions not only between developed and developing countries but within these groups too. The decisions are important for the future of many countries and they are not going to be easy. Cancun has kept the process of negotiations alive and the world has to look forward to Durban, where the next meeting is to be held, for more substantial progress.
NOT ENOUGH JUSTICE
'UNFORTUNATELY, THE CJI DID NOT TAKE ANY ACTION.'
The suspension of lawyer R K Chandramohan from the chairmanship and membership of the Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry Bar Council should not mark the end of the controversy over the charge that former Union telecom minister A Raja tried to influence a judge of the Madras high court in a case before it. The court has taken action on the basis of a revelation by Justice Raghupathy, who has since retired, that the lawyer spoke to him in his chamber and tried to make him speak to the minister who was perhaps on the line. The judge had spoken about the matter in open court last year and written to the chief justice about it. What was sought from the judge was a favourable order on an anticipatory bail application by a medical practitioner who was a friend of the minister.
The issue had been brought to the notice of the then chief justice of India, K G Balakrishnan, but unfortunately there was no further action. Balakrishnan has tried to justify his inaction on the ground that no name of a minister was specifically mentioned in the letter to him. This is a lame excuse and is unacceptable. When a judge had made a complaint the chief justice was bound to pursue it and find out who was involved in the grossly improper conduct which amounted to severe contempt of court. It would not have been difficult to find out the identity of the minister through examining phone call records. There was also circumstantial evidence against Raja as the favour was sought for a friend of his.
After verifying the truth of the matter the CJI should have reported it to the prime minister if Raja's role was confirmed in it. Instead a high judge's serious complaint was taken lightly and the matter was brushed under the carpet. It would not have come to public attention if the court had not mentioned it again now. It is not only the lawyer who must be proceeded against for contempt of court. Raja has denied the charge against him but his words are not convincing. It is possible to investigate the matter even now. There are charges of political and other kinds of intervention in the judiciary. When a judge himself names a person who tried to influence him how could the culprit be allowed to escape without even a proper enquiry?
NOISE AND SILENCE
M J AKBAR
'If Tata finds his name in stories on scams, it is because the govt made the Radia tapes available to media.'
It is entirely appropriate that the man in charge of India's volume control, Pranab Mukherjee, should have uttered what is unarguably the comment of the year: our democracy has become too noisy. Through a long career stretching from the 1960s, Pranabda (as he is fondly known) has always preferred the brain to the lung.
Noise has been neither in his temperament nor his bhadralok-brahmin culture. His metier is ministerial; he is a fish out of water when his party is in Opposition. He knows that government has a tremendous advantage in the parliamentary form of government, even more so than in the presidential form, but only if it knows the mechanism of power. He would be the first to appreciate that Opposition very often has no option except to play its first and last card, noise.
Noise has become a pejorative term, which is unfair. Noise does not have to be necessarily loud. Oratory is beautiful noise. Music is noise touched by magic. Politics rarely rises to oratory, and never to music, but every Opposition knows that while it cannot survive if it is not heard, it must trade with the voter in intelligible noise. Rising decibel levels can be justified only if there is the logic of public interest at the core.
The delicate twist that lifts Mukherjee's statement from the passe to the extraordinary is a descriptive qualification, 'a bit too.' Noise is essential to the system. Excess, however, grates. There is a clash of civilisations when the throat threatens to destroy the eardrum. Democracy works when all five sense are in harmony. Mukherjee's diagnosis was perfect, but his prescription was, shall we say, a bit ambiguous. He advised a bit of silence.
The virtues of silence can never be overstated. Silence breeds reflection and reflection encourages maturity. If that was Mukherjee's advice to Opposition, then it had some merit. But it is equally within the Opposition's rights to point out that government very often treats silence in precisely the same manner as an accused as its first line of defence.
In any criminal case, police have to give an accused the legal right of silence, so that he does not incriminate himself. Both Prakash Karat of the CPM and Arun Jaitley of the BJP are asking Manmohan Singh whether he rejects the idea of a JPC because he fears that if he speaks he will incriminate his government in a scandal that continues to have the most astonishing reverberations as layer after surprising layer peels off.
We now learn that the government tapped the middlewoman Nira Radia's phones because it believed that she was 'indulging in anti-national activities.' This takes the allegations against her beyond the edges of conventional corruption, and provides further justification to the Opposition demand for a joint parliamentary committee to probe the most sensational scandal in two decades.
It is ironic that government was forced to state this in the supreme court because of a petition filed by Radia's chief financial mentor and public guardian, Ratan Tata, the industrialist who has helped Radia's company grow from nothing to Rs 300 crore in just nine years.
Acting on poor legal advice, Tata went to court to blanket out information, condemning India as a banana republic along the way. No weapon has ricocheted back faster than the Ratan boomerang.
It may be relevant, therefore, to consider where Mukherjee asked for a bit of silence. He was speaking to industrialists. While it is axiomatic that there cannot be bribery without money, and where there is money there will be businessmen, the 2G spectrum show is slowly turning into theatre where the lead role in the first act has faded before the aggressive emergence of businessmen on the stage.
Ratan Tata has been dominating headlines with a persistence uncharacteristic of his class. He has been interventionist rather than reticent, often storming into the debate despite overwhelming evidence of sleaze on the part of his protege. It was only a matter of time before another businessman decided to label this as hypocrisy, which Rajeev Chandrashekhar did, albeit more politely.
Tata's response was to claim personal virtue in the name of the prime minister, a double-edged tribute which Dr Singh might want to ignore; and accuse an Opposition party, BJP, of association in the exercise.
This might be the moment to point out that Nira Radia's telephones were tapped by the Manmohan Singh government, not the BJP. They were leaked by those today in power, not a BJP mole. If Ratan Tata finds his name in media stories on Indian scams, it is because the present government made the Radia tapes available to media. It is possible that the leaks had home minister P Chidambaram's approval; after all, home secretary G K Pillai has, on record, promised much more.
Time to understand what Pranab Mukherjee implied: silence begins at home.
BHUTAN SAYS YES TO BIOPLASTICS, HAPPINESS
BY GUNTER PAULI
Now Bhutan uses bioplastics made from left-overs, which after use are composted and returned to soil.
A decade ago the Queen of Bhutan Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, visited the ZERI pavilion at the World Expo in Hannover, the largest bamboo building in modern times, constructed with a German building permit. The pavilion demonstrated new emerging business models proven to work in Colombia, Brazil, Namibia, and Sweden. As the driving force behind these innovative development models, I was invited by the Queen to come to Bhutan.
I came and was enchanted with the country and its people. I was impressed with the visionary approach of Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who not only brought democracy to his Himalayan kingdom but who stated early in his reign that happiness is more important than growth. That vision is now known to the world as Gross National Happiness (GNH). Without a doubt, a nation that enshrines forest protection in its constitution and establishes every citizen's right to traditional medicine embraces a different type of development. On top of that, the government banned the sale of cigarettes and the use of plastic bags. However, the pressure to grow is high, unemployment poses a new challenge, and access to satellite television and the internet entices many to emulate a consumption model and desire junk food, which was recently subjected to a special tax.
Grow and be happy
After crossing the country from west to east on four extended visits enriched by dialogues with government, the private sector, and civil society, I submitted a portfolio of possible initiatives 'to grow and be happy'. Based on my experience in creating initiatives that respond to people's needs with what they have, I designed businesses that go beyond cutting costs and instead generate more value, especially for remote rural communities. And one of the core values is happiness.
A portfolio of six top projects emerged, each based on a benchmark somewhere in the world, inspired by pioneers who have demonstrated competitiveness while having the capacity to reach out to the unreached. These opportunities offer a platform for entrepreneurship, job generation, and investments, provided the government creates the policies to make this happen. Working sessions with the prime minister and his colleagues led to the formulation of government resolutions to set the stage for implementing this GNH portfolio backed up by an independent GNH fund. The prime minister's goal is that Bhutan will revert to 100 per cent organic farming, forever. As a first step to achieve that goal, he wishes to decree that all food served in restaurants and hotels must be certified organic. This guarantees higher income to farmers.
The second policy option may even do better: turn Bhutan into the first country committed to bioplastics. An inspirational encounter between the Queen with Dr Catia Bastioli, the founder of Novamont of Italy, who is already converting agro-waste of 600 Italian farmers into bioplastics, set the stage for a promising collaborative effort. Bhutan said no to plastic bags. Now it says yes to bioplastics made from left-overs which after use are composted and returned to soil.
The rise of petroleum imports is hurting the Bhutanese balance of payments. The prime minister already declared that the country will be carbon negative. Now he is prepared to commit to eliminate all use of fossil fuel. He is inspired by the pioneering work of Las Gaviotas, Colombia. Las Gaviotas taps pine trees to generate all the fuel it needs.
Bhutan has a 72 per cent forest cover. We can imagine an army of 'happy tappers', generating fuel from the trees.
The capital city of Thimphu and emerging urban centres are struggling with an increasing flow of black water, a danger to public health and costly to treat. The PM is ready to turn Bhutan into the first country committed to eliminate septic tanks, sewage, and water treatment. Instead, Bhutan wishes to opt for the Swedish technology proven to work in homes, schools, apartment blocks, and city quarters by the architect Anders Nyquist in Sundsvall. This 'dry' approach, which does not smell at all, eliminates viruses at source, recycles water on site, regenerates nutrients, and is cheap.
Each policy decision proposed is backed by technologies, competitive business models, and investment opportunities all based on the Blue Economy, a development model that does not require anyone to pay more to be sustainable. Everyone in the government read my book of the same title! These policy decision made on December 7, 2010, inspired me to create the GNH fund with local partners. Over 100 figures signed a letter of support, going well beyond the clapping hands and slapping of shoulders.
Imagine if the big neighbouring countries would opt for the same strategy.
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
BY NAMITHA ANNAIAH
It was a strange feeling, putting pen to paper after such a long time.
When my daughter recently joined a residential college, our main grouse was that the only way we were allowed to keep in touch with each other was through the snail-mail.
It was like going back in time and I found the idea regressive. Likewise, my daughter, as a teenager may put it, freaked out. She thought lack of texting, mailing and chatting would drive her crazy and that she would lose track of all her friends.
Little did we realise that a whole new experience would open up for us.
My daughter left home with a heavy heart and in an age of e-mail and facebook, in the very next few days I stepped into a post-office. It was a strange feeling, putting pen to paper after such a long time. But, since it was going to be a weekly ritual, I thought I might as well enjoy the whole process. And enjoy I did. Words just kept pouring out of my pen, the daily mundane activities actually looked quite interesting on paper. A quote here, a one liner there and some pep talk, set things moving.
Since we live in a remote place, we have to collect mails ourselves. In these times of instant gratification I find myself eagerly waiting for my daughters' letters and this has taught me a great deal of patience. As for my daughter, along with patience I sense a lot of other positive benefits. Gone are the days when she could text inane stuff with instant messages flying across from both sides. In its place, a more creative, livelier form of correspondence is now taking place. A lot of thought and actually a lot of fun go into her letters. It's filled with artistic icons like a smiley face here and a sad face there. I also notice a new wicked sense of humour. She has her own little codes (just incase someone took a sneak peak at her letters) which only I can decode. She also keeps in touch with all her friends and they in turn take a break from their gizmos and write back to her.
Occasionally, when I miss out on my letter-writing my daughter who would otherwise have taken me for granted, writes back to say, how much she missed hearing from me.
There is something very intimate and personal about, what should I say...? A physical letter...? when compared to an e-mail or text. That anxiety, when you go collect your mail, rip it open and read is something, which especially the younger generation should experience and which I'm glad my daughter and her friends are discovering.
I finally realise that I'm being given a chance to bond with my daughter big time. What more could I have asked for?
THE JERUSALEM POST
Nixon's readiness to come to Israel's aid in time of need underlines the critical mutual importance of the Israeli-American strategic alliance.
A new batch of recordings released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum provides further evidence of former US president Richard Nixon's animosity toward Jews and other minorities. Particularly appalling were comments made by Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger after a March 1973 meeting with prime minister Golda Meir at the White House.
Nixon and Kissinger brutally dismissed Meir's requests to come to the aid of refuseniks.
"The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy," Kissinger said.
"And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern."
"I know," Nixon responded. "We can't blow up the world because of it."
Nixon also ordered his personal secretary Rose Mary Woods to block entry to a state dinner held in honor of Meir he called it "the Jewish dinner" to any Jew "who didn't support us."
And the president disparaged top Jewish advisers among them Kissinger andWilliam Safire for supposedly sharing the common trait of needing to compensate for an inferiority complex.
"What it is, is it's the insecurity," Nixon said. "It's the latent insecurity. Most Jewish people are insecure. And that's why they have to prove things."
In tapes released in 2007, Nixon said of Kissinger "Anybody who is Jewish cannot handle" Middle Eastern policy. Henry might be "as fair as he can possibly be, but he can't help but be affected by it. Put yourself in his position. Good God ... his people were crucified over there. Jesus Christ! Five million of them popped into big ovens! How the hell's he feel about all this?"
COUNTER-INTUITIVELY, this is the same Nixon who, during the Yom Kippur War, overrode intra-administration bickering and bureaucratic foot-dragging to implement a breathtaking transfer of arms. Code-named Operation Nickel Grass, the operation, over a four-week period, deployed hundreds of jumbo US military aircrafts to deliver more than 22,000 tons of armaments to Israel.
And Nixon acted at a time when Washington was in the throes of a post-Vietnam War trauma, embroiled in Watergate and reeling from the forced resignation of vice president Spiro Agnew.
Finally, Nixon braved the threat of an Arab oil embargo, which convinced the Europeans not to get involved.
Indeed, the day after Nixon asked Congress for an emergency appropriation of $2.2 billion for Israel, Saudi Arabia's King Faisal announced an embargo of oil to the US.
White House chief of staff Alexander Haig, CIA deputy director Vernon Walters and historian Walter Boyne all credited Nixon with coming to the aid of Israel at a time when no European country was willing to, as Jason Maoz noted in a recent article in Commentary.
"It was Nixon who did it," recalled Nixon's acting special counsel, Leonard Garment. "I was there. As [bureaucratic bickering between the State and Defense departments] was going back and forth, Nixon said, this is insane. . . . He just ordered Kissinger, 'Get your ass out of here and tell those people to move.'" Haig, in his memoir Inner Circles, wrote that Nixon, frustrated with the initial delays in implementing the airlift and aware that the Soviets had begun airlifting supplies to Egypt and Syria, summoned Kissinger and Schlesinger to the Oval Office on October 12, 1973, six days into the war, and "banished all excuses."
The president asked Kissinger for a precise accounting of Israel's military needs, and Kissinger proceeded to read aloud from an itemized list.
"Double it," Nixon ordered. "Now get the hell out of here and get the job done."
Meir herself referred to Nixon as "my president" and told a group of Jewish leaders in Washington shortly after the war: "For generations to come, all will be told of the miracle of the immense planes from the United States bringing in the materiel that meant life to our people."
THE NEW York Times, attempting to explain the apparent contradiction between Nixon's anti-Semitic remarks and his pro-Israel behavior, ascribed it to a distinction the president made between Israeli Jews, whom he admired, and American Jews.
Perhaps so. Whatever the case, Nixon's readiness to come to Israel's aid at a time of dire need, his appreciation that this was an American interest, has an ongoing relevance, underlining the critical mutual importance of the Israeli-American strategic alliance.
With all its implications for policy-making in Washington and in Jerusalem, this remains as true today as it ever was.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE 'MEHDAL' WE URGENTLY NEED TO FIX
A key decision for the government, as underlined by Carmel fire, is to unify all emergency and rescue authorities under one ministerial office.
The Yom Kippur War left a scar on the state of Israel that has yet to fully heal. Thousands of dead and wounded paid the price for the intelligence failure at the time, the false "conception" that there was little chance of an Egyptian attack upon us. That war gave birth to a concept that has accompanied us as an eternal shadow ever since the mehdal, the enormous blunder. This one word encapsulated the public's anger and disappointment over the unforgivable blindness that overtook the political and military leadership in October 1973.
Almost four decades have passed and mehdal has become a common term used to describe any and every error, grave or not, major or slight. It is no longer uniquely reserved for only the most traumatic event or national calamity. Our national soccer team fails yet again to qualify for the World Cup a mehdal! A Tel Aviv rapist escapes from under the noses of two police officers an irreparable mehdal! A political party's computers crash on the morning of the primaries and the lines to the voting booths become longer than expected an unforgivable mehdal! Since the huge fire in the Carmel resulted in the deaths of 43 people and destroyed millions of trees, the term mehdal is once again on everyone's lips. The familiar battle has begun. The opposition calls for the resignation of the prime minister and interior minister. The media demands a state commission of inquiry to examine the reasons behind the disaster.
The bereaved families demand that those responsible be brought to justice.
On the other side, government supporters emphasize the dynamic performance of the prime minister during the crisis. The interior minister calls a press conference to detail the efforts he had made to obtain the necessary funding for the fire services.
Everyone entrenches and fortifies himself, taking cover behind lawyers and public relations experts, gearing up to fend off every possible attack.
I AM not, heaven forbid, belittling the relevance of the questions over whether some kind of investigative committee should be established, whether this or that minister should stay or go, or whether or not funds should be allocated to establish a fleet of blue-and-white fire-fighting planes. In the coming days these questions and others will certainly be addressed. But the preoccupation with them overshadows the most important and urgent decision that the government must take: the unification of all emergency and rescue authorities under one ministerial office.
The minister appointed for such a task would have the sole authority to deploy the national unified forces in an emergency. In quieter times the minister would be responsible for building and preparing these forces for their work, budgeting, determining the priorities of the unified network and ensuring that the ministry's goals are met.
That is exactly how the US operated after 9/11. The government understood that the law enforcement authorities needed to be integrated with the rescue authorities. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security was established. Under the broad wings of this new department, many authorities that previously operated under an array of government departments without coordination, and with all kinds of inefficiencies and conflicts became unified.
Today, the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for all the units whose integrative operation enables them to cope effectively with strategic and tactical threats. Important issues that until 2001 were handled separately, by departments remote from one another, are now overseen by Homeland Security with the broadest vision. These issues include: domestic nuclear detection, transportation security, customs and border protection, citizenship and immigration, Coast Guard, Secret Service, emergency management, narcotics enforcement and critical infrastructure protection.
IN 2003, prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed me to head the Ministry of Public Security. I studied the conditions under which the Department of Homeland Security was established and met with its founder, secretary Tom Ridge. It became clear to me that the idea was not a new one. Since 1991, respected committees had been recommending time after time to all Israeli prime ministers that a unified body of emergency and rescue authorities be established. People with vast experience in the public sphere headed those committees, including former IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Levi, police inspector general Herzl Shapir and Maj.-Gen. Ron Goren.
In 2004, I presented a detailed and well-reasoned proposal to Sharon for the establishment of an all-encompassing authority for emergency and rescue forces in the Ministry of Public Security that would include: From the Interior Ministry the fire and rescue services (which would become national services).
From the Health Ministry Magen David Adom.
From the IDF the Home Front Command.
From the Prime Minister's Office the Anti-Drug Authority.
From the Defense Ministry the National Emergency Management Authority.
Sharon was convinced of the need for this course of action, and expressed his complete support. To my sorrow, I left the Ministry of Public Security a few months later and Sharon became totally immersed in a much more demanding process the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.
Over the past few years, the need to unify the emergency and rescue authorities has only become greater.
The Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, the massive arming of Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Syria, the Iranian threat that becomes more concrete by the day all these intensify the need to prepare for confrontation that may prove graver than ever before.
The fire on the Carmel was just a chilling reminder that the price of administrative delays and procrastination is paid with people's lives.
The writer is a former Kadima MK.
THE JERUSALEM POST
FOR SALE IN 'THE 72 VIRGINS'
BY BARRY RUBIN
Gaza Strip's new housing projects not intended to raise living standards, but to ensure regime's survival and motivate revolutionary zeal.
The Gaza Strip is doing well economically and the Hamas regime seems set to rule forever.
Money is pouring in from Iran, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Western donors, and Islamic associations. Even the Palestinian Authority directs millions of dollars (some supplied by American taxpayers) to the Gaza Strip for the salaries of 70,000 government workers, education and health and some of the electricity production costs.
"There are a slew of products here, and beautiful restaurants. Is this the Gaza we have been hearing about?" asked a Sudanese official arriving there, as quoted by the Palestinian news agency Maan.
"Where is the siege? I don't see it in Gaza. I wish Sudan's residents could live under the conditions of the Gazan siege."
There is massive construction going on, including rebuilding constructs destroyed in Hamas's war against Israel last year. If Hamas were a normal government this would be great. Such a regime would say: "We're raising living standards, we're increasing our popularity. Why should we be so foolish as to go to war against a stronger neighbor and see all of this destroyed again?" But, of course, Hamas is not a normal ruling group. It believes that God is on its side and wants it to fight. Hamas revels in martyrdom. It thinks total victory and the killing of all Israeli Jews is achievable. And it knows that the world won't let it be thrown out of power no matter how many rockets and martyrs it sends into Israel.
AS A dictatorial regime, Hamas is locking the Gaza population into its patronage system so that people wouldn't dare defy their rulers.
Here's the main project: building 25,000 new housing units in the northern Gaza Strip, just west of Beit Lahiya. A business magazine explains that the neighborhoods will be named: the 72 virgins (waiting in paradise for believers), al-Buraq (after Muhammad's horse that he rode to Jerusalem) and Andalus (after the medieval Muslim kingdom in Spain).
Let's consider those names:
72 virgins: To remind everyone growing up there that they, too, can get six dozen virgins if they die while blowing up Israeli civilians.
Al-Buraq: To remind everyone their goal in life is to fight so they, too, can conquer Jerusalem and travel to the Aksa Mosque.
Andalus: To remind everyone that the Muslim empire will be restored, ruling not only Palestine but at least all the way back to Spain.
Economic development isn't intended to make the people happy or raise living standards, but to ensure the regime's survival and motivate revolutionary zeal.
Who gets the apartments? First in line are the families of martyrs, prisoners, and wounded fighters.
This shows the advantages of fighting for Hamas. The road to an apartment is not a good education or hard work but rather the willingness to die in battle.
Next on the priority list come young couples.
That's nice, but it relates to the theme which Hamas has voiced often of maximizing population growth so as to achieve victory through overwhelming numbers and producing more fighters.
Only in third place come families who lost their homes during the fighting last year, which is the group you'd expect to have the highest priority.
Only those working for the Hamas government can get a bank loan; families of casualties can seek help from Hamas-controlled Islamic charities. The rest can take mortgages only from Hamas-dominated Islamic associations. You can bet that Hamas loyalists will always be put ahead of Fatah supporters.
That gives an incentive to switch sides.
Finally, the way the housing project is being laid out looks as if it is to form a barrier to any future Israeli military operation.
It will create a dense network of narrow streets and buildings which can be easily defended by guerrillas likely to inflict more casualties on Israeli soldiers.
It is also a sort of architectural equivalent of a human shield, since Israeli forces would have to damage civilian apartments to engage Hamas men firing from them, which could be portrayed as a war crime.
At any rate, it should now be impossible to speak about the Gaza Strip as deprived or suffering, though I suspect that won't stop a lot of people from doing so. .
So Hamas is awash with funds, no doubt using part of the money for paying, training and arming its security men. Unlike the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, however, Hamas is also putting in a tax system: value-added tax, income tax, tax on gas and tax on all goods arriving from Israel. Bottom line: Hamas will take its cut of everything coming in and everything going on.
It is a good thing that Gazans will have nicer lives materially. But the same process will ensure that they will not have a better life in terms of freedom.
With Hamas indoctrinating young people to become terrorists and suicide bombers, many of them will have shorter lives.
And since Hamas is just preparing for another war with Israel or provocations that will eventually lead to war those apartments might not be there forever either.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies. www.rubinreports.blogspot.com
THE JERUSALEM POST
EDITOR'S NOTES: ON THE ROAD TO A BETTER PLACE
Welcome to the quieter, healthier motoring of tomorrow.
I have seen the future. Or rather I've driven it.
It's quick, smooth and, most strikingly, almost silent. And its environmental importance could hardly be more relevant in a week where our vulnerability to global warming was fatally underlined by the Carmel inferno.
At Pi Glilot, north of Tel Aviv formerly the nation's key hub, ironically, of fossil fuel distribution Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi's Better Place offers test drives around a short circuit in the Renault Fluence ZE. ZE, of course, stands for zero emission.
The car runs solely on an electric battery. You press an ignition button and you need to double-check that it has come to life.
There's no roar of an engine. No throb. You lift your foot off the brake pedal and glide forward in serene, quiet glory. You reach the same speeds with what feels like similar acceleration to the gas-guzzling norms. You expend next to no power when idling as in traffic jams or at traffic lights.
It looks like a car. It moves like a car. It sounds like an air conditioner.
BY THIS time next year, visitors to the demonstration center are now being told, we'll all be able to drive cars like this. To keep them powered-up, Better Place is moving to install a network of battery charging and battery replacement centers nationwide.
The limitations of electric cars are well-known. Growing up in England, we used to have our milk delivered each morning by a chirpy, peak-capped fellow riding an electric cart. He'd set out fully charged from the local dairy, but his route had to be kept pretty short, or he'd run out of power and curdle.
Better Place has settled on a lithium-ion battery that will take you 160 kilometers not bad in a tiny country whose main urban centers, Eilat apart, fall within the range of a single, fully charged battery. The overwhelming majority of journeys, the hops around town, are far shorter.
Most of the time, in the Better Place vision, we'll do our recharging at home, at work, in parking lots and at other "charging spots," via squat, triangular- shaped, plug-in charging posts, topping up as necessary.
On those longer journeys, we'll pull in at one of the replacement centers in much the same way as we pull in at gas stations today. It'll take three to five minutes for the slick battery- switch procedure. And then we'll be on our silent way again, just without putting more cash into the pockets of unsavory oil barons and without wreaking further havoc on our fragile planet.
The battery switch system is on display at the Pi Glilot center as well. It's an impressive, nohands operation: A robot mechanism slides under the car, unscrews, lowers and removes the old battery, lifts and screws in the new. The batteries weigh about 250 kilos, and the task of speedily replacing them had apparently defeated numerous international experts. Agassi got his solution via the Israel Air Force, adapting the technologies that are used to lift out and lift in missiles on fighter planes.
IN A perfect world, the electric car would run on power generated with minimal damage to the environment. And perhaps one day we'll have solar panels on the roofs of our vehicles, or, who knows, find a way to help power them by harnessing the energy created by their very motion.
For now, in our less than perfect world, and in a country only beginning to explore the potential of solar and other clean energy sources, Better Place pronounces itself committed to the encouragement of alternative energy generation down the road and extols the environmental benefits it is offering today.
First, there is the switch away from oil in the tank to coal- and gas-generated electricity in the battery. Then there is the recharging strategy that is designed to minimize additional strains on the national electricity grid. The aim, wherever possible, will be to encourage, via a savvy pricing structure, recharging in off-peak periods, notably overnight.
And finally there is the fact that the zero-emission cars will keep not only noise pollution but also, crucially, air pollution out of our population centers, so blighted by carbon monoxide emissions, with all the attendant climate change and personal health benefits.
NOT EVERYTHING has gone Better Place's way since I spoke to the company's chairman Idan Ofer for an article in this column two years ago.
He noted at the time that America spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on imported oil, and correctly assessed that the incentive to shift away from those kinds of numbers was overwhelming, given the economic crisis, the environmental imperatives and the unsavory regimes this spending supports.
But Better Place was hoping for a more central role in an anticipated Barack Obama-led electric car revolution. The US administration has allocated several billion dollars to encourage its car-making giants to move away from yesterday's technology and to begin the transition to electric charging stations.
There has been some criticism of Better Place's dominant role in Israel including the suggestion, firmly denied by the company, that it has maneuvered toward a monopoly. Its business model, whereby it inserts itself as a middleman, a "commercial sub-supplier," between the electric car purchaser and the national grid, has also been disparaged as working to the consumer's detriment.
The world's major car manufacturers, Globes analyst Dudi Ben-Gedalyahu wrote recently, "are designing vehicles for unrestricted charging on the national electricity grid. In this way, they will be able to sell electric cars the same way they sell regular cars: fire and forget.
"Most Western countries support this approach and even encourage it on environmental grounds. If the state believes the electric vehicle is indeed clean and green, as its supporters claim, then it is in the state's interest or in the interest of municipal authorities to boost its use at the expense of the polluting alternatives," he added.
"Therefore, large cities such as London, Berlin and San Francisco are currently setting up public charging stations with subsidized charging prices, or at least with regular prices."
If so, however, they are a long way behind Better Place-prodded Israel. And Better Place officials note that, as things stand, our inadequate local electricity grid which frequently comes close to breaking point as the nation's air conditioners battle through our hotter, longer summers might face total collapse under the strain of unregulated, nationwide, direct electric car plug-ins.
Furthermore, as the relevant technologies become more widespread and perfected, the firm knows it will have to compete in an ever-more crowded, extremely competitive field.
Overall, Better Place, which was only founded by Agassi in 2007, has plainly made extraordinary headway, raising over $750 million, winning an Israeli government endorsement in 2008, signing contracts on electric cars with more than two dozen countries, and focusing now on operations here, in Denmark, Australia, Japan (where it has been running a pilot study with electric taxis) and North America.
The reasonable expectation is that, as the efficiency of zeroemission motoring proves itself, governments worldwide will clamor to get behind the wheel, boosted by public demand.
It's not clear yet whether Israel or Denmark will win the race to go electric on a viable national scale, but Better Place indicates that the process should be well under way in both countries just a year from now.
Pricing of the cars themselves, and of the various packages Better Place will offer to drivers who join its network has yet to be finalized. But the company stresses that costs will be competitive. All kinds of regulatory processes are now unfolding, and it's reasonable to assume that Israeli bureaucracy including the particular pleasures of working with the Israel Electric Corporation will yet place a few obstacles on the road to a Better Place.
But if Ofer, in December 2008, encouraged me to "Imagine the Israel of 2011 is flooded with electric cars," he may prove not to be too many months off.
THE FINAL, optional stop at the Pi Glilot visitors' center is at what amounts to an impeccably green incarnation of the car dealer's sales office. A smiling employee, in gleaming, crisp white shirt, sits with you at a computer screen, takes down your name and phone number, asks you what car you drive now, where you park it, how much you drive in a year, and whether you'd be interested in switching to a zero-emission alternative.
Some time next year, they'll likely be calling to ask that last gentle, theoretical question for real.
THE JERUSALEM POST
FROM ISRAEL TO COLOMBIA WITH LOVE
Hear "G-d bless Israel" after telling someone where you are from; this South American country seems to have a soft spot for the Jewish state.
Dios Bendiga Israel God bless Israel. This is not a statement many Israelis hear when traveling abroad.
Except in Colombia.
I have been told this over and over by locals during my three visits there, the most recent of which was in October.
My first serving of blessings on my latest trip was delivered by a lady standing behind the counter at a dry cleaning store in Cali, Colombia's third largest city. I only went in to ask for directions, but as soon as the lady heard where I was from, she started blessing me and told me how she and her church pray for Israel and love Israel. Some may have been surprised by such behavior, I wasn't. I have encountered it so many times that I have become used to it.
If only Israelis could get used to such compliments when traveling in other countries. If anything, they are concerned about mentioning their nationality, especially in parts of Europe, as it could lead to insults or even verbal abuse.
Such affection is not confined to religious members of society and those who belong to the Evangelical churches which are growing in numbers and strength in Colombia. One can find tremendous respect and a sense of kinship from secular members of society as well.
CAROLINA LEDESMAN, 33, is one such person. A graphic design lecturer at Cali's Universidad Autonoma, she becomes very animated when talking about Israel's great achievements in telecommunications, defense and agriculture.
"Israel is world renowned in all these fields. It's a miracle, what Israel has achieved in such a short space of time."
What should warm the heart of many Israelis is that such friendship and affection doesn't only emanate from the heart of the people of Colombia. It is also supported by their intellect, especially from the young.
This should be a source of pride. Young Colombians are some of the most well educated in all of Latin America.
This is not only on paper, you can bear witness to it when speaking with them.
While giving a lecture on current conflicts in the Middle East at Cali's Universidad San Buenaventura, I was blown away by the knowledge some of the students had about this region. Their intelligent questions were not only about Israel. They also asked detailed questions about Iran, and specifically about the Green movement and about Neda Agha Soltan , the woman shot dead on the streets of Teheran after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad'sreelection in 2009. What was even more amazing was that many of those who ask savvy questions were not students of Middle Eastern studies.
The degree of liberalism and open-mindedness among young Colombians is also amazing. This was manifested in the strong showing of Antanas Muckus's Green party in the last elections; it won 30 percent of the vote. Aside from Germany, nowhere in the world have those who support green energy and green living made such a strong political showing.
What makes Colombia even more special in this regard is that it has been suffering from 50 years of guerrilla war, yet that doesn't seem to have dampened the forward looking energy of its youth. There are many other countries which have enjoyed 50 years of uninterrupted peace, yet one would be hard-pressed to find such hope for the future.
Intellectual Colombians show their affection for Israel not only by expressing their admiration, but also by worrying about its future. "Israel is an amazing country which has made many contributions to the world. But these days all we hear about Israel on the news is about building in the West Bank which is against every single UN resolution and putting unfair sieges on Gaza which only helps the extremists. Why is the Israeli government doing this? This causes immense damage to the peace process and to Israel's future," lamented Ledesman.
Many Israelis would be delighted that a university lecturer and a mother who has never been to Israel cares so much for this country that she worries about its future.
Many Israelis who have lived here for many generations feel the same.
The first verse of Colombia's national anthem reads: "O gloria inmarcesible, O júbilo inmortal, En surcos de dolores, el bien germina ya." "O unfading glory, O immortal joy, In furrows of pain, the good has emerged."
The recent decision by the government to dispatch 50 tons of aid to flood victims near the city of Medellin is Israel's way of recognizing the furrows of pain, while helping the good to emerge soon.
Dios bendiga Colombia.
The writer is a Middle East analyst and an adjunct professor of Iranian studies at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
He is coauthor of The Nuclear Sphinx of Teheran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE GLOVES ARE OFF
BY KATIE GREEN
To our Diaspora brethren: When it comes to criticizing Israel, there are areas you cause grave offense, and others where your input is welcome.
For a couple of years now, I've thought of writing an article called "The gloves are off." But I delayed because I didn't want the gloves to be off, and even if they were off, I didn't want to be the one to state that they were. But now they are off, and the person who really helped us admit it is Mick Davis, chairman of the UJIA in the UK.
In a recent speech, Davis berated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for "lacking the courage to take the steps" to advance the peace process, adding: "I don't understand the lack of strategy in Israel."
He also predicted an "apartheid state" unless Israel is able to achieve a two-state solution.
His remarks caused a furor in the UK Jewish community, with many prominent Jews in public positions defending his remarks, noting that it was high time "that honest and open discussions" about Israel took place in the public arena. Other Jewish leaders were chagrined or irritated, and issued mixed statements, while only a very few most notably Jonathan Hoffman of the Zionist Federation and Lord Stanley Kalms professed outright indignation.
Davis's comments are disturbing because of who he is. As chairman of the UJIA, he has devoted much time and energy to raising funds for Israel. Yet he still used this language in a public forum. This means that a growing desire to openly criticize Israel is moving from the fringes of the Jewish community into the mainstream. This is the new discussion, and arguments about whether it should or shouldn't be suppressed, are moot. It's out there and it's gaining momentum.
I'M ASSUMING that as a UK-born Israeli who has spent 25 years living, working, voting and paying taxes here, I can be part of this discussion. After all, if we're going to be honest and open, it's best to get a lot of stuff which hasn't been articulated on the Israeli side out on the table.
But before I do this, I'm going to say that if your love of Israel is unconditional, if you've come to the conclusion that Israelis are pretty much doing the best they can and are paying a high price to do so, you can skip this article.
But if you're thinking of joining this new chorus of public criticism, here are the two things that I would like to put across to you.
One: There are areas of criticism where you cause grave offense, and others where your input is necessary and welcome.
In the welcome category are issues which affect Jews everywhere, and where I would be glad to see a concerted joint effort and involvement in Israeli affairs. For example, I don't see the Western Wall as Israeli only but as a Jewish historical and spiritual heritage that concerns us all. I'm increasingly alarmed at the haredi takeover of this site, and would love for women of all denominations to mount a campaign to claim equal and respectable space, freedom of worship and visual access to the men's section. Similarly, the behavior of the rabbinical courts in matters of marriage, divorce and conversion affect all of us. I think it perfectly legitimate for there to be loud and furious debate on these issues across the globe.
I would also love to get more of your input and expertise for our school systems and community centers. The achievements of Diaspora communities in Jewish education and engagement, communal cohesion and responsibility and religious diversity and creativity could greatly benefit Israeli society, and have indeed already begun to do so.
But there are some in the UK Jewish community who seem increasingly inclined to level criticism in the grave offense category, on the subject of our conflict with the Palestinians, the finalization of our borders and our responses to provocation from Hamas and Hizbullah. On these issues, I believe you have no right to speak at all, mainly because you have not risked your lives and futures, and the lives and futures of your children, for Israel's security. We may be equals in many things, but in this matter we are not, because we have not invested equally. We are separated by a vale of tears and an ocean of blood, mostly very young blood.
In my particular case, I'm separated from you guys by two Lebanon wars, two Gulf wars, two intifadas, two children who've completed army service and a third about to begin, seven general elections, four unsuccessful peace processes and five terrorist organizations operating in my region. So I don't believe that your understanding of our region is as nuanced as er mine.
I do see that these security issues affect your comfort level in British society. But the government can hardly be expected to make tough decisions on the basis of that. Anyway, I think we've each chosen our level of discomfort.
You chose the UK, so you get to squirm when the BBC reports, as a deliberate lie, that there's been a massacre in Jenin. My neighbors and I, on the other hand, chose Israel, so we get to send our sons into Jenin, hoping against hope that they'll come out again. Which they sometimes don't (or do, but as paraplegics).
This is why the remarks you fling in our direction leave us astonished and dismayed.
We may not make a big deal of it, but we walk in shadow.
The chief rabbi of the UK, Lord Jonathan Sacks, understands this perfectly well. In a recent piece on the United Synagogue website, he wrote that the debate that has erupted over Davis's remarks is "deflecting us from the real issue," which is that Israel's enemies Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran refuse to recognize its existence as a matter of religious principle. And as long as this is the case, he says, "there can be no peace, merely a series of staging posts on the way to a war that will not end until there is no Jewish state at all."
THERE ARE other areas where the offense is not grave, just annoying. Take the issue of African refugees pouring across the border with Egypt in their tens of thousands.
"How can we not, as Jews, have compassion for asylum seekers?" says UK resident Hannah Weisfeld in the Jewish Quarterly. Well, let's see the government has just allocated millions of shekels for the construction of a new transit center for these illegal immigrants.
I pay 50 percent income tax, so with the greatest compassion in the world, I'm not sure I want to finance their long-term support. But no doubt, when the numbers in these temporary dwellings have swelled beyond the originally intended figures, and this holding facility becomes nothing more than an overcrowded slum, Hannah will be campaigning for the food and health and shelter of these immigrants, and she'll be campaigning for me to pay for it.
Last year, my son spent three months of his IDF service on the Egyptian border, dragging the bodies of dead and wounded refugees to waiting ambulances because they'd been shot on the Egyptian side. One Eritrean, faint from hunger and exhaustion, sank to his knees and wrapped his arms around Yonatan's legs when he discovered he'd reached the Israeli side. This refugee presumably hadn't listened to CNN or BBC, so he didn't know that Israel was a hotbed racism and apartheid. He only knew that nobody on the Israeli side would try to kill him, and that he'd get a hospital bed for his wounds and food and shelter for his family, before being released into Eilat to look for a job.
Of course this issue is ethically complex.
It's just that I find the need of Jews living outside Israel to enlighten me on those complexities incredibly patronizing. What is their investment level in this social and political dilemma? If it's zero, then that's what the opinions are worth.
POINT TWO: What is the motivation behind this need for public criticism? This is a very important factor in the debate. I can castigate a friend or sibling if I believe her behavior to be selfish or unreasonable, but if I do so in public, I will only humiliate and wound her. I would be mad to think that making her look ridiculous in front of others, and permanently damaging their perception of her is going to produce good results. In fact, I would only do such a thing if my friend's wellbeing were not the primary object. I might want to hurt her and put her down for complicated reasons of my own.
I speak for myself and many other Israelis when I say that for us, public criticism by UK Jews is suspect. For one, your call for "openness" has escalated at exactly the same rate as the delegitimization and demonization of Israel by the British establishment. This vindictive ostracizing of Israel has resulted in an extreme lowering of comfort levels for the Jewish community, as we've agreed. But should it result in your shouting to join that vindictiveness? And if you join in, does it increase your status and respectability in British society? My feeling is that it certainly does. So you'll forgive me if I doubt the integrity of your backing the shrill accusations of the British government and media.
I actually think this discomfort is an encouraging sign that the heart and soul of British Jewry is in good working order. If British Jews were not viscerally connected to Israel, the feeling would be one of apathy or contempt, not discomfort. But they are connected.
To so many of them, Israel is precious and important. When they land at Ben-Gurion Airport, their hearts are filled with belonging.
This is something we all share, we who live here and we who come to visit. To sever us from this profound recognition and unity in our psyche, to force us to feel that we have no choice but to expunge it, is to cripple us indeed. So my suggestion to you is don't agree to be crippled. Hold your head high, take it on the chin, fight it like a lion or leave.
Where does that leave us, you and I? I personally would rather we did not go this route.
But if you would like to criticize Israel as much as you like, then I, by the same token, will feel free to criticize you as much as I like. We will call this new way of relating "tough love."
We will use the two-directional model, instead of Diaspora Jews behaving as if their criticism is a lifesaving antibiotic, which Israel, the ever truculent child, refuses to swallow.
In conclusion, I'd like to invite Jonathan Hoffman, Lord Kalms and Chief Rabbi Sacks to dinner the next time they are in Beit Shemesh. In a crisis, it sure is nice to know who your friends are. As for poor Mick Davis, he will not get even one bite of my fabulous lasagna.
The writer is a filmmaker.
THE JERUSALEM POST
A DISTURBING DESECRATION OF JEWISH VALUES
BY DAVID ROSEN
Rabbi Eliahu of Safed and his colleagues are guilty of nothing less than "chilul hashem."
There are many disturbing things about the fact that a few dozen rabbis signed on to the initiative of Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu of Safed to persuade Jews to refrain from selling or renting homes to non-Jews in Israel.
Eliahu claims to have "evidence" that Islamist forces are providing money for Arabs to buy up property to promote an Arab demographic takeover of the country, and evidently some of his colleagues have been persuaded that there is an imminent threat.
It is some small comfort that the majority of rabbis approached by Eliahu refused to support his initiative, that the chief rabbis have disassociated themselves from it, and that many notable rabbinic figures have publicly condemned it.
However, the fact that a few dozen were willing to append their names to this deplorable letter not only displays the degree to which fear and paranoia prevail in segments of our society, but also reflects a worrying trend toward greater insularity within the rabbinate in recent years.
Indeed, the halachic argumentation of Eliahu's call reflects not only a mean spirit, but also a narrow- minded interpretation of halacha that completely disregards the enlightened interpretation of past chief rabbis.
Eliahu's argumentation rests on viewing Muslims and Christians as idolaters as well as a collective threat. However, Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook ruled categorically, on the basis of the position of the medieval rabbinic luminary Rabbi Menahem Hameiri rejecting such categorization of Christians and Muslims, that Jewish law requires a Jewish polity to guarantee full civil rights to its non-Jewish citizens. This ruling was reiterated by his successor, Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog.
IN THE summer of 1939, after three violent years in the course of which hundreds of Jews were killed in acts of terror, some Jewish extremists called for and even perpetrated deeds of violent revenge. The Sephardi chief rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine, Ben Zion Uziel, and the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Tel Aviv Moshe Amiel issued powerful statements that were widely disseminated, condemning such acts and ideas and stressed Judaism's unqualified rejection of holding innocents especially a whole community responsible for the acts of some guilty individuals.
The third Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the State of Israel, Isser Yehuda Unterman, issued a learned pronouncement to emphasize that the Jewish legal precept of "the ways of peace" that demands the highest ethical conduct toward non-Jews is not a "defense mechanism," but represents the highest moral aspirations of Judaism.
However, it seems that many rabbis today are, at best, plain ignorant of these positions and halachic rulings. At worst, they reflect an insular mind-set that represent a sad regression to a medieval view that can see only hostility all around.
While the country's leaders have condemned this racist advocacy, no legal steps have yet been taken against these rabbis, most of whom are civil service employees and thus in breach of the conditions of their employment by their very involvement in such an initiative. Indeed Israel's legal authorities have been notably timorous as far as the possibility of prosecution of racist declarations when these have come from rabbinic quarters. Nevertheless there has been a groundswell of civil initiatives, including many rabbis who are still true to the higher ethical values and aspirations of our heritage, to pressure the attorney general to take the necessary action.
Such civil response represents the authentic voice of Jewish morality and is in consonance with the above-mentioned positions of Jewish luminaries of the State of Israel's earlier history. Rabbi Eliahu and his colleagues represent not only a halachic regression and a capitulation to scaremongering, but they are guilty of nothing less than chilul hashem, a desecration of the Divine Name, and an embarrassment to our Jewish heritage.
The writer is the Jerusalem-based international director of interreligious affairs of theAmerican Jewish Committee.
NEEDED: AN OPPOSITION
Livni will not gain from meetings with the U.S. secretary of state, like the one held over the weekend, but by convincing Israeli citizens that she can lead them.
Kadima's Tzipi Livni has for two years proudly borne the empty title of opposition leader.
Aside from appearances in which she directed personal criticism at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ("he's preoccupied with surviving," "he's not telling the truth" ), Livni has not presented an alternative to the current government's policies, and has not worked to mobilize public support to replace the leadership.
The public sees her weakness, and the results are evident in polls in which Netanyahu has a comfortable lead. The weakness of the opposition is especially evident when compared to the behavior of the government, which provides almost daily opportunities for harsh criticism: neglecting the firefighting services before the Carmel fire, the lawyers' strike and the continuing erosion of the judicial system, anti-democratic legislation, repressive measures and incitement against Arab citizens, surrender to the ultra-Orthodox and the conversion laws, Israel's international isolation and the destruction of the foreign ministry under the leadership of Avigdor Lieberman.
And above all is Netanyahu's rejectionism and stubbornness in the diplomatic process, his refusal to discuss core issues with the Palestinians and the rejection of the American proposal for an additional freeze of settlement building in return for diplomatic guarantees.
On all these issues Livni should have presented a clear position and fought for it in the public forum.
She should have called on the government to say yes to U.S. President Barack Obama and safeguard democracy and civil rights.
But Livni has made do with remaining outside the government in the false hope that Netanyahu will soften, thus signaling that she expects to join the coalition under his leadership. More worrying was Livni's silence when Knesset members from her party supported racist legislative initiatives.
The failure of efforts to renew negotiations with the Palestinians should sound the alarm for the opposition.
Now is the time for it to wake up, show the public the danger posed by the Netanyahu government for Israel's future and present an alternative.
Livni will not gain from meetings with the U.S. secretary of state, like the one held over the weekend, but by convincing Israeli citizens that she can lead them.
The longer she continues as a weak opposition leader, the less she will look like a proper candidate for prime minister.
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WE NEED A COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
IN THE COUNTRY'S HISTORY, IT'S HARD TO FIND SUCH A GREAT DISASTER THAT WAS NOT INVESTIGATED BY A COMMISSION OF INQUIRY, OR AT LEAST A LOWER-LEVEL INVESTIGATIVE COMMITTEE.
BY ZE'EV SEGAL
The Knesset State Control Committee will discuss tomorrow whether to use its authority to appoint a state commission of inquiry on the fire services, following the state comptroller's report on the subject. The comptroller submitted a harshly critical report to the committee, calling the fire services' lack of preparedness "neglect of the civilian population in an emergency."
The report does not address the Carmel fire, which happened after the report was completed, but a commission of inquiry would deal with the blaze. On the face of it, one might have assumed that it was inconceivable for an Israeli government to prevent the establishment of a commission of inquiry on a matter of such public importance.
Actually, in the country's history, it's hard to find such a great disaster that was not investigated by a commission of inquiry, or at least a lower-level investigative committee. State comptroller reports are meant to examine effectiveness, not necessarily questions about ministerial responsibility or the personal responsibility of senior officeholders.
The State Comptroller Law explicitly notes a case in which the comptroller submits a special report to the committee, and then the committee is allowed, at its own initiative or at the comptroller's suggestion, to appoint a state commission of inquiry whose members are named by the Supreme Court president, to emphasize the commission's independence. For this the law requires only an ordinary majority of participants in the vote.
Once the cabinet, under the prime minister's leadership, refrained from deciding on a commission of inquiry, the hot potato was tossed to the State Control Committee, whose head, according to a fine tradition, is a representative of the opposition. This is meant to emphasize a basic principle in public life: "The controlled does not become the controller." What's more, the committee's advantage is supposed to be its members' broad view, which does not necessarily hew to a certain political outlook.
If there is no change for the better at the last minute, it appears that the committee, through the votes of coalition members, will decide against setting up a commission of inquiry. It will thus be derelict in its duty to bring such a painful issue to an investigation in the most effective way, openly and transparently, unlike the comptroller's examination.
In recent years the State Control Committee has contributed greatly in matters of public importance. The decisions that led to commissions of inquiry headed by retired Supreme Court judges (following State Comptroller reports ) on aid to Holocaust survivors and the evacuees from Gaza and the northern West Bank improved matters considerably.
The committee's chairman, Kadima's Yoel Hasson, was right when he said that "only a state commission of inquiry has the professional authority to formulate a new and good model for the fire services." A proper mandate, drawn up by the commission, would help it avoid protracted discussions about the division of responsibility in the current situation and its application during the Carmel disaster.
What we really need is a proper analysis of authority and to draft reforms for the fire services. A serious commission, headed by a retired senior judge, whose other members will be respected experts, will be able to write a report in a few months. A commission of inquiry also has the authority, exercised by the Matza Commission on the evacuees from the Gaza Strip, to submit an interim report. The government, for its part, can take urgent steps following the comptroller's report that will not infringe in any way on the commission of inquiry's authority.
A Haaretz poll overseen by Camil Fuchs and published last week showed that 54 percent of the public is willing to suffice with the comptroller's report on the fire services and does not support establishing a commission of inquiry. This finding, interesting in its own right, expresses reservations about commissions of inquiry, but it's likely that the respondents didn't realize that the comptroller did not deal with the Carmel disaster at all. A thorough investigation of this existential issue can only be carried out by a commission of inquiry. The State Control Committee has the privilege and duty to decide on it.
ONE NEW CLAUSE
RACIST RABBIS' RELIANCE ON STATE LAWS CAN BE SEEN AS STEMMING FROM THE SAME MYTHOLOGY IN WHICH MOST SECULAR PEOPLE ALSO BELIEVE: THE STATE OF ISRAEL IS THE 'RENEWAL OF THE KINGDOM'.
BY YITZHAK LAOR
When Meir Kahane was elected to the 11th Knesset in 1984, a broad parliamentary front opened up against him. But his real victory became apparent when in 1985, in an effort to get rid of his party before the coming election, the legislature rallied around an amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset: a new clause striking down individuals or tickets from running in an election if they deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Thus was the demon banished by using a little of his own doctrine. The new clause became a complicated part of the unfinished constitution. No reasonable constitutional means had previously been found to discriminate against Arab citizens. For many years they had been discriminated against solely by means of the tangled system of laws and regulations in every aspect of life, including ownership of land and apartments. From that perspective, the dozens of rabbis behind the racist manifesto calling on Jews not to sell or rent apartments to non-Jews are legitimizing - not inventing - the illegitimate.
But since the insertion of the new clause, the struggle against the Judaization of the state - that is, against racism - has become an internal Jewish matter. It defines Arab citizens, even by the most humanistic among us, as foreigners. Frequently the relevant biblical verse from Numbers is quoted for their benefit: "One law and one ordinance shall be both for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you" (15:16 ). Through the new clause, a matter of Jewish law has inserted itself into secular discourse.
As far back as 1988, when Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar rejected the Kahane ticket's petition against its exclusion from the Knesset election, he gave a number of important liberal reasons regarding the protection of democracy - and then added footnotes about Jewish law, which to his mind proved how humanistic Jewish law is. That was a foreshadowing of what is now happening: masses of secular people longing for rabbis like Yosef Shalom Elyashiv to declare that the manifesto on selling or renting to non-Jews has no basis in Jewish law.
In short, we have been forced to imbue our citizenship with religious content because, despite secular Israelis' love for the term "Jewish and democratic," the Jewish definition of Israel is unlike the French definition of France. That's because within Israeli law, there is no non-religious content to the word "Jewish." Moreover, until Israel was established, Judaism had never been a state religion (the ultra-Orthodox non-Zionists, like Elyashiv and Rabbi Aaron Leib Steinman, are aware of the dangerous, relatively new pairing of the words "Jewish" and "democratic" ).
Racist rabbis' reliance on state laws can be seen as stemming from the same mythology in which most secular people also believe: the State of Israel is the "renewal of the kingdom" and the rest of the messianic portents, which have nothing to do with the history of the Jewish religion as developed in the Diaspora, in any case always under non-Jewish rule.
People, of course, may stick to their mythology, but they should not come complaining to the racist rabbis, who extract ethnic politics from the Torah, the Talmud or the writings of the Maimonides. What their manifesto contains is closer to "Mein Kampf" than to the kingdom of David or the Hasmoneans.
Indeed, a new phase has begun, in which the right and its racist book of laws is transforming the old morality of turning a blind eye. The bill permitting towns to bar certain residents is replacing the consensus by which Arabs were not accepted as kibbutz members. The racist rabbis have enshrined in Jewish law the Arab-free neighborhoods that were already created, in secular fashion, by residents of upscale areas like Tel Aviv's Ramat Aviv, Haifa's Merkaz Hacarmel and Jerusalem's Rehavia.
Here is another way - besides a legal proceeding - to fight the racist rabbis: Open the doors to Arab neighbors and tenants. Let the religious ruling disappear.
GUIDELINES FOR SMART DRINKING
MOST ISRAELI PARENTS LACK THE IDEOLOGICAL FOUNDATION THAT WOULD PERMIT THEM TO RECOGNIZE THE VALUE OF EDUCATING THEIR CHILDREN ABOUT THE JUDICIOUS USE OF DRUGS AND ALCOHOL.
BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM
In November the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters to four makers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages, effectively warning them to stop selling the products. The FDA's drastic measure followed studies suggesting that high caffeine intake can mask the signs of intoxication, causing individuals to underestimate just how drunk they are.
The Israeli equivalent of these products is vodka Red Bull. But despite the popularity of this dangerous cocktail, which combines vodka with a canned energy drink, most parents of teenagers in this country are incapable of warning their children of its effects.
Is that because they don't care about their children's welfare, or because they are certain their children don't drink? No. It is because most Israeli parents lack the ideological foundation that would permit them to recognize the value of educating their children about the judicious use of drugs and alcohol.
It is understandable for parents to be discomfited by the idea of their children drinking, smoking marijuana or experimenting with other drugs. Culturally, we lack sufficient real-life models for guiding our children when it comes to thorny issues such as minimizing the harm that can be caused by drug and alcohol consumption. As a result, parents seeking to instruct their children about responsible drug and alcohol use must reinvent the wheel. It's safe to assume any guidance is given discreetly, and may well be accompanied by some guilt feelings.
I am obviously not suggesting that you bake Alice B. Toklas brownies for your child's next birthday. But we cannot ignore the fact that drugs and alcohol are hazardous substances with potentially damaging physical and mental effects. Nor can we ignore the fact that in the past 20 years the rate of alcohol use among Israeli teens enrolled in a school of some kind (in other words, not street kids ) rose by more than half and now stands at almost 40 percent. In addition, the children who drink alcohol also report greater use of drugs, compared with their non-drinking peers.
So after you warn the teens in your life with appropriate severity about the dangers of drinking and drugs, you can also give them some basic tips (not in order of importance ):
Do not accept an alcoholic beverage from someone you don't know, and don't leave your glass unattended (to prevent anyone from slipping dangerous drugs into it ).
* Make sure that somebody knows where you are at all times and that you have a safe way to get home; never drive drunk or ride with a drunk driver.
Avoid having more than one drink per hour; and yes, a chaser is a drink.
Try to have food with your alcohol, preferably food with a high fat content, to slow the alcohol's absorption into your bloodstream.
If you try a new drug, take a small amount only, with an experienced person you trust and in a familiar environment where you feel comfortable.
Remember that marijuana can cause feelings of panic and paranoia.
Drug and alcohol use can cause dehydration, so don't forget to drink a lot of water.
If you or anyone else feels sick, don't be too embarrassed to call for an ambulance.
When you return home safely, drink a lot of water and take two acetaminophen tablets before going to bed.
And I almost forgot - go easy on the vodka Red Bull.
Sounds awkward, delusional, immoral? Perhaps. But this could also be the conversation that saves your child's life.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THEY HAVEN'T LEARNED
The oil industry, its lobbyists and its Congressional allies are predictably furious at the Obama administration's decision not to allow exploratory oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast. The decision was unquestionably the right one.
Given the disastrous oil spill in the central gulf, and industry's inability to clean it up, one might have expected a little self-knowledge. Not from this crowd, which continues to lobby for more risky drilling instead of focusing all its energy on improving its capacity to prevent and respond to future blowouts.
The White House announced in March that these areas would be opened to exploration as part of a larger political deal intended to produce comprehensive climate legislation. Congress did not pass such a bill. But what really altered the administration's calculus was the massive BP oil spill in April and the huge flaws it exposed in the industry's safety practices and the government's regulatory machinery.
The administration is now saying that these flaws must be fixed before drilling will be allowed to proceed. Exploration and production will continue in the central and western gulf, the nation's richest source of oil, and exploratory drilling will be allowed in some Alaskan waters, but only after extensive environmental reviews.
Industry's biggest weakness is its inability to handle a blowout or other major accidents in deep water, where most new drilling is likely to occur. The BP well gushed nearly five million barrels of oil before it was capped. Initially, BP was seen as a uniquely careless company, but subsequent inquiries by a presidential commission suggest that the entire industry ignored safety precautions in pursuit of ever-higher gains.
As the commission co-chairman William Reilly said last week, companies that invested billions in sophisticated deepwater drilling techniques "devoted essentially nothing" to dealing with the consequences of disaster.
The government's gravest failure was its shocking inability to provide adequate oversight. These problems were underscored last Tuesday in a report from the Interior Department's inspector general saying that federal inspectors were overwhelmed and poorly trained before the spill and, to some extent, still are.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reorganized the agency overseeing drilling after the BP disaster. But he acknowledges that much more needs to be done and says that one of the main reasons for putting the March drilling plan on hold is to give the government time to upgrade its staff and "focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime."
The industry and its well-paid allies say that delaying drilling will increase America's dependence on foreign oil. That ignores a simple truth: A nation using one-quarter of the world's oil while controlling only 3 percent of the world's known reserves cannot drill its way to independence. The estimated 7.5 billion barrels the eastern gulf and Atlantic coast are thought to contain are just about what this country consumes in a year.
That's still a lot of oil, and the acoustic studies that Interior is planning may reveal even more. But the country can wait until it's sure that oil can be safely extracted. What it can't afford is another massive spill.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
JUDICIAL SCRUTINY BEFORE DEATH
The Obama administration no longer has to worry about an immediate legal challenge to its policy of targeting terrorists, including American citizens, for assassination. A federal judge threw out a lawsuit brought by the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen hiding in Yemen who is on the government's target list. He said the father had no standing to sue.
But the administration should remain very worried about the moral implications of its policy, which were sharply questioned by the judge, John Bates of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, as he dismissed the suit. Among the many unanswered questions raised by the lawsuit, he wrote, is this one: "Can the Executive order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization?"
Judge Bates deftly nailed the most problematic aspect of the government's policy acting as judge and jury, choosing terrorist threats and killing them with little outside scrutiny. President George W. Bush routinely abused that kind of discretion, and though there is little evidence that President Obama has done so, the potential for serious abuse remains. Though this judge said he felt powerless to impose a solution, other judges may be more aggressive if the administration does not work with Congress to allow some form of judicial review.
The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, always seemed a little shaky in its legal theory. Mr. Awlaki's father is not directly affected by the targeting policy. Mr. Awlaki, accused of helping plan attacks by Al Qaeda in Yemen, is the only one who could reasonably sue in this case, but to do so would require turning himself in, and then the issue would be moot. That has always been the problem with trying to litigate these matters in open court: formal due process is usually impossible.
But that doesn't mean that there is no place for judicial scrutiny. We have argued for creating a court that operates in secrecy, like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes wiretaps on foreign agents inside the United States. The government could present its evidence to this court behind closed doors before putting a terror suspect on its target list. Judge Bates made a similar point: How can the government prohibit judicial scrutiny for assassination, he asked, if it is required to get approval for electronic surveillance?
The judge noted that the courts are not necessarily equipped to set standards for who should be targeted, and he is correct. Those standards should be agreed upon by the White House and Congress and made public; the secret court can then determine whether a targeted person meets those standards. Once the government proves its case that a suspect is an active terror threat, the timing and method of killing which would always have to be a last resort is still up to the executive branch.
The government may have won this legal battle on technical grounds, but the underlying civil liberties violation is still going on.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PREYING ON VETERANS
The for-profit education industry has been pushing back hard against new Education Department rules that will make it easier to rein in predatory schools that strip students of financial aid, saddle them with crushing debt and give them nothing in return. But the evidence is mounting that the new rules might not be enough to prevent some of the worst abuses.
The Times's Eric Lipton recently described how some unscrupulous for-profit schools are preying on service members and veterans.
In 2008 Congress approved enhanced tuition aid for veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars; active-duty personnel are eligible for free tuition. The program has set off a feeding frenzy among for-profit schools, which consumed 36 percent of the tuition aid paid out in the first year even though the sector educates only about 9 percent of the general student population.
That would be fine if veterans were getting the education they needed. But former and current recruiters in the for-profit sector told The Times that employers had pressured them to enroll as many service members as possible, even if they were likely to fail or drop out.
Earlier this year, Robert Songer, a retired Marine colonel who serves as the lead education adviser at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, warned Congress about this problem: schools hounded service members into enrolling, put them in classes of dubious value and had them take out high-interest loans to cover extra costs. The men and women were "easy targets," he said, because many came from families in which no one had gone to college.
Americans who risk their lives for this country deserve better. Congress needs to ensure that predatory schools with weak offerings and high dropout rates are booted from the tuition program and that only legitimate schools remain.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SHUT THOSE DOORS
As soon as Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo takes office, he should close a half-dozen more of New York's ruinously expensive, and half-empty, juvenile detention facilities. He should also press the State Legislature to revoke a wasteful law that keeps facilities scheduled for shutdown open and staffed for a full year, even when there is not a single child in custody.
These moves would save millions of dollars, and improve public safety and the lives of troubled children.
The number of children in state custody has dropped from more than 2,300 a decade ago to about 650 today. A custody census released this month shows that 10 of the state's 25 juvenile programs have vacancy rates of 50 percent or greater.
Nevertheless, the system still employs 1,560 people and will cost taxpayers $170 million this year. That kind of waste is indefensible at a time when the state is cutting education and medical care for the indigent to close a yawning $9 billion deficit.
The facilities are emptying out partly because local governments have learned that all too often they transform youthful offenders into career criminals. New York City has cut the number of children it sends to the state by more than half over the last decade and lowered its recidivism rates by enrolling low-risk offenders in community-based programs.
The programs focus on keeping young people in school and providing guidance to their families. In addition to doing a better job of rehabilitation, they cost significantly less: as little as $15,000 per child each year as opposed to $220,000 for lodging a child with the state.
Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the state's Office of Children and Family Services, has closed more than a dozen facilities over the last three years. But Gov. David Paterson has been slow to close more, perhaps because of pressure from lawmakers and unions.
Mr. Cuomo campaigned on the promise that he would take on the state's powerful unions. He also called for moving the state away from the destructive strategy of incarcerating low-risk young offenders and toward the community-based model. He needs to deliver quickly on both fronts.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A SERIOUS MAN
BY ROSS DOUTHAT
There is a conceit, especially popular among the press corps, that the salvation of America depends exclusively on self-described moderates and centrists. If there's a path out of gridlock and insolvency, this theory goes, it can't be charted by consistent conservatives or liberals. Instead, the nation needs the leadership of ideologically flexible, politically ambidextrous mavericks: Democrats like Evan Bayh, perhaps, and Republicans like Susan Collins, with President Michael Bloomberg waiting to sign whatever compromises they devise.
This vision doesn't leave much room for a figure like Tom Coburn, Oklahoma's junior Republican senator. Coburn came to Washington as a congressman in 1994, and distinguished himself by remaining incorruptibly right-wing while many Republican revolutionaries accustomed themselves to the perks of governing. Since his 2004 election to the Senate, he's remained a conservative's conservative, equally resolute in his opposition to earmarks, Obamacare and abortion.
But in the last two years, Coburn has also proved himself braver than many of his colleagues, more creative on public policy, and more intellectually honest about the consequences of popular legislation. His example suggests that America may be saved from fiscal ruin, not by politicians who trim their sails at every opportunity, but by lawmakers with stiff backbones and unwavering convictions.
In the health care debate, for instance, it was Coburn who co-sponsored (with the ubiquitous Paul Ryan in the House) the only significant conservative alternative to the Democratic bill. Their Patients' Choice Act, which would have replaced the tax deduction for employer-provided health care with a universal credit, was arguably a more "extreme" proposal than the milquetoast reforms Republicans rallied around instead. But it was also a more serious proposal, with a real chance of reducing costs and expanding insurance, instead of just shoring up the status quo.
Then came the financial reform debate, in which Republicans accused Democrats of perpetuating "too big to fail," but offered counterproposals that often looked like business as usual for the financial industry. Coburn, again, was less conventional: He was one of only three Republican senators to vote for an amendment proposed by two Democrats, Ohio's Sherrod Brown and Delaware's Ted Kaufman, that would have taken the "extreme" step of capping the size of America's largest banks.
"Capitalism works as long as you don't have monopolies," Coburn told me last week when I asked about that vote, "and when 65 percent of the deposits in this country are in nine banks, we're still in trouble." Again, his ideological rigor was a spur to creativity: it enabled him to consider the possibility that what was branded as a left-wing idea might actually be better for free markets than another round of regulation.
But Coburn's most important vote was cast as a member of the White House's deficit commission, when he chose actual fiscal conservatism over his party's interest groups by voting to forward the panel's recommendations to Congress for debate.
Interestingly, the Oklahoma senator was joined in his "yes" vote by the staunchly liberal Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. Asked about their unlikely convergence, Coburn suggested that on the deficit, ideologically consistent politicians might be more likely to "understand the urgency of the problem."
After all, he said, "if you're a hard-core liberal, and you want the government to do all these things that I would contend are outside the realm of the enumerated powers well, if we're bankrupt we're certainly not going to be doing it to the level that we're doing it today."
It's also possible that political moderates tend to be very good at cutting deals when there's something in it for everyone. But because their convictions are thinner, and their electoral positions more precarious, they aren't always the best people to forge bargains that require shared sacrifice.
Last week's tax cut deal is a case in point. In a sense, it's a triumph for the political middle. If it passes, it will do so with the votes of Democratic moderates, while the president's liberal caucus howls in protest.
But the lamenting liberals will have a point. Absent a plan to stabilize America's debt, the deal is a remarkable exercise in "moderate" irresponsibility. In essence, President Obama acceded to the Republicans' desire to extend the current deficit-financed tax rates ... in exchange for hundreds of billions more in deficit-financed spending and tax cuts. Everyone won except the U.S. Treasury.
Or as Coburn put it last Thursday on the Senate floor, criticizing his colleagues for celebrating the tax cut deal, last week's bargain could easily become another example of how "both parties have laid a trap for future generations by our inaction, our laziness, our arrogance, and a crass desire for power."
That's extreme language. And we need more of it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DRAWING A LINE IN THE WATER
BY SELIG S. HARRISON AND JOHN H. CUSHMAN
THE crisis in the Yellow Sea, which was set off by the North Korean shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island last month, is probably mystifying to many Americans. Why did the North fire a deadly artillery barrage at a sparsely inhabited, relatively insignificant island? Why has the United States dispatched an entire aircraft-carrier group to the scene?
But things make more sense if you look at recent events as merely the latest in a decades-long series of naval clashes between the two Koreas resulting from a disputed sea boundary that was hastily imposed by the United Nations forces without North Korean agreement after the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War. Several times the dispute has flared into bloody naval battles, most notably in 1999, when at least 17 North Korean sailors died, and in 2002, when four South Koreans and at least 30 North Koreans were killed.
In October 2007 it seemed like the cycle might be broken: Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, and President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea pledged to hold talks on a joint fishing area in the Yellow Sea "to avoid accidental clashes." But that December, the hard-liner Lee Myung-bak was elected president of South Korea; he promptly disowned the accord, which kicked off the most recent chapter in the dispute.
North Korea responded. It quickly built up its shore artillery near the disputed waters, accused Seoul of violating its territory, and in 2008 launched short-range missiles into the contested waters. This March, a South Korean Navy ship, the Cheonan, was sunk by what a South Korean inquiry concluded was a North Korean torpedo attack. And on Nov. 9, two weeks before the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island began, a North Korean naval patrol crossed the disputed line and exchanged fire with South Korean vessels.
Can anything be done to put an end to the simmering conflict in the Yellow Sea? Yes, and the solution could be quite straightforward: the United States should redraw the disputed sea boundary, called the Northern Limit Line, moving it slightly to the south.
The Northern Limit Line was so named because it was meant to impose a limit on any potential South Korean encroachment into North Korea. The South's president, Syngman Rhee, still dreamed of winning the war he refused to sign the armistice and repeatedly vowed to overthrow the Pyongyang regime.
Rhee's hopes were never realized, but one thing the Northern Limit Line did was to give the best fishing grounds in the area to South Korea. It's no coincidence that many of the clashes there have occurred during the summer crab-fishing season. If the boundary were refashioned in a more equitable way, tensions would undoubtedly ease.
And, fortunately, President Obama has the authority to redraw the line. On July 7, 1950, a United Nations Security Council resolutionestablished the United Nations Command for Korea and designated the United States as the executive agent, with authority to name its commander. That original command is still with us today in vestigial form. It is commanded by Gen. Walter Sharp, who is thus the current successor to Gen. Mark Clark, who signed the 1953 armistice.
The Obama administration would do well to consult with both Seoul and Pyongyang on where to best set the new boundary, get an agreement from both governments to abide by it, and put it on the map. South Korea should not be given a veto over the redrawing. And North Korea should be warned that any future provocations on its part like the shelling of Yeonpyeong will result in swift, appropriate retaliation by the joint forces of the United States and South Korea.
Ideally, redrawing the line would not only ease the present crisis, but also set the stage for negotiations among the United States, North Korea and China on a peace treaty that would replace the temporary armistice and formally end the Korean War. (Since South Korea did not sign the armistice, it cannot sign a peace treaty, but North Korea has agreed that Seoul could be part of a future trilateral peacekeeping body.)
One possible mechanism to replace the armistice is the "trilateral peace regime" for the peninsula that has been proposed by North Korea's principal military spokesman, Gen. Ri Chan-bok. Under the plan, the armed forces of the United States, North Korea and South Korea would set up a "mutual security assurance commission." Its role would be to prevent incidents in the demilitarized zone that could threaten the peace and to develop arms-control and confidence-building arrangements on the peninsula. General Ri has said explicitly that the North would not object to the presence of American forces on the peninsula if the armistice and the United Nations Command were replaced.
Defusing tensions in the Yellow Sea and keeping the peace at the demilitarized zone are the prerequisites for pursuing the larger goals that should govern United States policy in Korea: eliminating nuclear weapons on the peninsula and establishing normal diplomatic relations with the Pyongyang regime, all in the aim of reducing the risk of American involvement in another Korean War.
Selig S. Harrison, the author of "Korean Endgame," is the director of the Asia program at the Center for International Policy. John H. Cushman, a retired Army lieutenant general, commanded the United States-South Korean First Corps Group from 1976 to 1978.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BONES OF CONTENTION
BY ROBERT L. KELLY
¶LAST winter, the Department of the Interior issued regulations for the disposition of ancient American Indian remains and funerary objects that cannot be affiliated with modern tribes. Unfortunately, these new rules will destroy a crucial source of knowledge about North American history and halt a dialogue between scientists and Indian tribes that has been harmonious and enlightening.
¶The new regulations help carry out the 20-year-old Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a law that was devised by tribes, scientists and museum officials. It was a compromise between the tribes' sensitivity to having the remains of their ancestors excavated and analyzed and the archaeologists' desire to learn what bones can reveal about ancient peoples' diet, health, migration patterns, marriage practices and so on.
¶Scientists acknowledged that it is wrong to study the dead in ways that insult the living. Therefore, they relinquished control over the 25 percent of all catalogued remains at museums and other institutions that could be culturally affiliated with federally recognized tribes. Some tribes have reburied these remains, others have stored them, and some have asked institutions to continue to hold them.
¶In making arrangements to repatriate these culturally affiliated remains over the past 20 years, archaeologists and tribal leaders opened new lines of communication with each other.
¶This was a welcome development, because relations between them had been touchy, at best. Many American Indians had questioned the need for research on their ancestors' bones, and considered archaeological digs to be insulting, or simple theft. Tensions were often high. I still recall the moment in 1979, when I was starting out in archaeology, that two young Paiute men approached me in a bar in Fallon, Nev., flashing knives, and warned me not to "dig up" their grandfather.
¶Today, many tribes have a more positive view of archaeology. More American Indians study the science today, and tribes have their own archaeology programs, and work with outside researchers. I am working with the Salish-Kootenai and Blackfeet tribes in Glacier National Park, in Montana, to study archaeological and paleoecological information in receding ice patches.
¶The new federal regulations undermine this progress. In an effort to repatriate the 124,000 sets of remains that cannot be affiliated with recognized tribes using current evidence, they ignore the importance of tribal connections to ancient remains that essential common value that drew the tribes and the scientists together. Institutions must now offer to repatriate remains to tribes that have no demonstrable cultural affiliation with them.
¶In some situations, under the new rules, institutions are directed to simply "transfer control of culturally unidentifiable human remains to other Indian tribes" or, in clear violation of the law, "to an Indian group that is not federally recognized." If all else fails, institutions can simply re-inter the unidentifiable remains near where they were found.
¶The main objective, it seems, is to get rid of the remains however possible, as quickly as possible. The regulations clearly undermine the law's compromise, and Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, should rescind them.
¶Those who wrote the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act recognized that the older remains are, the more difficult it is to affiliate them with any modern tribe. But science continues to develop methods that can help determine cultural affiliation. This work should be allowed to continue. Someday, all the skeletal remains may be repatriated to their proper descendants. In the process we will have learned much, through archaeological analysis, about the dead, and much more, through dialogue between scientists and tribes, about the living.
¶Robert L. Kelly is a professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BLOCK THOSE METAPHORS
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
Like it or not and I don't the Obama-McConnell tax-cut deal, with its mixture of very bad stuff and sort-of-kind-of good stuff, is likely to pass Congress. Then what?
The deal will, without question, give the economy a short-term boost. The prevailing view, as far as I can tell and that includes within the Obama administration is that this short-term boost is all we need. The deal, we're told, will jump-start the economy; it will give a fragile recovery time to strengthen.
I say, block those metaphors. America's economy isn't a stalled car, nor is it an invalid who will soon return to health if he gets a bit more rest. Our problems are longer-term than either metaphor implies.
And bad metaphors make for bad policy. The idea that the economic engine is going to catch or the patient rise from his sickbed any day now encourages policy makers to settle for sloppy, short-term measures when the economy really needs well-designed, sustained support.
The root of our current troubles lies in the debt American families ran up during the Bush-era housing bubble. Twenty years ago, the average American household's debt was 83 percent of its income; by a decade ago, that had crept up to 92 percent; but by late 2007, debts were 130 percent of income.
All this borrowing took place both because banks had abandoned any notion of sound lending and because everyone assumed that house prices would never fall. And then the bubble burst.
What we've been dealing with ever since is a painful process of "deleveraging": highly indebted Americans not only can't spend the way they used to, they're having to pay down the debts they ran up in the bubble years. This would be fine if someone else were taking up the slack. But what's actually happening is that some people are spending much less while nobody is spending more and this translates into a depressed economy and high unemployment.
What the government should be doing in this situation is spending more while the private sector is spending less, supporting employment while those debts are paid down. And this government spending needs to be sustained: we're not talking about a brief burst of aid; we're talking about spending that lasts long enough for households to get their debts back under control. The original Obama stimulus wasn't just too small; it was also much too short-lived, with much of the positive effect already gone.
It's true that we're making progress on deleveraging. Household debt is down to 118 percent of income, and a strong recovery would bring that number down further. But we're still at least several years from the point at which households will be in good enough shape that the economy no longer needs government support.
But wouldn't it be expensive to have the government support the economy for years to come? Yes, it would which is why the stimulus should be done well, getting as much bang for the buck as possible.
Which brings me back to the Obama-McConnell deal. I'm often asked how I can oppose that deal given my consistent position in favor of more stimulus. The answer is that yes, I believe that stimulus can have major benefits in our current situation but these benefits have to be weighed against the costs. And the tax-cut deal is likely to deliver relatively small benefits in return for very large costs.
The point is that while the deal will cost a lot adding more to federal debt than the original Obama stimulus it's likely to get very little bang for the buck. Tax cuts for the wealthy will barely be spent at all; even middle-class tax cuts won't add much to spending. And the business tax break will, I believe, do hardly anything to spur investment given the excess capacity businesses already have.
The actual stimulus in the plan comes from the other measures, mainly unemployment benefits and the payroll tax break. And these measures (a) won't make more than a modest dent in unemployment and (b) will fade out quickly, with the good stuff going away at the end of 2011.
The question, then, is whether a year of modestly better performance is worth $850 billion in additional debt, plus a significantly raised probability that those tax cuts for the rich will become permanent. And I say no.
The Obama team obviously disagrees. As I understand it, the administration believes that all it needs is a little more time and money, that any day now the economic engine will catch and we'll be on the road back to prosperity. I hope it's right, but I don't think it is.
What I expect, instead, is that we'll be having this same conversation all over again in 2012, with unemployment still high and the economy suffering as the good parts of the current deal go away. The White House may think it has struck a good bargain, but I believe it's in for a rude shock.
AFTER 25 YEARS, TIME HAS COME TO CLEAN UP THE TAX CODE (AGAIN)
In the quarter-century since federal taxes were last simplified, scores of credits, deductions, exclusions and exemptions have attached themselves to the tax code like barnacles on a ship. The instruction booklet for filling out the Form 1040 has swelled to 175 pages, from 52 in 1985. Every April, millions of Americans pay billions of dollars to professional preparers, then sign returns they don't understand.
Now, for the first time since the 1986, the stars might be coming into alignment for sweeping changes that could simultaneously simplify the code and help rein in budget deficits.
Two deficit-reduction commissions recently endorsed tax simplification. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke followed, and then President Obama said last week that he is considering whether to push for a tax overhaul.
It's hard to think of any action or at least any affordable one that would please more Americans, or help on as many fronts, economic and political alike.
Let's start with the economic arguments:
An overly complex tax code, quite simply, stunts growth. It does so by distorting markets, diverting money into less efficient industries and, of course, by forcing people and companies to spend too much of their time and money preparing returns or looking for loopholes.
Each year, individual filers spend about 6.4 billion hours on their returns $265 billion in lost productivity, according to the non-profit Tax Foundation. Making matters worse, they do this to support a rigged system that diverts money to unproductive parts of the economy.
Take, for instance, the housing finance industry. As everyone knows by now, it poured trillions of dollars into ill-advised loans, creating a bubble that burst with devastating consequences. Its negative actions were amplified by the massive tax subsidies for people to take on housing debt most notably the deductibility of all interest on mortgages up to $1 million. This is popular with Realtors, home builders and homeowners, but it wastes hundreds of billion of dollars to achieve nothing, except to make homes more expensive. Canada has similar home ownership rates without subsidies.
Or take health care. Its costs rise dramatically each year. Though many factors play into this, one of the most correctable is the 0% tax rate on lavish insurance plans that require few deductibles or co-pays. These plans discourage patients from being smart health care consumers. They also encourage doctors, hospitals and drugmakers to charge more and pitch unneeded products and services knowing that the patient isn't the one picking up the tab.
These are just two of the $1.1 trillion in "tax expenditures" (aka "tax earmarks") government makes each year. Reducing or eliminating many of them would allow tax rates to go down while still raising revenue to tackle the deficit, stop the subsidization of inefficient industries and make tax-filing time less harrowing.
Now consider the political arguments:
Is either party really going to gain by fighting the same old battle, on lines drawn by the same old organizations that have settled in to become Washington fixtures? Does any Democrat seriously think trillion dollar deficits can be fixed by making wealthy people pay a top rate of 39.6% rather than 35%? Does any Republican really believe that revenue won't have to go up at some point, given the ballooning deficit and the fact that tax receipts during the past two years were at rock-bottom levels not seen since the Truman administration?
Why not start fresh and scramble the lines?
Begin with the first question that needs to be asked How big should government be? and then set the tax rates accordingly and live within the budget.
The deficit commission chaired by Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles approached the issue that way and came up with individual rates of 12%, 22% and 28% (compared with six brackets now topping out at 35%). It also proposed lowering the top corporate rate from 35% to 29%. It did these things while also eliminating the noxious alternative minimum tax, largely by cutting back on tax expenditures.
True, this sort of change would involve a titanic battle, but not of the usual kind. It would be fought by both parties against thousands of lobbyists seeking and getting tax favors. The 1986 simplification enacted by a Republican president, Ronald Reagan, and a Democratic Congress showed it can be won.
For Obama, such a reform effort could be the next phase in his plan to reposition himself for the 2012 presidential election, representing a broad public interest over the ways of Washington. But tax simplification is not inherently a Democratic or a Republican idea, which is part of its appeal. For both parties in Congress, it would be a chance to show that common sense, and the general interest, can prevail over special interests that do little but mine taxpayers for revenue.
A rare window is opening to clean up the tax code. The only thing we have to lose is our accountants.
WHEN'S THE RIGHT TIME FOR CHRISTMAS CAROLS?
BY LAURA VANDERKAM
When it comes to singing, Americans know few tunes by heart beyond Happy Birthdayand the Star-Spangled Banner until December. Then, churchgoers hit the pews ready to belt out the classics. We want to sing Joy to the World, Away in a Manger and so forth which, after all, have been playing on the radio since Halloween.
Yet far from warming the hearts of clergy everywhere, this gusto makes many pastors and people who design services cringe. In the church calendar, Christmas doesn't actually start until, well, Christmas. The four prior Sundays make up a time called Advent, a time of waiting and preparation before Christmas, with its own songs and liturgies. Liturgical purists feel that singing Christmas carols in Advent is akin to a 5-year-old ripping open his presents on Dec. 6. Though a bit Scroogish, I think these folks have a point. In our instant gratification culture, we could all stand to learn the countercultural truth that anticipating something joyous accounts for a big chunk of the pleasure.
People who aren't regular churchgoers might be surprised to learn how high feelings run on both sides of this issue. For those focused on the church calendar, there really isn't much room for debate. "You would not sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today on Good Friday," notes the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of Worship Resources for the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church. Many of the Advent biblical texts focus on the Second Coming, with John the Baptist's ministry in the desert set against that context. This apocalyptic vision doesn't mesh well with the lyrics of Silent Night and, as Burton-Edwards points out, churches have no obligation to follow the secular vision of December. "You don't throw in Christmas hymns for the sake of appeasing people who want to sing," he says.
On the other hand, "it's just a bummer to go to church week after week and never hear carols until Christmas Eve," notes David Lose, a professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul and author of Making Sense of the Christian Faith. "I think we ought to lighten up a little."
Partly, this is a practical matter. Pushing Christmas songs off until Dec. 24 doesn't leave much time for enjoying them or teaching them to children, Lose notes, who will thus learn their Christmas songs as mall background music. Plus, "the whole church year calendar is a remembrance," he says. "Jesus was born 2,000 years ago." Christians can celebrate that in Advent, or July if they want.
Some try to find ways to satisfy both camps. Marcia McFee, a Lake Tahoe-based worship consultant who teaches at several seminaries, notes that you can "marry Advent texts to carol tunes," and "use carol tunes as gathering and leaving instrumental music."
Just hearing Christmas melodies with different words or no words can put churchgoers in a festive spirit while maintaining liturgical purity. Some Christmas carols have lyrics that are appropriate for the third or fourth Sundays of Advent, and churches can expand their repertoire of Advent hymns (some modern hymn writers, such as Kathleen Pluth of Alexandria, Va., have focused on creating more material just for this season). Over time, songs such as Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence can become as familiar as Joy to the World if church musicians work on educating those in the pews. Churches can also reclaim the 12 days of Christmas (Dec. 25 to Jan. 6, the beginning of Epiphany), holding more services during this time that feature enough carols to make up for the early December dearth.
Of course, that requires people to show up for these services. Many people travel or visit family during this time, though it's not clear that churches need to accommodate this. Either way, the focus on whether to carol or not to carol misses a larger point: Longing for something good that you know is coming is an enjoyable emotion in its own right. It's also an emotion we don't experience much these days.
The joy of ... waiting
Once upon a time, kids had to wait a whole year for The Wizard of Oz to air on TV; now you can pop in a DVD of any show you want any time. Books show up on our Kindles in an instant, as do songs on our iPods. Churches can be different, inviting people to wait and hope, both as a spiritual discipline and also as a recognition of what psychologists are learning about human happiness. Happy people wring as much positive emotion from experiences as possible by spending time anticipating them.
Easier said than done, of course. "The desire to open Christmas presents early is very strong, even for adults," Kathleen Pluth says. But ideally, Advent services can make people revel in the joy of anticipation of singingJoy to the World in a few weeks' time.
Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
ADVENT: LET'S START TO HEAL OUR PLANET
BY MALLORY MCDUFF
As a child during Advent, I fought with my three siblings over Jesus. We didn't argue about conversion, but rather the right to put a one-dimensional infant the size of a thumbnail onto the Advent calendar made from red felt and glitter glue. My mother devised a rotational system, which meant that every four years, each child would place baby Jesus into his glittered manger on Christmas Day.
For my children, that same Advent calendar represents one step in our preparations for Christmas. (In a more secular waiting game, my cousins use the Elf on a Shelf, that magical spy for St. Nick.)
The start of Advent, this season of waiting and watching, coincided with the United Nations Climate Change Conferencein Cancun, Mexico. We are not waiting for climate change. It is here. And religious communities are taking the lead with incremental solutions to a warming planet.
Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning arrival. It might be more apt to consider Advent as a season of imagination, says Jack Jezreel, executive director of Just Faith Ministries. Advent thus becomes a time to imagine a just world in the face of environmental changes that result in disproportionate impacts on those who contribute the least to the problem.
In a recent issue of The Economist, the cover story " How to live with climate change" calls us to respond to current climatic conditions, not some apocalyptic prediction. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, adapt now with changes in infrastructure and food security, and focus on how we deal with human migration.
People of faith involved in disaster relief have already become first responders to climate change. "The church was the catalyst for getting things back in order after (Hurricane) Katrina, not the government," says Jackie Robinson of St. John Baptist Church in New Orleans. On an international scale, religious organizations such asCatholic Relief Services in Guatemala are helping farmers adapt to less predictable weather conditions by diversifying crops and soil management practices.
Faith communities, unlike legislative bodies, emphasize justice and helping your neighbor. Many of the 10,000 congregations involved in Interfaith Power and Light have joined a Carbon Covenant, which connects congregations in the Global North and South to mitigate the impacts of global warming such as deforestation.
In the U.S., congregations are adopting innovative financing to harness solar power. Beth El Synagogue in Margate, N.J., leveraged $175,000 from a state grant to install 286 solar panels, which will produce 50% of its energy needs. Such imaginative change challenges our society based on fossil fuels, much as abolitionism contradicted the economic foundations of the 19th century.
Confronting climate change will require societal shifts similar to those that changed attitudes and behaviors around smoking and even slavery, according to a study by Andy Hoffman at the University of Michigan. "If we developed feasible and scalable renewable energy tomorrow, public opinion on climate would shift fairly quickly," Hoffman tells DailyClimate.org. Social marketers know that increasing benefits and decreasing barriers can change behavior and attitudes.
During this season of Advent, we must not wait for polls or votes to harness the power of religion for the challenge of climate change. We also need to imagine the possibilities and passions that children see in the spirit of Advent, in glittered mangers and even an elf on a shelf. Let every heart prepare for innovative actions grounded in a moral imperative. The time isn't coming. It's here.
Mallory McDuff is the author of Natural Saints: How People of Faith are Working to Save God's Earth. She teaches at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C.
TIMES FREE PRESS
HOW TO SELECT A NEW MAYOR
The County Commission's clear distaste for open public interviews of candidates and applicants for the seat being vacated Jan. 11 by Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey would be laughable if it were not so ludicrous and insensitive to the public's right to know. As it is, their clear desire, expressed in last Thursday's County Commission meeting, to have private interviews with the candidates -- and possibly private promises, pledges and conditions for support -- is absolutely appalling.
The nine county commissioners owe voters here absolute openness in the process to select an interim county mayor to serve until the next countywide election in 2012. They are, after all, standing in as surrogates for voters under the law, not displacing them. They should affirm their responsibility to keep voters as fully informed as voters would be if the candidates were conducting a public campaign.
Yet it's surprisingly and odiously obvious that commissioners do not respect the interests of the county's voters. They sat on their public dais and arrogantly proclaimed their distaste for the state's open meetings and records act, and casually affirmed their wish for a secret process and private meetings with individual candidates in order to select the county's next chief executive. That is simply beyond the pall.
The county mayor's office belongs to the people -- to voters and taxpayers. It is their interest that the next county mayor will represent. It is their taxpayer dollars that the mayor will seek to allocate. And it is the voters' right to know precisely the views of the applicants, their priorities and the breadth or narrowness of their vision for their future.
Alas, it's not surprising that county commissioners are so disrespectful of their public responsibility to keep their constituents fully informed and to conduct all their public business openly. It's been that way in county government here since the days when it was run by the County Council, whose five members were elected at large, through the days since state government was required, in 1978, to establish a district-based county commission that would fairly represent minorities. Under both forms of government, council and commission members have operated as if the public's business was their private deal-making concern; and that their chief responsibility was mainly, or perhaps just, to people who live in the unincorporated areas outside the county's municipalities.
The commission responsibility is far broader than that. County government collects the same countywide property tax from every county resident. It is responsible to all of this county's taxpayers, whether or not the commissioners act like it is. That makes the county's chief executive the single most important office for all taxpayers in this county.
And sad to say, the County Commission has absolutely no regard for the tax equity it owes every single county taxpayer, whether they are also residents of Chattanooga or the towns of Red Bank, East Ridge, Collegedale, Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain, Ridgeside, Soddy-Daisy, Walden or Lakesite. All county residents pay the same countywide property tax into the county's general fund, school fund and district road fund. They all deserve a fair portion of what their taxes purchase.
They all deserve to know what vision and plans the new county executive will hold or seek with regard to consolidation of services, support for county schools, economic development, parks and recreation, land-use zoning, health clinics and support for civic agencies that work in the public interests.
The chief, but most casually disregarded issue, is the tax equity that county government owes to the county's use of countywide taxpayer funds for services -- policing, road maintenance and support for sewer bonds and fire departments -- that it provides just in the unincorporated areas of the county. Residents of municipalities pay for those services through their local city and town taxes, and they pay again for the same services that go just to residents of unincorporated areas. Small wonder the 30 percent of county residents whose municipal services are chiefly financed by the 70 percent of residents who pay double cherish and want to keep their sweetheart deal and avoid annexation.
But they are not paying their fair share for the services they receive from county government; they are paying too little. And the residents of municipalities are paying double to support services that they do not receive from the county.
The next county mayor should address that issue head-on, and dig more deeply into the rigged figures that county commissioners now use to blow that off.
Mike Carter, Ramsey's chief assistant and a candidate for Ramsey's job, has already made known his opposition to consolidating duplicative public services and improving tax equity. The public doesn't know enough about the other potential candidates to make informed judgments, but it is their right to acquire that knowledge and express their preferences.
The only way the public can begin to discern the views and positions of candidates for the county mayor's seat is for the commission to hold open public interviews of the candidates, and for commissioners to avoid seeking private conversations with the candidates. In fact, each candidate should be asked in open public meetings if they have had such conversations with county commissioners, and if they did, what transpired.
County commissioners should fully respect a fair and open process. It is their duty, and it is the public's right to know that is at stake.
TIMES FREE PRESS
A HOLLOW VICTORY FOR CHINA
As soon as Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was announced as this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, China's government began a high-decibel campaign to discredit the prize and the recipient of the prestigious award. Liu was honored for his calls for an end to communist rule and for improved human rights in China.
China's leaders say Liu is a common criminal. He currently is serving an 11-year prison term for publicly criticizing China's one- party government -- a violation of the nation's criminal code. The Nobel committee's decision to honor Liu embarrassed the Chinese government. Its heavy-handed attempt to ridicule the Peace Prize, and Liu, failed. It brought heightened attention to Liu's campaign to reform China's legal and political systems.
The effort to discredit Liu did succeed only in part. The government did make it impossible for the laureate to receive the prize. He remains in prison, despite calls for his release. His wife and other family members are either under house arrest or not allowed to leave China. Thus, it was impossible for Liu to meet the Nobel committee's long-standing requirement that the winner or a relative be present at the award ceremony on Friday. That didn't matter. The Nobel Peace Prize diploma and medal were placed in an empty chair. The need to do so validates Liu's view that China should have a democratic constitution and institutions.
Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland demanded as much in his speech. "He [Liu] has done nothing wrong. He must be released." He noted China's refusal to allow Liu or a relative to attend the ceremonies. "This fact alone," Jagland said, " shows that the award was necessary and appropriate." How true.
China's attempt to convince other nations to boycott the award ceremony and its apparent blackout of both CNN and BBC TV broadcasts during the hour when the Peace Prize was presented help tell a tale far different than the one China's government would have the world believe.
China, despite its arguments to the contrary, is not a progressive country. It remains, at heart, a repressive nation where people and institutions are not free. That's been Liu's contention all along. His government's effort to denigrate him and the prize he deserves underscore the truth to his message.
TIMES FREE PRESS
THE COST OF 'UNCERTAINTY'
Some Americans are being hurt badly by the ongoing economic crisis. Fortunately, some are not. But it is clearly on almost everyone's mind.
What will it take to recover? When will we recover? (We always do!) What will be the effects on all of us in the meantime?
There surely will be different answers by different people in different circumstances. But there should be some "certainties."
For one, our federal government, while it must attend to all of its constitutional responsibilities, certainly should not engage in unnecessary spending.
With continuing, annual trillion-dollar-plus deficits, this is plainly no time to "spend more" and initiate "new programs."
This is no time to raise any taxes on anyone, either.
It should be obvious, rather, that this is a "good time" to get governmental hindrances out of the way of recovery.
One other thing is certain as well: Our United States was not built on socialistic government planning. Our great country was built on free enterprise initiatives. They encouraged individuals who had ideas and a willingness to take risks to work hard, enabling them to hire other people for productive purposes.
Those efforts paid off with opportunities to earn good livings, with the risk-takers and entrepreneurs motivated by the possibility of earning due rewards.
Many of our economic problems today are a result not of misfortunes or inescapable events, but in many cases of our simply doing many of the wrong things that the American experience -- and experience worldwide -- has proved don't work.
Our economy can recover!
And yet that recovery is delayed because we are plagued by uncertainty. Unfortunately our federal government is adding to the uncertainty.
We should instead be assuring our enterprisers that there will be no new tax burdens -- on anyone. Don't make them wait and wonder, Congress. Assure them!
We should not impose counterproductive rules and regulations. We should give assurance to our country and our people that we will have the freedom to dream, invent, work and profit -- so long as we do not impose unjustly upon anyone.
In other words, we can promote and hasten recovery just by having our government "get out of the way," letting our people seek profit by harnessing their productive ideas, and inviting our people who want jobs to join to make their economic goals rewarding realities.
There always have been economic "ups and downs," and there always will be. But how deep and how long they are will be determined by the degree of freedom and ingenuity of our enterprising people -- and by how many artificial obstacles are put in their way.
There is nothing "magic" or "automatic" about economic success and failure.
Look around the world. Look at the history of "what works" and "what doesn't." Heavy government control and excessive taxes and regulation do not work.
Let us be sure we choose wisely among the things that have paid off and that we avoid the things that haven't.
Look at our history. How and why have we Americans prospered more and at a faster pace and longer than any other nation and any other people in the world?
Let's apply our people's enthusiasm and hard work to achieve real success.
Let's turn our eager, enthusiastic, energetic free enterprisers loose, and let's join them in helping propel our ship of state by "good old American" enterprise and ingenuity.
We don't need to "reinvent" solutions so much as we need to reinvigorate ourselves with what the past has proved paid off in our free market system.
TIMES FREE PRESS
THE DANGER OF BEING SOFT ON CRIME
Politicians who are soft on crime often criticize "three-strikes" laws -- laws that can put a person away for a long time after he commits his third crime. Critics say the laws lead to unjustly long prison terms even if the "third strike" is a minor offense. But a horrible case in California shows three-strikes laws may not be tough enough.
A Los Angeles man was convicted of robbery twice in the 1980s. He has been convicted of other crimes since. That should have led to a long sentence under California's three-strikes law. But prosecutors and judges repeatedly declined to impose a longer sentence permitted by the law.
Despite the leniency that the criminal, John Wesley Ewell, was shown, he complained that he lived in fear of committing some petty violation that could get him sent to prison for life. He even appeared on a national TV talk show under the caption, "Afraid to leave his house because he has 2 'Strikes.' "
Well, as it turns out, the people of California had far more to fear. Earlier this year, Ewell was arrested repeatedly on suspicion of theft. But prosecutors did not file charges that could have triggered the three-strikes law, and thus might have kept him behind bars. Again and again, he was allowed to remain free on bail. In the third case, a judge postponed sentencing so Ewell "could take care of some medical problems," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Then tragedy struck: Authorities say that during that final delay, Ewell robbed three homes and killed four elderly victims in the process.
It is for a court to decide whether he is guilty of the slayings. But if he is guilty, think of the deaths and heartache that would have been avoided if only California's three-strikes law had been enforced.
Three-strikes laws aren't perfect, but they can get dangerous criminals off the streets.
TIMES FREE PRESS
INJUSTICE TAKES A NEW TURN
We have no love for cigarette manufacturers, and it is clearly advisable to avoid the horrible health risks of smoking.
Still, massive legal judgments against tobacco companies by Americans who smoked despite knowing the obvious health risks were unjust. The judgments took away the responsibility of individual smokers who had made the terribly unwise decision to light up.
Now, however, a whole new front for misguided tobacco-related lawsuits has opened: Two makers of "smokeless" tobacco will have to pay $5 million to the family of a smokeless-tobacco user who died of mouth cancer. It is "the first wrongful-death settlement won from a chewing tobacco company," The Associated Press reported.
Unfortunately, it probably will not be the last.
And it seems only a matter of time before there will be lawsuits against manufacturers of fattening foods by the families of people who died of illnesses related to obesity.
Is there no end to this injustice?
TIMES FREE PRESS
ADMITTED WIND ENERGY FLOP
The U.S. wind energy industry has admitted it relies heavily on government aid. Industry representatives recently told Congress there may be a "renewable energy slowdown" if federal "stimulus" funds for wind power are not extended past their expiration date at the end of the year, The Associated Press reported.
But if demand for wind power is so low and its costs are so high that it can't thrive without government subsidies, wouldn't Congress be wise to heed that market signal rather than offer more subsidies?
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - ISRAEL'S EQUAL STAKE IN JUSTICE
The assertion by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu that Israel's deadly May assault on the Gaza flotilla is "Turkey's 9/11" is worth examination amid the slow-moving talks to restore a modicum of trust between our two countries. A synonym for "apology" is one stumbling block; another is Israel's demand for blanket immunity for the individual soldiers involved.
Davutoğlu's analogy is troubling as a measure of scope and scale, and not just in an international context. It trivializes events that are little known outside of Turkey (and still legally unresolved) including the "return to life" operation against hunger-striking prisoners in Turkish prisoners that left 30 inmates dead a decade ago. Was the feudal skirmish that exploded with an assault on a wedding party last year in a village outside of Mardin, killing 44 innocents, somehow a lesser crime? We think not.
But we do think America's "9/11" is a useful analogy in what happened afterward. For in the absence of justice for real perpetrators, a decade has been spent in the pursuit of phantoms.
The killings on the Mavi Marmara reached deep into the inter-group psyche defining Turkish-Israeli perceptions of one another. In terms of its ability to distort realities, enable manipulation through charlatanism and awaken antiquated prejudices, there are lessons to be drawn from September 2001 to better understand May 2010. The destruction now known by the shorthand "9-11" has poisoned America's popular understanding of a large part of the world in ways we know all too well. The policy implications of unbridled and ignorant passions form a straight line through imagined weapons of mass destruction, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, Abu Ghraib and countless other atrocities.
Similarly, if not quickly contained, redressed and adjudicated with accountability for all responsible parties, "Mavi Marmara" will become a form of shorthand confusing real issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, fueling anti-Semitism in Turkey and abroad and deepening the fissure that currently divides our society from that of Israel.
Which is why Israel's demand for a "shield" of protection for its commandos must be a legal non-starter as reconciliation moves forward. The state of Israel can offer redress through an expression of remorse or the paying of compensation. But the "I was just following orders" defense cannot be the refuge of the soldiers involved. Justice must be complete if the trauma of Mavi Marmara is not to become political capital subject to malicious use.
Israel has made serious allegations of provocation and even use of weapons by the activists aboard the Mavi Marmara. These allegations should be fully examined and if proven sanction should follow. And soldiers everywhere must be fully accountable for the legality of their actions. Turkey has a stake in full accountability. So does Israel.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
LIU XIAOBO VS JULIAN ASSANGE
For us who spent our early youth as cinephiles in the Athens of the late 70s, Liv Ullman was our muse. The slender angelic figure of most of Ingmar Bergman's esoteric movies gave meaning to our first awkward emotions. Her portrayal of such characters as Maria, Marianne or Dr. Jenny shaped our awareness of femininity and the complexities of man-woman relationships. However, few of us followed her later career as a mature actress, director, human rights activist and now as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. For us she remains the iconic sensitive Nordic female that shaped and justified our complexities.
I am not in the habit of watching the ceremony for the award of the Nobel Prize for Peace. But for the last two weeks my TV viewing have become even more obsessive as I am trying to catch up with everything related to the story of our time, the WikiLeaks.
By now, some two weeks after the story broke out I am not so hungry for the content of the American diplomat's confidential cables that reading I have shelved for later, unless, of course, something really shocking comes up. It is the other more fascinating story that has kept me glued to the TV screen plus whatever follows on print: Julian Assange's arrest.
I was zapping across the international channels last Friday around midday when I suddenly fell upon the still slender and beautifully aged Liv Ullman. Dressed in a black velvet suit, under her new role as an "international human rights activist," Ullman was standing there in the center of the Grand Hall of the Oslo Town Hall, reading the speech of this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace: the 54-year-old Chinese dissident, author and university professor Liu Xiaobo who could not attend the ceremony. He is currently serving an 11-year sentence in a prison in the city of Jinzhouhis in China for "subverting state power."
It was a moving speech delivered before the Norwegian royal couple and selected international dignitaries in the same city hall where President Obama delivered his keynote speech exactly one year ago. Actually it was Liu's final public speech of December last year, just before he was taken to prison, and it was read by Ullman with the same fragile sensitivity we used to adore in our youth years.
"I have done nothing wrong, I have no enemies," said Liu Xiaobo via Ullman, "Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity and suppress truth."
The famous blue folder with the Nobel award was placed on an empty chair by the president of the Nobel committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, against a long-standing ovation by the audience.
My mind could not but make the obvious analogy. Liu Xiaobo locked up in a Chinese prison and awarded by the West for his fight for free expression. Julian Assange also locked up in solitary confinement in Wandsworth prison the largest prison in the U.K. that once hosted Oscar Wild for challenging another super power by using the modern carrier of free expression, the Internet, to publish information he believed should be made public. Of course, the official reason for his arrest was the allegation against him for rape, ironically coming from a close neighbor of Norway, Sweden, which apparently takes allegations for rape more seriously than anywhere else. But his British lawyer Mark Stephens, as well as many others around the world, has denounced Assanges' arrest as politically motivated. Indeed his legal team is prepared to face an indictment against their client by U.S. judicial authorities wishing to try him on criminal charges.
In his highly charged speech, Jagland made an interesting point. "History shows many examples of political leaders playing on nationalist feelings and attempting to demonize holders of contrary opinions. This has sometimes happened in the name of democracy and freedom, but almost always with a tragic outcome. Therefore, while others at this time are counting their money, focusing exclusively on their short-term national interests, or remaining indifferent, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has once again chosen to support those who fight for us all."
]I have difficulty in discerning the boundaries of free expression, indeed the dividing lines between freedom of speech and criminal conduct. And the twin imprisonment of two fighters for free expression, one in the West and one in the Far East, shows that these dividing lines are even more blurred.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
BURNT BY THE WINTER SUN
Did the cold front sweeping through Turkey hit third quarter Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, numbers first?
According to data released by the Turkish Statistical Institute Friday, GDP grew 5.5 percent year-on-year, or YoY, in the third quarter, versus expectations of 6.5 percent. But the economy still managed to grow 1.1 percent, seasonally and working-day adjusted, from the last quarter, so I think this is still quite a good reading. It seems that the cold front has actually passed tangent to the economy, to quote the Prime Minister.
Moreover, Wednesday's strong October release brought industrial production to its pre-crisis levels. In addition, capacity utilization, usually a good harbinger of industrial production, has continued to creep up in November. Other proxies for growth, such aspurchasing managers, consumer and real sector confidence indices as well as credit growth are also pointing to robust growth in the fourth quarter. My simple econometric model churns out 5 percent YoY for the last quarter, bringing the 2010 growth rate to just below 8 percent.
This would be an impressive figure, but the composition of growth is worrying. Domestic demand contributed 10.5 percent to growth in the third quarter, while foreign demand, because of imports growing much faster than exports, stole away 4.6 percent from it, with stock-depletion cropping a further 0.4 percent.
An equivalent way of saying the same thing is that Turkey's familiar disease of depending too much on external financing for growth is resurfacing. This unbalanced growth is a cause for concern because it is unsustainable: If capital flows were to dry up, we could see a sharp adjustment either through quantities (growth slowdown) or prices (exchange rate depreciation).
Latest data suggest that the portrait is getting bleaker. Economists were surprised by the surge in imports in October, and the wedge between export and import growth rates rose further. While we will have a better picture when import taxes, which help us to project imports, are released along with the November budget figures next week, preliminary exports data for November from the Turkish Exporters Association hints that the situation hardly improved last month.
Unfortunately, unsustainable growth is not our only worry: The unbalanced growth, along with the leading indicators noted above, is also raising alarm bells that the economy isoverheating. But many, including the Central Bank, are arguing otherwise, using low core inflation measures, which exclude items responsive to temporary shocks but not to monetary policy, and slack in the economy as proof to their arguments.
I think core inflation is being given way too much attention at the expense of the headline figure and food inflation. For one thing, the familiar chicken or the egg problem is not resolved for Turkish headline and core inflation yet, and food inflation could spill over to core inflation. Moreover, moderate core inflation is itself a byproduct of the unsustainable growth and a sign of overheating, as surging imports are reining in tradable goods' prices.
I would also argue that there is not as much slack in the economy as commonly thought, as the crisis seems to have decreased Turkish potential output. I used the methodology of a recent IMF paper to check my earlier calculations, and I again found out that theoutput gap, a measure of how far the economy is from potential output, has almost closed down.
Overheating means that the inflationary outlook is not as benign as the Central Bank claims. No wonder I do not find the possibility of further rate cuts, as outlined in their latest Financial Stability Report, credible at all.
Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at http://emredeliveli.blogspot.com.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST ASSANGE
The U.S. government is doing all it can to silence the WikiLeaks organization, including starving it of funds by getting PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard to freeze its accounts. But has it also persuaded the Swedes to accuse Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and chief whistleblower, of raping two women, in order to shut him up?
Or more subtly, as some of Assange's supporters allege, is Washington using the rape charges to get Assange extradited from Britain to Sweden, from where it hopes to extradite him to the United States to face espionage charges?
The latter accusation is clearly nonsense, because it would be far easier for the United States to extradite Assange from Britain than from Sweden. Under a 2003 U.S.-U.K. agreement, the United States no longer has to provide prima facie evidence that an offence has been committed usually in the form of witness statements when requesting the extradition of an accused person from Britain.
It would be harder for the United States to extradite Assange from Sweden, and in any case the Swedes would have to get British permission to hand him over. Whatever the U.S. government is up to, that is not its strategy. But are the rape accusations in Sweden genuine, or the result of American manipulation or entrapment?
The fact that they were first made after Assange released documents about the American war in Afghanistan last summer, and were then revived after he began releasing a quarter-million State Department confidential messages last month, is certainly a striking coincidence, but coincidences really do happen.
It is possible that a man might be a dedicated campaigner for truth and justice (or whatever) by day and a serial rapist by night. So what are the odds that the accusations that have been made against Julian Assange in Sweden were brought in good faith and without American influence?
There are no actual charges against Assange. The accusations against him were first made last summer, and Assange voluntarily remained in Sweden until the investigation was closed. He claims that the file has now been reopened (by a different prosecutor) for political reasons, and refuses to go back to Sweden for further questions, though he offered to be interviewed at the Swedish embassy in London. So he has been sent to jail in Britain.
This came as a surprise to him, since people who are resisting extradition normally get bail in Britain. Unless an appeal succeeds, he will be in jail for at least three weeks, and perhaps for months, while his case makes its way through the courts. Yet the allegations against him, even if true, would not normally lead to a rape charge in Britain or most other jurisdictions.
The definition of rape in Sweden is no longer restricted to coercion, but includes any infringement of another person's "sexual integrity." Accusations of rape have consequently increased fourfold in the past 20 years, and Sweden now has the highest per capita rate of reported rapes in Europe. But does anybody really believe that there are more rapists in Sweden than anywhere else?
Swedish courts are clearly unhappy about the politicians' meddling with the law: they are only delivering about as many convictions for rape as they did 20 years ago. If Assange ever faced a Swedish court, he would almost certainly be found not guilty.
According to a Swedish police leak and an interview given by one of the two Swedish women who brought the accusations, Assange was the house guest last August of Anna Ardin, an academic and an official with the Social Democratic Party who had organized various lectures for him around the country. They had consensual sex on the day they met in person, and at some point in the proceedings a condom split.
On the following day, she hosted a party for Assange at her home, and still seemed quite happy about his presence in Sweden. "Sitting outside nearly freezing with the world's coolest people," she tweeted. "It's pretty amazing."
At lunch that same day, however, Assange met another woman, Sofia Wilen. A few days later they traveled to her home in Enkoping, where they too had consensual sex. The following morning, she claims, he had sex with her again while she was still asleep, and this time he did not use a condom. Only after the two women (who did not previously know each other) discovered that he had slept with both of them did they go to the police.
Assange enjoys his rock-star status and the access to women that it brings, and it has made him arrogant. However, although a file was opened after the two women's complaints, Sweden's chief prosecutor refused to lay charges against him. He then left Sweden.
So far, no hidden American hand. But another, more junior Swedish prosecutor reopened the file on Assange last month and demanded his extradition for further questioning. The man who asked the prosecutor to do that is Claes Borgstrom, the two women's new lawyer.
Bergstrom denies any U.S. ties, and you can probably believe him: he was Gender Equality Minister in the former Social Democratic-led government of Sweden until he returned to the law in 2008. Neither are Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen likely to lend themselves to an American sting operation. Indeed, both women say that they still admire Assange's actions in bringing so many secrets to light.
What we have here, therefore, is a man who assumes too much, and two wronged women, but probably not enough evidence for the law in most countries to treat his actions as rape. Even in Sweden it probably wouldn't, and it's unlikely that Assange would be in jail now if he had just gone back to Sweden and answered more questions. Not that the British judge's decision to imprison him was sensible, or even defensible.
* Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. Gwynne Dyer's latest book, 'Climate Wars,' is distributed in most of the world by Oneworld.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
KILIÇDAROĞLU'S EXISTENTIAL FIGHT
Not only foreigners but even most Turks who might not be familiar with the political jargon must have been rather confused nowadays why there is such intense political backbiting over two words, "çarşaf" and "blok" ["sheet" or "block" in English] in the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, as the party is heading to an extraordinary convention on Dec. 18 to elect a new party assembly.
Days before the crucial convention, the CHP's new leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, met over the weekend with former party leader Deniz Baykal and former secretary-general Önder Sav separately. Those meetings were of course to a certain extent the kind of political courtesy call the new CHP boss attaches importance to. But, those meetings, of course, aimed at something far more important.
At the May convention of the CHP that convened in the aftermath of Baykal stepping down from leadership after a sex-tape scandal compelled him to do so, Kılıçdaroğlu was elected as party leader with the "support" of Sav, who for many years was the kingmaker of the CHP. When he was elected chairman in the May convention, Kılıçdaroğlu almost surrendered to all the demands of Sav, including letting him to decide alone, other than a few seats, of how the new party assembly should be composed and the postponement of the implementation of the new bylaws of the party restricting the powers of the secretary-general. The entry into force of the new bylaws, adopted in the previous convention with a stipulation that it would enter into force after the 2010 convention, could not have been postponed as there was no such declared agenda for the convention. However, Sav wanted it and Kılıçdaroğlu had no other chance but to agree to it for the sake of getting Sav's support. That illegal postponement, however, came back from the Court of Appeals chief prosecutor's office and Kılıçdaroğlu used that opportunity provided by the new bylaws to create a party executive of his own choice, keeping out Sav and his loyalists. Yet, the party assembly, which is the second most important organ of the party after the convention, was composed of Sav and Baykal loyalists with a handful of members supporting Kılıçdaroğlu. The party assembly would have within months the sole power in deciding the list of parliamentary candidates of the CHP. It was thus a must for Kılıçdaroğlu to go to the convention and try to convince delegates to elect a party assembly that would work harmoniously with him. That is, the Dec. 18 convention is of existential importance for Kılıçdaroğlu and of course for the hope of an invigorated and rejuvenated new CHP aligning more with principles of social democracy rather than the conservative centrist policies of the Baykal-Sav period.
It is a fact as well that over the past short period since he became party leader, Kılıçdaroğlu did not push for a change in the delegates of the party and the Dec. 18 convention will get underway with the delegates selected one by one by the Baykal and Sav duo. That is, Kılıçdaroğlu will try to get the delegates to elect a party assembly composed of people he thought he could work better with knowing that those delegates were elected by Baykal and Sav and that former kingmakers of the party are mostly critical of the policy changes he has been directing the party to adopt ever since he became leader.
That is why those two words, "çarşaf" and "blok," so important. "Çarşaf" or sheet list means all candidates for the party assembly list their names and delegates tick those names they support and thus the names most supported by the delegates are elected. In such a vote the party leader has very limited power to influence the delegates. In the "blok" or block list, however, the leader comes up with a list of his own and asks the delegates to support that entire list. Opponents may come up with a second or third list, but obviously such lists can have no chance against the party leader's list.
All through his leadership Baykal opposed sheet list application and preferred the block list that allowed him to single-handedly decide all party executives at all levels. Now, he, as well as Sav, are ardent supporters of sheet list of candidates. Kılıçdaroğlu, who has pledged at various occasions over the past months that he wants full democracy within the CHP and supports sheet lists for candidates, however, wants a block list this time to consolidate his power ahead of the June parliamentary polls.
Perhaps Kılıçdaroğlu is opposed to the sheet list because he remembers how the party assembly ran an election with a sheet list during the 2000 convention the only last time Baykal supported sheet list helping Baykal return and take over the party leadership from Altan Öymen.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED: INDIA'S MICROCREDIT CRISIS
BURCU GÜVENEK ARASLI
The crisis exploded in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in early October after tragic casualties from suicides of microcredit users hit the epicenter of microfinance in India. The crisis has since fueled allegations against microfinancers across the country and globally. As events continue to unfold in Andhra Pradesh, important questions have been raised about the evolution of microfinance markets more broadly.
Does microcredit lead to suicides? Is this the end of the microcredit era? Do microfinance institutions, or MFIs, exploit the poor with exorbitant interest rates? How fair is it to link these catastrophic suicides to microcredit, which has 92.4 million clients globally, and hamper the right to access financing for 2.5 billion poor people around the world?
India has a population of 1.2 billion, with less than one-quarter of adults having access to basic formal financial services. Following independence in 1947, much of India's financial sector was nationalized. Part of the rationale was to ensure access to financing for a much larger number of Indians. In the 1980s social entrepreneurs created the self-help group bank linkage program, whereby commercial banks were encouraged to lend funds to groups of 10 to 20 women. The SHG movement received considerable national policy support led by the National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development. Today there are 4.5 million SHGs receiving credit nationwide, with 58 million members.
By the 1990s economic reforms in India opened up space for the private sector to play a larger role in the banking system. Amid these reforms a new breed of private microfinance providers emerged: microfinance institutions. As of March, there were about 27 million borrower accounts served by Indian MFIs, with microfinance representing a significant sub-sector of India's financial system. It exceeds the number of borrower accounts served by the Regional Rural Banks by as much as 50 percent and represents 40 percent of the total number of microborrower accounts in the entire Indian financial system.
Boiler room of microfinance: Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh in southeast India is the fifth most populous of India's 28 states, with 75 million inhabitants. Andhra Pradesh has also undertaken a series of large-scale projects to fight poverty, the most prominent being the Society to Eliminate Rural Poverty. It is a service delivery program under the Rural Development arm of the state government that offers far-reaching livelihood promotion programs, including employment generation, vocational training, and access to savings and credit through SHGs. SHGs have a long and important history in Andhra Pradesh and have deeper penetration there than in any other state, with a total of 1.47 million SHGs reaching 17.1 million clients.
In the late 1990s some of India's first MFIs got their start in Andhra Pradesh. Today, five of India's largest non-banking financial company MFIs are headquartered in Andhra Pradesh making it the epicenter of the microfinance industry in India.
The deadly competition
The combined presence of the large and well-funded state-backed SHG program and five of India's largest and fastest growing MFIs has resulted in a rapid proliferation of credit across Andhra Pradesh and wide use of multiple loans by borrowers. In Andhra Pradesh, the average debt outstanding per household is 65,000 Indian rupees (2,200 Turkish Liras) as compared to a national average of 7,700 rupees of outstanding microfinance debt per poor household.
Indeed, the poor often use microloans to pay off far more expensive loans from village moneylenders. This suggests that restricting people's access to microcredit could have the perverse effect of driving more poor people into the arms of village loan-sharks, who still provide the bulk of rural credit in poor countries. That would be good news for these moneylenders, but is surely not the outcome that policymakers want.
On Oct. 14 the state government issued an ordinance requiring MFIs to immediately halt operations, to register, and to wait for processing of their registration by an obviously unfriendly government before resuming operations. The implications of such drastic intervention by the government for the long-term future of microfinance is difficult to predict. At best it will result in a decline in capital available for microfinance, thereby slowing down its increasingly significant effect on financial inclusion. At worst it could destroy microfinance altogether, resulting in throwing low-income families back into the not-so-benevolent arms of moneylenders.
As complex as this may look, all of this could be prevented by simply taking the necessary measures to prevent over-indebtedness of microcredit customers. The best way would be to promote the establishment of a credit bureau and to provide access to information about MFI managers.
India is a country that invests heavily in information technologies and furthermore receives substantial funds into this particular area. Why haven't regulators taken this particular action to prevent this deadly crisis? The answers lie in the conscience of Indian policymakers.
One apparent fact is the government in India is an unfair referee because it is both player and referee, which easily leads them to targeting microcredit as the scapegoat.
* Burcu Güvenek Araslı is senior development finance expert and microfinance instructor at the Middle East Technical University.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
WIKILEAKS' IMPACT ON TURKISH-AZERBAIJANI RELATIONS: THE IMPORTANCE OF TERMINOLOGY
WikiLeaks' release of alleged confidential and secret U.S. diplomatic cables will undoubtedly have a profound impact on relations between the United States and the rest of the world, and on international relations as a whole, for many years to come. Needless to say, Turkey, like other countries in the region, was affected by the dump of allegedly classified documents, although opinions diverge about their impact from unafraid and even welcoming this release of documents, such as by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (in his speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 29), to cautious wait-and-see approach, and finally to downright very critical and negative (several high-ranking Turkish public officials and media).
One can remark that the fact that the U.S. Embassy in Ankara seems to have been the most productive in sending cables to Washington D.C. among all U.S. embassies in the world is a testament of Turkey's importance and power on a world scale. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and that proof has been crystal clear thanks to WikiLeaks.
Perhaps the only country in the region which has been relatively unscathed by the WikiLeaks revelations (at least so far) is Azerbaijan -- thanks to a fairly transparent and balanced foreign policy, where U.S. diplomatic cables have basically confirmed what every pundit knew all along anyways. While not really contributing radically to the knowledge about the country and its policies unlike the case with Armenia, which has been rocked by the revelations about illegal arms supplies to Iran and Iraq, which resulted in at least one U.S. military death and three more American soldiers wounded the leaks about Azerbaijan and Turkey are filled with slang verbiage and imprecise usage of terminology, sometimes using colorful language, more resembling journalistic accounts than the fact-filled diplomatic dispatches they are supposed to be. Indeed, as one Western journalist remarked, some of the "secret" diplomatic cables resemble his "Slate" magazine dispatches.
The usage of such peculiar language and Hollywood slang is what detracts from the credibility of many of the diplomatic cables, at least those pertaining to the Eurasian region. It could also be what former National Security Adviser Dr. Zbignew Brzezinski noted, that some WikiLeaks cables might be part of a "very pointed," "clearly calculated" "seeding" by "interested intelligence parties who want to manipulate the process and achieve certain very specific objectives."
Case in point is the Feb. 24, 2010 cable #134 from Baku, which mentions, among other things, Turkey, and specifically, the writer of that dispatch, Charge d'Affairs Donald Lu, claims that in the words of President Aliyev the natural gas "sale [by SOCAR to Gazprom] illustrated to 'our Turkish friends' that they will not be allowed to create a gas distribution hub." (http://WikiLeaks.ch/cable/2010/02/10BAKU134.html)
This wording by Lu created some misunderstanding in Turkish circles, coming off as if Azerbaijan said publicly one thing, but privately another, or, to put it simply, is somehow opposed to Turkish energy and geo-economic ambitions. Of course, pundits that claim this either do not know anything about the geo-economic impact of the Azerbaijani-Turkish energy cooperation or are acting maliciously.
First off, the sentence "they will not be allowed to create a gas distribution hub" are the words of Mr. Lu, which reflect his opinion on the issue. Secondly, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what a "gas distribution hub" country would mean. This was recently meticulously noted by Jamestown Foundation analyst Vladimir Socor: "[A] 'gas hub,' however, is not the same as gas transit country. A hub country buys another country's gas, stores it and re-sells it as its own gas to third countries at a higher price. A transit country, however, provides transit service through pipelines on its territory for an agreed [cost-based] fee, enabling the producer country to enter into direct commercial relations with the customers for its gas."
While journalists and non-energy experts often use the term "energy hub" implying simply a focal point for energy deliveries and shipping, the meaning of this term could be more narrow and denote the right to re-sell energy supplies as your own. Needless to say, all energy producers, and producers in general, resist such attempts and Azerbaijan is no exception. There is nothing new in that Azerbaijan wants to sell its oil and gas as its own to the end consumer. This is a norm in business.
In other words, "gas hub" is not the same as "gas transit country," which was the agreed-upon role for Turkey since the mid-1990s, i.e., from the very inception of the Baku-Ceyhan (BTC) and Baku-Erzurum (BTE) pipelines, which placed Turkey and Azerbaijan on the world energy map, and have boosted their rising geopolitical significance.
From BTC alone, Turkey is earning from $140 million to $292 million in transit revenues, annually, for 40 years. Since Turkey can only collect highly regulated low fees for passage of oil and gas tankers through the environmentally sensitive Bosphorus Straits, it is gaining higher transit fees as a result of the BTC and BTE pipelines. This does not include the direct and indirect investment (although according to the Adana Chamber of Commerce total investment in Ceyhan has reached $11 billion due to BTC already back in 2007), the 6.75 percent and 9 percent stake of TPAO in Azerbaijani multi-billion dollar ACG oil and Shah Deniz gas projects respectively, the short-term and long-term employment the pipelines and railroads bring, the price discount and supply stability from the Azerbaijani oil and gas supplies and many other tangible and intangible economic benefits.
Thus, it is not that Azerbaijan was, is or could ever be opposed to Turkey becoming an energy power, oil and gas trade center, or a "hub." That is not even possible, considering that Azerbaijan did far more for Turkish energy power ambitions than any other country, and it is part of the Azerbaijani and Turkish vision to see the two nations connect and cooperate closely in all strategic spheres, such as energy.
In addition to the world-class pipelines BTC and BTE, Azerbaijan now considers building one more gas pipeline to carry even more supplies from its massive gas deposits. Additionally, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey are interconnecting their railways, to create the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Baku (KAB) railroad, whose cargo traffic would also include energy, and this does not include any possible future trans-Caspian supplies.
It should be noted that the current trade turnover between the two nations stands at over $2 billion, with plans to increase it to $5 billion in the immediate future, according to Turkish State Minister for Foreign Trade Zafer Çağlayan. Total investment between the two nations has reached $10 billion so far and is supposed to increase to $15 billion after the SOCAR investment into the Petkim petrochemical complex.
If we put all these energy mega-projects together and consider that it is Azerbaijani oil and gas resources, along with the strategic choice that the Azerbaijani nation made, and assign a dollar value to it, we will quickly see that it is due to Azerbaijan that tens of billions of dollars have been invested into Turkey. Equally, due to the Turkish governments resolve, support and vision, stability of demand and diversity of energy export routes was provided, allowing Azerbaijan to profit and stand on its feet, becoming the third-richest Turkic economy on a per capita basis (after Turkey and Kazakhstan, respectively), and, according to the IMF, raising its GDP per capita income from $500 in 1997 to over $5,700 today.
Therefore, both nations reinforce and compliment each other, profiting along the way, advancing their respective national interests and enhancing geopolitical importance. The WikiLeaks and similar reports that periodically appear should be more carefully scrutinized and analyzed before publishing various opinions and articles.
*Adil Baguirov is the founding member of the Azerbaijan Turkey Historical Research Foundation, or ATAF, and co-founder of the U.S. Turkic Network, or USTN.
I. THE NEWS
A STEADY DECLINE
There are two indicators of decline that we cannot ignore. Both are verifiable and neither is open to challenge. Firstly there is declining confidence in the National Savings Scheme which has seen a reduction of Rs42.45 billion in investments, and withdrawals are now exceeding deposits. Over Rs32.35 billion was taken out of the Defence Savings Certificate scheme in October 2009 and in 2009-10 Rs64.11 billion was withdrawn. The reasons for the slide in confidence are said to be a lack of public confidence, corruption and bribery and the effects of a steady increase in inflation. We need to get people to save more but persuading them to do so in the current climate is extremely difficult.
The second indicator is the industrial state of the nation. The Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) is the largest chamber of its kind in the country having over 17,000 members. It has issued a report that spells out the problem in detail. The reason for decline in the industrial and business sector is the same as the decline in the financial sector. The energy crisis, a culture of extortion that is everywhere, and the increased costs of production which are currently leading to the closure of at least one industrial unit in the city every day. An average of 316 industrial units has closed every year for several years, and the average number closed per month is 26. The number of people made jobless with every closure averages at 500 which means job losses of 13,000 per month and a staggering 156,000 per year. The source for the figures is none other than the Ministry of Industries and Production, which may be expected to underplay bad news so these figures could be lower than the actual incidence of closures and job losses. The chairman of the KCCI used the textile industry as an example of the problem. Textiles have been our export mainstay since partition and until recently the banks were offering up to 70 per cent financing to the sector now reduced to 25 per cent or less. There is no quick fix for any of this. It took many years to get into this mess and it will take many years to get out of it, and get out of it we must if we are to survive. Quality political will coupled with energetic leadership would help, but we seem as far from either as we ever were.
I. THE NEWS
PRICE OF SAFETY?
There are reports that a large deal with China is in the offing and there is a degree of opacity here that makes concrete look positively transparent. The deal is worth $233.7 million (Rs20 billion), is titled 'Safe City Project' (renamed for no apparent reason from the 'Government Emergency Command Centre) and has not been approved by the Planning Commission nor subjected to a tender process. The deal is probably going to be signed off when the Chinese premier visits us later this month, and our own PM has, in his infinite wisdom, seen fit to give the project exemption from the usually-obligatory rules of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority. Assorted reasons are given for this anomalous arrangement, but principally the 'security' nature of the project seems to guarantee it a free pass.
Whatever the merits of the project and it may well be beneficial and enhance the security of all of us the opportunity for graft and corruption without adequate oversight is glaringly obvious. There is also the not-insignificant matter of the cost of the equipment associated with the project, which the Planning Commission noted to be three times the market price for similar equipment. The Planning Commission has at least made the effort to stick to the rules on this one, and has protested at several points throughout the process, but to no avail. The project is being financed on a soft loan from the Chinese, but we will still be paying the mark-up on funding for a project that could have come in cheaper if it was competitively tendered. The Chinese may well be our good friends, and we have much to thank them for over the last thirty years. But they are not the only bazaar to shop in, unless of course the deal was 'sweetened' for somebody no names mentioned who ensured its smooth passage, bypassing the offices of Mr Regulation and Mr Oversight.